Mr. Speaker, we are considering Bill C-41, an act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to sentencing.
While this bill has several good provisions, it also has some that concern me. It is evident that it is difficult to properly consider Criminal Code provisions with respect to sentencing without also considering the substantive provisions of the code or even to consider sentencing without relating that to the prison system or the parole system.
In other words, if we are deciding on whether to change our sentencing procedures and our sentencing policy, we have to ask ourselves how these changes will impact on our prison populations, on how they inter-relate to our parole system and how they will affect our treatment programs in prison.
If the sentencing provisions, if they are provisions that will lengthen sentences, will result in more people in prisons, then there will be an impact on prison populations. If there is an impact on increasing the prison populations, then it will also relate to the level of programs that we have in prisons to treat inmates, whether there are enough resources for those programs, enough spaces, enough teachers, enough counsellors, enough psychiatrists and so on.
My concern is if we adopt a policy of lengthening sentences and at the same time become tougher on parole, make parole more difficult to get-I refer members to some parts of Bill C-45, which was before us yesterday-and if at the same time we provide fewer resources for our correction and prison systems as a result of our campaign to cut the deficit, then we are going to have a situation in which we have more people going into the prison system for longer periods of time where those
people will stay in longer because parole is becoming more difficult to obtain and at the same time fewer resources to provide accommodation and programs for those inmates.
At the present time our prisons are extremely overcrowded. During the summer I had the opportunity to visit prisons in the Kingston area. There were prisons that were built to accommodate 450 inmates which now have well over 650 inmates. There is double bunking and even triple bunking in cells that are narrower than I can stretch my arms, and I am not a big man. There are very small cells in which there now is double bunking.
There have been reductions in the educational programs available to inmates and a reduction in recreation programs available to inmates. This goes back to the previous government from which there were continual cuts over the last nine years. I raise it now. We have come to government recently but I raise this very important matter that must be considered when we are considering sentencing and parole.
We have to ask ourselves what the result will be if we continue on that policy line where inmates go in for longer periods of time and do not have the same access to parole or who are not prepared for parole, and there are no programs to occupy and help those inmates when they are in prison because we are overly concerned with the deficit and we are cutting here and there and everywhere.
We can look to previous periods that had similar situations. There were hostage taking incidents. There were riots and there were higher rates of recidivism.
We must remember that the great majority of inmates who are sent to prison are there on limited sentences. They are not there on life sentences. They are there for armed robbery or assault or fraud or theft and so on for which they get sentences of five years, seven years, ten years. Sooner or later they have to be released. If we are truly concerned with the safety of the public surely we want them to be released in a situation, in a state where they are of less danger to the public than when they went in.
If we continue on this drift which is being suggested by some quarters in our society and which is principally put forward by the Reform Party in this House, I must ask whether we should simply have longer and harsher sentences and tighter parole and cut the moneys available for our prisons. What is the result with respect to the protection of society when the great majority of those inmates are released into society?
I suggest that this will leave us with a much more dangerous situation for our citizens. Inmates will be released into society without education, without training, without treatment, who have been through an experience of tension, violence and so on. We just have to look at the American experience where they have adopted those kinds of policies. Look at some of the southern states, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia where they went ahead with such policies. They had longer and harder sentences. It was more difficult to get parole and they cut back on resources.
I read recently of a situation in which a judge in a particular community had no prison space to send an inmate to because there were no places available. The prison was so full and there were so few people coming out, so many people had gone in, that here was an inmate who was convicted but there was no place in the prison for that individual. The lawmakers had not considered when changing their provisions with sentencing and parole that maybe they have to also provide resources.
We may have to build new prisons if we keep on lengthening the sentences and cutting down on the parole. We may have to build at a much greater expense than we would otherwise have to to accommodate these individuals.
Where they have done this in the United States, where they have pursued those policies, they have not protected the public. The rates of violent crimes are much higher than they are here. In those states that have brought back capital punishment, for example Florida, they are executing people in the morning and in the afternoon somebody is killing an innocent citizen simply to get his car. There was a citizen from Montreal who flew to Florida. He rented a car at the airport and was murdered simply for the automobile when there had been an execution that very same day. We hear the same thing with respect to other individuals.
Let us think out our policies on these matters very clearly and examine the interrelationship between sentencing, our correctional system and our parole system.
This bill also deals with certain amendments to section 745 of the Criminal Code. Section 745 is the article that I am in part responsible for because it deals with the review of parole eligibility for convicted murderers at 15 years. This bill would allow for certain victim information to be provided at those hearings which are meant to determine whether parole eligibility should be reduced from 25 years to 15 years.
I certainly agree that we must have more programs to help victims, that we must consider victims more in our criminal justice system but I have some doubt if this is the right place to provide for victims' statements.
I say that because section 745 says that upon receipt of an application under this section the appropriate chief justice shall designate a judge to empanel a jury to hear the application and determine whether the applicant's number of years of imprisonment without eligibility for parole ought to be reduced having regard to the character of the applicant, his conduct-that is, the
inmate's conduct while serving his sentence-the nature of the offence and such other matters as the judge deems relevant.
I have to ask myself whether the information of the victim's family-it will have to be the victim's family in this case, the parents, the wife, the husband of the person who has been murdered-put on the record would relate to the character of the applicant because that is what the judge has to consider, the character of the applicant, his conduct while serving his sentence and the nature of the offence. I ask how the victim's family might have something to say after 15 years about the character or the conduct of the inmate applying for early parole eligibility.
In any case, I presume that the victim information statements would have to be relevant to the matter that is before the court and not to matters that are irrelevant.
Let me explain the background of these provisions. Prior to 1976 those convicted of non-capital murder or whose sentences were commuted from the death penalty who had committed capital murder were eligible for parole at 10 years. I should point out that we have had no executions in Canada since 1962. Until 1976 when we had parole eligibility at 10 years there were very few errors. I think at the time we introduced the bill in 1976 in the history of the country there had been four individuals who had been released on parole and committed murder again. The 10-year parole eligibility experience had not been one which led to disaster in this country.
When capital punishment was abolished in 1976 we provided a life sentence for first and second degree murder with parole eligibility at 10 years for second degree murder with the possibility of the judge and jury increasing that up to 25 years at the time of the trial or the judgment. For first degree murder it was a 25 year parole eligibility period but with the opportunity of applying at 15 years for a reduction of the parole eligibility date from 25 to 15.
Some commentators and some members of this House have referred to that 15-year provision as a loophole. It was not a loophole. It was in the bill. It was debated in this House. It is clearly in the legislation. It is expressly provided for. It is not something that the government or the authorities have found and dropped between the boards, so to speak. It is there positively. It is a positive statement in the law that one can apply at 15 years to have one's parole eligibility reduced from 25 years to 15 years. If the court reduces your parole eligibility from 25 to 16 or 17 years you still have to go to the parole board and argue in favour of your parole.
You cannot be paroled unless you prove to the parole board that you are completely rehabilitated and no longer a danger to society. This is not automatic before the parole board or before the court on the 15-year review. As a matter of fact, most applicants on the 15-year review have been turned down. Even when people get before the parole board many of the cases are rejected. They are not granted parole because they are not able to establish that they are totally rehabilitated and no longer a danger to society.
I have proposed that we do away with the 15-year review and have parole eligibility at 15 years. Some people have misrepresented that proposal and have said that I am proposing that the sentence for murder be 15 years. That is totally false. The sentence for murder is and was a life sentence and should remain a life sentence.
One must also remember that when you are on a life sentence even if you are on parole the sentence continues. You may be serving the sentence outside the institution, outside of prison, but you are still under that life sentence. If you break the conditions of your parole-you do not even have to commit a crime-you can be sent back to prison to continue serving the life sentence. If you commit a minor offence of criminal negligence, theft or whatever, you can be put back into prison not only for the minor offence but also to continue serving your life sentence for murder.
It is not a question of changing the sentence for murder. The sentence for murder is life. I am not suggesting that it be otherwise. What we are talking about is the eligibility for parole, whether it should be 15 years or 25 years. We are not suggesting that the sentence be changed. It is a question under our system of whether you serve your sentence in a maximum security institution, in a medium security institution, in a minimum security institution or outside an institution altogether but under supervision in the community, which is parole.
There are various ways of serving sentences but you are still under sentence. For murder it is always a life sentence and nobody has suggested changing the sentence.
I simply want to say I was pleased that the minister did not do away with the 15-year review in the case of convicted murderers. I have some concern about how the provision he has put in the bill will apply and be relevant to the question to be decided at 15 years. My preference would have been that we get rid of the 15-year review and have parole eligibility at 15 years. Not everybody would be granted parole. They would still have to prove that they were no longer a danger to society and were totally rehabilitated. Therefore, people who are dangerous would not be released. They would still be kept in prison. It would give an opportunity to those who have served 15 or 16
years who were totally rehabilitated, who are ready to work and support themselves and their families to go back into society under supervision, serving their sentence in society, in the community.
I want to say again that any policy on sentencing must have as its principal goal the protection of the public. The purpose of criminal law is to protect the public from that behaviour which we categorize as criminal. That is the goal. If that is the goal of course then once we have people within the prison system our goal there has to be to rehabilitate or correct those individuals because the overwhelming majority of them will be on limited sentences and returned to society. If they are going to return to society the goal of the system has to be to rehabilitate, to correct.
We cannot expect the Criminal Code or the criminal justice system or our sentencing policy to be the principal means of preventing and reducing crime. Those policies can only relate to individuals once the crime is committed, once the damage has been done.
If we are really interested in reducing and preventing crime then we have to direct our attention to the causes of those crimes, whether they are social or economic, whether they are psychological. We have to ask ourselves why these individuals whether they are young people or adults are committing those crimes, and what can we do to prevent them.
Maybe we can have better gun control. I fully support more gun control and will support the minister when he brings in his bill because the fewer guns available the fewer crimes we will have with guns.
It could be that we have to do something about children who are abandoned or mistreated, whose parents are alcoholics or drug addicts who have abandoned their children and they grow up in a system of complete neglect without belonging to any family or group and who become very anti-social.
My point is those people who think that we can simply make amendments to the Criminal Code with respect to sentencing or the substance of a criminal offence will solve the problem and give the public the impression that will bring about a safer society are deluding society, are fooling society. They are not being honest with society.
We could amend every section of the Criminal Code. We could make it as hard and tough as we wish. That would not solve the problem. We have seen that, as I have said, in certain states of the United States.
If we are truly serious about protecting the public from crime, reducing crime or preventing crime, we must address the causes of crime. It is not simply a question for the Department of Justice or the Department of the Solicitor General. It is also for health and welfare, human resources, employment and immigration, provincial governments, school boards and municipal governments. We all have to play our role in dealing with society and the causes that give rise to crime.
I will bring my remarks to a close. As I said, the bill contains some very good provisions, some better alternatives for sentencing. It sets out a charter or a goal for sentencing policy. However there are a few provisions in the bill with which I have concern and I will be pleased, with the permanent committee on justice, to examine the bill to see if it can be improved in committee.