Mr. Speaker, once again in the area of justice we are going to play the spoiler role, because this bill is completely unacceptable.
Perhaps not the part dealing with taking samples, because I argued in favour of that, even in committee, but the provision calling for life sentences for impaired driving.
In the forty minutes available to me I shall attempt to show why. Forty minutes is a very short time, however, to try to convince the government over there on this subject, which is both truly important and extremely serious.
I consider it a privilege to speak on Bill C-18.
Today, what we are debating is not the seriousness of the offence of impaired driving causing death. We all agree that this is unacceptable, and ought never to happen, absolutely never.
Not one member of this House would contradict the Minister of Justice on that point. Every parliamentarian sympathizes with the victims of the horrible negligence suffered by some of our fellow citizens. This is why we must fight this unforgivable excess, which takes away too many innocent lives.
As long as there are victims of impaired drivers, something must be done. The problem must be addressed directly. There can be no hiding behind easy measures. As long as the statistics show there are victims, the Bloc Quebecois will take an interest in the issue, try to prove certain approaches and work on it.
However, today the objective of the legislation is not my problem. The objective is a good one. I support it. My problem is not with it.
We all want to reduce the number of deaths on our roads, and as quickly as possible, but the means to this end proposed by the Minister of Justice are inappropriate, unacceptable even. The minister's approach is too simplistic. I would say even that the minister's approach is quite senseless.
What the minister is claiming is not too complicated. I would say even that it is so uncomplicated as to be irresponsible. She simply says “Pass this bill. Let us impose life imprisonment and the number of highway deaths will drop”. That is magical thinking but it is pretty simplistic.
With Bill C-18, the Minister of Justice intimates that incarceration is effective in the fight against impaired driving . According to her, the threat of life imprisonment should have a direct influence on the behaviour of potentially dangerous citizens.
In her opinion—and Mr. Speaker I am sure you fully agree with me because you are a very wise man—the risk of getting life imprisonment instead of a 14 year sentence would have an impact on the behaviour of uncle Joe or cousin Pete who, for example, partied a little too hard at Christmas or New Year. The minister is saying “Let us send a clear message to the public”. One wonders whether the minister is not confusing the terms message with cheap publicity.
Either way, such a communication plan could end up costing us dearly in the long term, particularly since there is absolutely no guarantee that it will work.
Actually, Bill C-18 should trigger a substantive debate on the excessive use of incarceration by this government. We have here a government that chooses the easy way, the simple way out. The equation used by the government, particularly since the current Minister of Justice was appointed, is the following one: seriousness of offence plus pressure from the right automatically equals unjustified extension of jail terms. This is some formula coming from a Minister of Justice. Unfortunately, this is what the Liberal government has got us used to in recent years.
It goes without saying that those who oppose this simplistic approach are not always making friends, but I am not in politics primarily to make friends. I am in politics to get messages across, to make common sense prevail, to remind the government opposite that it is going in the wrong direction.
Those of us who oppose this simplistic approach are being accused of lacking compassion for the victims and of systematically siding with the accused, which is not the case, of course. Those who are aware of what goes on in the Standing Committee on Justice know very well that this is not the case. The opponents of the doctrine of law and order are also accused of being soft on law. If the responsible approach being taken by the Bloc Quebecois is synonymous with being soft on law, the Bloc Quebecois is only too glad to be so labelled, particularly as it is not alone in advocating a responsible approach to justice.
Recently, the supreme court had occasion to warn the public and the Liberal government in particular about overreliance on jail sentences as a means of reducing crime-related problems.
I would like to take a few minutes of my speech to quote the Supreme Court of Canada on some extremely important matters, because it is clear from Bill C-18 and all the bills the Minister of Justice is introducing lately, including the young offenders bill, that the minister and the government have not read this extremely important decision.
I am referring to the Gladue decision handed down last year by the judges of the supreme court, some of whom, including Justice Cory, put the federal government on trial for its sentencing policy.
Members might wish to make a note of the Gladue decision, and take a look at it, because it is very important and the Liberal government might perhaps change its approach to justice.
I will therefore read an important part of the Gladue decision dealing with what the court described as “the problem of overincarceration in Canada”. The excerpt I would like to read goes as follows:
Canada is a world leader in many fields, particularly in the areas of progressive social policy and human rights. Unfortunately, our country is also distinguished as being a world leader in putting people in prison. Although the United States has by far the highest rate of incarceration among industrialized democracies, at over 600 inmates per 100,000 population, Canada's rate of approximately 130 inmates per 100,000 population places it second or third highest. Moreover, the rate at which Canadian courts have been imprisoning offenders has risen sharply in recent years, although there has been a slight decline of late. This record of incarceration rates obviously cannot instil a sense of pride.
This is not the Bloc Quebecois member for Berthier—Montcalm, but a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada who is saying that “This record of incarceration rates obviously cannot instil a sense of pride”. The decision then reads as follows:
The systematic use of the sanction of imprisonment in Canada may be dated to the building of the Kingston Penitentiary in 1835.
I hope this has no link whatsoever with the Chair, but there was certainly something political in all of this, because if a prison was built in Kingston, it had to filled up. Therefore, people had to be sent to prison. This is not the supreme court justice talking, but the member for Berthier—Montcalm.
Now back to the decision:
The penitentiary sentence was itself originally conceived as an alternative to the harsher penalties of death, flogging, or imprisonment in a local jail.
Sentencing reformers advocated the use of penitentiary imprisonment as having effects which were not only deterrent, denunciatory, and preventive, but also rehabilitative.
with long hours spent in contemplation and hard work contributing to the betterment of the offender.
However, things have changed since that time.
The supreme court goes on to say:
Notwithstanding its idealistic origins, imprisonment quickly came to be condemned as harsh and ineffective, not only in relation to its purported rehabilitative goals, but also in relation to its broader public goals.
The history of Canadian commentary regarding the use and effectiveness of imprisonment as a sanction was recently well summarized by Vancise J.A., dissenting in the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal in McDonald ,
This justice said:
A number of inquiries and commissions have been held in this country to examine, among other things, the effectiveness of the use of incarceration in sentencing. There has been at least one commission or inquiry into the use of imprisonment in each decade of this century since 1914.
At this point, I would like the members opposite to listen very closely.
An examination of the recommendations of these reports reveals one constant theme: imprisonment should be avoided if possible and should be reserved for the most serious offences, particularly those involving violence.
They all recommend restraint in the use of incarceration and recognize that incarceration has failed to reduce the crime rate and should be used with caution and moderation.
Imprisonment has failed to satisfy a basic function of the Canadian judicial system which was described in the Report of the Canadian Committee on Corrections entitled: “Toward Unity: Criminal Justice and Corrections” (1969)
As “to protect society from crime in a manner commanding public support while avoiding needless injury to the offender”.
The supreme court continues its analysis and says:
Canada does not imprison as high a portion of its population as does the United States. However, we do imprison more people than most other western democracies.
The Criminal Code displays an apparent bias toward the use of incarceration since for most offences the penalty indicated is expressed in terms of a maximum term of imprisonment.
A number of difficulties arise if imprisonment is perceived to be the preferred sanction for most offences.
Perhaps most significant is that although we regularly impose this most onerous and expensive sanction, it accomplishes very little—
I repeat “accomplishes very little”. This is in reference to imprisonment.
The court continues:
—apart from separating offenders from society for a period of time.
In the past few decades many groups and federally appointed committees and commissions given the responsibility of studying various aspects of the criminal justice system have argued that imprisonment should be used only as a last resort.
This is important and it is the justices of the supreme court who are saying so. They go on:
With equal force, in Taking Responsibility the Standing Committee on Justice and Solicitor General stated—
This is in 1988, not many years ago. The committee said:
It is now generally recognized that imprisonment has not been effective in rehabilitating or reforming offenders, has not been shown to be a strong deterrent, and has achieved only temporary public protection and uneven retribution, as the lengths of prison sentences handed down vary for the same type of crime.
They go on:
Since imprisonment generally offers the public protection from criminal behaviour for only a limited time, rehabilitation of the offender is of great importance. However, prisons have not generally been effective in reforming their inmates, as the high incidence of recidivism among prison populations shows.
These are the conclusions of a House of Commons committee, which are quoted in the supreme court decision.
The use of imprisonment as a main response to a wide variety of offences against the law is not a tenable approach in practical terms.
Most offenders are neither violent nor dangerous. Their behaviour is not likely to be improved by the prison experience. In addition, their growing numbers in jails and penitentiaries entail serious problems of expense and administration, and possibly increased future risks to society.
Moreover, modern technology may now permit the monitoring in the community of some offenders who previously might have been incarcerated for incapacitation or denunciation purposes. Alternatives to imprisonment and intermediate sanctions, therefore, are increasingly viewed as necessary developments.
The committee proposed that alternative forms of sentencing should be considered for those offenders who did not endanger the safety of others. It was put in this way, at pages 50 and 54 of the report:
One of the primary foci of such alternatives must be on techniques which contribute to offenders accepting responsibility for their criminal conduct and, through their subsequent behaviour, demonstrating efforts to restore the victim to the position he or she was in prior to the offence and/or providing a meaningful apology.
Except where to do so would place the community at undue risk, the “correction” of the offender should take place in the community and imprisonment should be used with restraint.
I now go back to the decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, which concluded thus:
Thus, it may be seen that although imprisonment is intended to serve the traditional sentencing goals of separation, deterrence, denunciation, and rehabilitation, there is widespread consensus that imprisonment has not been successful in achieving some of these goals.
Overincarceration is a long-standing problem that has been many times publicly acknowledged but never addressed in a systematic manner by Parliament.
As we have seen, the Supreme Court of Canada, superior court justices in certain provinces and parliamentary committees have studied this issue over the last 30 years. Recently, in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which includes the Department of Justice and the Solicitor General of Canada, everyone agreed that putting people in jail is not the solution. We have to find other ways of dealing with the problem.
The minister had the opportunity to show us that she had learned something from these 30 years of study, that she had understood the direction suggested by the Supreme Court of Canada in its recent judgement. She had the opportunity to show that her interpretation of that supreme court judgment led toward something other than a life sentence for someone who has committed a crime.
However, we will have to wait for another bill, because it is not the case in this one. I know justices who must be extremely disappointed in what they are hearing in this debate today. How can the minister seriously claim that a life sentence will have a deterrent effect on Canadians?
If she does not want to listen to the point of view the Bloc Quebecois, she should at least heed what the justices of the Supreme Court of Canada had to say.
I will repeat what the supreme court said about the effectiveness of incarceration. It is very important for members opposite to understand this. The supreme court justices said that incarceration was harsh and ineffective. In 1998, the members of the justice committee repeated that incarceration had no deterrent effect on the behaviour of offenders.
What is obvious to the whole legal community does not seem obvious to the justice minister. Where does the minister get the idea that imposing harsher jail sentences will affect the crime rate?
The Minister of Justice may not appreciate what the Supreme Court had to say and I quote “This record of incarceration rates obviously cannot instil a sense of pride”.
Some may argue that the bill before the House is going to bolster Canada's image. Does the minister appreciate the fact that Canada will be known as one of the highest ranking developed countries in terms of the incarceration rate?
If the minister takes pride in such things, then I understand why she introduced Bill C-18, because it will only push Canada higher on that scale. Maybe our goal is to rank higher than the United States. Do we want to americanize our justice system? I do not think so; I really do not think that is our goal.
It comes as no surprise that the minister does not feel she has to follow through on the representations we regularly make to her in the House. The government always does as it pleases, without taking into account the views of the members of this House, and that is nothing new. However, it is unfortunate and even troubling to see that the minister and her government have chosen to ignore the advice of their own court of justice.
The government has no qualms about referring matters to the Supreme Court of Canada in order to put Quebec in its place and to prevent from achieving its goal democratically. It is all fine and good to listen to the supreme court in such instances, but perhaps the Department of Justice and the government should listen to and read the supreme court decisions on other cases than those referred to it in order to bring Quebec to heel and to put it in its place.
Again I invite the minister to read the latest decisions on imprisonment handed down by the supreme court. I would hope that this will convince her to backtrack on Bill C-18.
Not only has the minister not taken good note of the advice of her magistrates, but she is now overdoing it. She has introduced a bill that will certainly not result in a reduction of the incarceration rate in Canada. If the minister could demonstrate that increasing prison terms would help decrease the number of deaths caused by impaired driving, then we could view the increase of inmate population as a necessary evil.
Yet the minister is just not able to do that, because it simply cannot be done. Many studies have already found a total absence of causal link between longer prison terms and a lower crime rate.
Moreover, we must not forget to consider the adverse effects of an unwarranted increase in the inmate population. In this regard, let us recall the supreme court decision in the Gladue case, which said the increasing number of offenders in jails is causing severe cost and administration problems and may increase the threat these offenders might pose to society later on.
This is the problem that parliamentarians are too often confronted with: the excessive and systematic use of jail sentences. Not only is this excessive use of jail sentences unwarranted in the general framework of sentencing policies, but it is not suited to the nature of the specific offence we are dealing with today.
Indeed, data compiled by the Canadian centre for justice statistics show that the number of deaths caused by impaired driving has not increased in Canada. On the contrary, the numbers for 1998 are the lowest since 1989. The offence of impaired driving causing death is not rising sharply, as the minister opposite wants us to believe for political motives.
Although this statistical fact does not allow us to claim victory, it deserves some consideration during the examination of a bill that implies that the number of offences of impaired driving causing death is greatly increasing.
Indeed, we were entitled to expect that such an extension of the sentence was reflected in the statistics on this offence. As we cannot justify this hard line approach based on its effect on crime, we might have wanted to deal with a problem that was really on the rise. But this is not the case.
There is another factor that deserves our attention in the debate on Bill C-18, and it is how the courts operate. And this is very important.
A dearth of legislative resources available to the courts might perhaps have justified increased sentences. But, the statistics show that the courts have never handed down a jail sentence of more than 10 years for the offence of impaired driving causing death.
The courts, which are the best placed to evaluate the circumstances of each offence committed, have never seen fit to impose the maximum sentence now available in the Criminal Code, which is 14 years. The question then arises as to what real effect adopting the sentence of life imprisonment would have on the practice of our courts.
As well, imposing life imprisonment for impaired driving might result in some ridiculous situations. For instance, a drunk driver who was clearly negligent could receive a stiffer sentence than a hired assassin who deliberately set out to kill someone and who receives a reduced sentence for being an informer. Consideration should also be given to certain sentencing statistics having to do with other offences similar to the offence of impaired driving causing death.
In the Criminal Code, impaired driving causing death carries a life sentence of 14 years. Since 1985, the average sentence handed down by Canadian appeal courts for this type of offence is 19 months. How can the minister justify a shorter sentence for someone who cold-bloodedly kills someone while driving recklessly than for someone driving under the influence of alcohol?
Let us not forget that incarceration is a last resort.
Mr. Speaker, will I have time to complete my speech?