Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this very important topic today.
This issue involves the whole role of conditional sentencing. As everyone is aware, this issue was changed in 1996 and adopted. I believe over the last 10 years it has probably served us well, and that is borne out through some international comparisons. However, I believe the original intent of Parliament is at present not being lived up to, that there are situations where very serious crimes have been committed and the criminals have been given conditional sentences. It is about time that Parliament reviewed the legislation and made changes so this does not happen in the future.
Specifically, I am talking about some of the sexual crimes involving young people and the violent crimes. In the past, the conditional sentencing provisions have been used by our judiciary in allowing conditional sentencing, which I, as a member of Parliament, do not think is appropriate. I believe it is time to amend those certain provisions in the Criminal Code.
I have listened to a lot of debate on this issue. I should point out that in my previous life I practised law with a large firm in eastern Canada for about 25 years. During my career, especially in the early parts of my career, I did a lot of part time prosecuting and I did a lot of defence work. I would have represented hundreds and hundreds of individuals charged with the crimes I prosecuted. After going through those life experiences, there are no two cases the same. Every case brings its own unique set of facts.
We are talking about an individual accused, the age of the accused, the victim, the crime, the circumstances surrounding the crime and the record of the accused, but no two cases are the same.
There is no cookie cutter approach. Every time a judge is faced with a sentencing process, he has to look at all the factors involved. The principles are well enunciated in the cases. He has to look at deterrence of the offence or retribution to society, protection of the public, rehabilitation of the offender and perhaps, more important, the proportionality. At the end of the day, the sentence has to fit the crime.
I do not think it is that helpful on the floor of the House of Commons to talk about this case or that case. No two cases are the same. In certain cases maybe the judge, or the appeal court or the Supreme Court of Canada made a mistake. For every case that someone cites as an example, where perhaps a person should not have received a conditional sentence, I can cite 10 other cases where, if the bill existed before the amendment were passed, persons were sent to jail but they should not have been, which is a travesty of justice.
As I said in my opening remarks, the legislation needs review by Parliament. The previous government introduced legislation to make certain changes and I supported them. It is time for a change after 10 years. Again, the conditional sentence is a very important tool for judges in sentencing. I believe in about 5% of the cases the judges in fact use a conditional discharge. A lot of times the accused serves his sentence in the community, and terms and conditions are invoked. I believe in about 15% of the cases there is a breach of the terms, mostly involving the use of alcohol or drugs, and the accused is then sent to jail.
Those provisions came about through amendments to the Criminal Code in 1995 or 1996. It is time for members of the House to review them, ask themselves whether they are working and decide whether amendments are required.
As one member of Parliament, I support amendments to tighten up the code because, as some of the speakers have pointed out, there have been situations, especially sexual crimes, sexual crimes involving youth and more violent crimes, where the accused has received a conditional sentence, which, in my view, is not appropriate for the circumstances of the offence. There may be factors out there regarding the sentence that support that principle but when one looks at it from a societal point of view, one just cannot have that going on. I agree that headlines, like “Accused convicted of molesting a four year old girl gets house arrest”, are inappropriate, which is why these provisions are before the House now.
The intent of the legislation, which I think has been followed, although there have been exceptions, is that less serious offences involving property and some physical assaults, this would be a tool for judges in the appropriate circumstances to allow the judge to have the accused person upon conviction serve the sentence in his or her home. This has been borne out by the statistics, by international research and by a lot of the positions from the provinces, although I think most provinces agree that the pendulum has swung too far and that we need to move it back, but most of them, if not all, do agree that conditional sentences are an effective tool for judges to use and ought to be continued.
The original Bill C-9 as drafted includes about 90 Criminal Code offences, anything above a maximum term of 10 years. I believe it went too far and the amendments presently before the House are an effective compromise that tighten up the legislation but, at the same time, allows judges the leeway and discretion they should have in sentencing certain offenders.
As I indicated in my previous question, statistics can be twisted around but the statistics now show, and I invite people to do their own research on this issue, that crime rates are dropping across Canada. However, that is not to suggest that crime is not a very serious issue. It is a very serious issue and the House must take it very seriously.
In some of the discussions today, people have been using examples. One example was whether a person who arrives in the middle of the night and burns someone's house down should receive a conditional sentence? The answer is absolutely not. The person should be thrown in jail and the key should be thrown away.
For every example there is another example. If an 18-year-old, first year university student, who has never had any interaction with the criminal courts or the judicial system in his life, gets involved with the wrong crew on a certain night and steals a car, should a conditional sentence be a tool available to the judge if he or she sees it appropriate in the circumstances?
The point is that each case is unique and each case is different and it is not helpful to take situations out of context and say that this or that should not have happened. I believe it is our job as legislators to set the parameters for the judges so they can do their jobs and have the tools available to follow the principles that they should be following and that each individual accused upon conviction is sentenced in the appropriate manner.
I reiterate that a conditional sentence must be an option in most offences but certainly not all, as Bill C-9, as amended, indicates.
The discussion today is very much related to the overall discussion that we are having with a number of justice bills before Parliament. Some of them were introduced by the previous government. Some appeared to me that they would become law but they did not. They died on the order paper. The new government has reintroduced them with some amendments. I believe all parties agree that five or six of them should come into law immediately, and I hope they do.
This bill is one that members of Parliament think should be amended. The justice committee has tabled and passed certain amendments. Those amendments have passed and now they are coming before the House of Commons for a vote.
I want to make another point in this debate. We are in a minority government. I believe there are 306 of us presently in the House of Commons representing the vast majority of Canadians, other than two ridings that do not presently have representation in the House. We are here to represent all Canadians.
Bill C-9 was proposed by the government. It went to the justice committee where it was debated. Amendments were proposed, debated, deliberated and voted upon. Now it has come to the House. I support the amendments but if the majority of the members of the House do not support the amendments, that is the end of it. I will not prolong the discussion or the debate, which is the way I believe every member should approach this particular bill before the House.
I do not think it adds anything to the debate to be up screaming and saying that we are soft on crime because that is simply not the case. It is unfortunate that those allegations are being made by certain members of the House.
I think this is indicative of what is going on in the House. We are in a minority government and we need to compromise. We need to seek consensus involving a majority of 306 members. In this case, it would appear to me that from the debate I have heard and from talking to members from different parties, that a majority of the members of this House support Bill C-9, as amended.
I do hope that when this bill comes to a vote that it passes and becomes law so that the changes can be made to the existing conditional sentence regime so it can be tightened up and serve society in a much better way.
I again want to state that I support the amended Bill C-9 and I urge all members of the House to support it also.