moved that Bill C-233, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (withdrawal of applications for full parole by offenders serving two or more years), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, once again it is an honour to have this opportunity to debate a private member's initiative in this place.
Bill C-233 is neither extensive nor is it complicated. It is another attempt to bring balance to our justice system. Having been intimately involved with various aspects of our justice system over the past number of years, I can fully appreciate its complexities, its size, its drain on resources and the necessity to balance the interests of the state, the offender and the victim. Bill C-233 is merely an attempt to readjust one aspect of what I perceive to be an injustice in the process.
Before I start to get into substantive issues about my proposed legislation, I would first like to advise listeners that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has decided to make the bill not votable. I could question the rationale for that decision and I could criticize the government members who comprise the majority of that committee, but I will not. I was not privy to their contemplations toward deciding what bills will be deemed votable and what bills will be deemed not votable. I fully understand that as backbenchers we are competing against each other for a chance to bring our own interest to law. Perhaps the next time my issue will be more successful. Perhaps even some day I may have the opportunity to sit on that committee and be forced to decide among many competing interests and issues.
All I can say is that it is most unfortunate that Bill C-233 is not a votable bill. It would dramatically lessen some of the emotional damages inflicted on individuals who have already been victimized by crime. Our justice process should not further victimize these individuals. I will attempt to explain the problem presented by the current process and how I am suggesting that it be alleviated.
As we all know, the majority of incarcerated criminal offenders will at some time have served their sentences and be released back into the community. At some point during their sentences they are permitted to apply for parole. If successful, they are released back into the community under many forms of supervision. As a society we need to ensure this gradual reintroduction and reclamation to our streets is successfully accomplished without threat to law-abiding citizens.
My proposal only deals with one minor aspect of this process. Once the offender applies for consideration for parole, a number of other people are affected. Correctional personnel may be interviewed to provide impressions and reflections on the character of the offender and whether that offender has made steps towards rehabilitation and contrition. Parole personnel will prepare a file on the history of that offender in order to assist the hearing process to ensure adequate information is available to aid and determine the suitability for release. Victims may be interested in presenting their fears or opinions respecting the release of someone who may still present a danger of committing additional criminal activity.
The problem is that there is nothing to stop offenders from withdrawing their applications for parole at any time during that process. Some offenders make application only to withdraw at the last moment before the parole board hearing actually takes place. When this form of abuse occurs, time and money is expended to obtain and prepare the corrections aspect for these hearings. Some people might say the taxpayer is already paying the correctional employees so there is really not additional cost involved. In some cases that may be so, but we are all probably aware that Canada does not have an overabundance of resources within the corrections department.
We can also understand that because our corrections personnel are stretched so thinly additional demands for their attention often necessitates the working of overtime. It may also require some travel as corrections personnel move from one location to another for many reasons.
Similarly, parole board members have to prepare themselves to learn the file for each specific offender applying for parole. They must be able to adequately question witnesses who provide information to form the basis of a decision on whether or not to release an offender back into the community. This costs time and money. More significant, we all know how important it is to have these parole boards do their job properly and completely. It does not help when time and effort is expended on a specific hearing, only to have it wasted when the offender subsequently withdraws that application. The time and effort wasted could have been better spent on other applications.
When we are dealing with scarce resources it does not help when the process permits waste to occur. We cannot afford the waste. The parole board must expend limited resources on the cases that are going to come to decision. We must ensure that the proper decision to release or detain is made on the basis of all available information, otherwise offenders may be released back into our communities when they should not and others may be held in custody when they should be released.
The victim is another important participant in the process. The victim has the right to provide input into the granting of parole. Victims often have to travel great distances to attend hearings which are nearly always held in the institution in which the offender is incarcerated. The institution may be miles from the home of the victim.
Frequently it may be in another province. I have a very personal example. Members of my family wishing to attend such a hearing for my son's killer would have had to travel from the west coast to Quebec. When victims expend the time, money and effort to attend a hearing, only to have it cancelled at the last minute by the offender, I would suggest that the offender is revictimizing those individuals once again, both financially and emotionally. The offender can reapply almost immediately and the roller coaster continues.
Hopefully I have sufficiently outlined the problem. It becomes a question of control and balance. It is the offender who has violated our laws but, as is so typical of our system, it is the same offender who possesses almost complete control over the parole process. That is not right.
As it has often been said, quite derogatorily, “the inmates are running the asylum”. This is not a debate about the right to parole. I am speaking only about improving our present system. If we are to permit an offender to apply for parole there must be some controls and consequences to that offender so that everyone else is not disadvantaged. Offenders who play “silly-bugger” with the process affect the stress and workload of corrections and parole board personnel as well as the lives of their victims. The whole parole process is needlessly skewed by legislation as an attempt to make a minor adjustment to bring that process into balance. Reforming a process is not rocket science. All I am suggesting is that there be some form of a consequence to the offender who initiates the process and then stops it without an acceptable reason.
My amendment would permit withdrawal for “illness, mental or physical capacity” and that is for causes beyond the offender's control. All we are doing is holding the offender to account. Withdrawal without proper excuse would have a consequence. Reapplication would not be permitted for two years.
Some critics have looked at this legislation with a typical jaundiced view just because a member of the Canadian Alliance is proposing it. They have challenged the bill over who will decide whether there is a valid excuse for the withdrawal of the application. The legislation leaves that determination to the parole board. They are the experts on parole hearings. They can decide this simply aspect. The offender of course will have the power to appeal any decision of the board.
The legislation is not a partisan attack on the parole process. It is merely an attempt to bring some common sense to a problem. We have offenders who apply for parole, withdraw the application anywhere down the timeline up to the last moment without having to give a reason, and then reapply almost immediately without any consequence.
I will move to some real examples of what has been occurring under the current provisions of this process.
Donald Alexander Hay kidnapped, raped and tortured 12 year old Abby Drover and held her in an underground dungeon for six months. In November 1997 he withdrew his parole application after a public outcry over his possible release. In March 1998 he reapplied. It does not take much to appreciate how much he has been able to further emotionally traumatize Abby Drover and her family when this situation occurs every few months. There must be something to cause such a situation to be decided one way or the other or at least be put on hold for a set period of time. It cannot be left entirely in his hands to decide when and how often he can wreak emotional turmoil on others. It cannot remain completely in his hands to cause needless work for the authorities when he unilaterally and without consequence withdraws from the process.
Ali Rasai, in Edmonton, sexually assaulted Holly Desimone. In 1998 she travelled to Winnipeg for his parole hearing with the help of a stranger who donated enough air miles for the trip. In August 1999 Holly once again had to travel for another scheduled hearing. He was denied parole each time. Another hearing was to take place in July 2000 and Holly was once again being forced to make plans to attend to say her peace.
I know the government is most anxious to get offenders back on the streets in order to reduce incarceration costs. However, not only was Holly horrendously damaged by Rasai, she was being forced to become inextricably intertwined with her abuser almost constantly over the past few years. She became a puppet on a string being held and controlled by someone as devious and unfit to be a part of society as Ali Rasai. I should tell listeners that Rasai is a former bodyguard for the shah of Iran and was convicted of raping three Alberta women, including Holly. He is a martial arts expert who entered Canada as a refugee and then has treated his adopted home in this manner.
By the way, the July 2000 hearing was postponed to August and then Rasai backed out once again. Surely there is something desperately wrong with the process.
Then there is a much more public case of Robert Thompson. He murdered Brenda Fitzgerald in 1983 while he was out of prison on a work pass. Brenda's mother, Helen Leadley, has become another puppet on a string. She has been forced to spend time and money to travel from Calgary to Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick to attend the hearings that Thompson cancels at the last minute. Helen Leadley has stated:
I've spent a lot of money going to these parole hearings, plus sometimes as soon as you get there, they're cancelled.
She estimates that she spent at least $3,000 attending Thompson's parole hearings in the maritimes. She further states:
And it's not only the money, it's the emotional stress involved around this in trying to fight to keep him in prison.
I do not wish to leave the wrong impression that Helen Leadley voluntarily has taken on this grudge match against the interests of Robert Thompson. There is a much more societal interest in this case.
As I said, Thompson committed the murder while he was already serving time for other offences. He has continued to issue threats to the victim's family from the prison. He once took a nurse hostage and stabbed two corrections officers during his time behind bars. In short, he is not a nice guy but we still permit him to exercise almost total control over the parole process.
The Minister of Justice announced in August of last year that the government would allocate $25 million to help victims of crime. The vast majority of that money is targeted toward research, consultation and public awareness of victims' rights. Some will go to emergency and other programs to help victims over the next years.
As we have seen from many government financed programs, $25 million sounds great when it is first announced but when we consider $5 million per year will get divided among 10 provinces and three territories, we soon realize that the money is not all that significant. Then we have to fund the administration of the programs with that money. It is difficult to see any funding support being available to victims to travel to parole hearings. Besides, as Helen Leadley has said, it is not just the money, it is the emotional turmoil that is hard to overcome.
The bill is not votable. I would appreciate the support of all members to pressure the government into bringing forth this proposal as it is long overdue. The minister is often fond of talking about balance within justice. My suggestions will bring balance and accountability to the parole process. I am only trying to bring fairness to all participants, including the administration. These amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act will improve the efficiency and the effectiveness of a tiny but significant portion of the parole process.