Thank you, Mr. Chair, and the committee for giving me this opportunity to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-587. I also thank you for securing a time extension so that this bill could receive review by your committee.
This bill is a continuation of Bill C-478 which was previously introduced by Mr. Bezan in the first session of this 41st Parliament. Although Mr. Bezan's bill was read twice in the House and referred to this committee, it was withdrawn after Mr. Bezan was appointed to the role of parliamentary secretary, a position that precludes him from carrying a private member's bill forward.
I also thank the witnesses who are joining us today, particularly Sharon Rosenfeldt and Susan Ashley who have lost loved ones to unspeakable actions perpetrated by violent offenders. Ms. Rosenfeldt and Ms. Ashley represent more than themselves, their families, and the loved ones who were taken from them. They represent the community of Canadians that spans our nation, the community of Canadians whose lives have been changed forever by violent offenders.
Despite the tragic losses experienced by Ms. Rosenfeldt and Ms. Ashley, they have found the strength and courage to advocate on behalf of those whose lives were stolen away and also the thousands of Canadians who face the challenges of moving on with life after experiencing trauma which the majority of Canadians thankfully have never experienced.
As members of Parliament I believe it is our duty to demonstrate solidarity with this particular community of Canadians and support their advocacy with our own work in legislating towards a society that values victims' rights. As members of Parliament it is our duty to identify and address points of our legal regimen that require improvement. Specifically to this bill, I believe we must not only examine but reform the state of existing laws governing the removal from society and long-term incarceration of violent offenders who have abducted, sexually assaulted, and murdered victims.
This bill is modelled on Bill C-48, which was passed in 2011, which allows judges to set consecutive rather than concurrent periods of parole ineligibility in sentencing those convicted of multiple murders. This bill would empower judges and juries to give stronger sentences.
In the same way that Bill C-48 now allows judges to acknowledge additional degrees of blameworthiness on an offence when a conviction of multiple murders has been established, this bill seeks to provide judges the ability to extend the period of parole ineligibility to likewise acknowledge accompanying offences of abduction and sexual assault.
All parties worked together and passed Bill C-48 and it is my hope that this bill will likewise benefit from input and support from all sides.
As members of the committee are likely aware, section 745 of the Criminal Code provides for life imprisonment for convicted murderers, subject to varying periods during which they are ineligible for parole. For first degree murder the minimum ineligibility period is 25 years. For second degree murder it varies from 10 to 25 years.
While all convicted murderers are morally blameworthy, first and second degree murders are distinguished from each other by the higher degree of moral blameworthiness associated with the first degree murder that justifies the current mandatory period of parole ineligibility of 25 years.
While some may believe that the current thresholds for parole represent an appropriate period of incarceration for a violent offender who abducted, raped, and murdered their victim, many Canadians consider this to be insufficient in instances of extreme violence and murder. As we all know, perhaps none more than our witnesses, the investigation and prosecution of cases involving multiple offences such as abduction, sexual assault, and murder combined can take years. The time that it takes to arrive at a conviction and then sentencing for a violent offender is excruciating for survivors, family, and loved ones. Regardless, as painful as it is, it is essential to a sound carriage of justice.
This bill seeks to provide greater certainty, and therein relief, for the families and loved ones in that once sentencing is completed, the sentencing judge would be given the judicial discretion to waive parole ineligibility for a period of 25 to 40 years, again at the discretion of the judge. If parole is to be considered for violent offenders who abduct, sexually assault, and then murder their victims, it should not occur before at least 25 years have been served.
The toll a parole hearing takes on the family members and loved ones of a victim is excruciating as they await the hearing date, when the violent offender who took their loved one presents his or her case. Why should the offender be awarded parole while family members and loved ones need to mobilize to keep the violent offender behind bars? This amounts to a system where Canadians who have already suffered tragic loss and endured years of judicial proceedings are subjected to a system that requires continued mobilization and pressure to keep violent offenders behind bars.
This bill would add three new provisions to the Criminal Code, mandating a 25-year minimum parole ineligibility period for anyone convicted of an offence under each of the following offence categories in respect of one victim: number one, a kidnapping or abduction offence, sections 279 to 283; number two, a sexual offence, sections 151 to 153.1 and sections 271 to 273; and number three, murder. The bill would also provide a judge with the discretionary prerogative to replace that 25-year minimum parole ineligibility period with a longer period of up to 40 years, based on the character of the offender, the nature of the circumstances of the murder, and any jury recommendation in this regard.
Mr. Chair, I would like to respond to inputs made by members of opposition parties in the House during the second reading debate on May 30, 2014.
During second reading debate, the question was raised as to whether or not this bill complies with the provisions of the Charter of Rights. This is an important question, and I appreciated it. I sought and received an opinion from the Library of Parliament's legal affairs and national security section. The bill seeks to provide a sentencing judge the discretion to increase the period of parole ineligibility and as such uphold the principle of a judicial discretion which provides a safeguard of the Charter of Rights. I believe this is an important strength of the bill, expanding the discretionary prerogatives of the judge with a broader range of judicial discretion rather than imposing on whole charter provisions automatic periods of ineligibility beyond 25.
Second reading debate also raised a question of the amendments proposed to the bill that would interact with the Rome Statute. It is important to note that article 5 of the Rome Statute establishes the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court over the following four offences: the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression.
Therefore, the Rome Statute does not directly apply to Bill C-587 for the following two reasons. First, the bill seeks to amend the Criminal Code, which is under the jurisdiction of Canadian courts. The Rome Statute only applies to proceedings of the International Criminal Court. Second, the four offences in article 5 of the Rome Statute are not included in this bill.
In closing, Mr. Chair, I would again thank you and the members of committee for reviewing my private member's bill.
I also thank the witnesses here today who have come to provide their perspectives, experiences, and pleas.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.