House of Commons Hansard #81 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was spam.


Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member talks about the interconnection of these issues far more broadly than even I have, and I think this broad view is important.

When I was in Regina, I had an opportunity to tour the worst areas with the former police chief. He took me to neighbourhoods where children were growing up in homes with no heat, where a meal was a scarce thing, where they had to walk through streets that were unbelievably violent, where, even when I was there, the police had to call in paddy wagons because there had been a shooting. Can members imagine somebody trying to learn in an environment without food or heat? The chief told me about another home where, for six months, raw sewage was being dumped into the basement because they had no solution. And somebody says, “Well, pick up your bootstraps kid and make a go of it”.

If we want to stop crime, we cannot allow children to live in those conditions. If we are interested in making our communities safer, then we have to go to the places where crime originates.

My colleague makes an important point when he talks about how disproportionately represented aboriginal and first nations peoples are in our prisons. They are 10 times more likely than anybody else to be in a prison. This is a national disgrace and we have to look at the reason for it.

More often than not, the reason is that first nations youth do not believe there is a future for them. They have lost hope. They do not feel that this country has opportunities for them to be successful, to set goals and realize them. As long as they lack that hope, as long as they lack that belief that they can cross through and have a successful future, then we will continue to see this kind of disproportionate representation in our prisons.

The terrible thing about the way this debate has been cast is that it makes it seem as though criminals are just these bad people and all we have to do is hit them harder, with bigger sticks, and all of our problems will go away. However, when we look at the underlying assumptions, when we have an honest conversation about what community safety is about, we get a real and honest picture of what needs to be done. Remarkably, it can be done at a fraction of the cost.

Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

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.

Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-39 with mixed concerns. The bill is 35 pages long and has 66 amendments to the act which are of mixed value.

The government, and so typically of it , has taken what I can only say are significant recommendations in terms of their length but which in many respects are housekeeping-type amendments from the Correctional Service of Canada. We can see that in the way the bill is drafted and in terms of the specific sections and the detail in those specific sections. They are obviously concerns from Correctional Service of Canada of problems it has run into. I would say that at least half of the bill addresses those specific problems, ones that we would generally be supportive of.

On the other hand, which is again typical of the government, once it receives those recommendations, it piles on what are in some cases quite extreme changes to the legislation and the corrections philosophy that we have had in this country for at least 50 years.

The government is attacking some of the fundamental beliefs that we have and that we have used to establish what is the best way to deal with those people who commit violent acts or non-violent criminal acts and who are incarcerated in our federal penitentiaries for more than two years. These are more serious crimes, whether they be property crimes or violent crimes. Those are the people we are talking about.

We currently have between 13,000 and 14,000 people incarcerated at the federal level. One of the concerns we have is that because of this piling on of some of the government's ideological inclinations to punish people rather than rehabilitate them, there is no indication from anything we have heard from the government side as to what the impact will be on the incarceration rate. Are we going to keep, on an annual basis, another 1,000, another 1,500 or another 2,000? Those are the kinds of figures I would suggest are likely to come out of this legislation if it were to pass.

It is obvious from the comments that we have heard from the Bloc just now that they will be supportive. I am not sure what the Liberals are doing because typically Liberals do not know what they are doing yet. The Bloc will support this going through second reading and on to the public safety committee.

What hopefully will happen at the public safety committee is that those sections of the bill that are offensive to some of the fundamental principles that we have lived by in our corrections system for the last five decades can be stripped out of the bill. I will address my comments with regard to some of those.

As the bill stands right now, there is an expression in clauses 3 and 4 of the bill that set out the guiding principles for Correctional Service of Canada. What it does now is it sets a balance between the safety of the staff and the inmates in our prisons and, looking forward to those inmates being released at some point, the safety of the public in general when they are released.

There is a balancing act that is in the legislation now. This bill would upset that balance and set as an absolute fundamental priority the protection of the public, again being driven by that ideology that we hear from the Conservatives that somehow the protection of the public and rehabilitation of the incarcerated individual are mutually exclusive. Quite frankly, that is absolutely wrong.

In fact, if we do not rehabilitate, if we do not reduce the recidivism rates with an effective treatment for the person incarcerated, we enhance the likelihood of that person committing more crimes, often more violent crimes, when they are ultimately released. We have that from all sorts of sociological studies, not only in Canada, but in any country where there is a reasonably vibrant democracy.

When we see the shift in this fundamental approach, we have to say that we cannot support it. At committee, we hope a majority will see it that way and those provisions will be struck out, so that we stay with the existing balance that has served us so well. It is not perfect, and that is why we are supportive of some of the other amendments. There are changes that could be made that would enhance the safety of staff in our prisons, the inmates, and ultimately society when those inmates are released.

There are other provisions in here, and we are hearing this from some of the critics of this bill, that are an attack on the fundamental rights of Canadian citizens, which rights should continue when a person is incarcerated. As I am sure most members of this House know, there was a battle at one point under the charter on whether people incarcerated at the federal level were entitled to vote in federal, provincial, and municipal elections. Ultimately, the Supreme Court of Canada decided that this was a fundamental right that was not taken away by a conviction and sentence in a federal penitentiary. That was not implied in the charter. Corrections Canada could not take away the right to vote and it was reinstated.

Because of the way Bill C-39 is drafted, there will be attempts in the future to undermine the basic rights that our Supreme Court has said continue to exist under the charter. For instance, there are several paragraphs in which rights that are now recognized under the existing law are being called “privileges”. If they were called “privileges” before, they are now being removed from the law completely. We can see this shift quite clearly in several sections in which there is an attempt to undermine the ability of the inmate to continue to function, at least to some degree, within the normal parameters.

We know this is important. Anybody who has worked in corrections knows that even somebody serving life is ultimately, in the vast majority of cases, going to be released. They have to be released in a position to function in society. If we take away all those rights, if we turn them into non-citizens, the chances of rehabilitation go down dramatically. The likelihood of recidivism goes up correspondingly and dramatically. It is important to maintain that balance. There is a clear attempt on the part of this government to undermine that balance at this time in this bill.

The other significant concern that I have, and that my party has, with regard to Bill C-39 is that, although we support the concept, it is proposing that the responsibility should lie with the inmates to take advantage of programs that would assist in their rehabilitation.

That can take a number of different directions. Sometimes it is just teaching basic life skills. It was one of the reasons we heard such a negative reaction to the decision by the government to close the prisons in farm settings. Above and beyond just about anything else, they taught inmates, often young inmates, some basic life skills. They had to get up in the morning. They had to get ready to do their work. They had to go to their work. They had to perform the jobs they were assigned to. They had to do everything with a reasonable amount of diligence.

We learn those skills by experience. It is hard to learn them when sitting in a cell for 23 hours a day. It does not work that way. It is one of the major reasons we saw such an overwhelming response and opposition to the government's decision to close those prisons. It was a major mistake, one that the rest of society will suffer from for quite some time, at least until we get rid of the government and reopen those prisons, which allow people to learn on-the-job life skills.

There is other programming such as education, but the most important is psychiatric counselling and treatment. I say this from the experience I had sitting on both the justice committee and the public safety committee, where I listened to the staff in the corrections services who actually worked in the prisons. A number of those were in administrative positions but came from front-line positions. Psychiatric counselling and treatment may include pharmacare to deal with what are often chemical imbalances. Our prison system is woefully inadequate in providing those services.

I remember one time the deputy head, now the head of Corrections Canada, estimated that of the 13,500 inmates in the federal penitentiaries close to 50% had serious psychiatric problems, and that a majority of that 50%, if they were out in society, could be confined to a psychiatric institution. The sad part was his admission that they were getting nowhere near the treatment that they required, which was an absolute necessity if they were going to be rehabilitated.

The other point that he made was that, with respect to education and lifestyle-type programs, all too many of our inmates have access to them only late in their sentences. A large number of them are released before they can complete the programs, whether it is psychiatric treatment, an educational program, or a lifestyle program. They never get to finish them because they are not available to them. They are put on a priority list when they come in, but those who are already there get the first shot at them. As they move up the list, they are also spending more time. By the time they get to the top of the list, they are about to be released. In effect, few inmates benefit from the programs because there are all too few of them available.

We know, from admissions from the government, that it is going to spend somewhere around $9 billion on concrete, glass, and steel to build new prisons. There is no corresponding increase in funding for programming, none whatsoever.

It was interesting to listen to the staff who were out picketing the minister at one of those announcements, when he was running around the country making announcements of new prisons, the amount of money being spent, and the number of new beds there were going to be.

The people in those institutions now working with those inmates, our professional staff, said to him that this was crazy, that instead of more cells, they needed more programs and more staff. There is a stress level among the staff because there are not enough of them. A large percentage are often off on stress leave, which only places additional burdens on the remaining staff. So we have a staff morale problem in prisons, and it comes down to two fundamental issues: first, we do not have enough staff, and second, we do not have enough programming for the inmates.

We have a government that is quite prepared to spend taxpayers' dollars to follow its theme of punishing people, making people accountable. But it is not going to spend any money on what is really necessary: to rehabilitate inmates while they are incarcerated. It boggles the mind. Imagine historians 50 years or 100 years from now looking back at this period of time and wondering what we were doing. The government cannot see that we have a rare opportunity to turn these inmates' lives around, to make them responsible citizens so that they no longer prey on citizens.

We will blow the opportunity, because on that side of the chamber it is all about punishment. Conservatives cannot get their heads wrapped around the fact that we need to rehabilitate. If we are going to have an effective correction program, whether it is at the provincial or federal level, while we have that person in our control, and I am being serious, we have to force them to turn their lives around. To do that, they need to be provided with the necessary support.

This fundamental approach is a real problem in the bill. All it does is perpetuate the notion that, to solve our crime problem, all we have to do is build more prisons, more beds, incarcerate more people. All we have to do is look across the border to see that this does not work. It is quite interesting to see what is happening there. In many states, including Michigan, which is adjacent to my hometown, prisons have been built that they no longer can afford, just to punish people.

Conservatives will know that, for the last decade, more and more states have been closing prisons, reducing their prison populations because they cannot afford to keep them. There are states that are spending more money on prisons than on post-secondary education. That is a ludicrous position, and we are moving that way when we see these kind of decisions.

There are some fundamental changes required for this bill, and I hope that the committee will agree. On the other hand, there are provisions that our corrections staff are telling us they need. We support them on that. We would be supportive of giving authority to the Parole Board to accept victim impact statements. That is not done in parole now. Corrections Canada would advise when parole was coming up or when the person was being transferred.

A number of mechanisms that are being put in place now make good sense. They will assist victims and victims' families to deal with the reality of the person who is going to be released from custody.

Hopefully at committee those changes will be made, the good parts of the bill will ultimately get through and the bad parts will be removed.

Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.


Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-39.

The legislation before us today would strengthen our correctional system and sets the stage for implementing a number of fundamental reforms identified by the Correctional Service Canada's 2007 independent review panel report, “A Roadmap to Strengthening Public Safety”.

The panel made 109 recommendations under five themes: offender accountability, eliminating drugs from prison, physical infrastructure, employability and employment, as well as eliminating statutory release and moving to earned parole. Its recommendations also specifically address the concerns of victims.

We have made progress in responding to these recommendations and we intend to continue this good work as part of this government's commitment to making public safety a priority and to put the rights of victims and law-abiding citizens ahead of those of criminals.

The legislation before us today would help ensure that the system of corrections better meets the needs of victims while also improving offender accountability. It would also ensure that so-called white collar offenders serve appropriate time in custody.

The current Corrections and Conditional Release Act recognizes the interests of victims of crime and the role they play in the correctional and conditional release process. However, victims and victims' advocates have voiced dissatisfaction with the current provisions and have called for enhancements.

That is why Bill C-39 proposes to enshrine in law a victim's right to attend and make statements at Parole Board of Canada hearings.

Additionally, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act would be amended to expand the information that may be disclosed to victims by Correctional Service Canada and the Parole Board of Canada. This would include: first, providing information on the reason or reasons for offender transfers with, whenever possible, advance notice of transfer to minimum security institutions; second, disclosing information on offender program participation and any convictions for serious disciplinary offences; third, sharing the reasons for a temporary absence from a correctional facility; and four, providing guardians or caregivers of dependants of victims who are deceased, ill or otherwise incapacitated with the same information that the victims themselves can receive.

As well, when offenders withdraw their participation 14 days or less before a parole hearing date, the board would now be able to proceed with the review and the decision in their case. This would ensure that victims would no longer travel long distances to attend a parole hearing which is then cancelled at the last minute. Victims would also be able to request information on the reasons for a waiver of a parole hearing.

In addition to the proposed reforms to maximize the knowledge and access to services offered to victims of a crime, a national advisory committee on victims' issues, co-chaired by the Departments of Justice and Public Safety, would be created. This committee would give victims the opportunity to provide input into the policies and procedures that impact victims and victims' services. Such changes would help ensure the interests of victims are front and centre.

In line with recommendations from the 2007 independent review panel on corrections that our government established, Bill C-39 proposes to make offender rehabilitation as well as reintegration into the community a shared responsibility between offenders and Correctional Service Canada. Offenders would therefore be specifically required to: one, conduct themselves in a manner that demonstrates respect for other persons and property; two, obey all penitentiary rules and conditions governing release; and three, actively participate in the setting and achieving of the objectives in their correctional plan.

Furthermore, to underscore the importance of managing an offender's sentence, when Correctional Service Canada is completing a correctional plan for each offender, components of that plan would be required by the legislation. These include expectations for behaviour, program participation and fulfillment of any court-ordered financial obligations, such as restitution to victims.

As well, Bill C-39 would modernize the system of discipline in federal penitentiaries by, for example, specifically addressing disrespectful, intimidating and assaultive behaviour by inmates. This legislation would also respond to police concerns by authorizing police officers to arrest, without warrant, an offender who appears to be in breach of a condition of any conditional release.

As we have heard, the legislation before us today would do away with a system of parole in this country that lets some offenders spend very little time behind bars. It would mean that stiffer sentences handed out for non-violent or white-collar crimes are actually served in custody longer and that victims of fraud can see justice done. It would mean that offenders can no longer hide behind a veneer of fancy suits to evade the full consequences of their actions.

The proposed amendments abolish accelerated parole review, which currently provides these offenders with day parole after serving as little as one-sixth of their sentences and full-day parole after serving one-third of their sentences. Under the reforms our government is proposing, individuals who commit crimes such as fraud would be treated the same way as violent offenders. They would be eligible for regular day parole review six months prior to full parole eligibility and full parole review after serving one-third of their sentences.

What is more, the test for parole would no longer be whether they are likely to commit a violent offence as it is today. Like other offenders, they would only qualify for parole if the Parole Board of Canada is convinced, during a face-to-face hearing, that they do not pose an undue risk of committing any type of crime, including fraud.

Together with reforms recently proposed by the justice minister, the reforms which the government is proposing today would mean that fraudsters and scam artists would get the time in custody that their crimes deserve. This change also sets the stage for earned parole, a cornerstone of many reforms suggested by the review panel.

In order to better protect society, this legislation would also ensure that the Parole Board of Canada has the capacity and power it needs to do its job. Recognizing the weight of the decisions that the Parole Board of Canada must make on an ongoing basis, the CCRA would be amended to: first, increase the number of full-time board members from 45 to 60 to reduce the reliance on part-time members; second, to allow for the direct appointment of part-time members to the appeal division; third, to clarify that Parole Board decisions are consistent with the protection of society and are necessary and proportionate to support conditional release; and fourth, to provide that the parole or statutory release of offenders who receive a new custodial sentence is automatically suspended.

We are taking this stand on behalf of all Canadians who want the rights of law-abiding people properly balanced with the rights of offenders. We are taking this stand on behalf of everyone who wants action on crime now. That is what we intend to deliver now and in the coming days and weeks as we introduce legislation on other matters affecting the safety and security of Canadians. That is what our government was elected to do and we intend to do it.

Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.


Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-39, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act . Although I support the bill being sent to committee, the bill has many flaws. When we deal with a crime agenda or matters relating to correctional or conditional release or safety issues, it is important that we take a very thoughtful approach to it.

I have been in Parliament since 2004. In 2006, when the present government took over, it introduced crime bill after crime bill. It talked about getting tough on crime and then prorogued Parliament. It reintroduced similar bills under different names and then prorogued Parliament again. It has now introduced this bill for a third time.

I think Canadians are getting tired of this game of chicken. If the government is really concerned about the safety of Canadians, then it should have attended to the bills. The normal modus operandi of the government is to blame the opposition. I do not think that is a good idea because the opposition did get all those bills through in the previous Parliament. I hope this time Bill C-39 will go off to committee and be addressed there.

The issue of being tough on crime does not necessarily result in the safety of citizens. Why do I say that? Statistics and experts have proven that it is not the super jails that keep citizens safe. It is the deterrent or prevention of crime that is the better approach. If building super jails and having tougher sentences was the panacea, our neighbours to the south would have the safest country in the world. Unfortunately, they do not. In fact, the recidivism rate is 70% in the United States. This is the rate of reoffending. People should know that when offenders get out of jail their potential to reoffend gets greater. Why does it get greater? For example, if a person is put in jailed for petty theft and put in jail with criminals who have committed worse criminal offences or who have worse criminal records, then they get to meet with those types of people and in fact learn skills.

What could we do to overcome these types of issues? We could have areas within prisons where we could teach inmates life skills. Many of the prisoners in jail do not have life skills. They commit petty crimes and then commit more and more crimes. I think it is important to look at the whole cost of prevention rather than cure.

Experts have told us that the deterrent to crime is investment in literacy, investment in job creation, investment in affordable housing and investment in mental health.

Why do I talk about literacy? As I mentioned, people who have been in jail are not functioning at the level they need to function at. I have been on the board of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health for 12 years, so I know what I am talking about. When we ask police why crimes are taking place, the one word they use constantly is “drugs”. When we ask them what we can do about it, they say that more beds and more rehabilitation centres are needed. We were told that no resources were available for helping the mentally ill and that once people were out of jail there was no affordable housing. When they come out of jail, they have nowhere to sleep and nowhere to go and, therefore, this vicious cycle continues.

It is important that when we, as a country, look at issues surrounding our criminal offences, our jails and our whole justice system, we are cognizant of what we should do in order to prevent crime rather than find solutions after the fact.

When people are in jail, there is another issue, and that issue is they are also exposed to people with drugs. It is sad to say but there are a lot of drugs available in prisons. Then what happens? There is the sharing of needles and through the sharing of needles, prisoners get AIDS.

We may turn a blind eye saying that it is too bad and that this type of people is not what we cater to, but it is sad day when in a developed democracy we do not look after the marginalized or the vulnerable. What is it that we are supposed to do? If we do not address the problem, we will have a huge problem in terms of our health care.

Everyone in here and all of our constituents want to be safe. All of us realize that safety is a critical issue for us. Unfortunately we do not live in a Utopia and therefore when we have to live and work within an environment that does not allow everybody to have equal opportunities, there are areas where we may not be safe.

If we are told that prevention is better than a cure, then what are some of the things we can do? What are priorities should the government have?

The current government's priorities have not been economically sensible. There has been a lot of waste. There has been hype and talk about crime agendas without an intelligent solution. The government wants to spend $9 billion on building super jails for unreported crimes.That is a little tedious for anyone to understand.

Why would the government put in so much money when statistics show that the crime rates are on the decline? In fact, what are some of the opportunities lost? We know that a lot of prisoners cannot function. For them to function, we need to invest in literacy. In this day and age when we talk about globalization, Internet savvy and computer literacy, it is hard to imagine there are those within our society who cannot function at any level and who need assistance.

People suffer from many forms of mental illness. It is important therefore, instead of wasting money on building super jails, that the government invest in areas such as social housing, literacy and mental health.

What is also of a great concern is that despite repeated demands, the government has still not revealed the cost of the so-called road map, the tough on crime agenda. It has frustrated the efforts of the Parliamentary Budget Officer who is trying to do his job to get the accurate figures.

We in Parliament need to operate on accurate figures. We need to know how much things cost, so we can make the necessary choices, whether it is this opportunity or that opportunity. The Parliamentary Budget Officer was established as part of the Federal Accountability Act. It is a shame that the government, which brought in the Federal Accountability Act, plays games with accountability. It does not want to be accountable.

My question for the government is this. If the government is so concerned with the safety of Canadians, I would like to know, and the House would like to know, what the cost is? Then Canadians can decide whether the investment the government is proposing is going to keep us safe.

When we talk about the road map to strengthening public safety, the government made an assertion that crimes were on the rise, but that has been challenged by experts. We need to ensure the bill provides proper provisions. The bill's provisions should be the establishment of the right of a victim to make a statement, to hold hearings, et cetera. It authorizes police officers to arrest, without warrant, an offender for a breach of a condition while on conditional release.

Some of these issues are important, but we have had experts such as the UBC Professors Michael Jackson and Graham Stewart, the former director of the John Howard Society, who released a scathing human rights analysis of the government's correction policy.

It is important, as we move forward with any agenda, that we give it a thoughtful process. I strongly recommend that when this bill goes to committee, we have the proper hearings, that we come up with a proper solution, that we collectively work for the safety of all Canadians and that we use intelligent, smart solutions and not hype up the talk. I do not think there is anybody in the House who would like to have criminals roaming around the street and who would not want the safety of Canadians.

Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-39. Once again this is an example of the government having bills under different numbers at different times. Just last year we were speaking to this bill, which was Bill C-43 at that time. Now because the Prime Minister once again prorogued the House and shifted us back to having to start over again, we have no choice but to go through that process again.

Nevertheless, as previous speakers have addressed the bill today, we have observed that there are some parts of the bill we support, but we have some other issues with other parts of the bill. As has been indicated by the Bloc speaker, the Bloc will support the bill going to committee. One would hope that we will be able to resolve differences on these issues at the committee stage.

Bill C-39, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. The short title to the bill is strengthening Canada's corrections system act. It was introduced and received first reading in the House under the original Bill C-43 in June 2009. That is how long we have been dealing with this bill.

The bill is designed to improve public safety in a number of ways: first, stating explicitly that the act of participation of offenders in attaining the objectives of the correctional plan is an essential requirement for their conditional release or any other privilege; second, expanding the categories of offenders who are ineligible for an accelerated parole review and the categories of offenders subject to continued detention after the statutory release date when they serve two-thirds of their sentence, for example, offenders convicted of child pornography, luring a child or breaking and entering to steal a firearm; and third, extending the length of time that offenders convicted of a subsequent offence must serve before being eligible for parole and increasing from six months to a year the waiting period for a hearing after the National Parole Board has turned down a parole application.

In addition, it would authorize a peace officer to arrest, without warrant, an offender who is on conditional release for a breach of conditions and it grants the Corrections Services Canada permission to oblige an offender to wear a monitoring device as a condition of release when release is subject to special conditions regarding restrictions on access to a victim or geographical areas.

As the critic for our party pointed out, this is a very lengthy bill and there are many changes, improvements and amendments to the bill.

Also, it would increase the number of reasons for the search of vehicles at a penitentiary to prevent the entry of contraband or the commission of an offence.

The bill also focuses specifically on the interests of victims, which has been dealt with by several of the previous speakers. For example, initially the bill would expand the definition of a victim to anyone who has custody of or is responsible for a dependant of the main victim if the main victim is either dead, ill or otherwise incapacitated. Also it would allow disclosure to a victim of the programs in which an offender has participated for the purpose of reintegration into society, the location of the institution to which an offender is transferred and the reasons for the transfer. These are additional benefits to expand the interests of victims of crime.

In addition, the bill entrenches in the act the right of victims to make a statement at parole hearings. As the member for Windsor—Tecumseh pointed out, this is a new section of the act. It is something that certainly will be appreciated by victims and victims groups in this country.

As well, a number of the clauses of the bill make minor amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, such as linguistic modifications or re-formulations designed to clarify legislative intent. Some sections are also designed to make the administration of sentences more effective, for example, increasing the maximum number of members that may sit on the National Parole Board. A government member talked about the number of National Parole Board members being increased from the current 45, I believe, to 60. The difference is that they would be full-time members rather than part-time members. We do not see a problem with that.

I understand my time is up for today and that I will have further time to complete my remarks the next time we debate this bill.

Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The member will have 13 minutes to conclude his remarks the next time this bill is before the House.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:25 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, as a result of a question I asked on May 26 in question period, the private members' office has assigned this late show forum tonight for asking the government to ensure that Arctic waters will be protected from environmental catastrophe should drilling activity result in a well blowout.

In some responses the minister or parliamentary secretary indicated that there is no drilling activity in Arctic waters, which is true today, but let me tell them that there is certainly an interest in drilling.

In August the parliamentary secretary's government gave Chevron a licence to explore for oil in the Beaufort Sea off the coast of the Northwest Territories and Yukon after winning the bidding process with a $103 million bid. In the last few weeks Greenland has found oil drilling in waters adjacent to Canadian waters.

The parliamentary secretary may not be aware but Wednesday will mark the six-month anniversary since the BP Gulf of Mexico blowout unleashed the biggest offshore oil spill in history.

Although I have been raising concerns for over a year, it is not just me; the media too is asking hard questions of the government. I quote from Postmedia News yesterday:

[A]s the United States imposes strict new drilling standards, critics say the attitude of oil companies and regulators in Canada remains essentially the same: Trust us.

William Amos, the director of the uOttawa-Ecojustice Environmental Law Clinic, a non-profit environmental law organization, is quoted in various media as saying, “In the U.S., there is a new era that has dawned in offshore oil development and, in Canada, we are still asleep”.

The Obama administration unveiled sweeping reforms that will tighten rules on everything from environmental assessments to drilling permits, safeguards against blowouts, and spill response procedures.

Under the new rules, companies will have to install specific types of equipment to prevent blowouts, such as a “deadman” system that automatically shears the drill pipe and seals the well when the signal to the rig is lost. In Canada the government quietly enacted regulations last December that loosened the requirements for operators to install specific safeguards.

We could not meet the drilling standards of Greenland and now the United States is beating us. Does the parliamentary secretary still support the minister's claim that we have the strongest drilling requirements in the world?

We know that the NEB is doing a review of drilling regulations in the Arctic, but what is the Government of Canada doing to prepare for spills from Greenland or Alaska?

As mentioned, companies are lining up to drill in the Arctic and many expect to get a green light from the NEB for drilling in the near future.

When responding to questions raised by the opposition during question period, the government has had 12 chances to reassure Canadians that it understands the complexity of the north, the pristine environment, and the drastic impact an oil spill could have anywhere in the region.

Unfortunately, the government has said nothing about the number of ships, harbours, boom disbursements, and nothing about preparedness should oil from neighbouring countries make its way into Arctic waters.

The government has been warned about the seriousness of the issue and has failed to act accordingly.

Tonight the government has a 13th chance to demonstrate that it has a plan and is prepared.

6:30 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands Saskatchewan


David Anderson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, if the member wants to count, for the 13th time he is going to get an explanation.

He knows full well that the government has answered his questions. He knows as well that responses to oil spills in Canada are always a combined effort by industry, by federal, provincial, municipal and territorial governments, and by regulators and non-government organizations.

He knows that beyond the highest standards for offshore training, safety and equipment in Canada, oil and gas companies are also required to maintain environmental protection and spill response plans. He knows that the regulator would be the government's lead agency in the situation. He knows that federal oil and gas legislation dictates the industry is responsible for cleaning up its own spills and operators are liable for the costs and expenses related to that.

He also knows that Environment Canada is the federal government's expert in the detection of spills. It uses things like aerial surveillance and satellite imagery for detection and tracking. It can provide advice about spill trajectory, weather and sea state forecasts, and those kinds of things.

As I have mentioned before, the real issue is one of integrity and who really stands up for the people in the north. The member opposite would want us to believe that he might do that, but we have some evidence that he does not do that and will not do that. I will come back to an issue that was very important to his constituents.

He knew that something like 88% of his constituents took a strong position on an issue, yet when it came to voting in the House on that issue, he chose to vote against his constituents because his leader told him he had to. He was willing to sell out his constituents in order to get the approval of his leader in Ottawa. We all know what that issue was. It did not happen that long ago. It was the gun registry. It pained me to watch him stand up and vote against the interests of his constituents. Almost 100% of them agreed with the position of the government. In the past he had agreed with the position of the government, but for his own political reasons, he chose to turn his back on the people of the north and support the position of his leader who, as everyone knows, has not spent the majority of his life in Canada.

The question really is, if the member opposite would abandon his constituents on an issue like that, why would they have any confidence that he would represent their interests on this issue? The key for Yukoners is to ask themselves who they want to represent them.

If they want a member of Parliament who is going to stand up for their interests, it looks as though they are going to have to change their member, or do they want a member who is going to represent Ottawa's interests? Even on issues that are of critical importance to them, are they willing to have the member opposite represent them and take the chance that he will turn his back on them on those issues and walk away?

6:35 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary has just condemned himself, his minister and his government for the 15th time.

Canadians all across Canada saw the biggest environmental disaster in North America, with black ooze destroying their beaches and waters. They are aghast that for the 15th time in a year, they hear that their government in Parliament has no plan to clean up a similar spill in Canadian waters. The member suggested it is industry's responsibility. If it can do it, that is great. It really worked in the gulf, did it not?

Other countries and governments have plans that if industry cannot clean up a spill, they will take care of it. Norway has a specific guaranteed response time. Canada does not even claim to have the ships and equipment to clean up a major spill like in the gulf.

As I quoted from the media, Canada is falling behind. Canadians are very worried about their pristine Arctic environment and the government's inability to do anything about it, the government's total lack of concern and the lack of a demonstrated plan to deal with it after being asked 15 times in the House of Commons.

6:35 p.m.


David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, this is strange. The last time we were here he said it was the ninth time. Earlier today he said it was the 13th time and now he is saying it is the 15th time. Maybe the member opposite has as great math skills as he does integrity. It is punishment to be here day after day and watch him almost take delight in the idea that there might be a spill in the north because then he would be able to get up again on this issue.

It comes back to integrity. Even the premier and MLAs in the Yukon have questioned the member's commitment to his constituents when they said on the issue of the gun registry, “We don't change our mind, like the Liberals, on the long gun registry. We didn't hide from our verbal commitments to Yukoners. We backed it up with action”.

The real issue here is whether the member will ever again back up his words with action.

6:35 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24.

(The House adjourned at 6:38 p.m.)