Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for St. Catharines.
It is a privilege for me to speak to Bill C-25, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (limiting credit for time spent in pre-sentencing custody).
As members may know, my riding of South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale has been directly affected by the shootings and gang war that has erupted in the Lower Mainland. My constituents are extremely concerned about the ongoing violence and complete disregard gang members have in our community. As the police have clearly indicated, much of this gang warfare is directly related to the drug trade. The guns being used are often smuggled across the border and purchased with the profits from the drug trade, or traded for drugs. Ensuring truth in sentencing, as Bill C-25 would help do, is an important step in ending British Columbia's gang war.
Every member of Parliament brings some experience in other professions and trades to his or her job here. Before I was elected, I served as an attorney for the B.C. legal services. I saw firsthand the impact drugs are having on our young people. I saw firsthand how many young people would turn to a life of crime to feed their drug habits and addictions. Drugs are often the gateway to crime for many career criminals. That is why I feel so strongly that we need to crack down on those who attempt to profit at the expense of our young people. Ensuring that drug pushers and gangsters serve a sentence that matches the seriousness of their crime is an important part of combatting the drug trade.
Upon taking office, our government committed itself to tackling crime and making our streets safer. Our commitment included preventing courts from giving extra credit for pretrial custody for persons denied bail because of their criminal record or for having violated bail.
Under the current system, courts typically take into account certain factors, such as overcrowding in remand centres, lack of rehabilitative programs commonly available in sentence custody, and the fact that time spent in remand does not count toward parole eligibility. This has resulted in courts traditionally awarding a two-for-one credit for time served in pretrial custody.
Now, on rare occasions, the credit awarded has been as high as three for one, especially where the conditions of detention were poor, for example, because of extreme crowding. Although also rare, credit has sometimes been less than two for one where offenders were unlikely to obtain early parole because of their criminal record or because of time spent in remand as a result of a breach of bail conditions.
The general practice of awarding generous credit for time spent in pre-sentencing has resulted in correctional authorities straining to cope with the growing number of people who are held in remand. In many cases, the population in remand centres now exceeds the population found in sentence custody in Canada's provincial and territorial jails.
Provincial attorneys general and correctional ministers have expressed concerns about the growing number of people being held in custody prior to sentencing. They strongly support limiting credit for time served as a way to help reduce the growing size of their remand population. Concerns have also been expressed that this practice has been abused by some accused who delay their trials and sentencing to earn double credit for the time spent in pretrial custody, thereby reducing their sentence.
Canadians have told us loud and clear that they would like to see more truth in sentencing.
I want to refer to a case that happened just last month in Toronto. A man convicted of manslaughter in the death of a nearly one-year-old baby found with 38 wounds was sentenced to six and a half years in prison. However, given that he has already served three years in pretrial detention since he was arrested for this killing, the two-for-one credit will guarantee that he is out on the streets within six months of his conviction.
One way of achieving truth in sentencing is to bring the practice of giving double time credit for pretrial custody to an end.
We are listening to the Canadian public in proposing this legislation. It would provide the courts with greater guidance in sentencing by limiting the amount of credit that courts may grant to convicted criminals for the time they served in custody prior to their sentencing. Bill C-25 would limit the credit ratio to two for one in all cases. However, where circumstances justify it, courts would be able to award a credit of up to one and a half days for every day spent in pre-sentencing custody. In such cases, the court would be required to provide an explanation for those circumstances. These circumstances are not defined in the bill. This is so the courts would have the discretion to consider on a case-by-case basis whether the credit to be awarded for the time spent in pre-sentencing custody should be more than one for one.
For example, we would expect a credit ratio of up to 1.5 to one would be considered where the conditions of detention and remand are extremely poor, or there is a complete absence of programming, or when the trial is unduly delayed by factors not attributable to the accused. However, where accused are remanded for having violated bail or because of their criminal record, the credit would be limited to one day for every day spent in pre-sentencing custody no matter what the remand conditions are.
As a result of this initiative, more offenders would now have a federal sentence of two years or more, and an increased number of offenders who would likely have been sentenced to a federal penitentiary would be spending longer time in federal custody. From a rehabilitation perspective, this time in the federal system would present the opportunity for longer term programming that may have a positive impact on the offender.
Bill C-25 also proposes to require courts to note the sentence that would have been imposed without the credit, the amount of credit awarded and the actual sentence imposed. This requirement would result in greater transparency and consistency and would improve public confidence in the administration of justice.
The proposed legislation is part of a series of criminal justice bills that has been introduced since we took office to help ensure the safety of Canadians. To make Canada safer, we have enacted legislation to get violent and dangerous criminals off our streets. We have cracked down on sexual predators, dangerous offenders and those who use guns to commit crimes. We have given the police more tools and resources to combat crime and to deal with those who drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
In the current session we have introduced Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (organized crime and protection of justice system participants), which will provide law enforcement officials and the justice system a better means to address organized crime related activities, in particular, gang members and drive-by shootings.
Bill C-15, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts, was introduced on February 27. It would provide for mandatory jail time for those who produce and sell illegal drugs. The reforms would, however, allow a drug treatment court to suspend a sentence while an addicted accused took an approved treatment program.
We have also introduced legislation in Bill S-4 to provide law enforcement officials with the tools they need to protect Canadian families and businesses from identity theft.
We will continue to introduce legislation to strengthen the justice system. Bill C-25 is an important contribution to this objective.
I appreciate the support of our provincial and territorial partners for this legislative amendment to provide greater truth in sentencing. I can only hope that we can also count on the support of the opposition parties, who have so often stood in the way of any bill that would actually reflect truth in sentencing.
I note the Liberal member for Vancouver South, who has been a loud critic of this government on law and order issues, recently criticized our approach to the issue of sentencing. In the Vancouver Sun on March 26 he is quoted as saying:
If they were genuinely concerned about public safety, they would have actually gone through the system, including corrections and parole board, and attempted to deal with the issue of organized crime. I believe they have not done their job in that regard.
I have three things to say in response to the member, who is a lawyer and a former attorney general of British Columbia.
First, we have introduced four separate bills in the past two months that will help police and prosecutors to crack down on organized crime, and gang and gun war is being waged in the Lower Mainland right now. Will he and his party support those bills?
Second, since forming government in 2006, we have continually introduced legislation to better achieve truth in sentencing. His party opposed these bills in the House and in the Senate. It was not until the Prime Minister threatened an election that the Liberals finally agreed to allow this measure to pass. Why did his party oppose truth in sentencing for so long?
Finally, let us remember that the member for Vancouver South was elected in 2004 and appointed to cabinet. He said that he is concerned about organized crime. He said that he is serious about stopping gun and gang violence. Why was the legislation we are debating today not passed while he was still in power?
I would call on the member and all parties in Parliament to put aside the partisan rhetoric and join us in supporting this common sense legislation.