Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this bill and give a few comments.
In response to the parliamentary secretary's speech, I have said that the official opposition, the Liberal Party, will be supporting sending this bill to committee for examination to see how it might be improved upon or at least made clearer.
However, because this is Parliament, we ought to debate or bring out subjects that perhaps are not top of mind for every Canadian and every parliamentarian, and that is the whole regime of how we treat prisoners and how we treat convicted murderers in Canada today versus the rest of the world compared to other periods before the death penalty was abolished, and how we might be treating convicted murderers in the future if this bill continues.
The first crime that I would like to speak to is the fact that this bill, Bill S-6, had a predecessor, which was Bill C-36. It went through the usual steps of being introduced, particularly with the present government in control, with multiple national news conferences to inform, excite and educate the Canadian public of the fact that help was on the way with respect to convicted murderers. They would not be given the chance of getting out and that the government would do something. However, it did not. Four years and eight months after it was first elected--and I will say that P word again--we were prorogued and the bill did not get passed.
This is the first crime we have to speak to from a justice point of view. The government must be held to account for not bringing forward good legislation that people were looking forward to getting at, improving perhaps and getting on the books.
This seems to be justice week. One of the topics is car theft. No one in this House is going to say that car theft is good. Another topic is white collar crime. No one in this House is going to say that white collar crime is good. Another topic is the security of the public by not having convicted murderers prematurely out on the street. No one is going to say that is not a good thing. However, all three of these subjects have not been addressed on a timely basis by the government and it is the government's fault because we were prorogued.
Specifically, with respect to the context of convicted murderers, we need to remember that in this country we had executions. I remember my grandfather talking about the last public execution in the province of New Brunswick. My family has been in the legal industry for a long time. I remember my uncle, a provincial court judge, talking about executions. I remember that he was part of a previous generation's set of mind that public executions happened and that executions for serious crimes took place. However, this generation, I believe, if I am speaking to the Canadian public, would not know that political milieu and that philosophical mindset.
The current generation of Canadians, the mainstream of Canadians, would not be amenable to the death penalty. It does not exist. Let us not talk in a vacuum. It is not part of the laws of Canada. It was in fact the law of Canada until it was abolished. However, when the capital punishment debate took place and capital punishment was abolished for murder, the compromise on this point was to institute a faint hope clause, the reason being that capital murders, as they were called then, would quite often end with no chance for parole whatsoever because there might be executions.
In this case, the idea of life meaning life or life meaning 25 years served was met with the idea that there would be no chance of rehabilitation if a person were to be subject to the death penalty, but there might be a chance of rehabilitation, which is very much a pillar of the Criminal Code of Canada, if a person serves up to 25 years without the eligibility for parole.
What the government and the Parliament of the day decided to do was insert the faint hope clause. The faint hope clause in simple terms means that a person convicted of a murder in Canada should be given an opportunity to rehabilitate himself or herself and therefore be returned to the public as a non-threat to the public. Having taken into account the principles of sentencing, rehabilitation, which is incredibly important because we cannot keep everybody who has done something wrong in handcuffs, which seems to be the mentality of the party opposite, must be a cornerstone goal. We also need to have an idea that the person understood and has been remorseful with respect to the crime that has occurred. Proportionality is always the case with respect to crimes and a sentence needs to be proportional to the crime committed.
At that time, the faint hope clause was put in place with many safeguards. My hon. friend went through the history and the details of the faint hope clause regime as it exists now. It should be very clear to parliamentarians and Canadians that the faint hope clause is very faint in achieving, because, first, there is the chief justice who selects the Court of Queen's Bench judge, who then empanels a jury which then determines whether there is a reasonable likelihood of release on parole for the person based on their rehabilitation achievements. It is then sent further. There are all kinds of gates before a person can even be considered for parole.
Before I get into the details of faint hope, I want to ensure that people understand the context of time served for murder convictions. I think we will have a bit of a moral debate at the committee on this, but it is important to understand, right or wrong, how long people serve upon being convicted for murder. The following are some averages. An international comparison that was done in 1999 showed that Canada sat at some 28.4 years served for first degree murder. We might ask ourselves whether we are ahead, behind, serving more or serving less than other countries across the world.
The average in the United States, not surprisingly, is 29 years life sentence without parole, which is slightly more time than us. However, what I found interesting, not being a criminal lawyer with 24 years of experience, and not necessarily comforting and led me to ask many questions about other countries, frankly, is that other countries have much lower years of sentences served for convicted murders. They are New Zealand at 11, Scotland at 11.2, Sweden at 12, Belgium at 12.7 and Australia at 14.8. The United States has 18.5 for life sentence with the eligibility of parole.
As we get into the debate and as we will be sending this legislation to committee, we need to ask ourselves what is so different between Canada and the countries I have mentioned. Do we consider ourselves that different from any other British found Commonwealth like New Zealand and Australia? I do not think we do. Do we consider ourselves on a social level that much different from European countries like Sweden and Belgium? In some ways I do not think we do. We need to examine why their regimes render much lower time served for convicted murderers.
As I said, when the death penalty was abolished in 1976 and replaced with mandatory life terms of imprisonment, the faint hope clause was seen as a necessary safeguard to a sentencing regime without capital punishment to encourage rehabilitation. It was not left there in 1976. It was amended in 1997 by the Chrétien government to require judicial review and the unanimous consent of 12 jurors as a prerequisite to the National Parole Board application process. So further gates or controls were added to the faint hope clause situation.
Like everything in politics, sadly, there is a bit of a slip from reality and importance to what is perceived to be urgent and important. When we go to committee, we would like to know the actual number of convicted murderers sitting in our prisons now. I also think knowing the actual number who have applied and failed would be reassuring to Canadians. Does faint hope mean faint hope in practice as in law? The actual number of people who get out on a faint hope clause in a long process is a very small number.
However, what happens in politics is that the notorious cases get the attention. As I said, it has been four years and eight months since the government brought this forward as a campaign promise. It is something it felt very strongly about but did nothing about it until the introduction of the bill, and it will be over five years before it becomes law.
It has been brewing for some time. I think one of those instances was Colin Thatcher, who was granted parole through the faint hope application. He was convicted of killing his ex-wife in 1984 and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. He was granted full parole in 2006 and that process certainly brought the faint hope clause aspect to the fore.
As I mentioned, with Bill S-6, having been through the Senate and having had now the second eyes look at it, there can no longer be the argument on the other side that the Liberal dominated Senate upheld the bill. In fact, we have many speeches on record from Conservative senators outlining the same history of the faint hope clause. The bill was sent to the Senate to be dealt with rather than having started it in the House of Commons.
There has been a revolution on the other side. The government now welcomes the Conservative dominated Senate in proposing bills. I do not know if this is a debate for another day, but I guess the other side has concluded that the work of senators and the work of the Senate, in general, is worthy, because we are sitting here discussing a Senate bill. Yet it is a reintroduction of previous House of Commons work in Bill C-36, which died on the order paper in 2009.
There is no doubt that serious crimes deserve serious time and that the desires for victims' groups for retribution must be balanced by a sense of justice toward all Canadians, including those who have committed crime. The statements of the minister and the statement by the parliamentary secretary would indicate that all we should be concerned with are the rights of victims. By implication, they are saying that we have never been concerned about the rights of victims. This is not true.
Victims like people convicted of murder and non-involved citizens of the public are all part of a rubric of public safety and public security. There is not a member of the House who does not believe that our community should be safe and that public safety and public security are the most important thing we do as parliamentarians.
This brings us to the main debate that we will have at committee with respect to the faint hope clause amendments. Is it really in the public's interest to deny convicted murderers of any chance of ever getting out on parole directed by parole officers? Carte blanche we may say yes. I am sure a victim might say yes.
However, as a footnote, many times, through the committee's experience since the time I arrived here, we would be surprised to see the number of victims' families and families of prosecuted persons in the organized crime milieu or in the gun control debates who would say that we should turn the other cheek and ensure that this crime, for instance, does not happen again. This type of violence is very much predicated on items that we believe very strongly on this side, such as early intervention, emphasis on rehabilitation, the idea that someone who commits a crime is someone else's son or daughter. Someone who commits a serious crime is a Canadian person usually brought up in our community somewhere and is deserving of an attempt at least to have he or she meet not only these serious consequences of crime, but have a chance to rehabilitate and reintegrate into the community as well.
I would hope that would be the goal of all parliamentarians and I would hope that these tightening provisions on the faint hope clause regime would not deny, even if it is one person, a person who committed a heinous crime but who has been rehabilitated, to get back into the main stream of the community under supervision.
Numerous briefs and calls have been made on the idea that if we have an inmate who knows he or she has no chance whatsoever of getting out of prison, even though he or she has made strides toward rehabilitation, that person might lose hope. Talking about faint hope of getting out, that person then has no hope of getting out and no real desire of keeping the peace and being on good behaviour while in our system. That presents a number of difficulties.
I was a difficult student in school and the nuns in Grade 8 told me that I was difficult and to go out into the lobby and read the encyclopedias, which I did. Therefore, it worked out for me. However, it is a lot more complex in the prison and correction systems in Canada because a difficult inmate sucks up resources that should be used otherwise within the facility. It is not only a matter of resources; it is a matter of attending to the other incarcerated individuals, many of whom will not be there for 25 years, but could benefit from the proper spreading out of the budgets of correction facilities. Therefore, corrections officers and their organizations will be before us to ensure that there is a balance here.
The parliamentary secretary in his remarks did strive for balance. I take him at his word, as a lawyer of some years, that the government is trying for balance. However, the rubber will hit the road at committee when we determine exactly where the balance would be and whether the removal of faint hope would be too far.
The bill itself has three provisions, which my friend went over.
No offender convicted of murder or high treason after the coming into force of the legislation would be eligible for early parole. An important footnote is that people already in the regime would have the rights that accrued from the previous legislation.
There are certain serious crimes. We have no doubt of that. However, we must consider the reasoning behind the introduction of the clause. It is designed to encourage prisoners to reform themselves, as I mentioned, and prison guards will be before us to say that there are some dangers presented by that.
As well, we know there is opposition from the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers, Barreau du Québec, the John Howard Society and the Elizabeth Fry Society to the bill. We have to listen to the opposition with respect to the bill and why they oppose it. After four or five years, members of the justice committee, and the Conservative side in general, think that all the organizations I mentioned have nothing to say. Clearly if the first question asked of a John Howard Society or a Elizabeth Fry Society representatives is if they believe in greater security for the public, I cannot imagine them saying no. In fact, I can imagine them saying yes, that it is precisely for the greater security and safety of the public that they oppose the bill or have recommendations to amend it.
The provisions of the bill, which would permit early release, are very strenuous as is, and we will see that at committee. We will see it is not an easy wicket to get through to get out under the faint hope clause regime. We will have the exact numbers. We are well served by Statistics Canada, and I do not want to bring up the census debate, and juristat provisions in the Department of Justice working with Statistics Canada. They will be able to give us the updated numbers of persons who are eligible, who have applied and who have succeeded under the regime. I think we will see that this is a very small number of people.
As mentioned, amendments have been made to faint hope along the way. There were restrictions in 1997. It is very fitting in this day and age, when judicial discretion seems to be under attack, that the regime, as it was set up, relies on the wisdom of 12 men or women, Canadian citizens, to determine, at the first instance, whether there will be eligibility. Thankfully, that remains. Under this regime, if successful, a jury will be responsible, on a unanimous basis, as to whether an inmate deserves of early parole. Only following that unanimous decision would a judge decide that the file would be moved to the national Parole Board.
The reasonable prospect provisions, which will remain, would not be changed. It is just a matter of the time limits, the review, the degree of discretion involved that we must look at in committee.
We will support the bill going to committee and I very much look forward to a rigorous debate and I welcome questions.