Mr. Speaker, as usual, this government is introducing a bill that I have begun referring to as a microwave bill. The Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security should have been studying this bill long ago, but the Prime Minister decided to abusively prorogue Parliament in December 2009.
In fact, because of the Prime Minister, Bill C-39, introduced on June 15, 2010, is a combination of two bills that died on the order paper, namely Bill C-43, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Criminal Code, introduced in June 2009, and Bill C-53, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accelerated parole review) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, whose short title is Protecting Canadians by Ending Early Release for Criminals Act.
As usual, we have become accustomed to this government's showy, dramatic titles that are, of course, always accompanied by a circus when they are introduced.
So there is nothing new on the horizon, which is serious. It is serious because peoples' safety should come before political games. Instead of creating a circus and rejecting Bloc bills in bad faith, this government should start thinking about taking real action in terms of public safety.
One of the provisions in this bill would abolish the opportunity for parole after one-sixth of the sentence. Since June 2007, the Bloc Québécois has been proposing that parole after one-sixth of the sentence be eliminated because we feel it undermines the credibility of the justice system. We believe that such an action would restore the public's confidence that has been abused by people like Vincent Lacroix and Earl Jones.
On September 14, 2009, we introduced a bill specifically focused on that measure. All victims and the general public unanimously agree on that measure. On two separate occasions we called for the unanimous consent of all parties to pass the bill quickly, so it could be applied immediately to people like Earl Jones and Vincent Lacroix. And what did the Conservatives do? Twice—not once, but twice, so no one could say they did not understand at first, but I am sure they must have understood the second time—they refused to pass the Bloc Québécois bill. And that is terrible, given that with this Bill C-39, they have now presented a provision that they could have agreed to in 2007. This provision would have meant that people like Earl Jones and Vincent Lacroix would not be entitled to parole after only one-sixth of their sentence is served. But in reality, now we can debate the bill all we want, and people like Earl Jones and Vincent Lacroix can apply for parole after only one-sixth of their sentence is served—all because the Conservatives refused to take action quickly when we asked them to.
We will not accept that. Despite the Conservatives' bad faith, we will vote in favour of this bill because we want to study it in committee, since we think it has some interesting points and we feel it is extremely important that more consideration be given to victims. We are prepared to look at this and move it along for the benefit of the public.
We will also vote in favour of this bill because the Bloc Québécois already proposed some of these provisions back in 2007, as I mentioned earlier, including eliminating parole after one-sixth of the sentence is served. There is also the notion of making inmates accountable for their reintegration programs and questioning the virtually automatic statutory release that occurs after an inmate has served two-thirds of the sentence.
At present, in order to keep in custody offenders who are known to be dangerous, but who are due to be automatically released after serving two-thirds of their sentence, a parole officer and the whole team have to make a specific request to have these offenders detained, when they know the offenders will reoffend quickly and violently. I have been a part this process, called a detention, as a parole officer.
It takes a huge analytical effort to show that an inmate who is automatically released after serving two-thirds of his sentence will reoffend violently in very little time. There are very few detentions. They are used only for the most dangerous offenders, and that is unacceptable.
The Bloc has been proposing since 2007 that the government do away with automatic release after an offender has served two-thirds of his sentence. I could give some examples, but I would rather go on.
It is important to provide legislative tools for the people who are working very hard to maintain a balance between public safety and inmate rehabilitation. The mission of Correctional Service Canada and Quebec's correctional service is to maintain a balance between public safety and rehabilitation, which is hard work.
We must not lose sight of a very important point: rehabilitation is the key to public safety. If we introduce a system where public safety equals repression, we are going to find ourselves in a society where safety is seriously challenged. When we talk about rehabilitation and prevention, we are talking about public safety.
Unlike what certain demagogues say, prisons and penitentiaries are not some kind of club med. When people go to prison, they enter what we call crime school. People who have committed more or less serious crimes and who have more or less led a life of crime end up in prison and will develop new skills, make contacts and learn ways of doing things that make them more effective criminals.
If they go to prison for drug trafficking or another offence, they will get even better at committing crimes, hence the need for rehabilitation. The point of rehabilitation is to give tools to criminals to make them less dangerous or not at all dangerous to society. That is a key part of ensuring public safety.
It is important to understand that rehabilitation is key to protecting society, especially since many of these prisoners will be released one day, even those who were sentenced to life in prison. A 25-year-old who is serving a life sentence will be released one day, if he is rehabilitated. Sometimes, a prisoner will receive 10 or 15 years, and after going through the correctional system is just as dangerous or less dangerous. All of these people will get out one day, which is why rehabilitation is so important.
Unfortunately, the Conservatives do not understand that word. In fact, they simply do not believe in rehabilitation because they think that repressive incarceration is the answer. Incarceration is the most serious consequence for a criminal offence in Canada.
Incarceration is punishment in itself. Unfortunately, what this government does not understand is that there is a difference between “consequence” and “punishment”. When our children misbehave, there are consequences and rewards, but incarceration in and of itself is punishment and consequence. What more do we want? Why make incarceration even more repressive since being incarcerated is a consequence and punishment in itself? Applying revenge mentality to the law has to stop. The law is there to create justice and fairness and to make society safer.
This bill goes against the current mission of the CSC, which seeks to protect society by assessing the risk posed by inmates and encouraging them to take part in programs. We all agree that society must be protected, but the government is twisting this ideal to insidiously change the CSC's mandate through this bill. It is not very clear. We do not really know where the government is going with this.
I invite all hon. members to look more closely at this attempt to change the mandate that tries to achieve a balance between rehabilitation and protecting society from the perspective that rehabilitation equals protecting society.
As I was saying, the longer people remain incarcerated, the worse things get, but some people do not understand that. In less serious cases, people should be able to benefit from rehabilitation because, in any event, these individuals are assessed at every stage. The correctional plan is updated regularly, after three months, six months, a year. When these people appear before the board, their file is reviewed again. They are monitored. When they are released, because they are eligible or rehabilitated, they are monitored on the outside by Correctional Services. They have a meeting once a week, either at home, at work or at CSC offices. They are monitored closely until the end of their sentence. I think Correctional Services does good work.
However, it needs to be recognized that certain individuals cannot really be rehabilitated, such as those with psychiatric or psychological conditions. In my personal practice I met some who, unfortunately, could never be released because they are too dangerous. We must then ask ourselves if those people should be incarcerated in a prison. Should they not be incarcerated in a psychiatric institute or hospital? Unfortunately, the bill does not really answer this question. What do we do with very dangerous people who have serious psychiatric issues and who cannot be rehabilitated in the community?
Another important point about this bill concerns the place of victims in the correctional system and their right to be involved in parole hearings. There is also the issue of authorizing the correctional services and the National Parole Board to share information with victims. It is fundamental, not only to the healing process, but also to feel safe as a person who was victimized by another person, to have certain information about the offender, such as where they are, what they are doing, and to know if you will run into them while grocery shopping or at the corner store. It is important to have certain information. However, I wonder—and we can take an in-depth look at this in committee—how much information should be given? What information is relevant? I do not really have an answer to that. The committee will surely enlighten us on that issue.
I really hope victims can have access to information. But what kind of information are we prepared to have? The information should pertain to these people's safety and the healing process.
Even though the Corrections and Conditional Release Act clearly recognizes the interests of victims of crime and the role they can play in the corrections and conditional release process, victims and victims' rights advocates told us that many aspects of the current system made no sense and that victims were dissatisfied. These people will be able to give us some further clarification in committee.
The government tells us that victims have an important role to play. I am trying to understand what the Conservatives have done for victims since they came to power. There was the famous bill that was introduced at one point and then dropped off the radar. It seemed to be designed to give the police tools to fight cyberpedophilia and child pornography. We do not hear anything about it anymore.
The former ombudsman for victims of crime, Mr. Sullivan, was unceremoniously dumped. In mid-August, three and a half months later, he noted in a letter to the minister that the government had found money to expand the prisons yet was cutting funding for victims programs. He also came to see us in committee and told us that this government's actions were all about criminals and that the government was doing very little, if anything, for victims.
This year, the budget for the ombudsman's office will increase by barely 1.08%, and grants and contributions for the victims of crime initiative will decrease from 41% to 34%. Meanwhile, the government is talking about boosting funding for incarceration by several million dollars to build new prisons or expand or renovate prison wings. Mr. Sullivan was right: this government is all about getting tough on crime, but it thinks that by focusing on criminals or increasing sentences, it will solve victims' problems. Unfortunately, that is not what the ombudsman for victims of crime and the victims themselves are saying.
Furthermore, when the government prorogued the House, it killed two bills supported by Canada's police chiefs and the former victims of crime ombudsman, specifically, legislation that would have facilitated online investigations, as I said earlier, especially regarding crimes of a sexual nature against children. I asked Mr. Sullivan what he thought and he told me something rather extraordinary. He told me that if he were prime minister, the Internet legislation would be his top priority and it would be the first bill he would bring forward. Indeed, cyber-pedophilia and child pornography are rampant on the Internet.
A press release I saw on the Internet on October 3 stated that the government is tackling cybercrime. However, after reading the article, I realized that it did not include anything about the Internet legislation.
To close, I would like to mention Bill C-343, introduced by my colleague, the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead. The bill will help victims of crime, particularly by allowing them to be absent from work and receive an income while dealing with their grief or trauma. The bill was introduced in this House but unfortunately, the government voted against it. I thank the other parties for supporting the bill. I truly hope that when it comes back before the House, we will win our case, because it is important for victims.