Madam Speaker, I shall continue on the theme of the hon. member for Mississauga South and respond to his argument at the outset that it is a pity that the party he represents in the House has not understood the same thing as he has. If his party had understood the same thing as the hon. member for Mississauga South, we would not be at this point today and there would be no chance of this bill being passed. However it will be passed, thanks to the complicity of the Liberal Party. This bill seems to us totally unnecessary and dangerous. My colleague from Mississauga South is perfectly correct. We will not be filling the prisons with the real criminals, but with people in the early stages of becoming criminals.
The Bloc was opposed to, is opposed to and will continue to vigorously oppose minimum prison sentences because of four important points. This is not just my opinion. First of all, these minimum sentences “do not advance the goal of deterrence. International social science research has made this clear”. The Conservatives and some Liberals are vocal advocates of the opposite view. They need only look to the United States, where minimum prison sentences have been imposed, to realize that this has not solved the crime problem, which indeed is now much more deep-rooted.
In New Zealand and Australia, and specifically Northern Australia, an institute has produced a report entitled Mandatory sentencing for adult property offenders. They studied the issue thoroughly and found that a law passed in 1992 that imposed minimum sentences was useless and had solved nothing. Not only had it not reduced crime, it had increased it. Individuals are not prevented from committing crime by fear of a prison sentence. That is not my opinion: it is in the report.
The Conservatives are so vocal and insistent on this that we asked them to provide us with just one study. The hon. member for Lévis—Bellechasse can report to the members of his party and ask them if it is true that they have not produced a single study. Their answer will be incomprehensible. We asked them for one and they have not produced it, whereas we have submitted 12 studies. The Liberals submitted a few, and the Conservatives not that many, since they do not have any, but the Bloc and the NDP have invited expert witnesses who have studies that demonstrate that minimum prison sentences are of no use.
I ask my colleagues, including the hon. member for Lévis—Bellechasse, to listen to what these studies have said.
The evidence shows that long periods served in prison increase the chance that the offender will offend again... . In the end, public safety is diminished, rather than increased, if we “throw away the key”.
This was said by the federal Minister of Justice in a 1990 study entitled Directions for Reform: Sentencing, Corrections and Conditional Release. This was when the Conservatives were in power under a certain Brian Mulroney, though it is true that at that time they were called Progressive Conservatives, whereas they are now Reform Conservatives. So we have it in black and white. They have seen the studies, but they continue to maintain their position.
We also need to draw hon. members' attention to the fact that mandatory minimum sentences have been harshly criticized in a number of other major studies, including the report of the Canadian Sentencing Commission.
This is not our idea. It does not come from the evil separatists. The ones who say so are the Conservatives, the Reformists, and they turn up with this bill. That was my first point, but I have three more.
Second, the Bloc Québécois has always and will always be opposed to mandatory minimum jail terms, and will fight them vigorously because they:
...do not target the most egregious or dangerous offenders, who are already subject to stiff sentences. [—precisely because of the nature of the crimes they have committed]
I will repeat for the hon. member for Lévis—Bellechasse and certain members of his party, who will perhaps understand.
More often, it is less culpable offenders who are caught by mandatory sentences and are subjected to extremely lengthy terms of imprisonment.
Those are not our words. They are written in black and white in reports and all my quotes are from those reports. The position of the Bloc Québécois is based and focused on that. It would be interesting for my colleague from Mississauga South to speak to his Liberal party colleagues, who do not get it at all. The member for Mississauga South and the members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights got it somewhat, but they claim they have no choice.
No choice but to do what? Fill up our prisons?
One thing is for sure: the prisoners will get out one day. Our Conservative-Reform friends have to realize that the prisoners will get out one day. Mandatory sentences are given to the least guilty offenders, and they are the ones who get sent to crime school. When it comes to minimum prison sentences, the problem with the Conservatives and some of the Liberals is that they do not understand that a person given a minimum one-year prison sentence, for example, is eligible for parole and will get out after serving one-third of the sentence. That does not solve the problem. The Conservative-Reformers do not get it. They do not understand that the prisoners will get out.
Usually, people who work for organized crime—the real target of this bill—are given heavy sentences anyway. As recently as yesterday we saw that in the Hells Angels file in Quebec.
I still have two points I want to discuss. My third point is this:
Mandatory minimum penalties have a disproportionate impact on minority groups who already suffer from poverty and deprivation. In Canada, this will affect aboriginal communities, a population already grossly over-represented in penitentiaries, most harshly.
I am not the one who said that. A federal Reform-Conservative organization said that. Juristat, the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, reported on the issue in Juristat: Returning to Correctional Services after Release: A Profile of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Adults Involved in Saskatchewan Corrections from 1999/00 to 2003/04. That appeared in vol. 25, no. 2, published by Statistics Canada in Ottawa in 2005.
I do not think that the Conservatives get it. They will be targeting a poor and disadvantaged segment of the population. We all know that. I will not elaborate on that now. My NDP colleague from Vancouver has already discussed the huge problem with aboriginals and minorities several times.
They are the ones who are going to pay for an unfair, unacceptable law that makes no sense. We will keep on opposing it. Mandatory minimum sentences are not the answer.
Last but not least, I want to make the point that mandatory minimum sentences subvert important aspects of Canada's sentencing regime, including the principles of proportionality and individualization—the member for Lévis—Bellechasse should not move, because I am going to explain what these two big words mean—and reliance on judges to impose a just sentence after hearing all facts in the individual case. What this means is that the government is trying to direct the judicial system by introducing laws that will require judges to impose mandatory minimum sentences.
What the Reform Conservatives and part of the Liberal caucus do not yet understand is that the problem is not when offenders go into prison, but when they come out.
These guys—90% of inmates in federal prisons are men—go to prison after the judge has explained to them why he imposed a three-year sentence, for example. The judge explains his reasons and talks about rehabilitation. In some cases, he may tell the offender that it is not appropriate to talk about rehabilitation, because there is not much chance that rehabilitation will be available for him. The judge will also tell him that it is important that society be protected and that, as the offender does not seem to have understood that, he is being sent to prison for three years.
Imagine the judge's surprise when, eight months after handing down a three-year sentence, he sees the guy in the street. The judge calls the police and explains that he sentenced the offender to three years in prison. The judge is told that the offender was a model inmate. The judge replies that he had trafficked in drugs and had been given a three-year sentence. Yes, but he went before the parole board, and because this was his first offence and he was not a bad guy, he was released.
There is the problem and that is what the Conservatives do not understand. It is simply that prisoners do not serve their sentences. One day the Conservatives and part of the Liberal Party caucus will have to realize that the problem is not when offenders go into jail but when they get out.
There absolutely must be respect for judges. This bill does not respect judges; it imposes minimum sentences. All the necessary tools were already in place.
I know we must refer to specific sections and clauses. Let the Conservatives go and look it up. They did not read section 718 of the Criminal Code carefully. They should reread it. It sets out the sentencing principles to be followed by a judge when imposing a sentence. It talks about rehabilitation, the protection of society and the risk of recidivism. All the criteria are found in that section and judges are familiar with it.
When a guy appears in court for drug trafficking for the fourth time, will the judge give him a conditional sentence? Of course not. Only a few Conservatives believe that.
I was a lawyer for 30 years and I can say that when I went before a judge with a client charged with his fourth trafficking offence, there was no question of obtaining a conditional sentence. The judge would speak to the individual, explain to him that it was clear he had not yet understood, and explain why he was giving him such and such a sentence.
Respect for the judiciary is extremely important as is the principle of sentencing. We are not the ones saying it. The Supreme Court of Canada has acknowledged that incarceration should usually—I say usually—represent the criminal sanction of last resort and that it may be less appropriate or useful in the case of aboriginal offenders.
I cite the Supreme Court ruling in the Gladue case in support of this argument. The Conservatives do not get it and do not seem to want to understand that there must be respect for judicial discretion.
Imposing minimum sentences solves nothing and does not reduce the crime rate. There is no study showing that, and goodness knows I did try to get hold of one. I started by asking the minister, then his staff, and then all the deputy ministers and representatives in the Justice Department, but no one could provide a study that proved that minimum sentences solve anything.
The problem with Bill C-15 is that it has the effect of depriving judges, when passing sentence, of the discretionary power to properly determine the penalty that best balances the fundamental objectives of sentencing.
I will try to put it in simpler terms for some of my Conservative colleagues so they can understand. The more you imprison people, the less you solve the problem. If they do not get that, it is a pity. They can come up with tons of bills, but there is no room in the prisons. They just need to go and check that out. It is not hard to do so, so let them go and check it out.
There is a provincial jail in the Quebec City area, another near Amos and one near Hull. So they do not need to travel far, there is one just across the river and it is filled to overflowing. It is chock full. They do not even know where to put inmates awaiting trial or sentencing. The problem is that they are filling up the prisons but offering nothing to inmates.
When we look at Bill C-15, we see one aspect, that the individual can receive a lesser sentence—the judge will not be obliged to impose a minimum sentence—if he successfully completes a treatment program appropriate to his condition. The problem is that there are no treatment centres. It is all very well to put it into a bill but there are no treatment centres.
The problem with the member for Lévis—Bellechasse is threefold: one, he does not hear two, he does not listen; three: he will repeat it back all wrong. There is no appropriate treatment centre. There is no money for it. They will send people to prison but they are not able to provide appropriate treatment. We are hearing this from the penitentiaries.
Does he know how it works? The member for Lévis—Bellechasse still does not understand. With a three-year sentence, an individual is eligible for parole after one third of his sentence. Eight times three is 24, so after eight months, he is eligible.
That individual has no prior offences, it is his first sentence and his first time in prison. What happens in such cases? It takes four months to even look at his case. What happens then? He is sent to the Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines federal reception centre, put in a corner and observed. Officials will wait a little and analyze his case in order to choose the appropriate treatment. Then, after three or four months, a decision is finally made: he is sent to a minimum security prison or a maximum security prison.
The problem is that there are no services for him in the meantime. If he is eligible for parole after serving a third of his sentence, what happens? He had a two-year sentence—eight times three is 24—so he has four months left to serve. What will he do? He will go play cards and he will not be offered any services. None. That is the problem that the Conservatives just do not understand. Mandatory minimum sentencing solves nothing.
I know I am nearly out of time, but if I could pass along a message to our friends in the Liberal party, I would say they should reconsider their position and have another look at this bill, which solves nothing and will not reduce crime rates. I will not waste my time on the Conservatives, who will understand nothing of this. The only way to make the Conservatives understand that minimum prison sentences are useless is to beat them in the next election, and that is what we are all hoping for.