Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-229, also known as the “life means life act”.
I would like to thank my hon. colleague, the member for Calgary Signal Hill, for putting this important bill forward.
I think that most of us would agree that Canada is a peaceful and safe country. However, we must also acknowledge that there are some in our country who seek to do us harm. These individuals seek to harm others and make us feel unsafe in our homes, on our streets, and in our communities.
We judge people to be innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and that principle should never change. However, when someone is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of heinous crimes, such as brutal multiple murders, or murders so brutal that they upset us just to hear about them, then that person must be seriously punished for their actions. For too long in this country, those individuals convicted of heinous crimes are able to apply for release after serving just a portion of their sentence, instead of being locked up for the rest of their lives.
When we consider the finality of murder, the ending of someone's life, I think many would agree that it is too light a punishment. How is it fair that a person who murders a child, who ends a young life that is just beginning and is yet to experience the wonders of this world, has a chance to be set free when that child will never again walk the earth?
The sad reality is that in this country when a judge sends a murderer to prison for life, it really does not mean prison until the day the murderer dies. After having served some time, the murderer applies for parole, and the family of the victim goes through the nightmare all over again. Too often, the victim's family sits through a parole hearing and watches as the murderer gets released on some perverse rationale. The victim's family wonders if life in prison really means anything at all.
Bill C-229 would correct this injustice. In this bill, life would mean life. It would automatically sentence those convicted of certain heinous crimes to life sentences with no eligibility for parole, except for a chance to petition the minister directly after 35 years.
The bill would also give judges and juries more power to determine if a murderer represents a serious threat to society and if that murderer should be imprisoned without parole. A sentence of life without parole would punish the most serious crimes with the most serious penalty. It is proportionate sentence for the gravest crimes and consistent with the parity principle that like offenders committing like offences be treated similarly.
I know that some of my colleagues in other parties will object to this bill. They will say that it is harsh and unfair. They will say that it is born of crude and unenlightened thinking. However, this bill is consistent with established principles of sentencing, such as denunciation and retribution, which are very important when dealing with serious and violent crime.
Denunciation was described by then Chief Justice Lamer in the seminal sentencing decision of the Supreme Court in R v. M. He stated that:
The objective of denunciation mandates that a sentence should also communicate society's condemnation of that particular offender's conduct...In short, a sentence with a denunciatory element represents a symbolic, collective statement that the offender's conduct should be punished for encroaching on our society's basic code of values as enshrined within our substantive criminal law.
Those opposing this bill may say that it is wrong to lock someone up for life, because the person could be rehabilitated. To those people I say that no amount of rehabilitation can bring victims back to their families. Ending a life, particularly in an egregious and heinous way, should have as steep a penalty.
Let me be clear. Do we really think someone like Justin Bourque, who murdered three RCMP officers in Moncton could ever be rehabilitated? Do we think someone like Paul Bernardo could ever be rehabilitated, or that Clifford Olson could have been?
There are some in the House who will say yes, but I believe that Canadians will largely agree that some crimes should result in the murderer never again walking free. The victims of these murderers deserve nothing less, and the families of these victims deserve nothing less. Let us think of a mother and father of a murdered child; they will attend every parole hearing to see that the murderer who ended their son or daughter's life never walks free.
Sharon Rosenfeldt who helped found the organization Victims of Violence, after her son was killed by Clifford Olson stated, “When Clifford Olson murdered our son, we also received a life sentence...It was not the state that was abducted, raped and murdered, it was my son.”
She describes the parole hearings as “undeniably traumatic”, yet she had to go through three of these. She was said to have attended them every two years, except, thankfully, the monster that was Clifford Olson died in prison before the fourth hearing.
A 2009 study of families of the victims done by the parole board found the obvious. They do not want to go through the anguish of repeated parole hearings. Yet in 2010-11, 45% of victim presentations at the parole board hearings in Canada were the families against the murderers of their family members. Almost half of the parole hearings are dragging the families of the victims through this hell. These families deserve a lot better than this. We as a society are failing these families, and this has to end.
We must also think of society's safety. Parole Board of Canada statistics show 58 Canadians were murdered by convicted killers who were out on parole. Fifty-eight innocent Canadians were murdered by people who were previously convicted of murder, which our system simply let out of prison to kill again. Further statistics show that 3 out of every 100 paroled murderers are sent back to prison for committing violent offences, such as rape and kidnapping. Almost a full quarter of murderers paroled between 1994 and 2008 were sent back for reoffending.
We have forgotten the victims of these murderers and those who survive them, the families. With this bill, that would end. With this bill, imprisoned heinous murderers would stay in prison where they belong.