Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act

An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to the National Defence Act

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

Sponsor

Rob Nicholson  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 Code with respect to the parole inadmissibility period for offenders convicted of multiple murders. It also makes consequential amendments to the National Defence Act.

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.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 10:10 a.m.
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Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

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.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 10:25 a.m.
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Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask the member who has just spoken what happens in cases involving multiple second degree murders. Does the judge impose consecutive periods? A judge can always adjust these periods within the 10 to 25 year range, which may shed some light on the consequences of this parole eligibility bill in cases involving second degree murder.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 10:25 a.m.
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Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his question, which is quite relevant.

I would like to point out that, in cases involving multiple second degree murders rather than first degree murders, the judge will still be required to apply section 745.4 of the Criminal Code, which already exists. As I mentioned in my speech, the judge will be able to take into account the circumstances, the manner in which the second degree murders were committed, the identity of the victims and the social and moral reprobation or blameworthiness that could result. At that time, the judge will also be able to determine, as he or she does now, whether the ineligibility period should be 15 or 25 years rather than 10. Judges will have that authority. They will be given new discretion. No authority will be taken from them; on the contrary, they will be given additional discretion. In cases involving multiple second degree murders, judges will be able to determine whether the ineligibility period should be increased from 10 to 25 years. In addition, concurrent sentences will no longer be imposed; rather, sentences will now be consecutive.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 10:25 a.m.
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Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his overview with respect to this legislation.

I wonder if the member would like to comment on the role of the National Parole Board with respect to its adjudication on issues related to victims' rights. It has come to our attention that concerns have been raised with respect to the role of the parole board, and I wonder if the member, within the context of the bill, would like to comment with respect to that particular issue.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 10:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague. We have been working together for a number of years and his question is highly relevant.

Our bill has no bearing on the parole board. The parole board only gets involved post-trial, after a conviction before a jury, which then makes recommendations for the judge's consideration. The judge has to justify, orally or in writing, the decision to impose, or not to impose, a period of ineligibility of a particular length, whether it be back-to-back periods of 25 years, or 25 years plus 10, or some other permutation. This will be at the judge's discretion. Judges will be given many more arbitrary powers than they previously had.

The difference is that the prisoner appears before the parole board. When the ineligibility period expires, the board must determine whether the prisoner is to be released or kept in detention. At that time, as in all cases, the parole board will have the individual's file on hand and will be able to see whether the prisoner has been well-behaved, has come to terms with his incarceration, and so on. There has been strong criticism over the fact that an individual handed a 25-year sentence is permitted to apply for parole every two years. Under the new system, an individual who has committed multiple murders will no longer be able to do that. The judge will be in a position to hand down a sentence of 25 years plus 25 years, which will mean 50, 35 or 45 years. The number of times victims will have to appear at a parole hearing will, as a result, be greatly reduced.

Victims are very glad to not have to start over each time, and have to revisit their child's, spouse's or grandparents' murder. That is painful, and we need to put ourselves in their shoes. This is an issue over which we have control.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 10:30 a.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice the same question that he was asked by my colleague, the hon. member for York South—Weston. The question is not what he thinks about the National Parole Board's power, but rather whether this bill is before us today due to public complaints about the board. There have been a lot of complaints about the board and its insensitivity towards victims' families, and we now have a bill before us today, which deals with the board's responsibilities.

I would like the member to answer that question.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 10:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. He and I have served on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for several years,. Like me, he is a lawyer, and we each bring our contributions to the table, his from New Brunswick and mine from Quebec. We make up a good group, one that is careful to satisfy all Canadians. When we present bills, we have the perspective of Canada as a whole.

I will now answer his question. In fact, there have been complaints about the National Parole Board of Canada. Parole comes after the entire judicial process has been followed. We first have to let the judicial process take its course, that is, the eligibility periods that the judge imposes. The judge will have much more discretion. An individual who has killed 40 people will appear before a judge. There have been serious cases like that in several provinces of Canada. The judge will have to decide whether to impose 25 years plus 25 years, plus 10 years, depending on the case, which they could not do before. The judge knows that these are serious cases and they cannot be managed. Even if the inmates are put back “in circulation”, they could be just as dangerous as when they entered the detention centre.

Yes, there have been complaints, but we must not forget that the National Parole Board is always involved after the judicial system. We, the legislators, are the ones who make the decisions, through the Criminal Code. The board is involved only much later. We have to look at what comes ahead of the board before we look at what comes after it; we have to solve the problem that arises at the beginning before solving the one that arises at the end. The board has been criticized in some cases, particularly by family members who have had to constantly go through parole applications by an individual sentenced for the murder of one of their family.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 10:35 a.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-48. First, the title of the bill raises questions. Yesterday, the Minister of Justice stated firmly that it was not important to hold a debate on the short titles of bills. I do not agree with that, Madam Speaker.

I do not think it is unimportant to debate the short titles of bills. This short title phenomenon is directly imported from the United States of America. Its legislatures have been poisonous longer than ours even started to be and I hope that this new session in a working minority government Parliament will have some glimmers of good work and co-operation, but short titles do not help that environment.

The short titles “Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime” also “Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders”, these two bills being combined in the last two days in other words, would not lead a person reading them from afar to what the bills are actually about. It may not be a hill to die on, but let us send a message to the government that if it wants to avoid any debate on the bills, it should make the bills descriptive.

I realize fully that the long title of any of these bills would be lost. The long title on most of these bills are things like “an act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to section 531”. That is not understandable. The purpose of a short title is to indicate what is being amended in the Criminal Code or what the government is trying to do. This is not Mad Men. This is not an advertising campaign to have a catchy title and make the consumer wonder what it is and ask whether it is chewing gum or an automobile. That is not what we are doing. We are trying to give the people of Canada an idea of what the bill is about.

This bill deals with consecutive life sentences and whether or not they should be meted out by a judge. Canadians who have an interest in this could understand that. That is my little presage on the whole title imbroglio. I want to, however, highlight that this bill, Bill C-48, which I will deal with in the committee stage when I refer to amendments that did not pass, actually does a disservice to the victims of crime. Let me begin with the overall overview of the bill.

It is a bill that seeks to make individuals convicted of multiple murders serve life sentences consecutively, one after the other, instead of concurrently, at the same time. At first glance, the bill looks like a good idea. All Liberals and citizens want strict sentences and restricted parole eligibility for multiple murder convictions. That is the first point. Congratulations to the government on that.

Congratulations to the government and the Department of Justice as well for moving from an original position that was anti-judge, anti-judicial discretion. Now with the passage of five years, listening to the experienced Department of Justice officials and, I might add, appointing a whole whack of their friends as judges, it does not want to be seen as attacking judges or judicial discretion as much and there is a stark difference between its first round of justice bills in and around 2006-07 and this bill with respect to that important pillar of our judicial system, which is judicial discretion.

This bill allows for some judicial discretion. Ironically, the reservation of that judicial discretion is the element under the doctrine of judicial restraint which does that disservice to victims, which I will get into shortly.

The bill may seem tough in a sound bite, but it would actually have limited effect on incarceration and parole. It would only change a system that has had its faults but still makes perfect sense. Parole boards are better equipped to decide if an individual is ready to get out at the time of his release. In Canada we have decided to give generous powers to the parole boards and they generally do not release those convicted of multiple murders as soon as they become eligible. That is a fact.

If the Conservatives want to scare the public into believing that a multiple murderer, a serial killer, a Clifford Olson, shall we speak the name, may get out of prison, they want to say that. That is a disservice to how the Parole Board acts. If they have a problem with how the Parole Board does its job, that is an argument for a separate bill.

Let me digress and say I, as an elected representative, have a complaint about how the Parole Board works and it comes out of a victim family, the Davis family. Ron Davis has been a friend of mine for a long time. He was a town councillor in Riverview for a number of years and a community leader.

Ron's daughter was violently murdered in a cornerstore on St. George Street many years ago. The convicted killer has shown no remorse, has taken no steps toward rehabilitation, and is up for parole eligibility as he goes through the system.

We have made a lot of noise about this in the local media and through letter writing and through active and positive roles by successive public safety ministers. I have to underscore here that sometimes there is co-operation. We said what happened to the Davis family is horrible.

Hours before a scheduled parole hearing it was cancelled at the criminal's behest. The criminal seems to control the date, time and place of a hearing. Members of the Davis family were travelling from Moncton to Quebec for this hearing and they had to travel back. To add insult to injury, they had to pay all of their expenses for this hearing in advance. That is an existing law in the books. That existing irregularity and insensitivity is built into the system. Why do we not attack that with legislation? Why do we not do something about that?

The minister wrote a letter. I was quoted in the newspaper. Mr. Davis has his own means and the victims' rights people have their own voice. It should not have to be that way. There should not be a hailstorm of publicity to change the way the National Parole Board does its job.

If there is a deep fear that people like Clifford Olson or the murderers of officers Bourgeois and O'Leary in Moncton are going to get out then why do we not deal with that? If we are concerned about the Parole Board then why do we not deal with it? There have been complaints about the Parole Board and that is why I asked the parliamentary secretary whether this bill is a reaction to how the Parole Board works or how people think the Parole Board works.

The public safety committee has had a review of the Parole Board's workings, but I am not sure that everyone in Canada has heard a full airing and has full confidence in the National Parole Board's workings. We need to do at least an investigation or some corrections, pardon the pun, to the Parole Board and how it works. If that is what this bill is about then it is in the wrong place and it is written in the wrong way.

If all Liberals and opposition members think that most serial killers walk out of jail after 25 years I would be just as worried as anyone else. That is not the case. To the contrary. We have statistics. Defence attorneys will tell us that very few serial killers are actually released after 25 years. What worries me is that the government seems to be trying to invent legal problems that scare Canadians and it has solutions to problems that do not exist.

Two months ago the Times & Transcript in Moncton had an article saying that murderer Clifford Olson was up for parole again. That is scary, but he was not granted parole. He will never be granted parole.

A few weeks later there were articles in newspapers across the country about Russell Williams. The Edmonton Sun, the Calgary Sun, the Winnipeg Sun and the Toronto Sun all wrote that Russell Williams will never get parole but no one can guarantee what is going to happen 25 years from now. That is the pith of the articles. Everyone knows that the crimes of Russell Williams were entirely repulsive but should this bring us to distrust the Parole Board system? If so, let us have an investigation into the Canadian legal principles that have served us well.

Russell Williams will not get out of jail. He committed multiple crimes and multiple murders. If the National Parole Board works the way I have observed it working on high profile, multiple murder cases, he will never get out of jail.

Another recent article in the Edmonton Sun tells us that those convicted of multiple murders would spend more time behind bars under this new legislation. There is no evidence of that. Multiple murderers who serve life sentences stay in jail a lot longer than 25 years.

Members may remember the debate yesterday on Bill S-6, the legislation with respect to the amount of time that murderers serve. First degree murderers in Canada serve 28.4 years on average. There are people who serve longer. Multiple murderers serve longer.

Because it is another committee and another set of legislation and has not been tested, does the National Parole Board now weigh the fact when discussing eligibility of multiple murderers before it?

Is it in the directives, the workings and the results of the National Parole Board to say that a person convicted of two murders is not going to be handled the same way after 25 years as a person who committed one murder? I bet it is. However, we do not have that evidence.

Professor Doug King of Mount Royal University said that the measures in this bill are unlikely to have any deterrent value either, so it will not remove multiple murderers from our community. It will not keep them away from the community any longer, nor will it deter them initially from committing the crime. The only purpose left for the bill is to send a message that life means life and that taking two lives effectively means life in prison.

I believe that already exists. We would like to have the evidence. We do not oppose a message on retribution or on removing the offender from society. We do not oppose the principles in section 718 of the code. However, the principles have to be balanced. There are principles that have to recognize that in lesser crimes there is a role for rehabilitation, even within the corrections system.

I had the opportunity to tour one of the oldest facilities in Canada over the Christmas break, Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick. It houses all kinds of convicted criminals, including murderers. We might not think that rehabilitation for people who are going to be in jail for the rest of their lives is important, because they are never going to be back in society. However, that is not so. If we talk to the correctional officers and their union representatives, we learn that their lives are put in danger by persons inside who have no hope whatsoever of living any sort of acceptable life within the facility. They are in danger every day if internal programming does not keep up with the intake of criminals within the judicial system.

It is a message that is lost on the government. The government and all its members, front benches and back, had better wake up to the message. It had better talk to corrections officers and ensure that it does not lose the support of the corrections officers, who claim that it is flooding the prisons and not keeping up with its commitments toward rehabilitation, training and facility enhancement within the existing facilities and is putting their lives in danger and causing them more anxiety. As a result, they say they are not going to support the government and its programs. I say that as a clarion call to the Conservatives to wake up with respect to issues of law and order.

As a Liberal, I want to be tough on crime. I come from a family of tough-on-crime individuals. My Uncle Henry was a provincial court judge. He was nicknamed “Hanging Henry“. There were no actual life sentences in the provincial court in Moncton, New Brunswick, during his 30 years on the bench, but he was not seen as a softy on crime. Neither am I. Nobody is. Anyone with a family and anyone with regard to the community is not soft on crime. What kind of message is that? That is how the government paints anybody who does not believe what it is saying.

In real democratic debate, one is allowed to say, “Good effort on judicial discretion and good effort on clearing up the message on what a life sentence means, but you missed the mark and you should be working on other things”. That is what we are doing in the House. My message to the government is that it is not the government's sandpile; it is everybody's sandpile. Let us play together in a more reasonable fashion.

The bill really will not change very much. It is part of a tough-on-crime legislative agenda, but it really will not do very much. It is poorly drafted.

I want to talk about an amendment that would have done a better service to the victims.

There is a doctrine known as “judicial restraint”. It has been canvassed and written about. Essentially what it means is to err on the side of caution. If given two options, it is better to take the one that is less likely to be attacked.

I am quoting from the Library of Parliament's Oxford Journal of Legal Studies item on judicial restraint: “The question of how judges ought to exercise judicial restraint is a crucially important constitutional issue that cuts across most areas of public and private law”.

This is an international institutional issue that is dealt with every day by scholars, so it exists. I am not making it up. The point is that if a judge is given a choice between setting parole eligibility at 25 years or 50 years in a conviction for, let us say, two first degree murders, my thought--and also the thought of the authors who talk about judicial restraint--is that a judge will probably pick 25 years.

There was an amendment proposed at committee that would have given the judge true discretion. What is being said in the bill is that a judge will have the discretion of 25 years or 50 years. That is like being on Highway 401 and saying that one could drive in the busy rush hour at 30 miles an hour or 100 miles an hour, neither of which may be safe. In this case, being given the choice between 25 and 50 may not serve the victims and may not serve society.

That amendment was not supported. That amendment was not thoroughly researched before it came to Parliament. It was voted down, and voted down at the peril of victims. What could happen is that a judge may feel that this was an egregious set of murders and that it is not a one-murder eligibility. In other words, if there is a conviction of one crime of first degree murder, the parole eligibility--the time after which the accused convicted person can apply for parole--is 25 years. That is the way it is with one. Under this legislation, a judge with two murders in the same hearing might say, “I'm going to set parole ineligibility at 50 years” or a judge might say, “The accused convicted person is 40 years old; effectively, a 50-year parole ineligibility period is not sensible. There is a chance for rehabilitation. This might have been a crime of passion. This might have been a crime committed with respect to drug and substance abuse”. All those factors might mitigate so that a judge might say, “I will look at a period at 25 years, not 50”.

What the amendment offered and what could have come from the government--and it is not impossible to do this--was a law that would give the judge true discretion between the 25- and 50-year periods. The judge might have been able to say, “These are heinous acts. The convicted person is 40 years old. I will set the period of parole ineligibility to 35 years”. That would have been true judicial discretion. It is discretion that exists; neither I nor any members of the committee often emulate or talk about the American justice system, but it is something that exists in terms of judicial discretion in the United States.

As a lawyer, I thought this would encourage judges to apply their discretion. I thought it would rid judges of their own reticence to use this provision to give longer sentences to multiple murderers, because I do not think a lot of judges would use this extra 25 years. Judges are human. Determining the fate of a person for the next 50 years would put a lot of weight on a judge's shoulders.

I cannot resist quoting my own words, the words I spoke this morning and yesterday in this House about Bill S-6. Certainly these two bills worry me.

There are very real things the government can do, as I said, with respect to the previous legislation. We can be tough on crime for real. This chamber could legislate to protect Canadians from criminality. What are we waiting for? It has been five years. The Conservatives have had their hands on the tiller for five years. Why are they not more aggressive in other areas of the law? They should put more police officers on the street. They did this in New York City. It used to be a crime capital; now 2006 statistics show the lowest crime in that city since 1963.

Where are the promised police officers? Where is the money for rehabilitation? What policies can we borrow from successful experiences everywhere?

There are lots of stark contrasts between Conservatives and Liberals. The Conservatives want to promote their tough-on-crime agenda. They spend all kinds of money on advertising and speeches. We would better equip police forces so that communities across Canada would actually be safer.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 10:55 a.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, it was interesting listening to my colleague from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe talk about the short title in this bill. It is one that I find quite offensive. I find it offensive as a lawyer who has practised in our courts for a long period of time. More importantly, I find it very offensive to the judiciary in this country. If anybody, particularly the government of the day, thinks that a term could be used that is a direct accusation that our judiciary discounts the lives of Canadians by giving lesser sentences, it is grossly offensive.

It was moved in committee that we delete this, as we have done with several other bills that had offensive or misleading short titles like this one. At committee the member voted against the motion to delete, so the title stays and that offensive wording will go on, because it appears that the Liberals, the Conservatives and the Bloc are going to vote for this bill.

I would ask the hon. member, given his opening comments today, how he justifies having voted the way he did to not delete that title and, in effect, to not support the judicial component of our society.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 10:55 a.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, the member will recall, even though he is the dean of the justice committee, that he has never brought a motion since I have been there to strike these ridiculous hyperbolic titles. Frankly, I was the first guy to strike the title, and that was a few bills ago. I think the message has been received by the Conservatives.

As I said, the only thing I agree with the Minister of Justice on is that debate on the title is silly. I would ask them, in their next bills, to stop bringing us silly titles. That was the message sent.

Unlike my friend from the NDP, we want some legislation to get through. We want it to get through. We have voted for some of this government legislation. Sometimes the NDP is so fixed on the position of being against everything that they do not know what they are for. What we are for is law and order.

I will pick the fight on the short titles with the right person at the right time. I am not going to fight with him on this.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 10:55 a.m.
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Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Madam Speaker, I have a simple question for my colleague.

The Liberal opposition has proposed an amendment to the bill. I would like my colleague to explain the whys and wherefores of the original bill and to do it in the simplest possible terms so that the public can understand why they want this amendment and what difference it makes to the original bill.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 10:55 a.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, the amendment, as I thought I covered in my speech, was an amendment to allow periods without eligibility to be given over to judicial discretion for the choice between 25 years and 50 years. The difference would be that a judge would be given the discretion to choose a period between 25 and 50 years. The bill, as it currently stands, chooses either 25 years or 50 years. The amendment was with regard to that issue.

I would say that the department did not look into this at all and that the government never thought of it at all, but after five years it rushes to the six o'clock news to say it is going to prevent Clifford Olson from getting out when he would never get out anyway.

The government did not do its homework to see if the bill could have this sliding discretion in it because judges, under judicial restraint in Quebec and in the rest of Canada, would choose 25 years instead of 50 years. They might have chosen something in between. It was a good amendment. The government should have crafted it in its bill, and it should do more homework.

Now the government has two parliamentary secretaries for justice. My friend is a very smart and capable man. I suggest that he be allowed to give some advice to the government, which is clearly not very interested in the substance of bills but very much interested in the shiny surface of them.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 11 a.m.
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Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague talked about judicial discretion. My question relates to linking judicial discretion or restraint and rehabilitation. My colleague makes an excellent point with respect to the culture of penitentiary life, imprisonment, and the implications that has on those who are serving us as employees in these penitentiaries. He makes a very good point that under the circumstances they will feel very insecure with respect to their own personal safety.

If the amendment giving discretion to 35 years has been turned down by the committee and is not entrenched in the legislation, what can we do with respect to the issue that he has raised? If it is now only up to judges to apply a 25-year or a 50-year sentence, there still is no resolution to the issue of those who are entrusted with the security in those penitentiaries. Under those circumstances, there is nothing that would assuage their fears. I think the quality of their life and the life of victims needs to be balanced against the issue with respect to this legislation. For me and, I am sure, for those who are following this debate, they will be very concerned about this legislation as it relates to the security in the prisons.

Never mind whether those inmates actually get out or the Parole Board makes a decision with respect to allowing them parole, it is a question of the safety in the penitentiaries. What can be done to address that particular issue?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 11 a.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, under this legislation, nothing. The cake has been taken out of the oven and it is baked.

However, with respect to other measures, the Conservatives are the government. They can commit money to rehabilitation. What they seem to forget in everything they bring forward is that the incarcerated person is in prison and is facing good Canadian correctional officers. If the incarcerated person gets out, then they are in a community.

The member knows better than most as he was the chairman of the largest city in Canada, metro Toronto, and his father was the mayor of his city. He knows, like most municipal politicians, that issues such as this, offenders in the community, hit first up against municipal governments and the communities. Zoning applications are needed for halfway houses, for instance, enough police officers are needed and ensuring that correctional officials are minding the Parole Board officials to see where these people are. He knows more than most in this chamber about the real impact of offenders released and offenders within the facilities who have had no treatment.

The answer to his question is that not with this legislation and not with anything that I have seen from the government. However, surely it will get the message that people eventually get out of prison and that while they are in prison they better have had some treatment to make them better citizens so that public safety is enhanced. That is the real problem.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 11:05 a.m.
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Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to say right away that we agree. This is a good bill and we will therefore vote in favour of it.

We feel that this is not at all the spirit that motivates the government. It is still motivated by the political benefit that can be derived. It is clear that this bill is being introduced for the second time so that the government can publicly state for the second time that it opposes sentence discounts. That is a disgraceful term to use in regard to our legal system and, besides, there is no truth to it. They want us to think a life sentence comes at a discount. It is not at a discount. Does someone have two lives if there are two victims? It is nonsense. Once again, they are taking their cue from the Americans, who have the ridiculous habit of imposing totally unrealistic sentences, such as 175 years in jail. For example, a lawyer told his client on leaving not to worry, he only had to do what he could.

The Conservatives are still using expressions that are pure propaganda. This title is pure propaganda. It is untrue. There are no sentence discounts for murder in Canada. It is true that there are multiple murders, but usually there is just one murder victim per person.

What we should remember is that, ultimately, this bill will not have much effect on the prison term that offenders serve because that decision—and this is why I think the bill is quite good—is made by the people who were there for the trial, that is to say, the judge and jury. At the end of a trial, the jury is asked whether it thinks the period of ineligibility for parole should be extended, in other words, the time until the offender can apply for it. The judge must take this opinion into account and give his reasons.

It would be better, as the hon. member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe suggested, if the judge had a bit more discretionary power to vary the sentence in some cases and did not have to decide between 25 and 50 years, as is currently the case. But it does not matter that much in the end. In any case, if the judge did not do it, the National Parole Board would ultimately take it into account.

We need to recognize that there are multiple murders that are less serious than single murders and there are single murders that are more serious than multiple murders. The existence of multiple victims is certainly one of the most important circumstances to be taken into account when a decision is made whether to grant parole. However, current events offer some glaring examples of this difference.

Members know that the man who was considered to be the leader of the Hells Angels, Maurice “Mom” Boucher, gave his permission to go after prison guards. He encouraged someone to go to prisons and kill two guards who were transporting prisoners. Two people showed up: one drove the motorcycle and the other was on the back. They killed the first prison guard. When they came around to kill the second, the gun jammed. Thus, Maurice “Mom” Boucher was found guilty of complicity in the murder of a single guard.

Consider another case from the news. Members will recall the horrific case in Saint-Jérôme last year of the young surgeon who was well loved in the community and deeply in love with his wife, also a doctor. When she left him, he killed their two children. That was obviously an act of desperation. One has to wonder why.

He absolutely deserves a sentence and should spend a considerable amount of time in prison. And he will, because in this case, he will not be able to apply for parole after 15 years; he will not be able to apply for 25 years because it was a multiple murder. However, it is clear that we do not need to treat the surgeon the same way as the leader of the Hells Angels, “Mom” Boucher.

There is another recent example. A poor, desperate family in Lac-Saint-Jean asked for help, but no one reached out. They eventually came to the horrible conclusion that life was not worth living, either for the parents or their children. They got enough medication to kill four people. They were eventually found in the house, and all of them were unconscious. Doctors were still able to save the woman. She survived and was charged with murdering her husband and two children, which makes sense. She was convicted. That said, there is a difference between this woman and “Mom” Boucher. Clearly, her behaviour was abnormal in psychiatric terms, but that does not justify what she did and did not render her incapable of making decisions. Consequently, it was not an admissible defence against criminal charges. But her actions were still not the same as those of “Mom” Boucher.

Think about the killer in Tucson and imagine if that happened here. In that case as well, there were multiple murders. That is very important. And there is the case of those who planted the bomb that exploded on the Air India flight. Clearly the fact that there are multiple murders will be taken into consideration by those who have to rule on parole. Obviously it is an important factor, but one that has been taken into consideration and always will be, even if this bill is not passed.

However, I see an improvement here. Currently, the decision is left up to the Parole Board concerning multiple murder cases. I think that the fact that, in future, the jury that heard the trial and the judge who will make the decision will be asked for their opinion is an improvement in the law.

Another case of appalling multiple murders is the case of Colonel Williams.

That said, in the language used by the government, a little rigour is needed. The current Minister of Justice is really not of the same calibre as many of his predecessors. He always manages to lower himself to the same level as an alley cat, with his political battles. He is in fact the one who is inspiring all these titles, which are more like propaganda slogans than informative titles for bills. Once again, he continues to show his contempt for judges and for the system. Using an expression like “sentence discounts” is, once again, an expression of his contempt in an effort to gain a slight political advantage, to show just how tough he is on crime. This is becoming a habit of his. I remember another bill the Conservatives loudly applauded that he called the “Ending House Arrest for...Serious and Violent Offenders Act”. No judge would ever allow serious and violent offenders to serve their sentences at home. It is already prohibited under existing legislation. The first criterion a judge must consider before allowing an offender to serve his sentence at home is the danger it would present to public safety.

In my opinion, if a serious and violent offender were to serve his sentence at home, that would pose a risk to public safety. So judges to do not impose such sentences.

The title of the bill clearly indicates that it is an insult to the judiciary. The member is laughing at us because we care about titles. Yes, we care about titles that are propaganda. Why does he use false propaganda in his bill titles? In my opinion, this shows once again that he has not achieved the same level of wisdom and excellence that previous justice ministers achieved—people like Guy Favreau, Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Mark MacGuigan, among others. He is not of the same calibre as his predecessors.

However, his bill does include one improvement, that is, the role of the judge and jury that heard the case. That is the only improvement it contains, but few changes were made.

In his arguments in favour of this legislation, the government member spoke of the victims who will have to continue attending National Parole Board hearings and listen to the account of the crimes of which their loved ones were the victims. A victim's family members are not required to attend these hearings. Usually half the victims decide to attend and the other half choose not to. However, there is nothing stopping those who decide not to attend from sharing their thoughts in writing or otherwise.

In that respect, there is a quick fix to all this. In fact, it might already be included in the law, but I am not sure whether this applies to Olson. Currently under the law, when someone sentenced to life in prison applies for parole before the end of his sentence—let us say that person is allowed to apply after serving 15 years—the jury making the decision on the initial application can effectively determine how long the offender will have to wait before he can apply for parole a second time. It seems to me this also applies to Olson, but perhaps not, since he has already served a minimum of 25 years. There simply needs to be a provision similar to the one that already exists under the law for those who apply 15 or 25 years after their prison term begins, in order for the jury to make its decision. In a case like Olson's, it is obvious. If ever Colonel Williams decided after 25 years to apply for parole every two years, all we would need is a provision whereby the jury hearing the initial application could determine how long Mr. Williams would have to wait before making another request. That way, the jury would lift this burden from the victims' families.

When we are dealing with this legislation it is important to remember that for the past 40 years in Canada, murderers have been serving the longest sentences. It is surprising to see that since the death penalty was abolished, murderers are serving much longer sentences than those served by murderers who had been sentenced to death, but whose sentence had been commuted. Before 1968, the average length of sentence served by murderers sentenced to death whose sentence was commuted was seven years. From 1968 to 1974, the average increased to 10 years. Since 1974 and with other reforms, the average has increased to 28.4 years. In civilized countries comparable to Canada—such as the United States—the average is roughly 15 years. For example, the average is 14 years in England and 12 years in Sweden.

When amendments were made in 1976, this information was used to establish that a decision to sentence a person to life in prison without any possibility of parole should potentially be reviewed after 15 years. Fifteen years was slightly longer than the average time frame in other civilized countries.

It is significant that Canada is the country with the longest time frame. It seems that the Conservatives' goal is to also make Canada one of the countries with the most severe sentences. I would like to remind members that we have a way to go before we catch up with the United States, the country that currently incarcerates the highest number of people, per capita, in the world. It used to be Russia, but the Americans now have a higher incarceration rate. The incarceration rate in the United States is currently seven times higher than in Canada.

Members have also spoken about the role and influence of the media. I would like to remind the media that they should perhaps be a bit more careful about criticizing court decisions. For example, the Parole Board of Canada has a gradual release program that involves sending offenders to halfway houses. There is only one difference between offenders' liberty in prison and their liberty in a halfway house: the halfway house does not have any walls, barbed wire or armed guards to ensure that offenders do not leave. However, as in prison, offenders living in a halfway house must eat when they are told, eat what they are given, do what they are told throughout the day, and live with other offenders. They are deprived of most of their freedom. After a time, these offenders may be allowed to have employment, but they have to work during the hours prescribed and they must return to and sleep at the halfway house. Little by little, offenders are given more freedom. It is important to understand that offenders who are released on parole do not have the freedom they had before they went to prison.

Newspapers generally refer to a change in status when an offender is released from prison. They say that the person has gained their freedom. That is false because it is a very limited freedom. This needs to be taken into consideration. The expense is an important consideration because the average cost of keeping an offender in prison is $110,000 compared to $30,000 if they are in a halfway house. It is possible to restrict the freedom of a good number of offenders who are not dangerous enough to be kept in the traditional maximum security setting of a prison.

In committee, we finally managed to impose an amendment on the government. It should be very clear that the opposition members find it an outright insult that judges must provide written or oral reasons for their decision in the event that they refuse to impose the most severe measure. It is customary for judges to provide reasons for their decisions in one way or another, but why impose an additional requirement if a specific measure is not applied?

This is in the same vein as the titles of laws implying that, in Canada, we give sentence discounts, as if there were sales on goodness knows what, or that judges allow serious and violent offenders to serve their sentences in the community, even though this is prohibited by law.

It is always the same story. This is something new for the Conservative Party. I do not believe that former Prime Ministers Joe Clark or Brian Mulroney adopted this habit of scoring political points at the expense of judges or the parole system.

We have had many intelligent discussions in Parliament about the role of parole. The fact remains that the parole system has been of great benefit in dealing with crime.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 11:25 a.m.
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Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, the Conservative government decided to score political points by blaming judges and jury rulings, which I think is shameful. But that is not why I am a sovereignist. I am not condemning how things are done in the criminal justice system. I still think that Canada is a civilized country and we inspire many other countries that wish to achieve a level of civilization similar to what we have achieved. The Conservatives should be ashamed of themselves for acting that way.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 11:25 a.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, I wonder if my colleague believes that it is possible to introduce a bill that differentiates between murders committed by a family member or friend of the victim and murders committed by people like Mr. Olson, Mr. Pickton or Mr. Bernardo, who all committed multiple murders? Would it be possible to have a bill that stipulates that if someone commits a crime like Mr. Olson's, he will be incarcerated for life, without any possibility of parole?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 11:25 a.m.
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Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, we do not need a bill to obtain such a result. Let us allow the system to work the way it is currently working. People like Clifford Olson and Colonel Williams will not be granted parole. Some American states can render decisions in which there is no possibility of parole, and I do not think that they are achieving better results than we are. These states are driving up the homicide rate in the United States. The overall homicide rate in the United States is three and a half times higher than in Canada, and surely it is even higher than that in the specific states in question.

I do not believe that this bill is necessary but I am not against it either. It is not a bad idea to have the judge and jury who heard the case determine when an offender can apply for parole.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 11:25 a.m.
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NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Madam Speaker, in his speech, the Conservative member said that it would be up to the judges to give their reasons for the decision to not give such a sentence to an offender. Does my Bloc colleague think that the judge should be responsible for explaining why such a sentence was not imposed?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 11:30 a.m.
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Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, it makes sense for the judge to give the reasons for making this very important decision on whether to extend the parole ineligibility period. Either way, it is a good thing for the judge to give the reasons because this is an extremely important decision. The Conservatives' attitude sort of blames the judge, who is required to explain why he is not handing down the harshest sentence. Once again, the Conservatives should be ashamed of themselves.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 11:30 a.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, I am sure my colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River will not mind if I go ahead of him, and I am sure he will stay in the chamber and pay very close attention to all of my comments, as I will to his comments shortly.

Just to be clear about the position of the NDP, we still have grave reservations about the bill. A number of members of our caucus are leaning to support it and a number are leaning to oppose it. Once the debate is completed, we will make a final decision in that regard.

What has happened here is classic example of the way the government, as well as the Conservative Party, approaches the issue of crime. It tends to be obviously ideological in many cases, and in a number of cases, it is emotional, as opposed to an approach based on good public policy, good planning, on how to cope with those people in our society, going all the way to the extreme, who are prepared to commit murder.

The bill is really designed to go after the Clifford Olsons, the Paul Bernardos and the Picktons of the world. That is the way the Conservatives portrayed it. That is the way the Conservatives sold it to the public.

However, we have heard stories today of the multiple murderers who do not fit that pattern at all. We heard in the last few minutes from the Bloc about the situation in Quebec up around Saint-Jérôme, where a well-known, well-respected surgeon killed his two children after his marriage broke up. We heard of another instance from one of the members from Scarborough about a situation that was, in effect, infanticide; but again, it was a multiple murder of two children by a mother.

Under the existing law the faint hope clause does not apply to multiple murders, including the two circumstances I just described, which of course we do not hear from the Conservatives. In those cases, therefore, those murderers will spend 25 years in custody before becoming eligible for parole. Because they cannot apply for parole until the 25th year, they will probably spend another year, maybe more, in custody. On average, even where it is clear they are rehabilitated and clearly not a risk to society at all, they will spend 26 years of their lives behind bars in those fact situations.

They say that maybe there are exceptions, but they still have to be sure to get the Olsons of the world. However, the reality is that roughly 80% of all murders are committed by people in the latter category, not the Olson category, that is, they know the victim and the victim knows them. A lot of it is inter-family or, at the very least, among acquaintances.

What the government is doing with the bill is trying to solve a problem related to Clifford Olson that will, unfortunately, in other cases, cause an injustice.

I will use the reaction we saw in the Latimer case, where we had a repeated battle in the courts over whether there was some way he could be released before the 10 years, the minimum he had to serve, based on the crime he was convicted of at that time, the murder of his daughter. There was a great discussion in the country. It went both ways. I think the country was roughly evenly divided. As much as 50% of the country said that in that circumstance, and I want to be clear that it was not a position I supported, maybe he should be allowed, once convicted, to spend less than the absolute minimum of 10 years.

We have any number of other cases, when the facts are presented to our society as a whole, where they would say the same thing, that 10 years is fine; 15 years is too much; and 25 years definitely too much.

Canadians are basically a fair people. They look for justice and they certainly want it to be clear in our society that there are going to be consequences for whatever crime one commits and, obviously, serious consequences if it is a murder, if someone takes another's life. There is no question about that: they see that as fair, they see that as just. However, from all my experiences and all the reading I have done, I also believe they want everyone to be treated fairly. If the person is Clifford Olson, they want him kept in custody for the rest of his life. It is the same with Paul Bernardo. However, if it is the Latimer case, that certainly would not be the consensus in the country.

Thus the bill is clearly designed for a problem that we recognize exists. The consequences of the bill, though, will create many more problems, and the government is not seeing that.

It really is the difference between multiple or double murders and single murders. Perhaps I should put this statistic on the table. On average, in Canada, every year we have between 14 and 16 multiple murders. The vast majority of them are not of the serial killer type; the vast majority of them are the husband or the partner losing control and killing, almost always, both his partner and the partner's new lover. Those are the majority of cases.

When we look at that, most Canadians would say that the existing system, the faint hope clause, which will disappear if the bill we were debating yesterday is passed, combined with this bill will create very many more problems and injustices, as I think the average Canadian would say, if he or she looked at the individual cases.

We cannot consider this bill just in light of itself. We have to look at Bill S-6, because the Liberals are clearly going to support it, along with the government, and it is going to pass. We are going to end up in a situation where judges are going to be confronted, in the multiple murder situation, with having to make the decision. My colleague from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe was right about this. There are going to be very few cases where the judges in this country are going to be prepared to use this bill, this law, if it goes through, which obviously appears to be the case. I suppose this is a point one has to make if one is going to support the bill. It will be on the basis that it is probably going to be used properly by our judges.

In spite of the disrespect we constantly hear and see from the government, and we see it in this bill, when it speaks of our judiciary, it is at least equal to the best judiciary in the world, and it arguably is the best judiciary in the world, at both levels, that of provincial appointments and federal appointments. It is not perfect, but it has no superior bench anyplace in the world. It may have a few peers, but it has no superior.

Therefore, those judges, on an individual basis, when confronted with the reality of a multiple murderer before them and a conviction they have registered after a full-blown trial, will have to decide whether they are going to send someone to jail for 50 years for three murders, or 75 years. In the vast majority of cases, as I say, with the exception perhaps of Olson, they are not going to do that.

The evidence in committee from lawyers and people from organizations like the John Howard Society and Elizabeth Fry Society was interesting. It was very clear that at the time of sentencing judges knew that it was impossible to say what would happen 25 years down the road. If it is a multiple murder, they know that the person under our existing law would not be eligible to apply for parole up to 25 years.

The vast majority of judges, very near 100% of them, would say that they do not know, with any degree of certainty, what a person will be like 25 years from now, where psychological and psychiatric treatment will be 25 years from now in terms of the ability to cope with someone like this and be sure the offender goes back into society without being a risk. Judges will say that they will not invoke the provisions of Bill C-48, which will happen in the vast majority of cases.

It may happen occasionally if there is a Pickton or Olson in front of the court. Members who want to support the bill could perhaps assuage their consciences by saying it will rarely be used and based on the trust we have in our judiciary, it will only be used when appropriate.

One other point will be in the minds of the judges but obviously is not in the mind of the government. I say that because there are alternatives, such as the way we could deal with serial killers, and I will come back to that in a few minutes. What is going to be in the mind of the judiciary is the need to be sure that our criminal justice system does not become a point of ridicule, that by sentencing a serial killer in particular to 200, 300 or 400 years, and nobody lives that long, they do not expose the court, the judiciary and the criminal justice system to the kind of ridicule that could produce, as we have seen in the United States.

In some states in the U.S. people can be sentenced to 100 years for each murder. Someone who has committed two or three murders can be sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for up to 300 or 400 years. That is not uncommon in the United States and it draws ridicule from outside the U.S. on its system.

That will be in the minds of the judges every time they consider this. They will look at whether they know what a person will be like 25 years from now. In the vast majority of cases, they will say no. They will then ask themselves if they should risk the possibility of bringing the system under ridicule and disrepute. Again, they will want to decide on the basis of safety that they do not invoke these provisions.

Another reason for supporting the bill is because there is judicial discretion.

There is another point in the bill, which quite frankly shows the ignorance of the Conservative government. It has put in a provision without understanding how trials work in the country, murder trials in particular. The provision is that judges are required to put to jury, after the conviction, if it wants to make a recommendation as to whether the person should spend multiple periods of time without eligibility for parole. It actually has the wording that the judge must read to the jury.

What the government does not understand is the reality of what jury members have just gone through. They have oftentimes sat through one to several weeks of what can be extremely stressful testimony around murders. They are very tired and stressed out, but right after the conviction judges are required to read this direction to them and inquire as to whether they want to make recommendations. There is no psychological basis for them to be able to do that.

The other point the government does not understand is how this works. There is no evidence given to the jury at that point about this person. The person, in most cases, does not testify, so there is no psychological or psychiatric evidence before the jury as to what is an appropriate way to deal with the person or whether the person can be dealt with at all. In comes down to the fact that the jury has to make this decision completely in the dark.

Then, after saying those two things on the weakness of what the government has proposed for this system, it is only a recommendation and not binding on the judge. The Superior Court judge has the final decision and it is entirely within that person's discretion. As I said earlier, I believe that in the vast majority of cases judges will opt not to invoke the multiple periods of time.

Therefore, what are we doing here? It is obvious that we will pass the bill. The Liberals and the Bloc members have already announced that they will support it, along with the government. However, we are creating a system that is not going to be used very often, but that has a major risk of being used in situations where the average Canadian, knowing the facts, would say that it is not appropriate and further puts us at risk of our system being ridiculed, much as the system in the United States is in some cases.

On the alternatives, we have heard from other members of the House and the evidence at committee about these facts. Our system of dealing with murderers goes back to the mid-1970s when we opted, as a society, to do away with the death penalty. At that point, we said that this was the way we would treat murderers, depending on whether it was manslaughter, second degree or first degree murder. That was when we brought in the faint hope clause. At that time, it was fixed at 25 years spent, without the faint hope clause, for first degree murder.

The faint hope clause allowed application for parole at 15 years if it could be justified first to a judge, then to a judge and jury and then ultimately to the Parole Board. It was a three-step process. That was the system, but we made some changes to it to deal with the multiple murderers in 1997 to exclude them from that process.

In the mid-1970s, and again in 1997, we knew that we were sending people to prison much longer than all the countries to which we were compared, with the exception of some of the states in the U.S. that are close to us. The majority of the states in the U.S. have life sentences that are shorter than ours. Every other jurisdiction, England, all of western Europe, Australia and New Zealand, countries that have societies that are very similar to ours, have much shorter periods of time for people being sent to custody. The average is running around 15 years, but in a number of countries it is less than that. I think in New Zealand it is 12 or 14 years now. Currently, in England it is 14 years. On average, we are at 28.4 years.

There is an alternative as to how we deal with the serial killer, and that is to use the dangerous offender section of the code. It needs to be changed so it is specifically available to our judges, courts, police and prosecutors. If we made that available to them in the serial killer case, it would solve the problem that we are trying to address here, but not doing so very effectively.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 11:50 a.m.
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Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh mentioned family murderers and murderers like Olson. There was a particular case in Surrey in the fall of 2007. When Ed Schellenberg was doing his plumbing job, he was innocently caught in a gang-related murder and was murdered. As well, a neighbour, Chris Mohan, was shot when he happened to go out to play hockey.

How would the hon. member like to see that the proper and appropriate punishment has been given to those people who commit murders like this?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 11:50 a.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, I know this situation quite well. I have met with family members of two of the victims of that incident.

I was getting into the answer to the question as I was finishing my speech. I will not claim to know all the facts, but in my opinion, and from the facts I have, that is where the dangerous offender provision comes in. I think we have had one conviction, if not two, because there were six perpetrators involved in those murders. In my world, they would clearly meet the test of and be convicted of first degree murder, from what we know up to this point. In addition to that, there would be a hearing on whether they could be declared dangerous offenders.

The provisions of the dangerous offenders are much more effective in keeping people in custody than under our parole system. People convicted of being dangerous offenders are responsible for proving they should get out. By comparison, under the parole system the onus on the convicted murderer is much lighter. Under the dangerous offenders sections, when we have used it, which we cannot use in the murder situation because of legal technicalities, rarely does anybody get out. The last time I looked at it on a 100% basis, I think three people got out although one may not have. Most of them die in prison.

That is the kind of provision at which we need to look. The bottom line is there is nothing we can do to rehabilitate certain members of our society. There is nothing we can do to ensure that when they go back into society they will not reoffend, including violent crime up to murder. We are capable of identifying those individuals and keeping them in custody. The dangerous offenders section is the one to be used.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 11:55 a.m.
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Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to challenge my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh on the statement he has just made. He has suggested that dangerous offender legislation is more appropriate to sentence multiple murderers. In fact, he knows that a sentence for a dangerous offender is actually indeterminate and that applications can be made on an ongoing basis for that offender to be released from prison.

Whereas, if we have consecutive sentencing or consecutive parole eligibility periods, a multiple murderer can not apply for parole for at least 50 years. Therefore, there is a guarantee that for 50 years there will be no applications for early release, and victims are actually asking for that.

I have spoken to Steve Brown the brother-in-law of Mr. Schellenberg who died in the Surrey six slaying. He is very much in support of this kind of legislation. He is in support of mandatory minimum sentences.

I would challenge my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh to justify why he would suggest using dangerous offender legislation rather than consecutive sentencing for multiple murderers.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 11:55 a.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, I thought I had made it clear, but perhaps I did not. I recognize that the dangerous offender provision as we have it now is not able to be used in the murder situation. If a person is convicted of murder in our country and is serving a life sentence, the dangerous offender clause is not allowed to be used in those circumstances.

I am proposing that we look at being able to use it in those circumstances. In addition, to deal with the problem my colleague has just raised of being able to reapply repeatedly, we would be putting very clear restrictions on what that would be, including that the application cannot be made, that the application would come from Correctional Service Canada or from the court.

There are other ways of dealing with the problem, recognizing that we do not want the families of the victims of murder to have to face repeated applications. Families are currently faced with that situation at the 25-year mark for an individual murder case. I am sure there are ways of doing it.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 11:55 a.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, when there are multiple deaths and a person is convicted in one or two cases but the law does not pursue the other cases, we have situations where the families of the victims are very upset. I wonder if the member has any comment on how the system should deal with that particular scenario.

There are many situations like this where the law is satisfied with one conviction. The person is put away in jail, and the rest of the victims' families are told that he is in jail and cannot get out. Their case is left and not prosecuted. I think it is a question of the resources that have to be put into the cases. The Pickton case is an example of that. There was a conviction on several deaths which is only a fraction of the total number he was accused of.

I am not sure of the direct application here, but I know the member is very experienced in these affairs and I would like to hear his opinion on this particular situation.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 11:55 a.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, it is extremely distressing to families of murder victims to be told by the prosecutor that they are not going to proceed with an attempt to convict the person on that particular murder because that person has already been convicted of two, three or more other murders. It obviously does not happen very often. As I said earlier, we have very few multiple murders. They tend to be in the range of two rather than the Pickton type of situation.

The reality is that in most cases where there are multiple murders and the courts have not proceeded with all the cases, it is usually not because of financial resources. That is probably true in the Pickton case, but in most cases it is because the evidence on the other murders, even though the prosecutor is convinced of the person's guilt, leaves serious reservations as to whether there is going to be a conviction. That tends to be the situation. Fortunately for our society it happens rarely.

Let me make one more point about that. I have been doing some work recently on suicide. The psychologist I was working with most closely raised the issue that serial killers are much more common in North America than they are in any other place in the world, which I found interesting. It is not just the United States, although we tend to point the finger at them. North America has more multiple murderers in the form of serial killers than any other continent.

It is one of the issues that I believe we do need to look at more closely, more so in the United States but also in Canada.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / noon
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Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are continuing debate on Bill C-48, a bill dealing with consecutive periods of parole ineligibility. That sounds fairly clinical. The area we are dealing with is unfortunately circumstances that follow the conviction of individuals for a second or third first degree murder.

Currently, a life sentence is imposed following a conviction of first degree murder. However, there is a fair bit of misconception about that life sentence. To keep it simple, in my view a life sentence is simply that, a sentence for life. The individual will never be out of sentence. There will never be a sentence expiry. There will always be a connection between the state and the individual, whether the person is in a prison, some other location or, in some cases, released under a reporting scenario.

What has muddied the waters on this is the fact that the Criminal Code imposes a parole ineligibility period of 25 years for someone convicted of first degree murder. That means that the person is not eligible to even request parole. Having said that, we have the procedures involving the faint hope clause. Therefore, I must put an asterisk beside that.

However, just in terms of basic sentencing, someone who is convicted of first degree murder has a life sentence. That is essentially forever, so long as the person lives; in other words, the person may not apply and is not eligible for any type of parole before the expiry of the 25 years. That applies whether the person is 20 years old or 50 years old when convicted. The sentence is for life.

The bill deals with the parole ineligibility period of 25 years. In the past there has been some suggestion that the parole ineligibility period should be increased in cases where an individual has committed more than one murder. As I understand it, most people presently working in corrections take the view that once people have been sentenced to life they are on the hook forever. Their considerations are all of the normal sentencing considerations, including deterrents, denunciation, safety to the community and those types of things.

There is no automatic release after 25 years either. For a person who is given a life sentence, 25 years is simply the period for which he or she is ineligible to apply for parole. Therefore, there is no automatic release after 25 years. The phrase “life 25” does not mean that prisoners are released after 25 years. It means they are ineligible to apply for parole within that timeframe. The Parole Board can only consider parole for an individual after the 25 years of imprisonment. Therefore, for many, “life 25” means forever. Offenders will never be released. For some it means 30 years and for others 40 years in prison. That is how it works and it has developed the population inside the prison system. They are referred to as “lifers”. It is actually a fairly stable population group within the prison system. Everyone wishes there were fewer of them. However, they exist and it is a somewhat stable population. Some say the reason it is stable is that prisoners are aware they will remain in prison for a long time and they do not want the prison system upset. They like stability.

These individuals also foresee the possibility, remote for some, zero possibility for others, that they will be released at some point before they die. They appear to like that smooth run up to when that period of potential release is there.

I have had the privilege as a member to visit many prisons across the country. By the time many of those individuals get there, they do not have a lot of incentive to leave. It varies from offender to offender. It is a sad circumstance when someone 70 years old and not considered to be a danger to the public simply does not want to leave and stays incarcerated. Some people would say that is fine, let him or her rot. In terms of the way we run our prisons that is not necessarily in keeping with the standards. However, I am diverging slightly from the bill.

Lest anybody has any doubt, the bill does not deal with individuals already convicted of multiple murders. It only applies to people who are convicted subsequent to its passage. It does not deal with people who have already served 25 years of a life sentence. Those people will continue to be dealt with under the current law, and should they apply for parole, they have the ability to try and convince the Parole Board they should be released on some basis, not that their sentence ends but that they be released on some basis.

The bill does not have anything to do with the procedures related to the faint hope clause. There has also been legislation before the House dealing with that. The faint hope clause does not apply to multiple murders in the first place and the individual has to apply to a judge to be able to get approval to apply to the Parole Board. The individual has to get permission from a judge and from the Parole Board and then he or she has to make an application. This bill does not actually affect the faint hope clause at all.

It is important to note that the bill does not automatically impose a second 25 year period of ineligibility for parole. Right now the parole ineligibility period is 25 years. The bill does not say that if someone commits a second murder, that individual would have an automatic additional 25 year period of ineligibility. The bill does not do that. That is one of the reasons the bill has a chance to pass, and I get the impression that it will pass.

Bill C-48 would impose some discretion. Although my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh did not find the procedural provision helpful in section 745.21, an explicit instruction is given to the jury in these trials where it is asked to comment. The jury is asked to provide its recommendation if it so wishes as to whether or not the judge should impose a second 25 year ineligibility period. The instruction reads:

You have found the accused guilty of murder. The law requires that I now pronounce a sentence of imprisonment for life against the accused. Do you wish to make any recommendation with respect to the period without eligibility for parole to be served for this murder consecutively to the period without eligibility for parole imposed for the previous murder? You are not required to make any recommendation, but if you do, your recommendation will be considered by me when I make my determination.

The jury in the second trial is invited to make a recommendation and most people would find that quite reasonable, although as has been stated here, it will be difficult sometimes for a jury to make a recommendation in a circumstance like this when it has not had the benefit of hearing from the accused. In this particular circumstance the accused will have already been convicted, but just. That person may or may not have taken the stand and all of the evidence will have come in from third parties. There will be no psychiatric or other medical evidence pertaining to the individual.

Most juries would find themselves underequipped to make a recommendation but in some cases a jury will make a citizen's judgment, if I can put it that way. We have heard the circumstances of those very sad, tragic killings in Surrey of innocent people who quite innocently came up against a gangland group, and a jury might say that it had heard enough to make a recommendation.

Anyway, the recommendation, if made, is made and then later on the judge must make a decision. The wording there says that a judge may, having regard to the character of the offender, the nature of the offence and the circumstances surrounding its commission and the recommendation, if any, made by the jury, order that the periods without parole eligibility are to be served consecutively.

There is the discretion on the part of a judge and if a judge does not decide to make these periods consecutive, he or she must give reasons. I would have thought that we might have wanted to have reasons either way but I am sure the judge will give reasons either way because in murder convictions there is a high probability of scrutiny of that judgment, potential for appeal, and a judge would not want to be seen making any decision, one way or another, without giving appropriate reasons. I am sure all Canadians agree with that perspective.

There will be a considered and rational decision made by a court about these parole ineligibility periods and it will be based on information brought out at the trial, either in the trial itself or in the sentencing phase.

I am prepared to give the bill guarded support because there is this discretion and not because I believe that the legislation in its execution will make the public any safer. I do not think anybody is seriously suggesting that this is public safety related. I should not say nobody because the bill has a short title where the government says that this bill may be cited as the protecting Canadians by ending sentence discounts for multiple murders act. The government somehow believes that this would make Canadians safer. I actually do not see that.

The second thing is that the judge, in making a decision about a second parole ineligibility period, cannot simply increase it by five, ten or fifteen years. The legislation only allows the judge to double it. I would either be 25 years or 50 years. Many of us think that is kind of dumb. It is actually more likely to make the judge decide not to impose the 50 years. I am speaking from my own experience, but we must keep in mind that this is judicial discretion. While the pretence here is that we are throwing the book at the convicted person, the fact is that there will be a jury, with or without recommendation, and there will be a judge who will be making a discretionary decision. We tried to vary this at the committee but without success, which is too bad.

What is the real effect of this on the street? Fortunately, there are not many of these multiple murders in our society. Regrettably, of course, there are some but there are not many and, because they are so notorious, we know about them all and we remember them. It becomes a litany over a quarter century of all of these terrible killings. They are truly sad but we remember them more than most of the others.

It seems to me that what will happen over time is that after 25 years the same logic and rationale that is currently used by the Parole Board in determining whether a person can be released on parole, whether it is murder or any other conviction, but let us just focus on second degree and first degree murder, the Parole Board will exercise its judgment as to whether the person, having regard to all of the circumstances, the denunciation, the deterrence, the public safety, can be safely released from prison.? That is what the Parole Board does all the time and it makes a whole lot of good decisions.

Is there a mistake once in a while? There could be. Do judges make mistakes? Maybe they do once in a while.

I remember that when I was first elected to this place in the late 1980s there were two separate cases of parole releases where very bad things happened. There were also prison escapes where some very bad things happened. However, the corrections system has improved and I think it is managing things much better.

I think that the same logic that is used by the Parole Board will actually be transmitted over to judges. The judges will begin to think the same way. When it comes time to either impose or not impose the second 25-year period of ineligibility, they will be thinking: Can this person be dealt with via the single parole ineligibility period? In other words, will we see him or her released in some fashion on parole, not end of sentence, after 25, 30 or 35 years? The only other alternative, if they impose the second 25-year period, would be release after 50 years and for many people that will be never. Judges will need to take on the challenge of thinking this way. I have every confidence that they will do it properly within the law and in the public interest and will serve each of the communities they in which they serve.

However, will it make a difference in deterrence? Beyond any shadow of a doubt, and I am not trying to make light of this, I cannot imagine that any prospective killers will pull out their copy of the Criminal Code before they commit the murder to try to determine whether they might or might not have a second period of parole ineligibility. This just will not happen and it is illogical to think that it would happen. Will there be any direct deterrence by this? I suspect not.

I also accept that many people in society like the mathematical simplicity of being able to see what a period of hard time in prison is in relation to the criminal act they have committed. If they rob a bank they will get five years, if they rob two banks they will get ten years and if they rob three banks they will get fifteen years. I can subscribe to the mathematical simplicity of that and a sense of justice, or whatever it is, not retribution. However, in this case we must keep in mind that we are not dealing with the sentence. The sentence is life. It always has been and still is. We are only dealing with a parole ineligibility issue.

While much of this, and some of the other legislation with which we have had to deal, is a sham, is posturing and is pretence, this one has a very small tweak to it. I do not think there is any sense of discount. We just need ask Mr. Olson or Mr. Bernardo if there is a discount there for them. There is no discount. This is a lifetime enterprise for them. They are in jail and I do not think the Parole Board is going to see it any other way.

I regret that we need to deal with 10 or 20 separate Criminal Code bills. The government seems intent on trotting out every little vignette, scenario and bill number with a very sexy title. I think it is a bit of a distortion of how we can work around here.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 12:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, who is on the justice committee, for his intervention on this bill and his cautious support of the legislation that would allow consecutive sentencing for multiple murderers.

He referred to the whole notion that the bill would not lead to deterrence. People do not open up the Criminal Code and say that they were going to commit multiple murders but decided not to because the penalties are more severe than they expected. However, I do know that the purpose of this bill is not primarily deterrence. It is incapacitation and protection of the public and, perhaps even more important, eliminating the re-victimization of the families of victims who are victims themselves.

Once the parole eligibility period starts, inmates can apply time and time again to be released from jail and each time the families of the victims are essentially re-victimized by being forced, by their concern for this person being released, to go to parole hearings. It is that re-victimization that is really the focus of the legislation.

Does my colleague on the justice committee agree with me that the purpose of this bill is to ensure that the families of murder victims are not victimized again and again by repeated parole applications?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 12:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not subscribe to that logic. I understand what the member has said, but if the government truly believed that a parole application constituted a re-victimization of a family member of a victim, it would get rid of all parole applications, every one of them.

This bill only deals with multiple murders. How many do we have? I can probably count them on my two hands. There may be a sense of avoidance of re-victimization for a few families in Canada but what about the other thousands who are, according to the hon. member, re-victimized every time a parole application happens? The problem with that logic is that we cannot accept a parole application as always being a re-victimization. It may be involved at times but not in every case.

Therefore, I do not accept that this bill is the great solution to all re-victimization. It only is for a very few families, as sad as all of that is and as much as I sympathize with the whole issue that the member raised.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 12:25 p.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, out of the 13,500 people in our federal prisons, we have approximately 4,000 people serving a life sentence. Of the multiple murderers, not people who have committed two murders, even though it is more than one, they are different from what the member for Abbotsford is going after. He is going after serial killers. My friend from Scarborough—Rouge River is right. There are very few of those in Canada currently.

I want to make another point with regard to sentencing offenders to prison for longer periods of time and keeping them there longer that spills over into this bill. Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan from Texas just said this month that this was tried in the United States and it has been a total failure. The U.S. cannot afford it, number one, but it does not work anyway. The rate of recidivism is going down. In the states that did not go down that route, the crime rate has actually dropped more than in the states that did take that route.

Would my colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River comment on that and on whether he sees any reason for Canada to follow the U.S. model, which is what the Conservative government seems to be absolutely determined to do?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 12:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I tend to agree with the member for Windsor—Tecumseh.

Although the bill purports to seek some kind of mathematical symmetry in sentencing, this approach totally undermines the approach to sentencing which Canada and all other enlightened countries have had, which is that once the guy is in jail, he is there. He is not on the street. He is not leaving jail until it is safe to let him go. That is why we have dangerous offender legislation and long-term offender legislation built into the Criminal Code, all of which has been added within the last 25 years.

It undermines the sense of justice. Warehousing and sentencing and just getting the guys off the streets undermine the whole balance and rest of the sentencing regime, which is calculated to release an offender when it is safe and appropriate to do so. We have systems in place to do that.

If it is just going to be warehousing and sentencing with mathematical symmetry, there would be no need for a parole board or to teach the inmates anything. They could be kept in jail and when their sentence was up they would be put out on main street where they could get on the same bus as our daughters. This we do not do in Canada.

We have to be careful with this mathematical symmetry and just putting people in jail and the heck with how long or how appropriate the sentence is.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 12:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to Bill C-48, which deals with the possibility of making periods without eligibility for parole consecutive in the case of multiple murders.

On October 28, 2009, the Minister of Justice introduced Bill C-54, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to the National Defence Act, which was intended to protect Canadians by ending sentence discounts for multiple murders. It had been introduced at first reading and died on the order paper at the end of 2009 because the Conservative Party and the Prime Minister decided to prorogue the House, thus putting an end to all bills.

Bill C-54 is therefore the ancestor of Bill C-48. The Conservative Party did not think Bill C-48 was very important, since it waited until October 5, 2010 to introduce it. Even if it had the intention, it was not a major priority of the Conservative Party since prorogation put an end to Bill C-54. In spite of the fact that the House resumed in February-March 2010, the government waited until October 5, 2010 to introduce Bill C-48.

The new provisions would authorize judges to impose consecutive periods without eligibility for parole on individuals convicted of more than one first degree or second degree murder. Under the existing rules, individuals who are sentenced for multiple murders receive simultaneous periods without parole eligibility. I say this to make it clear that judges could now extend the period without eligibility by making the periods consecutive. It would then be longer before the criminal could be eligible for parole than under the present legislation.

Judges would not be required to impose consecutive periods, but they would have to make their decision having regard to the character of the offender, the nature of the offences and the circumstances surrounding their commission, and the recommendation, if any, made by the jury. They would also have to give reasons either orally or in writing for not imposing consecutive periods. Judges are allowed that latitude. That is why the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-48 in principle, because it is judges who will decide.

Bill C-48 deals with the most serious crime, the one that has the most severe consequences for victims and affects the public most strongly: murder. Its aim is to allow sentencing judges to make periods without eligibility for parole consecutive in multiple murder cases.

First, the most serious crimes deserve the most serious penalties and are therefore subject to imprisonment for life. The Bloc Québécois is firmly opposed to sentences that are too light or parole that is too easy, such as parole after one-sixth of sentence, for example. Twice, our party has introduced bills in the House to have criminals serve their full sentence and not be able to get parole after one-sixth of sentence.

In the news, we saw white collar criminal Vincent Lacroix become eligible for parole last week. He is now in society, in a halfway house in Montreal.

We consider that to be completely and utterly appalling. Criminals like Vincent Lacroix have stigmatized their victims for the rest of their lives. These victims lost all their money, although there was a settlement before the courts thanks to the banks and companies that processed the funds. It was essentially an out-of-court settlement with no evidence presented.

No evidence-based trial was ever contemplated because these companies quite simply did not want to be saddled going forward with a bad corporate image. The companies instead decided to settle for the full amount of the victims' losses. The fact remains, however, that for five years these victims were traumatized. Moreover, Vincent Lacroix, the ringleader, a criminal, is on parole after serving one-sixth of his sentence, because the parole officers quite simply did not consider him to be a criminal who presented a danger to society.

Vincent Lacroix obviously did not murder anyone, but he did commit a very serious crime: he defrauded his fellow man and traumatized the majority of his clients. In the eyes of the Bloc Québécois, this is a crime for which the perpetrator should be forced to serve out his entire sentence with no possibility of parole. In fact, the whole concept of parole and being eligible for release after serving one-sixth of one's sentence undermines the credibility of the entire judicial system and only gives credence to the misguided notion that criminals are treated better than their victims.

There is the rub, particularly in the case of Vincent Lacroix. Once again, a criminal has been handed a sentence and yet does not serve out this complete sentence behind bars. He is rehabilitated and deemed reputable because he has been paroled. He can re-enter society on certain conditions, but the fact is, he is now there, in society. I repeat, these criminals should serve out their full sentence.

Bill C-48 deals only with criminals who have committed the most serious crime, murder. It seems unusual that a second murder would not result in an additional sentence. Logic dictates, however, that it is not possible to serve out two life sentences. Under Bill C–48, the judge would at least have the option of imposing consecutive periods of parole ineligibility.

Under the current legislation, even if someone has been handed one, two or three life sentences, that person is eligible for parole, regardless of whether the parole is associated with the first sentence. It is not possible to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods by virtue of the fact that a person has been handed several life sentences for his many crimes. The judge is not permitted to make an order that such a person will be ineligible for a specific number of years. Under Bill C-48, it would be possible to increase the period of ineligibility so that the most violent criminals are forced to serve out their complete sentence.

In addition, the Bloc Québécois thinks that punishment cannot be the sole objective of the legal system, to the neglect of rehabilitation and reintegration. Parole, even for murderers, is an important step in the rehabilitation and reintegration process because these people end up returning to society some day. It is very important, therefore, for them to have the best possible treatment to ensure that their reintegration is safe for the rest of society.

There is no question, therefore, of asking for the pure and simple abolition of parole. It is what enables criminals to be treated and reintegrated into society. Life sentences inevitably mean that offenders can be reintegrated into society after 25 years.

The Bloc Québécois is going to support the bill, but not in order to increase the range of penalties at a judge’s disposal to punish a crime. Despite what the minister says, we know very well that these measures have no dissuasive effect, especially in cases of recidivism, which are very rare. This is an exceptional measure, therefore, for exceptional cases where the jury provides its opinion and judges keep their discretionary powers. That is why the Bloc Québécois will support this measure: in the end, it is the jury that makes the recommendation and judges keep their discretionary powers.

We want to point out, though, that recidivism is rare and it is very expensive to keep people in prison after they have served long sentences—nearly 30 years on average—even though the recidivism rate is very low. In addition, not all victims feel comforted by extended prison terms. Maybe we could do more for them, rather than looking upon prison as the only solution to crime. We should also be able to look at what the victims go through so that judges can have an array of choices in passing sentence, depending on the consequences of the crime.

According to the legislative summary, the most serious crimes in the Criminal Code can be punished by life sentences. For some crimes, such as treason and murder, life in prison is the only sentence provided and is therefore the minimum sentence.

Homicide is divided into several categories: murder, manslaughter and infanticide. Murder is the most serious kind of homicide. It is an act committed with the intention of killing or mortally wounding someone or an illegal act that the offender knows is likely to cause death. There are two kinds of murder: first degree and second degree.

First degree murder is premeditated and deliberate, a planned murder. Other kinds of murder are automatically equated with first degree murder under the Criminal Code. This applies in particular to the murder of a police officer or a prison guard and murder that occurs in the course of an airplane hijacking, sexual assault, or a hostage taking.

Manslaughter has occurred when there is no intention to kill but there is negligence. For example, it could include firing a gun through a hedge with no concern for whether there is someone on the other side.

When it comes to sentencing, the Criminal Code is clear. Anyone committing murder in the first or second degree is guilty of a crime and must be sentenced to life in prison. Only the parole ineligibility period may vary depending on whether a first or a second degree murder was committed. In the case of first degree murder, parole is not permitted for a minimum of 25 years, as I previously stated. In the case of second degree murder, the judge determines the parole ineligibility period within a 10- to 25-year range.

The maximum sentence for manslaughter is life behind bars, and there is no minimum term of imprisonment, except when a firearm is used. Nor is there any minimum parole ineligibility period. The regular rules therefore apply.

Under the current system, multiple murderers serve out their life sentences simultaneously and are therefore subject to a single 25-year parole ineligibility period. The only exception currently is when a murder is committed in prison by a person who has already being convicted on murder charges. What is important to understand is that if a person were to commit two murders, the judge would be able to extend the ineligibility period beyond the 25-year mark. Such an individual could end up spending the remainder of his days behind bars.

It is important to remember that even inmates who have been given early release are subject to lifelong supervision and may be put back behind bars for any transgression. It is also worth noting that, to date, among the many people who have been granted early release, only one has reoffended, the crime in this case being armed robbery. It should be noted, however, that under the Criminal Code persons sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for over 15 years may ask the court, once they have served a minimum of 15 years of their sentence, to reduce the parole ineligibility period. The government is attempting to scrap this measure by way of separate bill, Bill S-6.

Once in effect, this legislation would enable judges to hand down consecutive periods of parole ineligibility to persons convicted of several first or second degree murders. In other words, if a person were to commit two murders, the judge would be able to order two periods of ineligibility, one 25-year period for the initial sentence and a further 10 years for the second sentence, or two 25-year periods, for example.

Judges would not be required to impose consecutive periods but would make their decision on the basis of the character of the person being tried. All this amounts to saying that judges retain their freedom, that is to say, it is up to them to decide whether to impose successive periods of ineligibility for parole. They do this on the basis of the character of the person being tried, the nature of the crimes committed and the circumstances surrounding them, and any jury recommendation. Judges would also be required to state orally or in writing why they did not impose consecutive periods of ineligibility.

The Minister of Justice said he wanted to ensure that serial killers and recidivists pay the price for their actions. He said the purpose of the bill was to put an end to what he calls “sentence discounts” for multiple murderers. The government should stop using this kind of language, which serves only to discredit our legal system, which he should be defending. We do not think it makes sense to talk of sentence discounts, although it is strange that the sentences for these crimes are regularly served simultaneously.

We also want to take advantage of this opportunity to raise a few more points. In regard to recidivism, between January 1975 and March 2006, 19,210 offenders who had served a sentence for homicide—9,091 for murder and 10,119 for manslaughter—returned to the community, either on parole or on statutory release. Of these 19,210 offenders, 45 were later convicted of another 96 homicides in Canada. The reoffenders therefore amounted to 0.2% of the 19,210 people convicted of homicide who were released into the community over the last 31 years. During this period, police forces in Canada were apprised of more than 18,000 homicides. The criminals who reoffended while on parole by committing another homicide therefore accounted for 0.5% of all the homicides committed in Canada over the last 31 years. The figures show, therefore, that there is no basis for all the exaggerated arguments focused on safety.

Since the last death sentence was carried out in Canada in 1962, the period served by offenders convicted of murder prior to full parole has increased dramatically. Offenders serving life terms for murders committed before January 4, 1968 were paroled after seven years. Offenders serving life terms for murders committed between January 4, 1968 and January 1, 1974 were paroled after 10 years. Thereafter, the period varied between 10 and 25 years, depending on the kind of murder committed.

In addition, the average term of incarceration for offenders sentenced to life for first degree murder shows that the average served in Canada is longer than in all the countries examined, including the United States, except for American offenders serving a life sentence without possibility of parole. In addition to the countries referred to in the legislative summary, we must include Sweden, at 12 years, and England, at 14 years, while the average time spent in custody in Canada is 28 years and four months.

In terms of hope, as we said during debate on Bill S-6, we should encourage inmates serving a life sentence to behave well and seek out rehabilitation programs. That is how we will contribute to improving the safety of guards and other employees in the correctional service. It is therefore important that a parole system remain, so it is in criminals’ interests to improve themselves in prison, because without that system it would be difficult for the entire prison system and especially for the employees who work in it.

The government is not standing up for victims. It is using them to push its penitentiaries policy. Some people may in fact support an application for early parole by an inmate who has already served a very long period of incarceration. For example, when the victim and inmate are related or know each other, as was the case in 84 percent of solved homicides in 2007, or when the murderer is very young, the victim’s family may approve of parole after a long period of incarceration.

Bill S-6, not the bill that is before us, but another bill introduced in the Senate, would eliminate all possibility of early parole for all inmates, regardless of the circumstances and the views of the victim’s family.

In the case of Richard Kowbel, which was heard in the British Columbia Supreme Court, the young man had attacked his family, killing his mother and seriously injuring his father and sister. Both his father and his sister testified in support of his 15-year review application. We think judges should give reasons for their decisions in all cases, whether to make periods without eligibility consecutive or not. It will be understood—

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 12:45 p.m.
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NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I support this bill at this stage because it does a couple of things. It maintains the ability of judges to have discretion. I talked about it yesterday in the House. It is very important. Also, it does give the judiciary an extra tool for sentencing.

I wonder if the member feels the same as I do, that a bit of the problem with the bill is what it does not do. It does not help law enforcement reduce crime in any way, nor does it do anything to assist the families of murder victims.

I wonder if my colleague and friend would like to comment on that.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 12:50 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely correct. The Conservative government is hard to understand. Its platform, from a legislative point of view, is primarily about tougher sentences. The member supported the bill, and we in the Bloc Québécois do as well because it maintains judicial discretion. That is what is important.

The justice system passed down from our ancestors is based on the fact that each case is unique. Judges are the most competent people for this. They are often legal experts who have worked in the criminal field and other areas. The system is based on evidence as well as on the fact that every individual and every crime is different. The sentence must be appropriate to the crime committed. It is fine to pass this bill because it maintains judicial discretion. There is nothing set out in this bill about rehabilitation measures, nothing at all.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 12:50 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member knows that this law will apply to very few people, but at the end of the day we are going to see sentences similar to those given in the United States. A person could have a sentence of 200 years or 300 years.

I would like to ask the member for his opinion on that. We know that when a person gets a life sentence, the person is in for life; the average in Canada is around 28 years at this point.

Does this not throw the whole justice system into some area of disrepute when there are sentences of 200 years or 300 years?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 12:50 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is all in how you look at it. However, the bill before us addresses the parole ineligibility period. Under the current law, a criminal who commits two or three crimes has only one ineligibility period of 25 years. Since very few criminals reoffend, although there are some exceptions, we sincerely believe that the judge should have the ability to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods and add 25, 10, 5 or 8 years. Would it go beyond the 28 years that my colleague mentioned? Time will tell. But I think that judges, with a recommendation from the jury in such trials, should be taken into consideration. We feel it is a fair way to address the issue.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 12:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, in his remarks the hon. member seemed to be saying, and he may have misread or misspoke or maybe it was an error in translation, that on sentencing for a first degree murder, a judge had some discretion in relation to the parole ineligibility period. The law is very clear that there is no discretion. Conviction for first degree murder brings a life sentence and a parole ineligibility period of 25 years, period. There is no discretion. This bill offers judicial discretion when there is a second first degree murder conviction to double the parole ineligibility period, a second 25 year consecutive parole ineligibility period.

Would my colleague agree that is the case? It is too late, but would it not have been better if the additional parole ineligibility period beyond the first 25 years could have been another number, like 5, 10, 15 or 20 years, rather than a complete doubling of the parole ineligibility period?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 12:55 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, perhaps I misspoke, but my colleague's correction was right. First degree murder brings 25 years of ineligibility. His interpretation is another way of seeing things.

The trials of repeat offenders are very high-profile, and the judge and the jury are under a lot of pressure. The jury's recommendation to the judge could be the right way to address the issue. The decision to impose two consecutive 25-year periods of ineligibility is at the judge's discretion, upon recommendation from the jury. To us, the process laid out in the bill seems to be fair.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 12:55 p.m.
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NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, we do not oppose the bill. We will support it, but it is important to raise certain points about the direction that the Conservatives seem to be taking. According to the Conservatives, we should build more prisons and incarcerate more people. I see a problem with this because instead of investing in an alternative, namely, prevention, it seems that the government is denying that there is a need for prevention services.

Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan indicated:

Some people attribute the nation's recent drop in crime to more people being locked up. But the facts show otherwise. While crime fell in nearly every state over the past seven years, some of those with the largest reductions have also lowered their prison population. Over the past seven years, Florida's incarceration rate has increased 16 percent, while New York's decreased 16 percent. Yet the crime rate in New York has fallen twice as much as Florida's. New York spent less on prisons but delivered better public safety.

I would like the hon. member to comment on the need to invest in prevention services in order to help people with mental health issues or drug and alcohol addictions. How can we promote real rehabilitation?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 12:55 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member makes a good point. I do not by any means oppose a bill that attacks the most serious of crimes—murder—and that opposes parole for repeat offenders.

As for the rest, although the Conservatives talk a great deal about minimum sentences, the Bloc Québécois has always opposed them. The Conservatives believe that, by making statements after a crime becomes high profile, they will make political or electoral gains. However, in Quebec, the solution is rehabilitation, and we have provided evidence of this in the House on a number of occasions.

When you create minimum sentences of eight months, nine months, one year, or two years less a day, the offenders upon whom these sentences are imposed end up in Quebec's or other provinces' prisons. It is not the federal government that pays the bill. It is the provinces that have to deal with it. Because of legislative changes, Quebec is in the process of considering the possibility of doubling the number of prisoners per cell.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 12:55 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-48, one of the many crime bills the government has introduced over the last five years. The government has introduced these bills on several occasions, only to prorogue Parliament or to call an election earlier than necessary. This brings into question the Conservatives' lack of sincerity about the bills, whether they seriously believe in passing and implementing the bills or whether it is all about planks in their election platform.

For example, when the government prorogued Parliament a year ago, the bill had a different number. One would have thought the government would come back into the House last March and reintroduce this bill along with all of the other ones it had killed when it prorogued Parliament, yet it took the government 216 days to get around to reintroducing this bill. That should be an indicator to people watching today that the government's commitment is a bit lacking in this area.

In the last few days there has been a shifting of political ground in the United States. On January 7 Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives and a great power in the Republican Party in the United States for a number of years, teamed up with other top-level Republicans from even the Reagan days, such as Ed Meese and other people like him. They essentially came around to 100% of the NDP position and in many cases the Bloc position, and sometimes the Liberal position, on crime.

If Conservative members of Parliament actually read what Newt Gingrich had to say, they would be quite impressed because when Newt Gingrich talks about crime now, he talks about getting it right on crime, doing what works. That is what we as parliamentarians should be looking at. If members of the Conservative Party were to take a time-out to study what Newt Gingrich had to say on January 7, to look at the situation in North Carolina and in Texas over the last five years, they would recognize there is a brand of conservatism in the United States which is saying, “What we are doing here is not working. We are wasting a lot of tax dollars. There is a way to be smart on crime. Let us do that”.

These are the issues the NDP, the Bloc, and the Liberals have been addressing in this House consistently over the last few years.

If I have some time at the end of my speech, I will deal with more of the issues of what Newt Gingrich had to say. If anybody would like a copy of this article, I would be very pleased to provide it. I am particularly interested in members from the Conservative Party who might be interested in reading this article because they are obviously going to hear more about this in the future. It is dated January 7. It is a very recent publication by Newt Gingrich.

This bill is one that is getting pretty much unanimous support in the House. All of the parties will be supporting it, even though we all have observations, reservations and suspicions about why the government wants to push it through at this time.

Bill C-48, as I indicated, has had previous incarnations and numbers. It is an act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to the National Defence Act. The short title, which has been a subject of debate here and at committee, is “Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act”. The debate rages in the House about the appropriateness of that title and having that type of short title for these bills. I believe that over time the government will see the folly of this strategy and will come back to the old way of doing things, which is to simply call it what it is.

I note that it is not just the Conservative government here that is doing things like that. The NDP government in Manitoba has resorted to putting short titles on specific bills, I guess to make them more palatable for the press to report on.

Nevertheless, this bill was given first reading in the House on October 5, 2010. As I indicated, clearly 216 days went by before this tough on crime government actually started to get tough on crime. It let that time go by. The Conservatives could have called an election last September and this bill would not have been reintroduced. That shows their commitment.

The bill amends the Criminal Code with respect to the parole admissibility period for offenders convicted of multiple murders. This is done by affording judges the opportunity to make the parole ineligibility periods for multiple murders consecutive rather than concurrent. The bill also makes consequential amendments to the National Defence Act.

One of the reasons this bill is getting support from the Bloc and other sources in the House is that it does leave the judge with discretion. That is reasonably important. However, it was mentioned by speakers earlier today that an amendment was introduced but it was defeated. Now a judge will have a choice between 25 years or 50 years, where in fact, the judge's discretion perhaps should be somewhere in between. If the judge is only given an option of 25 years or 50 years, that may not be workable in the long run. As I mentioned, there are very few cases to which this would apply. I have statistics, which I will get to later, that indicate the actual number of cases that would be involved.

Consecutive parole ineligibility periods for multiple murderers will not be mandatory under the provisions of Bill C-48. Judges will be left with the discretion to consider the character of the offender, the nature and circumstances of the offence and any jury recommendations before deciding on whether consecutive parole ineligibility periods are appropriate. The bill will also require that judges state orally or in writing the basis for any decision not to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods on multiple murderers.

I want to get into some of the provisions of the current law, how it came about and demonstrate that this is not a simple process. We get a false impression, thanks to the simplicity of media reports and the concentration on only those exceptions, the few cases that are extreme rather than the norm. The public gets the impression it is a revolving-door system. I hear that when I go door to door. We had coffee parties in my riding in the last few weeks and people told me that was their impression from listening to the media. The reality in dealing with the system is that it is quite different. That is why I want to get into the mechanics and requirements for moving through the system.

In 1976 Parliament repealed the death penalty and imposed a mandatory life sentence for the offence of murder. Offenders who were convicted of first degree murder serve a minimum life sentence with no eligibility for parole before they have served 25 years.

I have indicated the average amount of time spent in prison by murderers in Canada is 28 years, which makes the average in Canada pretty much the highest in the world. There are statistics to show that in other countries that we are very familiar with and actually admire the average is much less, and they are not considered unsafe countries by any means.

For offenders convicted of second degree murder, a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment is also imposed, with the judge setting the parole eligibility to a point between 10 and 25 years. Those serving a life sentence can only be released from prison if granted parole by the National Parole Board.

Unlike most inmates who are serving a sentence of a fixed length, for example, 2, 10 or 20 years, lifers are not entitled to statutory release. If granted parole they will, for the rest of their lives, remain subject to the conditions of parole and the supervision of a Correctional Service Canada parole officer.

Once again, people like Clifford Olson will never get out of prison, nor will Robert Pickton or any other person in this situation. For us to pretend otherwise is doing a disservice to the public.

Parole may be revoked and offenders returned to prison any time they violate the conditions of parole or commit any new offence. Not all lifers will be granted parole. Some may never be released on parole because they continue to represent too great a risk to reoffend.

The one exception to the 25 year parole ineligibility period for first degree murder or to the 15 to 25 year parole ineligibility period for second degree murder is the so-called faint hope clause. We discussed that yesterday.

During the years following its initial introduction in 1976, the faint hope provision underwent a number of amendments. I will mention the criteria for the possible release on parole of someone serving a life sentence.

The inmate must have served at least 15 years of the sentence. The inmate who has been convicted of more than one murder, or at least one of the murders was committed after January 9, 1997 when certain amendments came into force, will not apply for a review of his or her parole ineligibility period. These were amendments brought in under the Chrétien government. They basically disallowed multiple murderers from involving themselves with the faint hope clause. That is not the impression the government likes to leave with the public, but multiple murderers cannot apply anyway.

To seek a reduction in the number of years of imprisonment without eligibility for parole, the offender must apply to the chief justice of the province or territory in which his or her conviction took place. The chief justice or a superior court judge designated by the chief justice must first determine whether the applicant has shown that there is a reasonable prospect the application for review will succeed. The assessment is based on, once again, a number of criteria.

This is not a simple process. It is not a revolving door at all. It is very involved, which is why, at the end of the day, while there are 13,000 people in prison, we are looking at very small numbers of people to whom this act would apply.

The criteria that the assessment is based on are: the character of the applicant; the applicant's conduct while serving the sentence, for example, he or she is not involved in prison riots and other altercations within the system; the nature of the offence for which the applicant was convicted; any information provided by the victims; the victims' input is taken at the time of the imposition of the sentence or the time of the hearing under this section; and any other matters the judge considers relevant to the circumstances.

If the application is dismissed for lack of reasonable prospect of success, the chief justice may set a time for another application, and once again, not earlier than two years after the dismissal, or he or she may declare that the inmate will not be entitled to make another application at all, and that would be the end of it. If the chief justice or judge determines that the application has a reasonable prospect of success, a judge will be assigned to hear the matter with a jury. In determining whether the period of parole ineligibility should be reduced, the jury should consider the five criteria that I outlined above. The jury's determination to reduce the parole ineligibility period must be unanimous. It cannot be split. It has to be a unanimous decision .

The victims of the offender's crime may provide information, either orally or in writing or in any other manner the judge considers appropriate. If the application is dismissed, the jury may, by a two-thirds majority, either set a time not earlier than two years after the determination when the inmate may make another application, or it may decide that the inmate will not be entitled to make any further applications.

If a jury determines that the number of years of imprisonment without eligibility for parole ought to be reduced, a two-thirds majority of the jury may substitute a lesser number of years of imprisonment without eligibility for parole than the number then applicable. The number of years without eligibility for parole that it may assign could range from 15 to 24 years.

Once permission to apply for early parole has been granted, the inmate must apply to the National Parole Board to obtain parole. Whether the inmate is released and when is the sole decision of the National Parole Board. It is based on a risk assessment, with the protection of the public as its foremost consideration. Board members must also be satisfied that the offender would follow specific conditions, which may include a restriction of movement, participation in treatment programs, which, once again, even Newt Gingrich is now sold on as a way to deal with issues like this in the United States, and prohibitions on associating with certain people such as victims, children, convicted criminals, whatever the particulars are of that case.

The faint hope clause review is not a forum for a retrial of the original offence, nor is it a parole hearing. A favourable decision by the judge and the jury simply advances the date at which the offender may apply for parole.

The Criminal Code implicitly provides that all sentences should be served concurrently unless the sentencing judge directs that a sentence is to be served consecutively or legislation requires that it is to be served consecutively. For example, section 85(4) of the Criminal Code requires that a sentence for using a firearm in the commission of an offence shall be served consecutively to any other punishment imposed on the person for an offence arising out of the same event or series of events.

Section 83.26 mandates, once again, consecutive sentences, exactly what the government is talking about. We have consecutive sentences for the sentence for use of a firearm in the commission of a crime, plus consecutive sentences for terrorist activity. It is not as if we do not have those applications elsewhere other than the case of a life sentence. Section 467.1(4) requires consecutive sentences for organized crime. Those are the three exceptions.

One example of when a consecutive sentence may be imposed by a sentencing judge is when the offender is already under sentence of imprisonment. In cases where more than one murder has been committed, and I had indicated the numbers are rather small, the offender serves his or her sentences concurrently. A sentence of a term of years imposed consecutive to a sentence of life imprisonment is not valid in law. Life imprisonment means imprisonment for life, notwithstanding any release on parole.

We get into this whole issue that if someone is already sentenced for life, how many lives can that person serve? If a person is in prison for life and lives to be 100 years old, what is the point of having two or three life sentences, because that person is not going to have more than one life at the end of the day. That is the point.

The consequence of this is that a consecutive life sentence could not take effect until the offender has actually died. The courts have held that Parliament cannot have contemplated this physical impossibility, which would tend to bring the law into disrepute, nor is the faint hope clause available so long as at least one of the murders was committed after January 9, 1997.

I want to deal with an issue that has been mentioned by a number of other people, which is that in 1999 an international comparison of the average time served in custody by an offender with a life sentence for first degree murder showed Canada exceeds the average time served in all countries surveyed, including the United States, with the exception of U.S. offenders serving life sentences without parole. The estimated average time that a Canadian convicted for first degree murder spent in prison was 28.4 years.

I just wanted to advise as to what some of the other countries do, countries that we look up to, that we--

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 1:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, one of the things on which I will agree with the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona is that the Conservative government is always playing politics when it comes to crime bills because it wants to play with victims' lives. It drags the bills even when there is unanimous support from the opposition parties.

I am concerned with respect to this bill because of a particular case in Surrey where there were multiple murders. Innocent victims, Ed Schellenberg and Chris Mohan, were killed. The hon. member for Mississauga East—Cooksville brought in a private member's bill, and I was proud to second it. The reason being is when I was visiting the people in Newton—North Delta they made it quite clear that they wanted to abolish concurrent sentencing and replace it with consecutive sentencing so that the families of people like Ed Schellenberg and Chris Mohan would feel that justice had been served.

Does the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona agree that in cases such as this the bill is justified?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 1:20 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, of course that is one of the arguments for supporting the bill.

As I have indicated, when a person receives a life sentence that is in fact what a life sentence is. There is satisfaction on the part of the victims knowing that the criminal receives multiple sentences and serves them concurrently. However, there is a conflict in how the law currently operates because, in fact, criminals will not be released any sooner and there are some contradictions regarding how the law is presently structured.

I do want to point out the time offenders spend in custody in other countries. For example, in New Zealand it is roughly 11 years, in Scotland 11.2 years, in Sweden 12 years, in Belgium 12.7 years, in England 14.4 years, in Australia 14.8 years, and in the United States, life with parole, 18.5 years. Presently in Canada we have people serving 28.4 years on average. Therefore, we are doing the job.

Having said that, the member is absolutely right. Optics are everything. People want the satisfaction of knowing in their own minds that the second sentence the repeat offender receives will be served on top of whatever the offender received for the first murder. However, the member knows the reality is that an offender is not going to live 200 years or 300 years. So that issue has to be resolved in our own minds.

Having said that, we know that the bill is going to pass.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 1:20 p.m.
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NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I greatly appreciate the comments that my colleague has put forth on this issue. He is absolutely right that the bill will do nothing to help law enforcement reduce crime. That is what we have seen the government continuously fail to put forward. I am going to ask him at some point, after I have given a little more information here, if he has ever seen a private member's bill or a government bill go forward from the government side with respect to crime prevention and rehabilitation.

I have a couple of comments with respect to the article by Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan. It is quite clear that the United States has recognized that providing rehabilitative services is what lowers crime rates, not keeping criminals in jails. Let us look at Texas, for example, which is known to be tough on crime.

The article states:

Conservative Republicans joined with Democrats in adopting incentive-based funding to strengthen the state’s probation system in 2005.

I come from probation and parole services and we have been saying for a long time that we need to make more investments in probation and parole services.

The article continues:

Then in 2007, they decided against building more prisons and instead opted to enhance proven community corrections approaches such as drug courts. The reforms are forecast to save $2 billion in prison costs over five years.

The Lone Star State has already redirected much of the money saved into community treatment for the mentally ill--

In large part, that is what we must ensure the government thinks about when it is putting forward private member's bills or government bills with respect to crime prevention.

The article continues:

--and low-level drug addicts. Not only have these reforms reduced Texas’ prison population–-helping to close the budget gap-–but for the first time there is no waiting list for drug treatment in the state. And crime has dropped 10 percent from 2004, the year before the reforms, through 2009, according to the latest figures available, reaching its lowest annual rate since 1973.

Across Canada we hear over and over again how people are waiting for mental health and drug rehabilitation services. Perhaps my colleague could comment on that.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 1:25 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I, too, was taken aback and floored when I returned to Ottawa yesterday and I read Newt Gingrich's article of Friday, January 7. I would recommend it to anybody in the House or in the country to read. His article reflects what has actually been going on.

In Texas, Republican and Democrat politicians, both right wing and left wing, got together as far back as five years ago and decided to be smart on crime, to do what worked. They could not sustain the increasing costs to the system because the crime rates were not going in the right direction. There were two things that did not work right. In the case of, I believe, North Carolina the same issue has been going on, with the Republicans and Democrats getting together and saying that it is not working.

That is why we have called on the government to set up a multi-party committee of the House and do a complete revamp of our Criminal Code, which is 100 years old. It should not be reformed on a piecemeal basis. It should be done in a concerted way.

Maybe the government should proceed with an all party committee and have people go to North Carolina and Texas to see what works there, so we can try to avoid some of the problems the government wants to take us into. It is behind the times. It is still following Ronald Reagan. Americans gave up on the Ronald Reagan approach a long time ago.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 1:25 p.m.
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NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, once again, it is important to highlight the rehabilitative process in which we need to invest. I know the bill will pass, as long as the government decides that and does not call an election or prorogue Parliament again.

It is important to put the emphasis on treatment and probation, where those resources should actually be spent. For example, the Oaks Centre in Elliot Lake has indicated that it needs funding and support. It needs to make sure that those moneys get redirected to such programs. The Salvation Army has programs as well and it has indicated it needs some support with those. The mental health aspect is one of the most important.

Could my colleague once again talk about the article and how important it is to recognize the differences we can actually make within our communities?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 1:25 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member is absolutely right. The article written by Newt Gingrich deals with issues like that. It recognizes the importance of rehabilitation in prisons and getting people involved in drug programs. He talks about drug courts. We have had several drug courts in Canada. We have a history of doing that, although probably not to as great a degree as we should. He is recommending it in the United States and, in fact, I believe it has done that in a number of areas right now. It is a very cost-effective approach to crime.

The announcement of putting $9 billion into new prisons so we can dump people in there at a cost of $300,000 a year and simply warehouse them, as was the case under “three strikes” of Ronald Reagan, is all yesterday's story. I do not know where the government has been. Why does it not have its crime experts out talking to conservatives in the United States? I know it talks to Republicans every once in awhile. Why does the government not just phone Newt? I am sure he will tell it—

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 1:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, here we go again. This is yet another bill where the government is likely more concerned with how it will be perceived by the public for bringing this bill forward and trying to portray an image of getting tough on crime. If the government really wanted to get tough on crime, it would show it in the types of expenditures and programming that would ensure fewer crimes would be committed.

Bill C-48 has appeared before the House in the past, in a different form of course. That was prior to the time when the Prime Minister and government House leader saw fit to prorogue the session, ultimately killing everything on the order paper at that time.

Following caucus, cabinet or, more specifically, the Prime Minister's office discussions, the determination was made that the government could still get more points on this bill by reintroducing it in the form we see today, Bill C-48.

To make matters worse, the government often tries to give the impression that the Liberal Party is causing problems with the bill not passing. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Liberal Party has gone out of its way to try to accommodate the government in regard to coming up with legislation and supporting legislation that would be of benefit.

The members for Newton—North Delta and Mississauga East—Cooksville had championed a private member's bill that dealt with concurrent versus consecutive sentencing. We only wish the Conservative government would give the same sort of attention to that bill such as it gives to its own bills. The private member's bill had a great deal of merit and ultimately could have been brought before a committee.

Instead of doing that, because it did not necessarily fit its agenda, the government felt it was in its best interest to reintroduce a bill that previously failed because the it decided to prorogue the session, killing a number of bills that were on the order paper.

Today we find ourselves, once again, at second reading, with the government asking members of the opposition to allow the bill to pass. The bill is pretty straightforward. I suspect there is a sense of co-operation in wanting this bill to go to the next stage to see if there is the possibility of the government being willing to accept friendly amendments that would give it that much more appeal and would ultimately allow it to receive passage in the House.

Opposition members look forward to the government having an open mind as this bill goes through the stages. We are a little bit skeptical in terms the government's willingness to acknowledge ideas that come from the opposition.

In terms of the actual need for the legislation, one of the things we need to take a look at is some statistical information in regard to homicide. In terms of public response to different types of homicide, there are very few that are viewed as horrific as those involving more than one victim. There are examples.

Canadian history shows we have had some fairly horrific cases involving a number of victims where one individual took a toll on social justice. These individuals did so much damage or caused so much concern when in fact something could have been done if more programming, services and supports were in place to prevent some of these horrific acts.

I understand we are at third reading stage of the bill. I recognize there is always the opportunity for changes. I look forward to the bill ultimately going through its final stage in the House of Commons.

I want to focus my attention on some of the statistics. The information the legislative library provides us with is great. In 1999 the number of cases involving 2 victims was 26, 3 victims were 2 and 4 and more victims was 1. The number of victims has been relatively consistent through the years. In 1999 there was one multiple homicide case involving four or more victims. In 2001 there were two. In 2002 there was one. There were no convictions in 2003-04. There was one case in 2005. In 2006 there were three. In 2007 there were three. In 2008 there was one. Fourteen cases involved four or more victims. This bill would apply to them.

If we canvass the different stakeholders, some would ultimately argue to what degree individuals have been convicted of four or more murders and have been released before serving 25 years. This question has been posed to me, but I did not know the answer. I am not sure if the government provided that information. However, it is relevant to know to what degree individuals within our system who have been convicted of four or more murders are provided with the opportunity to be released prior to serving 25 years. I suspect, and I could be wrong, that we would not find any at that level. I look to the government to please inform me if I am wrong.

In regard to three victims or less in that same period of time, we are talking somewhere in the neighbourhood of 31 cases. Where the increases get significant is the multiple factor of 2 where the number jumps up to 210 cases between 1999 and 2008.

The issue of multiple murders is something that gets a great deal of attention from the media as the public responds hastily toward individuals who commit these types of crimes. The public wants to know that punishment is taken into consideration when someone commits a horrendous crime such as murder.

A number of different cases in the history of Canada clearly highlight the need for us to look at the difference in the wording of consecutive versus concurrent based on different reports, whether it is through the media, or stakeholders, or individuals or discussions with constituents over the years.

As a justice critic at the provincial level, I often have to meet and consult with a wide variety of individuals at that grassroots level. Over the years I have heard from literally hundreds of victims of crime; there is that sense of helplessness, a sense that the government is not listening to what is being done or what is happening in the communities, and they do have a high expectation that the justice system will in fact work for them.

When I look at the legislation as it is, in third reading and in these final stages, I am interested in seeing how it fits in with what the expectation of the public really is. What I find is that generally speaking, the public as a whole will support it. They support it, I believe, because they want to feel comfortable in knowing that there is a significant consequence to some of these horrific crimes that are being committed in our society.

I have looked at the government over the last couple of weeks in particular. I started off my comments by saying, “Here we go again”. What I was referring to is that the bill before us today would have very little, if any, impact in preventing crimes from occurring. Having this piece of legislation is not going to stop a multiple murder from occurring--at least, I do not believe that to be the case--yet the government seems to want to put its priorities in terms of bringing in legislation of this nature, while at the same time--and maybe I would not be as offended if it were not doing it at the same time--it is cutting back on what I believe are some programs that would go a long way in protecting society.

Ultimately I would make reference to the cutbacks happening in Winnipeg, in particular in the Winnipeg North-Winnipeg Centre area, which I believe is most affected. These cutbacks will ultimately prevent organizations from being able to keep kids out of gangs and gang activities. I say that because in reviewing some of those statistics that I referenced, we will find that a number of those individual cases are in fact gang-related. There are gangs that do commit multiple murders. That is nothing new to the House of Commons. I am sure that the House has heard that on numerous occasions. However, the point is that by cutting back funding or by not allowing the funding to continue for these anti-gang measures in Winnipeg, we are causing potential harm going forward.

We can look again at some of the statistics that have been provided. We will find that in most cases multiple murders are family-based or relation-based situations, but there are areas where on numerous occasions it has come from a stranger, and quite often strangers or unknowns involve, in essence, elements such as gang activities. In Manitoba we have had some gang incidents involving murder, and the government, I believe, could have played a role in being able to address those types of crimes going forward.

It is nice to see a government respond to the issue of multiple murders and consecutive versus concurrent sentencing. This is nothing new per se. It has been talked about for a while; I made reference that some of my Liberal colleagues have introduced a private member's bill dealing with that particular issue. It is nice to see some action being taken on it, but the real concern for me is that we take advantage of opportunities such as this to say to the government that there is so much more it could be doing that would make a difference.

I am very disappointed that the government has chosen not to make the commitment for the funds necessary to keep kids out of gangs. Some of the programs the government is effectively saying “no more” to include things such as O.A.S.I.S. in Manitoba, which has helped refugees to not slip into potential gang-type activities by ensuring that there are skill sets programs, English as a second language, and other similar programs. There are intense mentorship programs engaging high-risk youth. These programs will be disappearing unless alternative funding is found, because this government is pulling the money away from these groups. As a result, we are putting those kids at risk.

I believe it is dishonest to do that and think that the issue of crime is being dealt with. To deal with crime, we need to provide support. We have to start dealing with the issue of what is causing crime to take place. It is great that we are able to deal with legislation for crime after the fact, but at the end of the day I am just as interested in trying to prevent some of those crimes from happening in the future.

When we look at this bill and at some of the murders that take place, we may find that some could have been prevented if we had better programming at the other end. I suggest that it would be far more cost-efficient to invest at that end than to have to store individuals who have committed these types of crimes in jails for 25-30 years and beyond, especially when we get into the area of multiple murders.

At the end of the day, with the information provided to us, there is a strong argument that the bill will be passing in the House of Commons and ultimately become law if we believe, as we do, that at this point the government is prepared to see the bill carry its way through. We see that as a positive thing.

However, yesterday we talked about the faint hope clause. In dealing with issues such as this, involving concurrent versus consecutive sentences or the faint hope clause, what we are really talking about is longer periods of time of incarceration. Many would argue that having consecutive sentences or getting rid of the faint hope clause may cause other issues within the system that would need to be dealt with.

Those issues are related in good part to behaviour. Typically an inmate will review many different things in terms of how their behaviour might impact--

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 1:50 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to speak to this important bill, Bill C-48, which deals with the issue of the desirability or undesirability of concurrent or consecutive sentences when dealing with multiple murderers.

The bill, by way of background, would amend the Criminal Code and make consequential amendments to the National Defence Act, and was given first reading in the House in October of last year.

The bill specifically amends the Criminal Code with respect to the parole inadmissibility period for offenders convicted of multiple murders. This is done by affording judges the opportunity to make the parole ineligibility period for multiple murderers consecutive rather than concurrent.

Consecutive parole ineligibility periods for multiple murderers would not be mandatory under the bill. Instead, judges would be left with the discretion to consider the character of the offender, the nature and circumstances of the offence and any jury recommendations before deciding upon whether consecutive parole ineligibility periods were appropriate or not. The bill would require that judges state orally or in writing the basis for their decision not to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods on multiple murderers.

The current law is this: in 1976, when Parliament repealed the death penalty, it imposed a mandatory life sentence for the offence of murder. Offenders convicted of first degree murder serve life as a minimum sentence, with no eligibility for parole for at least 25 years. For offenders convicted of second degree murder, a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment is also imposed, with the judge setting the parole eligibility at some point between 10 and 25 years, depending on the circumstances.

Those serving a life sentence can only be released from prison if they are granted parole by the National Parole Board. Unlike most inmates who are serving a sentence of a fixed length--for instance, two, five or 10 years--people who have received a life sentence are not entitled to statutory release. If granted parole, however, they will, for the rest of their lives, remain subject to the conditions of parole and under the supervision of the Correctional Service of Canada and the parole officers who would be assigned to them.

It is important to understand that parole may be revoked and offenders returned to prison at any time if they violate the conditions of parole or if they commit a new offence. Of course, it is important to understand that not all people who have life sentences will be granted parole. Some--in fact, many--may never be released on parole, because they continue to represent too great a risk to reoffend.

We talked yesterday about the faint hope clause, which gives people who have been given a life sentence and who have not committed more than one murder the opportunity to apply for parole earlier than 25 years. In the House yesterday we went over the many stringent conditions that would have to occur before that would be allowed to happen.

I think it is important to understand that what we are talking about here is something different, which is what the appropriate sentence would be for someone who has murdered two or more people. The Criminal Code typically provides that all sentences shall be served concurrently unless a sentencing judge directs sentences to be served consecutively or legislation requires that they be served consecutively. For example, subsection 85(4) of the Criminal Code requires that a sentence for using a firearm in the commission of an offence shall be served consecutively to any other punishment imposed on the person for an offence arising out of the same event or series of events. Section 83.26, which mandates consecutive sentences for terrorist activities, is an example other than in the case of a life sentence, and section 467.14 requires consecutive sentences for organized crime offences. One example of when a consecutive sentence may be imposed by a sentencing judge occurs when the offender is already under a sentence of imprisonment.

We see that in our criminal law we have situations in which consecutive sentences are specifically provided for automatically, and in some cases we have situations in which a judge has the discretion to impose sentences to be served consecutively, as opposed to concurrently or at the same time.

In cases in which more than one murder has been committed, at present the offender serves his or her life sentences concurrently. A sentence of a term of years imposed consecutive to a sentence of life imprisonment is not, under the present law, valid.

Life imprisonment means imprisonment for life, notwithstanding any release on parole. The consequence of this is that a consecutive life sentence cannot take effect until the offender has died. The courts have held that Parliament cannot have contemplated this physical impossibility, which would tend to bring the law into disrepute. Nor is the faint hope clause available, so long as at least one of the murders was committed after January 9, 1997.

What we are dealing with today is a legislative proposal that would give judges in this country the discretion, in the case of a person convicted of multiple murders, two or more murders, to consider the advisability of levying consecutive life sentences, which would mean 25 years for one conviction and then a further 25 years for the second.

The New Democrats are supporting this bill at this stage and I want to go through some of the reasons we are supporting it.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 1:55 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

I hear some welcome applause from members on the opposite side.

One of the major reasons we are supporting this bill is that it enshrines in law a concept that we New Democrats have been championing and pushing for consistently for decades, and that is the concept of judicial discretion.

One of the cornerstones of our justice system is the notion that we have an independent judiciary and that within that judiciary, judges have the ability to exercise their discretion to fashion the appropriate remedies in the appropriate cases. That is a hallmark of the western judicial system, and that is because no two cases are alike. It does not matter how many cases we read: each individual has some unique circumstance present in his or her case that requires the judge, or judgment, to reflect.

Our country is based very strongly on what, of course, are sometimes two competing values. One is the concept of collective rights and the other is the concept of individual rights. In a modern democratic society, respect for the rights of the individual is something that is very important as a bulwark against the excesses of the state.

We are seeing right now in Egypt a people rising up against an oppressive autocratic regime that has not respected the democratic rights of people. We see what happens when people join together and say that is enough. It is important to build into any respectful society strong respect for the rights of an individual.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 3:05 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is wonderful to see you back in the chair after the break.

Before the break I was talking about Bill C-48, a bill that would give judges of this land the discretion to consider consecutive life sentences in the case of people who murder two or more victims. I was talking about the importance of discretion in the Canadian judicial system. The reason I was talking about discretion is that justice, in order to be fair, in order to be defensible in a free and democratic society, must be tailored to meet the individual needs of every case. I was talking about how in Canada there is a very healthy balance between our collective interests as a body and the strong foundation of individual rights.

In my riding of Vancouver Kingsway I have many new Canadians. I had a new citizens party this last weekend where we welcomed people who had taken the important step of becoming Canadian citizens in the past two years. From speaking to these people, I know they were attracted to Canada for many reasons, including things like our respect for individual rights, for example, the right to privacy, an individual's rights to religion and an individual's right to his or her own political beliefs. Essentially, what they are really attracted to in Canada is the enshrinement in Canadian life of their right to choose to live their lives as they wish while not, of course, infringing upon the rights of others.

In our justice system, perhaps there is no more important place than that to respect individual rights. We need our judges in a healthy justice system to listen to all of the evidence, to consider all of the circumstances, to look at all of the facts and to render a judgment that is crafted to be appropriate to the circumstances of a particular case.

In the case before us, the bill would enhance judges' discretion by giving them another sentencing tool. It would allow them in an appropriate case, and I am thinking of cases perhaps like Clifford Olson, Paul Bernardo, or Russell Williams, or the case that happened in my province recently of Mr. Pickton, in which many lives were taken by these people, to impose a consecutive life sentence on these people, as opposed to having them serve it concurrently.

It is hard to argue with that proposal in some cases. Where we have someone who has murdered two or more people, it is very difficult to think of a situation where a person who has committed those murders might not, in an appropriate circumstance, be required to be locked up for the rest of their lives.

In addition, there is an important principle, which is that Canadian law at present really makes no distinction in the sentence given to someone who murders one person and someone who murders 5, 10, 15 or 20 people. The bill would give our judges the discretion to do that.

There are arguments on the other side, of course. I think it is important that we respond to and respect them. At present our sentencing system in this country for murder allows judges to give a life sentence. We had very painful, very exhaustive debates in this country in the 1960s and 1970s over capital punishment, when this country made the very mature, thoughtful and, I think, civilized decision to abolish the death penalty and replace it with a system that not only is more humane but that is also just. That system allows a judge in this country to impose a life sentence on someone who has been convicted of first degree or second degree murder.

Life in this country does mean life. The person who is given a life sentence will have that life sentence for the rest of their life. For the rest of their natural lives, these people will be subject to the supervision of the Correctional Service of Canada. The only question is whether that will be done within a correctional institution or supervised outside in the community.

After 25 years in the case of a first degree murder, a person is eligible to apply for parole, provided that person satisfies a wide battery of appropriate tests to make sure they are no longer a threat to society and have actually conducted themselves appropriately. They may indeed possibly be allowed to re-enter society, but again, under supervision for the rest of their lives.

Life does mean life under the present system and people will argue about why there will be consecutive sentences if there are already life sentences. As my colleague points out, people cannot live 300 years.

What does matter is when a person may be eligible for parole. By bringing this legislation in an appropriate case, such as Clifford Olson's, were that crime to occur today, a judge would have the ability to order consecutive life sentences so that eligibility for parole for someone like Mr. Olson would not be 25 years but may in fact be 50 years or even 75 years, effectively meaning that at the point of sentencing, Mr. Olson would never have the opportunity to get out of jail. I think many Canadians would agree with that principle.

I want to go over a few statistics. I think it is important to bring some facts to bear whenever we are talking about the criminal justice system in this country. In terms of the prevalence of multiple murders in Canada, Statistics Canada has compiled some facts showing the number of homicides in a year in Canada compared with the number of victims in those incidents.

As the charts reveal, between 1998 and 2008, the most recent period, 95% of homicides involved a single victim. Out of a total 587 victims in that time period, there were 26 cases of two or more victims.

Interestingly, the relationship between the accused and the victims in cases of multiple and single victim homicides has also been studied. Statistics Canada reveals that in the case of multiple victim homicides, the target group that would likely be affected by this bill, the largest single category of relationships was that of family. In the case of single victim homicides, the largest single category of relationships was that of acquaintance.

What that tells us is that the vast majority of cases of multiple murders in this country involve someone who has committed murder against their family.

Murder rates and sentences have also been studied vis-à-vis Canada and other countries. In its publication, “Homicide in Canada, 2009,” Statistics Canada has tracked the rate of homicide in Canada from 1961 to 2009. This, of course, is yet another area that shows where the Conservatives' desperate attempt to try to persuade the Canadian public that crime is going up is once again belied by the facts.

It has been found that between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s, Canada experienced a sharp rise in its homicide rate. The rate more than doubled over that period, from 1.25 homicides per 100,000 population in 1966 to 3.03 in 1975. That is 35 years ago.

The homicide rate generally declined over the next 25 years, dropping 42% between 1975 and 1999. Since 1999, despite some minor annual fluctuations, the rate has remained relatively stable.

What we do know is that the murder rate in this country over the last 35 years has actually been dropping or remained stable.

Interestingly, when we are talking about the length of sentences, which this bill brings to the forefront, a 1999 comparison of international approaches of the average time served in custody by an offender with a life sentence for first degree murder showed that Canada exceeds the average time served in all countries surveyed, including the United States, with the exception of U.S. offenders serving life sentences without parole.

The estimated average time that a Canadian convicted of first degree murder spent in prison was 28.4 years. To give a comparison, in New Zealand it is 11 years; Scotland, 11.2 years; Sweden, 12 years; Belgium, 12.7 years; England, 14.4 years; Australia, 14.8 years. In the United States, for those who have been given a murder sentence of life with parole, it is 18.5 years. Again, in Canada a person convicted of first degree murder will serve an average of 28.4 years.

In the United States, in the case of life sentences with the possibility of parole, the range of time that must be served prior to eligibility for release varies greatly, from under 10 years in Utah and California to 40 to 50 years in Colorado and Kansas. The median time served prior to parole eligibility nationally in the United States is in the range of 25 years.

What this tells us is that there is a wide range of sentencing options and practices around the world.

The issue before the House today is the appropriate length of time for someone who may be convicted of the murder of two or more people.

I can speak on my own behalf and that of the people of Vancouver Kingsway. I will be supporting this bill for two key reasons.

First, there are appropriate circumstances for its use. Again I will use the cases of William Pickton, Clifford Olson, and Paul Bernardo, where it is appropriate that there be some measure in law to distinguish the heinousness of their crimes and reflect that in sentences. A person like any of them maybe ought to have consecutive sentences to reflect society's view that he or she committed a crime so heinous, so awful, so deranged that they ought never to have an opportunity to apply for parole.

There are cases of multiple murder, which, as I have read, most often involve families. There could be cases where there are extenuating circumstances and where it may be appropriate to have a concurrent sentence. I am thinking of the classic case of a spouse, perhaps, who comes home and finds their spouse in flagrante delicto with another person and, in a crime of passion, kills them both.

Nobody could ever justify such a terrible, awful, heinous response, but it shows there is a range even in the case of multiple murders for framing this debate and whether or not someone should get a concurrent or consecutive sentence.

Given the fact this bill does build in judicial discretion and that New Democrats do trust the judges of this land and the prosecutors and the defence counsel of this land to do their jobs and craft appropriate sentences with appropriate appellate review, we will be supporting this bill. We trust them to have that discretion. I will be voting for this bill so that murderers who kill more than two people do, in appropriate circumstances, have concurrent and consecutive sentences.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 3:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, obviously, I listened to the last few minutes of my colleague's speech and I am still a bit ambivalent. We have examined this bill, and I will discuss it in a few moments during my speech. Pursuant to the sections of the Criminal Code that this bill would amend, the judge is not currently required to impose a consecutive sentence, but will have to provide a justification and so on.

I have a question for my colleague. Maybe I missed something but I did not fully understand the NDP's position. Does it support the bill because judges are given the discretion to impose a consecutive sentence, or does it agree that judges should always impose consecutive sentences if there is more than one murder? I would like him to explain the difference between the two. Maybe I misunderstood. I do not want to misunderstand what my colleague is saying.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 3:20 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would be happy to try to clarify my position for the hon. member.

At present in Canada, it is impossible for a judge in the case of a conviction for multiple murders to impose consecutive life sentences. The judge must impose sentences that are concurrent.

This bill would allow a judge the discretion in a case where there is a conviction for multiple murders, the murder of two or more people, to impose consecutive life sentences. However, a judge would not have to do that by this bill. In the case of multiple murders, the judge could still impose concurrent life sentences.

But in an appropriate case, and I would expect it to be rather unusual, this bill would allow our law to reflect the fact that those sentences should be served consecutively. Again I think of the case of William Pickton who was responsible for the murder of at least a dozen women, and probably two dozen women. Under this bill, Mr. Pickton could not apply for parole after 25 years, as is the case today, but rather, he would not be able to apply for parole until the expiry of his life sentence, which in the case of a consecutive sentence would perhaps be 50 years down the road.

That makes some sense when we pass the smell test of most Canadians, wherein the present legal system does not permit judges to distinguish between someone who murdered one person versus someone else who murdered 30 people. They get the same sentence. They get a life sentence, but served concurrently. This bill would rectify that and assist in making our system more responsive and just.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 3:20 p.m.
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NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Vancouver Kingsway for yet another very thoughtful presentation on one of the bills to do with the Criminal Code of Canada. He always offers a sober second thought on these proposals.

I can understand why the government might be bringing forward these bills, particularly in light of the Pickton case and so forth.

However, I wonder if the member could speak to the issue of what is often more frustrating for families of victims in multiple murder cases, that is, whether or not their family member's case is actually brought forward for prosecution. It is important to understand the limitations of the judiciary, that it can clearly only sentence based on the cases that, in the discretion of the crown, it brings forward.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 3:20 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague from Edmonton—Strathcona works harder than anybody I have seen in the House. She brings to all debates a sensitive and thoughtful perspective on everything. I would also like the record to reflect that I am sober during this debate. It is an excellent question.

In my home province of British Columbia, many families of victims of Willie Pickton had to observe the spectre of seeing the crown proceed with the first set of charges related to the murder of approximately a dozen women and yet there were approximately another dozen or maybe even two dozen missing or murdered women whose cases were not brought to court. The crown made the decision after obtaining convictions on the first set of cases where Mr. Pickton was convicted of second degree murder and received a life sentence with no possibility of parole for 25 years. Families had to face the spectre of never having their day in court and never having the closure and accountability that comes with having the particular case of the murder of their loved one heard in open court where they could get closure, and justice rendered, a verdict rendered, so that they could hold the perpetrator responsible, in this case alleged to be Mr. Pickton. That is an important point to recognize.

Right now in British Columbia there is an inquiry, led by former attorney general Wally Oppal, looking into how that case has been proceeded with. I am hoping that those victims will get some answers and some peace out of that process. It makes us remember, of course, that the justice system deals with real people and that there is no one more important than the victims and victims' families. We must keep those at the forefront.

In the House we may disagree on the best way to support victims, but one thing all members on all sides of the House agree on is that we all feel deep empathy for victims of crime and their families. We all seek to find ways in which we can support those people and ensure that we can lessen the harm they have suffered and also try to ensure that justice is ultimately obtained for the victims and for the perpetrators.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 3:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have another question for my colleague. The fundamental clause of Bill C-48, which we are discussing today, concerns the potential addition of section 745.51 to the Criminal Code. I have a question about the judge's decision about whether to impose an additional period, if the sentence will be served consecutively.

Section 745.51 states, “The judge shall give, either orally or in writing, reasons for the decision to make or not to make an order under subsection (1).” The “order” refers to the decision about whether a consecutive sentence will be imposed.

Does my colleague think that the judge should give reasons for his decision, whether or not he is making an order? This decision could be appealed.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 3:25 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, the new section 745.21 would require the judge, in the case of multiple murders, to ask the jury if it would recommend whether the parole ineligibility period should be served consecutively to the parole ineligibility period for the previous murder.

With the current section 745.2, the jury is not required to make a recommendation. However, if it does, this will be taken into consideration by the judge. It is important to note that this new section will not be applied retroactively, but rather to murders committed on a day after the day on which Bill C-48 would come into force, if in fact it does.

In answer to my colleague's specific question, I always think that judges should have to give reasons for their decisions, particularly when they are making a decision on such an important issue as to whether or not a life sentence will be served concurrently or consecutively. If my hon. friend is concerned that reasons be given, he has my full support in that. It is critical that be done in case there is any appeal as there inevitably, often and properly is in convictions for murder cases.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 3:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I did not do that because I wanted to be in contempt of the House. It is difficult for me to stand up, because my leg is giving me a little trouble. I did not want to miss my turn.

Have no fear; I did indeed intend to speak to this bill, which I too believe is very important and which fills a gap in the Criminal Code. We who argue and have argued murder cases know that this gap has existed for many years, ever since the Criminal Code was amended in 1976 to abolish the death penalty. At the time, the faint hope clause was brought in, and that is the topic of Bill S-6, which we debated yesterday.

There is a difference between Bill C-48, which we are examining today, and the bill we examined yesterday, Bill S-6. Bill S-6 closes the door on nearly every possibility that someone convicted of murder will ever return to society. Conversely, Bill C-48 is worthwhile because it will close a door that was left half-open when the faint hope clause was introduced under section 745 of the Criminal Code. Let me explain.

When the death penalty was abolished in Canada in 1976, the Criminal Code was amended and it stated—without quoting the Criminal Code—more or less the following: anyone convicted of murder shall be sentenced to life imprisonment. That is clear. It forgot to mention that an individual can be convicted of multiple murders. Section 745 refers only to an individual who is convicted of murder, in the singular, and no one thought any differently. I was not here in 1976 and I do not believe that anyone currently in this House was here then, but the priority at the time was to put an end to the death penalty. It is clear from the work done at the time that legislators wanted to put an end to the possibility that anyone convicted of murder would be hanged, since the death penalty still existed in Canada. However, they forgot to close that door, and now nearly 25 years later, we are going to close it with Bill C-48.

When a bill is intelligent and serves an important purpose—and we believe it does—the Bloc Québécois supports it. In terms of criminal law, we believe that this is an important bill, because we must make a distinction—while being careful not to trivialize—between an individual who commits one murder and an individual who commits two or three. My colleagues will understand that they are completely different. In examining the figures provided, I realize that, in Canada, we can count the number of multiple murderers on one hand. That is straightforward.

The government is shutting doors because of a few multiple murderers. I would like to share with you the most recent figures from 2008. We asked for the most recent figures, but we could not wait for them because the bill had to be passed.

In 2008, 553 people were convicted on 1 count of murder; 18 people were convicted on 2 counts of murder; 6 people were convicted on 3 counts of murder; and 1 person was convicted on at least 4 counts of murder. We know how to count: 18 plus 6 plus 1 equals 25 people convicted of multiple murders. We should take a closer look at this.

Let us look at the type of criminal we are dealing with. I will be careful so as not to be misquoted. The majority are murderers. Murder is still the most serious crime in the Criminal Code. All the murder cases we looked at—except five, and I will come back to that momentarily—were multiple murders: someone killed his wife and three children, someone else killed her husband and two children. This happens a lot in families. In Canada, there are currently five multiple murderers in prison. In order not to violate the seal of confession, I will not name those murderers except for maybe Olson and Pickton, and more recently Colonel Williams. The others were hitmen for the Hells Angels. These are very specific cases.

The example that springs to mind is incredibly sad, and that is the case of Cathie Gauthier. Following a suicide pact she had made, she killed her husband and two children—and in a few moments I will come back to section 745, which is why we are voting in favour. This woman and her husband had left Abitibi to work in Chicoutimi in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean area, and they had made a suicide pact. Unfortunately, the husband and two children died, but she survived. She was supposed to die, but she survived. She was convicted of triple murder. These are very specific cases.

This is what section 745.51 of the Criminal Code would do. In Canada, in Quebec and in this part of the world, there are few criminals, few mass murderers—God willing it will stay that way. All the better for all of us. However, they had the same rights as someone who committed one murder. Members may think that I am trying to trivialize the situation, but I have no intention of trivializing murder. It is very clear that it is the most serious and most horrific of crimes. However, someone who killed his wife's lover was treated the same way as someone who killed five people to settle the score for the mafia. They were treated the same, meaning that after 25 years they could apply for parole. An individual was granted parole even though he was a criminal and a mafia hitman. He was released under this section of the Criminal Code. I checked and I can tell you that this person did not reoffend. I could speak at length about this. No individual who has been released since 1987 has reoffended by committing murder. The law was amended in 1976, but the first cases occurred in 1987. Two individuals reoffended and committed violent crimes, namely assault with a weapon and robbery.

These two individuals had their parole revoked and are back in custody.

I would like to emphasize the fundamental principle that the Conservatives do not understand. Someone who is convicted of murder is sentenced to life in prison. For the rest of his days, for the rest of his life, he will be under the control and supervision of the Correctional Service of Canada, period.

There is a major difference between Bill C-48 and Bill S-6, which we examined yesterday and which the Bloc will vehemently oppose. I hope that our Liberal friends will come around and also vote against it. Bill S-6 would abolish the faint hope clause, which would mean that any murderer, even if he was completely rehabilitated, would remain in prison. That makes absolutely no sense.

That is why yesterday I said that there was a difference between the faint hope clause, which enables an individual to reintegrate into society, and Bill C-48, which we are currently studying and which states that when an individual commits more than one murder, the judge will address the jury. That is what will be in the Criminal Code, which will be amended. I will quote what will be said to the jury, which can be found in the proposed section 745.21. It will not be the judge, the Conservatives or the police who will make the decision. It will be the jury that convicted the individual.

Before discharging the jury, the judge shall put to them the following question:

You have found the accused guilty of murder. The law requires that I now pronounce a sentence of imprisonment for life against the accused. Do you wish to make any recommendation with respect to the period without eligibility for parole to be served for this murder consecutively to the period without eligibility for parole imposed for the previous murder? You are not required to make any recommendation, but if you do, your recommendation will be considered by me when I make my determination.

Here is an explanation for the listening public. This means that, from now on, a jury will be consulted in cases involving offenders who have been found guilty of two murders. I will use the example of Cathie Gauthier, who was found guilty of triple murder. The judge will consult the jury to determine whether, given what it heard, it thinks that this woman should not be eligible for parole before serving three consecutive sentences of 25 years or a total of 75 years.

Of course, in the case of a person who killed someone in a moment of pure insanity the jury will likely tell the judge that such a sentence does not really make sense. However, in cases such as those of Olson, Pickton, Bernardo or a mafia hitman, I do not think that the jury would hesitate for long before saying that such individuals should not be released until they have served 25, 50 or 75 years.

That is the fundamental difference between Bill S-6, which will be voted on tomorrow—I hope that the Liberals will vote against it—and Bill C-48, which we will likely vote on within the next few days. I hope that the Liberals will vote, like us, in favour of Bill C-48 because it closes an open door.

But there is more. As a criminal lawyer, I admit that this idea is quite intelligent. It is rare that I compliment the Conservatives, but I am doing so now.

Surely it could not have been the Minister of Justice who came up with this. It must have been someone who works for the Department of Justice. Section 745.51 was added, under which it will be determined whether a person is guilty of a single, double or triple murder when they are sentenced under section 745.

The judge presiding over the trial of an individual found guilty of murder asks the jury for a verdict. This is where it gets interesting. Having regard to the character of the offender, the nature of the offence and the circumstances surrounding its commission, and all the recommendations made by the jury that I was talking about 10 minutes ago, the judge can order that the period of ineligibility for parole for each murder conviction be served consecutively. In other words, once the jury has found the individual guilty, the judge asks the jury the question and takes the answer into account. For example, the jury says not to impose a consecutive sentence. As a criminal lawyer, I would appeal that the next morning. I cannot see a judge disregarding a recommendation by the jury. If the jury says to impose a consecutive sentence, then the judge has discretionary power and has to give a reason orally or in writing for not making the order. What does that mean? It is quite good because once again discretionary power will be given to the court judging the individual.

I want to go back to the example of Cathie Gauthier, who made a suicide pact, as everyone knows. She gave drugs to her husband and her two children and took some herself. Unfortunately for her, she survived. She was convicted of triple murder. In her case, it is likely that the judge, having regard to the character of the offender, the nature of the offence and the circumstances surrounding its commission, would say that the sentence is already enough, that the woman is serving life in prison and will be there for at least 25 years, and to leave it at that.

However, without denigrating these individuals, in the case of Olson, Bernardo or Colonel Williams, I think the judge would not hesitate to say that they deserve a consecutive sentence and before being eligible for parole, they will have to serve 25, 50, even 75 years. In other words, there is no way they are returning to society. I think that would be a wise decision. I admit there are criminals who are so hopeless they could never return to society. Unfortunately that is true.

There are also individuals who are not criminals by nature, but who, because of the events surrounding the murder, became criminals. The case of Cathie Gauthier is an excellent example. How will the appeal court respond? I do not know; I only know that the case is being appealed. But with what we have before us today and the studies we have done, we believe this is a good bill. This bill will close a door that was unfortunately left half-open when the death penalty was abolished.

As a final point, I will say that when we see a good bill, especially in the area of criminal law, the Bloc will support it. That is true of Bill C-48. However, when a bill is bad, as is the case with what Bill S-6 is trying to do, we cannot support it.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 3:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, one question I have not heard an answer to is regarding the amendment the committee made once the bill passed at second reading. The amendment was to section 745.51(2). Initially, it stated that the judge shall give, either orally or in writing, reasons for the decision not to make an order under subsection (1)

It has been amended to read, “The judge shall give, either orally or in writing, reasons for the decision to make or not to make an order under subsection (1)“. In my view, this change is helpful because it highlights the need for judicial discretion and the need for the public to understand the character of the judicial discretion that is being used in applying the law.

Is the member aware of other concerns the committee may have made in that same regard? This issue of judicial discretion has been downplayed, ignored or suppressed by the government many times before. This seems to be a move toward acknowledging the importance of judicial discretion sentencing.

I hope the member has some comments.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 3:50 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question.

Indeed, I was a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and he is right. I forgot to mention it, but we are in favour of the amendment. We believe it is important that the court explain its decision, whatever that may be, especially since we are talking about people's lives. We thought it was important to support that. We are talking about people's lives and the possibility that they will one day be able to return to society. We therefore think it is important that those decisions be explained.

When an individual receives a prison sentence, judges generally hand down their decisions saying that they are imposing a sentence of 12 years, for instance, and give their reasons. I agree with my colleague: a judge in such a case should have to explain the decision to hand down or not hand down a ruling, since that decision can be appealed before the appeal court. Thus, the reasons must be explained.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 3:50 p.m.
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Bloc

Daniel Paillé Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Madam Speaker, I very much appreciate our colleague's ability to keep things simple. Twice he spoke about the section of the code and then explained it in words we could understand. I am not a criminal lawyer, I am a humble banker, and he helped me to understand things better.

I would like him to use his ability to keep things simple and tell us, in two words, what the differences are between Bill S-6, which we studied yesterday, and Bill C-48, which we are looking at today.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 3:50 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, the member for Hochelaga says he is a banker, and I will take his word on that; however, the lawyer in me stands up and says no to his request to describe the differences in just two words. I need a little more time than that, particularly since criminal law is involved. I will be brief since I know my time is limited.

First, Bill C-48, which we are examining today, closes a door for offenders who have committed multiple murders and who could be eligible for early release to which we believe they are not entitled. That is Bill C-48.

On the other hand, Bill S-6 is a bill that I hope will cause the Liberals to wake up. We should not vote in favour of this bill. The Liberals are the ones who abolished the death penalty and introduced the faint hope clause to allow offenders to return to society. We must continue to provide this option. I could name two of my clients but I will not because I did not call them. They committed murder and today they are making a positive contribution to society. They served their sentences but benefited from the faint hope clause. I want to emphasize that this clause works very well.

The Correctional Service of Canada came to prove to us, with supporting data, that it has complete control over rehabilitated offenders in society, and that they become productive citizens. Of the 141 individuals who were returned to society, only two have been convicted of violent crimes: one for assault causing bodily harm and the other for robbery. That is a phenomenal success. If Bill S-6 were to be enacted, there would be more crime in prisons tomorrow morning. I am convinced of it because the inmate will have no other options. He will know that he can never return to society. And that is unacceptable.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 3:55 p.m.
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Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Madam Speaker, I am curious. I noticed that the member said that out of about 140 people who were paroled and released into the community, only two had re-offended or at least reoffended with violence against society. Aggravated assault and robbery, in my mind as a criminal lawyer, are very serious indeed and are some of the more serious offences contained within the Criminal Code.

I wonder if the member has checked with the victims who were robbed and subjected to aggravated assault or with the families of victims on how they would feel about those people being put back into the community.

I wonder how the member justifies the fact that these people may misbehave in jail as a reason they should be allowed out. It just does not seem to make sense. I mean, if they are misbehaving in jail, they certainly will misbehave in society and should never be let out. Some people cannot be rehabilitated.

Finally, what does that have to do with the death penalty? The member raised the issue a couple of times. I do not know what he is talking about as far as the bill having any relevance to that issue. We are not even discussing that right now.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 3:55 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague has just opened a dangerous door and I would need more time to answer. First, he has not understood anything. Second, he does not want to understand anything. Third, and worst of all, if Bill S-6 were to pass tomorrow, it would be the first step towards reinstating capital punishment in Canada. That is very clear and I stand behind my opinion.

Here is the worst part. What will an inmate do if he has no other options and must remain in prison for the rest of his life? He will commit murders for gangs. If my colleague needs some examples, I will give him three, outside the House. I invite him to go to the Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, Kingston and Port-Cartier institutions. That is the problem posed by Bill S-6.

I am not saying that an inmate with bad behaviour in prison must be paroled. I have never said that. On the contrary, an individual who wants to return to society must be ready, rehabilitated and capable of being an asset to society. Otherwise, he will remain in prison. I hope that it is clear this time. That is not what Bill S-6 is all about. I invite my colleague to reread the bill. If necessary, I will give him a free course on criminal law in the next few days.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 4 p.m.
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Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to stand once again to speak to Bill C-48, which has now reached third reading and is close to realizing the vision of the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville whose private member's bill inspired its content.

As I have spoken about many times over my five years in this House, my colleague and I have been pushing for an end to automatic concurrent sentences for multiple murderers and rapists. I was proud to be the seconder to this important bill when it was brought forward in 2007.

Having spoken to many victims of crime and their families over the years, I became aware of how much of an insult and travesty the notion of volume discounts was within our justice system. The ability to serve penalties simultaneously is a slap in the face to those who have any sort of respect for human life. The murder of victim number two, three, four or five is just as significant, just as impactful and just as heinous as the murder of victim number one. The order in which the crimes were committed should have absolutely no bearing on the way in which a perpetrator is sentenced.

This House is no doubt aware of the stories of Ed Schellenberg and Chris Mohan, because I have taken every opportunity to share them with my fellow members. For my family, including my daughter, Keerat, who is in Ottawa today, and for the residents of Surrey and Delta, the tragic end to the lives of those two gentlemen was very personal and emotional because they were innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire of the most callous of criminals. Today I will once again share their story so their names are at the forefront of the mind of every one of my colleagues when they vote on this bill.

It was the fall of 2007 when plumber Ed Schellenberg was repairing a fireplace in a 15th floor apartment. At the same time, in a neighbouring suite to the one in which Mr. Schellenberg was working, Chris Mohan was on his way out to play hockey. The nefarious activities that were taking place on that 15th floor in another suite meant that both Mr. Schellenberg and Mr. Mohan became collateral damage for a group of criminals whose regard for anyone besides themselves was non-existent. Gang activity in support of the drug trade took the lives of two men who had absolutely nothing to do with the situation.

Canadians should not have to live in fear of conducting their daily lives in places where they have every right to be. The fact that these terrible murders took place in a residential building in the middle of a quiet neighbourhood makes this incident that much more frightening to contemplate.

Now, thanks to the tireless work of the Surrey RCMP and the integrated homicide investigation team, those individuals who were responsible for this brutality are now in custody and at various stages of the justice process. Our front-line defenders have done their job and have made residents of my riding of Newton—North Delta and those living across Surrey that much more safe and secure in their own communities.

However, now it is time for us as legislators to do our job because, as things currently stand, the courts are helpless because of current laws. The perpetrators of the Surrey Six slayings are counting their lucky stars that current laws allow for no additional punishment for the murders of Ed Schellenberg and Chris Mohan.

There was no deterrent to these criminals before they took lives and there is certainly no fear now that they are about to face the consequences of their actions. I say that it is about time that we, as representatives of the people, close this loophole.

There must be a difference for those who commit a single act of sexual assault or murder and those who go on a spree and impact many victims. Our laws must reflect the sanctity and respect for human life that is missing in these murderers. There can no longer be any delays due to parliamentary procedure or posturing of a government more concerned with politics than real change.

In 1999, a similar bill was passed in the House of Commons, but due to a general election being called, it died in the Senate. Since the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville reintroduced her private member's bill in 2007, the government has taken every opportunity to create manufactured obstacles to its passage.

I call on members of the government to stop the political games. No more proroguing Parliament, no more political filibustering and no more false accusations against members of my party, who are willing to work together to truly get tough and smart on crime. It does not matter that it was first a Liberal idea. All that matters is that we, as members of the House of Commons, are guided by the constituents we represent and the victims and families who have fallen through the cracks.

I know for a fact that over the years there have been many sentences imposed by judges who were pained to do so. They wanted to lay down stiffer sentences but were completely handcuffed by the parameters of the law. Bill C-48 is going to change all of that.

Before I conclude, I want to recognize the fantastic amendment made to the bill at the committee stage by the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, who has suggested that all decisions, whether with or without a consecutive sentence, should include a verbal or written explanation. It is always useful to know reasons for the important decisions and judges would not mind this requirement.

I encourage all of my colleagues from all parties to finally pass the bill and ensure that another victim is never again taken for granted by our laws.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 4:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I remember very well the private member's bill on consecutive versus concurrent sentencing. That bill was in fact gutted in committee at that time and I know the member worked very hard to try to get it reinstated.

The debate that has occurred so far has to do in great part with whether Bill C-48 provides the right balance in terms of dealing with multiple murders considering the situation we have with Bill S-6, the faint hope clause. Would the member care to comment on how justice is served and the public safety objectives of the criminal justice would be better served by Bill C-48?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 4:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, the bill is in fact very balanced. On one side it gives powers and resources to judges to make decisions on multiple murders and whether they should be giving sentences as consecutive or concurrent. By including consecutive sentences as part of our law through this bill it would provide a balance to the system.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 4:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois about Bill C-48, which has to do with parole and cumulative sentences. This bill offers an option. It is not often that we see a crime bill introduced by the Conservatives that gives judges options. In this case, it gives them the option of imposing additional periods of parole ineligibility in cases of multiple murders. It gives judges the choice of adding them. The Bloc always likes putting things in the hands of judges for obvious reasons.

In a murder case, the judge and the jury can very quickly make recommendations on parole. There is a prison in my riding and I know people who have committed crimes, who are in this prison and who will one day have their sentences reduced or be released on parole and thus return to society. These people are all prepared to do so, and I do not see why we would keep someone in prison who had one moment of weakness, a momentary lapse, or simply a lack of understanding of our society's values. I do not see why we would never give them the possibility of living a normal life.

The Bloc Québécois is in favour of the principle of Bill C-48. I think it will be interesting, in committee, to ensure that the basic principles that give freedom to judges are conserved. This bill has to do with murder, the worst crime, which has the most significant consequences for victims and which affects the public the most. Bill C-48 would enable judges to increase parole the ineligibility period when they are pronouncing a sentence—not after, of course—in cases of multiple murders.

As my hon. colleague said earlier, multiple murders are very rare. In fact, only 0.2% of all murders in Canada in the last 35 years were multiple murders. These are major offences, I agree, but they are also extremely rare. What that means is that a good number of the bills now before the House deal with extremely rare incidents, probably because the government cannot find more general issues to address and, as we know too well, the government likes to say it is tough on crime and to put a good spin on it.

We all agree that the most serious crimes deserve the most serious penalties and are therefore subject to imprisonment for life. Sentences that are too light or parole that is too easy, such as parole after one-sixth of sentence—and we introduced a bill to do away with that—undermine the judicial system and only give credence to the misguided notion that criminals are treated better than their victims.

By the way, this bill does not improve the lot of the victims. The government keeps saying that we must focus on the victims of crime, but it has not done so in this bill. This bill is all about the criminals.

It seems unusual that a second murder would not result in an additional sentence. We all agree on that. Under Bill C-48, the judge would at least have the option of imposing consecutive periods of parole ineligibility. It would be up to him to decide.

But the Bloc Québécois thinks that punishment cannot be the sole objective of the legal system, to the detriment of rehabilitation and reintegration. We still believe in that, and we do not expect to change our minds soon. In fact, we are not the only ones who believe that parole, rehabilitation and reintegration are important. Last week, there was an article in the paper from a coalition of eleven Christian churches in Canada that said: “According to the Church Council on Justice and Corrections, the criminal justice policy of the Conservative government is not helping the victims or the offenders.” That rather confirms what I was saying earlier. Bills are always drafted to deal with criminals, not to assist the victims.

This article listed what the eleven churches want people to know. It asked what Jesus would do with modern-day criminals. It asked if he would let them languish behind bars even longer or if he would try to reintroduce them into society. It is an interesting question because the Conservatives often fall back on the religious view of punishment. They have built their preconceived notions of crime on a that foundation. And now the religious are reminding them of that.

That is how the eleven churches stated their position. It comes at the moment when the government, with bills like Bill C-48 and all of the other bills it is introducing, is already seeing it will need to build more and bigger prisons. In my riding as well, apparently the prison will be expanded to add 192 beds. Yet, for 10 or 15 years, the number of inmates in that prison has decreased on a regular basis. Why? Because there has been an increase in rehabilitation—more people on parole who have been rehabilitated. However, it seems that they will succeed in having more laws that will lengthen sentences and so, we will need more prisons.

What is interesting, and Bill C-48 would lead to this as well, is that 192 prison beds will cost $45 million. Simple division reveals that each concrete bed will cost $248,000. This amount represents two social housing units for prisoners, two units out in our society. The Conservatives prefer to build jails and take people out of society at the attractive price of $248,000 per prisoner. You must agree that this money would allow us to do other things on the outside.

The interesting part that I would like to share is where all of the churches of Canada are listed, be they Catholic, Protestant, Lutheran, etc. This is what it says:

This group believes that incarcerating criminals for longer and longer periods, which is what the Conservative government in Ottawa is proposing, does not benefit either victims or offenders.

This is quite basic. I will continue:

I am most concerned that you and the Government of Canada are prepared to significantly increase investment in the building of new prisons.

These are religious leaders saying this. They went on to say:

Proposed new federal laws will ensure that more Canadians are sent to prison for longer periods, a strategy that has been repeatedly proven neither to reduce crime nor to assist victims.

If I understand correctly, Bill C-48 would put people in prison for longer periods of time to ensure that they do not reoffend. People are beginning to realize that it is not the length of time spent in prison that matters, but rather it is the money that is invested in rehabilitation. Offenders need to be re-educated, to be taught the moral values of society, to learn a trade, and they need to be looked after when they are released. Instead of simply giving them a cell in a prison, they must be given a place to live, a job, and a chance to return to society. Those are the ones who will not reoffend. We have a long way to go. We seem to be forgetting about victims.

I will continue quoting these religious leaders, because what they are saying is interesting:

These offenders are disproportionately poor, ill-equipped to learn, from the most disadvantaged and marginalized groups.

This is how religious leaders, who are also part of society, describe criminals.

They require treatment, health services, educational, employment and housing interventions, all less expensive and more humane than incarceration.

That is far from what is happening in Bill C-48, even though, in reality, there is nothing shocking about it. The principle is fine, but we can see that it is leading down the same path. They want to be able to incarcerate an increasing number of people.

The bishops continue:

We are called to be a people in relationship with each other through our conflicts and sins, with the ingenious creativity of God's Spirit to find our way back into covenant community.

They did not mean a community of Alliance members. What surprises me is that the Conservatives, who are so respectful of religion, do not listen to messages as important as this one and continue to think that the only way to make criminals disappear is to put them in prison.

Coming back to the quote:

How can that be if we automatically exclude and cut ourselves off from all those we label “criminal”?

There is a lot of wisdom in that. It is a pleasure for me to say so here in the House because I do not talk about religion very often. Sometimes I do, though, because I think these people have good things to say, as can be seen here. Their message is worth repeating. That is why they said it, so that it would be repeated and we could try to make the Conservatives understand that being tough on crime is not the only path but there are also rehabilitation paths.

In my riding, when the Conservatives came to power in 2006, before the second election they won, they eliminated one streetworker job.

I will not mention the town because that would be giving away too much. This streetworker made $40,000 a year. The Conservative government saved $40,000 a year even though this worker could have been out helping youths who were having difficulties and giving them advice to keep them out of jail. He could get them interested in other things such as learning a trade. He could encourage them to show more respect and give them some concept of morality, which they had not necessarily acquired in broken homes. The $40,000 that the federal government saved is not even a drop in its budget, hardly even one electron.

The opposition maintains, quite rightly, that there should be fewer crime bills. We have the impression that the government mostly just wants to make political hay by being tough on crime, as my colleague said. There were only about 45 recidivists among the 2,900 murderers in Canada over 35 years. We are talking, therefore, about an infinitesimal number. So why rework so many laws? Why not pass a general act instead of acts with such a narrow focus each time?

Here is a quote from some church members on their view of human dignity:

Our Church supports restorative justice...Both for moral and practical reasons, society should be concerned not only with how long prisoners are incarcerated for, but with their character when they leave prison. Every person is made in God's image and has received the gift of dignity...Our goal is not to be for or against a government, but to explain that there are alternatives to prison.

The Bloc Québécois also supports this type of restorative justice. These words should linger and influence current legislation.

They are not trying to engage in politics. They are trying to make the government understand that we cannot invest in prisons indefinitely. It is not a solution. The solution is to come back to rehabilitation.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 4:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member's frankness in talking about the broader dimension of our human responsibilities and the fact that the role of the criminal justice system is not simply to punish. Prevention is part of it, certainly punishment is an element, but then we have rehabilitation and reintegration.

It seems to me that an easy solution is Bill C-48, having more and more people stay in jail for longer periods of time and then we would not have to worry about whether they would be a problem. That is the important element of Bill C-48. We demonstrate a confidence level in judicial discretion. Public safety is extremely important and we should always show respect for the public safety issue. However, eventually people get out, even when they do bad things, and we want to be absolutely sure.

I appreciate the member's comments and acknowledge his openness with the House.

Perhaps the member would comment on whether Bill S-6 on the faint hope clause is consistent with the idea that there are people who are not Clifford Olson, that public safety is not at risk and that maybe there are good public service and safety reasons for early parole in certain circumstances.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 4:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for the very interesting question. I also thank him for appreciating the fact that I spoke about moral values.

The value of this bill lies in the fact that it gives judges the discretion to assess people who have committed such horrible crimes as murder and consider whether their culpability, depending on the circumstances, is greater if they have committed two murders at the same time, or if they have committed two murders, one after the other. Is a person a greater danger to society if he has killed three of his children at the same time or if he has killed only one of his children? That is what must be determined.

It is fortunate that judges can consider this because there is no neat mathematical formula for culpability. Moral values must always be the values on which decisions are based. There are serial killers, but they are already subject to a life sentence without possibility of parole. We are not talking about them, but about a few people who are not necessarily a danger in the long term, but who had a moment of great weakness.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 10:15 a.m.
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Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on this issue that is of pressing importance to all Canadians, including those in my excellent riding of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.

Of all the issues we deal with, one of the most frightening for members of the public, naturally, is the issue of violent crime. It strikes fear in everybody. In these days of the 24-hour news cycle, everyone is aware of what is happening within our country from coast to coast. When bad things happen, everyone is aware of them.

It is important, although difficult, for us to try to disarticulate what we see in the media from the facts and to determine with an objective eye what is going on and what can be done to protect our citizens. As elected officials, our primary responsibility is to do what we can and must do to protect our citizens from harm.

Let us take a look. What are the most dangerous cities in Canada? In order of ranking, the first is Port Coquitlam, B.C., then Edmonton, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Vancouver and Calgary; then it goes down through Surrey, Halifax, Toronto and of course many others. These are the 2007 murder statistics.

Is the murder rate going up or down? Since 1990, with one small change a couple of years ago, the homicide rate has actually been in significant decline. Canada's violent crime rate is three times less than that of our friend south of the border, yet the incarceration rate in the United States is significantly higher than in Canada. In the U.S. about 0.7% of the population is in jail. In Canada it is roughly about 0.12%, which is a big difference.

The question is: What do we do and what should work in terms of dealing with violent crime?

I would like to mention a few other things that may be of interest to members in the House.

In 2006, 2.45 million crimes were reported. Of those, 48% were property-related crimes and 12.6% were violent crimes. There were 594 murders in 2007, 12 fewer than the previous year. One-third of the murders in 2007 were stabbings and another one-third involved firearms. Of the murders involving firearms, handguns were used in two-thirds. Seventy-four youths were accused of murder. That is down by 11 from the previous year. The reason I mention these statistics is to put things in context to show the challenges we are currently facing.

There is a particular area that was not included in this data, particularly in terms of cities because the cities are small, and it relates to the north. In places like Nunavut, Iqaluit and Yellowknife, the rate of violent crime is at levels that would shock Canadians from coast to coast. Let us take a look at those levels.

The most violent regions in all of Canada that were not on the list are Iqaluit, Whitehorse and Yellowknife. In Yellowknife, the rate of aggravated assault is 350% higher than the average. In Iqaluit, the aggravated assault rate is 1,033% above the Canadian average. That is absolutely shocking. According to the RCMP, the rate of sexual assault is more than 1,270% above the average. Much of the north's violent crime wave involves sexual assault, and it defies easy explanation.

Let us take a look at something that is quite staggering. If we want to look at violent crime, let us look at what happened prior to that.

In Nunavut, one-quarter of all babies are born with fetal alcohol syndrome. That is absolutely remarkable. The average person with fetal alcohol syndrome has an IQ of about 67 to 70. Fetal alcohol syndrome is the leading cause of preventable brain damage at birth. This is one of the problems that exists in this area.

Another challenge in the area is suicide. In Nunavut, young women 15 to 24 years of age are 36 times more likely than other Canadian women in the same demographic to commit suicide. That is absolutely shocking. It is a situation that occurs far away in the north and receives very little attention, but it is a tragedy.

In fact, conditions exist in some of these areas, particularly in first nation communities in parts of our country, that I can tell members from personal experience are essentially equivalent to what we find in the developing world, in a third world environment. That is what we have within our borders, in Canada today in 2010.

Within the milieu of some of those communities in northern British Columbia in which I have had the privilege of working, I remember, while making a house call to a gentleman to perform a post-operative checkup, seeing a toddler of four or five years old with untreated impetigo on his face. While the child was standing there with this weeping infection on his face, his uncle was flopped over, drunk at 10 o'clock in the morning, and his father was drunk and swearing at me, as was his mother.

What kind of hope does that child have when he witnesses this kind of abuse taking place right in front of him? The child has little hope at all.

I have been saying this for 17 years in this House. If we are going to be intelligent and responsible to the taxpayer, in terms of doing what is necessary to reduce violent crime, then, rather than standing in the House and saying we simply need to build more prisons and throw people in jail, why do we not be smart about it and try to prevent the crime in the first place so that victims do not have to live in trauma for the rest of their lives as a result of being victims of crime? People may adapt to the situation they have been subjected to, but many times they never really get over it. They adapt to it if they can. However, why do we not try to prevent these kinds of horrors and trauma for the people who are being victimized?

How do we do that? It is very interesting. This is not rocket science. A lot of the evidence has been gathered, and I would hope the government really takes a look at studies that have been done before and find out what works.

In Ypsilanti, Michigan, the Perry preschool program has done a 35-year retrospective analysis on early learning head start programs. It asked what we need to do to reduce violent crime and what we need to do to reduce crime in general. It found that if a child were subjected to a number of interventions, it would help. Number one was home visits by nurses from the prenatal stage all the way through to the first two years of life, every one to two weeks. The mother is able to engage with the home nurse, in terms of the questions she may have, as well as the father, enabling them to develop proper parenting for the child. Single mothers, particularly teen mothers, who are isolated are at risk. They need to be selected and engaged quickly. Nutrition is critically important, as well as teaching proper parenting.

The other thing that worked very clearly, which is interesting, is that if the children were subjected to two-and-a-half hours of preschool time per day five days a week, up to the age five, before they went into school, it had a profound impact upon the outcome for those children. This costs very little. What is the cost-benefit of this when they did the cost-benefit analysis? In the Perry preschool experience, it was a saving of seven dollars for every dollar invested.

The same thing was done in Great Britain. There are a number of excellent studies that I would encourage the government to take a look at. There was the 1996 study called “Misspent Youth”, from Great Britain; the 1998 study “Beating Crime”; and “Calling Time on Crime”.

The government could take a look at the 1999 study done by the Montreal-based International Centre for the Prevention of Crime. In the United States, Lawrence Sherman did a meta-analysis of 600 programs. He and his team evaluated 600 programs, which had already done work in crime prevention, as to what works and what does not work.

The identification of families at risk, the early home visits, getting the kids into a preschool situation for two and one-half hours a day, enabling the parents to know what proper parenting is, dealing with substance abuse by the parents and reducing violence within the household are all absolutely crucial to changing the trajectory of a child's life.

The reason I am bringing this up in the context of this bill is that we are talking about violent crime. We are talking about homicides. We have to be able to reduce violent crime, and there are some very smart things we can do that will enable us to do that.

Simply building more jails, as seductive as it is on the surface, has been proven not to work. If it were going to work, then surely the United States would have a much safer country than ours, because they incarcerate far more people and have much tougher penalties, including the death penalty.

If that course were going to work, surely that society would be safer than ours. However, the reality is that it is not. There are many more people incarcerated, there is a much higher cost to the taxpayer and, from the public's perspective, people are not safer. They are actually less safe and subjected to more violence. It is a much more dangerous society than Canada's. Therefore, why do we not take a look at what works and implement the things that do?

There are other things we can do that work. One thing we should do, as I said before, is look at prenatal care, which is extremely important. We also need to deal with substance abuse. In the House, we occasionally spend time talking about marijuana. I do not support people using it. It is much stronger now than it ever was before. The THC content of marijuana runs around 36%.

However, if we look objectively at what does the most harm in our society, we will find that by any real measure it is actually alcohol. Alcohol causes many more problems in our society than marijuana ever does. This is all just a way of saying that, instead of being fixated on certain things that may be attractive at a certain level, we should look at ways to reduce substance abuse in general, whether it is marijuana, crystal meth, narcotics, alcohol or cigarettes. All are harmful and have an effect.

I can say from personal experience in emergency rooms that, for the number of people who have come in having done horrible things to other people, far and away alcohol was a mitigating factor. Whether it was a person who drove drunk and killed someone or a drunk person who beat up his or her partner, alcohol was a primary factor in all of that.

We need to try to tear away some of the myths of what we are talking about, deal with the facts and try to implement things that work. If we want to reduce substance abuse, which I know is a common goal for everybody in the House, why do we not take a look at reducing substance abuse with things that work?

The early learning head start programs work very well. They also reduce child abuse rates. Hawaii's healthy start program, which I would encourage the government to take a look at, would reduce child abuse rates by over 90%. That is absolutely staggering. The program identified families at risk, brought in mentors who were usually women who had children, engaged parents who could be at risk, worked together to teach proper parenting and proper nutrition for children and enabled children to live in a loving and caring environment, dramatically changing the trajectory of the children's lives.

We have the science to prove it. Dr. Julio Montaner, Dr. Evan Wood and others at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at St. Paul's Hospital have done some incredible work with neurologists from other parts of the world. In fact they can prove now that one can look at a developing child's brain and see that it is developing well if the child is subjected to a loving and caring environment, free of sexual abuse and violence, and has security. Whereas if a child is subjected to those terrible things, one can see that the neural connections in a child's brain happen slowly or do not happen adequately. As a result, the child is at a much higher risk of committing a crime later in life.

I hope this is something the government will take a look at. If it is interested in reducing crime and interventions like the early learning head start programs work, what exactly does it do in terms of crime? This is what was found. Those kinds of programs reduce maternal arrests by 69%, they reduce child abuse rates by 80% in the studies that were done to age 15 and they reduce youth crime by 66%. If there were a program that saved the taxpayer anywhere between $7 and $11 per $1 invested and reduced youth crime by 66%, surely the government would work with the provinces to implement this, because all of this entails working with the provinces.

That makes sense from a humanitarian perspective, it makes sense to reach our objectives, and it makes fiscal sense. The cost-benefit analysis has been done. The evidence is in. It requires action. The government can use a convening power and its fiscal tools to work with the provinces to be able to achieve this objective.

It staggers me, quite frankly, that the government does not do this. It would look good doing this and it would be serving the public in what it is doing. This is my way of saying that these interventions work very well.

On the issue of drug policy, if the government wants to sanction people taking illegal drugs and thinks that is going to help to make our society safer, then it is delusional. All it needs to do is look south of the border to see what has happened in terms of the Americans' war on drugs approach. In fact, a number of states have actually decided very clearly that this does not work. That is what the facts tell them. The war on drugs is a failed war. It does not work. It has never worked and it will not work. In fact, rather than thinking it does work, it actually makes society less safe. It is more costly, does more harm, increases use and makes our society less safe. These are all outcomes that we do not want to have.

What does work? We can take a look at Portugal. Portugal actually liberalized its drug laws. What did it find? It found less drug use, less cost, less harm and less violence. All of that worked very well.

I would strongly encourage the government to work with the provinces and liberalize the drug laws, because the war on drugs that we are seeing is actually a war that we see on the streets. Many of the murders that we have found in my province of British Columbia have been rooted in drug wars, organized crime gangs fighting over drug territory.

If the government wants to attack organized crime, one of the most effective ways to do that is to go after the financial underpinnings. We can take them out by going after their finances. We can go after their finances by changing the drug laws. If we change the drug laws, that is the worst news for organized crime in this country. That would be a hammer on organized crime. I strongly encourage the government, which says it wants to get tough on crime, to look at drug policy as a way to get tough on crime. If we change the drug laws, we would actually be undermining significantly organized crime gangs. We will not be increasing drug use either. Nobody wants that and it is absurd to think otherwise.

Lastly, on the police, there are a number of decisions that have come down, the McNeil decision and others, that are really harming the ability of our police to do their job. These decisions put the police on trial instead of putting the accused on trial. It makes it very difficult for our police to do their job. They do a yeoman's job across our country. Whether it is the RCMP or other police forces, they do an incredible job for us and we have a huge indebtedness to the men and women who serve us every single day.

I really implore the government to take a look at the crime prevention initiatives that work. We have more than 30 years of experience. The cost-benefit analysis is there. It will reduce crime, it will reduce harm, it will reduce violent crime, and in that we would be doing our job.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 10:35 a.m.
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Liberal

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

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for his speech. It is the first time I have had this discussion with the hon. member, who will not be running in the next election. I want to say to him that he certainly has been a great inspiration on all levels in the House, and for me as a fairly new member of Parliament back in 2004. For that I thank him.

I want to talk to him about this issue that he speaks of so passionately and has done so for as long as I have been here. On the surface, he talks about this piece of legislation and how it deals with the idea of discounts, which on the surface I do not have a problem with.

However, the member brings up many aspects of the core of the problem. One of the issues regarding drugs is that we do not put enough emphasis on harm reduction, which is something that has been debated for quite some time, through Europe especially right now and all over the world.

Harm reduction seems to be thrown aside for the sake of increasing the amount of penalty for individuals involved in crime. Perhaps the member could talk about harm reduction.

Also, over the past few years we have not seen a lot of vision when it comes to the reduction of crime before the crime actually begins, to use the vernacular. So I thank him for his intervention.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 10:35 a.m.
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Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my friend for his very kind and gracious comments. He really serves his constituents well and will continue to advance the issues that are important not only to his constituents in Newfoundland and Labrador but also to Canadians from coast to coast.

The member is absolutely right in terms of harm reduction. It is unfortunate that the evidence-based harm reduction policies that work, such as the Insite program that Dr. Montaner and his team have run out of St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, or the NAOMI project, which is an acronym for the North American opiate medication initiative, are not embraced.

Essentially, the NAOMI project is a drug substitution program for narcotics. It has enabled people to actually get on with their lives, to stop taking drugs or to have their drug issues managed, which has led to a reduction in crime or a reduction in harm. It has led to people become productive members of society and get back with their families.

Rather than taking an ideological approach, as the Prime Minister has in the past on this, I would strongly encourage that he becomes educated about this. There is great work that has been done in Canada. Communities from coast to coast need to have access to those programs.

Rather than impeding access to those programs, I hope the Prime Minister and the government will become facilitators to those programs for the communities that would like them.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 10:35 a.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to my hon. colleague's very passionate and well-reasoned statements on liberalizing drug policy in this country.

I am left somewhat puzzled, though, because that is absolutely not what is under debate at the moment. We are discussing Bill C-48, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to the National Defence Act.

“Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act” is the name of the act and the issue under debate right now is whether we should give judges in this country discretion to provide sentences for multiple murders that are consecutive, not concurrent. I did not hear my friend address any comments to that.

I wonder what the member's position is on the matter under debate. Does he think judges in this country should have the discretion to give consecutive sentences for multiple murders or not?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 10:40 a.m.
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Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, the rationale for my intervention is really to take advantage of this opportunity to talk about how to not have people committing murders in the first place and how to not have victims of violent crime.

The intervention that I have put forward was really a plea to the government. I hope members from all parties will be able to adopt those interventions that have been, and are, useful in terms of preventing the horrible victimization that occurs in our society.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 10:40 a.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the member for talking a little bit about the root causes of crime, because if the government is going to get tough on crime, it has to understand why it happens.

The member also spoke about fetal alcohol syndrome, which is now called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder because it has broadened. Back in 1997, the Provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba did a study and a review of their prison systems and the inmates there. They found, startlingly, that 50% of the inmates in their prisons suffered from mental health disorders related to alcohol taken by a mother during pregnancy. That was also confirmed by Anne McLellan, our federal minister of justice at the time.

I would ask the member to elaborate just a little bit further on the need to be tough on crime, but to understand that there are crimes in which rehabilitation of the perpetrator is not possible and that our institutions are failing people who have mental health disorders.

Rehabilitation for people with mental health disorders is learning how to cope with their problem. Institutionalization and assistance, not rehabilitation in a jail, is appropriate.

Would the member agree that the argument also shows why building more jails is not actually necessary, that there is enough room in our jails for the real criminals, and that what we have to do is make sure that in our jails there are not people who should not be in those institutions?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 10:40 a.m.
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Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to honour my colleague for all his tireless work on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. He has been a champion to deal with this challenge since he was elected in 1993. I honour and thank him for his service in tirelessly bringing up this issue.

He is absolutely correct, and as I mentioned before, in Nunavut, one quarter of all babies are born with FASD. On the streets of Victoria, for example, there are about 1,450 people on the street. Two-thirds of those people have what we call dual diagnosis, which means that they have a psychiatric problem and they have a substance abuse problem. These conditions often go hand in hand. One sometimes occurs first, but they can shift back and forth. The tragedy of it is that we are not dealing with this properly.

People who commit violent crimes must be in jail to protect society, there is no question about that. We support that, but what we are trying to do is prevent that from ever happening. The member is absolutely right that, for too many people, the institutions are not available. There are some people who simply cannot take care of themselves. Rather than suggesting that they just go out in the community where there are not the community services for them, enable them to have an institution where they can live in peace and security and get the care they require because they cannot live on their own and there are not the resources, frankly, to be able to provide them to live on their own. What happens is that they fall through the cracks and they wind up on the street and doing a number of things that they should not do or should not feel compelled to do.

Why not be smart about it and address the issues of psychiatric challenges and substance abuse in an intelligent, fact-based way and in a medical way? These are medical problems, not judicial problems.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 10:45 a.m.
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Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank my friend for his question.

It is unfortunate that a significant bulk of the government's bills have been justice bills to make the Conservatives look “tough on crime” to the general public because it is politically advantageous. The tragedy is that in the process of so-called looking tough on crime, it is not effective on crime. It is actually making the country less secure and harming the public. The irony is that while it can be portrayed from the government's perspective that it is introducing bills that are going to keep people safer because it is tough on crime, the reality is that it does not happen. These bills are going to make Canadians less safe and less secure, and that is the tragedy of it.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 10:45 a.m.
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Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, I will begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois intends to support this bill at this stage. However, I still think this bill is useless, because our system is perfectly capable of taking into account aggravating circumstances around crimes such as multiple murders, which are perhaps more serious than single murders. I say “perhaps” because some single murders are more serious than multiple murders. I will give some examples in a moment.

All this bill does is delay the possibility of early parole. For a convicted criminal to obtain early parole, a judge has to give him permission to go before a jury and explain why he should get parole. Then, the decision is made by another jury. Clearly, this other jury, like the judge, will consider whether there were two murders or just one. Some single murders are more serious than double murders.

For those who have just tuned in, we are discussing the possibility of amending the Criminal Code so that in the case of multiple murders or murders committed by someone who has already been convicted of murder, eligibility for parole will be delayed, for reasons that can be explained. Multiple murders fall into one of two categories: those that are committed at the same time and those that are committed by someone who was previously convicted of murder. In any event, the sentence for murder is life in prison. We will not do silly things as they do in the United States, where people are put away for several hundred years just to impress the public. However, it is possible to delay eligibility for parole.

Here is how the judge will proceed. When he hears a case involving multiple murders, he must first put the following question to the jury:

You have found the accused guilty of murder. The law requires that I now pronounce a sentence of imprisonment for life against the accused. Do you wish to make any recommendation with respect to the period without eligibility for parole to be served for this murder consecutively to the period without eligibility for parole imposed for the previous murder? You are not required to make any recommendation, but if you do, your recommendation will be considered by me when I make my determination.

So, the jury that heard the case can give its opinion, since it is very familiar with the circumstances surrounding the murder. If the judge ignores their recommendation, he is required to justify his decision. Once again, I completely agree with this. As far as I know, when judges render a decision they must provide their reasoning. The bill states that this must be done orally or in writing. I obviously do not object to this part of the bill. However, I find that it is completely pointless.

As we say, plenty is no plague. But we also say that the perfect is the enemy of the good. In this case, I agree more with the first proverb that plenty is no plague. Forcing judges to do something they would already do seems pointless to me, but it does no harm.

We must understand in what context these decisions are made. Mr. Sapers, the Correctional Investigator of Canada, testified before a Senate committee regarding the provisions that allow for early parole, even for individuals sentenced to life in prison. He said:

...the average time served in prison for first degree murder in Canada is 28.4 years. By comparison, the average time served for the same sentence in New Zealand, Scotland, Sweden and Belgium is approximately 12 years. The time served in Canada is already greater than that in most other advanced democracies, including the United States....

Anyone who follows our debates will probably know that the United States is the country that incarcerates the highest number of people, per capita, in the world. But we hold the record on this. If this bill passes, Canada could beat the United States when it comes to the average length of a life sentence. The average length of a life sentence with possibility of parole is 18.5 years in the United States. Members should note that these American statistics do not take into account sentences for which there is no possibility of parole.

Mr. Sapers spoke about what kind of offenders this applies to:

Offenders serving a life sentence in Canada automatically spend at least the first two years of their sentence at a maximum security institution, regardless of their assessed risk. In Canada, a life sentence does, in fact, mean life. Offenders with a life sentence released into the community are supervised until the time of their death.

That is how we know that they do not reoffend. Only in one case of murder was another serious crime committed.

Relative to many other countries that Canada often compares itself to, offenders convicted of first degree murder in this country are already serving a more punitive sentence.

Therefore, I find these provisions to be pointless, especially when we consider the process for obtaining the right to apply for parole to the Parole Board prior to serving 25 years. First, the offender must submit an application to a judge and prove that it is likely, or that there is a substantial likelihood, at least by the preponderance of evidence, that a jury would grant leave to apply. Next, a jury is summoned and it must agree unanimously that the offender may have a hearing before the Parole Board.

Although this system is rather cumbersome, in my mind it is fully justified because, since 1987, only 150 people have been given the right to apply to the Parole Board prior to serving 25 years.

Therefore, this bill would apply to relatively few cases. Even without this bill, such applications would first be considered by a jury that would determine the prisoner's eligibility to apply to the Parole Board, and then by the Parole Board members before parole was granted. The result would be virtually the same. However, as I said, because the discretion of judges is not being restricted, we are prepared to support this bill.

To be clear, we do not consider ourselves to be soft on crime or hard on crime. I really like an expression I heard for the first time when the current Leader of the Opposition gave one of his first speeches in the House, from the bench behind me. He said that it was not about being soft on crime or tough on crime, but it was about being smart on crime and applying the law intelligently.

Everyone understands that the sentences handed down are not determined by just anyone. They must be determined by independent, competent people. Remember that a judge does not live in a bubble; judges read newspapers, listen to the radio, watch television and keep informed. Like many of us, they are perfectly aware of how opinions evolve and of the real dangers threatening society. Based on my experience as a lawyer, I can say that some judges are far tougher than the average member of the public, while others, it is true, are less tough. However, they are all independent and do not need the public's approval, as we do, in order to keep their position or have their mandate renewed, as is the case for members here. Everyone knows that this independence is an important and necessary quality.

In addition, it must be understood that objective factors are important for a judge or anyone else who is handing down a sentence. For example, it is obvious that killing two people is more serious than killing one. But subjective factors also need to be taken into consideration during every sentencing. Why did the person do this? Is it obvious that the person was already leading a criminal life? Their criminal background is considered. What was their motivation? Were they led into this crime by other people? Because, I want to point out that someone can be found guilty of a murder that they did not personally commit but that they were complicit in. Sometimes the accomplices are not as monstrous as the people who committed the crime, but that is not always the case.

I want to give an example that has always stuck with me. “Mom” Boucher, head of the Hells Angels for years, was convicted of the murder a prison guard, a crime that he did not commit himself but that he had ordered or encouraged. The person who committed the murder stopped a prison bus and began shooting, killing one person. When he tried to shoot the other person, the gun jammed and they took off on their motorbike. He was found guilty of one murder instead of two.

Look at the family tragedy that took place last year in Lac Saint-Jean. Desperate parents had asked for help from other family members. No one could have known that their lives would end in such a horrific fashion. These were people who had never been involved in any sort of criminal activity. They were so desperate that they decided that the whole family had to die. In my view, this is a decision that seems to fall within the realms of both psychiatry and justice. If the woman who survived was put on trial, it was because it was found that she was not mentally ill to the point where she was not criminally liable.

I agree that, in order to acquit someone of a crime by reason of insanity, the mental illness must be fairly severe. These parents purchased enough drugs so they could take some themselves and give some to their children.

The husband died. The two children died. The wife survived. It is a multiple murder. Everyone would subjectively agree that Mom Boucher's attitude was much more serious than the attitude of this woman.

When it comes down to it, a balance must always be found when convicting someone of a criminal offence or imposing a sentence on that person There are objective criteria, which are those that must be set out by Parliament; however Parliament cannot be expected to determine all of the subjective factors that could arise in each case. That is why we need the people who impose sentences to be fair, educated in matters of law and, above all, independent. They examine all sides of the issue and render a judgment. We would like to invent a system for imposing sentences that would do that reliably.

If the Bloc were opposed to this, then I would oppose the Bloc. However, I personally believe that such a system—one in which independent judges determine the appropriate sentence in specific cases—is fair, and that sentences should be individualized as much as possible. Apparently, this is not what the government thinks.

That is basically why, in this case, we agree on the bill. We think it is unnecessary. It will apply to only a very small number of people. Since 1987, only 150 people have been granted parole before 25 years were up. This shows that those provisions are applied very cautiously. However, it is good for the government to be able to say it is tough on crime. That is the main objective. Our Republican neighbours to the south have taught us how to win elections and so we are still adopting these provisions. Personally, I think that is the main motive behind a bill like this one.

Quite frankly, despite the contempt I have for their motives, I nevertheless recognize that this bill certainly does not do any harm, because it still allows the judiciary sufficient discretion. The minister is always telling us that wherever he goes in public, everyone always talks to him. I would remind the minister that perhaps a jury—since a jury must be involved—is also representative, even more representative of public opinion, compared to people who show up to say a few words to him when he appears in public.

Since it will be decided by a jury and since the provisions are not mandatory for judges who, if they make an exception, must justify it—which is only right and what they already do—we will therefore support these provisions.

Once again we are confident that our position is not based on ideology, unless people believe that defending the fact that sentences should be not only dissuasive, but also fair, individualized and determined by well-informed, independent judges is ideological. If that is ideological, then many other countries share our ideology. I have already mentioned an interesting fact about other similar countries. Mr. Sapers listed them. In other countries, like New Zealand, England and Belgium, the average sentence served by individuals convicted of murder is 12 years. Here it is 28.4 years. So it is safe to say that we are well above the average.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 11:05 a.m.
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Niagara Falls Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson ConservativeMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, the member in question said that the government boasts about being tough on crime. That is because we are tough on crime. We always have to look for consensus on that, but nobody would suggest the Bloc is tough on crime. I think we can all agree on that.

Certainly, what we have heard from members of the Bloc over the last couple of days, and indeed throughout this Parliament, is entirely consistent with that. They opposed the faint hope clause, the loophole for lifers, the bill that we brought forward to reduce the victimization in this country. The Bloc was against it.

Bloc members have a problem with this consecutive parole ineligibility. The hon. member talks about ideology. I say to him, do not be so ideological and not have a look at what victims are saying.

I am trying to find out exactly where the Bloc members are, and I appreciate this is not confined to the Bloc, and that the Liberals are on this bandwagon. If the hon. member checks Hansard, yesterday his colleague spent most of his time attacking the short title of the bill. I just want to know, is this where the Bloc is going in the next federal election? Will Bloc members say that when it comes to crime, they have their priority, which is to spend all their time worrying about the titles of bills? That is it. That is what the Bloc stands for.

That is not what the government stands for. Those are not our priorities. I wonder if the hon. member could address that. Is this the new priority? I appreciate it is not just confined to the Bloc. I want to make that very clear. I appreciate the Liberals have this hang-up as well, but that is what most of the speech yesterday from his colleague was all about, the short title of the bill. Is this the new priority for the Bloc? Is this where the Bloc will concentrate in the justice area?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 11:05 a.m.
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Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was not here yesterday. I do not come to the House on Mondays. I am at the House from Tuesday to Friday and others are here from Monday to Thursday.

The reason we object to certain titles, if the minister must know, is that they are propaganda, if not lies.

I will give a clear example of a dishonest title. I think it is referred to as the “Ending house arrest for...serious and violent offenders act”. However, the current legislation applies only to sentences of more than two years. I submit to the minister that when individuals are violent and dangerous, they are sentenced more than two years. Furthermore, under the current legislation, a judge's primary consideration in sentencing a person to house arrest is that the individual is not a threat to public safety. Need I convince the minister that violent and dangerous people threaten public safety and that, accordingly, if judges were to use these provisions to release violent and dangerous offenders, they would be disregarding the legislation as it currently exists?

The minister has the nerve to claim that Canadian judges are violating the law and releasing violent and dangerous offenders who threaten public safety. It is an insult to the judiciary and an absolute lie.

Many of the government's titles are nothing but propaganda. No, I will not tell the voters that we are focusing all our time on titles, but I will certainly tell them that your titles are dishonest.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 11:10 a.m.
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Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to ask the member who has just given this very good speech if he does not think the Minister of Justice, who just intervened, was blowing a lot of hot air, given the fact that the subject of debate yesterday was set by the government? It was a Conservative member who moved the motion to reinstate the short title of the bill. The opposition did not set the subject matter of yesterday's debate. It was the government itself. I could not resist responding to that artificial, plastic, misleading suggestion by the Minister of Justice that somehow it was the opposition that had set up the subject of debate yesterday.

This is a process question as opposed to one on the substance of the bill. Would the member not agree that we would be further ahead if the government had simply introduced one criminal law amendment bill with a half dozen of these changes instead of doing a separate bill for every little change and putting into each bill a short title that had a politically over-torqued commercial for whatever the Conservatives' political agenda is? Then all of these subject items would probably be law and passed by now.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 11:10 a.m.
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Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, I am convinced that the government has set its legislative agenda this way in order to score political points by presenting these bills. The government always tries to get us into trouble when we try to explain that the harsh sentences it proposes in a certain bill are justified in the most serious cases, but there are also less serious cases in which harsh sentences are less justified. That is especially true when the government includes minimum sentences. Minimum sentences have been calculated most of the time and when they were not, I indicated that here. Most of the time, minimum sentences are calculated for the most serious commission of offences. They should reread the aiding and abetting sections in the Criminal Code and they will see that those sections cover a lot of people.

The previous Liberal government had toyed with the idea of a complete overhaul of the Criminal Code. I am sorry that it never happened. The Criminal Code has become impossibly complex because of the way in which the laws are written. Without a background in law and in practising criminal law, no one can understand the proposed provisions.

Like the hon. member asking the question, I think the government is electioneering and trying to show that it is doing something, when in most cases it is doing nothing. This bill is a striking example of legislation that will not amount to much because these provisions are already being applied. The jury considers the circumstances of multiple murders and other cases. They know the difference between Mom Boucher and that poor mother who failed in her suicide attempt.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 11:10 a.m.
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Bloc

Robert Carrier Bloc Alfred-Pellan, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin for his excellent speech. We always benefit from his vast experience in the Quebec justice system.

A bill like this imposes minimum sentences, but we have seen that such sentences are already imposed by judges and juries. Does it not show a lack of trust in our current judiciary's ability to impose sentences if we develop legislation to impose mandatory minimum sentences?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 11:15 a.m.
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Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, in general, my colleague is correct. But in this particular instance, it is not a matter of sentencing; it is a matter of imposing consecutive ineligibility periods in cases of multiple murders.

Since 1967, experience has shown that juries take this into account. The government demonstrates a lack of trust, not only in our judiciary, but also in our juries, which are there to represent the public. These people are chosen randomly based on panels and voters lists. So they are very representative of the population and have an advantage over us as legislators. They hear a particular case, in which they can not only weigh the seriousness of multiple murders, but also consider other circumstances, such as the degree of complicity. This shows a lack of trust not only in our judiciary, but also in our juries.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 11:15 a.m.
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Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Richmond Hill. I am always proud to share my time in the House with the hon. member or to do important work with him outside the House, as well as on the international scene. I admire him for all the good work he does and the mentorship that he provides.

I feel very passionately about Bill C-48. It represents not only the adoption of the position from a Liberal private member's bill, but it also is a realization that the government has taken a lead on many tough on crime measures from this side of the House.

Over the past five years, my colleague from the riding of Mississauga East—Cooksville has championed a private member's bill to end automatic concurrent sentences for multiple murderers and rapists. I was proud to be a seconder to this important bill when it was brought forward in 2007. I thank the Minister of Justice for incorporating a great idea from the hon. member on this side of the House.

The intent was to allow judges the ability to impose consecutive sentences for heinous crimes, while at the same time eliminating the chance of the most dangerous offenders being eligible for parole. Volume discounts, which have always negated the importance of recognizing each crime in its own set of circumstances, represent one of the Canadian legal system's true travesties of justice.

Under current laws, there is no difference in sentencing between single acts of murder or sexual assault and criminals who commit additional acts of violence. However, those individuals who commit a series of murders should face appropriate punishment on each act independently rather than serving their penalties simultaneously.

For I and my constituents in Newton—North Delta, there is one tragic incident that has made this bill very distinct and important to us. In Surrey in the fall of 2007, plumber Ed Schellenberg was innocently doing his job repairing a fireplace in a 15th floor apartment when he was caught in an assassination of four gang members from a rival gang. Neighbour Chris Mohan was also shot when he happened upon the crime next door on his way out to play hockey.

Mr. Schellenberg and Mr. Mohan were innocent victims that had absolutely nothing to do with the unspeakable acts being committed by the gang members. One might say that they were at the wrong place at the wrong time and they paid the ultimate price. I, however, cannot accept this kind of trite explanation.

These men had every right to be where they were. These men were living their lives and minding their own business. The callous and cold-blooded acts of these murderers took their lives without a second thought. Now the men responsible have been caught and brought to justice, which brings a much needed sense of closure for the families of the victims and every resident of Surrey and Delta.

However, as the law stands now, the perpetrators of the Surrey Six slayings will receive no additional punishment for also murdering the innocent victims Ed Schellenburg and Chris Mohan. The law provides no deterrent to harming these witnesses because the killers knew they would serve no more time if they got caught.

For those plotting or even contemplating mass murder, these additional acts are very easy to rationalize given our current legislation, as a criminal does the same amount of time for one murder as he or she would do for ten.

The changes to this out of date legislation cannot come fast enough. In fact, this new bill is the culmination of 11 years of work. In 1999 a similar bill passed in the House of Commons by a vote of 117 to 40, but failed to make it through the Senate due to a general election being called.

Since my colleague fromMississauga East—Cooksville reintroduced her private member's bill in 2007, the government created many obstacles so it could ignore this wonderful idea. Whether it was proroguing the House to kill all pieces of legislation or simply ignoring an idea because it was proposed by a Liberal member, the government took no notice of the content and intent until recently.

I am very pleased, as I mentioned earlier, that the justice minister had a change of heart and adopted the Liberal bill as part of the government's agenda.

Each victim has his or her own story and it is about time that our justice system begins to recognize this fact. Criminals must understand that there is a penalty for individuals who they hurt, which will hopefully preserve the sanctity of human life before it is too late.

The bill would give back power to judges to use their discretion after considering the character of the offender, the nature and circumstances of the offence and the jury's recommendation. No judge should ever be handcuffed by a section of the Criminal Code that does not recognize the importance of punishing each heinous crime separately. Furthermore, judges should also be required to provide a verbal or written explanation for any decision not to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods on multiple offenders of murder or sexual assault.

Instead of the government's tunnel vision when it comes to its plan to spend $10 billion to $13 billion on building new prisons, the bill represents a tangible and effective step forward to preventing terrible crimes.

I also want to point out for my colleagues across the way that there are many members like myself who believe in a tough and smart on crime approach and that co-operation is always possible should they try to pursue it. However, I also believe in looking at a more holistic approach to being tough on crime, one that takes measures to prevent crime from ever happening, but also one that incorporates the input of all members of the House into the mix.

This is an important proposal to consider, and I encourage my colleagues from all parties to vote in favour of Bill C-48 so it can go to the committee where it can be studied in a very diligent way.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 11:25 a.m.
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Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate, and I will support sending the bill to the committee.

I would like to acknowledge my friend's comments with regard to our colleague from Mississauga East—Cooksville, who repeatedly has brought forth private members' legislation in support of this type of approach, one which most members in the House could adopt.

We had another version of this, Bill C-54, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to the National Defence Act. It is back again. As members know, the House was prorogued and because of that, we did not deal with this issue. This tough on crime government supposedly let it languish and has only brought it back recently. There has been a lot of rhetoric about getting tough on crime, but the reality is when it has come to legislation, the government has not been very speedy in bringing it before the House.

Members may recall that Parliament repealed the death penalty in 1976 and imposed a mandatory life sentence for the offence of murder. Offenders convicted of first degree murder were to serve life, as a minimum sentence, with no eligibility before 25 years. For offenders convicted of second degree murder, a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment was also imposed, with a parole eligibility somewhere between 10 and 25 years when it could be reviewed. Those serving life sentences could only be released on parole by the National Parole Board.

We are all concerned about crime. One of the things we do not hear enough about from the government is the issue of dealing with the causes of crime. In the areas of murder in our country, the statistics have remained relatively stable since 1999. There was a spike in the seventies and early eighties, but it has remained relatively the same since then.

We need to deal with the kinds of programs that deal with alcohol abuse, drug abuse, housing issues, education, issues that really affect the development of crime. It is those social issues that ultimately are the ones that breed crime in Canada. When we do not deal with those, when we say that all the solutions to crime are to throw everybody in prison, it really does not address the causation.

There is an old commercial about changing our oil and filters, which says, “Pay me now or pay me later”. I would rather pay now and deal with the causes of crime rather than have to pay the escalating costs later on down the road. That also could apply to health care, again dealing with prevention first, such as a better diet, exercise, et cetera, rather than the extreme costs that occur later on, particularly in areas of health care.

We know the Criminal Code implicitly provides that all sentences shall be served concurrently, unless a sentencing judge directs or legislation requires that a sentence be served consecutively. For example, section 85(4) of the Criminal Code requires that a sentence for using a firearm in the commission of an offence “shall be served consecutively to any other punishment imposed on the person for an offence arising out of the same event or series of events”.

Section 83.26 mandates consecutive sentences for terrorist activities, other than in the case of a life sentence. Section 467.14 requires consecutive sentences for organized crime offences. One example when a consecutive sentence may be imposed by a sentencing judge is where the offender is already under a sentence of imprisonment.

My colleague from Mississauga East—Cooksville had proposed amendments when we were in government, which I supported. Offenders who killed one person received 25 years. If they killed two or more people, they received 25 years but their sentences were served concurrently. That obviously sent out the wrong message.

We hear that the statistics in Canada are alarming. When I look at England, Ireland or New Zealand, our rates of incarceration, particularly dealing with first degree murder, are significantly higher.

The inability to impose consecutive life sentences does not mean that parole ineligibility periods cannot be effective. A single parole ineligibility period for multiple murders can be increased when someone serving a life sentence receives an additional definite sentence. In such a case the offender is not eligible for full parole until the day on which the additional sentence was imposed. A lot of life sentences are not for 25 years; on average they are 28 years, so it is not automatic.

A large majority of homicides, over 95%, involve a single victim, not multiple victims. Since 1999, the rate has remained relatively stable. An international comparison was done in 1999 which looked at Canada in terms of first degree murder sentences and the average time served in other countries including the United States. With the exception of the U.S., for offenders serving life sentences without parole the average time in Canada was about 28.4 years. The impression out there is that people get a good deal, but they actually serve longer.

It is important that we send the bill to committee so that experts can testify and members of Parliament can have an informed and intelligent review of this legislation. Again, the bill affects a very small number, but we know it is the image out there that affects people's impression of reality, but the reality is clearly different.

In places like England and Wales the ministry of justice has revealed that the mean time served by mandatory lifers, that is murderers, first released from prison in 2008 on life sentences was 16 years, There was no change from the previous year. In Ireland, in 2004, the minister of justice acknowledged that imprisonment averaged 17 years. According to the New Zealand parole board, the average in that country was seven years if sentenced prior to August 1, 1987, and after that date, it was about 10 years. In terms of incarcerating first degree murderers, we are much further along than many other states in the world, particularly Commonwealth states.

Cases such as the Clifford Olson case or Robert Pickton case are the ones which attract national attention. They are the ones on which millions of dollars are spent. People ask what happens to the victims. One of the concerns on this side of the House is we do not want people to have to relive these tragedies every few years. It is important there be incarceration for 25 years, but if there is more than one murder involved, I support, and always have supported, consecutive terms.

Does that mean we have thrown away rehabilitation? Rehabilitation is useful in some cases. I do not know that it would be applicable in the case of multiple murders. We listen to people like Sharon Rosenfeldt, the founder of Victims of Violence. Her comment is that although this bill affects a small number of perpetrators, it still will cause the greatest amount of fear, controversy and unrest in our judicial system and the Canadian public. It will send a message.

If nothing else, as long as we are sending a clear message, that is important. But we should never shy away from the fact that the government has a responsibility to deal with the hard issues of the day, such as the causation of crime. We should start by focusing on youth at a very young age. It starts in our communities and schools. That is where we need to focus. This is again a small minority. We are dealing with this now, but if the government were really serious about dealing with this issue, it would have brought forward this legislation much sooner and it would not have prorogued Parliament in the meantime.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 11:35 a.m.
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Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on Bill C-48. This bill is very much in line with this Conservative government's philosophy and conception of what a justice system should be.

We will support Bill C-48 because it will give judges more flexibility and enable them to hand down tough sentences, if necessary. The bill is a little phoney however, and I will have the opportunity to discuss this later. Indeed, in practice this bill will have an impact on very few cases and, in fact, it essentially reflects the way things work now.

I will begin with an aside on this government's overall vision regarding justice. Virtually every member who has risen in this House has used the expression about being tough on crime. The expression has been used over and over again, and it is an argument the Conservatives haul out at election time, basically their only argument. Upon reflection, I find it somewhat ridiculous because it basically amounts to taking people for fools. Do they sincerely believe that the quality of a justice system can be gauged by the number of years people spend behind bars? Why then go to the trouble of passing balanced legislation and of asking judges to set sentences? Why not put first offenders behind bars for the rest of their lives? That would be the best system, and the toughest on crime. Obviously, anyone with their wits about them knows that this does not make any sense and that the aim of a justice system is not to put people behind bars for as long as possible.

Moreover, a look at the figures, the real world, and justice systems both here and abroad shows that it is not the justice systems that hand out the toughest sentences that get results. Quite to the contrary, the most successful justice systems are generally those that focus on rehabilitation and appropriate sentencing that corresponds to the seriousness of the offence. Such systems ensure that victims feel respected and feel that they have been heard by the justice system. They also ensure that the person committing the crime gets punished. Such systems are also grounded on the premise that it is possible for criminals to be rehabilitated and, when this is done successfully, reintegrated into society.

This is a constant everywhere. For example, we could not imagine a more severe punishment than the death penalty for homicide. Everyone agrees that a death sentence is about as tough on crime as it gets. And yet wherever the death penalty is in use, homicide rates are higher than in countries where it is not in use. This is also true for Canada, where the number of homicides has declined steadily since the death penalty was abolished. That is the clear evidence that this ideology simply does not work. That is not how it works.

We can also look at the average prison term for a murderer in some countries. In Canada, the average is 28.4 years. Criminals are sentenced to life imprisonment, but they are entitled to parole after a certain time. In Canada, on average, the person serves 28.4 years before returning to society. Sweden and England average 12 years and 14.4 years, respectively. By the Conservatives’ theory, those societies should have completely degenerated, with murders happening constantly. But no, that is not the case. In the case of Sweden, we are well aware that its homicide and crime rates are among the lowest in the world.

In this kind of debate, the government often appeals to what it calls “common sense”. It tries to bring out our basic instincts and get us to say that if someone commits a murder, there is only one way to stop them from committing more crimes, and that is to put them in prison and tell them they are going to stay there for as long as possible. This is a mindset imported directly from the United States. That is what happened with Bernard Madoff, who was sentenced to 200 or 300 years in prison. It is ridiculous to sentence a human being to 200 or 300 years in prison.

Certainly, when we talk about these things at home, on public transit or at the office with our co-workers, when we see something shocking, some heinous crime, we are tempted to say that he or she—because there are women murderers—should go to jail for life or be hanged. That is our basic instinct.

As a society, however, we have to go beyond that and ask ourselves what we can do to ensure our safety. All the criminologists and experts who study this issue agree that what genuinely deters criminals is not how harsh the potential sentence is, but the fear of getting caught. That is what has a deterrent effect on people. For example, if someone plans to murder his wife, he is not going to say to himself that if he kills her, he will go to prison for only 24.8 years, then decide not to kill her when he remembers that it has changed and the sentence has risen to 32.7 years. Obviously, people who plan murders think they will not get caught. It is as simple as that. Even threatening to torture them horrifically for two weeks or five years would change nothing, because people think they will not get caught.

If they really wanted to dissuade, they would invest money in prevention in order to avoid situations that lead to crime, rather than spending a fortune on new prisons and on locking people up longer than necessary. Money should also be invested in our police forces to ensure they have the means to prevent crimes, solve them, investigate them, and prove someone guilty in court. If that were done, potential criminals would think they would get caught. That is the message we should be sending out. That would be much more effective than trying to make offenders think that if they are caught, they will get longer sentences.

This model can be seen in the real world. Experts on drinking and driving, for example, all say the same thing: people drink and drive not so much because the punishments are too soft but because they think they will not get caught. There simply are not very many checkpoints on the streets.

Because of all that, we think the government is taking us in exactly the wrong direction for political marketing reasons.

Earlier today, the question of bill titles arose. The Conservative minister made fun of the fact that the opposition members were complaining about the ridiculous titles of the bills that the government introduces and he said it was frankly not a very important issue. If it is not important, then, why does the government insist on giving its bills stupid titles?

This happens not just in the justice area but everywhere. They talk about cracking down on crooked consultants or protecting Canadians against something or other when the bill does not even do that. They talk about ending early release for dangerous criminals when this does not exist. These titles are complete lies. So why does the government do it if it thinks it is unimportant?

The fact is the government does it for political marketing reasons. It does not really believe in the content of its bills itself. It simply inflicts these ridiculous titles on us. Today we have the Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act. That is a completely gratuitous statement devoid of any basis in reality. First, talk about protecting Canadians has no place in the bill. It is just an opinion. Some people, including the Conservatives, say they believe it will protect Canadians. The experts, though, tend to think it will not have any preventive or dissuasive effect. So the title is untrue. There are no sentence discounts for multiple murders. As the law now stands, the minimum sentence for first degree murder, for example, is life in prison. There is no discount. What the bill addresses is the cumulative nature of the parole system. The title has nothing to do with the actual bill

Once again, some members will say that the title itself is not really important. The title does not make the bill, but what that means—and this is what I want to say to the people who are watching today—is that the government is lying right to their faces. Obviously, the people at home are not going to get a copy of the bill and look at the changes it makes to the Criminal Code. They have obligations and work to do. They are very busy with families, children, jobs and homes. I understand that we cannot all study this country's laws. So what will the average person rely on to try to form an opinion? The average person will rely on what he is told the bill does. If he is told the bill protects people against murderers, he will say it is a good bill. Who is opposed to protecting people against murderers? The answer is obvious. But the public is being deceived and fooled by the government. I think that is insulting to the public.

I have the opportunity to talk with people in my riding, as we all do, and sometimes some of them tell me they do not agree with our positions. They have seen the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice on the news, saying that the Bloc Québécois voted in favour of pedophiles. He is very good at that. Someone who hears that calls my office and asks whether the Bloc Québécois voted in favour of pedophiles. Come on. As though any member of this House gets up in the morning and thinks about what he or she could do to help pedophiles. It is completely crazy to even suggest that to the public.

The bill the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice was referring to at the time had to do with the trafficking of minors. The word “trafficking” appeared nowhere in the bill, apart from the title. So the bill's title referred to the trafficking of minors, but the substance of the bill had nothing to do with that. We can see that the government wants to deceive and fool the public.

I tell people to beware of politicians who take them for idiots and think they are incapable of reasoning for themselves.

The substance of this bill gives a judge an opportunity to impose consecutive periods, as opposed to concurrent periods, of ineligibility to apply for parole. In other words, committing a double murder, first degree murder for example, would lead to imprisonment for life. Whether the sentence is served concurrently or consecutively, nothing changes. The person is imprisoned for life and, in terms of parole, there are already minimums and maximums set out in the law, based on the type of homicide. Presently, when the judge decides on the length of time, he only chooses one period. He will obviously consider all of the factors surrounding the homicide, but technically, he hands down only one sentence and does not add them together.

This bill will allow a judge to impose a minimum period of x years before parole for a given murder, and a minimum period of y years for another murder. These periods would be consecutive, meaning that the prisoner could not be released before x plus y years.

If the government wants to clarify a law in this way, even though this is already happening in practice, why not? We feel it is pointless and does nothing. We will support the bill. That shows that the Bloc Québécois agrees with making an effort to give judges more flexibility. We see the opposite as being problematic—trying to take flexibility away from judges in cases where they would add or subtract years of imprisonment based on the details of each particular case.

To properly understand this bill, I would like to provide one little statistic. We are talking about people who have committed murders, who are released and could reoffend. Between January 1975 and March 2006, of the 19,210 offenders who served a sentence for murder or manslaughter and were released on parole or statutory release in the community, 45 were later convicted of committing other murders in Canada. That represents 0.2% of convicted offenders. Clearly, that is too many murders. The 45 murders committed by those 45 individuals are unacceptable and should have been prevented. Everyone in this House can agree on that. By no means do I wish to trivialize or minimize any of those incidents. But over a period of 31 years, that number is less than 1%, specifically, 0.2%.

Speaking of the government's false impressions and political marketing, why did it introduce a bill to try to improve this recidivism rate of only 0.2%, or so it claims, when it is doing nothing to prevent the huge number of murders and homicides committed by first-time offenders?

Why is it tackling the most marginal and least frequent cases first, rather than getting to the heart of the problem? We saw the same philosophy recently with the refugees arriving as stowaways on ships, for instance, the Tamil refugee claimants who arrived in Victoria. The government introduced a bill that targeted less than 2% of potential illegitimate refugee claimants, but no one is talking about the other 98%. If we ignore it, it does not exist. It is absolutely appalling.

Meanwhile, the government puts on a show, does some hand-waving and pretends to care about people's safety, yet at the same time, it attacks the gun registry. It just does not make any sense. There is a very strong consensus among all police chiefs: a gun registry is needed in order to better prevent potential crimes and to help solve certain crimes. It is pure logic. We register our vehicles, as well as our dogs and cats in many municipalities. We even register our motorboats and I do not know what else. Yet the government wants to attack the gun registry.

That is absolutely ridiculous. Why tell people that we are going to make it easier to obtain firearms—the way it is in the United States—and that we will take away some of the tools the police use to prevent murder and locate criminals, but that criminals will serve longer sentences. There is something not right about that. It reveals the government's hypocrisy.

The other element of hypocrisy, which is very typical of this government, is the use of victims. I use the term use in its most negative sense. I would say that victims are used for political purposes. In fact, this government—and the Minister of Justice did it again this morning in the House—tells us that if we are against this bill it is because we support the criminals and not the victims. That is completely untrue. Victims need assistance in the form of financial compensation, greater access to employment insurance, and other, similar measures that the government refuses to provide.

I see that my time is up. I may have the opportunity to add details when answering questions.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 11:55 a.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I was pleased to listen to the member's presentation on the bill.

As the member knows, it has been over 40 years since the system has been substantially changed in Canada, and the Criminal Code itself is well over 100 years old.

Clearly, the answer is for the government to introduce a crime bill tying all these measures together, rather than bringing them out one step at a time. Actually, the government should go further. The government should form a committee composed of members of all parties and have hearings across the country to keep people more informed and get them participating in the process. That would be the most sensible approach, but the government has opted for a more piecemeal solution. I do not know whether this is even working in the government's favour. Putting all these measures together might give the government more profile. At least, approaching it inclusively would be more consistent and would give the public an opportunity to make presentations before a committee travelling the country.

I would like to ask the member what he thinks of that approach, vis-à-vis what the government has been doing for the last two or three years. We also have to reflect on what the government has done on the budget bill. It took an omnibus approach to legislation, threw in a bunch of measures it cannot get through the House, put it into a budget bill, and then forced the Liberals to support it to stay in office.

If the government would just use that idea on the criminal justice side of things, I think we would all be better served. I ask the member if he has any comments.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / noon
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Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Madam Speaker, I think we have every reason to be critical of the piecemeal approach by which the government introduces many small bills to make changes here and there to the Criminal Code. This is more evidence of what I referred to in my speech about the government doing political marketing. There is no clear vision of what the Criminal Code should look like going forward in 2010. Nothing has been thought out. There are little bits of political marketing here and there. The government introduces bills, lets them die on the order paper because of bogus prorogations, reintroduces them and holds press conferences to announce the exact same bill that was already introduced, and so on. The government ensures that the House uses up as much time as possible looking at a whole bunch of bills. Every time, we have to debate for hours, send bills to committee, wait in line at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and then return to the House. It takes a lot of time and energy on our part to finally get the slightest hint of a result and a quality bill. It would be much more effective to examine a single comprehensive bill to update the Criminal Code, as was done a few years ago with the Civil Code of Quebec, for example.

The government's strategy is deplorable, but it is certainly in line with its overall approach. The government's goal is not to improve the safety of Quebeckers and Canadians. Will we be safer? Will there be fewer murders and less crime, violence and abuse? The government is not interested in that. All it wants to do is spend as much time as possible saying that it will bring in longer sentences and claiming that the bad guys in the opposition defend criminals instead of victims.

In closing, I would like to take this opportunity to say what I did not have time to say earlier. As far as helping victims is concerned, the Bloc Québécois has made some proposals here in the House. We are proposing, among other things, that victims of crime have access to extended employment insurance benefits in order to deal with the trauma and the crime they have experienced without having to worry about going back to work right away or losing their house or going bankrupt. This is a proposal to help victims. However, the Conservatives have never supported us. They say that to help victims, we have to put murderers in prison for 31.4 years instead of 28.2 years. How will it help victims whose lives are falling apart, who are losing their homes and their jobs and who have to declare bankruptcy, to know that the murderer will stay in prison 1.17 years longer after committing a murder?

At some parole hearings, victims testify in favour of releasing the prisoner. The government is being unbelievably hypocritical and is using victims to hide its unwillingness to help them. Instead of helping victims, the government is saying only that it will put people in prison for longer. That does not really help victims. The government's attitude is deplorable. I long for the day the government supports our proposals to help victims of crime financially and in other ways.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 12:05 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my hon. colleague on a well-reasoned, fact-based and progressive speech. He reflects what the majority of Canadians, and I am sure the majority of Québécois, feel is a more responsible and appropriate approach to dealing with the serious problem of crime.

I would be interested to hear him elaborate a bit more on some of the positive steps he and his party would propose to deal with crime, particularly murder, which is what we are dealing with in this bill. He has given a round criticism of the government's proposals and I agree with him on many of those. I wonder if he could give us one or two ideas on what he and his party think would be a better approach to helping our society deal with murder and other crimes.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 12:05 p.m.
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Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois has already done so in the past and it continues to support suggestions for improvement. We believe that there are definitely times when the law may be too permissive. We have given the example of parole after serving one-sixth of the sentence for white-collar crimes. We feel that it is abusive and distorts the meaning of the judge's decision, and we want it eliminated. We introduced a bill in the House. We asked for unanimous consent so that it would be passed quickly since all of the parties said that they supported it. The Conservatives, in their usual hypocrisy, refused to give that consent. That shows that they do not really care about getting results; they only care about political marketing. They convinced themselves that they could not support a Bloc Québécois bill that proved that this party, like all the parliamentarians here, is concerned with the safety of Quebeckers and Canadians. Of course not.

We have also made significant proposals in the past. Do not forget that it was the Bloc Québécois that brought the idea of an anti-gang law to the House, which Canada then passed. Our former colleague, Richard Marceau, was a major proponent of this. We continue to make proposals, for example, to prohibit wearing symbols of criminal organizations that have been recognized as such by a judge. We know it is a form of intimidation, and we want it to stop.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 12:05 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf the New Democratic caucus today to Bill C-48, a bill that would provide the judges of our country with the discretion to impose consecutive life sentences in cases of convicted multiple murderers, which would be a change from the current state of law that imposes mandatory life sentences but which are served concurrently.

Questions of crime and punishment are profound. They raise some of the deepest emotions that we as human beings are capable of feeling. They invoke and often deal with feelings of great pain and hurt. Of course, whenever there is a crime committed, we have a victim or multiple victims to consider and their families.

What is indisputable is that behind every crime there is tragedy, a tragedy for the victim and the victim's family and friends, a tragedy for the community, a tragedy for our society and, indeed, a tragedy for the perpetrator, as well as his or her family and relatives.

Any time a crime is committed, we as a society and as parliamentarians must deal with the fact that there are broken lives, damaged lives and, in some cases, permanent harm needs to be dealt with. There is no more profound expression of these concepts than when we are examining the crime of murder.

It has been said that one of the most fundamental functions of government is to ensure the safety and security of our citizens. I agree. A well-functioning and well-organized society is no more than a social compact between citizens where we agree that we will come together and relinquish certain rights and freedoms that we would have in the state of nature and we agree to limit those in exchange for guarantees for our security and our safety.

Going back to philosophers, such as Thomas Hobbes who described life in the state of nature as nasty, brutish and short, we have all agreed that we are all better off when we come together and agree on certain fundamental rules where we can have our personal safety guaranteed, the safety of our families and the safety of our property protected and preserved.

Foremost as citizens, I think fundamentally as citizens, we expect that the integrity of our physical beings is guaranteed above and beyond anything else. That is because we agree that in order to function as a society we need to agree to abide by rules.

Although we have a rights-based society, we all agree that our rights are extended only insofar as they do not offend the rights of others. In order to have a well-functioning society and to have a developing society where we all have our rights to pursue life, liberty and happiness, we must, above all, have our physical and property rights respected.

Those who commit murder commit the most profound violation of these rights. Therefore, the issue becomes that when a murder is committed, and in this case, as we will examine, when multiple murders are committed, what is the proper sentence to impose on someone who has violated such a fundamental and profound precept? More important and of relevance to this bill, what is the proper approach we should take to those who have committed multiple murders?

It is important that we remember that we are talking about murder. First degree murder is the planned and deliberate taking of a life, while second degree murder is a murder that is committed in circumstances that any reasonable person would know would likely lead to death. There are other concepts involved in both of those crimes but that expresses the elements of those serious crimes.

We are not talking about manslaughter where a death has been caused but perhaps without the intent necessarily formed by the person carrying out the act. We are talking about murder and multiple murders. We are talking about someone who has either deliberately or very recklessly, with some form of intention, taken the life of more than one person.

This bill would give a judge the discretion to impose consecutive life sentences for each murder. The life sentence for each murder would be served consecutively, as opposed to be being served concurrently, at the same time. The practical effect of this bill would be that it would empower the judges of our country in an appropriate case, where a judge so sentences, that a person convicted of multiple murders would effectively never get out of prison.

There are some powerful arguments in favour of this bill. First, there is currently no difference in the practical effects of sentencing between someone who murders one person and someone who murders two, five or even 10 people. To most right-thinking people, that is a question that requires some serious answers. In many people's minds, it would be considered unjust.

Second, the argument is that it gives judicial discretion, which is a major reason that I am in support of the bill. I am not necessarily in support of a blanket application of this rule, but I am in favour of judicial discretion.

Judicial discretion is something that is strongly defended and supported by the New Democratic Party. Justice demands respect for our judiciary. It demands an independent judiciary. It demands a non-political judiciary. Justice demands that the person deciding a case does so after hearing all of the facts, after listening to each witness, watching them testify and observing their demeanour. Justice demands someone who is learned and skilled in the law, someone who is bound by rules of fairness and justice to make a decision.

I have great faith in the judges of our land. I have great faith in their integrity, skill and commitment to justice. I am not so sure that it is a faith that is shared by members of the government opposite at all times, who I think are more skeptical and cynical of the judges of our country. I, for one, have great faith in their skills and fairness.

I also have great faith in our appellate system, because when errors occur, and they do occur, our appellate courts are poised and our system is well developed to rectify those errors.

Third in terms of favouring this bill is that multiple murderers presently can apply for parole because they have life sentences that are served concurrently. That means that a multiple murderer can apply for parole even though, as I will talk about, it is almost impossible for them to get it. It puts victims' families through unnecessary pain and anxiety.

When we are dealing with multiple murders, I believe we are dealing with a particular type of criminal who is distinct from most, maybe even from other murderers. Someone who has broken the social compact to such a degree that they have taken the lives of two or more citizens is someone who I think we have to seriously look at locking up for the rest of their natural life.

Presently, as I have said, although a multiple murderer may be able to apply for parole, the truth is they will not get it. There is not one case that I can think of and not one case that has been cited by the government of a multiple murderer being paroled or ever getting out of prison under the current situation. So that leads me to the question of politics.

I think the Conservatives are playing politics with this issue. They have taken a cheap idea that has no practical effect or consequence and they have run with it to try to make themselves look tough.

Here is a case where the government has taken legislative time to propose a change to a law that has no problem to solve. There is no case of a multiple murderer who is getting out of jail on parole. So although philosophically I think this idea has merit and we support it, in terms of its practical consequence we should make no mistake that this bill is all about politics and not about fixing any real problem in our system.

I want to move to the short title of the bill as an example of these politics. The short title named by the government is “Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders”. That is as motivated by politics and partisanship as it is factually wrong. There are no sentence discounts for multiple murders. There is no such thing.

When persons are convicted of multiple murders, they get life sentences for each of those murders, and that life sentence is a life sentence. When a judge imposes multiple life sentences, there is no discount. That is just a cheap and wrong title for the bill, but it is typical of what the government has done by injecting hyper partisanship into the legislation of our country, which I spoke about yesterday and which I think is regrettable and wrong.

I want to talk about what Canadians do want. If we really want to make a dent in crime in our country, Canadians want to see more community policing. They want to see more police on our streets and in our neighbourhoods.

Last week I was in Chinatown in Vancouver. I was meeting with Tony Lam and members of the Vancouver Chinese Merchants Association and members of the community policing office. They told me that they have had to hire private security guards in Chinatown to deal with the vandalism and theft that they experience every day because there are not enough police and there are not enough quick response times to the break-ins. They are demoralized. In fact, they told me that the future of Chinatown in Vancouver is threatened because of the crime that is going on in the downtown east side.

If the government was serious about really trying to take tangible steps to help people in this country, it would start pouring money into community policing, as the New Democrats called for in the last election. We called for the hiring of 2,500 more police officers in this country and that has not happened.

It would pour money into crime prevention, which the government has cut. There was $60 million budgeted for crime prevention in the public safety portfolio last year, and the government spent $44 million. It left unspent one third of the small amount of money on the table for prevention.

Those are the things on which Canadians want to spend: more on crime prevention, more on community policing. That would make a difference in Canadians' lives. That would help make our citizens safe in our communities. That would actually help to lower the crime rate. That would actually put more criminals in prison, instead of putting forth an ideological and philosophical bill that, while I guess we agree with it, will do absolutely nothing to make any Canadian safer.

I want to conclude by talking about some of the root causes of crime, because it is about time we focused on this in the House. Poverty and drug addiction are a fact. Eighty per cent of people in our federal prisons suffer from drug addiction.

I was in the Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon this summer. I asked the staff there what percentage of people who are in prison do they think are in prison because of their addiction. They said 70%. It was not a bleeding heart saying this. It was not a New Democrat saying this. It was not a criminal saying this. These are the correctional officers who work in our federal correction system.

We need to start putting money into alcohol and drug treatment, not out of compassion only but out of cold, hard logic. If we want those people not to reoffend, we need to get at the root causes of why they are offending, if we can. I realize that is not possible for many, but it is possible for some.

To the extent that we can do that, we have to do everything possible as a society and as a Parliament to attack those root causes, because what every Canadian wants is the same thing. We want those offenders, when they come out of jail, and 96% of them do come out of jail, not to reoffend. That is what keeps us safe.

In fact, the victims ombudsman who was let go by the government, or I suppose the proper term is “not reappointed” by the government, Steve Sullivan, said that victims do not want criminals to be in jail longer; what they want is those criminals, when they come out, not to reoffend.

Those are two profoundly different things. Keeping someone in jail for four years instead of three and a half, or seven years instead of six, or 10 years instead of eight will not do anything if we are not attacking the reasons they are in prison in the first place.

I am curious as to how the government will react to what I am saying. I am sure it will attack in some manner, but I will stand by what I said because it is a matter of rational, fact-based logic. We have to attack the roots and that is what the bill does not do.

This bill deals with the consequences of murder. It does nothing to address what might be some of the causes.

In fairness to the government and everyone, we cannot stop murders in this society. We cannot get into the mind of what a Russell Williams is thinking or a Paul Bernardo. Those people have committed the most violent, aggressive, unacceptable breach that is known in society and they should be put away for the rest of their lives. They have lost the right to walk amongst free people in society. Perhaps there is nothing that can be done for people like that. However, people like that represent a small portion of society.

This bill deals with multiple murders and that represents probably the tiniest percentage of people in our federal prisons. I agree that those people should never get out, and in appropriate circumstances, I agree that judges should be able to give consecutive sentences to show society's opprobrium at their crimes.

A Clifford Olson or a Paul Bernardo ought to serve consecutive sentences. They should never be able to put forth a parole application and put the victims, families and communities through the suffering, anxiety and pain that they would have to go through. We know that those people do not deserve to come back into society.

I hope all parliamentarians join together not only in support of this bill, but in support of a broader, more intelligent, fact-based and comprehensive approach to crime in this country so that we can accomplish what we all want in this House, which is safer communities.

I will conclude by saying that the government constantly attacks this side of the House for not caring about crime or not caring about victims, and I wish it would stop doing that. Ad hominem arguments are the lowest form of argument. It is name calling. We usually learn in about grade two that it does not work.

In this House, let us have respect for each other. Let us respect that we all care about crime and victims. We may have different approaches to the best way to deal with those issues, but let us start learning from each other, listening to each other and broadening the debate so that prevention, root causes and rehabilitation can join with a punitive aspect. There is room for a punitive aspect in our penal system. That is part of what it is supposed to do, but it is not everything.

We should involve lawyers, social workers, criminologists, victim groups, police officers and prosecutors. They should be part of a national debate to take a comprehensive view of crime.

Let us stop the politicization of this issue and start dealing with this as a mature society looking at a complex problem. We need to have good policy on crime in this country. We do not need cheap politics in our policy, we need sound facts.

I am prepared, on this side of the House, to work with the government and take its good ideas when they come, and some do. I think this is an idea that is good. However, let us make no mistake: this idea is not going to actually make our communities safer at all. There is room for philosophical improvements in our law, and I think this is one of them.

Let us join together and try to move to that next level as a country and as a society and deal with crime in a manner that I think our citizens want us to do.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 12:25 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for his speech regarding Bill C-48. Last year, it was called Bill C-54.

For the last five years this government has been introducing and reintroducing the same group of crime bills, over and over again. It really has not been held accountable for this by the press. I was reading some press articles on some of these bills. The fact of the matter is that the reporters get the press releases from the government, simply regurgitate the press releases and announce a new initiative.

Somehow when the government prorogues the House or calls a needless election, such as in 2008, this same press does not do its research, pull up previous files and report that the government has already introduced such a bill. The press proceeds to report the legislation as some new initiative. I have been reading several of these articles and that is the impression I get.

Clearly, part of the responsibility lies with the press for not holding this government accountable for what it has been doing: torching its own crime agenda.

The government pretends that it is so important to the public, even with a bill such as this, and this is not the only crime bill. We have unanimous agreement on the part of all the parties in Parliament to pass this legislation, yet the government simply prorogues the House and we have to start all over again. That is not showing proper commitment and respect to the public in Canada or to the legislation being introduced.

I would like to ask the member to expand on those comments.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 12:25 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would prefer to start from the proposition that every member in the House is of good faith. I would like to move us to a debate where we can cease accusing each other of having improper motives and move toward actually debating criminal policy.

I would like to grant government members credit for their interest in the crime issue, and I am not sure that their reintroduction of bills is malevolent in any way. The effect of prorogation is that bills died, and we can question whether the prorogation attempts were valid, credible, or justified. But I would not go so far as to say that the government members purposefully damaged their crime agenda. I do not think that is the case, and I do not think it is fair to the government.

However, there is a real danger, which I have seen in the House, of using fear and crime as a political weapon. It is fair to say that my hon. colleagues on the other side have recognized that using crime and crime policy as a political wedge issue is effective politics in some cases. It can sometimes be bad policy and bad for our society. It can be divisive and make poor criminal policy. But I give the government respect: I believe that members of the government are interested in community safety. We may differ on the ways of achieving safety, but I respect their desire to make Canada safer.

I implore all members of the House, particularly the government, to cease using fear as a political weapon. Crime rates are going down across the board, and we need to approach policy from that point of view.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 12:30 p.m.
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Oxford Ontario

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague discuss the bill, and I think I heard him say he is going to support it. That is a good thing. I also heard him talk about the lack of policing on the streets of Vancouver. There are two parts to my question.

Number one, I would hope that he would explain to the House that policing responsibility rests in the province. Second, it may be before the hon. member came here, but there were additional moneys put in a budget to provide for additional police officers in provinces and municipalities across the country. I wonder if he could explain why his party voted against that additional money to help put police officers on the street.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 12:30 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was not present in the House when that vote was taken, but there were serious problems with the way the government made moneys available to the provinces. Number one, Conservatives did not earmark that money to the creation of police. For this reason, we had cases where moneys were given to provinces, and the provinces took the money and put it into general revenue. It did not actually result in boots on the ground.

Also, the previous public safety minister made commitments to ongoing federal funding. But these commitments were reneged on by the government, and the funding that was given to the provinces was for only a three-to-five-year period. I have talked to police officers and chiefs of police who said they will not create positions if they do not have a guarantee of permanent funding. Without a guarantee, they might get those officers trained and on the street, only to have those officer positions dry up.

The NDP is in favour of creating stable, consistent, additional funding to put police boots on the ground, and that is something we will continue to push the government to do.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 12:30 p.m.
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Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, an issue that was brought up by a colleague of mine goes to what, on the surface of it, is the veneer of all this crime legislation that we are seemingly adopting. It almost leads into the fact that there is some kind of grand vision, but there really is not.

The minister earlier spoke about his frustration with the debate on the title of the bill itself, and in essence that is exactly what is happening. It seems as if all these grand measures have trickled down to smaller measures. My colleague asked why we did not just do one bill and make the changes en masse to the Criminal Code. Perhaps the member would like to comment on that.

The prorogation occurred. There has also been delay after delay. But there does not seem to be one exact vision of what crime control is to become under the government, which has been holding itself out as the champion of crime control for quite some time. Would he comment on the fact that there does not seem to be that vision?

Every time we get some of this legislation, it goes madly off in several directions. For example, the next bill that we will debate will be about people who are incarcerated for longer periods of time receiving money. If that were such an issue, why was it not handled in 2006 when the government was first elected? Now, all of a sudden in 2010, it becomes part of a news item, and it therefore becomes public policy. Perhaps the member could comment on that.

Could he also comment on some of the crime prevention programs that he feels are being ignored?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 12:30 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I fear I do not have enough time to cover all of the important issues that my colleague has just raised, but the government has displayed a dual character.

It has indicated an attention to the crime agenda that I believe is motivated by its political philosophy. I sit on the public safety committee with many hon. colleagues, and I know that the government believes that we need to strengthen and make our penal system harsher as a way of dealing with crime, and I believe this objective is well intentioned.

On the other hand, I also believe fundamentally, and I think Canadians know, that the government has seized upon crime as a political issue. This is why it continually brings forth piecemeal approaches. It pulls out a crime bill whenever it is in trouble politically. It tries to bring forth these bills periodically as a political approach, and that is bad for public policy. One comprehensive bill would be a much more productive way to deal with these important issues.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 12:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on this bill. I was here earlier when the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca spoke eloquently about the need for parliamentarians to deal not only with those who commit crimes but also with those who have committed crimes without their knowledge or understanding. What he was talking about was fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

Back in 1997, the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba did a survey of provincial institutions and found that approximately 50% of people in provincial jails suffered from alcohol-related birth defects or other alcohol-caused mental defects. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD, is a spectrum of disorders. It used to be called fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol effects, which had to do with the issue of prenatal consumption of alcohol by women.

In 1997, Anne McLellan, who was minister of justice at the time, rose in her place in response to a question that I posed about people in our jails in circumstances that could not be addressed through the rehabilitation process, because they did not understand that they had a mental deficiency that did not allow them to be rehabilitated. Our justice system is based not just on punishment but also on rehabilitation and re-integration, because people eventually get out of jail.

It was interesting that the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca raised the issue of FASD in the context of this bill, which deals with sentencing people to prison and how much time they should spend there. He mentioned as well that we have to deal with some complex issues, like unreported crime, which is really is mesmerizing.

The other part is that we are planning to spend $10 billion to build more jails. If we were to do the necessary analysis and consultations with our provincial counterparts, we would know that within our jails right now there are people for whom rehabilitation is not possible. Fetal alcohol syndrome is preventable but not treatable, and there is a shortage of institutions to deal with people. Many people who suffer from these alcohol-related birth defects get themselves into trouble.

As a matter of fact, I penned a monograph back in March 2000, which is titled, “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome--The Real Brain Drain”.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 12:40 p.m.
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Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. We are debating Bill C-48, which is about making sure that multiple murderers are not given one sentence but multiple sentences to reflect every life taken. I have no idea what relevance the member's intervention could have to the point at issue.

I know the member for Elmwood—Transcona appreciates me shutting down the member for pontificating and using extra words that have absolutely no relevance to the issue we are dealing with today.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 12:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, as you well know, when debate occurs in this place and people raise issues that they believe are relevant to the debate before us, others can also comment on those points that are raised.

The point that was raised by the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca was whether the issues of dealing with the sentencing and whether there was credit for time served in pre-sentencing are the only things we should be looking at in terms of this being a crime bill and the hypothesis that we should be tough on crime.

I wonder how many people have figured out whether or not the motivation of the government to put the bill forward is impacted at all by the conditions in our jails right now and who may be there. Maybe the Conservatives have not thought of who is there who should not be there. Maybe it would change the statistics about who is in our jails, and maybe it might even change our assessment about whether or not we can afford to have more people in our jails without building more jails.These are all related. The bill is very linear in terms of this aspect. The government has come to the conclusion that we need to eliminate the two for one, yet that issue is still relevant in the scheme of how do we address crime in Canada.

We have a situation where the provinces have clearly said that half the people in provincial jails should not be there at all, and the federal justice minister said on the record that half the people in there should not be there. If flowing from this piece of legislation is the consequence that we do not give that credit for time, and all of a sudden people will be spending on average longer periods of time within our penal institutions, this means that if the jails are already bursting at the seams, consequentially we have to build more prisons. At a cost of some $10 billion to deal with a growing prison population, we have to ask ourselves whether or not there is a contribution to faulty thinking by this particular bill.

I raised it, and the example of the provinces just happens to be related to the situation. I happen to know something about that. The member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca spent half his speech talking about it this morning, without having been interrupted. I can only assume that the House believes it was relevant then and I still think it is relevant to raise the fact that there are other things to take into account, not only when we deal with the sentencing, parole, house arrest and some of the other things we dealt with, but this is all part and parcel of the strategy of the government on how we address crime in Canada. How do we deal with those who commit serious crimes?

Yesterday the CBC did a special on a white collar criminal who defrauded about 70 clients out of about $25 million, and the Ontario Provincial Police laid charges in the case of the very last person who had been defrauded. Ultimately there was not enough court time, there were not enough resources to deal with that, and the charges were dropped.The person, who is in hiding, got away with fraud of some $25 million. The court officials described it by saying they had two choices: they could deal with someone who took money from people, or they could deal with a rapist and someone who committed serious assault and somebody who committed manslaughter. They had two choices.

When we look at that we have to ask ourselves whether or not it is important for us to deal with issues like recidivism, to deal with things like crime prevention. I have learned a lot about crime prevention from my own community. We have a wonderful crime prevention council, and Mr. Victor Oh took me under his wing and made sure that I was engaged in that kind of stuff. However, it is all related to how we address crime and criminals. It is not enough, in my view, to say we are getting tough on crime. It is not enough just to say, “if you do the crime, do the time”.

It is a slogan but it does not make a lot of sense when we are dealing with people in our jails who cannot be rehabilitated. We do not have the institutions to care for them before they commit a crime, and we certainly do not have the institutions to take care of them when they get out of those places.

I do not want to take up any more of the House's time. I know members would like to get on with dealing with the specific clauses of the bill.

I was motivated and encouraged by the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca who brought to the floor the fact that when we deal with criminal justice issues we have to deal not only with punishment but we have to deal with rehabilitation, reintegration, the whole gamut. We have to make sure there are supports for people so we do not have the recidivism rates that we have had, which continue to add to the growing population in our jails.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 12:45 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, clearly the government is not overly committed to its crime agenda. It called an unnecessary election in 2008 and prorogued the House on two occasions.

This bill has the support of all parties in the House. It took the government 216 days into the current session to re-table this bill. If that is not an example of the government not being overly committed to its crime agenda, then I do not know what is.

I would like to also observe that the justice system has probably never been totally revamped and there certainly has not been a major revamping in 40 years, and the Criminal Code is over 100 years old.

Would the member agree that perhaps the proper approach for the government to take would be to involve all opposition parties and come up with a comprehensive bill that would deal with all of the little bills that the government is dealing with? A comprehensive bill would be a single approach to the issue.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 12:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his suggestion. One of the things I have learned about this place is that people think that for every complex problem there is a simple solution, and that is wrong.

Some of the things that we deal with in this place on a criminal justice basis are very similar and probably should be dealt with in an omnibus bill. A number of bills propose changes to sentencing. Rather than having a separate bill for car theft, or another one for some other issue, et cetera, an omnibus bill tends to make the place inefficient. I would agree that if the government was serious about its crime agenda it would have brought like items together. The committee work could happen at the same time and the same witnesses could appear.

The member also raised another interesting point about the government being serious about its justice agenda.

Back in 2005, Internet service providers appeared before justice committee to say that they disagreed with being obligated to report matters related to the exploitation of children on the Internet. In 2006 the Conservatives took office and today we are still debating that bill, all because they want to have a silly, pissy short title for the bill. Rather than dealing with that directly they called an election and prorogued. The bill was Bill C-58 at one time and is now Bill C-22.

This shows that even on a straightforward issue such as dealing with the sexual exploitation of children through the Internet, the government is still spinning its wheels. Since 2006 the Conservatives have been holding up this bill. They are still holding it up just because they want a short title that says they are doing the job and getting tough on crime. This is outrageous. It is irresponsible.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 12:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, my remarks are going to be pretty short. The member from the New Democratic Party gave an excellent speech about this particular bill.

There really is not a lot of opposition to the substance of the bill itself. What has caused concern to me and others is the fact that on the surface there does not appear to be a need for this Criminal Code amendment. The reason is that if there is a homicide, a first degree murder, there is a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment.

Life imprisonment means a life sentence. It does not necessarily mean that every day is going to be spent in prison. However, there is no sentence greater than a life sentence. If I could go back 25 or 30 years when the death penalty was here, if that was still the case now the penalty for a first degree murder would be death. There is not a more significant penalty than that. If there was a double murder or a triple murder, the person can only be executed once.

When the law was changed, we ended with a life sentence. Life means life. A sentence cannot be any longer than that. It was absurd to talk about consecutive life sentences. We only have one life to live at this point in our human history. The impacts were felt to be pretty minimal.

Second, as has been pointed out here, no one has raised any particular instance of releases of individuals who are serving life sentences for multiple murders. There has not been one. If there has not been a release of that nature, why was it found necessary to draft a bill to change the law to prevent something from happening that is not happening anyway? That is the second reason why this bill does not appear to be necessary.

Third, it is really quite egotistical of a House of Parliament to make an assumption that what it would do in this House would have a huge impact on the street in terms of preventing crime. I hope no one here is naive enough to think that by merely sitting in our comfortable seats and changing the law we are going to immediately impact life on the streets in terms of crime prevention. This is not the case.

Many of us think that way from time to time. We politically posture to pretend that by changing the law in some little way we will make Canadians safer. Only in some cases is that a fact. In most cases we are just changing the law that our police and our courts work with.

These are three reasons why will bill looks pretty unnecessary. However, there is a place for this bill. My colleague of 22 years from Mississauga spotted it many years ago. This is that one of the objectives of sentencing under the Criminal Code, one of the specifically written objectives that this House enacted 15 years ago, is societal denunciation for the crime.

In looking at the application of a life sentence, at first blush there does not appear to be much room for additional denunciation. A life sentence is a life sentence. However, it just so happens that in our laws governing parole there did appear to be a failure to take advantage of an opportunity to show denunciation, further denunciation.

Our law does permit parole eligibility, not automatically granted parole but the ability to ask for parole after 25 years have been served. As has been indicated here, the average release time for someone, and this is the average across all those convicted and given life sentences, is about 28 years. They serve 28 years before they apply for parole. Therefore, by the time we take in those who are less than 25 years and those who are over, there are a lot of long sentences being served here.

However, in dealing with the parole eligibility dates, there was an opportunity for society to show an additional element of denunciation. That would involve saying if people killed a second time, they would have to have another 25 years or another period of time of actual in-custody sentences served before they could have eligibility. That was the reason this concept of increasing the denunciation was born. I can support that. In this case, the bill would allow for judicial discretion in applying these penalties.

However, lest we think that this additional denunciation in relation to parole eligibility would have an impact on the street, I can say without any hesitation, and I hope members are realistic enough in the House to agree with this, that there is virtually no case involving a homicide or a double homicide, whether at the same time or sequenced later in time, where the individual involved in that tragic circumstance will pull out a calculator and try to figure out whether or not he or she should proceed because there is some enhanced denunciation involving parole eligibility dates.

It is our hope, naive as it might be, that if someone were to think about, he or she might take it into consideration before taking the drastic action of taking a life. In some case I hope that would happen, that the additional denunciation related to the increased parole eligibility application periods would actually provide some pause or thought on the part of the perpetrator. In most of these tragic cases, I doubt that will happen. In 99% of the cases, the individuals involved do not even think about it and do not think they will ever get caught, so the event happens. It is a tragedy time after time after time.

I will support the bill. As has been mentioned, one might as well consider my words as notice to members opposite that the short title of the bill probably will not survive the committee's consideration. It might, but it is a warning to the drafters of these bills and the short titles that the House is not likely to accept the insertion of political commercials into the short title of bills anymore. Let us get a good objective statement of the change in law proposed by the bill and we will live with that. Do not over-torque it.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 1:50 p.m.
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Daniel Petit Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, CPC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to speak in support of the important Criminal Code amendments contained in Bill C-48, Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act. If passed, this bill will directly amend several provisions in the Criminal Code and will make consequential amendments to the National Defence Act.

In essence, the amendments to the Criminal Code proposed in Bill C-48 will permit a judge to increase the time that multiple murderers must serve in custody before having any chance to apply for parole. This will be accomplished by authorizing judges to impose on those who take more than one life a separate, 25-year period of parole ineligibility—one for each victim after the first—to be served consecutively to the parole ineligibility imposed for the first murder.

Before I go on to discuss Bill C-48 in more detail, I want to take a moment to thank the hon. member for Mississauga East—Cooksville for her unceasing efforts to keep this issue alive over the past decade. Beginning in the late 1990s and continuing right up to the present, she has sponsored a series of private member’s bills with the same purpose as Bill C-48, namely to ensure that multiple murderers serve consecutively the full parole ineligibility periods applicable for each murder. I applaud her for her pioneering efforts in this regard.

As honourable members are no doubt already aware, upon conviction all murderers receive a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment with the right to apply for parole after a set period of time. The period of time during which a convicted first degree murderer is barred from applying for parole is 25 years. In the case of a second degree murder, it is also 25 years if the offender has previously been convicted either of murder or of an intentional killing under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.

Otherwise, it is 10 years. It is important to note, however, that 10 years is a minimum, and that a sentencing judge may always raise the normal 10-year parole ineligibility period for second degree murder up to 25 years. This is authorized by section 754.4 of the Criminal Code and is based on the offender’s character, the nature and circumstances of the murder, and any recommendation to this effect made by the jury.

Nonetheless, the nub of the issue before us today is that 25 years is the maximum period during which a convicted first or second degree murderer may be prevented from applying for parole. And this is so no matter how many lives that person may have taken and no matter how much pain and suffering that person’s crimes may have inflicted on the families and loved ones of those whose lives have been so cruelly taken.

The only exception to the 25-year limit occurs through the interaction of the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. Together they mandate a new 25-year parole ineligibility period on any already-sentenced murderer who commits another murder, whether it is in the first or second degree. This new 25-year ineligibility period will be added to the parole ineligibility period that such a person is already serving. This is essentially the situation of an incarcerated murderer who commits another murder while in prison and is obviously a rare situation that does not cover the vast majority of multiple murders.

Many Canadians share my view that the current parole ineligibility period of 25 years for murder set out in Canadian law symbolically devalues the lives of multiple victims. In this regard, the current state of the law lays itself open to the charge that multiple murderers in Canada receive a volume discount for their crimes. The measures proposed in the bill before us today will change this.

These measures will allow judges to ensure that, in appropriate cases, those who take more than one life—whether they commit first or second degree murder—will serve longer periods without eligibility for parole.

As I mentioned earlier, Bill C-48 will accomplish this by authorizing judges to add separate 25-year periods of parole ineligibility to the sentence of a multiple murderer, one for each murder after the first. These extra periods of ineligibility for parole would be added to the parole ineligibility period imposed for the first murder, which, as I have already mentioned, ranges from 10 to 25 years.

As a result, those who kill more than once could well serve their entire life sentence in prison without ever becoming eligible to apply for parole. Allowing judges to impose additional parole ineligibility periods would counter any perception that multiple murderers get a sentence discount under Canadian law and thus help to restore public confidence in the criminal justice system.

In proposing these Criminal Code amendments, I am mindful of the suffering endured by the families and loved ones of murder victims. On October 5, when he introduced Bill C-48, the Minister of Justice stated outside the House that we could not bring back those who had been so callously murdered nor repair the hearts of those who had lost loved ones to murder, but we could ensure that those who commit the most serious crime of all—taking the life of another—pay a more appropriate price.

Other measures that our government has proposed, such as those contained in Bill S-6, the Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act, are also directly aimed at alleviating the suffering of the families and loved ones of murder victims. Bill S-6 would completely eliminate the right of future murderers to apply for faint hope after serving a mere 15 years.

It would also place severe restrictions on when and how often those with the present right may apply. In this vein, the measures proposed in Bill C-48 reinforce the measures set out in Bill S-6. They send a strong message of support for the families and loved ones of the victims of multiple murderers by recognizing the lives that have been lost.

Moreover, the measures proposed in Bill C-48 will also ensure that in those cases where a sentencing judge elects to impose consecutive periods of parole ineligibility on a multiple murderer, the families and loved ones will not have to suffer through a seemingly endless series of parole applications that in too many cases accomplish little other than to stir up painful memories.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 3:20 p.m.
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Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, by ensuring that people who commit the most serious crimes serve an appropriate period of incarceration, the amendments contained in Bill C-48 are another example of the government's ongoing commitment to protect the families and loved ones of murder victims.

Permit me to dwell for a moment on the policy underlying Bill C-48 to counter any possible criticism that the proposed measures are overly retributive in nature. Far from it, Mr. Speaker, for the measures set out in this bill have been carefully developed to balance the need to protect society and denounce unlawful conduct with the need to ensure that sentences in Canadian law respond to individual circumstances.

The measures in Bill C-48 will therefore not be mandatory. The government recognizes that the circumstances of every murder are different, and that a one-size-fits-all approach could well produce injustice in individual cases. This is because of the fact that patterns of multiple murders are extremely varied. They range from cold-blooded serial killings and contract murders to unplanned killings in the heat of passion, parental killing of children, workplace killings of fellow workers, right through to killings by persons in delusional states caused by alcohol, drugs or mental illness.

Many multiple murders, especially parental or workplace killings, are accompanied by extreme mental and emotional stress and often followed by a desperate attempt to commit suicide once the perpetrator has come to his or her senses. In short, the government clearly recognizes that the mental state of those who kill—even those who kill more than once—may vary widely and may carry differing degrees of moral culpability and be accompanied by varying degrees of remorse.

By allowing judges to make the decision whether to impose additional periods of parole ineligibility, the proposed amendments reflect the fundamental principle of sentencing that a sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender. For let us not forget that judges who have presided over a trial and who have therefore heard all the evidence and been in a position to assess the character of the accused are in the best position to make such a decision.

However, in making this decision, judges will be required by Bill C-48 to have regard to the criteria that already exists in section 745.4 that they are now using to extend the parole ineligibility period for second degree murder up to 25 years, namely, the character of the offender, the nature and circumstances of the crime and any recommendation in this regard made by the jury. However, given the inherent seriousness of the offence of murder and the fact that more than one life will have been lost, the measures proposed in Bill C-48 go farther than simply providing judges with this new authority and obliging them to conform to strict criteria that have been developed and are being used for a similar purpose.

Bill C-48 would also require judges to state orally or in writing at the time of sentencing why they may have decided not to use their authority to impose consecutive periods of parole ineligibility on a multiple murderer in a particular case. This is only fair. The public, and particularly the families and loved ones of victims, have an absolute right to know why those who have killed more than once are not being forced to spend a longer time in custody before being able to apply for release back into the community.

In addition, by requiring judges to immediately make the basis of their decisions public, it will allow for an appeal in those situations where Crown counsel may conclude that the discretion afforded to sentencing judges may not have been properly exercised.

Mr. Speaker, I am confident that the measures proposed in Bill C-48 will be supported by police and victims advocates who have long been generally opposed to what they view as the relatively easy availability of parole in Canada for violent criminals.

Although the provinces and territories will not be directly affected in terms of correctional resources, I am equally confident that they too will be supportive because another group of violent criminals will be kept in custody for a longer time.

Nonetheless, some may criticize this proposal because murderers, and particularly multiple murderers, already find it more difficult than other offenders to obtain parole. To this I say simply that if there is any crime that justifies putting the interests of the families and loved ones of victims first, it is that of murder. And this is especially true in the case of those who have killed more than once.

In this respect, I can only repeat what the Minister of Justice said outside this House on October 5: each and every murder of a human being diminishes us as a society. Multiple murders are that much more repugnant.

In short, the government will continue to stand up for victims of crime. It will continue to be vigilant in protecting Canadians from violent criminals, and it will continue to put the interests of law-abiding Canadians ahead of the rights of criminals.

Before I conclude, I would like to address another issue that has been the subject of recent controversy in this House: the question of the costs of the government’s law and order agenda. In this regard, I am pleased to report that, for the present and for the next 25 years, the measures set out in Bill C-48 are entirely cost-neutral. Shortly stated, Bill C-48 will not lead to increased costs for the federal government for the foreseeable future.

Nor will they entail significant costs for our provincial and territorial partners. Crown counsel in all jurisdictions will be required to address the proposed criteria I have already described in making their submissions on sentencing should they wish to recommend that a particular multiple murderer receive consecutive periods of parole ineligibility upon conviction and sentencing. These are criteria with which they too are already familiar.

There are no surprises in Bill C-48. The only surprise will be if it is not passed into law as soon as possible to respond to the concerns of those Canadians who wonder why offenders who are convicted of the most serious crimes seem to end up getting sentences that do not fully reflect the gravity of their crimes.

I empathize with ordinary Canadians. I understand why they may find it hard to understand that the justice system gives the most serious criminals–those who have committed multiple murders–access to parole despite the horrific circumstances of their murders and the number of lives they have taken. I understand why concerned Canadians may question why an unrepentant serial killer should have the same access to a parole hearing as a sincerely remorseful offender who killed once in the heat of passion.

Giving those who have killed more than once the same access to parole as those who have killed once erodes confidence in the integrity of the justice system. It also threatens to undermine the commitment of this government to protect Canadians by keeping violent offenders in custody for longer periods. We will not let that happen.

Canadians continue to tell us that they want a strong criminal justice system. They want to see decisive action to address violent crime. They want to see laws passed that will make this country safer and more secure.

Our government is following through on its commitment to make Canadian streets and communities safer by ensuring that offenders who are found guilty of serious crimes serve a sentence that reflects the severity of those crimes. The amendments to the Criminal Code in Bill C-48 are an important part of this commitment. We are standing up for Canadians who have repeatedly called on us to get tough on crime. We call on all members of this House to stand up with us.

Bill C-48 proposes to reform the approach to sentencing multiple murderers in a way that balances respect for the principles of sentencing with respect for the rights of victims and their families. For this reason, it deserves our careful consideration and the members' support.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 3:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I acknowledge my colleague's speech on Bill C-48. We are giving this legislation due consideration.

What we are seeing more and more from the government is that everything is politicized. The short title of the bill, which is “protecting Canadians by ending sentence discounts for multiple murders act”, just reeks of politics. Everything is a show, as opposed to actually making a difference for Canadians.

Does the member think it is appropriate to take politics to this level by making the bill a political prop as opposed to strictly something that would improve the lives of Canadians?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 3:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question.

Through you, I would like to say that all bills starts with politics. When we arrived in 2006, we had an agenda. It was political and clearly stated that we would put the most dangerous criminals in prison.

Terms have been used that could, in some ways, make it seem as though we are biased. I would say that our political agenda is perhaps the most biased, but in victims' favour. That is always our goal when we introduce bills, including this one.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 3:30 p.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was interested in the comments by the parliamentary secretary on the issue of respect for the judicial system, or our justice system generally. I understand his argument on the one side, but maybe it is my exposure to the U.S. system, because I am located geographically in the country looking north to Michigan and the United States and the impact that the media on the U.S. side has on us and the amount of information we get.

We hear about people in the United States being sentenced to 100 years and 200 years. I remember one case in the United States, which may have been early on in my practice, where somebody was sentenced to 600 years consecutive.

Does the parliamentary secretary not feel, considering cases like that, that we could, with this bill, be in danger of bringing into ridicule the justice system if we were to have sentences that exceed any possible life expectancy of any human being on this planet? Does he not see that that could bring into disrepute and disrespect the justice system?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 3:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague who, like me, is a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. We value the work he does. We have worked together for about four years.

This topic raised questions in our government. However, I would like to say that the authority known as a judge's arbitrary power is left in the judge's hands. The judge must justify, orally or in writing, what he does or does not want to apply. In all cases, the judge will have heard the trial and the testimonies. He will have been able to see if the accused was remorseful. He will have seen the entire file. So it will be up to him to say, orally or in writing, whether the principles of Bill C-48 should be applied or not.

I believe that we have covered my colleague's question about sentences that can be as high as 600 years for one person.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his answer, which was a good one. I sometimes work with him, and in this instance, my party will be supporting the bill at this stage. Indeed, it is important for our country that the committee have an opportunity to hear testimonies with respect to this bill.

Let us now look at the situation where an individual is found guilty of two or three murders. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice knows that when someone receives a life sentence, it is really a life sentence. As a lawyer, could he address that matter? How can a sentence lasting the entire life of an individual be imposed more than once? As a lawyer, can he tell us how that works? That is my question.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member. Indeed, a person convicted of first degree murder, or premeditated murder, is sentenced to 25 years with eligibility for parole after 10 or 15 years. It is up to the judge. Take for example someone who commits three first degree murders and shows no remorse. Currently that person would not receive a sentence any longer than 25 years. The only difference is that instead of being released on parole after 10 or 15 years, they will not be released for 25 years. Nonetheless, their sentence is no longer than 25 years. Whether they killed 10 people or 50, the sentence is still 25 years.

When a judge sees that an individual is truly unworthy of living among us, we would like for him to declare and justify, because he always has to justify things orally or in writing, the fact that he is handing down a 25-year sentence. What is more, he will have the right to increase, not consecutively but in some other way, the number of years the individual will have to stay in prison before being released on parole. This may not happen in the person's lifetime, but let us not forget that the murderer took another person's life.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is doing a good job of answering my questions, but I want to challenge him with this one.

We just had evidence before the justice committee, the week before the break week, that 25 years, minimum, is how long one has to spend in custody, except for the faint hope clause, which the government is trying to get rid of.

Just so that we are clear, when the Minister of Justice was in front of the committee, he made it clear that if this bill goes through and judges do assign two life sentences, the minimum amount of time spent in custody before people will be able to apply to get out will be 50 years. It will be 25 years plus 25 years.

Right now, the average time for a first degree murder conviction, multiple or not, is 25 years. The minimum time people spend in custody for first degree murder convictions is 25 years.

I would ask the member this. Is the government really serious, with absolutely no reservations, if the judge uses his discretion, about wanting people to spend 50 years in custody? Are we really accomplishing anything?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is indeed a question that remains.

When an individual has committed two first degree murders, at present, he or she will receive only one 25-year sentence for both murders. If he or she commits three, even if they are premeditated, the same sentence applies: 25 years.

When someone commits second degree murder, early release is possible. Depending on the circumstances, the judge can say that the individual is eligible for parole after 10 or 15 years. What we must bear in mind is that it is up to the judge. He or she is master of the facts and master of the law.

It is possible to have a first degree murder and a second degree murder, what is known as collateral damage. In such cases, the judge can order a 25-year sentence for the first murder, but after that could allow a request for parole 10 years later. So in reality, the individual would serve 35 years. In the past, it was only 25 years—no more, no less.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 3:40 p.m.
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Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, this is the first time I have risen in regard to Bill C-48, a government bill on the parole inadmissibility period of offenders convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years.

This bill would change the current parole inadmissibility system so that judges can sentence offenders convicted of multiple murders to consecutive rather than concurrent life sentences.

This government took power on January 23, 2006, and it is now November 15, 2010. We are therefore almost in the fifth year of its term. I really wonder now whether this government is serious when it comes to criminal justice, whether it is serious when it says it stands up for the victims of crime, whether it really is a party of law and order, a party that wants to protect Canadians and ensure public safety. Looking at just this bill—although it is virtually the same as nearly all the other criminal justice bills the government has introduced—I can only conclude that the government is playing political games with crime victims and with the lives and safety of Canadians.

The government originally introduced this bill in the previous session. Instead of immediately suggesting we go to second reading so that there could be a debate and vote at that stage, the government left the bill lingering on the order paper for 64 days. On the 64th day, instead of suggesting a debate at second reading, the Prime Minister went instead to see the Governor General to ask her to prorogue Parliament, knowing full well that he would thereby kill all his own bills. So the bill was killed by the Conservative Prime Minister when he prorogued Parliament.

Giving him the benefit of the doubt, one might say he did not realize he would be killing this bill. One might think that as soon as Parliament resumed after the throne speech, the first gesture of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada would be to rise at the first available opportunity under the Standing Orders, reintroduce the bill, and suggest going immediately to second reading.

Do the people listening to this debate have any idea how many days the Conservative government took after the resumption of Parliament and the Speech from the Throne to reintroduce its own bill? It took 216 days. This party likes to pat itself on the back and say it is the only one that speaks up for victims, the only party interested in law and order in Canada.

In actual fact, it is the party that plays political games with the safety of Canadians, our fellow citizens. It is disgraceful that we have had to wait 216 days for the Conservatives to reintroduce their bill. Not a thing has changed. All that has changed is the number of the bill, and the government has no say on that. All the government had to do was reintroduce its own bill, but it waited 216 days to do it.

We Liberals do not play political games with people's lives, and so far as I can see, the other opposition parties also do not. We Liberals want serious time for people who commit serious crimes, murder for example, with limited eligibility for parole. However, we are not sure that sending people to prison for 50 years without any possibility of parole is a good way to rehabilitate them and ensure that Canadians are protected. That is the first thing.

If we look at the actual facts, people convicted of multiple murders generally are not granted parole as soon as they become eligible. This bill addresses a relatively minor concern, therefore, and would affect relatively few people.

For this reason, we Liberals are prepared to vote for the bill to send it to committee, without being able to say whether we will support its purpose. We want to know what statistics and data the justice department has on the number of cases to which the bill would apply. We also want to know who would be primarily affected if it passes. We also want to know how many offenders have received parole after committing more than one first degree murder and receiving a life sentence without any possibility of parole for 25 years. If they did get parole, how many years did they serve first? That is the information we want to have.

We think it is contrary to the principle of rehabilitation to completely eliminate any possibility of parole in sentences that could reach more than 50 years. That being said, though, we are keeping an open mind. We want to hear the witnesses, the minister himself, the experts in the justice department and at the Correctional Service of Canada, and the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, which represents the people who work day after day, 24 hours out of every 24, with offenders convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in jail, to find out whether they think this bill is going in the right direction.

As I said, we want to study it in committee to see whether it really responds to an urgent public safety concern.

As has already been mentioned here in terms of what is the current law, today a conviction for first degree murder carries with it a parole ineligibility of 25 years. The individual found guilty of first degree murder is sentenced to life imprisonment with a possibility of parole after having served 25 years.

Someone today who is found guilty of second degree murder is sentenced to life imprisonment with a possibility of parole after serving 10 years and no more than 25 years. That does not mean that the individual gets parole but that he or she can go before the National Parole Board and seek parole. As of now, the sentencing judge has the discretion to determine the precise length of ineligibility for parole in the case of second degree murder.

Under the current system, individuals convicted of multiple murders serve their life sentences concurrently and are therefore subject to only one 25-year parole ineligibility period. Bill C-48 would tack on further parole ineligibility periods. It would amend the system so that judges would have the discretion, and that is important to repeat, judges would have the discretion to ensure that parole ineligibility periods run consecutively. The judges would make the decisions, and the judges in making that decision, whether to apply a second parole ineligibility period to run consecutively or not to do so, would be obliged to provide reasons for their decision.

In the current law, the only exception to the single parole ineligibility period rule occurs when a convicted murder commits another murder while in prison.

That is very interesting, if our criminal justice system has already been adjusted to ensure that if an individual has already been convicted of first degree murder or second degree murder and therefore is already under a parole ineligibility, and that individual while serving the sentence in prison commits another murder, is found guilty of another murder, the parole ineligibility of that individual for the new sentence will run consecutively.

If that already exists in our current law, there is justification to look at the possibility that Parliament and society may wish to extend that current practice to other cases. However, as I said, we wish to see if this is a real problem and if it will ensure better safety for Canadians. That is why Liberals will support sending this bill to committee.

In terms of stakeholders, we have already heard from defence lawyers who point out that very few serial killers, if any, are actually released after serving 25 years of their sentence. According to them, this bill is window dressing for a problem that really does not exist.

The Correctional Service of Canada and Statistics Canada, who provide the legal or criminal statistics, are the ones who will be able to tell us whether these defence lawyers are right, whether there have been or have never been serial killers released after 25 years, and if there have been cases, what were the circumstances of the case.

As well, anyone who has been declared by a judge a dangerous offender is held in custody indeterminately. Normally, if we are talking about a serial murderer, a multiple murderer, someone who has killed more than one person and is accused of more than one first degree murder charge or even second degree murder charge, one would hope that the prosecution would have looked at all of the circumstances to determine whether it would be appropriate to apply for a dangerous offender designation.

What is quite interesting is that prior to the 2008 election and shortly afterwards, the government had actually brought in legislation to amend the dangerous offender system under our Criminal Code, and with all the hoopla that the government built around it, it was still not mandatory for the prosecution to seek dangerous offender designation in certain cases.

I actually brought forth amendments to make it mandatory and the government did not support it. Go figure. It would have ensured that our prosecution, in specific cases, would have had no choice but to apply for dangerous offender designation, and the government and the members who were sitting on the justice committee at the time did not support those amendments.

Someone who has been declared a dangerous offender by the courts will never see the light of day. So, in a way, this bill may be a bit of smoke and mirrors.

According to testimony from justice department officials before committee just last month when we were looking at the bill regarding the faint hope clause, which is a whole other issue, the average amount of time that someone spends in prison on being convicted for murder in Canada is approximately 28 years. So even under our current system where someone convicted of first degree murder is sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole before 25 years, the actual facts are that, on average, those first degree murder offenders will spend 28 years before they actually get parole. When one looks at the average in other developed countries, they spend 15 years.

If any of the government members wish to disagree with me, I would urge them to go back and read the transcripts of the Standing Committee on Justice hearings, the witnesses from the Department of Justice on the faint hope clause legislation. They are the ones who provided these statistics.

The Liberals will be supporting sending this bill to committee because we believe the issues need to be further studied. We want to hear from the experts. We want to hear the actual facts, because facts and figures are important to us. We believe solid government policy, social policy and criminal justice policy should be based on facts and statistics, scientific facts or facts that have been established in a scientific manner.

We know sometimes it is inconvenient for the government and therefore it throws facts by the wayside, but we as Liberals believe it is important if we want sound, effective social policy, particularly in the area of criminal justice. Therefore, we have no objection to studying this issue further, and again, it makes me wonder why it took the government 216 days after prorogation to reintroduce this bill.

There is another point that I wish to touch on. The parliamentary secretary to the minister talked about how his government was really concerned about victims and that is why it is bringing forth this bill and that is why the issue of criminal justice is a priority, along with the economy, for the government. I find that interesting.

I find it interesting that the government's words with regard to criminal justice do not seem to support its actions.

The crime rate is dropping. Government wants to spend billions of dollars on ineffective megaprisons. In the last full year of a Liberal government, the National Crime Prevention Centre supported 509 crime prevention projects in 261 communities, for a total of $57 million.

Under the Conservatives, we now have 285 fewer projects being funded and the actual spending on crime prevention has been slashed to just $19 million. I would ask government members, the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety, if the issue of public safety for Canadians is so important, why have they slashed funding to crime prevention and support for our victims? Why?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 4 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member explained rather well that at the end of the day this really is about the Conservative government's public relations campaign on crime.

We saw the same bills introduced five years ago when the Conservatives became the government. They passed a fixed election date law and then turned around in short order and called an election in 2008, thereby eliminating all of their bills before getting them passed. They prorogued the House shortly thereafter and killed all the bills again. A year later, they prorogued the House a second time and killed the bills yet again.

The question is, why are the press and the people in this country not holding the government to account for what is essentially gross incompetence in the presentation of these bills? I would like the member to comment further on that and then I will ask another question.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 4 p.m.
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Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, the member is quite correct that this is a government that talks big and loud and beats its chest on how it is the party of law and order, that it is the only party interested in protecting Canadians from criminals and helping victims of crime and it is the only party that actually supports law enforcement. It is also the party that campaigned and in a throne speech committed to 2,500 new police officers across Canada, which still has not materialized. It is also the party that, in several throne speeches to date, given the prorogations and elections called in violation or disrespect of its own fixed election date legislation, represents Canadians.

The member asked me why that is. I cannot explain it, except that when one looks at the amount of advertising that the government does using taxpayer money in order to, in my view, pull the wool over Canadians' eyes, highly partisan advertising, which is unusual with a government, that may be part of the reason.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 4 p.m.
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Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech and tireless work in this area.

We know that in criminality in our country, particularly serious crimes, drugs play a huge role, particularly drugs connected to organized crime. Portugal has just done a very interesting experiment in which it liberalized drug laws. What it found is that there was a significant decline in drug use, criminality, cost and incarceration.

I would ask my colleague, does she not think that what the government ought to be doing is putting an initiative together to change our drug laws in Canada, one that is results based, like the work that is being done at St. Paul's Hospital by Dr. Julio Montaner and others, and focus on implementing policies that would be far less expensive and would save lives? The connection between organized crime gangs and the moneys they receive from illegal drugs is a contributor to the kinds of murders that we have seen in Canada and in other countries such as Mexico.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 4 p.m.
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Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I am so pleased to be asked that question because I believe that part of the current government's policy is very shortsighted and wrong.

There are studies that have been done in Canada and in other countries that definitely show that if government puts resources into appropriate social policy, when it comes to the issues of drug use and drug trafficking, we are going to be helping people get off drugs. It means supporting projects like Insite in Vancouver rather than fighting in the courts to try to shut it down. It means putting more resources in communities to deal with these issues. It means drug rehabilitation programs and detox programs being more available not just in urban centres but in rural and remote communities as well.

We need to establish drug courts so that there is a team in the judicial system that is expert in dealing with people who have drug problems, who are not big time traffickers but have become hooked on drugs and need help to get off them.

Yes, I think Canada should be looking at progressive examples that are effective and actually work like what is happening in Portugal and in other jurisdictions, including some jurisdictions in the United States.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 4:05 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the government is suggesting that it wants to reinstill a new respect for law and order in Canada by toughening up the crime laws. However, as the member for Windsor—Tecumseh said when he broached this issue, in the United States there are examples of judges handing down sentences of 100 years, 200 years and 600 years.

The question I have for the member is this. Does that not in some way present a case for disrespect for the system? The public recognizes that people are not going to live that long. People can be sentenced to 600 years, but no one is going to live to serve those 600 years.

Therefore, if they are trying to find a new-found respect for the system, this may backfire on them. I do not think many American citizens respect a system that gives out sentences that are totally unrealistic to the lifespan of the people who are supposed to be serving these sentences. Does the member agree?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 4:05 p.m.
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Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from the NDP has raised an important point and that is the respect Canadians have for our criminal justice system.

One of the problems with our criminal justice system is it has been close to 40 years since there has been a major comprehensive overhaul of the entire criminal justice system with well organized, dedicated consultations with stakeholders, communities, experts, non-experts, people who live in communities where crime may be a real issue, people whose family members have been swept into crime and pulled into the criminal justice system, others who have been victims of crime.

One thing we have to remember is when we go into neighbourhoods where there is a high crime rate, there are families that may have members who were victims of crime and they may also have members who were the perpetrators of the crimes, not necessarily against a family member but within the community. There are families who are grappling with both issues.

This is something the government is not looking at. A comprehensive overhaul and reform of our entire criminal justice system is needed. We have to bring it into the third millennium. We cannot do so piecemeal because when it is done piecemeal, we are increasing the chances of commiting errors, resulting in unintended consequences one piece of the system may not work well with another piece. If we do a comprehensive overhaul, we are going to be looking at everything. The member raised a serious question. It is the kind of issue I would like the House to debate rather than piecemeal legislation, which is what we are getting from the government, unfortunately.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 4:10 p.m.
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Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I too am pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-48, which concerns the possibility of imposing consecutive parole ineligibility periods in multiple murder cases. My colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue was supposed to be speaking, but he has gone back to committee and will return a little later, so we will not miss any of his eloquent words.

When Bill C-22 was introduced, I may have inadvertently misled the House. That is not a serious offence and I will not have to apologize to the entire House. I said that my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue was the Bloc justice critic. He sits on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, but he is not the justice critic. My colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin is the justice critic. I just wanted to clarify what I said.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 4:10 p.m.
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Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

I see that some colleagues are satisfied with my apology. In any event, the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue is well equipped to handle this. In his former life, he was a criminal lawyer. He is very familiar with these matters, and we will have an opportunity to hear him a little later.

Allow me to review this bill briefly. The Bloc Québécois supports the bill in principle. Certainly we will hear everyone in committee who is interested in debating it. It is, however, another recycled bill. We know that it died on the order paper when it was called Bill C-54. This is a problem with the Conservatives. They introduce a series of bills dealing with crime and they boast of their crime-fighting prowess. But they are the authors of their own misfortune. They prorogue Parliament and trigger elections, killing their own bills on the order paper. Then they have to introduce them again.

I am sure that my colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine will not mind if I reiterate the statistics she gave a moment ago. She said, and quite rightly, that the government is always blaming the opposition for the fact that justice bills do not progress fast enough for them. She calculated that after Parliament resumed, 216 days went by before the government brought Bill C-48 back to the floor. This is the kind of bill that will not encounter tremendous opposition and will make the cut because most parties support it. This is another example of the government itself causing its own problems and causing delays in introducing bills and, most importantly, in bringing them into force.

The new provisions of Bill C-48 would allow judges to impose consecutive periods of parole ineligibility on persons convicted of multiple first or second degree murders. In contrast, under the present rules, individuals convicted of multiple murders are sentenced to concurrent parole ineligibility periods.

With this new bill, however, judges will not be required to impose consecutive periods; rather, they will have to make their decisions based on the character of the offender, the nature and circumstances of the offences, and the recommendation, if any, made by the jury. Judges will also be required to state, either orally or in writing, the reasons why they did not impose consecutive periods. We think that it might be added, as an amendment or otherwise, that judges should state reasons for every decision they make with respect to imposing consecutive ineligibility periods or not.

For transparency’s sake, judges should have to explain exactly why they make their parole ineligibility decisions, both to the person who is convicted and accused and to the victims of that person’s crimes and the general public. I am sure that everyone would benefit.

One important aspect of this bill is that it does not tie judges’ hands. They will still be at liberty to examine all the ins and outs of a case, determine exactly what happened and find out what the mitigating or aggravating circumstances are, and so make an informed decision. By making its recommendations, the jury will get its own say, since it will have had the opportunity to follow everything that went on during the trial. The jury will also be able to identify mitigating or aggravating circumstances. That will enable it to give the judge an opinion so the judge can make an informed decision about parole for an individual convicted of serious crimes who may even, unfortunately, be a repeat offender.

This is an important aspect of this bill, one with which we agree. What I find unacceptable on the part of the government is the fact that it constantly introduces bills that pay no attention to rehabilitation and express no openness or new ideas when it comes to potential rehabilitation.

We agree entirely that someone who has been convicted of a serious crime must be severely punished, but the Bloc Québécois looks to the example of the Quebec justice system. We know that there are people who can be rehabilitated and we must help them rehabilitate themselves. We want these individuals to serve their sentences. The evidence is that we were the first to call for automatic parole after one-sixth of sentence to be eliminated. Now, that does not mean we do not want people to return to society and become contributing members. What we do not want is for them to get out of prison and then at the earliest opportunity start committing crimes again and cause further serious harm to society.

During the debate on young offenders, the Government of Quebec reported very telling statistics indicating that 85% of young offenders are successfully rehabilitated. That is nothing to scoff at. The government needs to recognize this and acknowledge the importance of giving people who have made mistakes an opportunity to get back on track. We are therefore in favour of the principle of Bill C-48. As I said, the bill gives judges some leeway, which is important in this case.

Bill C-48 would give judges the option of stacking parole ineligibility periods at the time of sentencing in the case of multiple murders. We know that it does not make sense to have two successive life sentences. If an individual is convicted of murder, he will get 25 years in prison. He will be handed a life sentence. Canada is not like the United States, where a person can end up with a 250 or 400 year prison sentence. In any case, that is absurd. I do not know anyone who has lived long enough to serve that kind of a sentence.

Under Bill C-48, judges will at least have the option of stacking parole ineligibility periods. This might occur in the case of a repeat offender who has committed two first degree murders. The judge would be able to decide that the individual will not be eligible for parole after a 25 year period, a decision which is not currently permitted. The judge may decide that parole will be an option only after 50 years. That is a long prison sentence, but depending on the circumstances, and based on all the evidence presented, the judge will be able to ensure that the individual will not get out after 25 years and will serve a much longer sentence.

However, as I said a little earlier, we believe that punishment must not become the judicial system’s sole objective at the expense of social reintegration and rehabilitation. That is what is missing in this bill and in most of the justice bills introduced by the Conservative government.

The Bloc Québécois supports this bill because it will give judges more options when punishing people for their crimes. We are aware that such a measure will not serve as a deterrent, especially in the case of repeat offences which are, in any case, very rare. Now, some may say that one repeat offence is one too many, but I will shortly read out a few statistics to demonstrate that this bill will not be particularly useful to judges since, fortunately, there are not many repeat offenders out there. There are already too many of them though. The fact is that this is not a bill that we will hear that much about.

It is, therefore, an exceptional measure for exceptional cases where the jury will give its opinion and the judge will have the final say. When the minister introduced this bill, he said he would put an end to sentence discounts. What I read in the press regarding these remarks demonstrates that the Minister of Justice himself runs down the justice system when he is in fact supposed to be its greatest advocate. That does not mean that he is not entitled to make improvements to it.

In short, the Minister of Justice has stated that judges always hand down discount sentences and that the situation has to be corrected. This is not true. When one considers the decisions in all these major crimes, it is clear that the sentences are often completely adequate.

However, in many instances people get out too early. Earlier, reference was made to parole after serving one-sixth of a sentence. Judges are not the ones making mistakes. This practice must quite simply come to a stop, and convicted offenders with sentences to serve must serve those sentences. That does not rule out the possibility of parole. That flexibility must obviously be maintained. Rather than speaking of discount sentences, it would be more honest to say that Bill C-48 is going to give one more tool to judges so that individuals who commit extremely serious crimes in very exceptional circumstances will not be entitled to get out after a 25-year period. They will get out later if parole is granted. Some may never get out.

Nor is this bill about victims, just as most of the bills introduced by this government are not. Should prison be seen as the only solution to dealing with crime? I do not think so. Victims and their pain must also be taken into consideration. Now, on the matter of victims, my colleague, the member for Compton—Stanstead has introduced a bill on employment insurance. It calls for employment insurance to be paid to the families of victims of crime over a 50-week period, which will give people a chance to get back on their feet.

Currently, in Quebec, victims of crime have guaranteed employment for a two year period. This means that employers are not permitted to lay off victims because of a family tragedy. These people were victims of a crime and they find returning to work very hard. They have to look after other family members in the aftermath of the tragedy. It is all very well to have guaranteed employment, but everyone knows what happens when a person is without an income. People are forced to go back to work. They are often not in a suitable psychological state to do so. As decision makers and legislators, we have a responsibility to ensure that victims’ families and the victims themselves have access to employment insurance.

Currently, a maximum of 15 weeks’ employment insurance is available with a medical certificate. The bill introduced by my colleague, the member for Compton—Stanstead, would increase the number of weeks to 50. That is a step in the right direction. I would call on all members of the House, and particularly those on the Conservative government side, to support my colleague’s bill. She is also the member for one of my neighbouring ridings, and she sits with me on the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri Food. This only makes the bill more important to me. In fact, it is an excellent bill. I would invite everyone to support it.

If we look at the current sentencing system, the Criminal Code is clear:

Every one who commits first degree murder [that is, premeditated murder] or second degree murder is guilty of an indictable offence and shall be sentenced to imprisonment for life.

Only the parole ineligibility period can vary, depending on whether we are talking about first degree or second degree murder. A person convicted of first degree murder cannot apply for parole for at least 25 years.

For second degree murder, the judge must set the time period—a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 25 years—during which the offender is ineligible for parole. The maximum sentence for manslaughter is life in prison, but there is no minimum sentence, except where a firearm is used—there is a distinction here—and no minimum parole ineligibility period. Those are the rules that apply now.

If we look at the bill and the changes it would make, we see that once in effect, the bill would allow the judge to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods on individuals convicted of multiple first degree or second degree murders.

So as I said, judges would not be required to impose consecutive periods, but would have to base their decisions on the character of the offender, the nature and circumstances of the offences and any recommendation by the jury. In addition, judges would also be required to state, either orally or in writing, the reasons for any decision not to impose consecutive ineligibility periods.

Earlier, I talked about the Minister of Justice, who said he wanted to make sure serial killers and repeat offenders would pay the appropriate price for what they had done. He said that the purpose of the bill was to put an end to what he calls “sentence discounts” for multiple murderers. I gave my opinion about this moments ago. By acting in this way, the very person who should be standing up for the justice system is doing just the opposite. We do not believe we can really talk about sentence discounts, but it is strange that the sentences for such crimes are systematically served concurrently at present. That is why the measure in this bill strikes us as appropriate and acceptable.

Let us look at the facts. Concerning recidivism, I said a little while ago that I had statistics and this is not the kind of bill where we will hear about a lot of cases and see a lot of grandstanding by judges who would say that a certain offender will not be eligible for parole for 50 or 60 years or more. The statistics show that between January 1975 and March 2006, 19,210 offenders were released into the community on either parole or statutory release, of whom 9,091 had served a sentence for murder and 10,119 for manslaughter. Of these 19,210 offenders, 45 were later convicted of another 96 homicides in Canada. The latter 45 offenders amounted, therefore, to 0.2% of the 19,210 people who were convicted of homicide and released into the community over the last 31 years. So 0.2% of the people convicted of murder unfortunately reoffended and committed murder again. These are the people targeted by Bill C-48 before us today.

Over the same period, police forces in Canada were apprised of more than 18,000 homicides. The offenders convicted of another homicide while on conditional release accounted, therefore, for 0.5% of all the homicides committed in Canada over the last 31 years. It is clear, therefore, that the minister’s safety arguments, if not exactly false, are greatly exaggerated.

In listening to the minister and reading the documents released by the department after the introduction of this bill, we would think there is a multitude of criminals and we must ensure they serve long sentences because they will re-offend, as so many have done. Well no, that is not statistically true, because what the statistics prove is that not many people re-offend. It is very important, therefore, to ensure that people accused and convicted of serious crimes serve lengthy sentences but also have an opportunity to rehabilitate themselves and become active members of society again, rather than continuing lives of crime.

In regard to sentence length, since the last person was executed in Canada back in 1962, the time that offenders convicted of murder serve before receiving full parole has been increasing by leaps and bounds. People given life sentences for murders committed before January 4, 1968 served seven years. People given life sentences for murders committed between January 4, 1968 and January 1, 1974 served 10 years. Since then, the time served has varied between 10 and 25 years, depending on the type of murder.

We are therefore tougher now than we have ever been. This does not mean that we should stop being tough but that the bill should at least give judges a certain amount of latitude. We are in favour of it so long as judges do not have their hands tied. That is the important thing in this bill. I want to repeat my request, therefore, that the government ensure that there is still a possibility for offenders to be rehabilitated, rather than just thinking about punishment.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 4:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I wish to commend my colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska on the clarity of his remarks on Bill C-48.

We know that the Conservative government has on its agenda for this Parliament a series of bills dealing with law and order. We do support a number of bills, but evidently, this is clearly excessive, especially considering that most of these bills are ideologically driven.

We, however, want to make sure that the victims of crime are protected. Those who commit violent crimes must be punished, but at the same time support has to be provided to the victims of violent crimes.

The member referred to the bill put forward by our colleague from Compton—Stanstead, near Sherbrooke. Would it be entirely appropriate for the Canadian government to establish a fund for the support of victims of crime? Proceeds of crime could help provide for this fund. As members know, the House has already passed a Bloc Québécois bill designed to reverse the onus, particularly with respect to crimes committed by organized crime. Money from seizures, for instance, could be put into a support fund for the victims of crime. Would the member be in favour of such an approach?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 4:30 p.m.
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Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Chambly—Borduas. That is an excellent suggestion. That is the kind of idea we might expect from a responsible government that treats the justice system as it should be treated. We should be trying to strike a balance by imposing punishment that is fair and severe enough to fit the seriousness of the crimes committed, and by helping the victims of those crimes. I studied law for a year and a half, and I always saw justice represented by scales. Then I changed tack and went into another field, but when I started out in law, I learned that the rights of victims and the assistance we must give them are also part of the balance.

Apart from the slew of bills the government keeps introducing with grandiloquent titles to show the public it is going to crack down and put everybody in prison, it is introducing nothing, zip, zilch, zero, to provide more assistance to victims. For victims, the fact that the people who made them victims are in prison is a good thing, but that does not help them. My colleague’s suggestion is entirely appropriate, and I urge him to continue working on this.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 4:30 p.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, the title of the bill is another one like those we have seen from the government; it seems to almost demean the issue when it talks about discounts. As one of my colleagues said, it almost feels as if he is at a supermarket when that kind of terminology is used.

I wonder if my colleague from the Bloc would comment about that and tell us what he thinks the families of murder victims would feel when they see that kind of wording used on a bill that is as significant to them as this one is.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 4:35 p.m.
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Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the NDP member for his question. He was here a little while ago when we were debating Bill C-22, and the opposition criticized the short title chosen for the bill. In reality, the subject matter did not reflect the title chosen by the government, simply because it offered more than people want.

When they do this they mislead the public because the title suggests that the government is introducing a bill about a particular thing that it is going to do and stand up for, but upon reading the title of the bill, no need to read the details, clearly that is not at all the subject matter it deals with.

To answer the member, as I said just now in my speech, the sentence discounts the Minister referred to have nothing to do with the purpose of this bill. In fact, the bill is going to give judges an additional tool to ensure that people do not get parole as quickly as they might want. There will be changes in that regard. What the minister is saying is that, currently, judges in Canada always give sentence discounts. Victims’ families are going to look at this and believe that there will be harsher sentences. But that is not what the bill does. The public must not be misled.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 4:35 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to what is now Bill C-48, which was previously Bill C-54. I essentially support the bill, which our critic, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, has already indicated that our party supports. In fact, all opposition parties support the bill.

It is interesting to note that over the last couple of years the Conservatives have been able to get away with the argument that they are tough on crime and the opposition is not. All opposition parties are in favour of sending this bill to committee but the government has been dragging its feet on this bill and many others.

The Liberal critic pointed out that after proroguing the House on two occasions and calling a needless election in 2008, the government, after coming back in March of this year, took 216 days to reintroduce a bill that all parties had agreed to.

When the public asks which group is tough on crime and which group is not, it would be valid to say that the government is either just plain incompetent or opportunistic in the sense that when the chips are down it will prorogue the House, call an election and do anything but deal with its so-called tough on crime agenda.

We see this as a lot of public relations. I have been reading press articles that the government has out on this bill right now. I just read an article in a Winnipeg newspaper dealing with this issue. The press has been taking the government line in support of this bill and some of the other government bills, but I have yet to see the press in this country write balanced stories about how the government has delayed its own legislation, how it has torched its whole legislative agenda, not once, not twice, but at least three times.

I do not know how many times we will need to repeat it, and I know people are watching the debate and reading the copies of Hansard that we send out, but over time they will understand that the government talks a good line but at the end of the day it is not really big on delivery.

Several of my colleagues have mentioned, not only today but on other days, that after 100 years of having our criminal justice system in place without making any major changes, maybe it is time we did. It has been at least 40 years since a major overhaul of the system has been made. Maybe we should be taking an all- party approach to a major revamp of the system, accounting for best practices in other parts of the world so we do not have this decidedly pro-American approach. I do not have a problem with that approach if we could demonstrate that it actually worked. If we could demonstrate that it worked, then I would say that we should look at that system.

However, we have been following a system that has been proven not to work. Even the Americans themselves are trying to roll back some of the mistakes of the past 20 or 30 years. We would like to work on the basis of a co-operative approach, a best practices approach.

I do not believe the member for Souris--Moose Mountain was around during the two years of a minority government in Manitoba. However, he was a minister for a brief period in the government of Premier Filmon and will attest to the fact that Premier Filmon did get his majority government in 1990. He got it largely because in the two years prior to that, in a minority situation, he actively worked with the opposition parties on any controversial issue, whether it was Meech Lake, bills on smoking in government places bills or numerous other issues. The first thing he would do was call the opposition leaders into his office and set up a committee. He defused controversial political issues right at the beginning. He was able to resolve issues in a favourable way and he benefited by doing that.

That is what the government's approach on the whole issue of crime legislation should be. The government showed some signs of this in dealing with Afghanistan a couple of years ago. It reached out to a former Liberal cabinet minister to come up with a report. It put the government in good stead.

Obviously the government over there is of a different mind than the previous Filmon government in an attempt to get things done. It does not seem to be concerned about results. It is all about public relations, polling and how it can somehow squeeze out a majority in the next election.

In actual fact, Premier Filmon did get his majority and he did it by having a correct and proper approach to a minority government situation.

With regard to the specifics of the bill, as I had indicated it was Bill C-54 and it is now Bill C-48. Once again the government has given it a special name, “protecting Canadians by ending sentence discounts for multiple murders act”. We find this with most of its legislation now.

When it was Bill C-54, it had first reading in the House of Commons on October 28, 2009. The bill would amend the Criminal Code with respect to the parole inadmissibility period for offenders convicted of multiple murders. It would be done by affording judges the opportunity to make the parole ineligibility period for multiple murders consecutive rather than concurrent.

I guess one of the good things about the bill is that it does leave discretion to the judge, which the opposition members have been consistent in supporting in the past. Perhaps the government recognized that by allowing the judge discretion it made it certain that the bill would actually go somewhere in the House.

There are also some amendments to the National Defence Act in this bill. Consecutive parole ineligibility periods for multiple murderers would not be mandatory under the provisions of this bill. Judges would be left with the discretion to consider the character of the offender, the nature and circumstances of the offence and any jury recommendations before deciding upon whether consecutive parole ineligibility periods are appropriate. The bill would require judges to state orally or in writing the basis for any decision not to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods on multiple murderers.

In terms of the current law, in 1976 the Parliament repealed the death penalty and imposed a mandatory life sentence for the offence of murder. Offenders convicted of first degree murder serve life as a minimum sentence with no eligibility for parole before they have served 25 years. I have statistics, which hopefully I will get to before my time runs out, indicating how Canada compares with other countries and what the real figures are for time served in prison as opposed to the storyline that the Conservatives like to propose, which is that somehow people are put in prison for just a few years and then they are back out on the street again.

For offenders convicted of second degree murder, a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment is also imposed, with the judge setting the parole eligibility at a point between 10 and 25 years. As I had indicated before, we are already talking about life imprisonment. The issue becomes, if someone is already sentenced to life imprisonment, how can the person serve three or four life sentences? this gets into the whole question that people have about the American system where people get sentenced to 200 years and 300 years.

In some ways that throws the system into disrepute as well because people will say that is great. However, whether people receive a sentence of 200 years or 600 years, what does it matter. At the end of the day, we only have one life to live. I have not seen too many 200-year-old people walking around lately. Perhaps the government has some evidence to the contrary.

Those serving a life sentence can only be released from prison if granted parole by the National Parole Board. Unlike most inmates who are serving a sentence of a fixed length, for example, two 10 or 20 year sentences, lifers are not entitled to statutory release. If granted parole, they will, for the rest of their lives, remain subject to the conditions of parole and supervision of a Correctional Service Canada parole officer. Parole could be revoked and offenders returned to prison at any time they violate conditions of parole or commit a new offence.

Not all lifers will be granted parole. Some may never be released on parole because they continue to represent too great a risk to reoffend. We hear about Clifford Olson and other people in prison. These people are not likely to be getting out of prison any time soon and—

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 4:45 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Ever, as my colleague points out. They will never get out of prison, and they were dealt with under the current laws.

How this law would affect the Clifford Olson case would be to rack up a much longer prison sentence. However, the reality is under the current law he is not going anywhere anyway. Therefore, what would we gain by taking this measure, other than making the government look a little better in the eyes of members of the press who are writing articles on this issue.

Another exception to the 25-year parole ineligibility period for first degree murder or to a 15 to 25-year parole ineligibility period for second degree murder is the faint hope clause. We are dealing with that in a different bill.

During the years following its initial introduction in 1976, the faint hope provision underwent a number of various amendments. Now the criteria for the possible release on parole of someone serving a life sentence are as follows. The inmate must have served at least 15 years of the sentence. An inmate who has been convicted of more than one murder, where at least one murder was committed after January 9, 1997, when previous amendments came into force, may not apply for a review of his or her parole ineligibility period.

To seek a reduction in the number of years of imprisonment without eligibility for parole, the offender must apply to the chief justice of the province or territory in which his or her conviction took place. The chief justice or a Superior Court judge designated by that chief justice must first determine whether the applicant has shown there is a reasonable prospect that the application for review will succeed. The assessment is based on the following criteria: the character of the applicant; the applicant's conduct while serving the sentence; the nature of the offence for which the applicant was convicted; any information provided by a victim at the time of the imposition of the sentence or at the time of the hearing under this section; and any other matter that the judge considers relevant in the circumstances.

If the application is dismissed for lack of reasonable prospect of success, the chief justice or judge may set a time for another application not earlier than two years after dismissal or he or she may declare that the inmate will not be entitled to make another application. If the chief justice or judge determines the application has a reasonable prospect of success, a judge will be assigned to hear the matter with a jury.

In determining whether the period of parole ineligibility should be reduced, the jury should consider the five criteria I mentioned before. The jury's determination to reduce the parole ineligibility period must be unanimous and the victims of the offender's crime may provide information either orally, or in writing or in any other manner that the judge considers appropriate.

If the application is dismissed, the jury may, by a two-thirds majority, either set a time not earlier than two years after the determination when the inmate may make another application or it may decide that the inmate will not be entitled to make any further applications at all.

If the jury determines that the number of years of imprisonment without eligibility for parole ought to be reduced, a two-thirds majority of that jury must submit a lesser number of years of imprisonment without eligibility for parole than the number then applicable. The number of years without eligibility for parole that it may assign can range from 15 to 24 years.

Once permission to apply for early parole has been granted, the inmate must apply to the National Parole Board to obtain the parole. Whether and when the inmate is released is decided solely by the board, based on a risk assessment, with the protection of the public as the foremost consideration. Board members must also be satisfied that the offender will follow specific conditions, which may include a restriction on movement, participation in treatment programs, which is very important, and prohibitions on associating with certain people such as victims, children and convicted criminals. Therefore, we can see that it is not a simple process by any means.

In addition, the Criminal Code requires that a sentence for using a firearm in the commission of an offence shall be served consecutively to any other punishment imposed on the person for an offence arising out of the same event or a series of events. Section 83.26 mandates consecutive sentences for terrorist activities other than in the case of a life sentence. Section 467.14 requires consecutive sentences for organized crime offences. Therefore, we have examples in the code where consecutive sentences already are the case.

Another example when a consecutive sentence may be imposed by a sentencing judge is where the offender is already under a sentence of imprisonment.

A sentence of a term of years imposed consecutively to a sentence of life imprisonment is not valid in law. Life imprisonment means imprisonment for life, notwithstanding any release on parole. We dealt with that issue before. The consecutive part of this is that a consecutive life sentence could not take effect until the offender had died. The courts have held that Parliament could not have contemplated this physical impossibility, which would tend to bring the law into disrepute.

The member for Windsor—Tecumseh has already asked this question on more than one occasion today. He was trying to get a response from the minister on this very point, but I do not believe he received a 100% satisfactory answer from the minister in this situation.

A single parole ineligibility period for multiple murders can be increased when someone who is serving a life sentence receives an additional sentence. In such a case, the offender is not eligible for full parole until beginning on the day on which the additional sentence was imposed. There is a general rule that the maximum period of additional parole ineligibility is 15 years from the day on which the last of the sentence was imposed.

In terms of the prevalence of multiple murders in Canada and the United States, and several other members did speak about this, we are not talking about a lot of individuals. This is more or less a fairly rare event where this application will in fact be used. We have a chart which deals with the number of victims. We are dealing with an average of 21 cases where we have 2 victims, an average of 3 cases where we have 3 victims and only 1 case where we have 4 victims. The press kind of exaggerates and makes the average homeowner believe that somehow this is a daily occurrence, when in fact it is not. The statistics show that not to be the case.

I realize I only have another minute left and I do have quite a number of other points to make.

In 1999 an international comparison of the average time served in custody by an offender with a life sentence for first degree murder showed that Canada exceeded the average time served in all countries surveyed, including the United States. With the exception of the United States, for offenders serving life sentences without parole, the estimated average time that a Canadian convicted of first degree murder spent in prison was 28.4 years, and that is a very important point.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 4:55 p.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know my colleague from Manitoba wants to put the figures on the record. I will ask him to continue with regard to what in fact is the practice in Canada, and has been for a good number of years, that puts us at the top level in the world in terms of sentencing people to time to be served in our prisons.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 4:55 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the fact is the average time spent in custody in countries comparable to the Canadian experience is as follows: in New Zealand 11 years; Scotland 11 years; Sweden 12 years; Belgium 12 years; England 14 years; Australia 14 years; and life with parole in the United States is 18 years. Life without parole in the United States is 29 years. In Canada, it is 28 years. That is not something of which the average member of the public, or the press—

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 5 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

—or even a member of Parliament, as the member points out, is really aware. I believe that figure certainly bears repeating.

In England and Wales, the ministry of justice has published more current statistics on the average time served by those given life sentences. The statistics indicate the amount of time served for a life sentence by prisoners varies considerably. In addition to being released on life-licensed parole, a life sentence for prisoners can be discharged for other reasons such as successful appeals, or transfers to other jurisdictions or to psychiatric hospitals. The mean time served by mandatory lifers or murderers first released from prison in 2008 on life licence was 16 years and there was no change from the previous year.

There are some very interesting pieces of information available from other countries. In fact, a recent study in the United States found that 140,000 individuals were serving life sentences, representing 1 in every 11 people in prison and 29%, or 41,000, individuals serving life sentences have no possibility of parole.

While every state provides for life sentences in the United States, there is a broad range of severity and implementation of the statutes. In six states, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Pennsylvania and South Dakota, and in the federal system all life sentences are imposed without the possibility of parole. Only Alaska provides the possibility of parole for all life sentences, while the remaining 43 states have laws that permit sentencing most defendants to life with or without parole.

I hope I have answered the member's question.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 5 p.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, when we get down to the fundamentals of this bill as proposed by the government, there is a serious lack of knowledge of some of the statistics that my colleague just read in the chamber. Fundamentally, this bill tells people that if there has been a multiple murder, it will be treated more seriously.

Does he have any sense of what one says to members of families who have been victims of a murder with regard to what they should take into account when they analyze what penalties they would like to see imposed, not just with regard to individual cases but generally in society? How do we approach that: from the perspective exclusively of the victim or from the perspective of society as a whole?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 5 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I think some studies have been done indicating that, even when we are dealing with victims, when they get involved, oftentimes they do not take as extreme a position as we would think, over time. When we involve the victims in the process, when we ask the victims what they would consider a proper punishment, there have been some big surprises. Some have said that they were really angry about it in the beginning, but after looking at it, they realize that this person needs rehabilitation and that there has to be a longer range, a better result.

I think that we have to reflect what society wants. But we have to do this with a full range of information. The idea is that somehow we are supposed to send out a little news clip, tailor-made for the local press columnists, who simply regurgitate it word for word and fire it out in their editorials and stories without presenting the other side. I think we would see a totally different approach if we actually involved the public. We should involve the public more, which is why I think we should do a re-write of the whole system. We should develop a multi-party approach and send it across the country for hearings. We might come up with something different.

When the public sees that the government solution is to put in $9 billion in new prisons, they tend to think a little different about it. The government presents them with the facts that we need this bill, this bill, and this bill, without proper costing and accounting. The press should be taking these government members to task. When they announce a bill, the first thing a responsible member of the press should be saying to the government member is, “What will it cost?” They certainly ask us. They ask opposition parties constantly when we announce something new. They ask us what our costing is. We do not have the ability of the government to get the costing done. The government has already been embarrassed a couple of times, because the facts have come out that it will cost a lot more than it suggests. In fact, government members do not even know what it will cost, and yet they are announcing all these initiatives.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 5:05 p.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, on the point of the government's being embarrassed, I want to share this story of what happened at committee on the faint hope clause, which is back before committee again, because the government prorogued and we are having to go through it all over again.

Two individuals showed up, called by government members to, in effect, testify. The government believed that they would testify that we should do away with the faint hope clause. What was interesting was that one of the two, a gentleman whose daughter had been murdered, had recently been on a panel with an individual who had been convicted of murder, had been released early, and had devoted the balance of his life to helping society, especially people coming out of prison. As a result of his experience, he came before the committee and made it clear that he had changed his mind. He was no longer sure that we should be getting rid of the faint hope clause. That was his testimony.

There is a Harvard study showing that when people, including the victims, heard all the facts, and it was explained why the judge had made the decision, whether it was a murder case or some violent crime, 80% of them changed their minds and supported the judge's position.

I am wondering if the member has given any thought to trying to get this information, perhaps through a committee travelling across the country. Does he think this would result in a more reasoned approach to sentencing?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 5:05 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I simply take the member back to a point I made earlier about the Filmon minority government from 1988 to 2000 in Manitoba, where the government was against the wall and the premier came up with a reasonable solution. With each and every controversial decision, he would call the opposition leaders together and set up a committee, which travelled around the province and resolved these controversies. I thought it was pretty amazing that they were able to do this. Why this government would not want to is beyond me.

The fact of the matter is, the Conservatives do not want to hear contrary arguments.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 5:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Albina Guarnieri Liberal Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-48. I commend the minister and the government for advancing a cause that I know has as much support among victims and Canadians as any bill we will address this session.

For decades, victims of crime have come to this House seeking the justice the Criminal Code has denied them. Sharon and Gary Rosenfeldt, Debbie Mahaffy, Theresa McCuaig, and Don Edwards have all been denied too long in their simple struggle for a measure of proportionality in sentencing. They came here bearing the memory of personal tragedy of the most brutal order and bearing witness to a justice system that was no less brutal regarding their right to justice.

The bill today could rightly be called a tribute to the courage and dedication of victims who rose above their personal suffering and sought to prevent others from suffering the same injustice. Regrettably, this bill does not come in time for Gary Rosenfeldt and other family members of victims who have died seeing neither justice for their children nor any change in the justice system that failed them.

Today, the Minister of Justice has renewed their hope.

Volume discounts for rapists and murderers is the law in Canada today. It is called concurrent sentencing. It cheapens life. The life of the second, the third, or the eleventh victim does not count in the sentencing equation. The lowest price is the law every day in our courts.

A family must still watch as courts hand down a conviction for the murder of their child, spouse, or parent, and then reel in the reality that not a single day will be served for that crime. Judges cannot be blamed as they have no latitude to impose consecutive sentences for serial killers. When a multiple murderer walks into court, it is justice that is handcuffed.

Fourteen years ago, I introduced a bill calling for an end to this bulk rate for murder. For the next four years, the issue was debated widely in the House, the Senate, and across the country. The effort drew the support of major victims groups, police associations, and eminent lawyers like Scott Newark and Gerry Chipeur. Members from all parties offered support, even attending Senate committee hearings. Among them were Chuck Cadman, John Reynolds and the current ministers of National Defence and Transport.

We learned in that journey that Parliament had what would be called “a democratic deficit”. We learned that average Canadians were a decade ahead of Parliament in their thinking. We learned that too many predators, released because of concurrent sentencing, had found new victims and spawned even more tragedy.

A decade ago in North Bay, Gregory Crick was found guilty of two murders. Mr. Crick had murdered Louis Gauthier back in April, 1996. A witness to that murder went to the police. Gregory Crick proceeded to murder that witness in retaliation. However, when he was finally sentenced, not one day could be added to Mr. Crick's parole ineligibility for the murder of that witness.

In the summer of 1999, there was one particular case where the Crown actually tried to delay sentencing in the hope that the changes I was pursuing in Parliament might be rapidly passed. It was the case of Adrian Kinkead, who was tried and convicted of the brutal murders of Marsha and Tammy Ottey in Scarborough, a process that took three and a half years. Mr. Kinkead was given a mandatory life sentence with no parole for 25 years. However, Mr. Kinkead was already under a life sentence with the same parole ineligibility after being convicted of a completely unrelated murder.

The crown prosecutor in the case, Robert Clark, asked the judged to delay sentencing until a bill similar to the one before you today could be passed.

His stated intent was to permit the judge to extend the period of parole ineligibility to reflect these additional murders. That bill did pass the House of Commons and had the committed support of most of the Senate, but it was stalled in committee. Sixteen months passed without a final vote and an election was called.

There has been a decade of outrage since then. A year ago, on the eve of the first scheduled debate on the government's current bill, the murders of Julie Crocker and Paula Menendez have led to a first degree murder conviction. Then as now, the families would soon realize that only one murder could count in the sentence, that the murder of one of these women would not yield a single day in jail.

This injustice will continue every day that the bill is stalled in this place. Just weeks ago, Russell Williams was able to thank the inertia of Parliament for a future parole hearing. Families of victims were put through a graphic and unnecessary court spectacle so that the Crown and the police could put evidence on the record that could be seen by a parole board 25 years in the future. Those families will have to hope their health permits them to appear decades from now, time and time again, to object and argue against the release of Russell Williams. His case is not unique.

There are no special circumstances that make him different from other multiple murderers. He was a colonel and there are pictures and videos of his crimes that made his situation infamous. But make no mistake: just about every victim of a multiple murderer went through the same horror. It is only that the obscurity of their victimizer is more likely to allow him to be freed.

The statistical fact, as early as 1999, was that multiple murderers are released into the community, on average, just six years after they are eligible for parole, some within a year of their eligibility. So much for the exhausted notion that life is life and that multiple murderers never get out of jail. Most do.

Another absurd crutch is the myth that somehow multiple murderers are rehabilitated in jail, as if they have an addiction that can be easily treated.

Wendy Carroll, a real estate woman, survived having her throat slashed and being left for dead by two paroled multiple murderers just 10 minutes away from my own home. They had both been convicted of two murders. Both were on life sentences. And both were freed in Mississauga and tried to kill again.

Life only means life for the victims of these offenders. Some in the House may still spout the bizarre and unfounded contention that Canadians somehow approve of concurrent sentencing, that they view it as a way to be different from the United States, as if letting multiple murderers back on the street were an act of patriotism or an endorsement of Canadian culture.

In fact, 90% of Canadians polled by Pollara supported mandatory consecutive sentencing for multiple murderers, with none of the judicial discretion currently contained in the bill. So we remain with a system supported by less than 10% of Canadians.

Then there are the skewed parole statistics. Through some digging years ago, I discovered that Francis Roy was in those statistics as a successful parolee. He had murdered Alison Parrott while on parole after receiving a discounted concurrent sentence for raping two girls. But since he was not returned to custody until after his parole expired, he was just another statistical success story and an example of low levels of repeat offenders.

While criminal lawyers and a few senators still support concurrent sentencing, even our most notorious serial killers mock it. I had occasion to witness the obscene spectacle of Clifford Olson's section 745 hearing. It was a 1997 summer day in B.C., not far from where Olson had victimized 11 children. There Olson read out a letter from his lawyer advising him to admit to all his murders at once. This way, the lawyer indicated, Olson could take full advantage of concurrent sentencing. Olson mocked the court, saying, “They can't do nothing. They can only give me a concurrent sentence”.

To this day, Olson is right. The obstruction of Bill C-25 in the Senate in 2000 has allowed a decade of multiple murderers to similarly mock their victims and mock justice.

I encourage members to look past the usual opposition from the predator protection industry and pass this legislation without delay or obstruction. Perhaps then we can finally put an end to volume discounts that deny justice to victims, deny peace to their families and deny safety and security to Canadians.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.
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Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, that was a very impressive speech, and as a criminal lawyer for over a decade in this country, I had the opportunity to see many times injustices and miscarriages of justice as a result of exactly what the member speaks of.

Based on the passionate nature of her speech and what I thought was a very accurate depiction of what actually takes place at the courthouses across this country, I am wondering if the member has any other positive comments to make in relation to this and indeed whether she has first-hand knowledge of what has taken place in the past other than what she has mentioned, because it certainly seems she is well versed on these particular issues.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 5:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Albina Guarnieri Liberal Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, if the bill is about putting proportionality in sentencing when it comes to murder and the best support for victims is to get them justice and closure, endless parole hearings punish the families and releasing their offenders puts families at risk.

I am imploring all members in the House to put closure to this issue by advancing this issue speedily in committee.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 5:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will come back to that in a few minutes with my speech and I hope that the member will be present. Although my colleague across the floor may have been a criminal lawyer for 10 years, I was a criminal lawyer for 30 and dealt with some murder cases.

I have some issues with the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville. It is not that we are against Bill C-48. We will most likely and almost definitely vote in favour of it. I will be commenting on certain things. However, she is forgetting one thing: before a criminal can apply, he must show a judge in the legal district where he was convicted of murder that he could potentially present evidence or apply. What the Conservatives have not said—you have to read sections 745 onwards of the Criminal Code—is that a parole application is not automatic, especially in the case of murder, which is the most serious crime under the Criminal Code. I will come back to that in a few minutes.

I am wondering if the hon. member is playing into the Conservatives' hand. I do not know if she read it, but if not, I would suggest that she read section 1, which is the bill's short title. It is completely demagogic in comparison to the bill's objective, which is completely rational. The title, “Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentencing Discounts for Multiple Murders Act”, is untrue. I have never seen a more misleading bill title. I am wondering if my colleague agrees with my observation.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 5:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Albina Guarnieri Liberal Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I highlighted in my speech a number of cases where having proportionality in sentencing would have provided some measure of justice for those victims.

I do not understand my hon. colleague from the Bloc, and I implore him to look at those cases I cited as examples. If we had had proportionality in sentencing, perhaps in the case of the Crick murder the witness would have been spared. In the case of the Ottey sisters, I recall viewing the obscene spectacle of the trial that subjected the families to further hardship, and the individual in question did not serve one additional day in jail. The cost of going through a trial and the cost to the victims was obscene, to say the least.

I implore the member to think about this. I am not playing politics with this bill. I implore members not to play politics with this bill. Fundamental justice should be above politics. Victims have waited far too long for such a small measure of justice.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 5:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wish to salute the hon. member who just spoke, our colleague from Mississauga East—Cooksville. As an MP, she has spent a great deal of time considering this major issue that the House must address.

The hon. member from the Bloc may suggest that he has been a lawyer for 30 years, however it goes without saying that the hon. member's work in this area for 30 years, and certainly in the last 15 years or 16 years, has been vigilant and diligent. We on this side of the House, certainly in this party, salute her for her efforts, because it is time we had legislation that looks a lot more like this.

We can talk about window dressing in terms of the title, but the fundamental principle that has been enunciated by the member of Parliament is important. It is without avarice. It is certainly not partisan-based. It is in fact logically based.

I was with the hon. member at the section 745 hearings on Clifford Olson. There was a concern expressed by committees in the past about judicial discretion. Can the hon. member clarify that this legislation will, in fact, allow that in this circumstance?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 5:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Albina Guarnieri Liberal Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend the hon. member for his support over the years. Certainly my colleague has championed victims and victims' rights. He was very instrumental in helping this bill get to the Senate in 2000. I want to commend him for his hard work.

I certainly hope that this bill will go to committee and get a fair hearing. I will leave it to the government to further highlight the judicial discretion element of this bill.

I think it is imperative to give the judges discretion. Currently the judges have no discretion when it comes to multiple murderers. I recall a renowned judge from Nova Scotia. In my haste I did not bring the quote, but I recall that Justice MacKeigan said that a judge in giving a concurrent sentence is not doing his duty.

I thank the hon. member for his hard work in this endeavour.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 5:25 p.m.
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Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the hon. member. For a decade or so, she has been working with her colleagues, and with us to move this bill foward. We have now reached the point where this bill will soon be up for consideration.

So that it is clear, I would like her to tell us whether we are meeting the wish she has been expressing for the past 10 years or so in her riding.

At present, the sentence for multiple murders, for an individual who has killed several people, is only 25 years. With this bill, that sentence could be extended by 10 or 15 years, depending on what the judge decides.

Bill S-6 from the Senate provides for the elimination of the faint hope clause for offenders who have committed multiple crimes because the victims did not get the chance to be heard. Is the hon. member in favour of removing the faint hope clause as set out in Bill S-6?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 5:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Albina Guarnieri Liberal Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my fervent belief that there should not be disclaimers or fine print when it comes to the justice system. We should not have a judge proclaim himself or herself in court with one sentence and then suddenly find ourselves with a loophole and a way of circumventing what the judge has declared in court.

A judge hears the testimony, is there to witness the obscenity of the crime and is in a position to make a good determination about a fitting sentence.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 5:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-48.

I also believe th