Thank you very much.
Professor Manson and I thought it would make sense for us to coordinate our comments because we think the most important message related to your consideration of Bill C-48 is something that probably has not been raised previously with you.
To understand the problems created by Bill C-48, one has to consider a few important issues. Most Canadians almost certainly believe that sentences should be proportionate to the offence and to the offender's responsibility for that offence.
That said, however, accomplishing proportionality is difficult, sentencing itself is complex, and sentencing issues are integrally related to decisions made within the correctional system.
Unfortunately, this bill provides evidence of an unwillingness to look at sentencing as a complex and integrated problem. When the government made major changes to sentencing in the mid-1990s, that was at best a timid first step. Most observers believe that those amendments changed few things, but they created a framework for future work that unfortunately hasn't happened. It's not clear that any government in the past 15 years has been willing to take sentencing seriously by looking first to identify what sentencing can and should accomplish, then examining circumstances in which sentencing is successful, and then fixing real problems, because there's an inconsistency between the agreed-upon principles and the outcomes of sentencing in the corrections process.
Obviously this government has been active. The last time I looked, since April 2006 the government had introduced about 60 bills that it calls “crime bills”. Most of them have much more to do with punishment than crime, but they have not made our sentencing or punishment system more coherent.
Unfortunately, as many people have almost certainly told you, you are not going to change crime through legislative changes in punishment, much as you might believe this to be true. These bills and changes to our sentencing system will not affect crime, just as this bill will not contribute to a fair or effective sentencing regime.
The most serious problem is that bills like Bill C-48 appear to give a message that the criminal justice system is completely broken, that judges and the Parole Board and the legislation governing the release of murderers must currently be unfair, and that only in 2010 did these problems get noticed.
Bill C-48 is not about balancing the rights of victims and offenders. It simply adds another level of presumptive punishment to a system that needs careful attention, not simplistic changes.
The difficulty is that you are dealing with problems piecemeal. Let's look at three bills: Bill C-48, which changes the nature of sentencing of certain murderers; Bill C-39, which changes the way in which parole decisions for ordinary offenders are made, among other things; and Bill S-6, which will abolish the faint hope clause for those convicted of murder in the future.
None of these bills respond to real problems with sentencing. Indeed, you haven't provided anything but conjecture about the need for change in these three areas. These bills are doing something else. They're tinkering with sentencing, but not looking at the serious, real problems, both with sentencing and the relationship between sentencing and conditional release.
As I have already mentioned, about 60 crime bills have been introduced in Parliament since 2006. From that, you'd think we had a crisis to deal with, and that the government either had no time to look at the problem as a whole or was incapable of doing so. We don't have a crisis in Canada on crime or on sentencing, but it may be that you as parliamentarians are not interested in looking carefully at something as serious as sentencing. So far, with the large collection of piecemeal legislation, in my view what you've managed to do is to make a complex and difficult-to-understand system more complex and more incoherent.
From the public's perspective, you've made things worse, in large part because of Parliament's unwillingness to look at the sentencing system as a whole. To understand what I mean, I think it's important that you look at some of what we know about matters related to parole decisions made in Canada.
The one thing that is clear about this bill is that the Government of Canada has little confidence in the parole system, just as I would suggest it has shown it has little confidence in judges in many areas of sentencing, and it also has little confidence in ordinary Canadians' judgments of those convicted of murder, as shown by your support of Bill S-6. Since this bill deals with homicide, and multiple homicides in particular, let's look at this phenomenon carefully.
Canada's homicide rate is no longer one of the highest in the western world. Statistics Canada reports that Scotland, the United States, Finland, Turkey, and New Zealand all have higher rates, and ours is more or less comparable to those of many European countries, such as France, Denmark, England, Wales, or Northern Ireland. More to the point, homicide rates in Canada are relatively stable.
In relation to this bill, most homicide incidents--94% in 2009--have only one victim. There were 35 incidents involving multiple victims last year. In the last 10 years, there was an average of 26 incidents a year--that's about 4.7% of all incidents--that involved multiple victims. Most of these--86%, in fact--involved people killing family or other intimates or acquaintances, not strangers, but our image of the multiple murderer is Paul Bernardo or Clifford Olson. Fortunately, that kind of person is rare in Canada and will almost certainly die in prison.
Our murderers spend more time in prison, on average, than people in other countries for which data are available. On average, those sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder spend about 28 years in prison before being released or dying. This is higher than for countries such as England, Australia, Belgium, Sweden, Scotland, or New Zealand. We're not soft on murderers.
As you remember, when we do release those who have murdered, they're on parole for life. If you think that parole for life doesn't mean anything, you'd best request that some lifers come before you and explain what it means to be on parole for life. Parole is not a picnic.
The problem in doing the various things you are working on to lengthen the time that people spend in prison is not simply one of trying to hand down proportional punishments. It is that there is a huge financial cost involved. I know various members of the government have responded to people like me--people who have urged you to use prison resources carefully--by suggesting that if one life were saved, it would be worth it whatever the cost. I find statements like that to be remarkably naive and irresponsible. Let me use an example.
Let us imagine that as a result of this bill, something like 26 people a year--the average number of multiple murder victim incidents that we have over the last 10 years--were to go to prison for an additional 15 years, which is somewhere between the lengths of the parole ineligibility periods for second and for first-degree murder, in 15 years we would be at a steady state, with an average of about 390 extra lifers in prison awaiting parole eligibility time.
We have been told that the cost of the policy is worth it, because if a single life were saved, it would serve victims' needs. We'll get to whether we can expect a life to be saved in a minute, but that relatively small number--390 people on top of the 13,000 or so that we have in penitentiaries at the moment--would cost us about $40 million.