Mr. Speaker, before starting on the motion as such, I would like to say a few words about one of the Solicitor General's comments. He said that if the Bloc Quebecois had not delayed the passage of this bill,
Mr. Olson would have been eligible, in other words, he would have been covered by the new bill, the new section on parole.
I think the Solicitor General should consider that his government has been in power since 1993 and should have foreseen the eventuality of Clifford Olson applying for parole under section 745. The Bloc Quebecois cannot help it if the government was asleep at the switch, so to speak. When the government tabled the bill, it was already too late in the case of Mr. Olson. We tried to add a number of amendments to make the bill more in tune with the real situation.
Before the Solicitor General made this remark, which was both uncalled for and unwarranted, I agreed with his comments, his position and his explanations on Bill C-45 and the amendments to Section 745. However, I think that this brief flash of partisanship from the Solicitor General was unwarranted, considering that the government was responsible for the delay, if there was any.
That being said, to be sure everyone understands what this is about, I would like to take a few seconds to read to you the motion tabled in the House this morning by the hon. member for Crowfoot. The motion reads as follows:
That this House recognize that the families of murder victims are subjected to reliving the pain and fear of their experience as a result of the potential release of the victims' murderers allowed under section 745 of the Criminal Code, and as a consequence, this House urge the Liberal Government to formally apologize to those families for repeatedly refusing to repeal section 745 of the Criminal Code.
Obviously, it is not up to me to defend the Liberal government. However, the Bloc Quebecois cannot agree with the way the Reform motion is worded. I am not trying to defend the Liberals, but this goes against everything we have been asking for since 1993, we, as members of the Bloc Quebecois, whose approach to the whole area of parole, social reintegration and rehabilitation is quite different from that of the Liberals opposite, from what we find in English Canada, and is, above all, the exact opposite of the Reform position.
It is appalling. If we read the motion presented by the Reform Party, and we consider everything they ever said about capital punishment, they are getting pretty close to crossing the line.
The message I heard from the two Reform members who spoke this morning reflects much the same attitude that Henry VIII, the king of England, had to his former wives and some ministers who were not to his liking. If they made any trouble, off with their heads! That is more or less what the Reform Party is proposing this morning. Remove section 745, reinstate capital punishment, stop investing in social reintegration and rehabilitation, and if someone is too dangerous, cut off his head or hang him or send him to the electric chair or whatever.
Wake me up! Is this Canada? This is not the philosophy that for years parliamentarians in this House have tried to get across to the public. Indeed, section 745 was amended somewhat and, as I said earlier, one can either support or oppose the amendments the government proposed. We in the Bloc Quebecois said that section 745 was more than adequate as it was worded at the time of the amendments.
Let us have another look at a case frequently cited this morning, that of Mr. Olson. Although, as a lawyer who has practised only eight or nine years, I may be wrong, I am convinced that Mr. Olson will not be granted parole under the rules of section 745, although there are certain acquired rights.
Clearly, with section 745 and the amendments of the Liberal government, a case like Mr. Olson's would be blocked immediately. He would not be able to even submit an application, or, if he did, it would be immediately blocked, and there would be no hearing. It is even better for the extreme cases, like that of Clifford Olson.
Do we amend the Criminal Code every time there is a case like this? Do we amend the Criminal Code only whenever we have a mind to, because a particular event is so distressing?
Earlier, I listened as calmly as I could to the Reform member accusing the Bloc members and the Liberals of being bleeding hearts, but only for murderers. This is not what we have been trying to show since 1993. I will speak for the official opposition, I will speak for the Bloc Quebecois, the party I represent: we are indeed sensitive. We think we have to work toward a fairer society, one that is free, pluralistic and tolerant and that believes in rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
We have shown in a number of bills that we should educate not pummel society's deviants. Perhaps we should find out why they behaved the way they did.
When we look around the world, we see violence in society. We turn on the television and what do we see? Violence. Some toys encourage violence, even toys for children two, three or four years old: "Bonk your troll on the head, if you want to make him happy. Do not feed him, if you want something else to happen". We can start with these problems first, that is, we can look for a way to stop violence before it starts. As far as this whole issue is concerned, it takes time to find a happy medium.
As it stands, I think that section 745 was a compromise, which was how it came to be. The Solicitor General referred to that just now. This measure was introduced around 1976 under the Trudeau government, when the death penalty was abolished. This measure was introduced late in the debate in order to ensure a parliamentary majority in favour of abolishing the death penalty.
Much was said on this issue, and I imagine that Reform members, if they had been around at the time, would have been on the side of retaining the death penalty. Section 745 was aimed at obtaining the approval of the highest possible number of MPs in order to obtain the desired changes.
Section 745 was already an improvement. If memory serves, the average length of the sentence served by those found guilty of first or second degree murder was 13 years. With the introduction of section 745, prisoners had to serve 25 years, with the possibility of a judicial review still being referred to as the faint hope clause. There was indeed such a possibility, but inmates had to meet a whole series of conditions before obtaining their release.
Section 745 may have had its shortcomings, but if we look at the cases of people who made use of it, before the government's modifications, the results were not so catastrophic. I will give a few statistics.
As of December 31, 1995, before the government amendments, 175 inmates were eligible to apply for a judicial review. Of that 175, 76 had done so, and 13 of the applications were still pending. Of the 63 applications that had been processed, 39 inmates were granted a reduction in their parole ineligibility period but there were no immediate releases. As of December 31, 1995, there had been only one repeat offence, an armed robbery, by a person who had obtained a reduction.
You will say that even one repeat offender is too many. That is true, but that is still a pretty good batting average. I am not saying that nothing at all ought to be done. That is not what I am saying. We ought perhaps to start with the existing system, and look for alternative solutions. Is throwing prisoners into jail for the rest of their lives without any possibility of release, even after 25 years, a solution? I do not think so. I think this is going to extremes.
In spite of what people were saying and the position taken by a number of legal experts, the government decided to introduce an amendment. Perhaps under pressure from Reform members, who were asking questions daily about repealing section 745. So what has actually changed since the Liberals amended section 745 under pressure from certain people in the field but especially from the Reform Party?
The solicitor general was quite specific in this respect. I will not go into every comment he made on section 745.6, but roughly, as a result of the legislative amendments to this section, the two-thirds of the jury rule will no longer apply. In the past, someone who applied for parole had to convince two thirds of the jurors to obtain permission to apply for a reduction in the number of years of ineligibility for parole. This rule has now been changed. The jury must be unanimous.
The government is more or less doing what the Reform Party wanted to do. It did not repeal section 745, but the obligation to get a unanimous determination from the jury will make it very difficult to implement this provision. If a jury member does not like the look of the guy who is applying for parole, that individual will not get his parole.
The other aspect that was significantly changed, and in a case like Mr. Olson's, it would automatically be blocked, is the application for judicial review. It would be blocked altogether for perpetrators of multiple murders.
Third, a selection mechanism is created under which the chief justice of the Superior Court or a designated judge will have to determine, on the basis of written submissions, whether the applicant has a reasonable chance of having his application accepted by a jury.
If we add up the three criteria I just mentioned, one after the other, the individual will have to appear before a judge, the chief justice of the Superior Court or a designated judge, make his application, and then the judge determines whether or not he would have a chance before a well-informed jury of obtaining what he wants in his application for parole. If the answer is yes, he submits this to another judge who, assisted by a jury, will consider whether the individual's application should be accepted or not. Here, the jury must be unanimous.
All this applies to murderers who did not commit multiple murders. The government says: "No, we must keep section 745". Otherwise it would be like siding with the Reform Party or caving in to the Reform Party's demands. But on the other hand, it has put in so many criteria-the Bloc Quebecois was against this to start with-that it is tantamount to repealing the section, since after this screening process, nothing much will happen. In the end, there is practically no hope of obtaining anything under section 745.6.
We said that, after 20 years, and I will conclude with this point, because section 745 had already existed for 20 years, it was normal to take a little time to consider and review proposals, but it was most definitely out of the question to use the particular case before us, that of Clifford Olson, as a starting point. It was absolutely out of the question to start with such a distressing case, one in which children are involved, to try to amend the Criminal Code. There is perhaps a problem, but it is a problem inherent in the parole system.
Instead of going for piecemeal amendments-trying to solve one problem because a certain person is applying for parole, trying to fix something else because of pressure from English Canada and trying to correct some other problem because the maritimes are putting on a bit of pressure-why not look at the whole issue of parole?
Not all those in favour of a revision of the parole system are fanatics and extremists. In Quebec, we have cases, very sincere ones, where, for example, a father is even prepared to undertake studies and try to come up with a way for murderers to be taken
under the wing of the community and for them to be reintegrated as quickly as possible.
These people have a problem. You do not kill 11 people in a row for the pleasure of it. They certainly have a problem. We should perhaps be looking for the cause of the problem and see whether we can find a solution to prevent such things from recurring.
We will not solve the problem by trying to expand on one case and frightening people. I am not saying this debate is not important. I do think, however, that we are not in the right place. It is more the job of a commission of inquiry, of a parliamentary commission, to look at the problem in its entirety and review the entire parole process, including section 745.
We could really debate the facts, with precise figures in hand and not with the tabloids, the rags that give their readers far more than they could ever want in an effort to sell papers. We could have the figures, the exact statistics. People who have regrettably had a bad experience could come and tell us what they really want: what would be right and what would not be right.
It is not true to say that everything is wrong with the parole system. Changes certainly need to be made to bring it more into line.
Earlier, I mentioned toys. Perhaps there are things we could do as part of an overall assessment of this problem. The legislator could make some changes, regulate certain things that are the source of the problem. To do so, however, the matter has to be looked at very seriously. It cannot be done simply on a whim. We must not speak with our hearts alone on the atrocities we see in the papers.
It is easy to do so, and perhaps it pays off politically. I do not know whether it pays off in English Canada, but I do not think that it helps the cause at all and it does not lead to a fair balance in society, when the government takes it into its head to attempt to move the Criminal Code always a little more to the right.
That said, you will understand why I am totally opposed to the motion tabled this morning by the Reform Party.