Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-9 at third reading stage and to put things into context.
In 1996, the Minister of Justice—if my memory serves me correctly, it was Allan Rock at that time—introduced Bill C-41 following a federal-provincial-territorial conference. At the time of the conference, all the justice ministers—whether they were Liberal, New Democratic, Conservative or separatist—were quite concerned about the possibility of the inmate population doubling. Canada had the fourth highest incarceration rate in the world at the time. When Allan Rock introduced Bill C-41, one third of all inmates were serving time for failing to pay fines.
The government always forgets this little piece of history, but when Bill C-41 was introduced, it received support from all the justice ministers. There was even a white paper on the growth in inmate population and we were well aware that the United States was the country that incarcerated the most, followed by Russia, Canada and South Africa.
When Bill C-41 was passed, an intermediate offence was created between imprisonment and probation, called conditional sentencing. However, it would be terribly dishonest to suggest that conditional sentencing, which is provided under section 742 of the Criminal Code, is not well defined.
Sometimes we hear government types talking as though conditional sentencing were completely up to the judge's discretion, that judges do not obey a single rule and that the legislator left this option open without any framework.
I want to remind this House and the government that before handing down conditional sentences, in accordance with section 742, judges must respect four conditions. First, there must be no minimum sentence. Second, the sentence, imprisonment, must be less than two years. Third, the judge must be convinced that the person does not pose a risk to the community where that person is known. Fourth, the judge must be convinced that the conditional sentence corresponds to one of the sentence determination objectives codified in section 718 in the Criminal Code. This is an important condition, as well, I believe.
Once again, we must remember that the Canadian Sentencing Commission—the Archambault commission—which the Conservatives set up at the end of their mandate in 1984, recommended in its 1987 report that Parliament codify a number of sentencing objectives. Among the objectives listed in the Criminal Code are deterrence, denunciation and reprobation. There is also rehabilitation. The judge must be convinced that at least one of these objectives applies to impose a conditional sentence. There can be a number of objectives, but there are situations where denunciation takes precedence and requires a prison sentence. In a certain number of other situations, the objective is rehabilitation, and the judge can impose probation or a conditional sentence of imprisonment.
Section 742 clearly states that a judge must take a number of factors into account.
Throughout the committee's review of this bill, the Conservatives, with their own special brand of demagoguery, have tried to convince everyone that anyone opposed to Bill C-9 was soft on crime, indecisive and lacking solidarity with victims of crime.
I believe this kind of talk is unacceptable, to say the least. Conditional sentencing is, in reality, an extremely marginal part of the sentencing system.
I have some statistics from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, which supports Bill C-9.
In 2003—these are the most recent statistics available—257,127 cases ended in a conviction. Of those 257,127 cases, 13,267 individuals were given conditional sentences. 13,267 conditional sentences in 257,127 convictions is a little less than 6%.
The Conservatives are worried about conditional sentencing. It is possible that in some of those 13,267 convictions conditional sentences were not appropriate. We must remember that conditional sentencing is a marginal part of the justice system and that it is governed by a number of conditions.
When a court of justice hands down a conditional sentence, the convicted person is subject to surveillance—this can be electronic surveillance, a curfew or a requirement to report to a supervisor or remain in a given jurisdiction. None of this is as discretionary as the government would have had us believe during this debate.
What did the government do with Bill C-9? It tried to introduce a list of offences.
The government, with a deplorable lack of discrimination, asked its officials to find and prepare a list of all offences in the Criminal Code punishable by more than 10 years' imprisonment . The list contained some 100 offences.
Just because an offence is punishable by 10 years' imprisonment does not mean that a judge will impose a 10-year sentence. The list of proposed offences will make it impossible, de facto, for a judge to hand down a conditional sentence.
The problem with this way of doing things is that it is so lacking in balance as to be ridiculous. Why ridiculous? Because there are certain offences in the Criminal Code punishable by five years' imprisonment for which we do not believe that conditional sentencing is appropriate.
For example, failure to provide necessaries of life for a child under the age of sixteen years, pursuant to section 215 of the Criminal Code, is punishable by imprisonment of two years.
However, it is a disturbing offence. It may be more disturbing that a neighbour found guilty of child negligence is free in the community than that someone is sentenced to ten years for pirating software.
Pirating software is certainly a reprehensible crime, a violation of intellectual property and intellectual fraud, but it is not clear that an individual found guilty of pirating software or having stolen a computer cannot serve his sentence in the community under appropriate supervision.
There are other types of offences not included by the Conservatives. Yet, our citizens may find them even more disturbing. For example, infanticide, abandonment of a child, criminal breach of contract, and kidnapping of a child under 16.
Not all these offences appear on the list, compiled by the Conservative government, of crimes that are punishable by ten years in prison or more.
However, that is not what this debate is about. This debate is about the difference between the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois. I will take this opportunity to point out that all opposition parties—my neo-Bolshevik friends, the Liberals and the Bloc—voted unanimously against Bill C-9 at the committee report stage. Why? Because this is a bill on whose principle we can agree. Everyone agrees that conditional sentences are not a constitutional right. There are offences for which we do not wish the offenders to serve their sentence in the community. The Bloc Québécois has never claimed otherwise, because we are responsible individuals.
It is not a matter of an automatic response and we hope the Conservatives will some day understand this. The Conservatives are opposed to the judiciary. They refuse to believe in the judgment of our judges. I will reword my statement. They refuse to believe in the ability of judges' to properly assess a situation. The Minister of Justice appeared before us. The Minister of Justice is my friend. I even feel like I am his little favourite. He seeks my presence, consults me and respects me. Our friendship will not be jeopardized simply because my party repeatedly opposes his bills. The minister is capable of separating his feelings of friendship for me—which I reciprocate—from the fact that I think he proposes bad bills. Indeed, the Minister of Justice is a man of great quality on a personal level.
However, his election platform makes no sense. As a little aside, thanks to the Access to Information Act, we obtained the analysis conducted by the Conservatives of their own platform. Not one public servant, familiar with the courts and understanding how the system works, would be willing to endorse the Conservative platform.
The Conservatives want to bring the justice system in line with American justice. God willing, this government will never win a majority.
Three ministers were able to cite just four bad decisions out of thousands. The judiciary needs to make it clearer to us as parliamentarians that the courts do not hand out conditional sentences in cases of serious personal injury, sexual assault or confinement, because these are crimes punishable by less than two years in prison.
It is not because a prison sentence is less than two years that the crime is not serious. However, the courts and the judges are far more discerning than the government would have us believe.
I see Conservative members champing at the bit. They want to ask me questions about break and enter, which is obviously a serious offence. The Supreme Court even said that a man's house is his castle. My house was robbed. They stole my VCR, three bottles of wine—you know how little I drink, I am practically a teetotaller—my CD collection, including a Diane Dufresne CD and a Charles Aznavour CD, and my computer. It felt like a terrible violation. It is not very pleasant to have your property stolen. Nonetheless, the Conservatives did not include break and enter in the list of exclusions.
The punishment for break and enter is life in prison. The Criminal Code has never been amended. Since the advent of the Criminal Code in 1892, a judge has never sentenced anyone to life in prison for break and enter.
In serious cases of break and enter a judge is certainly not going to hand down a conditional sentence.
My time is up, Mr. Speaker?