This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #76 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was sentencing.

Topics

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the comments of the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre. I have a lot of respect for the member and his comment.

I guess I am having trouble, along with many people understanding, his new position with regard to Bill C-9.

On August 18, the member stated, “I think it's a social experiment that has failed catastrophically. If the idea was to save money by having less people in jail the trade-off hasn't been worth it”. Does the member not understand that by gutting Bill C-9, he is putting the very same car thieves, arsonists and break and enter people back on to the street to commit these crimes in the very community that he claims to protect?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

The Bill C-9, which I supported on November 1 and for which I voted, still takes approximately 600 convicted criminals out of eligibility for conditional sentences. It does not go as far as the minister's initial proposal, but I voted for the initial proposal as well.

I will tell my colleague from Brandon, had the bill not been amended, I would have voted for it the way it was in its original form, but it came to us amended. I supported it when it was in its raw state, I supported it in its amended state and I would have supported it had it come to us in its raw state again.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

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?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

You have four and a half minutes remaining.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, fortune is smiling on me, I have four and a half minutes left.

I must say, this is what is dishonest about the Conservative rhetoric. In cases in which the Crown believes that a conditional sentence has been wrongly awarded, it is the Crown's duty, its privilege and its responsibility to appeal the decision. During the appeal, it must be proven that a conditional sentence was not appropriate.

That said, let us break this down even further. I have here the list of offences for which conditional sentences have been awarded. These statistics are not from the government, nor the Bloc Québécois. These statistics are from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. Upon reviewing the cases that most often resulted in a conditional sentence, they were, for the most part, offences against property and fraud. There were also a large number of offences against the administration of justice and drug-trafficking offences.

Here again, when we talk about drug trafficking, the statistics can be misleading. As defined in the legislation, drug trafficking does not necessarily mean selling 300 kg of cocaine; it can be something else.

Here is an example. I am in my living room watching Hockey Night In Canada or some other program, and a friend offers me a joint. Did you know that, under the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, that is considered drug trafficking? I am not encouraging people to smoke marijuana or any other substances. What I am saying is that we have to be very careful how we define an offence.

The statistics from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police indicate that conditional sentences have been handed down for a large number of offences, such as simple possession of marijuana and similar offences.

In closing, I would ask the Conservatives to keep a sense of proportion and nuance and to have some confidence in the judiciary. In some cases, tougher legislation is warranted.

The Bloc Québécois has introduced an anti-gang bill that reverses the onus of proof for proceeds of crime, in cases of organized crime and situations where people hold positions of significant authority. The legislation may have to be toughened. However, every time an attempt is made to generalize, every time there is a lack of nuance, there is a risk of poor criminal policy.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Tom Wappel Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am a bit surprised that no one wanted to ask the hon. member a question. He has been around here for a long time. He is a member who has taken an active interest in justice issues over the years and has been able to contribute to the justice committee in that time to make better legislation.

I was listening carefully to his remarks and there is much that I agree with in his synopsis of the history of what want on.

My recollection is a little bit different in some aspects. When the bill was originally brought forward, many people warned the justice minister of the time, which I suppose sometimes happens, that the judges would end up giving conditional sentences in respect of crimes that the justice minister and the people on the committee would not have expected them to do, which is exactly what happened. Some of the judges used conditional sentences in a manner that was really not intended by the act and by the committee. This upset justice ministers of the various provinces.

What has ended up happening is kind of like a pendulum. When the pendulum swings one way, namely, with the judges using conditional sentences in what I would consider an inappropriate manner, the Conservative government came in with a bill that was on the other end of the pendulum swing. These amendments have not only brought the pendulum back into the middle to permit conditional sentences in the appropriate crime situations, but also to ensure that judges do not use them for the kinds of crimes for which they were not intended, such as serious personal injury offences, terrorism offences and gang related offences.

I wonder if my hon. friend would care to comment on what I have said.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, our colleague is partly right. The problem is that when we look on a larger scale and more longitudinally, we have no evidence that judges have used conditional sentencing inappropriately. In addition, few cases of conditional sentences for organized crime offences, terrorism, homicide or equally serious offences were brought to our attention.

Moreover, for the latest years for which sentencing statistics are available, conditional sentences account for 5% of cases resulting in conviction.

Did some courts hand down rulings that were more questionable? Certainly, but the remedy for that is appeal, and the parliamentary committee has amended the bill to send a clear message.

Section 752 of the Criminal Code, in the case of personal injury offences, and section 477, in the case of criminal organization offences and terrorism, provide that conditional sentencing must not be used for such offences. We are in favour of having this clearly set down in a piece of legislation. However, the minister had proposed a list of 120 offences, and we disapproved of that approach.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened with some interest to my colleague as he talked about his friendship with the justice minister. I know the member has served on the committee in years gone by and that he is a member of the committee who takes it seriously.

Some of the comments we are getting from Quebec and Montreal are from people who are very concerned about home invasion, break-ins and people coming into their homes. Seniors and others are very concerned about the increase in home invasion.

Earlier this morning in my speech, I mentioned the case of R. v. Bratzer where the offender had committed three armed robberies in a period of one week. The court heard that the individual planned the armed robberies, put on a mask, picked up the weapon of choice and carried out three planned robberies. He had a history. It also came out in the court that the individual loved and anticipated the rush that he would get from carrying out this criminal offence. Despite all the information that came out in court, the court sentenced the accused to a conditional sentence, to house arrest, to no prison term, to no incarceration and to go home to his living room for two years less a day.

Given the increase in home invasions in Montreal, why does the member not stand up and say that it is time that we deal with this to prevent this type of sentencing structure for people who are criminals and who get a rush from this type of criminal activity?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, if an individual, regardless where—in Montreal or anywhere else—broke into homes three times, it will not be hard to convince me that it is not a case for conditional sentencing.

Is my colleague asking if this was appealed, if an appeals court upheld the decision? It is easy to understand that this is not a case for conditional sentencing.

Statistics presented in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights indicate that for break and enter offences conditional sentencing is rarely used. We cannot assume that the exception is the rule.

At the risk of repeating myself, I would say that according to the data provided to us, conditional sentencing is a marginal reality of the sentencing system. It happens in only 5% of the cases; three times out of four it is a property offence. It is not about cases where an individual commits three offences of residence theft. In such a situation conditional sentencing would not be recommended.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member across made some good points in terms of the various crimes that we are dealing with. Quite clearly, we are in the twilight of a time called the war on drugs. This has created a lot of the crime that we are dealing with in Canada right now, as well as the sentencing. It is in the twilight because I think we have recognized that it does not work. In the last Parliament, we had some debate and discussion. We even brought some bills forward to look at how we could deal with this better.

Part of getting tough on crime is taking the oxygen out of the system that criminals live on. In reality, if we want to get tough on crime we need to find ways to eliminate crime. I would like the hon. member across to comment on that.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry, but I thought the period for questions was over, so I left the House and did not hear the beginning of my colleague's question.

I believe he was referring to the end of the war on drugs. I agree: it used to be a bigger problem than it is now.

In general, crime rates are dropping for demographic and economic reasons. The economy is doing well, although some urban centres are more affected than others.

Statistically, the concerns we should be focusing on are economic crime and property crime. There has been a net decrease in offences against the person.

Once again, I am sorry I did not hear the beginning of the first part of the question.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

November 3rd, 2006 / 1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Don Bell Liberal North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today to address Bill C-9.

The bill was amended by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and I was pleased to support the amended bill when it came before the House at report stage this past Wednesday evening. I commend the members of the justice committee for their efforts, and particularly the member for London West for her diligent work on this bill and all justice legislation that has come before this 39th Parliament.

I have taken a keen interest in law and order issues and safe communities throughout my time in elected office. Prior to becoming the member of Parliament for North Vancouver in 2004, as mayor of the district of North Vancouver, I worked closely with local police, legal and judicial officials to continually monitor crime, law and order and sentencing issues in our community.

My constituents in North Vancouver, like all Canadians, want to be safe in their homes and communities and, as elected officials, it is our duty to ensure that the laws we craft in this place achieve that goal and do not have unintended consequences because they were rushed through Parliament without proper consideration.

I support the principle of Bill C-9 as it was originally tabled by the government in May, namely, the tightening up of the use of conditional sentencing. However, the amendments made to Bill C-9 at committee were necessary and they improved the bill. They certainly do not gut the bill, as some government members and the Minister of Justice have suggested. In fact, this bill provides that a person convicted of, first, a serious personal injury offence as defined in section 752 of the Criminal Code; second, a terrorist offence; or, third, a criminal organization offence, prosecuted by way of indictment, for which the maximum term of imprisonment is 10 years or more, is not eligible for a conditional sentence, nor can a conditional sentence be given where a minimum sentence for the offence applies.

We have heard rumblings that the Conservatives are planning to use justice issues as a wedge issue in the next federal election, and it appears this strategy has already begun. The Conservative government has introduced 11 justice related bills in this House, knowing full well that due to the short life of minority Parliaments, some of these bills will die on the order paper. In the next election, the Conservatives will then try to convince Canadians that all other parties are soft on crime, wrongly suggesting that we delayed or blocked this legislation.

In fact, the Liberal justice plan will fast-track 6 of the 11 justice bills, but this is typical of its style of politics. The Conservatives have yet again looked south at their republican idols and pulled a page from the Bush-Rove playbook, namely, “you either agree with us, or you're with the enemy”.

Despite the recent efforts of the party opposite, this is not the United States and this strategy will not work. It is dishonest. The Liberal Party and Liberal members in this House are not soft on crime. We want effective, smart laws. Despite what the Conservatives may try to convince Canadians, they know where we stand and the Conservatives know that I stand for effective, smart law and order measures.

I understand my time is running out. I had much more to say but I will say that we are pleased, from the opposition side, to have made our offer to fast-track the bills initiated under the former Liberal government, plus two new ones, for a total of 6 of 11 bills, and to get on with making thoughtful, smart improvements to Canada's Criminal Code, not for political gain but for the safety and well-being of Canadians.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It being 1:30 p.m., pursuant to the order made on Wednesday, November 1, I must interrupt the debate and put the motion to a vote.

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

yea.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I think we are under a House order that was negotiated between the parties that after two hours of debate, the question would be deemed put and passed on division. Could you just check that, please?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

I thank the hon. the government House leader for his advice but it is very important that the Chair have clear instructions from the House as to what is the intention of the House. I will look for that order now.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

In response to the point of order raised by the government House leader, I am reading from page 609 of the Journals of November 1. It states:

--and that the time allotted for the report stage of Bill C-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conditional sentence of imprisonment), shall not exceed one hour and the time allotted for the third reading of Bill C-9 shall not exceed two hours.

That is the extent of the order.

If the House wishes to pass it on division, the Chair will agree with that, but the Chair does need a clear instruction from the House.

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

An hon. member

On division.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Galipeau) Conservative Royal Galipeau

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. If we have concluded that matter, I wonder if there would be consent in the House to see the clock at 1:30 p.m., so that we could begin private member's business.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Is it agreed?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.