Mr. Speaker, before I speak to Bill C-53, the life means life act, I first want to thank the member for Edmonton—Leduc not only for his service to our country and to his riding for the last 15 years, but also for his friendship.
There is not a lot said about the relationships that are built here when we get elected. Those relationships are not just found among parties. There are relationships and friendships that are built over the period of time that we serve here on behalf of the people from our communities. The member has become one of my close friends, and I wish him all of the best in his future endeavours.
I also thank him for his time and his commitment to his riding, his community, and his country. It was clear when we heard him speak a moment ago that he is very passionate. He remains as passionate as he was as a young man entering this chamber 15 years ago. He may be a little older now and he may have a little more grey hair, but he is certainly just as passionate about his community and the country that we represent.
Turning to the bill before us, I am here today to speak in support of Bill C-53, the life means life act. I believe that providing sentences of life imprisonment without parole for high treason and the most reprehensible forms of murder would ensure that the most dangerous murderers would never be free to endanger Canadians or their communities. Importantly, Bill C-53 would align Canada's criminal justice system with those of other parliamentary democracies, like England, Australia, and New Zealand. It would also provide for sentences of life without parole for the most vicious murderers.
In this context, the English whole life murder sentencing regime was the object of considerable study and analysis during the development of Bill C-53. The measures proposed in the life means life act have been carefully crafted to reflect Canadian legal principles and the Canadian experience with murder sentencing, while at the same time seeking to avoid some of the pitfalls encountered by the English in implementing their sentencing regime.
Unlike in Canada where minimum parole ineligibility dates for first and second degree murder are mandatory and established by statute, in England the court assesses the seriousness of the murder and selects an appropriate parole ineligibility starting point. The normal parole ineligibility starting point is a presumptive 15 years, but more serious murders will lead to presumptive starting points of 25 years, 30 years, or even whole life. Once the starting point for calculating the parole ineligibility in any particular case has been determined, the court will then add or subtract from it after considering a list of aggravating or mitigating factors before arriving at a final minimum parole ineligibility period. At the expiry of that date, the convicted murderer may apply for parole.
Under this English scheme, if the seriousness of the murder is exceptionally high, the starting point will be a whole life order. A whole life order precludes the offender from ever applying for parole or being released from custody, except by order of the secretary of state on compassionate grounds, such as terminal illness.
In England, there are four categories of murder for which the seriousness is exceptionally high. The first is multiple murder involving premeditation, abduction, or sexual or sadistic elements. The second is the murder of a child that involves abduction or sexual or sadistic elements. The third is murder to advance a political, religious, or ideological cause. The fourth is murder by any offender previously convicted of murder.
Under the English system, once the starting point and all of the aggravating and mitigating factors have been accounted for, a convicted murderer could end up with a final parole ineligibility date ranging from less than 15 years or all the way to the end of natural life in the form of a whole life order.
If we compare the English scheme with what is proposed by Bill C-53, under Bill C-53, a sentence of life without parole would be mandatory for high treason and for the most morally repugnant murders, namely, premeditated murder committed against a police officer or correctional official, or committed during a sexual assault, kidnapping offence, or terrorist offence; or premeditated murder committed in such a brutal way as to indicate that the offender is unlikely to ever be restrained by normal standards of behaviour.
A discretionary sentence of life without parole would be available for all other first degree murders, whether premeditated or not, as well as for second degree murder where the murderer has previously either committed murder or committed an intentional killing under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.
In deciding whether to impose a sentence of life without parole, courts would consider “the character of the accused, the nature of the offence and the circumstances surrounding its commission” and the recommendation by the jury.
These are the same criteria the courts now use to decide whether a second degree murderer will serve a parole ineligibility period longer than 10 years, and whether a multiple murderer will serve consecutive periods of parole ineligibility.
There are clear similarities between what is proposed in Bill C-53 and the English whole life regime. Each penalizes the following categories of murders: those involving premeditation, abduction and sexual offences; those that are premeditated and involve sadistic elements, which Bill C-53 deals with under the heading of brutal murders; those committed in the context of terrorist activity, which the English refer to as murder to advance a political, religious or ideological cause; and those where the killer has murdered before.
Despite these similarities, there are several key differences between the proposed life means life scheme and the English whole life order regime.
First, while the English scheme requires that anyone who commits premeditated murder involving abduction and sexually oriented offences must have murdered more than one victim in order to receive a whole life order, Bill C-53 does not impose such a restriction. Thus, anyone who commits the premeditated murder of a single victim in the course of a kidnapping, forcible confinement, abduction, or sexual assault would be subject to a life sentence of imprisonment without parole under Bill C-53.
Yet another way in which the proposals in Bill C-53 differ from the English whole life order scheme lies in the nature of the criteria for the discretionary imposition of life without parole.
The English scheme contains a detailed list of aggravating and mitigating factors, whereas Bill C-53 does not allow for mitigating factors that would reduce the parole ineligibility period below the mandatory minimums set out in our Criminal Code. Nor does Bill C-53 rely on a list of such factors that may have to be updated from time to time. Instead, reliance is placed on the broad and flexible language capturing all such factors that is reflected in the long-established criteria referred to earlier that focus on the offender's character, the nature and circumstances of the murder and any recommendation in this regard by the jury.
It is clear that Bill C-53 is not only necessary, but its time has come. When an individual commits the horrific crime of murder in the way that I have described in regard to Bill C-53, their sentence should be whole life. The sentence should not be set in a position where any attempt at parole would be accepted.
As we know, certainly from the perspective of a victim's family, having to attend a parole hearing is a kind of torture in a way by having to replay and revisit a most terrible time in their lives. This is not something that is acceptable. It is not something that this government has ever spoken about in the last 10 years in terms of being acceptable. That is why Bill C-53 is one that should be enacted. It should certainly be part of our legislative process when it comes to justice, and it should be a bill that both sides of this House supports.