House of Commons Hansard #30 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was sentence.


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4:20 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe.

The previous speaker, the member for Hochelaga, hit the nail on the head when he said that the bill was based more on ideology than on facts. I think that is to be expected from the government with the orders coming out of the PMO, from one individual, and, as we have seen, the facts do not get in the way of a good story.

It is pretty dangerous to play politics with the criminal justice system and the impact that can have on society, which is what we are seeing from across the way, exaggerating or even talking about facts that really are not facts at all.

The bill seeks to amend the Criminal Code of Canada by mandating that a conditional sentence no longer will be an option for anyone convicted of an offence prosecuted by indictment that carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years or more.

We in the Liberal Party take the safety and security of Canadian communities very seriously, which is why we introduced Bill C-70 in the last Parliament to address their concerns. Our bill focused on preventing those who were convicted of crimes causing serious personal injury from receiving conditional sentences.

We do not believe this Parliament should play politics with the Criminal Code. We want to see a balanced approach that does not create unnecessary hardship or expense where it is not warranted. Our critics will certainly be proposing constructive amendments at committee when that opportunity comes forward.

Conditional sentencing does have a role and an important role. Society must have a balance. Individuals who commit crimes must pay the full penalty for the crime but we must also give the best opportunity for rehabilitation while redressing the consequences of those crimes and the cost to Canadian society. However, Bill C-9, in my opinion, casts that net far too wide.

As a former solicitor general, I have had the opportunity to visit a lot of prisons and halfway houses. I have looked fairly constructively at conditional sentencing. When we compare our system to the American system, I sincerely believe our system is better because it has moved more toward reducing crime than the American system. Bill C-9 would move us in a direction of Americanizing our system.

Barb Hill, the director of policy with the John Howard Society, said that the bill would restrict the use of conditional sentencing. I am sure no one in this House would disagree with that. She also said:

The 10-year maximum cutoff includes “the vast majority” of all crimes in the Criminal Code.

She goes on to say:

(Conditional sentencing) has been working. It is an alternative. It does work. It is targeted at relatively low-risk people.

Incarceration does not work. We have to get Canadians off that mindset that the only way we can manage offenders is to put them in jail. That may be the worse thing we can do for many offenders. You're going to make them worse. It is really going to increase the likelihood of reoffending.

She went on to say:

We are supportive of those things that are alternatives to incarceration and allow people who can be safely managed in the community to remain in the community.

Conditional sentences permit offenders to continue with their jobs and provide for their families.

She concludes by saying:

Jail is not effective. In some cases it is the opposite of being effective.

The government's strategy, though, is to put forward a position that is not evidence based. The previous speaker said that when the minister was before the committee no analysis and no facts were brought forward to justify the government's position. When the Minister of Justice was in opposition, we heard some of his outrageous statements relating to crime. Let me say to the government and the Minister of Justice that they are in government now, and in a democracy, government is called responsible government for a reason.

In terms of the decisions and proposals being put forward by the minister, they need to be put forward in a responsible way. It is part of the conditions of being in government. Good policies must be based on fact and on evidence. They should not be based on a perception that is out in the general community. Good policy, then, has to be based on good facts.

As we saw during the election, government members tend to try to scare people on the crime issue and exploit the latest headlines. Yes, crime is a very serious matter and, especially for those people who are affected personally, it is an emotional issue, but on issues like this when we are dealing with the justice system, it must be based on good analysis. What is needed is good analysis. What we need are decisions that are based on facts. The government has not brought that analysis forward.

As I said a moment ago, I believe Bills C-9 and C-10 are somewhat of an Americanization of the Canadian justice system. I do not believe that is appropriate. Let us look at Canada and the United States. Which do members think has a higher rate of crime? I do not think there is anyone who would not say that it is the United States. That is where the crime rate is higher.

Let us look at the incarceration rate in Canada under our criminal justice system. Two years ago, it was about 107 per 100,000, whereas in the U.S. it is around 600. What it clearly shows is that building more jails, throwing people in jail and forgetting about the rehabilitation of those individuals so that they can contribute to society in a positive way, is not the answer, but this is the approach that the government opposite is taking.

Conditional sentencing is not easy time. I would like to refer to what our justice critic said earlier, and I think these points need to be reinforced:

In almost all the cases, the conditional sentence orders contain restrictive conditions of a house arrest and/or curfew, often both; often community service; mandatory treatment and counselling; and often other conditions are tailored into the sentence and can be very effective in preventing repeat offences while still having the person exist safely inside the community with the deterrence of having the house arrest, et cetera. It is not about being hard or soft on crime. It is about a sense of effective, just sentencing in Canada for those who go outside our law.

This is the approach that I think we have to take overall.

It will be really important at committee to have witnesses come forward. We certainly will be supporting the bill going to committee. It will be very important for witnesses to come forward to talk about the analysis that has been done and the facts that are out there. The bottom line is that building more prisons is not going to lessen the crimes, and this bill places the net very much too wide.

It would be far better to spend money on policing and on crime prevention. That is the best way to prevent crime. The best way is to have the police forces out there, have the crime prevention policies in place and deal with rehabilitation in terms of individuals who have gone astray. That way, we build a social and economic base in our society in order to continue to prosper as a nation. I believe this bill does not cut it in terms of us getting there. It will have to be changed at committee.

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4:30 p.m.


Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I was listening to the hon. member, I noted that a lot of the points he brings up are awfully good. They make a lot of sense and they are very logical. When we look at this, we wonder what we want to do with people who have done something wrong. Do we want to punish them or do we want to rehabilitate them?

It seems that the party opposite is more interested in retribution than it is in rehabilitation. Locking someone up is not exactly the ideal way of helping them get out of their situations.

I have a question for the hon. member, who alluded to a couple of differences. For example, let us look at what is going on in U.S. states that have adopted a “three strikes and you're out” policy, which is very similar to what the party opposite wants to look at, where people are just thrown in jail and warehoused. Warehousing human beings does not rehabilitate them.

How does that compare to what our friends on the other side, the Conservatives, want to do to our society and our people who are having trouble and causing some problems?

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4:30 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, in response to the question on punishment and rehabilitation, certainly what is required is a combination of both, but the member talked about the system in the United States, in states that do have a policy of three strikes and the people are out. Sometimes that third strike is based on petty crime.

In my remarks, I spoke about having the opportunity, as a former solicitor general, to look at our system closely and to see the prisons. The party opposite used to talk about “club fed” in terms of our jail system. When we look at the jails and prisons in this country, we see no club feds in our jail system.

Also, let us look at the work of the John Howard Society and some of those NGOs that are working with people who have fallen on hard times in life and who, not necessarily all through their own fault, did in fact get into crime. These groups work with those individuals. They can rehabilitate them. They can make them productive individuals. They can give them an opportunity in life again.

That is what our criminal justice system should be all about. Let us give them an opportunity. Yes, they have to pay a penalty for the crime, but we need to give them the opportunity to be productive members of society again. That is what our system has, which the American system really does not have to any great extent. I think that is why our system is much better.

However, the party opposite is talking about the latest crime statistics, looking at the latest sensationalized issues and avoiding doing the analysis. It really is playing politics with a system that we should not play politics with.

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4:35 p.m.


Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, first of all, let me say that Canada’s judiciary is under attack.

The new sheriff and his deputy, the Minister of Justice, rode into town and in a few short months have insulted, or have allowed their posse to insult, the Chief Justice of Canada. They infer that she felt her direction came from God, when everyone knows that it is the Conservative Party that takes its advice from God, or so those members would see it.

They publicly and privately accuse judges and justice officials of being liberal and unworthy.

They have just rejected an arm's length committee report on long overdue judicial remuneration.

Finally, they have introduced legislation like this, which is aimed at taking away judicial discretion and making judges readers of meat chart sentencing tables, disregarding the time-honoured legal principle that cases do not stand for grand propositions, but turn neatly on their facts.

Each case is different and our judges have the tools required for dealing with each one of them.

As a rule, judges are nominated following a rigorous process, involving committees comprising presidents of bar associations, chief justices and attorneys general of the provinces.

Before that, there is a rigorous peer review process. Most members of the House will agree this was the case with respect to Justice Rothstein. If so for him, why this attack on the integrity, humility, remuneration and, above all, discretion of our federal judges? It is a question I cannot answer.

I can say that the assault on conditional sentencing is a piece of that puzzle. I can agree with parts of the bill but not others. Coupled with reforms to mandatory minimums, street racing minimums and amnesty for illegal gun owners, this is a general attitude of contempt for justice shown by the Conservative Party.

The point is that law reform and the Criminal Code itself, which I admit was written by a very good Conservative Prime Minister, Sir John Thompson, who has since passed away, are organic processes adapting to times changing and the different instruments that work to keep our society safe. They are always however under the guiding hand in the trenches of our judges, prosecutors, probation officers, defence lawyers and the whole legal team.

It is important to underline that we have a safe society. From 1994 to 2004 the crime rate fell by 12%. It is the perception that has changed. The media sensationalizes crime and, following an American trend, politicians pander to the fear that crime brings in the community.

The problem is, as the Liberal leader said the other day in the House, that Conservative legislation lately seems like it is written on the back of napkins and railroaded through the House. Bill C-9 is one such case. Let me illustrate how.

The current system of conditional sentencing was adopted in response to criticisms that Canada was imprisoning too many of its citizens.

It was thought that too large a share of taxpayers’ money was going to prisons, when the funds could have been spent on constructive crime prevention programs.

Conditional sentencing is one important aspect of sentencing. This type of sentence plays a major role in the rehabilitation and social reintegration of offenders. Unfortunately, the money saved by reducing the number of prison sentences was not reallocated to enough programs. For example, there is a clear need for additional money to increase the number of officers who supervise conditional sentences.

Conditional sentences obviously require supervision. People serving conditional sentences are in our communities. So, supervision is required. The sad reality is that the resources of the people who supervise this type of sentence are strained to the limit.

The program was good; the delivery was not. In the Moncton area, for example, there is one full time supervisor for all conditional sentences. He is unable to ensure that everyone who is on a conditional sentence is in fact at the house when they are supposed to be. He cannot do it. It is a matter of resources and federal-provincial relations.

Many of the breaches of conditional sentences actually happen because the people are out doing other crimes and the supervisor is informed that the crime happened. The supervisor in the Moncton area does have assistance. The provincial jail helps out and calls for compliance. Unfortunately, after one contact is made, the offender will often breach knowing that his number came up and that he is free to go that night.

The largest pitfall, however, with conditional sentences has been the perception from the general public that offenders are not being punished for their criminal actions. This is particularly true of offenders who have committed offences of violence or serious breaches of trust.

When the Criminal Code was amended to include conditional sentences, no offences were excluded.

What had to be determined was whether a person found guilty of an offence was liable to a minimum prison term. If not, the person could receive a conditional sentence as long as the sentence was less than two years.

Prior to these amendments, a person in New Brunswick convicted of dangerous driving causing death or impaired driving causing death would likely receive 6 to 18 months. Since the amendments, a person in New Brunswick is likely to receive a conditional sentence. That does not seem right.

Initially, public prosecutions opposed such granting of conditional sentences. However, following the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Proulx, it became clear that unless specifically exempted, a conditional sentence was available for any offence.

The public is losing confidence in the administration of justice in the area of sexual assaults. Offenders are receiving jail time for offences against children and for violent sexual assaults, but many are receiving conditional sentences as well.

The question now is how to achieve the legitimate goals of the sentencing process while preserving the integrity of the judicial system in the eyes of Canadians.

Bill C-9 is one of the attempts to answer the question. In response to the criticisms of the conditional sentencing system and in view of the fact that the public is demanding more restrictive use of this sort of sentence, the solution seems to be to get rid of conditional sentences for all offences punishable by indictment that incur a sentence of ten years or more.

Including all such offences will not work. This will not bring back the public's confidence. First and foremost the amendment is overreaching. The purpose of conditional sentences was to deal more effectively with non-violent offenders.

Take the case of financial crime offenders. If they were going to jail before, they were not able to make restitution to their victims. A conditional sentence regime works well and is not against the public interest.

Under the regime of Bill C-9, in the haste to get it passed, this will not be the case. There will not be a chance for restitution to widows, orphans and pensioner funds.

The amendment causes hardship for other victims and such is the case with sex offences. At present, a sex offender may receive a conditional sentence. This is not well received by the public. Bill C-9 does not respond to this. The perfect example is the case of summary sexual assault. For those members who are not lawyers and do not know lawyers, the victim of a sexual assault does not like to go through the process of a preliminary inquiry which is entailed in the indictment process.

That is what these victims are put through if there is no redress for it at committee. One factor is the expected sentence. We cannot fault prosecutors for choosing their venue to get a conviction if they have a victim of a sexual assault who is afraid to go both to the preliminary inquiry and to the trial. Nonetheless, if the offender should receive a jail term the Crown could proceed by indictment therefore taxing the resources and again putting the victim through the double peril. Historical sexual offences will also fall outside the scope of Bill C-9.

In conclusion, the only method to ensure the integrity of the conditional sentence regime would be to amend it, to take the time to examine it and amend it. In such a manner public confidence would be maintained and would allow for a greater flexibility in the laying of accusations. The bill is hasty and will not fix the problems. It misses some problems and creates new ones. We will be revisiting the bill at committee and in the future. The sheriff, the deputy and the posse did not hit the bull's eye this time.

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4:45 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate our colleague on his brilliant speech. I have two questions for him.

Did he get a chance to read the 2000 Supreme Court decision in the Proulx case, suggesting that there should be guidelines governing the whole area of conditional sentences? Could he tell this House whether he believes that conditional sentencing really promotes social rehabilitation? Could he share his thoughts on the matter with us?

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4:45 p.m.


Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

First, Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his questions. I did read the decision rendered in the Proulx case. I know that this was a good decision. I do not totally agree with it because, of course, there is still a problem with certain aspects that would not be covered by the decision and amendments made prior to it.

I agree that the sentencing principle reviewed in that decision is clear and accurate. Conditional sentencing is a good system. It should not be thrown out entirely. It should be reviewed and amended so that we can have a conditional sentencing system that works for the communities. I totally agree with the hon. member, and I thank him for his questions.

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4:45 p.m.


Raymond Simard Liberal Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have been listening attentively to my colleague. There is a perception and reality when it comes to crime, and members opposite have been trying to convince Canadians that crime has actually increased in Canada over the last number of years.

I would like to ask my colleague from Moncton whether or not that is a reality? The reality is that over the last 10 years crime has actually diminished considerably. Maybe he could--

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4:45 p.m.

Dave Batters

Why ask him if you already know?

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4:45 p.m.


Raymond Simard Liberal Saint Boniface, MB

I would like him to clear it up for the member's information because it is very important that colleagues on the other side do not misinform Canadians about what is really happening with respect to crime during the last period of time.

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4:45 p.m.


Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, clearly, the evidence shows that crime is down 12% from 1994 to 2004. What has changed, however, and all of us on all sides of the House join in this regard, is that in many quarters the perception of the crime rate has changed. As I mentioned, in a somewhat partisan fashion, parties and politicians will exploit criminality.

Maybe all sides of the House could agree that the media sensationalizes crime. I think that is very true. It sensationalizes almost everything. That is another factor why crime is, in its appearance, on the rise.

I invite members to read the material from the John Howard Society. It is a habit of the Conservatives to pass a bill and then read the underlining material, but it is always good to read the material before passing a bill. That is the way we did it in law school. It is kind of the Maritime way.

I recommend members read this article in the John Howard brief. On page six of the brief, it is very clear that the perception is being run by political fearmongers, some of whom are on the other side even though there are many reasonable members on that side. The perception is also being run by the media. We have to combat that and deal with the statistics. We have to insert into the organic Criminal Code what will work to keep our society safe.

Mandatory minimums and conditional sentences are nothing new. They are Liberal policy. I have already conceded that the Criminal Code was a Conservative project from Sir John Thompson's time. Let us work together in committee and make this work. Let us review it and make it sensible for the coming generation.

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4:50 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Before moving to the next speaker, it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, Price of gasoline; the hon. member for Don Valley East, Equalization payments; the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, The Environment.

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4:50 p.m.


Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join my colleagues in the debate on second reading of Bill C-9, which amends the conditional sentence provisions of the Criminal Code.

The Minister of Justice presented his bill in this House on May 4. Since this legislation was introduced, we have heard an impressive number of negative comments directed to the minister and the Conservative government. In fact, there is every indication that the government is going it alone, in what can only be described as a crusade whose true roots can be found in the Conservative Party’s populist approach.

The Conservative ideology is based on the law and order mindset that characterizes a particular fringe element of Canadian society, especially out west. The Conservative Party is pushing a tough and extremely harsh approach to crime and punishment, and along that way it has rejected the principles of rehabilitation of offenders and alternatives to imprisonment.

Let us be clear: the Bloc does not advocate emptying the prisons or using imprisonment only for dangerous criminals; far from it. But a balance must be struck between the harshness of the sentence imposed and the seriousness of the offence, the risk of recidivism and public safety. This is where the impact of enacting the Conservative bill would be felt the most.

To be as clear as possible, I would note that the objective of the current version of Bill C-9 is to amend section 742.1 of the Criminal Code to provide that conditional sentences may not be imposed for offences prosecuted by way of indictment for which the maximum term of imprisonment is ten years or more. At least, that is what the minister claims.

There are major flaws in this bill that nothing has been said about, and whose consequences go beyond sentencing alone. They will directly affect not only the justice system in its entirety, but also, and most importantly, the prison system as a whole.

At present, section 742.1 of the Criminal Code provides:

Where a person is convicted of an offence, except an offence that is punishable by a minimum term of imprisonment, and the court (a) imposes a sentence of imprisonment of less than two years, and (b) is satisfied that serving the sentence in the community would not endanger the safety of the community...the court may

In fact, however, that alternative to conventional imprisonment must comply with the purpose and principles set out in sections 718 to 718.2, including denouncing unlawful conduct and deterring the offender and other persons from committing offences. Consideration must be given to separating offenders from society, where necessary, keeping in mind the guiding principle of rehabilitating offenders and providing reparation for harm done to victims or to the community.

For example, expressions of remorse by offenders, or at least a genuine understanding of their responsibility, as expressed, for example, through recognition of the harm they have done to victims and to the community, are other factors that must also be taken into consideration in sentencing.

The court may then order that offenders serve their sentences in the community so that their behaviour may be supervised, provided that they comply with the strict conditions imposed.

The Conservative government wants to make the Criminal Code unnecessarily tough by eliminating the court’s option of imposing a conditional sentence of imprisonment. The consequences of that approach are enormous.

We need to realize that the bill sponsored by the justice minister will greatly increase the number of crimes for which judges can no longer impose a conditional sentence. It is ironic that in getting tough on criminals, they are tying the hands of judges who might have decided, in light of all the facts, that this would have been the most appropriate sentence.

With its populist approach for clearly electoral purposes, the Conservative government is taking a dangerous backward step of ten years in our legal system. Conditional sentences were adopted in 1996 as an alternative method of incarceration for adult offenders.

Now, as at that time, the Bloc Québécois believes that it is extremely important for judges to have as broad an array of choices as possible at their disposal in determining appropriate sentences. The Bloc also believes that this approach is most conducive to the successful rehabilitation of offenders while ensuring public safety and the appearance of justice.

Prior to 1996, people found guilty of a criminal offence and sentenced to terms of just a few days were required in all cases to serve their time in prison. The primary objective of conditional sentences was to reduce incarceration and give the courts an alternative.

Since the adoption of conditional sentencing, judges can condemn a person who poses no danger to public safety to serve a sentence that is less than two years in the community.

When imposing a prison sentence, judges must consider the offender’s degree of responsibility and the seriousness of the crime. Sentencing is therefore not a simple equation between a certain crime and a certain sentence. A multitude of factors have to be factored in, such as those I just mentioned.

The Bloc Québécois strongly advocates a justice system based on a personalized approach specific to each case in which conditional sentences are an essential option.

To do otherwise by eliminating the ability of judges to pass sentences that involve serving time in the community will impose a gigantic additional financial burden on Quebec and the provinces. If we consider the difficult financial situation that the provinces face and the astronomical cost of detaining offenders, it becomes self-evident that the money spent in this way would be much better used for the purposes of rehabilitation and prevention.

There are at present 15,000 individuals serving a conditional sentence. Those are 15,000 convicted criminals serving their sentence in society because they are considered very low risk, both to re-offend but also and above all for society itself. In other words, these individuals do not have to live, if I can put it that way, in a prison, and so the resulting financial burden is that much less.

In the opinion of Department of Justice officials one third of the 15,000 criminals on a conditional sentence will no longer be eligible for it if the government carries through with Bill C-9.

Imagine for a moment the need to incarcerate 5,000 persons all at once, all over Canada, for variable terms, certainly, but all the same at a time when the prison system is filled to capacity. I dare not even think of the colossal sum that this insane bill of the Conservatives is going to cost.

To satisfy a specific electoral clientele and firm up the support of the militant right-wing rank and file, the Conservative Party is prepared to embark on a legislative and social cul-de-sac, a veritable ideological dead end. The Conservatives’ logic is baseless, and even contrary to their general vision of law and justice.

They argue for a toughening of the penal system on the one hand, and on the other they limit the powers of judges to formulate and determine the sentences to be imposed on offenders.

Conditional sentencing is a very attractive alternative for the courts, in that judges can impose a harsh sentence on someone, for example by ordering strict conditions to limit mobility and activities, without filling and overfilling prisons which are already overflowing. And I have not even raised here the issue of deterrence for the bulk of offenders, out of simple fear of possibly ending up in prison amidst a clientele that is rather intimidating, for lack of a better term.

With regard to the conditions that accompany conditional sentences of imprisonment, it is helpful to note that they vary from one person to the next, but are defined according to a mandatory legislative classification, and are discretionary since they are determined by the court. For example, when an offender breaches one of his conditions, he has to appear before the judge again, and if the judge is convinced that the offender has breached a condition with no reasonable excuse, he or she will issue an order for the rest of the sentence to be served behind bars.

Mandatory conditions are those which a judge does not need to record in the conditional sentence order, as they apply in all cases without exception. The other conditions are called “discretionary” since the judge has discretion to include them in the conditional sentence order and to amend them according to the particular situation.

These mandatory conditions include keeping the peace and being of good behaviour, going to court when required, and reporting to a criminal justice system supervisor regularly. The court must also ensure that the offender stays in a specified area by requiring the person to get written permission to travel outside this area. The offender must also tell the criminal justice system supervisor before moving or when changing jobs.

With respect to discretionary conditions, there are, in theory, an infinite number of them because a judge can apply any condition he or she deems reasonable.

However, house arrest and curfews have practically become a given. Courts have ruled that a person receiving a conditional sentence must, in principle, be under house arrest for the duration of the sentence. The judge may allow some exceptions to allow the individual to go to work or to school.

This last element seems to me to be quite sensible, and I am surprised that members of the Conservative Party do not consider it to be more important. It seems that their basic objective is to fill up the prisons with all kinds of criminals, to just put them away regardless of the seriousness of their crimes or even their risk to reoffend.

In closing, I urge my colleagues to reject Bill C-9, which would not only cost a fortune in correctional infrastructure, but would bring take our penal justice system one big step backward.

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5 p.m.


Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank and congratulate my colleague, the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, for her excellent presentation and her very clear speech demonstrating her great talent for everything to do with law and justice.

In her presentation, the member pointed out the populist approach of the Conservative government and its law and order approach. The people in this government are very keen on anything to do with law and order.

My question is for my colleague and concerns correctional officers working at detention centres, who have been without a collective agreement for four years. June 1, that is tomorrow, will mark the fourth anniversary. I don't know who will bring the cake, who will blow—

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5 p.m.


Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. There is no translation right now.

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5 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Could the interpreters tell me if the system is working?

It is working.

Will the member continue?

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5 p.m.


Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will start again, with your permission. I imagine that the clock has been reset for comments.

I am a bit embarrassed to congratulate my colleague again and repeat my thanks for her very clear speech. I am a bit embarrassed, but I will do it anyway.

There was no simultaneous interpretation, but I had mentioned, and I repeat, that she spoke so clearly because of her experience in and extensive knowledge of legal issues.

I also wanted to draw attention to one of her comments about this Conservative government's populist approach. For a few months, we have all noticed that the government's approach is highly populist and very much geared toward law and order, that is, anything that has to do with legal affairs and rather restrictive legislation.

Correctional officers, who work in detention centres, do extremely difficult work with the inmates in these centres.

Yet as of tomorrow, June 1, the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers will have been without a collective agreement for four years. Four years. They work in extremely difficult conditions, as you can imagine. The more experience they gain, the more stress they have.

Ordinarily, you and I should be less stressed by the work we do as time goes by. That is true of most workers in society. But correctional officers are increasingly stressed, because they know what their work involves. They have difficult working conditions and an inadequate pension. They are asking for a pension equal to 70% of their income after 25 years of service, at 50 years of age.

There is a striking dichotomy between what this government says and what it does with regard to correctional officers.

It is nonetheless surprising that the government wants to strengthen prison sentences and increase minimum sentences. I have a question for my colleague. Do studies show that crime is on the rise in Quebec or in Canada? Does repression work? Are there examples from other countries that show that by increasing maximum prison sentences—

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5:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but her colleague must be given the time to answer.

The hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant has the floor.

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5:05 p.m.


Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank my colleague, the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert for her comments.

I would also like to congratulate my colleague for her courage in defending the officers of the Correctional Service of Canada. As she pointed out, these people are in a very difficult situation. As she said, as of June 1, they will have been without a contract for four years. We must commend her for all of her efforts to defend the Correctional Service officers.

I must also mention that the Conservative Party is constantly presenting us with right-wing bills that depart further and further from the fundamental values of Quebec and from our preferred approach to rehabilitation. In that regard, I must thank the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert for her comments. I agree with her that the Conservative Party and all of its right-wing measures are currently leading us nowhere.

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5:05 p.m.


Ken Boshcoff Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, a long time ago, I started my 22 year career in municipal government, working extensively on task forces. That was one of the first things on which they put me.

We worked on things like vandalism, property crime and crime prevention. As a community, we designed and implemented many anti-crime programs, again at a local or neighbourhood level. These included such things as community policing, neighbourhood watch, Child Find, block parents, Crime Stoppers, and implementing the 911 system. These efforts over the years allowed me to receive the honours of federal and provincial crime prevention awards.

In addition to being mayor, I served six years on the police commission so I believe I have some degree of understanding of this topic as it applies to those who now work in the field. I am not a lawyer so my points will reflect those of a community advocate and not those of a professional barrister.

The initial feedback on the proposed legislation comes from our citizens' intuitive responses. They hear of crime as top news items and consequently conclude logically that crime must be increasing. The strides made by community groups and programs such as I have mentioned, Crime Stoppers, neighbourhood watch, block parents, Child Find and community policing, have worked.

Each of us in the House are keenly aware of the success of all these in the field, or at the neighbourhood or community levels. The numbers, the facts and the evidence are clear. There are decreasing rates in most categories of crimes. Nonetheless, our society's culture of fear makes people feel less safe.

As elected representatives, we dutifully respond to address these concerns of the public. As parliamentarians, we must respect their tangible worries. The Liberal Party and its members represented here have long been notable champions of safe homes and safe streets. We have a long history of finding solutions to effectively deal with crime in its ever evolving creativity.

Bill C-9 seeks to amend the Criminal Code of Canada by mandating that a conditional sentence will no longer be an option for anyone convicted of an offence prosecuted by indictment that carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years or more.

Are there miracle cures or silver bullets out there? After so many years of governments tackling this issue, federal Conservatives from 1984 to 1993, Liberals from 1993 to 2004 in majority situations and recently with minority governments, one would think there would be some glaringly obvious cure-all. As well, all types of community and professional advocates, whether it be in social work, the criminal justice system, rehabilitation, prison systems, legal professions or the judiciary, have been involved. Bill C-9 is presented as such a cure-all.

The bill's good intentions are regrettably flawed and need review and polishing in committee. This is the logical and reasonable approach to take. This would help take the strident politics out and replace it with improved wordings and effective legislative paragraphs. The question is whether it will actually reduce crime and act as a deterrent. The empirical evidence seems to say no.

We have heard many colleagues from all parties debate this issue and try to come up with numbers that effectively endorse their positions. After it has all been said and done, the thought that we can actually do something with a hammer, rather than improving on the existing and proposed legislation, I believe puts us in a situation where we will end up with something far worse than what we wanted to do in the first place.

Are we being deliberately confused by a law and order agenda that makes splashy headlines but poor public policy? We all want laws that protect the innocent, punish the guilty and compensate the victims. This is a volatile topic and engages people emotionally, which places even more duty upon us to act calmly and responsibly.

The Liberal Party takes the safety and security of Canadian communities very seriously. That is why we introduced Bill C-70 in the last Parliament to address these concerns. The bill was focused on preventing those who are convicted of crimes that cause serious personal injury from receiving conditional sentences.

We do not believe this Parliament should play politics with the Criminal Code. I believe we all want to see a balanced approach and should work together in committee to ensure that the bill does not create unnecessary hardship or expense where it is not warranted.

Bill C-70 would have created a presumption preventing court from using conditional sentences in at least four situations: first, serious personal injury offences as defined in the Criminal Code, such as all forms of sexual assault; second, terrorist activities; third, organized crime related offences; and, fourth, any other offence where the individual case is so serious that the need to condemn the act and not use the conditional sentence takes precedence over any other sentencing objective.

By comparison, Bill C-9 would simply restrict the use of conditional sentencing any time someone would be convicted of an offence prosecuted by indictment that carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years or more. The implications of this are numerous.

Since the government has chosen to set the bar at 10 years, and only when prosecuted by indictment, there remains a possibility that Crown prosecutors will simply use summary convictions in place of indictment in an attempt to continue the use of conditional sentences. I believe many share the concern that the bill could result in an uneven application of justice.

There is also a difference in prosecution in each of the provinces. Some members already have heard the example that certain provinces charges are laid by arresting officers, whereas in other jurisdictions Crown prosecutors decide on which charges are to be laid.

Sentencing of an offender could sometimes create controversy in our wider communities, especially if the main source of information is through media reports. Conditional sentencing became available in the mid-nineties. Now we have had roughly 10 years' experience to analyze and draw some assessments.

A conditional sentence need not be of the same length as the sentence of incarceration. When someone receives a conditional sentence, it invariably is for a longer period. This is real punishment served outside of a costly prison system.

Again by way of comparison, Bill C-70 was drafted to create a presumption that the courts should not make a conditional sentence order when sentencing offenders convicted of serious personal injury as defined by section 752 of the Criminal Code. Again, I mention terrorism, organized crime and similar types of offences in terms of their severity.

As legislators, we are all aware now that our provincial and territorial counterparts have been expressing their concerns about additional costs that would be incurred if the bill goes through as presented. They would have to hire additional prosecutors, certainly additional court and correctional staff and build new prisons.

The government has not yet effectively or properly outlined its plans on what assistance would be provided to those jurisdictions. It is time to do evidence-based law. We should not play politics with the Criminal Code. We all know that it is simply too vital.

I believe the desire for safe communities is something that we all share. I had mentioned that we all want justice to be fair, but we also need it to be effective.

We should revisit this in committee, rethink it and come up with good legislation.

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5:15 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill. I have a great deal of concern with the Conservatives' plan for getting rid of conditional sentencing for so many criminal offences, many of them not violent in nature. Many of them are of a kind that could be open to interpretation in the court as to their severity of impact on the general public.

Bill C-9 is what I call retail politics. The bill is a knee-jerk reaction. It will do nothing to rehabilitate criminals and it will not reduce crime. As far as we can see, it is based on not that much information. Not much information has been provided to the House to examine. In fact, due to the relatively recent introduction of conditional sentencing, there are few academic studies that have been completed on its impact on the criminal justice system. Furthermore, there is a dearth of sentencing statistics in Canada. Even Statistic Canada's adult criminal court survey lacks certain data. Therefore, we are not able to assess very correctly the nature of the impact of conditional sentencing on criminal justice.

In 2003 of the 104,000 sentences of custody imposed across Canada, 13,000 were conditional sentences of imprisonment. Of the people who were incarcerated or under supervision in 2003-04, four out of five were being supervised in communities. Many of them were on probation; 11% were on conditional sentences.

It has not been demonstrated to me nor to my caucus that this bill is going to work effectively to reduce crime or to improve the rehabilitation of criminals.

I come from the north. I have lived and worked in small northern aboriginal communities all my life. I worked in the municipal field as a mayor. For many years I had regular correspondence with the police on the types of offences that were present in our communities. As a member of a small aboriginal community, I was able to see the impact of sentencing on individuals over a long period of time and the types of results that came from incarceration versus sentencing that allowed the criminal to stay in the community.

Canada's aboriginal population will be particularly hard hit by this amendment. We see the statistic in Saskatchewan where 60% of the conditional sentences that were handed down in one year were handed down to aboriginal people. Jails in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are already at peak capacity or overflowing and there is a very large percentage of aboriginal population in those jails.

Last year in Nunavut 200 offenders received conditional sentences and 275 were incarcerated. This is in a population base of about 28,000. One can see the impact that conditional sentencing will have on that small government and its ability to provide justice services to its people.

This month there were 73 prisoners packed into the Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit, a jail designed to hold 40. At the start of this month, Yellowknife's North Slave Correctional Facility for adults, a new jail opened only two years ago, was full. Overflowing jails create environments which are dangerous to guards and inmates.

Also, because these jails are full, northern inmates, many of whom are aboriginal, are being forced into jails in the south, where they do not have access to appropriate cultural rehabilitation programs. They are separated from their families which increases the likelihood that they will not be rehabilitated and will reoffend.

When we look at what is happening right now in the north, we see that in many cases judges and the correctional system want the inmates to remain in the north and not go to the southern institutions, even though they may have received sentences greater than two years. They know that the result of sending these inmates into the higher grade of correction services is they more likely will reoffend.

Is creating situations where offenders are not rehabilitated and continue to commit crimes after release what the Conservatives want? It seems to be, because simply putting more people in jail will only create environments which breed repeat offenders.

Justice is not about throwing people into jail for the purposes of revenge. It is about getting people to return to society and no longer commit crimes.

Canada's north has been at the forefront of developing alternative sentencing arrangements. Many of the communities in my riding have community justice committees that deal with many offences which would normally go before a judge. These committees know the offender and the community and craft sentences to meet the needs of both. Sometimes the committees hand out what would be considered to be light sentences for serious crimes, but the effect is that many of those sentenced through this process do not reoffend.

The committees, also known as sentencing circles, have been copied across the country as an effective means of reducing the level of aboriginal incarceration and reducing the incidence of reoffending.

Eliminating conditional sentences will have a major impact on aboriginal communities across Canada and the north in particular. Already aboriginal people make up a disproportionate percentage of prisoners in our jails. The bill will do nothing but add to that sorry figure.

For aboriginal people, conditional sentences sometimes work better than jail sentences. Recently a Nunavut crown prosecutor said that the reality is that for some people it is more difficult to serve a sentence in their own community than it is to be flown to a jail in Iqaluit, as the community gets to see the punishment.

In many small northern communities there are celebrations when people return from jail, but when they stay in the community, they are seen every day and are forced to deal with their actions with their peers.

In the north, conditional sentences also allow offenders to attend culturally appropriate treatment for problems such as addictions, anger management, mental problems, et cetera. Many of the people in our correctional institutions for very many crimes, and very many violent crimes, likely suffer from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. In some situations people are being incarcerated where in a more tolerant society we would recognize the actual mental condition that leads to the result that we see.

Every person involved in the justice system will agree that each case before the courts is different and must be tried and sentenced on its own merit. The bill flies in the face of this well-known fact. In order to deal with this fact, judges must be allowed the tools necessary to craft sentences that are most likely to result in rehabilitation.

From their words, it is clear that the Conservatives do not trust the judges in this country. Unlike the United States where anybody who gets enough votes can be a judge, this country chooses its judges from the most respected and knowledgeable members of the legal profession. These people do not operate in a vacuum. They see the reality of the criminal justice system. We should allow those who know best to craft sentences that work best.

We should not deny people the tools that are required to do the job effectively. Why would we deny judges the tools that could make their work correct? Why would we want to do that? Is it just a sense of punishing individuals? Is it a sense of revenge, that the only way we can deal with justice is an eye for an eye?

Sometimes judges get it wrong, but there are mechanisms in place to deal with these mistakes. Crowns can appeal sentences when they feel the sentences are too light. Or if a person commits another crime while serving a conditional sentence, the punishment for that crime will be even more severe.

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5:20 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order. Questions and comments, the hon. member for Hochelaga.

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5:25 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my NDP colleague for his remarks and for sharing some personal information with us about his municipal involvement and his intimate knowledge of certain aboriginal communities.

He is quite right to make the connection with aboriginal peoples' reality. It reminds me of when I was a law student, although I cannot talk about that as if it were completely in the past. I took a course on aboriginal law, which was fairly new.

I am certain that the older members of this House who studied law did not take many courses in aboriginal law. For a few years now, aboriginal law has received a great deal more attention, and there is certainly a link between sentencing and aboriginal people. Why? Because, unfortunately, aboriginal people are overrepresented in our prisons.

The Supreme Court handed down a 60-page decision in the Gladue case, and I would like to thank my professor for putting it on the curriculum. This is an extremely interesting case that led legislators to include a final paragraph in section 718. This paragraph specifically requires that particular attention be paid to the circumstances of aboriginal offenders and to their history. Obviously, this has not been easy for the courts to interpret.

Does my colleague believe that there should be specific provisions requiring that the history and circumstances of aboriginal offenders be taken into account in sentencing?

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5:30 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, the member's question is a difficult one. We want to ensure that the justice system is very fair. We want to ensure that cultural adaptation in the system is fair to the victims and to all those who have a part in the commission of offences and the subsequent delineation of their punishment.

I look for more weight being given to the judges because they are there to judge. They are there to interpret the law for the people in the communities. They interpret the law so that the people understand what the law is and that the return they get from the system is fair and adequate for every Canadian.

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5:30 p.m.


Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a question regarding the cost. The hon. member probably would know that the average cost of keeping a person in jail is anywhere between $52,000 to $100,000 per year depending if there are programs added on. The minimum is about $51,454 per year.

If this bill becomes law, a very minimal conservative estimate of the operating costs would be approximately $250 million. As a former mayor the hon. member could probably tell us if we have that kind of funding to provide support for young people to provide preventive work so that we can keep people out of jail and so that we can provide community support. If we have the funding, what are some of the programs we can support to reduce crime?

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5:30 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, we have not seen that side of the government's response to criminal justice. We have not seen the warm side of dealing with people in their environment to reduce crime and prevent crime from happening. We need youth centres all across the country. We need opportunities for young people to integrate into their communities and their societies comfortably.

To me, alienation from their community is one of the greatest causes of criminal activity for young people and once they are into criminal activity, it can lead them into more serious offences in the future. We need to work more with our young people. That requires money.

We have a real need for youth centres across the north. I have requests on my desk right now to work with people from Inuvik right through to Yellowknife along with smaller communities to get money into youth centres so that we can prevent some of this expensive criminal--