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House of Commons Hansard #36 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was treaty.

Topics

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Reform

Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

moved that Bill C-212, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Young Offenders Act (capital punishment), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, last week Gallup released the results of its most recent survey on Canadian support for the death penalty. According to that poll, if a national referendum were to be held today a full 63% of the Canadian public would vote in favour of reinstating capital punishment.

The Reform Party believes that on moral and contentious issues such as capital punishment Canadians should grapple with their own consciences and vote according to their personal convictions in a binding national referendum. We have called for a binding referendum on the death penalty but the government has said no. The government has told the people that it knows what is best for them and that they do not have the choice.

That is why I have introduced the bill. If the government will not hold a binding referendum at the time of the next federal election, I believe we should hold a true free vote in the House of Commons where all MPs can vote the views of their constituents rather than those of their political bosses or their own personal beliefs. That would be democracy.

The bill imposes a sentence of capital punishment on all adults found guilty of first degree murder. First degree murder occurs when a murder is planned and deliberate, when death occurs during a sexual assault or kidnapping, or when the victim is a police officer or a correctional officer. First degree murder is not an accident. It is cold, calculated and brutal.

To address the concerns people have about the finality of the death penalty important safeguards have been built into the legislation. There is an automatic right of appeal at the first level. Even if convicted people themselves do not appeal they are deemed to have appealed and the court will review the case on all questions of fact and law to determine if the conviction is valid.

All appeals are to be conducted in a timely fashion. If the jury and court are satisfied that overwhelming evidence shows someone is guilty beyond doubt there is no reason he or she should languish on death row for years. The sentence, if upheld, is to be carried out within a reasonable period of time. The death penalty is to be carried out by lethal injection. This is a more humane method of execution than hanging or electrocution. It ensures a quick and painless end and does not turn the culmination of a tragic chain of events begun by a brutal murder into a media and public circus.

People might ask why the bill is necessary. The death penalty should be reinstated for many reasons. First and foremost is that the state must protect society. In this debate we cannot forget the inevitable release of murderers. Between 1986 and 1995, 133 convicts released from prison for first and second degree murder returned to our communities and committed crimes again. These included 87 violent crimes and sex offences. They also included 10 murders. It is clear that our so-called rehabilitation programs are not working.

Two convicted murderers also escaped, only to murder again. How does one explain to the families of those victims that 12 murderers were given the opportunity to strike again? How could anyone possibly defend our justice system to the family of just one of these victims?

While there are 12 examples that I could use, I draw the attention of the House to one in particular. Four murders were committed in 1989 by Allan Legere who escaped from prison while serving a life sentence for the bloody beating death of an elderly shopkeeper in 1986. He escaped, only to murder four more law-abiding innocent Canadians.

I am certain that someone here today will raise the cases of Donald Marshall, Guy Paul Morin and David Milgaard. All three of these men spent years of their lives behind bars, convicted of crimes they did not commit. This is not something any Canadian is proud of. My hope is that their years of needless suffering and incarceration have taught us a grave lesson about how easily justice can be subverted. Their hard won battles have exposed problems in our system that we must be ever vigilant to avoid repeating.

When local police departments are under enormous public pressure to produce a guilty party, that is when we must scrutinize the evidence presented with an even more critical eye.

No one should be convicted of first degree murder and put to death based on circumstantial evidence. We now have much improved DNA technology. These high profile cases have alerted the public and the justice system to the possibility of overzealous police forces seeking speedy convictions.

David Milgaard was convicted of second degree murder so he never would have faced the death penalty in any case. Under the bill all evidence and facts would have been carefully re-examined in the convictions of Guy Paul Morin and Donald Marshall. They were recently exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence. If their trials had been held today they would have never been convicted. The DNA tests that proved them innocent could just as easily prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, someone else's guilt.

We are entering the 21st century and our justice system should use the latest technology to determine the guilt or innocence of those charged.

Many people like to quote statistics, telling us that the murder rate has gone down since 1975. That was the peak year, at three murders per 100,000 Canadians. Why do they not take it from 1966 when the rate was less than half that, at 1.25 per 100,000? In 1996 the homicide rate was 2.11 per 100,000. Whether we measure it from 1966 or 1975 it is still far too many.

Another statistic is much more relevant to the debate today. I quote from a recent Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics publication known as Juristat . With respect to homicide it states that first degree murder as a proportion of all homicides rose steadily from 36% in 1978 to 57% in 1996. That means that in 1978, 238 people were charged with first degree murder. However, in 1996, 361 people were charged with first degree murder even though there were 28 fewer murders committed in 1996 than in 1978. Obviously something has changed if the proportion of planned and deliberate murders has increased by over 50% since capital punishment was abolished in 1976.

We should not consider the use of the death penalty out of hunger for vengeance but out of desire for justice. No act of vengeance can undo the harm done. No punishment can erase a victim's scars or bring back those who were murdered. The death penalty is not about vengeance. It is not the business of the state to exact punishment motivated by vengeance. It is the role of the state to mete out justice.

Capital punishment is about public safety. The only certain way to keep extremely dangerous individuals from harming again and again is to take away their opportunity to do so. Why is it wrong for society to take the life of someone who has knowingly violated our most fundamental laws and brutally slain a fellow human being?

In 1982 one-third of the 300 convicted murderers in Canada said they would prefer the death penalty over life in prison. In fact, in 1983 a convicted murdered in Saskatchewan formally requested the death penalty by lethal injection on the basis that his life sentence was cruel and unusual punishment. His request was denied by the court.

Some people believe we should just lock up murderers capable of the most heinous crimes for a few decades. Some of these people object to the death penalty strictly on moral grounds. That is their right and I believe they should be given the opportunity to voice that view in a referendum.

I take issue with those who object to the death penalty because they fear our justice system may have convicted an innocent person. What they are pointing out is not a problem with the death sentence, but a more fundamental problem with the ability of our justice system to determine the truth.

If you believe innocent people are being convicted, do not just object to the death penalty. It is equally wrong to keep an innocent person in jail for 10 or 20 years. Those who believe our justice system does not work have a moral obligation to reform it, to protect all innocent people, not just those facing a possible death penalty.

There is no question there are problems with our justice system. According to our laws, taking a human life is wrong. Somehow our system is seriously out of balance, and I refer specifically to the Latimer case.

Maybe people believe the second degree conviction of Tracy Latimer's father was warranted, but others believe it points to the need for different charges in the Criminal Code. I do not know whether the Minister of Justice is considering something like a mercy killing category, but if she is I strongly urge her to include a significant range of sentencing options to reflect all Canadians' moral convictions on this highly contentious issue.

Under the current system the sentencing judge has little latitude in sentencing Latimer. Some Canadians agree with this while others do not.

Let me bring another murder case to the attention of the House today. On Vancouver Island a man was murdered and his murderer walked. There was no public hue and cry to jail the perpetrator because the victim was apparently an undesirable person. Because people did not seem to generally like the victim, they demanded little or no punishment for the criminal. That is not right.

Somehow I believe our justice system forgot that its role is to protect all citizens, even those we do not like. As a society we cannot let individuals take the law into their own hands. We must prevent vigilantism and have room for compassion for those who act out of mercy, not malice. The state should have the option of imposing the severest of penalties for the most heinous of crimes to protect the citizens.

There is no way to bring the victim back. The death penalty would not do that. But it will prevent the murderer from murdering again.

Paul Bernardo may not be getting out for a long time, but his accomplice will be getting out very soon. Clifford Olson may have failed in his bid for parole this summer, but eventually he too may be released into our streets, into the neighbourhoods where our children are at play.

Do you want people capable of rape, torture and murder living next to you? Do you want to take the chance with your children and grandchildren? When they get out, not if, do not count on them moving to someone else's neighbourhood.

The death penalty may not act as a deterrent for sick individuals bent on the destruction of other human beings, but if the death penalty does not deter them, neither does the prospect of imprisonment for 15, 20 or 25 years. Deterrence is not the issue. Seventy percent of Canadians who supported the death penalty in 1996 said they would still support it even if it was proven not to be a deterrent. Instead, the majority of Canadians believe that capital punishment is for the protection of society.

In summary, I believe the death penalty should be reinstated for those guilty of heinous first degree murders. This bill provides ample opportunity for appeals on the basis of fact and law with the option of commuting the sentence to life imprisonment. Capital punishment should be available to society to protect the citizens from those who have shown no remorse, no guilt and no possibility of redemption. The appeals process and the sentence are to be carried out in a timely fashion. Administering a lethal injection is more humane than hanging or electrocution and does not reduce the death sentence to a media spectacle.

I and the Reform Party believe that Canadian people should decide on whether they want to reinstate capital punishment in a binding national referendum, as I said earlier. Because the government has said no, as I also said earlier, the next best thing is a free vote in the House of Commons.

Sixty-three per cent of Canadians want the death penalty reinstated. It is the duty of members of this House to carry out the will of their constituents. Therefore, I would seek unanimous consent of the members present to make Bill C-212 votable.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

An hon. member

Democracy denied as usual.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Denied.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Madam Speaker, I feel compelled to participate in this debate on Bill C-212 which was introduced by the hon. member for Prince George—Peace River.

Bill C-212 would reinstate the death penalty for first degree murder committed by a person 18 years of age or over. This bill would also provide for an increase in prison terms for first and second degree murder which can be imposed upon persons under the age of 18.

I would like first to address the issue of reinstatement of the death penalty.

Capital punishment was debated extensively in this House prior to the 1976 vote that abolished it more than 20 years ago. Capital punishment has been debated a few times since it was abolished, not only in Parliament, but elsewhere. The most extensive debate since the abolition of capital punishment took place in this House in 1987. I clearly remember that debate because, as a private citizen, it was the first time that I actually wrote to my MP to encourage him to vote against capital punishment.

The 1987 debate was on the then government of the day motion and that motion called upon the House of Commons to support in principle the reinstatement of capital punishment and to establish a special committee to provide recommendations on the offences which should carry the death penalty, and on the method or methods which should be used to carry out the sentence of death.

The question as I said earlier was debated at length. There was a free vote in this House. It seems that some people cannot understand that a free vote democratically given in Canada has been done and it was refused. Some people push the agenda all the time.

A majority of the members then voted against the motion and thus against the reinstatement of capital punishment in the Criminal Code. Since that vote, capital punishment has not been an issue of great national prominence.

Why are we asked to debate the reinstatement of capital punishment at this time? It is private members hour and a Reform member has brought it forward. Are there any new circumstances that require or seriously say that Parliament should re-examine this issue? Perhaps I would understand if there was a trend showing a significant increase in the homicide rate. This could institute a requirement that we should again debate this issue and would justify reopening this debate on the death penalty.

Surely the hon. member from Prince George—Peace River is not motivated by an increase in the homicide rate. In fact the rate for 1996 is the third lowest rate since 1975. The homicide rate was three per hundred thousand of population in 1975, the last year when capital punishment was in force for murder. In 1987 when this House held an extensive debate on a government motion for the reinstatement of capital punishment, the homicide rate was down to 2.4 per hundred thousand, which means a 20% decrease compared to 1975.

In 1995 the homicide rate had decreased further to 1.99. This represents a 33% reduction since 1975, the last year the death penalty was in force in this country. For 1996 the rate is 2.1.

I want to be clear. I do not underestimate, nor does anybody in this House, the crime of murder. Today we are all aware of yet another tragedy in Canada over the weekend. Every homicide is a tragedy and it raises questions about our society and raises questions for our society. Every homicide or murder must be punished with the most serious penalties and it is.

However, statistics do show us that the homicide rate was three per one hundred thousand of population when capital punishment was in force and it is down to around two per one hundred thousand now that capital punishment is no longer in our system, having been abolished, as I said, for over 20 years.

This decrease hardly supports the deterrent element of capital punishment. Not only has the homicide rate not increased with the abolition of the death penalty, it has actually decreased by one-third.

What these statistics mean is that there is no evidence that the death penalty is a useful tool to fight murders. If the death penalty is not an effective tool against homicides and murders, we should ask ourselves what useful purpose would be served by reinstating it.

I personally believe that the death penalty is an excessive means of achieving the objectives of sentencing. In recent years at least three well publicized cases have come to light which would cause one to pause and should cause this society to pause when considering the reinstatement of the death penalty: the wrongful murder convictions of Donald Marshall, Jr., Guy-Paul Morin and David Milgaard.

If capital punishment had been in effect, they may not have had a second chance at life. Capital punishment is final. There is no chance to correct the mistakes of the state, however well intentioned, however strongly we feel and however many inches of press can be generated. This type of error is also tragic and it is totally preventable when we do not have capital punishment as part of our recourse in our justice system.

On practical grounds, these are reasons I personally oppose the death penalty. The onus is on those who would want to change the law in such a fundamental way to make a compelling case. For myself, I am not persuaded by the arguments I have just heard and those being made.

It is not only on practical grounds that I oppose the death penalty, but I also oppose it on moral grounds. The issue of capital punishment raises the question of how we see ourselves as a country and a people. The trend in the world, at least among western nations, is to abolish the death penalty. To return to capital punishment in Canada would be contrary to the international trend and I personally believe that supporting a return to the death penalty for murder would be a very regressive step, one that my hon. colleagues in the Reform Party seem to wish to embrace.

Do Canadians really believe that they would feel safer living in a society where capital punishment is meted out? In fact to be very crass, do they even believe that this would save tax dollars? Please look to what is going on with our neighbours to the south. Canadians will find some of those answers.

The hon. member's bill would also increase prison terms for murder for persons under the age of 18 years. I found it surprising that he did not address that, seeing as that is part of the bill, but I am going to comment. I would like to remind the hon. member that parole eligibility periods for youth convicted of murder were significantly increased as of December 1, 1995.

I would like to outline for the House the provisions that currently apply to young offenders who are found guilty of murder. A youth who is 14 years of age or over at the time of the commission of the offence of first degree murder or second degree murder may be transferred to adult court. If convicted of murder in adult court, the minimum sentence is life imprisonment.

Before December 1, 1995 a youth convicted of either first or second degree murder in adult court was subject to a prison term set by the court at between five and ten years inclusive. Since our government changed this law after December 1, 1995, the following provisions apply.

First, a 16 or 17 year old youth convicted of first degree murder must serve a term of at least 10 years in custody. A 16 or 17 year old youth convicted of second degree murder must serve a term of at least seven years in custody and a youth 14 or 15 years of age who is convicted of either first or second degree murder in adult court must serve a custody term of between five and seven years inclusive as set by the court. If not specified by the judge, then the person must serve a term of five years.

I want to go back to before December 1, 1995 when youths of any age convicted of first or second degree murder in youth court were subject to a maximum sentence of five years less a day which was composed of two parts. The maximum custodial period was three years and the maximum period for conditional supervision in the community was two years less a day.

It is unfortunate that I am out of time because I do have the facts that could be presented. Maybe one of my colleagues will finish this.

Right now I need to make the point that all youth convicted of first degree murder in youth court are subject to a maximum sentence of ten years which is comprised of a maximum of six years in custody and a maximum length of conditional supervision of four years. Youths convicted of second degree murder in youth court are subject to a maximum sentence of seven years which is composed of a maximum period of four years in custody and a period of conditional supervision which may not exceed three years.

It has only been two years since we have changed these rules. We have a justice committee looking at it. I am going to suggest that we let the Minister of Justice, who knows this is an important issue, deal with this as we have been doing all along. We take this seriously. In my submission, capital punishment plays no part in our just society.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Peter Mancini NDP Sydney—Victoria, NS

Madam Speaker, I would first like to commend the mover of this piece of legislation for the work that has gone into it. I read his private member's bill today and it is clear that a considerable amount of effort has gone into drafting the legislation. I commend him for that but, and I am sure this will come as no surprise to him, I disagree with the contents of the legislation and the thrust of the private member's bill to reinstate capital punishment in this country and, as my hon. colleague just mentioned, to require life imprisonment for certain young offenders charged and convicted of first degree murder.

In the introduction and debate of this piece of legislation, I find it interesting that the hon. member said that this is not about vengeance. He indicated that vengeance plays no part in seeking the death penalty. He went on to say that it was not about deterrence. My hon. colleague, who spoke prior to me, indicated that the statistics are there and there is no evidence that capital punishment acts as a deterrent to murderers.

Therefore, if it is not about vengeance or deterrence, what is the purpose of the legislation? The mover says it is about safety. I presume what he means is that if we take a person who is convicted of first degree murder and execute them they are not going to commit murder a second time. The reality is that in this country we have life imprisonment. The reality is that the Paul Bernardos and Clifford Olsons, who are talked about by the mover of this bill, will not be released from prison. The purpose of prison is safety. If we can achieve the purpose of safety through prison then what is the point of execution? If we can achieve safety in a more humane and civilized way then surely the hon. member will agree, if vengeance is not part of the issue, and if safety can be achieved in another way, that is the way we should proceed.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

An hon. member

Don't count on it.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Peter Mancini NDP Sydney—Victoria, NS

I am not. That being said, consequently there is no necessary rationale for the legislation that has been brought into the House today. I submit we can achieve safety in a better way and as a better society. If we went to Canadians and said that the people who are convicted of first degree murder in the most heinous circumstances will not be released from prison unless they avail themselves of Canadians' will to release them through an application under the faint hope clause, Canadians would say fine, if safety is the issue and we know we are safe.

As I have indicated, I think the rationale is then gone for the piece of legislation.

My hon colleague, the mover of this bill, and I think there were some members of his party who heckled the member from the Liberal Party who spoke, said the reason we are having this debate is public opinion, the reason that we are reintroducing this whole issue, even though it has been debated not once but twice in this House, is that 63% according to Gallup want us to talk about this issue and want capital punishment.

I ask him, then, if public opinion is the rationale, will he put a caveat into his legislation and say we want the death penalty but we are going to review it as public opinion shifts? Perhaps in three years if 55% of the Canadian population according to some poll says we do not want capital punishment, we will reintroduce the legislation—

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

An hon. member

It never happened.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Peter Mancini NDP Sydney—Victoria, NS

The hon. mover says that it has never happened. I guess what we are going to do is leave this to a public relations campaign between the victims rights groups perhaps on one hand and the council of churches on the other, the victims rights groups perhaps saying they want the death penalty and the council of churches saying it does not. Who can ever engage Canadians and win their support for the day, we will change the law accordingly.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

An hon. member

Public opinion.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Peter Mancini NDP Sydney—Victoria, NS

Exactly. Let us change each piece of legislation every year, depending on whether or not certain groups can present their case on television and in the media and gain the most public opinion.

Those people who were put to death between let us say 1997 and the year 2000 when the legislation might come up for review, well, they were on the wrong side of public opinion for three years. We will change it again in 2000 and we will not have the death penalty.

Maybe in 2010 we will change it again and those people between 2000 and 2010, good for them, they won the lottery. They did all right. Those after will suffer.

We are allowing the Gallup poll to determine legislation in Parliament where I believe we have been elected to represent our constituents' interests but also to lead this country into the next millennium.

That is our purpose and I think that is what we have to do. We now know there is no rationale for the piece of legislation. We now know it is being led by public opinion and that is the purpose of it, I suppose, to gain some points in another Gallup poll.

It would be Reform justice, I suppose. We know that jurors can err but I raise another point and I think it is an important point. In many states in America, our neighbours to the south, there is capital punishment.

The reality of what happens in study after study is that juries are reluctant to convict if they know the death penalty is what awaits the accused.

The mover of this legislation has talked about the Latimer case and it is interesting to note that jurors who convicted Mr. Latimer interviewed later on, and this is no secret, it was used by his defence council, indicated that had they known that the minimum sentence was 10 years, they would have entered a verdict of not guilty.

If we accept the statistics of my hon. friend, and I am not sure I do, let us suppose that 40% of Canadians on moral grounds opposed the death penalty, if they sit on the jury and cannot morally accede to the death penalty if it is law, they are left with no choice but to acquit.

I ask the mover of this legislation to think about that very carefully because it is a very real consequence in states where there is a death penalty.

The other side of this in reality is the frustration in the legal system. The bill makes provision for a mandatory appeal. It is a very American piece of legislation. I think we have to say that what we are doing here is free trade on certain kinds of justice issues.

We are importing American legislation into this country, into a judicial system and a court structured system that is British in nature. Let us be clear. We are trying to put a round peg into a square hole here and it is not going to fit.

If we do look to the American states where this type of legislation is in place, we see case after case where the appeals are dragged out for years. It is a fight for someone's life. Make no mistake, there are organizations in this country that would find funding to continue appeal after appeal, to look for clemency to move on.

I think we have to look at the reality of this. It is nice and easy to say this solves the problem, we are going to have an execution after we seek leave to appeal.

Since I have one minute left, I will try to wrap up. Like my colleague, there is so much to say on this issue that I could speak for a fairly long period of time. However, let me say that I find it absolutely contradictory and somewhat upsetting that the mover of this legislation would say that we are in favour of this and that we are going to do it nice and clean, in a way that nobody is really bothered, it will not be a public spectacle.

To those in favour of capital punishment, I say bring the accused into this Chamber, execute him here, watch him foul himself in this House, eye to eye, and then let them tell me that they are in favour.

I have not touched on the young offender areas of the bill, nor have I touched on an interesting little section that requires the body of the person who has been executed to be buried within the prison. And my friend says that this is not couched in vengeance. So much for Christian mercy.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on this bill put forward by the Reform Party.

There is nothing surprising about this bill, considering that the Reform Party had tabled a bill during the 35th Parliament—

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Reform

Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, on a point of order. This bill is not a Reform bill. This is my bill, the member for Prince George—Peace River, a private member's motion. Private members' motions and bills do not come from a party.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Resuming debate.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Madam Speaker, the hon. member from the West may be ashamed of his party. Indeed, this is a private member's bill. Some of us are capable of making that distinction.

That said, during the 35th Parliament another hon. member from the Reform Party tabled a bill proposing a referendum on the death penalty. It will be recalled that there was a debate in this House. Outside of the Reform members, hon. members voted without exception against that bill. I would remind the hon. member that the bill in question was C-261. The Reform MPs were in favour of the bill, while all the rest of the House was against it.

Today—

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Reform

Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

Madam Speaker, on a point of order. In the 35th Parliament the bill which was just mentioned by the hon. member was my bill. It was not a Reform bill. It was a private member's bill. The member needs to get his facts straight. Reform policy is not quite the same as what is coming forward in these bills. So he needs to get his facts right. I do not mind if he criticizes private members' bills, but do not attach those directly to the party.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Resuming debate.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Madam Speaker, things are not going well for the Reform Party, because a second member has just dissociated himself from the party. Things are not going well. There are another four or five who may do the same.

That said, the bill put forward by the member for Prince George—Peace River has two parts to it. The aim of the first is to reinstate capital punishment and that of the second is to ensure the maximum prison sentence for offenders, people who have committed serious crimes. The crime is no less serious, but people under 18 years of age who have committed first degree murder, for example, would serve a life sentence.

They are amending the Criminal Code by replacing section 235 of the Criminal Code—and I think it important every word of this bill be understood—with the following:

Every one who commits first degree murder is guilty of an indictable offence and shall be sentenced a ) to death, where the person was eighteen years of age or more at the time of the commission of the offence; or b ) to imprisonment for life where the person was under the age of eighteen at the time of the commission of the offence.

As we can see, there are two elements to be amended, namely, the Criminal Code with respect to capital punishment and the Young Offenders Act.

In the case of the Criminal Code, all of us in this House know that there was a big debate on the subject in 1975-76, when Canada still had capital punishment. They wanted to amend it. There was a moral debate, with the church involved, a political and a social debate. I think there was a very important debate in 1975-76 on that. A compromise was reached, because they abolished capital punishment. The compromise was life imprisonment, with the possibility of parole after 25 years. It was perhaps not the best formula, but it was the most accurate representation of the will of the people at the time.

You have to understand that people, that a society, that a country can change. Maybe not the Reform Party, but everyone else. Today we do not think exactly the same way we did 25, 30 or 40 years ago. I think it is normal in a free and democratic society to deal with this, especially since with the help of experts and the people involved, we can review much more objectively the whole situation, which is rather unpleasant, I must admit. There is nothing pleasant about first degree murder. When we read the newspapers, there is nothing pleasant there neither, but I believe that in a society like ours, we had to get to the bottom of this. That is what we did during those years and we arrived at a rather satisfactory formula.

However, we improved it over the years. Recently, I think we solved still other problems by amending the Criminal Code so an individual can be declared a dangerous offender and denied the possibility of parole. Perhaps there will be further improvements over the years, but it surely will not be by going to extremes, as the Reform member wants to do this morning with Bill C-212, and by imposing capital punishment for first degree murder.

I would like to read to you some of the objectives we have here. Why did we go from capital punishment to the system we have today? France and other European countries had the same social debate we had here and finally adopted legislation resembling Canada's.

The judge should base his sentence on the objective and subjective seriousness of the offense so that the sentence is fair and in line with the offense and the offender. He should think about the objectives to be achieved by imposing a sentence. The sentence should be a deterrent for the accused and set an example for the people in the community, the region and even, in some cases, the province. But the sentence should also consider the actual or potential rehabilitation of the offender. The objectives that the judge has to consider are the following: the protection of society, retribution, deterrence, example, and the social rehabilitation of the offender and his protection against other sanctions. Considering all this, I believe that the present system strikes a balance and, as I was saying earlier, further improvements can always be made.

Another reason to oppose this bill—and I am saying this on a personal basis today, but also, knowing rather well my colleagues from the Bloc Quebecois, I believe there are a number of them that agree with me—is the possibility of an error in the judicial system. This is an extremely important reason and I think that even though our judicial system has proven itself, it is not infallible. No one in this House is infallible either. No judge is infallible, and I think there may be cases where individuals are found guilty who are not really guilty.

In Canada, we have seen people spend 5, 10 or 15 years in jail who were later found to have been unfairly convicted and who were released after their files were reopened and a new investigation was conducted.

I know that with the progress made in the medical field and in other fields, we can make the judicial system better or try to reduce the risk of mistakes being made, and I am referring here to deoxyribonucleic acid analysis, better known as DNA analysis. Such analyses may be used to link a given individual to a murder based on evidence found on the scene of the crime.

But even the best techniques will not prevent mistakes from being made and individuals from being convicted of murder in the first degree. If this House passed the hon. member's bill, these people would be executed, when it may be found ten years down the road that they were not guilty of the crimes they were accused of.

Also, before taking a stand on this bill, I did what I had done before taking a stand on the bill introduced by my Reform colleague during the 35th Parliament: I read what had been written about it and checked what the experts had said. Criminal lawyers are not unanimous, but the vast majority of them, including Gisèle Côté-Harper, Antoine Manganas and Jean Turgeon, say that capital punishment does not have a deterrent effect in the case of first degree murder.

To conclude, as far as young offenders are concerned, the proposed amendment to the Young Offenders Act would completely upset the balance of this legislation. For these additional reasons, I am opposed to the hon. member's bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Reform

Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

Madam Speaker, I have listened with interest to the debate this morning. During the last Parliament, as I mentioned earlier, I put forward a bill which requested, consistent with Reform policy, a binding referendum on this issue. It requested a binding referendum of the public, which has in polls, as other members have mentioned, consistently voted 65% or higher for the past 30 years in favour of the death penalty being reinstated. That is one thing which has not changed with time.

An hon. member mentioned how times have changed and how issues have changed but the fact is that public opinion on this issue has not changed. What that tells us is that this place, where members have free votes and vote opposite the will of the people, is out of step with the people, or the people are out of step with Parliament. It is one of the two. We have to do something to bring those two positions more closely together.

One obvious way to do it is to involve the public in a referendum. There would be extensive public debate. Everybody would have the opportunity to put forward their point of view. In the end the community would make the decision about how it wants the country to run.

An hon. member grossly exaggerated about the way referenda work, saying we would be into referenda every year, that every five minutes there would be a referendum. That is a lot of rubbish. I would challenge that member to point to a place anywhere in the world where referenda are common and where that happens.

Even Switzerland which has numerous referenda per month in the cantons simply does not get into the silly nonsense which the member mentioned of constantly revisiting issues. Certainly they revisit issues but the timeframe tends to be a lot longer. Several years is not uncommon for a change in attitudes to alter something which needs to be brought forward in a referendum. The fact is that a referendum is a very good tool for getting public opinion. There is a decent length of time to discuss the issue.

At the moment it certainly looks as if the public would vote for the return of capital punishment. In discussions with my own constituents, because the majority of people in my riding favour its return, I have asked them what sort of checks and balances they would put in place if they were to vote to have capital punishment returned. What checks and balances would they have to avoid accidentally giving the death penalty to somebody who was innocent?

The most common suggestion I had is a good one. It is that the jury which listens to the murder case has the opportunity to weigh all the evidence, to hear all of the circumstances behind the murder. If the death penalty were to be returned the suggestion would be that the jury have the power to recommend to the judge the death penalty. It would not be automatic. It would be a recommendation of the jury. That overcomes one of the problems which was identified by one of the members where juries are afraid to convict people on that basis.

This suggestion was given to me by one of my constituents. If we are ever faced with this situation we may get into that dialogue. If a jury was to have the power to recommend that sort of thing, then the judge is the final check and balance in accepting or rejecting the recommendation.

I realize the bill before us today does not make provision for that. If we were into a referendum type situation a lot of these suggestions would come forward. It is important to remember that.

Another member mentioned that the trend was away from capital punishment. In the United States, which is our closest neighbour, more and more states have been reintroducing capital punishment. There is a growing desire for zero tolerance on crime in many of the United States. Crime authorities are coming down harder and harder on crime and it is working.

For example, in New York City the police commissioner, who is an elected official in the United States, some years ago decided he would take a zero tolerance policy with respect to youth crime and general crime in the subways. He ordered the police to arrest people even if they so much as spit on the sidewalk or put up a bit of graffiti. Within a very few months that zero tolerance sent a message to the drug dealers, the murderers, the rapists that crime would not be tolerated and crime dropped dramatically on the New York subways.

As a result that police commissioner was elected to become the mayor of the city. He introduced much tougher crime control and the murder rate dropped something like 35% in about six months. There was a program on television about this recently. A woman who lived in one of the black ghettos said that in her entire lifetime of 30 years she had never had a day when there were not gunshots fired until that mayor was elected and had a zero tolerance on crime and started to clean up the way society was operating.

There is a desire in society to get control of these criminal elements. I look at youth crime in my area where graffiti is rampant. I have been in Canada since 1979. In Vancouver graffiti was almost unknown then. When I came to Ottawa in 1993 there was hardly any graffiti. Now this whole town is covered in it. My riding is covered in it.

If we had the same zero tolerance approach to things like youth crime, we would be in a much better situation today than we are. This bill represents a desire by the public to see their government, which is us, recognize their concerns and get back to zero tolerance of these crimes. If we do not step down hard on things like graffiti, then we will naturally have to accept all sorts of serious crimes. We saw on the weekend in Victoria where a 14 year old girl was murdered by a group of her peers. We have to get the message across that we are not prepared to accept this type of crime.

Despite what some members have claimed there has been very consistent public opinion on the issue. They want to see us return capital punishment to the law books. The fact remains that this place is out of step with those people and that members who stand and arrogantly say they will defy the will of their constituents are doing them no service whatsoever.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

Noon

Reform

Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, as always, even if it was somewhat abbreviated the issue does end up producing quite a lively debate, as I am sure the people at home have noticed with some of the heckling back and forth across the Chamber during the debate.

In the short five minutes that I am given by the process to sum up, I would like to try to make as many points as possible to rebut some of what was said by the other representatives of the parties.

First, it is key to note that the hon. member for London West, as well as others, denied the ability to put this very important issue to a vote. In other words justice denied has been justice denied once more in the House. It is my position and the position of a lot of people in the Reform Party of Canada that all Private Members' Business should be put to a vote whether it is a private member's bill or motion.

Second, I call the attention of the viewing public, or anyone who wants to follow the debate and do a little research on it, to the fact that the comments made by the hon. member for London West almost followed word by word the comments made by one of her former colleagues, Mr. Gordon Kirkby, who at the time was the parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice, as reported in Hansard of May 14, 1996, for anyone who would care to look up the speech.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

Noon

An hon. member

What happened to him?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

Noon

Reform

Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

What happened to him? Exactly. He was not re-elected in Prince Albert. I am not saying that his position on capital punishment had anything to do with it, but it may have had a lot to do with the fact that he was viewed by the majority of constituents as not representing their wishes in parliament. That might have had a lot to do with it.

In reply to the hon. member for the NDP, he made some statement to the effect that if we could achieve public safety without capital punishment then why put in capital punishment. I would ask him to ask those 12 families who lost loved ones between the years 1986 and 1995 because murderers were released, and in one case escaped, and murdered again. That is not public safety. I would like the hon. member to remember that when he says that some of these animals—and that is what I call them—will never ever be released from prison. Obviously some of them are released because they are repeat offenders.

In reply to the hon. member of the Bloc Quebecois, it is unfortunate that one of my colleagues and I found it necessary to rise on points of order during his intervention. I do not like to see that happen during debate on Private Members' Business, but his comments clearly indicate that the Bloc Quebecois has no clue as to what Private Members' Business is all about.

Quite simply Private Members' Business, whether a motion or a bill, is for the private member. That is why those that are deemed votable are put to a supposed free vote in the House of Commons. It is not supposed to be along party lines. Therefore the member's comments about the fact that we wanted to dissociate ourselves from the Reform Party is simply not true. I am trying to represent my constituents, and even though it is not Reform Party policy I am bringing it forward.

I notice that I have but one minute left. It is such a short period of time to debate such an important issue. Speakers from all parties said likewise. It is unfortunate that we did not have more time, more than just one short hour, to debate an issue supported by such a great number of Canadians. As was clearly said the actual support for reinstatement of capital punishment is increasing after it dipped. In reply to the statement made by the NDP, it has never fallen below 50% that the Canadian people speak consistently in favour of reinstating capital punishment.

My final point is that if the majority of the members of Parliament do not have the courage to represent their constituents and reinstate the death penalty for first degree murder, I would certainly support the position recently articulated by Stockwell Day of Alberta. Let us release these animals into the prison population and let them take care of the justice.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped from the order paper.