Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak during debate on Bill C-59, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accelerated parole review).
As you know, this bill is the result of an initiative by the leader of the Bloc Québécois, who went to see the Prime Minister. My friend the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin had introduced Bill C-434, if memory serves me. As a result of the Conservatives’ repeated refusal to agree to unanimous consent for the passage of that bill, the leader of the Bloc Québécois took the initiative of going to see the Prime Minister. They looked at whether there was a way of finding a simple bill that would meet the objective of abolishing parole after one-sixth of the sentence and on which the House might reach consensus.
I had the opportunity to meet with the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons to examine the principles on which a bill of this type might be introduced in this House, with, we hoped at that time, the support of all four parties.
Very quickly, in just over two weeks, we agreed on two principles. In fact, the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, who is also our justice critic, was with me at the time. The first principle was the abolition of parole after one-sixth of the sentence. In our bill, we were abolishing section 119.1 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which is the only section that refers directly to one-sixth of the sentence. So by abolishing that article, we ultimately abolished the possibility of parole being granted after one-sixth of the sentence.
The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons told us that sections 125 and 126 had to be abolished at the same time, and we had no problem with that. Once section 119.1 was abolished, sections 125, 126 and 126.1 served no purpose. We quickly agreed that we had the same objectives.
The first principle we agreed on and which is found in Bill C-59, is, as I mentioned, the abolition of the possibility of parole after one-sixth of the sentence, and thus of the accelerated review procedure.
The second principle we felt strongly about was not included in any of the Conservative government's bills on this subject. In fact, we know that Bill C-39, which includes a section on the elimination of the possibility of parole after one-sixth of the sentence, is currently being studied in committee. However, it does not immediately apply to those who have not yet been able to benefit from the one-sixth of sentence rule. So, the second principle that we were calling for and reached agreement on is that everyone who has been sentenced but has not yet been able to benefit from the current provision for parole after one-sixth of the sentence will now be subject to Bill C-59.
After talks with the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and officials from the departments of justice and public safety, we agreed that this was acceptable and represented the will of both parties. In addition, and I will come back to this later, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is being respected in all of this. Those were the two principles.
Next, there were meetings to ensure that the text reflected all of this. At the beginning, we thought about using part of a split version of Bill C-39 as the starting point, as happened with the issue of granting pardons last spring, if I remember correctly. In that case, Bill C-23 was split in two. Bill C-23A was fast-tracked here in the House and was passed by the parties. The other part, Bill C-23B, was sent to committee and followed the usual process. This was the first possibility we looked at.
We also looked at the possibility of using Bill C-434, which had been introduced by my colleague for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin. We quickly came to the conclusion that it would be better to have a new bill. That resulted in Bill C-59, which is before us now. Again, it contains the two principles that were agreed upon, namely the elimination of parole after one-sixth of the sentence and the fact that people like Earl Jones, who have been sentenced but have not been able to take advantage of parole after the one-sixth of sentence rule, would be subject to the new law set out in Bill C-59, once it receives royal assent, obviously.
The rest of the bill simply repeals sections that will no longer be necessary in the Criminal Code if sections 119.1, 125, 126 and 126.1 are repealed. The bill is about 10 pages long, but really, only three clauses are important: clauses 3, 5 and 10. No one should be using the bill's complexity as an excuse for any delay in studying it, as the Liberals and NDP have done.
As I was saying, it is a very simple bill that directly targets the objectives we intended. My initial contact with the Liberals and NDP led me to believe that we would have the support of those parties. Why did they change their minds in the middle of the process? I do not know, but it certainly cannot be because of the supposed complexity of the bill, especially since we have been debating this notion in the House for some time now.
I would remind the House that the Bloc Québécois has been proposing this since 2007. Thus, it was not the whole saga surrounding Vincent Lacroix's release after serving just one-sixth of his sentence that led us to promote the abolition of the one-sixth rule.
I will remind the House of certain things that have happened since 2006 that make a good argument for repealing the provisions that allow parole after one-sixth of a sentence is served for a very simple issue, and that argument is, simply, the credibility of the judicial system and the credibility of the sentences handed down by judges. I concur with my hon. colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin: our primary concern is to ensure that the entire judicial system—the judiciary and the sentences handed down by the courts—is considered credible in the eyes of the public, has public support and has the public's trust. Certain criteria must be met in order to benefit from parole at one-sixth of the sentence. We must acknowledge that for the past few years, parole at one-sixth of a sentence has been almost automatic and the conditions have been extremely relaxed and lenient, which has undermined the public's trust a great deal. This is true in both Quebec and Canada, and has affected the entire judicial system and how easy it has been for some criminals, particularly white collar criminals, to take advantage of the parole at one-sixth rule.
I will only talk about a few cases. In July 2006, Paul Coffin, who was involved in the sponsorship scandal, was released after serving one-sixth of his 18-month sentence. Members who have been around for a few years, like me, will remember. In 2006, that shocked a lot of people. In fact, the sponsorship scandal represented a turning point regarding trust in the Liberal Party of Canada.
On November 3, 2006, Jean Brault, another person involved in the sponsorship scandal, was released on parole after having served six months of his 42-month sentence. I can say that that was also a shock for many of us and for many Quebeckers, in particular, but I am sure that English Canada was just as shocked. I remind members that Jean Brault played a very key role in the sponsorship scandal. He practically bragged about it throughout the Gomery inquiry.
In June 2007, as a reaction to these two paroles after one-sixth of the sentence was served, we proposed that this procedure that enabled to fraudsters to serve a tiny fraction of their sentence be abolished, and that was made public. Our critic at the time was Réal Ménard. This goes back some time, since he is no longer here and is no longer the member for Hochelaga. As we know, he was replaced by my colleague, who is the current finance critic. This idea was presented in our justice plan. It was even included in a bill that Mr. Ménard was prepared to introduce before he decided to leave federal politics for municipal politics.
That is when we started promoting this idea of eliminating parole after one-sixth of the sentence. In December 2007, Vincent Lacroix was released for his first federal offence after one-sixth of his sentence.
On August 26, 2008, Jean Lafleur, another figure in the sponsorship scandal, was released after serving seven months of a 42-month sentence. We are talking about three cases, apart from the issues around Vincent Lacroix or Earl Jones, that are related to fraud and attempts to break the rules.
September 2009 was the first time we asked to fast-track Bill C-434, introduced by our justice critic, the hon. member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin. The only people who opposed the idea at the time were the Conservatives. I remember it quite well: we did not hear a single no from the Liberals or the NDP.
On October 26, 2009, the government introduced Bill C-53 to eliminate the one-sixth sentence, which reached first reading stage only. It was clearly a reaction to the introduction of Bill C-434 by the Bloc Québécois. I must point out that during all that time, every time we sought consent or we asked questions as to why they were opposed to fast-tracking our Bill C-434 to eliminate the chance for parole after one-sixth of the sentence, those sitting on the Conservative benches told us it was very complicated, that they needed to take a thorough look at it and that we could not move forward in this manner.
I am glad the Conservatives have realized that it was not so complicated and that it was just a matter of two small, very simple principles and three key clauses. For the rest, it was just a matter of repealing clauses in order to be consistent with abolishing the clauses I mentioned earlier in my speech.
We introduced our own bill and prompted the government to follow suit. The Conservative government recognized the importance of eliminating the chance for parole after one-sixth of the sentence, but for partisan reasons, it would prefer to pass a government bill instead of a Bloc bill.
Two years ago, on February 15, 2009, Joseph Charles Guité was released on parole after serving six months of a 42-month sentence. This is yet another example. Had the government co-operated with us from the beginning and had the opposition parties, the Liberals and the New Democrats, been willing to be more objective and less partisan, we could have ensured that Guité was not released from prison in 2009 after serving only one-sixth of his sentence.
We brought this issue forward again on March 4, 2010, seeking unanimous consent to quickly pass the Bloc Québécois bill. Once again, only the Conservatives opposed the bill. For the second time, the Liberals and the NDP did not oppose passing this bill quickly. Once again, we were unable to prevent the release of Vincent Lacroix after he served only one-sixth of his sentence. As the hon. members surely know, this happened on January 27. This time it was for sentences for criminal wrongdoing.
During this time, the Prime Minister called an election and Parliament was prorogued for partisan reasons. All of this caused undue delays in the passing of a bill that would have abolished the practice of parole after one-sixth of the sentence. The government revisited this issue on June 15, 2010, and introduced Bill C-39 to abolish the practice of parole after one-sixth of the sentence, among other things. This bill was passed at second reading and will go to committee. Clearly, the government will have to propose amendments so that Bill C-39 does not duplicate the provisions of Bill C-59, but that is the government's problem. There are other provisions of Bill C-39 that warrant closer examination.
If Bill C-59 is passed, it must apply to Earl Jones, who could be released next fall after serving one-sixth of his sentence. It is therefore urgent in this case, and in others, to ensure that Earl Jones will not take advantage of current provisions.
Once again, we are reaching out to the members of the New Democratic Party and the Liberal Party to ensure that the bill to abolish parole after serving one-sixth of a sentence is passed quickly this week. I know that the committee will study the matter this evening. It will be an opportunity for further consideration of the issue. Once again, this bill contains three main clauses, and the remaining provisions are just consequential amendments.
In the time remaining, I would like to discuss the importance of passing this bill. As I have said from the beginning, it is a question of the credibility of the judicial system and the credibility of sentences handed down by judges. And it is compatible with the desire to have a system of rehabilitation. After one-sixth of a sentence, there will still be one-third. There are other opportunities for parole before the end of the sentence. However, we believe one-sixth is definitely not enough.
As I mentioned, such parole is almost automatic. We know that to take advantage of current provisions, and to be released on day parole, the offender must be serving a sentence in a federal institution—thus, a sentence of two or more years. And the crime committed must not have been a violent crime, related to a criminal organization, terrorism or a crime of a sexual nature. Furthermore, the offender cannot have been an accomplice in such an offence and, if he applies for this parole, he must not be subject to an order requiring him to serve at least of half of the sentence for a drug-related offence; it must be a first federal offence committed prior to the first stay in prison. Vincent Lacroix—and this is what is absurd about the law—was able to benefit twice from the one-sixth clause because, with respect to the federal offence committed, he had already been paroled when he was found guilty of his criminal offence. As a last condition, the offender must not be likely to commit a violent crime.
As you can see, there are many criminals who meet these criteria, including the big embezzlers who, for the past few years, have plagued the financial sector.
We believe that, because of issues related to the system's credibility, the practice of granting parole after one-sixth of a sentence must be abolished. I also mentioned that we are calling on the government, which has agreed to our arguments, to make the new provisions of Bill C-59 immediately applicable to all criminals, even those who have already been sentenced, as soon as the bill receives royal assent. It is important to note this, since some people suggest that there may be problems from a constitutional perspective.
Section 11(i) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms reads:
Any person charged with an offence has the right
(i) if found guilty of the offence and if the punishment for the offence has been varied between the time of commission and the time of sentencing, to the benefit of the lesser punishment.
This clearly pertains to the sentence. That is what this section is referring to. It is not referring to the application of the sentence.
Earl Jones' sentence is known. Parole after one-sixth of a sentence is an application of the sentence. Bill C-59 does not alter Earl Jones' sentence and the provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms simply does not apply. Some are using this argument; however, it is a false argument designed to put off a decision that must be made.
Once again, I call on the New Democratic Party and the official opposition to show their generosity and intelligence by joining us in quickly passing Bill C-59 at all stages.