Mr. Speaker, I would first like to say that it seems to me that we have a responsibility to be somewhat serious and make decisions based on probative and conclusive data when we have the good fortune to be representing people in public life.
I would like the people listening to us to understand that there is no one in this House who is not concerned about the safety of our neighbourhoods, our communities. There is also no one who wants dangerous criminals or people who do not deserve to be at large being allowed to be. I find the speech that the minister made in this House to be rather insulting, as if the Conservatives were the only ones who are concerned about these issues.
This arrogance, which manifests itself in a very unhealthy certainty, is surely the reason why Quebeckers and Canadians, in their great wisdom, did not give this government a majority mandate.
When we are talking about criminal law or criminal justice policy, we cannot think of things as being black or white. Obviously there are people who will never deserve to be released with a conditional sentence.
There are people who make youthful mistakes or just plain mistakes for whom there should be oversight and supervision and for whom it should therefore be possible to recommend that they serve their sentence in their community. What I find sad is this kind of black and white thinking.
Bill C-9 started from a principle. It took all the offences in the Criminal Code for which a term of imprisonment of ten years or more may be imposed. We realized that there were 120 of these offences, but they are as disparate as making counterfeit money, copying a computer program and sexual assault. Those three offences are certainly deserving of punishment, but the fact is that they do not all have to be interpreted in the same way in terms of the seriousness of their consequences.
The problem with the Conservatives is that they cannot see grey areas. That is not the case for all Conservatives, but it is the case for a large number of them. The result is that they propose criminal justice policies that are absolutely dangerous because they do not allow for grey areas.
I will give a few examples of what I am talking about.
The John Howard Society presented a brief to the parliamentary committee. I think it gave a convincing demonstration of the fact that the ten-year sentence criterion is entirely unsound.
First, I would remind the House of two facts. Conditional sentences are a marginal phenomenon in sentencing practices. According to the most recent statistics available, there were 257,127 cases leading to conviction in 2003. Of them, 13,267 resulted in a decision by a judge at one level or another to impose a conditional sentence of imprisonment. That is a rate of 5.16%.
Conditional sentencing must not be spoken of as though it were widespread.
Second, people must realize that, when section 742 respecting conditional sentencing was introduced into the Criminal Code in 1996, everything was clearly marked out. This was not done arbitrarily. There were, and still are, four conditions to be met.
First of all, a judge cannot impose a conditional sentence if there are minimum prison terms. So right away there are some 70 offences for which conditional sentencing is not an option. Also, conditional sentencing is not possible if the judge imposes a prison sentence of more than two years. Nor is it possible to impose a conditional sentence if the judge is not satisfied that the person does not pose a threat to the community. And it is not possible if the judge is not satisfied that it is compatible with the objectives of sections 718.1, 718.2 and 718.3 of the Criminal Code, which deal with the objectives of sentencing.
There are already certain conditions to be met for conditional sentencing. This is understandable, since naturally a sentence to be served in the community is different from an institutional sentence, even though in 2000 the Supreme Court—in R. v. Proulx—said that it remained punitive.
Obviously it is not the same thing to serve one’s sentence in the community as it is to serve it in prison. Serving one’s sentence in the community is not a constitutional right, but rather a privilege which relates back to certain values and enables individuals to follow a program.
An individual who receives a conditional sentence—with a supervisor—is supervised throughout their conditional sentence. As some witnesses have mentioned, this type of sentence is safer than others because an individual is eligible for conditional release after serving one sixth of their sentence. This individual is no longer supervised afterwards. These facts must be placed in context.
I repeat: the Bloc Québécois is not saying that conditional sentencing is the answer in all cases. Obviously this is not so. This is why judges must know the offender’s profile, the context in which the offence was committed and the risk of reoffending. They must also be satisfied as to eligibility in the light of the four criteria that I mentioned.
The problem with Bill C-9 is that some offences are not punishable by 10 years in prison, yet are far more serious than some offences that carry a 10-year prison term.
One example would be failure to provide necessaries of life for a child under 16, which carries a two-year prison term. In theory, this should raise questions. Neglecting a child seems to me to be more concerning than copying computer hardware or software. Infanticide is punishable by five years in prison. I think that this is a situation where no one would want a conditional sentence. Yet it does not meet the criteria, which specify a 10-year prison term.
Every time the government proposes criminal policies that are so broad that they lack nuances, which we are entitled to expect, this creates problems.
In closing, the Bloc Québécois agrees that some individuals cannot be eligible for a conditional sentence because of the seriousness of their crime or their low potential for rehabilitation or because what they did was so reprehensible that people feel they have no right to a conditional sentence. We need to trust our courts of law to assess these situations. There is no evidence to suggest that the judiciary has improperly used section 742 of the Criminal Code.