Mr. Speaker, I hesitate to say that I agree with the member for Vegreville on very many occasions but I certainly agree with his opening sentiment that he did not really wish to be participating in this debate. I think many of us in the House share that preoccupation. This is not a debate we wish to participate in. It is a debate, however, that has been brought by his party and it is incumbent on us to challenge and at least look at the real reasons behind this motion and what we should be doing as responsible parliamentarians about it. Let me take the last matter first.
Many members have expressed a deep desire to see a proper balance in criminal law, as the hon. member for Vegreville said. We all must achieve that balance.
I am not a criminal lawyer but I had the opportunity to study criminal law many years ago. I remember being taught that the purpose of criminal law was threefold. First was to punish, not with a view to punishing for the sake of punishment but with a view to deterring crimes for the protection of society. Second was to serve as an example. This too was for the protection of society so that others would not follow a bad example. Third, equally important in any civilized system, was that of rehabilitation, to rehabilitate those people who had committed crimes. This too is in the long term interest of society. Criminals should be rehabilitated and not incarcerated forever at a cost to society.
The hon. member for Vegreville brought up a new preoccupation in criminal law and one equally worthy of weight. What about the interests of those who are victims, those who must suffer as a result of terrible crimes such as those committed by Clifford Olson? We owe to those people the best concern we can develop in the context of creating a system that has integrity and guarantees a stable criminal justice system which will achieve all the objectives I set out at the beginning.
If we look at the history of this matter we can see that 745 was designed to do that. Until 1976 Canada had the death penalty for first degree murder. In 1976 Parliament abolished capital punishment and replaced it with mandatory life sentences for high treason, first degree murder and second degree murder. Parole ineligibility periods were established at the same time. They were 25 years for high treason and first degree murder and 10 years for second degree murder, with the judge having the power, after considering any recommendation from the jury, to increase the period up to 25 years.
Why did Parliament consider it was necessary to provide for a reduction in the ineligibility period in certain circumstances? The first reason given was that at the time the minimum sentence of 25 years was longer, and I stress the word longer, than the average prison sentence served by murderers whose death sentence had been commuted to life.
Until 1976, the average sentence served by these offenders before parole was about 13 years. For non-capital murder, it was seven years. Parliament was also aware that in other countries with values similar to ours, the average time served before parole was
15 years. Even in the United States, individuals convicted of murder who were not executed served an average of 18 years.
Subsequently, to make the law more balanced, last January we adopted Bill C-45. Until this bill came into force, an offender convicted of murder could apply to the chief justice of the Superior Court of the province in which he was convicted for a review of the parole ineligibility period. The odious nature of the crime, the anti-social behaviour of the murderer in prison, the fact that he was practically certain that the period would not be reviewed, all this did not exempt the chief justice from the obligation to empanel a jury to hear the application.
It was exactly for that reason that the Minister of Justice introduced Bill C-45 in June of 1996. The solicitor general discussed with the House the background of Bill C-45 and its important provisions. I would like to just very quickly speak to those issues as well, to remind the House that Bill C-45, which we recently adopted, has tightened the process in three important ways. It has denied the application of section 745 to multiple murderers, it has added a screening process before a convicted murderer is allowed to apply to the chief justice for judicial review of the ineligibility period, and it has substituted the rule of unanimity for the rule of two-thirds decision by the jury.
In all three areas, multiple murderers will no longer have the benefit of this early release or even to apply for it. A screening process for all section 745.6 applications means that before proceeding to a hearing before a section 745.6 jury, applicants will be required to persuade a superior court judge to whom the application is made that the application has a reasonable prospect of success. The screening is conducted on the basis of written materials only in order to spare the victims' families the ordeal of testifying in cases that are manifestly undeserving. I will come back to that because I think that point is capital in the debate that we are having before the House today.
Both the crown and the applicant are allowed to submit evidence by affidavit. Where the applicant is screened out the judge may decide whether and when the applicant may apply again but it can never be before two years. Any subsequent application will be again subject to the screening process.
The third point is all members of the jury must be unanimous in their decision. Obviously a unanimous decision is much more difficult to obtain and where the application is denied the jury may decide if and when the applicant can apply again but under no circumstances would an applicant be allowed to apply within two years of the application.
Clearly it will be much more difficult to meet the requirements of the new section 745.6 than it was before Bill C-45. It will be more difficult to get a hearing. The hearing will be much less likely to be successful. As a result, only successful applicants will have a public hearing and at that point the unanimity rule will apply.
The member for Crowfoot specifically said that the reason the hearing for Mr. Olson tomorrow is being held is precisely that Bill C-45 did not get through this House in time to deny that hearing. He laid the fault of that at the foot of the Bloc. That is all very well for him to say but what he forgot was that he is basically undermining the whole purpose of what he is standing up here today to say. He admitted clearly before the Canadian public that in fact if we had been able to get Bill C-45 through in time Mr. Olson would not be having his hearing tomorrow and we would not be having this debate.
This brings me to my question of the leaders in the Reform Party. Why are we having this debate today? We are not having this debate today because I, as the member for Crowfoot suggested when he introduce his motion, when I asked him a question, was somehow duplicitous, not interested in the true justice system and I was some sort of evil person trying to benefit from victims. That would be totally ridiculous.
The real people who are calling this debate today are Reformers who clearly by the debate have demonstrated that they know that now under Bill C-45 a type of hearing such as Mr. Olson will have will never be held again because of the changes that have been made. Yet they persist on crying across the House suggesting that we are culpable and guilty of some conspiracy to do exactly what they are doing today, which is to stir up people's emotions and create grief for the victims.
The real crime of today's debate is that it is being held on the backs of the victims of people like Clifford Olson to give the Reform Party some political credo for the next election. That is the real reason for this debate today.
It has nothing to do with the reform of the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system has been reformed by Bill C-45. It has been reformed by this government. It would render any such application of Mr. Olson's tomorrow absolutely impossible. Reformers have admitted that in the House today. Yet they chose to bring this debate. Why did they choose to bring the debate? They chose to bring this debate because they wish to profit from the suffering of families of innocent victims of Clifford Olson. That upsets me a great deal. I am shocked that is the reason for it.