Madam Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to be back here in the House. I was off doing some business with international trade last week but I am sure that all of my colleagues conducted the affairs of the House in a manner which would add to the respect of this place.
The bill we are discussing today certainly adds to the respect this place has garnered from the Canadian public. It is a bill that has been very carefully crafted in response to the concerns not just of government members but of members from both sides of this House and clearly of many Canadians from coast to coast to coast. They want to ensure that the Canadian justice system is responsive to the Canadian public at this time in our history.
It is very important when we talk about issues of law and justice that we do not take extreme positions at either end of the spectrum. It is important as we try to gauge what is right for the Canadian judicial system to understand that the vast majority of Canadians, no matter which aspect of criminal justice we are looking at, are reasonable individuals who wish to see the laws we pass in this place not only be laws that are enforceable but laws that are supportable by them. That is very very clear.
One might argue that a law that is not supported by the public is not truly a law. As law makers we are elected by the people to make laws for the people which must be supported by the people.
This bill has come to the floor of the House with a considerable degree of controversy. A private member's bill was presented by one of our members in the last session and it was debated. It caused a lot of very important public debate. We saw a polarization in some cases of those who thought the bill that was debated in the last session which sought to repeal section 745 should have been passed and that the entire section should have been repealed. Very good arguments were made and they were worth listening to.
The bill now before the House seeks to change the application of section 745 of the Criminal Code. Again it has caused considerable debate in this place as well as in the Canadian public.
It is a difficult piece of legislation. As I said earlier, most Canadians are somewhere in the middle of the extremes. We are dealing with parole eligibility for people who have been convicted of the most heinous crimes in our society.
Indeed, after a particularly horrific crime has been committed the Canadian public seems to swing very much to the right. They say that the perpetrators of these crimes should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and that there should be no consideration given to the ability of the system to rehabilitate those individuals.
We have all done it; I have done it myself. When we read about a child being murdered or some of the other horrific crimes which human beings can perpetrate on other human beings, the initial reaction is to put the criminal in jail and throw away the key. However, on sober second thought we have to sit back and ask: Is each case exactly the same? Is each case so unindividual in its circumstances that laws should be passed which effectively indicate that anybody who is convicted of any of the crimes covered by section 745 should be automatically treated the same way? Should the key be thrown away? Should there be no possibility even for an application for a reduction in the length of time which has to be served before parole eligibility is attained?
It is a difficult bill. If we had to deal with each case, nearly every member would see that all cases are not the same. There are different circumstances. We are dealing with individuals who have been convicted of the most heinous crimes: first degree murder;
multiple murders; serial murders; second degree murder; treason. These are the most serious crimes one can commit in our society.
This bill probably sets the balance where it should be. The bill as proposed and as presented after report stage seeks to rebalance the system from where it had been under section 745 eligibility to where the Canadian public wants to see it and where our government thinks it should be in the interests of the successful application of justice in our society.
This bill responds to the absolute gut wrenching aversion which each and every Canadian must feel when they see those in our society who have been murdered in cold blood and when they see the horrible crimes which have been committed against our children. It says that those who commit the most serious crimes against Canadians and against humanity will no longer be able to make an application under section 745.
The bill also sets important new parameters. It tries to resolve the undue hardship which the families of victims suffer as a result of some criminals making frivolous applications under section 745. The bill adds a new layer to the application.
Those who are applying under section 745, if they have been convicted of first degree murder, must wait 15 years before the application can be filed. Before the application receives a full hearing, it must go to a superior court justice in the province in which the sentencing occurred. Based on the written evidence only, that justice will now make a decision as to whether or not there is a reasonable likelihood that an application for reduced parole eligibility has a chance of success before a jury.
The current way the system operates is that anybody who reaches that 15-year threshold has a right to make an application which must be heard by a judge and a jury. In many cases, we understand that individuals who have no chance under the rules to have a shortened period before parole eligibility take it to the court to add more public attention to themselves. At the same time they drag the victims' families through the court system who relive the memories of the atrocious crimes that were committed.
This bill addresses that. This bill makes sure that those frivolous cases as they are put forward will be vetted by a superior court judge. If that judge believes there is at least the possibility that the application for parole eligibility reduction might succeed, then it will be referred to a jury.
The other significant change is that in the past, when it was a judge and a jury, and the way it is done under the current system is that only eight out of twelve or two-thirds of the jurors could agree that there should be a reduction in the parole eligibility period. Under the new system it must be unanimous. Twelve out of twelve jurors must agree that the period before parole eligibility comes up should be shortened. Again, this seeks to rebalance the rights of the convicted as well as the rights of the community and the victims' families. It is a very progressive step in the right direction.
There are other important things in this bill. We have to understand that the Canadian public seeks to put law and order on the front burner again. This is one of a series of bills that have come forward in the term of this government to try to address and to rebalance the justice system in Canada.
This bill understands that perhaps some who are on the right wing would say to completely repeal section 745 and treat everybody the same no matter who they are, that somehow that will right the wrongs of those who have been the victims of these crimes.