Mr. Speaker, Bill C-36 is a bill that the Bloc Québécois wants to see referred to committee, but I can offer no guarantees in this House that we will support the bill at third reading. We need more information. We want to understand the real impact of the bill, but obviously we think it is a bill that needs to be seriously considered in Committee.
In 1976, the death penalty was abolished and murder was reclassified, if you will, into two categories: first degree murder and second degree murder. In both cases, the punishment is imprisonment for life. The difference is in respect of parole eligibility. For first degree murder, the murderer must serve at least 25 years of their sentence before being eligible for parole. In the case of second degree murder, they must serve at least 10 years of their sentence, other than in certain exceptional cases, for example where the case involves an intentional murder under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, where it was a question of the circumstances surrounding the commission of the murder, or where the murder was a criminal organization offence.
The faint hope clause, as it is called, is found in section 745.6 of the Criminal Code, which provides for possible eligibility for parole. That section was added to the Criminal Code when the death penalty was abolished and murder was reclassified as first degree or second degree murder. We must remember the reason why section 745.6 was added to the Criminal Code. There were essentially three reasons. There was a desire to offer hope to offenders who demonstrated some capacity for rehabilitation; there was a desire to provide motivation for good conduct in prison; and there was also a desire to recognize that it was not in the public interest to keep someone incarcerated, in certain circumstances, beyond 15 years. Obviously, I would remind all members of this House and all those at home watching that the faint hope clause is an exceptional provision that comes into play before eligibility for parole.
The faint hope clause procedure, as my good colleague from Abitibi knows, has relatively clear rules. In order for that provision, which is found in section 745.6 of the Criminal Code, to apply, there is of course a three-step process. The first step is screening by a judge. If my information is correct, that is in fact the chief justice of the superior court. The judge examines the application and must determine the potential, the real prospect that a jury will agree to allow the applicant to be granted early parole. So first, the chief justice of the superior court where the murder was committed must hear the application. Second, the judge must agree to empanel a jury of 12 members, and that jury must agree, by a two-thirds vote, that parole, what I would call early parole, will be granted. And third, of course, the application is submitted to the National Parole Board, which has full authority to accept or deny the application. There is a clear set of rules for the process: it is examined by the chief justice of the superior court, a 12-member jury is empanelled and the application must be accepted by two thirds, and it is assessed by the National Parole Board.
I might go into a little more detail regarding the process to be followed when one wishes to invoke section 745.6. I would say that, yes, persons who commit first degree or second degree murder must be given exemplary sentences. However, up to a certain point, should we not ask ourselves as parliamentarians whether there are not circumstances where it would be desirable for an individual, after 15 years of detention without parole, to be able to exercise this provision, since justice is never automatic, and never one-size-fits-all? With its three steps, does the process not offer sufficient guarantees to stand as a safeguard? People will study the merit of this application. There is no risk of frivolous applications that will be accepted even though an individual does not deserve access to early parole.
I am going to describe the three steps in some detail.
First, the applicant must convince the chief justice or a designated judge in the province of the conviction. The applicant, who is normally behind bars, must convince the chief justice that there is a real possibility of the application being successful. For example, multiple repeat offenders, that is, people who have committed several murders, have no chance of their application succeeding. The application is not even admissible, and the chief justice could not permit the process to be started.
If the chief justice or the designated judge finds, to his best understanding of the case, that two-thirds of the jury is not likely to allow the applicant access to some kind of early parole, under section 745.6 of the Criminal Code, the applicant fails. The judge must then set a waiting period, which is generally two years, before a new application may be made. The judge may even set a longer period. For example, I am an applicant. I am presently on parole. I show real signs of rehabilitation. I have served the 10 or 15 years of detention without parole. I appear before the chief justice of the superior court. He may tell me to come back in two years or some other time period which he finds to be reasonable.
Second, the applicant must convince a jury of 12 citizens who have to decide on this. Let me go back, I have made one little error, reminding me of my fallible human nature. It was like that before, but the process was revised in 1999, and the jury now has to decide unanimously, not in a proportion of two-thirds. I would have expected the hon. member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue to whisper that to me. I do not hold it against him, but I urge him to remain vigilant. So it is not two-thirds of the jury, but the entire jury that must accept the application for early parole.
If the jury refuses, we know how it works. A jury is constituted from certain lists. Of course, in a trial, the way that the public is involved in the administration of justice is through the constitution and presence of a jury. If the jury refuses, but does not prohibit the filing of new applications, another application may be made, once again, after two years or after a longer period, as the jury may decide. If the jury accepts, on the other hand, it has to set a new period, which will be reduced.
Third, the jury will obviously consider the application, deliberate and approve or reject it. If the application is approved it will be sent to the National Parole Board.
I looked for statistics that would give us an idea of the scope of this phenomenon and have some. As of April 9, 2009, relatively recently, 265 applications had been submitted under section 745.6. Of that number, 140 had been approved and so 140 individuals had been given a period of time prior to their eligibility for parole.
With a ratio of 140 to 265, are we not approaching 45% or 50%? Can I say that?
The National Parole Board granted parole to 127 applicants. I will now provide some slightly more specific statistics. Thirteen individuals subsequently returned to prison—we can speculate on the fact that they were returned for breaking parole and failed to meet the conditions of it—three were deported, 11 died and were recalled to heaven—fate, it could be called—one was on bail, one was in provisional detention, and the most important of the statistics, 98 individuals of 127—we are closer here to two thirds—met the conditions of their parole.
In our assessment of the situation, we have to say that, when the stages set out in section 745.6 have been followed, two thirds of the individuals who were eligible early for parole met the conditions of it.
My colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel is wise and as a solicitor misses nothing. I do not know whether it is because he is used to this with wills, but he reminded me that adding the 11 dead to the 98 individuals who met the conditions of their parole makes the proportion higher than two thirds.
I would like to return to the 98 individuals, because it is here the Bloc's question lies. Why is there a need to repeal a provision of an exceptional nature? We are talking about 127 individuals in all these years. Is it not reassuring in the administration of justice to know that the provision exists?
People can commit second degree murder when they lose their mind, but it is still a reprehensible act and there are still innocent victims. It is certainly not my intention to minimize the seriousness of second degree murder. However, are there not situations in which individuals sentenced for second degree murder with no previous record show they are truly rehabilitated?
I will give you an unfortunate but convincingly instructive example.
Madam Speaker, allow me to give an example. You learn that the person you love, who has been sharing your life for a number of years is, unfortunately, cheating on you with the neighbour, and the community knows it. You are in a rage and commit murder out of jealousy. You are a respected individual and have responsibilities in your community.
You are liked by her peers. You have always led a good life. You have had significant responsibilities in the community.
Then, in a moment of craziness, you kill your her husband when you find out he has been cheating on you. You are therefore convicted of second degree murder. This is an act, of course, that we as a society must punish severely. You find yourself behind bars. In this specific example, though, would you not be the kind of person who should be eligible for early parole?
If this Conservative bill ever passes and the faint hope clause does not exist, would we have made a mistake? We would have deprived ourselves of a provision in the administration of justice that can be beneficial in some circumstances.
I want to provide a few statistics on the people who could be eligible. At the present time, 4,000 prisoners are serving life sentences in Canada. According to the most recent statistics of April 9, 2009, 1,001 prisoners could be eligible for early parole. Four hundred and fifty-nine of them have already served at least 15 years of their sentence and could therefore apply. When the bill gets royal assent, at least 459 people will be eligible to apply under section 745.6 of the Criminal Code. Five hundred and forty-two offenders will not have served 15 years yet but will soon be able to apply. On average, 43 of the 1,001 prisoners will be able to apply every year.
If things continue and section 745.6 is maintained, nearly 50 people a year will be eligible. This does not mean, of course, that the juries or the National Parole Board will grant their request, but they will be eligible.
Bill C-36 would entirely eliminate—and before the day on which the change comes into force—the right of all offenders to apply for early parole who were convicted of first or second degree murder or high treason. In addition, the last clause in the bill tells us this day will be determined by an order in council.
Parliamentarians must realize that if Bill C-36 passes, section 745.6 of the Criminal Code will be revoked. I just gave the example of a crime of passion. In committee, we are going to try to find out who has benefited from this section in order to know whether it should exist. We have no fixed opinion yet. We are prepared to listen to all sides. Just as much, though, as we want to send this bill to committee, we are concerned about the possibility that we might be depriving ourselves of a tool that is well suited to certain cases.
The bill would also tighten the conditions under which all offenders convicted of first or second degree murder or high treason before the day on which the change comes into force may make an application, including those who are already serving their sentence. This means that there would be four changes to the current procedure. First of all, tougher selection criteria will apply for judicial review
Madam Speaker, you are indicating that my time is up but I started my remarks at 11:55. Since I was given 20 minutes to speak, I could continue until 12:20. Am I mistaken here?