Respecting Families of Murdered and Brutalized Persons Act

An Act to amend the Criminal Code (increasing parole ineligibility)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

This bill was previously introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

James Bezan  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Dead, as of Oct. 23, 2013
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to provide that a person convicted of the abduction, sexual assault and murder of one victim is to be sentenced to imprisonment for life without eligibility for parole until the person has served a sentence of between twenty-five and forty years as determined by the presiding judge after considering the recommendation, if any, of the jury.

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.

Votes

June 5, 2013 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Respecting Families of Murdered and Brutalized Persons ActPrivate Members' Business

June 4th, 2013 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on Bill C-478. I would like to begin by recognizing the member for Selkirk—Interlake for his considerable efforts in bringing this important bill forward. I would also like to share with all the members of this place why Bill C-478 is of great importance to the citizens of Okanagan—Coquihalla.

As some members may well know, Westbank, sometimes referred to as West Kelowna, is a community in the heart of my riding. Many years ago a local Westbank family set off to the back country for a scenic family camping trip. The family was made up of proud grandparents George and Edith Bentley, their daughter Jackie and her husband Bob Johnson, along with their granddaughters Janet, who was 13 at the time, and her 11-year-old sister Karen. The destination was scenic Wells Gray Provincial Park for a two-week camping adventure. We can imagine how close and tightly knit this family was in planning for two weeks together, enjoying all of the special moments that life brings us.

A little over two weeks later, Bob Johnson failed to show up for work. This would be the first time in over 20 years that Bob Johnson had missed a day of work.

I will apologize to the House in advance. The details I am going to share next are unpleasant. They are vile. They are disturbing. However, I believe they are necessary, for it is precisely these situations that speak to the necessity and importance of Bill C-478.

After the Johnson-Bentley family disappeared, a large-scale search and rescue operation was led by the RCMP. If ever there were a reminder of the challenging and difficult work that RCMP members perform, this would be it. One cannot fathom the shock and horror of finally locating the family vehicle of Bob Johnson after a month of searching. Inside the car were the burnt bodies of Bob, his wife Jackie, and her parents George and Edith.

Sadly, it did not end there. Located inside the trunk were the burnt bodies of the grandchildren, 13-year-old Janet and her 11-year-old sister Karen. All had been executed. They had been murdered: shot in the head with a .22 calibre bullet.

It still did not end there. The RCMP later learned that the monster responsible had first killed the four adults and then abducted the two granddaughters. For six days, this monster did unspeakable things to the girls, before finally murdering them and burning them in the Johnson family car along with their parents and grandparents.

Truly, this is one of the most horrific and disturbing acts imaginable.

In 2008, the monster responsible for these heinous acts, David Shearing, applied for parole, only now he goes by a different name. His name is now David Ennis, assumedly so that if he obtains parole he can more easily disappear into an unsuspecting public.

When citizens in Westbank learned of this parole application, they were shocked, terrified and angry. They were again being victimized by the senseless murder that took away their family, friends, co-workers and neighbours. They took action, and soon a petition with over 9,000 names was sent to the Parole Board of Canada to oppose parole for this monster.

I was elected in 2011, and to this very day I hear from citizens in Logan Lake, Westbank and Merritt that they are fearful of this monster. They fear that he will be paroled and will return to the region where he once lived and committed these disturbing acts that took so many innocent victims. That is why I am here today speaking in strong support of Bill C-478 on behalf of the family, friends and co-workers, who went through the parole process and are forced to revisit this tragedy far too frequently.

I apologize for sharing these details with the House. However, all too often when we talk about bills like Bill C-478, I find the victims are often neglected, if not forgotten.

In fact, I have reviewed close to 20 different media stories on Bill C-478, and not one of them mentioned David Shearing, who now goes by David Ennis. However, murdering monsters like David Shearing are certainly not alone. Paul Bernardo, Robert Pickton, Russell Williams and Clifford Olson are other examples of people who have taken lives and continue to haunt the victims through the parole process. I submit that this is wrong and that Bill C-478 is a needed and necessary step to end the ongoing suffering of victims. It cannot and should not be allowed to continue to occur.

I believe it is also important that we recognize what Bill C-478 ultimately proposes to do. Bill C-478 would not guarantee a 40-year sentence, as some media stories have suggested. This bill is specific on applying to those individuals who have committed the most serious of combined crimes that include abduction, sexual assault and murder. This bill does not propose minimum sentences for those who have committed these disturbing acts, but rather would provide new tools for judges in sentencing.

I believe it is also important to recognize that research has indicated that individuals who commit these most serious of crimes have yet to be successful in being paroled. Some would ask why there should be a change of the parole eligibility if the most serious of criminals in fact are not successful at being paroled. The answer from the citizens of Okanagan—Coquihalla is to please stop this ongoing parole process that revictimizes innocent friends, family and neighbours, and causes citizens to live in fear. Bill C-478 would create legal tools that would allow judges the discretion to do precisely that, and that is why I encourage all members of the House to vote in support of it.

Before I close, I would like to share a few further thoughts with my hon. colleagues. In 2011, a life was tragically taken in a senseless and brutal act of domestic violence in my riding. The family members now wear a tattoo of a dragonfly in memory of their lost loved one as they seek justice for this tragedy. A tattoo, much like the scars of loss through victimization, is something that lasts a lifetime.

The final point I would like to share stems from last September. It was in September of last year that a parole hearing was held in Bowden, Alberta for David Shearing. Some 30 years after this horrific event occurred, over two dozen friends and family members of the Johnson and Bentley families were forced to travel a great distance to appear at a parole hearing to relive this brutal act of unspeakable tragedy. Let us all take a moment to reflect on that.

At a time of year when children and families are excitedly getting ready for a new year of school, the Johnson and Bentley families were forced on a journey of great distance, only to arrive in time to relive a life-altering tragedy and face the monster who forever destroyed their families. How many times should the Johnson and Bentley families be forced to make this journey and relive this horror? It should not have to be this way. No family should be forced to endure what has happened to the Johnsons and Bentleys and that continues to occur as they relive this horrific event over and over at parole hearings.

In closing, I would like to thank the members of the House for taking the time to listen to the concerns of my constituents. This is not a subject or speech that I take any pleasure in sharing. However, there are times where we, as parliamentarians, have an opportunity to speak out on the matters of great concern to the citizens we represent, and this is certainly important to my riding.

Let us never forget the victims. I ask that all members of the House support victims of very serious crimes by voting in favour of Bill C-478.

Respecting Families of Murdered and Brutalized Persons ActPrivate Members' Business

June 4th, 2013 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Isabelle Morin NDP Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am not a lawyer and I am not a judge, but as a member of Parliament I am a student of the law and a lawmaker. I speak for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine to represent the interests of the people in my riding. This allows me to understand and bring forward the concerns of regular Canadians.

Like my colleagues, I am here to study Bill C-478, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (increasing parole ineligibility).

I have several concerns with this bill and cannot vote in favour of it in its current state. The whole idea of changing sentencing to imprisonment for life without eligibility for parole from 25 to 40 years seems quite arbitrary. In fact, I ask the member opposite who proposed this bill to explain his reason for choosing 40 years. Why should it not be 35, 75 or 100 years? What motivated his decision to change the Criminal Code of this country?

Many of my colleagues opposite will state that they are moved by victims' rights as if this were a black and white issue, but one cannot be either for or against victims' rights. I believe that all parliamentarians care deeply about victims' rights, and the Conservative government does not have a monopoly on that.

The NDP remains sensitive to the extremely difficult situations that victims and their families may have experienced, but Bill C-478 is not a bill about victim care or victim services, and I am not sure that it is even in accordance with the Charter of Rights and the Constitution of this country: the bill is about sentencing, tougher punishments and a Conservative tough on crime agenda.

The Conservative government has developed a tradition of bringing forward measures to amend the Criminal Code through private members' bills, and this is another example. I ask the member opposite who sponsored this bill why he chose to have this issue addressed as a private member's bill when we know that it is not reviewed by the Department of Justice to ensure it is in accordance with the Charter of Rights and the Constitution.

As I mentioned earlier, I am neither a lawyer nor a judge. Therefore, I will refer to the experts and quote Steve Sullivan, first ombudsman for victims of crime, who stated this legislation was nothing but “smoke and mirrors”. He said he “did not believe that many judges would sentence a criminal to life in prison for 40 years without the right to parole”. Judges simply would not do this. He said that “a life sentence of 25 years already means that a person who presents a danger or a risk will not have access to a parole hearing, although the family must still be present at hearings, and that this would apply to a very small number of criminals, those who abduct, rape and murder one victim”.

He pointed out that “such sordid crimes are rather rare” and that “this measure would be used a few times a year at best, but would not change anything for the victims' families”.

If the law works as it is currently and it is used by judges efficiently, why suggest Bill C-478, if not for a political agenda?

I would also like to quote two other experts who spoke to this bill. They lead me to believe that this is not a bill that we as parliamentarians should support. I would like to share what Michael Spratt, president of the Criminal Lawyers' Association of Ontario, had to say. According to him, Bill C-478 is superfluous and does nothing for the victims of crime.

For 10 minutes, the government member has been saying that the purpose of this bill is to protect victims' rights. I am sorry, but this changes absolutely nothing for victims. It extends the punishment, that is true. However, it does not change the fact that the victim suffered the crime.

I used to work as a teacher in a prison. I know that the current system will not make things any better for the victims as long as we do not have a better rehabilitation system, a better system for helping inmates not to reoffend, and as long as we do not have psychologists.

On the contrary, criminals will be kept in prison longer. We will wait until they have learned better tricks and then we will release them. Prisoners teach each other their tricks. They tell each other everything they did and they make plans. Often this is because they are not getting psychological help and they have nothing else to do. Then we release them. If we wait an extra 15 years will that really change anything? I am not so sure.

According to Michael Spratt, even if the purpose of the bill is to spare families from having to attend parole hearings, the truth is that a person who commits first degree murder has to serve a minimum of 25 years before he is eligible for a parole hearing.

Mr. Spratt says that second degree murder cases have hearings every two years. He adds that, by extending the period of ineligibility for parole from 25 years to 40 years—and why not 100 years while we are at it—there is a big chance that we will encounter constitutional challenges or that we could be violating the charter. According to him, the result would likely be that people would no longer plead guilty, which would jam up the justice system. Any hope for rehabilitation and any related incentives would be lost.

Prisons should be full of hope for rehabilitation. We send people there to have them pay for a crime they committed against society; everyone understands that principle. However, rehabilitation is the important part of the process. I do not believe that an extra 15 years in prison will make someone a better citizen when they are released. Yet that is what the goal should be.

Michael Spratt added that there could be a disproportionate impact on third parties, such as people who join a gang and have to go through an initiation. He said that the bill does not do anything for victims of crime and their families.

I would like to share what the Canadian Bar Association said about this bill:

Finally, the CBA Section does not believe that Canadians would benefit from a system where individuals are condemned to spend their entire lives behind bars, with no hope of ever being released. Even those convicted of homicide, the most serious of all crimes, should know there is some slim possibility, after serving lengthy periods of their sentence behind bars, of being released into the community and contributing to society, provided that their behaviour while incarcerated makes them deserving of such a privilege.

All of the experts agree that rehabilitation is important. That is the impression I get from these texts.

Our prison system is designed to make criminals serve a sentence and pay society back for the crime they committed with years of their life. However, I will say it again: no one is going to help these victims, despite what the Conservatives are saying. Instead, this bill will add 15 years to a prisoner's sentence but will not provide additional rehabilitation services or education for prisoners who are released from prison and who could give back to society.

The quote continues:

Further, release does not erase the fact that those convicted offenders are still serving life sentences. They continue to be subject to appropriate supervision, and to suspension and potential revocation of parole for a minor breach, or even in anticipation of any breach to protect society.

What these experts are saying is very clear. The president of the Criminal Lawyers' Association of Ontario, the first ombudsman for victims of crime and the Canadian Bar Association therefore oppose this bill. These are experts who must be trusted.

To conclude, the government claims that the purpose of Bill C-478 is to support victims of crime, but a deeper look will show otherwise. According to case law, this affects very few offenders already serving a life sentence, and it will benefit very few families. The Conservatives are still trying to pull the wool over our eyes, as they often do. They have—through a backbencher, no less—introduced a bill that may conflict with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

For all these reasons, I must oppose this bill. I hope all my colleagues in the House will do the same.

Respecting Families of Murdered and Brutalized Persons ActPrivate Members' Business

June 4th, 2013 / 5:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-478.

As my colleagues have already said, this bill amends the Criminal Code to provide that a person convicted of the abduction, sexual assault and murder of one victim is to be sentenced to imprisonment for life without eligibility for parole until the person has served a sentence of between 25 and 40 years as determined by the presiding judge after considering the recommendation, if any, of the jury.

As my Liberal colleague, the member for Halifax West, stated during the last debate on the bill, we Liberals will be supporting this matter at second reading. We support the principle behind the legislation—that is, we agree that those who are convicted of abduction, sexual assault and murder of one victim should not easily receive parole.

Many community organizations, including the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, also support this bill.

While we are fortunate that such brutality is rare in Canada, we know all too well that this evil does exist. Just this time last year, the nation was gripped with headlines of Luka Magnotta, who is alleged to have killed, raped and dismembered his victim. He is presently awaiting trial on charges including murder and committing an indignity to a body.

Also at this time last year, a sentence was handed down in the case of Michael Rafferty of Woodstock, Ontario, who along with Terri-Lynne McClintic was arrested and charged in the abduction and murder of eight-year-old Victoria Stafford. Both are serving life sentences with no chance of parole for 25 years, Rafferty having been found guilty of first degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping.

These names and these cases, like those of Paul Bernardo, Russell Williams and Clifford Olson, clearly prove that this evil does exist in Canada and force us to evaluate the need to amend our Criminal Code accordingly.

Of course, the question might arise as to whether the existing regime is sufficient. All these individuals I have named have been punished, and many will not be out for parole for quite some time.

The answer is that this bill, as the mover noted, is not about punishment. Indeed, it does not increase penalties for any of the associated offences. What Bill C-478 does, however, is extend the period of parole ineligibility to relieve grieving families of the burden of having to relive their awful torment every two years once the offender becomes eligible to seek parole. Indeed, the bill is about ending the re-victimization of families.

It should be noted that the 40-year period that the bill speaks to is not a requirement. Judges are given necessary discretion on this particular point.

That is not to say that the bill is a flawless piece of legislation. These being private members' bills produced with the limited resources that we have as members of Parliament, there are going to be some flaws. Hopefully, at committee we will work hard to make sure that these are perfect bills when they come out of committee.

My colleagues from the NDP have raised concerns regarding its compliance with the charter and with the Rome statute. I am sure these will be questions put to the technical witnesses at the justice committee for which they will undoubtedly have well-researched answers. Surely amendments could then be moved if needed to clarify both our desire to comply with our domestic and international obligations and our desire to achieve our aim of a longer period of parole ineligibility for certain types of offenders.

It is not often that I am able to address the House on matters of criminal justice policy. I am delighted to do so today and I am delighted that the bill before us is not one of the usual mandatory minimum penalty bills that the Liberal Party opposes on policy grounds.

Much of the discussion in the House on justice policy of late has focused on the idea of victims' rights. I am proud to be part of a party that takes the rights of victims seriously and has matched this commitment in word and in action.

On November 1, 2005, the Government of Canada established the National Office for Victims at Public Safety Canada. This office is a single point of contact for victims who have concerns about offenders and questions about the federal correctional system and Canada's justice system.

The office provides victims with information and provides input on policy and legislative initiatives. It also attempts to educate members of the criminal justice system about victims' issues.

Further, although it has perhaps been overlooked in the current debate over Bill C-54, the Liberals proposed the initial amendments to the not criminally responsible regime that permitted a victim to read a victim impact statement at a review board hearing and required courts or review boards to advise a victim of his or her right to submit a victim impact statement at the initial disposition hearing for the accused.

Before closing, I must address one troublesome aspect of the bill as it is before us, not in substance but in form; namely, it is a piece of private member's business that has been endorsed by the Prime Minister and Minister of Justice as a worthwhile and necessary change to the law. Yet, it is something that would have been adopted much faster had it been introduced and advanced as government legislation. Indeed, why was this not part of the crime omnibus bill, Bill C-10? Or, more pertinently, why was this amendment not included in 2011 when Parliament debated Bill S-6, the serious time for the most serious crime act? Surely the government will agree these are serious crimes that deserve serious time.

My point is that the government has had ample opportunity to make this change to the law without having to use private members' hour to advance its agenda. It is a troubling trend because the use of private members' bills limits debate and circumvents charter review, something which is completed by the Department of Justice for only government bills and not private members' bills like Bill C-478.

Another troubling trend is that the Conservatives' justice agenda focuses on punishment without bearing in mind as well the need to adopt preventative measures designed to reduce the number of victims in the first place. Wow. For some types of offences, we should focus on root causes of crime, such as poverty, lack of education, and lack of access to affordable housing. For other types of crime, we should be looking at mental health initiatives for early screening and detection such that individuals may be diverted into the treatment programs they need.

Regrettably, changing sentencing and parole rules, however welcome some changes may be, does not prevent victimization. We must ensure a holistic approach is taken to justice, one that seeks to prevent crime, one that seeks to adequately punish the offender, and one that seeks to better reintegrate offenders into society once they have served their sentences.

In short, there is much more to be done, and Bill C-478 is not a magic bullet to solving the problem of crime in this country. However, as I stated at the outset, I believe the principle behind this bill has merit and thus I will be voting to send it to committee for further study and review.

Respecting Families of Murdered and Brutalized Persons ActPrivate Members' Business

June 4th, 2013 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak in support of the private member's bill proposed by the member for Selkirk—Interlake this evening.

Bill C-478, the respecting families of murdered and brutalized persons act, addresses a critical flaw in the current parole process, the revictimization of victims and their families, most particularly when it comes to the most heinous of crimes of murder, abduction, and sexual assault. These are the most heinous of crimes.

Four weeks ago when I stood to speak to my own private member's bill which deals with fairness for victims of violent offenders, I spoke about my experiences when I attended the Parole Board of Canada hearings with two constituents and their extended families in 2010 and 2011. To say it was an experience of raw emotion would be a vast understatement. I do not think words can accurately describe the range of emotions that existed in that room. There was the anger and frustration, the injustice and fatigue of having to go through the process once again. More than anything else, there was the overwhelming grief, sorrow, and pain of loss.

While I can only draw on what I saw on those two separate occasions, what I saw told me very clearly that a loss or losses which occurred three decades previous seems like only yesterday to a victim or a victim's family.

I met the week before last with the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Ms. Sue O'Sullivan. She agrees it is a revictimization inflicted by the parole process and is most disheartening according to the countless victims her office has interacted with to date.

In July, my constituents will be attending the next Parole Board of Canada hearing of the murderer of their sister, niece and nephew, and I will once again accompany them to observe the process. However, I have no doubt that the day will trigger all the emotions again, and my constituent will weep openly from the moment she begins to read her victim impact statement. I suspect she and her parents are already experiencing periods of great sadness and anxiety in anticipation of that day.

I talk about what I saw in those Parole Board hearings once again in this debate on Bill C-478 because I think it illustrates the issue of revictimization. Just as my colleague from Okanagan—Coquihalla had a very painful personal experience with a victim's family with respect to a murderous crime, so have I. Our stories are representative of thousands of victims and families, and this grows substantially every year.

The triple murder was the subject of the Parole Board hearings I attended with my constituents, fortunately not matters that included abduction and sexual assault. I can only imagine how much more emotionally taxing that would be on the families. I can only imagine it would be exponential no doubt.

In the specific types of cases that Bill C-478 addresses, those of abduction, sexual assault, and murder, the parole process is particularly cruel because it is unnecessary. The criminals who commit those types of crimes are never granted parole. They are so sadistic that the intent of the law is to lock them up for life to keep them off the streets.

Whether it is Paul Bernardo, Robert Pickton, or Clifford Olson, we as a society know that parole will never and must never happen. However, under the current law, the Parole Board of Canada must hold a parole hearing for these depraved murderers every two years after the 25-year parole ineligibility period has expired.

Clifford Olson, though now dead, was never going to get out of jail, nor should he. Yet the families whose lives he changed forever had to face him every two years. They would be doing that today still, if not for his death. That is beyond cruel because it is completely unnecessary.

If we pass Bill C-478, the judge and the jury will have the discretion to extend the parole ineligibility period from 25 years to 40 years. That does not mean they will automatically choose the period of 40 years, but it will give the judge, as a professional determining the sentence for the crime, the tools to do so if she or he feels that should be the case in the best interests of society; if she or he feels it is warranted, given the inherent evil that would drive an offender to commit such a crime; if she or he feels this will spare the families of the victim, or in all too many types of cases, the victims from being victimized again and again.

As has been noted already in this debate, 40 years is what the maximum parole ineligibility period would be if each of the three crimes of abduction, sexual assault, and murder were treated consecutively; that is, 25 years for murder, 10 years maximum for abduction, and 4.6 years maximum for sexual assault.

The problem is clear and the solution proposed by the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake in Bill C-478 is straightforward. It prevents further pain and suffering and it is just. I applaud him for bringing this bill forward.

As I have said many times before, I believe one of the fundamental responsibilities of the state is to keep its citizens safe. Those who abduct innocent victims for sex and then murder them have committed an unspeakable crime. We cannot give the families back their son or daughter, husband or wife, cousin, niece or nephew, but we can prevent them from being revictimized by the process.

Before closing, please allow me to reiterate some of the comments from victims that I referred to a few weeks ago, because it is the voice of those victimized that has been missing from this debate in the past, and it is what we must listen to in consideration of Bill C-478.

This was stated in the Toronto Star on April 9, 2007:

“Families have already been victimized once. They shouldn't have to be victimized every two years. Having to face a loved one's killer and to read what he did to her and how her death has affected our lives is something nobody should ever have to do once, never mind twice.”

In reference to the Clifford Olson case, which I spoke about already this afternoon, a journalist in the Vancouver Province said:

Olson, 70, who seems to take pleasure in revictimizing the families of those he killed, is automatically eligible for parole every two years until the day he dies.

In that same newspaper, the mother of one of Olson's victims put it quite simply:

“To have to relive this [parole hearing] every two years, it's so inhumane. It really is.”

Let us not forget those words as we continue to consider Bill C-478 and its efforts to prevent those unnecessary hearings in cases that really are the worst of the worst.

I have appreciated the opportunity to speak to Bill C-478. I thank my colleague for putting the bill forward. I hope that all members of this House, after thinking it through and understanding clearly what this means, will vote for Bill C-478.

Respecting Families of Murdered and Brutalized Persons ActPrivate Members' Business

June 4th, 2013 / 6:05 p.m.
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NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, today I will continue to talk to the Canadian public about my observations on the sectarian nature of the process the government has used to enact public policy since it took power.

I wish to point out to Canadians that Bill C-478 on increasing parole ineligibility is nothing more than the Conservative government’s nth attempt to introduce measures to amend the Criminal Code by means of private member’s bills from the back benches, which are in fact very vocal at the moment.

Over the past two years, I have noticed that the government has used many different tactics to introduce programs that are first and foremost of interest to very specific social classes and segments of Canada’s population, and to influential lobby groups that have the government’s ear.

Some may find private member’s bills particularly useful, in part because there may not be public approval, and also because the government is not as involved as it would be with a formal government bill.

Private member’s bills are all too often introduced to sound out public opinion and to please a very specific segment of the population and the lobby groups, as I already mentioned. They are also used to boost the party's popularity, all with a view to electioneering and marketing.

I have noticed far too often that the Conservatives see public policy enactment and implementation as a form of commodity trading or marketing. The government views public policy as a corporation would. This has happened far too often with advertising for the 2013 and 2015 economic action plans. I do not know the exact title, but it is copyrighted. In short, the advertising campaigns and the associated hype give us a hint of how much effort has been made on the marketing front to publish, fine tune and polish their image.

However, they are not fooling anyone. People with natural curiosity can clearly see what the government is really trying to do. When the advertising shows green fields, families and streams—and people know full well that the economic action plan focuses on extracting natural resources—many are stunned.

This backbench private member’s bill does nothing to burnish the Conservatives’ image, which clearly needs a great deal of polishing and chrome, because their popularity is in free fall at the moment. I want to remind everyone of this and will continue to hammer the point home. The timing is good. The conditions are right.

I would like to reiterate one more time, even though all my colleagues already agree, that the Conservatives’ image is definitely now in decline. That is why we are trying to rally the membership base that has supported us from the outset—

Respecting Families of Murdered and Brutalized Persons ActPrivate Members' Business

June 4th, 2013 / 6:10 p.m.
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Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I know it is rare to have filibusters take place in private members' business. It is important that we respect the rules of the House, which means the debate has to be relevant to what is taking place. None of the comments that have been made in the last minute and a half have been relevant to Bill C-478. I would ask that the member be brought to order and that he follow the rules of the House.

Respecting Families of Murdered and Brutalized Persons ActPrivate Members' Business

June 4th, 2013 / 6:10 p.m.
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NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I understand that this has been a rather long day. As well, some rather lively discussion is taking place at this time. If the Canadian public had access to all this shilly-shallying, it would be an excellent thing.

In line with the Conservatives’ idea of developing and adopting public policies with which they can make political and media hay, the bill under consideration will have only a tenuous connection with reality in the courts of this country.

I remind members that I am, first and foremost, a criminal lawyer. I am therefore going to substantiate my argument by using concrete, empirical examples, much as some may not like it.

In Canada, there are not many incidents associated with offenders convicted of abduction or sexual assault followed by murder. When I say “not many”, that does not mean there is not very heavy media coverage associated with the very limited number of such cases.

The Conservatives’ idea is that they are going to make political hay; they are going to try to start it all up again and engage in sensationalism, since these cases get very good coverage. They are simply going to try to polish their image by showing they are on the side of victims and they are going to do something. There is only a very tenuous connection with reality in the courts and on the incidence of this kind of case.

I handled several hundred cases when I worked for legal aid, and several hundred more when I opened my own private practice, but I have never had to handle this kind of case. In 2007, after I was called to the bar, I handled some fairly sordid homicide cases, the details of which I will spare you. Nonetheless, I have never had to take on a case involving an abduction or a sexual assault followed by a murder. That type of case is quite rare.

I would note that in this kind of case, one or two incidents a year are observed in the case reports, in the whole of Canada, and the individuals are already sentenced to imprisonment for life. We therefore cannot help but draw conclusions and make certain inferences: that this is simply publicity hype and a desire to curry favour with groups that are clearly identified in advance.

In the context of this analysis, we also need to weigh the risks associated with initiatives relating to the imposition of maximum sentences. If Canada no longer bases its rules on a 25-year maximum, people will argue that various combined offences should be treated the same way.

When I am writing my speeches, I wonder how my practice is doing. I do intend to return to my practice in the near or distant future. I wonder how thick my Criminal Code is going to be when I go back into court. What will my criminal law practice be like? Will my criminal practice, for me as defence counsel, be significantly different as a result of the very substantial amendments that have been promulgated in recent years?

Over the past little while, we have been going off on this continuous and very pronounced and deliberate march to the right. I have some acquaintances with whom I worked for years, and over the summer I am going to do some research in order to get an answer, and I am going to ask some Crown prosecutors to verify whether their practices and the measures and directives that have come their way have been altered in the last two years.

I will hold back some of my observations, given the potentially controversial nature of this subject.

I submit this respectfully.

Respecting Families of Murdered and Brutalized Persons ActPrivate Members' Business

June 4th, 2013 / 6:15 p.m.
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Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to reply to the comments that have been made in the House over the last two hours of debate. I want to thank those members who have spoken out in favour of my bill and the importance of it and how it stands up for victims and the re-victimization that they face every time they have to attend an unnecessary parole board hearing.

I have to take a great deal of exception with some of the statements that were made by members across the way, that this is a government bill. That is an insult to my staff, who have worked on this bill so diligently. It is an insult to the Library of Parliament researchers and drafters, who helped in the drafting process. I can tell members that those types of comments are not at all helpful to the overall decorum of this place when it is trying to minimize us as private members in bringing forward business.

As I said in my opening comments, the catalyst for going forward with this bill goes back to 2009, when I first started thinking about what was happening with the Tori Stafford case, with the capture of Michael Rafferty and Terri-Lynne McClintic and the overall result of having them sentenced to life imprisonment.

While that was taking place, we were listening to the Clifford Olson saga as he was dying in prison from cancer and all the stories about how he re-victimized the families of his victims over and over again by making them appear at these unnecessary parole board hearings.

It is important that we respect one another in this place. Making those types of comments that minimize our role in this chamber as being puppets for the government is deeply disturbing. At some point in time, I may be requesting an apology from the members who made those statements.

Some of the comments revolved around the constitutionality of Bill C-478. I can tell members that is a concern that I had. I wanted to ensure that if we were going to draft a bill, it was not going to be struck down by the courts under a charter challenge. It would give full power and discretion to the judges, to the judiciary, to make the decision whether or not they wanted to increase parole ineligibility from 25 years up to a maximum of 40 years. They would have the power, either through a jury process or on their own, to make a decision whether or not parole ineligibility could be anywhere between 25 and 40 years.

It is important to know that these are the most depraved and sadistic murderers in Canadian society. These are the people who go to jail and are never again released. I think that is something that we have to take special note of. This is not about stiffer penalties and more punishment, because these murderers never ever are given parole ineligibility. Also, to ensure that this bill was constitutional, I wanted to fashion it after Bill C-48, which passed in 2011 just before the last election. That bill was proven to be constitutional and charter-compliant and so I fashioned our bill after that process.

Now, as was pointed by some members here, that maybe it is not perfect in its terms because it was a private members' bill, it was drafted by Library of Parliament and my staff working together. We are willing to accept any amendments that would improve the technical aspects and the legality of Bill C-478.

I have also taken note that some people said that victims' rights groups are not supporting this bill. I can tell members that Victims of Violence, led by Sharon Rosenfeldt, supports this bill; that Yvonne Harvey and the Canadian Parents of Murdered Children support this bill; the Association of Families of Persons Assassinated or Disappeared supports this bill; and the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime supports this bill.

Also, I heard from the NDP members in the first hour of debate that this bill would violate international law. They kept talking about the Rome Statute. However, I can tell members that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court applies only to genocides, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.

This is a domestic bill, domestic law, and the power completely lies with the country and Parliament can make these decisions.

To point out the hypocrisy of the NDP, it supported Bill C-48 in the last Parliament. Why would it not support this bill, which is fashioned in the same format as Bill C-48 and would even go further in addressing the most depraved, sadistic murderers who go out and abduct children, abduct individuals, sexually assault them and then violently murder them? Those are the people we want to ensure we address. We want to ensure that the families of those victims would not have to be re-terrorized by these horrific individuals.

Respecting Families of Murdered and Brutalized Persons ActPrivate Members' Business

April 25th, 2013 / 5:55 p.m.
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Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

moved that Bill C-478, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (increasing parole ineligibility), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure for me to rise for this first hour of debate on my private member's bill, Bill C-478, which is a bill I have titled the respecting families of murdered and brutalized persons act.

I want to thank the Minister of Justice and the Prime Minister for throwing their support behind my private member's bill. I also want to thank Senator Boisvenu, from the other place, for his support for this legislation and for the incredible work he did when he founded the Murdered or Missing Persons' Families' Association.

Bill C-478 is focused on amending the Criminal Code. Section 745 lays out a number of different codes for sentencing for a number of felonies. This bill would create a new subsection under section 745 that would concentrate on individuals who have committed the three following crimes together: abduction, sexual assault and murder of an individual. We are proposing that rather than one sentence of a maximum life sentence of 25 years without parole, we would give the courts discretionary power to look at increasing that ineligibility to a maximum of 40 years.

This is about empowering the courts. This is about giving another tool to judges and juries to look at ways to evaluate individual cases. Because it would provide discretionary power to the courts, and not mandatory minimums, we would actually be compliant with section 12 of the charter.

Judges, when determining parole ineligibility periods, have to take into account the character of offenders, the nature of the offences and the circumstances surrounding their commission so that judges can task juries with making recommendations for sentencing and parole ineligibility for the individual. Again, today the maximum is 25 years, but sentences could go all the way to 40 years if the person is charged and convicted of first degree murder in association with the other acts of kidnapping and rape.

This is a very important issue that really strikes at what Canadians expect of this government. My private member's bill, Bill C-478, follows suit, and has been modelled after Bill C-48, which was the government's bill on protecting Canadians by ending sentence discounts for multiple murders, and Bill S-6, which is the act for serious time for the most serious crimes. Again, it would provide a tool for the courts. It would empower the judges and juries to give stronger sentences. It is about going after the worst of society.

We are talking about the Robert Picktons of the world, people like Paul Bernardo, Russell Williams, Michael Rafferty, Terri-Lynne McClintic, Clifford Olson, Donald Armstrong, James Dobson, David Shearing and even Luka Magnotta, who is in the system right now. These are the most depraved individuals who all in society find repulsive. These sadistic murderers are the ones who snatch up our children or loved ones, commit their sexually depraved acts upon their victims and then sadistically murder them. It is a true brutalization of individuals.

One of the worst ones we have come across is David Threinen, who was sentenced to life in prison back in 1975. Justice Hughes, who was the judge at the time, stated, in regard to Threinen, that he should “never again be on the streets and roadways of our country”. This individual was so depraved that the judge at the time, taking into consideration his character and the gravity of the crimes he had committed, said that he should never, ever be paroled.

My office has contacted the Library of Parliament and people who are experts in the criminal justice system. With all the research we have done, we could not find one example where these types of sadistic murderers are ever paroled. Clifford Olson died in prison. These individuals are not being released back into society, yet they have tools such as parole hearings at their disposal to re-victimize the families. If they are convicted of second degree murder, they can ask for a parole hearing at year 10. Robert Pickton was only charged with second degree murder, 25 counts. Therefore, he is eligible for a parole hearing at 10 years.

We want to make sure that does not happen. Now the judges could, even if people are charged with second degree murder and not first degree murder, put in a more stringent timeline before they can make parole applications.

Just a few years ago a lot of Canada, including myself, was gripped by the Tori Stafford case. It broke everyone's hearts to see how this little girl was caught on camera being abducted from school and to find out later that she had been sexually assaulted by Michael Rafferty and Terri-Lynne McClintic and then brutally murdered with a hammer. In 2010, Terri-Lynne McClintic was sentenced to life in prison.

At about the same time it also came to light that Russell Williams, a former member of the Canadian Forces, was also arrested and sentenced at the end of 2010, in October, for the murders of Jessica Lloyd and Marie France Comeau, who were abducted, raped and then murdered.

During that time, as Michael Rafferty was still in the court system, Clifford Olson was dying of cancer in jail. In listening to the talk shows, what was weighing on my mind was how we could keep these very gruesome individuals from being released back into society where they have the opportunity to reoffend.

Then I heard the story of Sharon Rosenfeldt, her husband Gary and their son Daryn. I listened to how the family was tormented by Olson, along with the other 10 families who had also lost loved ones to this monster, which I think is the only way one could describe Clifford Olson. When they were getting ready to attend parole hearings he would write to them about not only how he abducted and raped their children over and over again but how he tortured them and the way in which he killed them. I believe all Canadians were repulsed by that recount and by those crimes.

I started looking into how to save families from having to go before the Parole Board every time one of these individuals could apply for parole. Olson did it under the faint hope clause at year 15. Then, starting at year 23, he was again allowed to reapply every two years. He would write to the families and they would be forced to put together all of their victim impact statements and then appear at the parole hearings and restate and relive that traumatic and terrible event of being informed that their child had been brutally murdered.

This bill is about ending the re-victimization of the families. It will end the ability of those sadistic individuals who are incarcerated from using parole hearings to toy with, terrorize and brutalize the families over and over again.

If Bill C-478 becomes law, and if a judge and jury make the decision to apply the maximum sentence of 40 years without parole, it would save the families eight Parole Board hearings over that time, eight times of having to go before the Parole Board, facing the individual who murdered their loved one, having to relive the horrific events that occurred in the past and really, this is about respecting their rights as victims.

The bill is not about tougher punishments, because all the research, and I have to restate this, has shown that these individuals are never released into society. They are incarcerated for life. Parole boards, over and over again, deny them the ability to go back into society. These individuals are not rehabilitated.

I have been reading through victim impact statements from a number of the families with whom I have been in contact. One family even shared with me an email from another convict who was incarcerated at the same time and in the same facility as the murderer of their child. He wrote, “This individual, despite the facade that he is putting on, should never be released into society”, and said to do everything they could to ensure that he stayed in prison.

The bill is about the families of the victims like Linda Bright, Janet and Karen Johnson, Darlene Prioriello, and Sharon Rosenfeldt's son, Daryn.

Linda Bright was only 16 years old when she was abducted by Donald Armstrong in Kingston back in 1978. He applied for parole on numerous occasions, including just recently in March 2012. Linda's sister, Susan Ashley, made this statement. She said, “My heart breaks having to live through this again. My heart breaks having to watch my Mom and Dad drag up their thoughts and pain from that deep place inside them where they tuck their hurt away”.

Linda's mother, Margaret Bright, said, “This is not fair. We should not have to relive our tragedy. When I remember my daughter, let me remember her as a little girl. Don't make me think about the other awful time in 1978....Let me tell you this has been the most difficult thing I have had to do in the last twenty years.”

Sharon Rosenfeldt, who has been very active with the National Victims of Crime organization, attended our press conference this morning with the Minister of Justice and Senator Boisvenu. She was what really drove me to this point, hearing her on the radio, driving around in my riding in Manitoba. I really appreciate that she has been such a powerful advocate.

Her son, Daryn, was only 16, and again, was a victim, one of Clifford Olson's 11 victims. They had to go through the faint hope clause hearing in 1997 and parole hearings in 2006 and 2010. Every time he was denied parole. Her past husband Gary said, “What's really horrendous about this is this is only the beginning. We're going to have to do this every two years as long as Olson lives. And this is a very, very painful experience for myself, my family.”

Sharon said, “Attending parole hearings every two years or five years after the offender has served 25 years is cruel and unusual punishment for the victim's family.”

Terri Prioriello, in talking about her sister, Darlene, who was killed at 16 years of age in 1982 said, “Families have already been victimized once. They shouldn't have to be victimized every two years. Having to face a loved one's killer and to read what he did to her and how her death has affected our lives is something nobody should ever have to do once, never mind twice.”

I ask members of this House to support my bill and really respect the rights of the victims whose children have been so brutally murdered by these horrendous characters.

Respecting Families of Murdered and Brutalized Persons ActPrivate Members' Business

April 25th, 2013 / 6:15 p.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Selkirk—Interlake for his bill. I think this gives us an opportunity to talk about victims, because each crime has not just one victim, but often many victims.

That being said, I think that there are problems with this bill. My colleague suggested that the bill would solve the problem for all of the people he mentioned, but his bill changes the period of parole ineligibility to between 25 and 40 years. This is a first step. This bill would not change the period for parole ineligibility from 25 to 40 years; it could be anywhere in that range. It could still be 25 years, but the decision is left to the discretion of the court and the judge. The jury can make a recommendation, but the judge can decide otherwise.

So how can he tell the House that this bill will protect the victims he talked about from having to go to court every two years, when there is absolutely no guarantee to that effect?

Did he consult with people from the Department of Justice to make sure that this bill complies with section 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and with article 11 of the Rome statute?

Respecting Families of Murdered and Brutalized Persons ActPrivate Members' Business

April 25th, 2013 / 6:15 p.m.
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Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member in her role as the critic for justice.

We did talk to the Department of Justice as I was drafting this. We went back and forth a number of times, trying to find the right wording. I worked exclusively with the Library of Parliament in drafting it to ensure we were compliant with section 12.

I did not want to bring a bill forward that would fail that test. It would be a waste of the House's time and it would be a waste of my one and only space that I have to bring forward private members' business, if we did not proceed in a way that was compliant. It still made a difference.

I am confident that because we are giving the powers to the courts and that they are not being legislated as a mandatory minimum, that we are compliant with the act. It allows for discretion. The judge, under the recommendation of a jury or not, would have the ability to set sentencing beyond 25 years. It would still allow the judge to weigh in all the other matters of the case. It is not tied in directly.

I hope the NDP will look at this and realize that we are talking about a very small number of offenders who are going to be incarcerated in the future, and that this is about protecting the families from having to relive horrific experiences.

Respecting Families of Murdered and Brutalized Persons ActPrivate Members' Business

April 25th, 2013 / 6:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments the member has brought forward.

To pick on the word “horrific”, it is an excellent word to describe what the bill attempts to do. In the minds of a vast majority of Canadians, when they hear stories such as those the member has conveyed, that would be a fairly appropriate word.

I am pleased with what I have heard from the member, especially given the fact that the bill would allow the judge to use it as a discretionary authority. As such, I feel comfortable supporting what the member has brought to the House today.

Does the member have any amendments in mind, or is he fairly confident of the bill?

Respecting Families of Murdered and Brutalized Persons ActPrivate Members' Business

April 25th, 2013 / 6:15 p.m.
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Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend from Winnipeg North for his support.

I realize that sometimes with private members' bills the wording is not perfect. I would accept any amendments that would really enhance the clarity of what the bill attempts to do. We want to ensure that this is just another tool at the disposal of the courts, and that we are focusing in on the most brutal murderers who would be incarcerated, people who would be so depraved and sadistic that they would carry out the abduction, sexual assault and ultimately the killing of our innocents.

Respecting Families of Murdered and Brutalized Persons ActPrivate Members' Business

April 25th, 2013 / 6:15 p.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will not keep members in suspense. I will therefore say from the outset that the NDP cannot support Bill C-478 for a number of reasons.

I agree with the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake that this bill deals with horrific, unspeakable crimes. I could add a number of others to the list that are just as horrific and unspeakable. I am thinking about the parents of a murder victim. Under the terms of the act, I should say someone who was “only” murdered, because all three offences were not committed. Kidnapping and murder would not be enough for this type of thing, nor would rape and murder. The three offences are required.

From the get-go, my colleague's bill is problematic. However, there are even more fundamental problems than this.

I just heard the hon. member for Winnipeg North express his support for the bill and congratulate its author for allowing the courts to retain their discretionary authority. The problem is that I am not convinced that this is a matter of discretion under section 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Rome statute. It is a matter of the period of time someone is required to wait before they have the right to appear before the parole board. That is the problem.

Technically, according to the Rome statute, which Canada signed, all the countries agree that people are freed even after being given a life sentence in cases of genocide, war crimes, mutilation, rape and murder. Their eligibility for parole is reviewed after 25 years.

I am concerned about ensuring that, when we introduce and pass legislation, we are not passing something that inherently goes against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or about which there are serious doubts. Sometimes, I give the benefit of the doubt to the government or to bills that come in through the back door, meaning bills that are introduced by government backbenchers. That is the strategy that is often used. The government hopes to make serious changes to the Criminal Code with this type of provision. That is still quite a leap.

Take for example a jury that makes recommendations to a judge in an absolutely appalling case similar to that of Paul Bernardo. I have no doubt that a jury of peers would sentence the accused to life in prison with the maximum number of years before he was able to appear before the parole board, because the case was so appalling to anyone who followed it.

That person is going to die in prison and will never be released. However, being able to review the person's case is part of our system. At some point, there may be an exceptional case where the individual will not be seen as a dangerous offender. It is important to understand that the Clifford Olsons and Bernardos—especially Bernardo—will not have to appear before the board every two years.

It is absolutely horrible for victims to have to relive the events. I have spoken to a lot of victims when the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights has studied various bills. Neither this bill nor any of the bills introduced by the government gives victims the slightest comfort, except for maybe a brief moment when the bill is passed and they tell themselves that someone has thought about them. The next day, they go back to thinking about their child who was mutilated, raped and murdered.

People tell us that if the justice system was designed to be more respectful of victims' rights and if crown attorneys were to speak with victims when they are in court—and with the parents, in those cases—to explain what is happening, that would already be more respectful.

Using this bill to suggest to victims that they will not have to go before the parole board every two years is just misleading and makes them believe something that is not true. It is like telling people that, with Bill S-7, we are all safer now. That creates a false sense of security, a false sense of something that does not exist. We do not play those games in the NDP. We think these issues are much too serious to spread falsehoods.

As I started to say, imagine a situation where a jury suggests to a judge to have an offender serve 40 years before he is eligible to go before the parole board. Then, imagine that the judge decides to support that recommendation, regardless of the jury's reasons. Obviously, that would be challenged. It would probably go straight to the Supreme Court of Canada, because there may be completely different sentences for a crime that is probably similar, even with the wording in question.

We must remember that the Conservatives have a goal, one that was set when they arrived in government, that they are pursuing today and that will ultimately result in a victims' charter, which I am anxious to see. I thought we had identified victims' needs. However, it seems that the minister needs to hold further consultations. The Conservatives consult instead of taking action. That is their style at present. That said, this is a major and complex problem.

Once again, section 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that we cannot impose “cruel and unusual treatment or punishment”. I will be told that the crime itself is cruel. I completely agree. None of us would rise and say that kidnapping, raping and murdering a child is not horrible or despicable enough to warrant being punished. However, the perpetrator is already punished with a life sentence. The Bernardos of this world will never leave jail. The Conservatives should stop implying that we are not tough enough on this type of crime. We are.

In this case, we are talking about the right to appear before a board. I have spoken with a number of human rights experts such as legal scholars, criminologists, criminal lawyers, crown attorneys and defence attorneys. They have told me that there is a risk.

Take the case of Clifford Olson, which involved kidnapping, rape and murder. Did the crown attorney have to prove the rape and kidnapping? No. He put all his efforts into proving the murder and he sought the life sentence for the offence of murder.

What this means is that this bill will change what happens in courts of law. That is why I asked my colleague the question. He says that he has spoken to people at the justice department. I do not doubt him, but I would like to hear from them.

We will be voting against this bill, with the support of the Liberals, which surprises me. The Liberal Party justice critic is a human rights expert, so I was really surprised to hear that. That said, they are changing everything on this issue.

I cannot wait to hear from someone from the justice department tell us that he or she seriously doubts that this will pass the tests. Should we leave it up to the courts to decide whether these people should be incarcerated and whether there is any doubt? If, like the individual wrote on their website, the goal is to prevent victims and their families from having to go before the parole board, it would have been much better to find ways so that these people—in cases like Bernardo, Olsen and other such cases—do not have to do so, or have the choice, unless the offender is very close to being released, or unless it would be dangerous to release him. Much like my colleague, I am 95% or almost 100% sure that they will not be released. It is therefore quite possible that victims and their families would not have to attend.

I will listen to the rest of the debate, but I can say that this bill definitely does not meet the criteria. Indeed, a major change in how these cases are dealt with in court and—

Respecting Families of Murdered and Brutalized Persons ActPrivate Members' Business

April 25th, 2013 / 6:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak tonight in favour of Bill C-478.

First, I would like to ask the indulgence of my colleagues to say a few words about a case in Nova Scotia, with which I think we are all familiar. It is a case that has received national and international attention over the past few weeks. I am speaking about the very tragic case of Rehtaeh Parsons.

I know all members would join me in offering our very sincere condolences to the family and friends of Rehtaeh Parsons on what is truly a tragic loss. All members, I think, are looking forward to the Minister of Justice introducing legislation that we hope and expect will recognize the dangers that our children face in today's world and help us put an end to cyberbulling.

I do not know how we legislate to stop people treating others in a way that is ridiculing, demeaning or making false statements about them, because that is part of the bullying in this case. What has happened in more than one school, as we know, is of great concern, so I look forward to what the minister has. I hope we can, as a society, not just bring forward laws that deal with this, but go beyond that to face up to what has happened and try to prevent this sort of thing happening again.

Let me turn my attention to Bill C-478. It is certainly interesting legislation from my colleague from Selkirk—Interlake, and I appreciate him bringing it forward. I welcome this change. It is a change from the usual Conservative practice in that the bill does not seek to limit judicial discretion. I do not know if that is the result of the discussions he had with the Department of Justice. Maybe it was his own approach to begin with. What we normally see from the government is not to allow any discretion from judges, which is a Republican approach that it seems to have adopted and with which I do not agree. We have to look at each case and the facts of each case separately, which is what the member has proposed that judges do in this instance. It is based, in part, on the recommendation of the jury, which the judge could consider.

Like Canadians everywhere, the Liberal Party believes that our courts should be empowered to impose severe sentences where warranted. I do not think this is a case of a cruel sentence. We are talking about people whose sentence is life imprisonment. We are talking about what the parole situation is.

Often it is positive and it makes sense, depending on the kind of crime, to have the possibility of parole. In many cases, it improves the chance that a convict will perhaps be more co-operative in prison or will try to rehabilitate. This is not to say that all convicts can be rehabilitated, but they will hopefully make some effort so when the time comes that they can apply for parole, they might have a chance. The experts have said that and there are some benefits to it.

As my hon. colleague from Selkirk—Interlake has said, we are talking about a different kind of case. We are talking about cases like Clifford Olson and what happens to the poor families of victims that have to go through a series of parole hearings over time. How horrible to think that the perpetrator has the power over those families to force them to go before a parole board and relive the whole thing, not every year, perhaps, but multiple times.

I appreciate very much what my hon. colleague is working to achieve here. It is important to also remember that what he is talking about is where a perpetrator has not only committed murder, but has abducted someone, sexually assaulted and then murdered that person. He is saying that a person has to have all of those three crimes, which is a pretty severe instance.

The other thing he has said is let us leave it to the discretion of the judge to make the assessment. Is this person a Clifford Olson type of person who is going to be there forever and who might be trying to take advantage or cause humiliation and upset to the families over that period? In a case where the judge comes to that conclusion, he or she can say that the perpetrator will not have the chance of parole until 40 years from now.

That is what my hon. colleague is trying to do, and our party will support the effort to ensure that criminals of the type we are talking about would face a sentence of imprisonment for life, without eligibility for parole until the person has served a sentence of between 25 and 40 years, as determined by the presiding judge after considering a recommendation, if any, of the jury.

Having said all that, I am supporting the bill and I appreciate it.

However, as we have seen a lot in this House, the Conservative approach to crime focuses on punishment. I do not have a problem with the idea of promoting public safety or the idea that the punishment should fit the crime. That is why I support this bill. However, I would like to see more focus from the government on the actions to prevent crime. I will speak more about that, because preventing it at the outset is obviously a very important goal. It is far better to not have the crime occur than to punish someone for it afterward. There are still going to be crimes and we would still have to have punishment, but let us also do as much as we can to protect the public and keep criminals off the street in that way, because then they would not be criminals.

However, when it comes to criminals who commit serious offences, let us absolutely get them off the streets. I do not think any member would disagree that preventing the victims from becoming victims to begin with would be our primary goal.

To be specific, this new provision would apply to offenders convicted of one of the following abduction or kidnapping offences: kidnapping and forcible confinement, abduction of a person under the age of 16, abduction of a person under the age of 14, abduction and contravention of a custody order, and abduction. It would apply as well to the following sexual assault offences: sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching, sexual exploitation, sexual exploitation of a person with a disability, sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon, threats to a third party or causing bodily harm and aggravated sexual assault. As well, as I said earlier, it would apply to murder. The new provision would apply in the case of any one of those in the first category, any in the second category, and murder.

The intent of this bill is to lessen the burden on victims' families, for whom parole hearings can obviously be horrendous and horrific. My colleague spoke of the offences as horrific, but clearly reliving them is horrific as well, and that is something that needs to be addressed.

This bill would give the courts the option of denying parole for up to an additional 15 years without limiting their discretion. That is why we can support this bill.

Meanwhile, the House should be looking at other measures we can take to fight crime and, if possible, prevent it from happening in the first place.

To reduce the occurrence of serious violent offences, Canada could improve the funding and training of police forces, enhance neighbourhood watch programs and enhance school security. I am not advocating what we heard from the National Rifle Association in the U.S., which talked about having armed guards in schools. That is not what I am suggesting, but there are things we can do to improve the security of schools.

I am sure most members here today had meetings earlier this week with front-line police officers. I met with officers from Halifax, who talked about the fact that the economics of policing is a major issue and that the police need to be involved in developing policies that affect those economics. In particular, they raised the fact that they are often dealing with mental health issues, and that type of situation diverts their attention. They might arrest someone who really has a mental health problem, take the individual to a hospital because he or she has been injured, and then sit there for six hours having to wait until someone can take over. That obviously diverts those police officers from their other duties and is a drain on police resources.

They talked also about people who breach their parole and the concern that the person could remain out on the street if that situation is not dealt with quickly. I hope the government members will listen and address these concerns of the officers.

We do accept and support this bill as an acceptable amendment to sentencing guidelines.