There were two private members' bills introduced in the 34th Parliament that called for later access or an end to parole eligibility reviews for those convicted of first degree murder. Bill C-311 would have required those convicted of first degree murder to serve 20 years before review, while Bill C-330 would have eliminated judicial review of parole eligibility for those inmates. Both bills would have left the review process intact for those convicted of second degree murder.
There was another private member’s bill introduced in March 1994. Bill C-226 proposed to eliminate parole eligibility reviews altogether. This bill was around for some time, and it sparked great debate and controversy about the faint hope clause until Bill C-45 made its appearance, which continued the widespread debate and controversy. It ultimately resulted in amendments to section 745 of the Criminal Code.
Our organization has been meeting with various members of Parliament and requesting its full repeal since 1990. Actually, we started earlier, but nobody took us too seriously at the time. We used to prepare victims by informing them of this clause after the offenders in their cases were sentenced. Some would go back to their crown attorneys, who would inform them that it was not true, that the judge had stated clearly that parole eligibility was at 25 years, not 15 years. Needless to say, it caused confusion and more emotional instability among the victims. Some even got angry with us for seemingly giving them wrong information. At that time, very few members of Parliament, and virtually none of the public, including the media, were aware that the faint hope clause even existed.
It came as quite a surprise and a shock to many victims, members of Parliament, and the Canadian public as increasing numbers of Canada’s worst offenders approached the 15-year point and became eligible to initiate an application for judicial review. Parliament would once again face continuing pressure for another review of this law, which attempted to balance two often conflicting policy values: denunciation of the crime and rehabilitation of the offender. Eventually, by 1991, the naysayers finally accepted that it was, in fact, true. It became a volatile five-year public debate, which Parliament had to struggle with until 1997, when amendments were made by the Liberal government and the federal justice minister, the Honourable Allan Rock, in Bill C-45.
Twelve years ago, in 1997, there were many meetings and consultations after we were informed about what the justice minister, the Honourable Allan Rock, was proposing to do in relation to the upcoming amendments to the faint hope clause. We sought further consultation on Bill C-45. It was suggested by others that we should agree with what was being proposed. At least it was better than nothing. It was a step in the right direction as it would tighten it up somewhat, and we could still keep working toward the ultimate repeal of section 745. It was the old, commonly used “take one step at a time” solution.
You have to remember that at that time, Clifford Olson was preparing for his then automatic right to a 15-year review hearing in British Columbia. Paul Bernardo and Allan Legere by then were thrust into the picture, so the Canadian public was incensed, and there was a lot of pressure on government to do something. It was very intense at that time.
Our organization met with many victims across Canada, and we pondered giving our support to the proposed new amendments. But in the end, as I sat before the final justice committee meeting, prior to the new amendments being announced, in June 1997, I told the committee that we would accept nothing short of the full repeal of section 745. Our organization felt that it was bad law to make amendments based on a few high-profile cases of the day, such as Clifford Olson, who had made application for his hearing to be held in August of that same year. It came as no surprise, then, that the Bill C-45 amendments proved extremely controversial, given the interests and sensibilities involved.
On a personal note, for my husband and I, advocating on behalf of all victims of crime, it became a double-edged sword, because what did happen, as you all know, is that the new amendments took into consideration only multiple murderers. Many victims were very incensed. They said that they did not understand these amendments, as they implied that, under the new provisions of 1997, one murder was deemed less serious than multiple murders. They felt that this was an unprecedented and unacceptable use of volume as a measure of the seriousness of an offence.
They also felt that there were no real changes to the way the early review hearing process would be conducted, as the application hearing for early parole eligibility continued to operate with very limited information about the crime.
In addition, they felt that this was simply the creation of another level of bureaucracy and that an applicant's absolute right to a hearing had been replaced with an absolute right to launch appeals for a hearing.
Further, they felt the process continued to make the families of victims relive the murder and continued to cost taxpayers.
In any event, it became clear that the matter would not be put to rest by Bill C-45. Indeed, opposition parties continued to call for outright repeal of the judicial review process, with at least one party using the promise of repeal as part of its platform for the next election.
The unrest and controversy continued after the amendments of 1997. It was still a confusing issue, as judges continued to state at sentencing that the offender would serve a life term with parole ineligibility set at 25 years. Victims and the public were still confused, so in 1999 the code was amended again by adding section 745.01, whereby a judge, when imposing sentence, is obliged to make a statement for the benefit of the victim's family and relatives concerning the existence and nature of the “faint hope” clause.
At this point, I would like to say I feel perplexed when I see this long-term, important issue being used as a political tool. Comments about victims being used for political gain is hurtful and not factual. We did not see that happen between 1991 and 1997, when the Liberal government had to wrestle with this same controversial issue. It is controversial. It bothers me because we're talking about real lives, the lives of the victims, the lives of family, relatives, and friends, as well as the lives of the offenders this clause will affect. This is very serious.
In 1971, just five years before the faint hope clause was adopted in 1976, Solicitor General Jean Pierre Goyer announced in the House of Commons the government’s intention to stress rehabilitation of criminals even though it posed a risk to the public. He went on to say that:
...too many Canadians...disregard the fact that the correctional process aims at making the offender a useful and law-abiding citizen, and not any more an individual alienated from society and in conflict with it.... Consequently, we have decided from now on to stress the rehabilitation of individuals rather than protection of society.
This direction was not without controversy. With that direction in mind, our organization can only assume that this controversial direction played a significant role in the creation of the faint hope clause in 1976. It was in fact the same government. We believe that when the faint hope clause was adopted 33 years ago the Canadian public was not as educated or informed on criminal justice issues as it is today. It was not an option for victims of crime to be consulted about their opinions, as they are today. In fact, crime victim organizations were unheard of back then. At that time, the only organizations consulted were organizations for offenders' rights. So it makes sense that there continue to be amendments made to the controversial faint hope clause.
Critics argue that applications made under the faint hope clause traumatize the families of victims who must revisit the details of the case and consider the possibility of the criminal returning to a community. Proponents argue that the clause is necessary to give convicted murderers some hope, and thus prevent prisons from becoming more dangerous. One of our senators stated that “Without the presence of this clause, many offenders will feel they have little if any incentive to rehabilitate, or even to live peacefully with their fellow inmates.” These are true concerns.
There is also concern about the costs to Canadians. We at Victims of Violence appreciate the concerns raised about where our tax money is being spent in the cost of housing the offender for a long time. But perhaps it is more important to consider the costs of offenders being released too early. Perhaps it is more important to factor the cost of human life into the calculations on the presence of section 745.6. Or perhaps Canadians' views should be considered regarding their tax money being spent on the faint hope clause hearings, which require defence lawyers, crown attorneys, judges, juries, court time, court reporters, expert witnesses, airfare, security guards, prison guards, and the cost of having victims' families attend. Each hearing is very expensive.
We at Victims of Violence believe this process is heavily weighted in favour of the offender. The emphasis is on rehabilitation rather than the crime itself, the victim, or the impact of the crime on the family and communities.
We believe that when Mr. Warren Allmand, the member of Parliament responsible for this clause, talked about the waste of the life of the offender who is kept in prison for 25 years, he seemed not to take into consideration the innocent life the offender wasted when he or she made the decision to commit murder. There is no parole or judicial review for murder victims and their families. They have no faint hope clause or legal loophole to shorten their sentence.
Victims of Violence also believes the offender is not sent to prison to be punished, but rather the sentence itself is the punishment, according to our Criminal Code of Canada. Thus we continue to ask a very simple question: Is the sentence 25 years, or is it 15 years? It cannot continue to be both.
Victims of Violence continues to have grave concerns about the changes and the amendments of 1997. At best, we hope it will prevent some families from being dragged through the judicial review hearings; at worst, it only complicates the understanding of the process and does not return the truth in sentencing. A sentence of life with no eligibility for parole for 25 years is still not what it implies. It is not right that some victim families have to endure the faint hope clause hearings and others do not, or will not have to, since the amendments of 1997.
In closing, we'd like to respond to a suggestion made by a member of Parliament to Justice Minister Nicholson in the House of Commons. He suggested that due to his concerns for the victims' families having to endure the faint hope clause hearings, perhaps there should be an interim phase built in when a judge and jury would look at the situation as the system allows for, and then not have to involve the victims' families. I wish to thank that member for his sincere concern, and I will try to answer his suggestion from the perspective of a victim. However, I do not expect it to be fully understood or agreed with by all.
Most victims of crime feel we need to attend any and all proceedings dealing with the offender who took our loved one's life. It is with humble honour and strong conviction that we represent our loved one, for you see, no matter how many years go by, there is never closure when another human being has taken your loved one's life. There is never closure in the manner in which your loved one died. It is unnatural. The result of murder is ugly. The wound of the crime in violence is always there at the surface. It never leaves, even though our lives continue and we discover some years later that there really is a life after murder.
In reality, the victim knows there is closure to certain stages of the justice system, there is a finality to the proceedings, or there is supposed to be, and that finality is a form of closure. For us, it seems it is the only form of human rights we have on behalf of our loved one, so we, the family, will always be there to represent them.
Most victims feel the offenders chose to make themselves a part of our lives when they chose to end the life of our loved ones. Henceforth, we are now, not by choice but by circumstance, a part of the offender's life in representing our loved ones, and thus we want to be a party to all proceedings, which includes any form of parole hearings.
I hope it sheds a bit of light on why it does not seem to make sense to some people that we as victims would want to put ourselves through these rigorous parole hearings time after time, even years later. Some people think it is done out of revenge, and for some, maybe it is. Others find us to be a nuisance at the parole hearing stage, and maybe we are, but mostly it is quite simple for us: the offender and the justice system may have forgotten our loved ones, but we, the victims' families, have not. Most of us will always be there to represent them and speak on their behalf. That is why victims' families attend any and all hearings, even though it opens up the wounds no matter how many years have gone by. That is just the way it is.
In our continual efforts at rehabilitating ourselves, not just the rehabilitation of the offender should be taken into consideration.
Maybe it is punitive action we are talking about in repealing this clause, but why do we have a law that is felt to be too punitive? If a political party and legislators feel that 25 years is punitive and that the Canadian public thinks it is too punitive, then change the law to 15 years. That way it will not disrespect the life of the victim by playing games with the true sentence of Canada’s Criminal Code. That is why families feel so much unrest on behalf of their loved ones. They are living a lie on behalf of their loved ones. It is not right.
I think the only answer our legislators of today have is to uphold what our Criminal Code states, which would ultimately mean voting on the repeal of the faint hope clause. When it comes to sentencing in our Criminal Code, you cannot have it both ways. Our respected Criminal Code is in disrepute over this clause, and has been since the first cases in 1987. It will remain that way until a decision on “truth of the sentence” is upheld.
Thank you very much. Sorry I went over the time.