Mr. Speaker, in a couple of hours this House will vote at third reading on a bill that we have had about three days to work on. Parliament is yet again being asked to vote on a bill with absolutely no idea whatsoever what the costs will be. Effectively, Parliament has a blindfold on and has been wished good luck. It will find out after the bill has been passed and the money has been long since spent what the financial implications are. This is no way to conduct business.
As I watched last night, we had a couple of hours to listen to witnesses and listen to serious concerns regarding this bill. Yet again there was a closure motion so we could only deal with it until 10 o'clock.
Here are the facts. This sudden urgency, this sudden flurry of activity that came from the government could have been easily avoided if it had listened over the last number of years when Liberal members said that we should make sure we fix this, that we should shut down the provisions that allow someone like Earl Jones or Mr. Lacroix to get out early. We have been very clear on that. We have consistently pushed for it. We did so in press releases. We did so at the justice committee, moving it as amendments. The government refused to act. Then Mr. Lacroix got out because of the government's inaction. The government was caught with its pants down. It was embarrassed and suddenly, there was a flurry of activity. Suddenly it said that we should adopt this overnight or we do not care about victims; adopt this overnight or we are on the side of criminals. It is a defensive argument and it debases this House.
I have sat here and I have listened to members talk about rape victims. Just yesterday a Conservative member stood in the House and said that there are certain members of Parliament, of course they were not named, who support organizations that do not want jail time for people who rape children. What on earth is happening to debate when the Conservatives do this kind of thing? This is debate about first-time non-violent offenders and there is someone standing in the House talking about raping children and saying there are members in the House who do not support tough sentences for somebody who commits a crime like that. That is shameful. It shows us how desperate the Conservatives are to put politics ahead of an honest debate.
Here is the honest truth. Over the last two years not only did we advocate for these types of provisions that would stop someone like Earl Jones from getting released early, but in committee last night I, along with Liberal members and members of the NDP, proposed a series of amendments to make it targeted.
We voted yesterday at second reading to have the ability at committee to debate this matter, to focus it and get rid of the most offensive provisions that touch on things that frankly none of the Conservatives has been talking about and to determine what the Conservatives say the stated purpose of the bill is. What did they do? They voted against those amendments. In recorded vote after recorded vote, they blocked our efforts to amend the legislation.
Then they had the audacity, the intellectual dishonesty, to stand in the House and say that we do not care about victims, that we want to let Earl Jones out. It is despicable and it is dishonest.
To say that we have fair differences, to say that between us there are bridges we cannot build, that we cannot find compromise in certain areas, that is fine. To say that we both care about public safety, we both want to make a difference but we have a different approach to how we want to achieve it, is fair. However, to stand in the House and say that certain members support criminals, certain members do not support victims, give me a break.
Every single one of us in the House was elected because we care about our communities and our families. Every single one of us in the House comes here every day to try to make a better country, a safer country, with less violence and fewer problems. When we cast aspersions like that, the only thing we do is turn off Canadians and have them tune out. They say that this is not real debate and is nothing but games.
What I am trying to do here, and what we have tried consistently to do over the last number of days, is to point out deep concerns we have with provisions in the bill that eliminate the accelerated parole process for everyone.
Why should we care about that? First of all, this bill does nothing for victims. I mentioned that in my question.
It is worth mentioning that the member for Brampton West asked a series of good questions to victims. He asked what was more important to them and what did they want to see. Their most emphatic responses were around things like restitution and the ability to get money back from the people who victimized them. These are people who lost their life savings. Their first priority is getting back those savings. Certainly one of the first priorities of the government should be to stand side by side with them and say it is going to do everything it can do to get that money back.
One victim talked about his concerns with the idea that somebody like Earl Jones would just leave the country with his hard-earned money. We should be there for the victim every step of the way.
We heard another victim talk about the tax complications that come with this kind of situation. There are tax difficulties. As a government, and I speak in the collective sense of parliamentarians, we should be seeking ways to give tax breaks and different ways of assisting people who have been in that situation to dig themselves out.
We certainly heard from victims about the importance of enforcement, about putting money into the RCMP. It was only two days ago we heard about deep cuts of some $20 million that had been made to the national police services, which now the RCMP has to fund because there is a shortfall from the federal government. This is for services as essential as the sex offender registry and CPIC. We also know about cuts that have been made to the RCMP task force on white-collar crime.
It strikes me as disingenuous to say that opposition members do not care about victims when we are saying we have to do more to stop there being victims in the first place. We watched more than 70% being slashed from the crime prevention budget. When I talk to not-for-profit groups across the country that do great work in trying to stop crime before it happens and they tell me that they have to focus all their attention and energy on maintaining what little federal funding they have left to stop crime in their communities, that is wrong. When we talk about prevention, it is specifically because we care about victimization. It is specifically because we want safer communities, that we want honest answers for them.
In those examples, by investing in community capacity, by investing in police resources, by passing bills like what we have been pushing for, for well over four years now, to give lawful access abilities to our police to chase after criminals who use electronic media to perpetrate their crimes, by enabling them in those ways, we stop there being victims in the first place.
For anybody who has been victimized, the first thing that goes through his or her mind is how to make sure the pain and hurt and suffering never happens again. How do we stop it? It is not just about punishment.
On the punishment front, I cede to the Conservatives. They want to out-punish us. That is fine. The question is: Where does that lead? If our only objective is punishment, if we do not invest in those things I was talking about around prevention, where all those cuts have been made, we do no service to victims.
The Conservatives hand-picked the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Steve Sullivan. When he came to the conclusion after working with the Conservative government that the Conservative plan for victims will not work and is the wrong direction to go, he was fired. He was let go only because he spoke out.
Why did he say this plan was broken and would not work? It was not just because the Conservatives cut more than 40% from the victims of crime initiative, an initiative that sought to break cycles of victims that feed criminality. We have to remember that many victims become criminals if we do not address the base pain of their victimization. He said that not nearly enough money was being put into prevention and because of the cuts he saw, not nearly enough resources were being put into policing and not nearly enough resources were being put into helping victims once they had been victimized. Those are the kinds of things we have to do.
The Conservative plan to chase after incarceration and only incarceration as the solution, and then to vilify anybody who suggests that we should also look at other ideas, has been tried before. I mention this because it is important before embarking on a new endeavour to ask if somebody has tried this before.
Here in Canada we enjoy very low crime rates. During the years of Liberal power, we saw the crime rate, year over year, go down. At the same time, we enjoyed very low rates of incarceration. In thinking about it, those things are actually symbiotic. If there is a low rate of incarceration and a small number of people in prison, it is because there is less crime and fewer criminals. If there are overflowing prisons, and we are building more and more and it is growing and growing, it is because we have a lot of crime. It is not a good indicator.
In Canada, we had a strong model and, if we are going to break from that, where are we going? This same hyper-partisan approach to crime was tried by Republicans in states like California where they tried to vilify people who talked about prevention and investing in rehabilitation and programs. They called them people who did not care about victims and talked about them in the same kind of hyper-partisan terms that we have seen on the other side. Then they proceeded down a path of building more and more prisons, just churning them out one after the other.
What happens? Let us look at this bill. This bill disproportionately affects women. Some 62% of the people who will be affected by this will be women. These are women who are coming out of vulnerable situations or who are in situations where they are in a bad relationship or bad associations and end up carrying, not necessarily drugs, but goods of some sort, such as stolen goods. They are probably doing it under duress because they are in a bad situation, an impoverished situation.
If those women are a first-time non-violent offenders, this bill would eliminate their opportunity to move into conditional release. What does throwing them in jail longer and potentially keeping them away from their children for longer periods of time? Does that promote public safety?
In the experience of California, it did not. What ended up happening was that when they took first-time non-violent offenders and put them in jail for longer periods of time, there was a degradation in their condition.
Now that the prisons are more full and more replete with first-time non-violent offenders, there is less money to go around, which means that programs and services will be less effective. We already see that happening here in Canada where there is less money for programs and services. The correctional investigator is saying that we have a developing crisis here and there just is not enough money to deal with all of the people coming in to make them better.
Offenders who go into prison for a minor crime, go into an environment that is overcrowded and that does not have the services to address their root condition, remembering that more than 80% of inmates suffer from addiction issues. In the women's population, a quarter suffer from serious mental health issues. We are giving no money to those issues. In fact, we see it starting to slip away more and more. We then release them and, in this case, it is six months or two years later, whatever the case may be.
What happens when they get out? They start committing more serious crimes. In California, this vicious cycle became so bad that the rate of recidivism, that rate of reoffending, was over 70%, which means that for every 10 people who walked out a prison door, 7 would commit a crime.
We heard an interesting statistic last night. The violent reoffending rate for people who have been accessing the program is 0.3%. We are tossing out the window a program that has a violent recidivism rate of 0.3%. The system we are emulating is the California model that sees violent recidivism rates, not only in the double digits, but over 20%. It does not seem to me like that is something we would want to chase.
The problem in this vicious cycle is that it keeps feeding itself, it keeps chugging. The more those services are cut, the more people who go into prisons and the more stretched we become, the less there is available.
In California's example, it eventually had to go to private prisons where the conditions got even worse, where double bunking became triple bunking and where the lack of services became a complete absence of services. I do not think that is a path we want to cross.
When we look at the bill, we should consider the fact that many legal experts, including the Barreau du Québec, say that it is unconstitutional as well, that the retroactive features contained within the bill are unconstitutional and will not stand up to challenge. It is probably the result of hastily crafted legislation that was done behind closed doors, did not involve the parties and rammed through in three days, but those sorts of things are important to look at.
In a broader sense, in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Cameron is undoing this kind of punishment agenda, while in the United States we see an undoing of this kind of agenda. Newt Gingrich, who is considered the father of this whole idea, is saying that it is broken and it does not work. Canadian Conservatives stand alone in the world, conspicuously so, in chasing after this disaster.
I will point to one other quick example before I make a couple of other points. We need to look at Florida versus the state of New York and the two approaches they took. New York decided that this kind of prison agenda was not making sense, so it actually reduced its overall incarceration rate by some 16%. At the same time, Florida continued charging forward with these types of conservative policies for non-violent offenders. The result was that Florida had an increase of 16% in its incarceration.
If we use Conservative logic, Florida should have been a Nirvana. Florida should have suddenly seen massive decreases in its crime. The opposite was true. Not only was Florida now burdened with billions of dollars in new costs, but its crime rate had gone up. Meanwhile, in New York, which saved billions of dollars and decreased incarceration, its crime rate went down. That is the case, the tale, everywhere it has been tried. This is not some debate in abstraction.
This is a debate with hard evidence and, if we care, not just about costs but also about victims, if we care about making a difference and making our communities safe and we are honest about that intention and not seeking to play politics, it takes longer to explain but it makes sense to do the right thing.
It is important to read the comments that came in from the correctional investigator. These are his statistics and the concerns that he expressed. He said, “The abolition of APR will result in non-violent offenders remaining in federal custody for significantly longer periods before being released into the community—this with limited net public safety benefit”.
He goes on to say, “We can also expect that the Parole Board of Canada will have to hold more hearings than before, as APR typically is conducted by a paper review. These associated costs, in addition to significant incarceration costs, are important and need to be calculated”.
“Of course, we have nothing. They refused to give us the figures”.
“Statistics show that overcrowding in prisons leads to higher levels of tension and violence and jeopardizes the safety of staff, inmates and visitors”.
He continues on to say, “With overcrowding, timely and comprehensive access to offender programs, treatment and meaningful employment opportunities are measurably diminished”.
He continues on to say, “Capacity is currently most limited at the most medium security level, where bulk of correctional programming is supposed to take place and this bill will negatively impact it”.
He goes on to talk about the overrepresentation of aboriginal people and how the bill will disproportionately impact them. He continues to say that the office is concerned, as I mentioned before, about women offenders and the fact that this disproportionately targets them. We must remember that for women offenders the cost of incarceration is anywhere from $180,000 to $250,000 a year.
These are not smart solutions. They are backward, failed Republican solutions and we do not need them here. We need to be smart, not dumb, on crime.