Mr. Speaker, before we broke I was talking about the important matter of the faint hope clause that is in the Criminal Code and the desire of the current government to eliminate that provision.
As the vice-chairman of the public safety committee and someone who is the public safety critic for my party, I have had occasion to visit more than 25 federal prisons, not only in Canada but in Norway, Britain and indeed Taiwan. I have visited medium security prisons, maximum security prisons, minimum security prisons, and I have met and talked to dozens and dozens of offenders, many of whom have been convicted of life sentences.
I visited inmates in all institutions. I want to explain why inmates with life sentences exist in all three of those institutions, minimum, medium and maximum security institutions. It is because the designation of offenders and where they serve their sentence is not characterized by their crime but rather by the security risk they present.
I was quite surprised to find that there are many people serving life sentences in this country who are serving their sentences in minimum security institutions, as well as medium security institutions. The reason for that, of course, is that despite the fact that they have committed a terrible crime, a serious and heinous crime, in many cases they have proven themselves to be capable of serving their sentences and improving their behaviour.
One thing I found is that prisons are undeniably very profound places. They are places of justice, social safety and judgment. Prisons in our society are places where society has chosen to send people who have broken the normative laws of our society, and they are sent there for good reason. They are sent there to protect the safety of the public. They are sent there to carry out the sentences they owe to society for breaking the rules.
They are also places of sadness, compassion and mercy. Prisons, when they operate properly in a society, can and should be places of redemption, atonement and rehabilitation. Indeed, I have pointed out in this House on several occasions that the name of our department is Correctional Service of Canada. It is not called “punishment services of Canada”; it is called “corrections”.
The reason for that is that, in a civilized society, we hope that when we send people to prison, one of the goals we hope exists for every prisoner sent is that they can acknowledge the harm they have caused and perhaps correct their behaviour. In most cases, I would say in over 95% of cases, we hope that those people are able to re-enter society and conduct themselves as law-abiding citizens.
I want to talk a little bit about redemption and atonement. This weekend I was at a retreat in Vancouver. A very wise lawyer, someone who practices law in Kentucky and does death row cases, Mr. Don Major, pointed out the Lord's Prayer. He pointed out that part of the Lord's Prayer says that we ask the Lord to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. It leads to this concept that at some point we must be capable of forgiveness and atonement in as many cases as we can.
Many people who are in federal prisons with life sentences will never get out of prison, and properly so; they should not. However that does not mean that every single prisoner who gets a life sentence is incapable of same.
What the faint hope clause does is it gives the opportunity for that person, those rare people who actually can acknowledge their crime, who can correct their behaviour, who are capable of redemption, to have a chance, just a chance at applying for parole.
I spent a large part of my opening speech going through all the details and the administrative structure of how the faint hope clause works. Any person who reads those sections and listened to that speech will see that there is a very careful, measured, guarded, complicated step-by-step process before anybody even gets considered for a faint hope provision.
I want to spend a moment to talk about the victims. I think all parties in this House agree that victims of crime in this country need and deserve to be protected. They need and deserve to be respected. They need and ought to have the chance to be involved.
Victims in this country deserve to be reimbursed for any expenses they have if they participate fully in the process. They deserve to be informed at every step of the process, and they deserve the right to participate in the judicial process.
We on this side of the House in the New Democratic Party champion the rights of victims to be full participants in the judicial process because, after all, they are the ones who are most wronged and harmed by crime in this country.
I am also mindful of the fact that Steve Sullivan, the former federal ombudsman for victims of crime in this country, stressed after working with many victims that victims do not want vengeance and victims do not want punishment or cruelty. What they want is to be heard, to be acknowledged and to be safe. Most of all, when those offenders re-enter society, what victims want is to make sure our country and our system does everything it can to make sure they do not reoffend. That is their prime goal.
That is why a faint hope clause with all of the protections in the present system can be reconciled with the rights and interests of victims. We can achieve all of the aspects that we hope to. We can achieve redemption and we can achieve justice for victims.
I want to talk about guards. It has been said time and time again that the faint hope clause, by giving hope to offenders, acts as a form of behaviour control in prisons, and that helps keep our guards safe. Correctional officers will say that giving a carrot to offenders to behave well gives an incentive for them to follow the norms and rules in prison. If we take away all hope from someone in prison, we are giving that person a licence to misbehave, and that threatens the safety of everyone in prison and outside.
I urge every member of the House to deal with this issue from a compassionate, rational and caring point of view. Let us make sure that the faint hope clause stays in the Criminal Code, so that we make sure that people in our country have a chance at redemption, when it is appropriate to do so, and make sure that the victims' rights and interest are fully respected and taken into account at all times.