Madam Speaker, we have been talking about Bill C-25 for some time already, and I just want to point out that the Bloc Québécois was, once again, miles ahead of the government on this issue.
For several years now, we have been urging the government to eliminate the remand custody credit. I was looking for the right term. I also had “one-sixth of the sentence” in mind because the Bloc Québécois introduced a bill a few years ago that would have eliminated the one-sixth practice for offenders. The reason it took me a minute is that the Bloc Québécois introduces a lot of bills about justice in an effort to ensure fairness.
We have two very good colleagues, the member for Hochelaga and the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, both of whom are experts in matters of justice. Our colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin was once Quebec's public safety minister. Now you understand why it took me a minute to remember. The Bloc Québécois has introduced so many excellent bills on justice that it is easy to get them mixed up.
The Conservatives do not give us many reasons to celebrate when it comes to justice, but Bill C-25 is one, at least. The Bloc Québécois has strongly supported the measure in the bill since 2007. The Bloc Québécois has been talking about this for over two years now, which is a long time. On June 15, 2007, the Bloc Québécois proposed a series of recommendations about important changes to the Canadian justice system. These measures called for a more balanced justice system that is adapted to new realities, has a real impact on crime, and most importantly, avoids following the American model based on repression, a model whose negative outcomes are all too visible.
We are seeing this a lot particularly with this dogmatic, Conservative government, which is trying, through every possible means, especially with minimum sentences, to copy the American model, which simply does not work.
Earlier my colleague said that Canadian prisons were full to capacity. I invite him to go the United States to see what it is like there. He will soon realize that, compared to them, we should not feel so bad. American prisons are packed and the crime rate there is extremely high. There are many other reasons, apart from how the justice system itself operates. The gun registry comes to mind, something the Americans do not have. The free flow of firearms is also a serious problem in the United States, which means that a lot more crimes are committed with firearms there.
Earlier I mentioned some of the remarkable qualities of my colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin. He recently explained to all the members of the Bloc Québécois that Canada has, if I am not mistaken, about 100 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants, while the United States has about 736 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants. As we can see, copying the American model would be a serious mistake.
I must say, Quebeckers worry when we see the Conservative government acting in this way, whether we are talking about minimum sentences, the gun registry or its overall, general views on crime.
The Conservatives say they are tough on crime and they say so in an aggressive way. They are trying to show that they know what they are talking about. Yet police associations across Canada are criticizing this government. They are saying that, apart from a few photo ops with police officers, there has been no real, concrete action. There is still a serious shortage of police officers. The Conservative government boasts about hiring them and making huge investments, but apart from some nice announcements and empty promises, we have seen absolutely nothing.
Let us look at how Quebec manages public safety and justice.
Our approach is much more comprehensive and focuses more on integration and prevention. Quebec's approach is to ensure that the criminal does not commit crimes rather than arresting criminals once they have committed crimes, as the Conservative government would have it. That is the objective of Quebec and especially our colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin.
Quebec, represented by the Bloc Québécois, has a very good understanding of justice issues and does a good job of defending them. The proof is that in Quebec only about 40 crimes involving firearms are committed each year, which is an extremely small number. We have a very low crime rate. There is little crime in Quebec. I am extremely proud of that and, above all, it is the result of the way we manage public safety and justice.
The Bloc Québécois has presented measures that reflect the values of Quebeckers. These measures are primarily based on prevention, rehabilitation, social and economic integration, and a better distribution of wealth.
As I was saying, unfortunately, all too often, people who are going to commit crimes are poor. A study was published—whether or not we agree with it—which stated that during a recession, the crime rate increases because people have a great deal less money. We can readily deduce that there may be a correlation between poverty and the crime rate. The poorer people are, the greater their needs and, unfortunately, the more they will commit crimes, not because of need—because one never needs to commit a crime—but because it may be their only way out.
Therefore, we have to do more than just put people in jail. We have to help them with education, job searches and job creation. We have to try to take these people and put them back into the labour force by giving them a hand up and thus ensuring that we lower the crime rate.
Our proposals included streamlining the parole system, stepping up the fight against organized crime and providing better funding for the national crime prevention strategy.
Simply put, when a person is arrested for committing an offence under the Criminal Code, he must be brought before a judge as quickly as possible. At this stage, the crown attorney must inform the defendant of the charges against him. While the defendant is awaiting trial, the judge has two options: he can release the defendant, with or without conditions, if he feels that the defendant is not at risk of reoffending, or the judge may order that the defendant be detained until sentencing, if the defendant is dangerous.
If the judge chooses to detain the defendant, the period leading up to sentencing is called time served in remand or time in custody. After the trial, the judge must give an appropriate punishment to the guilty party. That is the sentence. The Criminal Code and related jurisprudence set out some criteria to guide the court.
I digress, but earlier I spoke a little about minimum sentences. These minimum sentences dismiss the criteria in the jurisprudence, and remove the judges' ability to think freely and use discretion in giving a fair sentence to any criminal.
As it stands, to determine the punishment for someone found guilty of a crime, the court must take into account all the time the individual spent in custody since the crime was committed. Although it is left to their discretion, judges not only generally take into account time in custody, but also apply the two-for-one rule. This means that time in custody counts two-for-one, and in some cases, judges have even gone as far as counting it as three-for-one.
This calculation method stems from the fact that few if any programs or activities are available to inmates during the trial period. Moreover, their detention conditions are poor and correctional facilities are overcrowded. Since the bill was introduced, we have discussed at length the serious shortcomings in overpopulated penitentiaries.
We do not want to leave this out of this debate, because it is an extremely important issue. However, we are first and foremost legislators, and we have to make the law that makes up the Criminal Code. We must also develop and introduce laws and then pressure the government for the necessary financial and human resources. We must ensure that this bill is fully enforced.
This calculation method stems from the fact that penitentiaries are overcrowded. In addition, time spent in pre-sentencing custody is not taken into account in calculating eligibility for full parole or statutory release. For all these reasons, judges tend to give two-for-one credit for time spent in pre-sentencing custody.
On March 27, 2009, the Minister of Justice introduced Bill C-25 for first reading in the House of Commons. The bill has to do with sentencing. The principles of sentencing are found mainly in part XXIII of the Criminal Code, in section 718 and the sections that follow.
The bill is intended to eliminate any possibility that a judge will give two-for-one credit for time spent in pre-sentencing custody. Clause 3 of the bill sets out this principle by limiting the credit for that time to a maximum of one day for each day spent in custody. As well, and only if the circumstances justify it, the bill allows a credit of one and one-half days for each day spent in custody, unless the person was kept in custody because of his criminal record or a breach of probation. In that case, no greater credit may be granted, regardless of the conditions in which the offender was held during his trial.
With respect to that measure, the Bloc Québécois recognizes that in some specific and very exceptional situations, it may be appropriate to subtract time served before and during the trial at a rate of a day and a half for each day in custody from the sentence. If that results in a reduction equivalent to 50% of the days spent in remand, in some cases, that would not discredit the justice system. There are cases involving conditions of detention ill suited to the person's health. In all cases, when a judge reduces the sentence in consideration of time served in pre-sentencing custody, the judge must justify that decision, record the reasons for it in the file and detail how the guilty person's sentence was calculated.
For more than two years now, the Bloc Québécois has recommended that this rule be eliminated, so we are pleased with this measure because the reason for this practice no longer reflects the reality of today's prison system. Along with the fact that legal cases are getting longer and more complex, this practice supports the popular notion that sentences are too lenient, discredits the administration of justice and frustrates victims and their families, who sometimes see the offenders turned loose shortly after sentencing.
People often get the sense that we are too soft on some criminals. I understand some of the victims. I also understand how the parents, friends and colleagues of victims who have been brutally murdered feel when the criminal goes free. The murderer may be sentenced to 10 or 15 years in jail, but gets out after serving barely 4 or 5 years.
The loved ones of victims might feel the justice system is faulty, since criminals are released much more quickly. Of course, that is all because of the two-for-one time. Here is an example. Now, if an accused spends six months in pre-sentencing custody and is sentenced to two years in prison, his sentence will likely last only one year. This bill would fix that anomaly.
When it comes to justice, the Bloc Québécois firmly believes that the most effective approach is always prevention. We have to attack crime at its roots. As I said at the beginning of my speech, justice is not simply about sentencing. It is not enough to be tough on crime, as the Conservatives like to say. That creates problems, because they have blinders on that prevent them from seeing the rest of the problem and the seriousness of the situation.
There are factors that push an individual to become a criminal. I do not believe that a person is not born fundamentally bad, but that they become bad, unfortunately, because of misfortunes, problems or bad luck. We must try to prevent crime. We must do a lot of prevention and education. We must find and target the factors that push these people to commit crimes, and try to eliminate as many as possible.
That being said, the Bloc is aware that the existing legal system needs considerable improvement, and that some changes to the Criminal Code are necessary. The government's duty is to intervene and use the tools at its disposal to make sure that Quebeckers and Canadians can live peacefully and safely. On June 15, 2007, in response to the Conservatives' ideological approach, the Bloc Québécois recommended a number of measures.
This constructive approach is already making a difference. In budget 2008, the Conservative government implemented some of the ideas put forward by the Bloc Québécois. It provided additional funding to the national crime prevention strategy and to crown prosecutors.
Since coming to power, the Conservatives have taken a rigid, ideological approach to justice. Although some of the measures introduced have had some positive elements, others have clearly gone too far and have been ineffective, or even counterproductive. That was true of Bill C-25, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which focused more on imprisonment than on Quebec's very pertinent success with reintegration and rehabilitation.
During the 2008 election campaign, the Conservatives said they wanted to throw young people aged 14 to 16 in jail. Personally, after having met with many young people, I find it really sad to see the Conservatives adopting such a rigid, dogmatic approach whereby they want to send our young people to prison.
As I said earlier, we should instead focus our efforts on rehabilitation. We must help these young people understand what led them to crime. We must give them a hand up, instead of foolishly sending them to prison, where they can attend crime school. If these young people come into contact with people serving 20 or 25 year sentences, they will learn the tricks of the trade.
The Bloc Québécois does not understand that. I think all of Quebec had a hard time understanding that during the last election campaign. Quebeckers clearly demonstrated this by sending 49 Bloc Québécois members, rather than Conservatives, to the House of Commons.