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House of Commons Hansard #96 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was sentence.

Topics

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Ever, as my colleague points out. They will never get out of prison, and they were dealt with under the current laws.

How this law would affect the Clifford Olson case would be to rack up a much longer prison sentence. However, the reality is under the current law he is not going anywhere anyway. Therefore, what would we gain by taking this measure, other than making the government look a little better in the eyes of members of the press who are writing articles on this issue.

Another exception to the 25-year parole ineligibility period for first degree murder or to a 15 to 25-year parole ineligibility period for second degree murder is the faint hope clause. We are dealing with that in a different bill.

During the years following its initial introduction in 1976, the faint hope provision underwent a number of various amendments. Now the criteria for the possible release on parole of someone serving a life sentence are as follows. The inmate must have served at least 15 years of the sentence. An inmate who has been convicted of more than one murder, where at least one murder was committed after January 9, 1997, when previous amendments came into force, may not apply for a review of his or her parole ineligibility period.

To seek a reduction in the number of years of imprisonment without eligibility for parole, the offender must apply to the chief justice of the province or territory in which his or her conviction took place. The chief justice or a Superior Court judge designated by that chief justice must first determine whether the applicant has shown there is a reasonable prospect that the application for review will succeed. The assessment is based on the following criteria: the character of the applicant; the applicant's conduct while serving the sentence; the nature of the offence for which the applicant was convicted; any information provided by a victim at the time of the imposition of the sentence or at the time of the hearing under this section; and any other matter that the judge considers relevant in the circumstances.

If the application is dismissed for lack of reasonable prospect of success, the chief justice or judge may set a time for another application not earlier than two years after dismissal or he or she may declare that the inmate will not be entitled to make another application. If the chief justice or judge determines the application has a reasonable prospect of success, a judge will be assigned to hear the matter with a jury.

In determining whether the period of parole ineligibility should be reduced, the jury should consider the five criteria I mentioned before. The jury's determination to reduce the parole ineligibility period must be unanimous and the victims of the offender's crime may provide information either orally, or in writing or in any other manner that the judge considers appropriate.

If the application is dismissed, the jury may, by a two-thirds majority, either set a time not earlier than two years after the determination when the inmate may make another application or it may decide that the inmate will not be entitled to make any further applications at all.

If the jury determines that the number of years of imprisonment without eligibility for parole ought to be reduced, a two-thirds majority of that jury must submit a lesser number of years of imprisonment without eligibility for parole than the number then applicable. The number of years without eligibility for parole that it may assign can range from 15 to 24 years.

Once permission to apply for early parole has been granted, the inmate must apply to the National Parole Board to obtain the parole. Whether and when the inmate is released is decided solely by the board, based on a risk assessment, with the protection of the public as the foremost consideration. Board members must also be satisfied that the offender will follow specific conditions, which may include a restriction on movement, participation in treatment programs, which is very important, and prohibitions on associating with certain people such as victims, children and convicted criminals. Therefore, we can see that it is not a simple process by any means.

In addition, the Criminal Code requires that a sentence for using a firearm in the commission of an offence shall be served consecutively to any other punishment imposed on the person for an offence arising out of the same event or a series of events. Section 83.26 mandates consecutive sentences for terrorist activities other than in the case of a life sentence. Section 467.14 requires consecutive sentences for organized crime offences. Therefore, we have examples in the code where consecutive sentences already are the case.

Another example when a consecutive sentence may be imposed by a sentencing judge is where the offender is already under a sentence of imprisonment.

A sentence of a term of years imposed consecutively to a sentence of life imprisonment is not valid in law. Life imprisonment means imprisonment for life, notwithstanding any release on parole. We dealt with that issue before. The consecutive part of this is that a consecutive life sentence could not take effect until the offender had died. The courts have held that Parliament could not have contemplated this physical impossibility, which would tend to bring the law into disrepute.

The member for Windsor—Tecumseh has already asked this question on more than one occasion today. He was trying to get a response from the minister on this very point, but I do not believe he received a 100% satisfactory answer from the minister in this situation.

A single parole ineligibility period for multiple murders can be increased when someone who is serving a life sentence receives an additional sentence. In such a case, the offender is not eligible for full parole until beginning on the day on which the additional sentence was imposed. There is a general rule that the maximum period of additional parole ineligibility is 15 years from the day on which the last of the sentence was imposed.

In terms of the prevalence of multiple murders in Canada and the United States, and several other members did speak about this, we are not talking about a lot of individuals. This is more or less a fairly rare event where this application will in fact be used. We have a chart which deals with the number of victims. We are dealing with an average of 21 cases where we have 2 victims, an average of 3 cases where we have 3 victims and only 1 case where we have 4 victims. The press kind of exaggerates and makes the average homeowner believe that somehow this is a daily occurrence, when in fact it is not. The statistics show that not to be the case.

I realize I only have another minute left and I do have quite a number of other points to make.

In 1999 an international comparison of the average time served in custody by an offender with a life sentence for first degree murder showed that Canada exceeded the average time served in all countries surveyed, including the United States. With the exception of the United States, for offenders serving life sentences without parole, the estimated average time that a Canadian convicted of first degree murder spent in prison was 28.4 years, and that is a very important point.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know my colleague from Manitoba wants to put the figures on the record. I will ask him to continue with regard to what in fact is the practice in Canada, and has been for a good number of years, that puts us at the top level in the world in terms of sentencing people to time to be served in our prisons.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the fact is the average time spent in custody in countries comparable to the Canadian experience is as follows: in New Zealand 11 years; Scotland 11 years; Sweden 12 years; Belgium 12 years; England 14 years; Australia 14 years; and life with parole in the United States is 18 years. Life without parole in the United States is 29 years. In Canada, it is 28 years. That is not something of which the average member of the public, or the press—

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Member of Parliament.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

—or even a member of Parliament, as the member points out, is really aware. I believe that figure certainly bears repeating.

In England and Wales, the ministry of justice has published more current statistics on the average time served by those given life sentences. The statistics indicate the amount of time served for a life sentence by prisoners varies considerably. In addition to being released on life-licensed parole, a life sentence for prisoners can be discharged for other reasons such as successful appeals, or transfers to other jurisdictions or to psychiatric hospitals. The mean time served by mandatory lifers or murderers first released from prison in 2008 on life licence was 16 years and there was no change from the previous year.

There are some very interesting pieces of information available from other countries. In fact, a recent study in the United States found that 140,000 individuals were serving life sentences, representing 1 in every 11 people in prison and 29%, or 41,000, individuals serving life sentences have no possibility of parole.

While every state provides for life sentences in the United States, there is a broad range of severity and implementation of the statutes. In six states, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Pennsylvania and South Dakota, and in the federal system all life sentences are imposed without the possibility of parole. Only Alaska provides the possibility of parole for all life sentences, while the remaining 43 states have laws that permit sentencing most defendants to life with or without parole.

I hope I have answered the member's question.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, when we get down to the fundamentals of this bill as proposed by the government, there is a serious lack of knowledge of some of the statistics that my colleague just read in the chamber. Fundamentally, this bill tells people that if there has been a multiple murder, it will be treated more seriously.

Does he have any sense of what one says to members of families who have been victims of a murder with regard to what they should take into account when they analyze what penalties they would like to see imposed, not just with regard to individual cases but generally in society? How do we approach that: from the perspective exclusively of the victim or from the perspective of society as a whole?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I think some studies have been done indicating that, even when we are dealing with victims, when they get involved, oftentimes they do not take as extreme a position as we would think, over time. When we involve the victims in the process, when we ask the victims what they would consider a proper punishment, there have been some big surprises. Some have said that they were really angry about it in the beginning, but after looking at it, they realize that this person needs rehabilitation and that there has to be a longer range, a better result.

I think that we have to reflect what society wants. But we have to do this with a full range of information. The idea is that somehow we are supposed to send out a little news clip, tailor-made for the local press columnists, who simply regurgitate it word for word and fire it out in their editorials and stories without presenting the other side. I think we would see a totally different approach if we actually involved the public. We should involve the public more, which is why I think we should do a re-write of the whole system. We should develop a multi-party approach and send it across the country for hearings. We might come up with something different.

When the public sees that the government solution is to put in $9 billion in new prisons, they tend to think a little different about it. The government presents them with the facts that we need this bill, this bill, and this bill, without proper costing and accounting. The press should be taking these government members to task. When they announce a bill, the first thing a responsible member of the press should be saying to the government member is, “What will it cost?” They certainly ask us. They ask opposition parties constantly when we announce something new. They ask us what our costing is. We do not have the ability of the government to get the costing done. The government has already been embarrassed a couple of times, because the facts have come out that it will cost a lot more than it suggests. In fact, government members do not even know what it will cost, and yet they are announcing all these initiatives.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, on the point of the government's being embarrassed, I want to share this story of what happened at committee on the faint hope clause, which is back before committee again, because the government prorogued and we are having to go through it all over again.

Two individuals showed up, called by government members to, in effect, testify. The government believed that they would testify that we should do away with the faint hope clause. What was interesting was that one of the two, a gentleman whose daughter had been murdered, had recently been on a panel with an individual who had been convicted of murder, had been released early, and had devoted the balance of his life to helping society, especially people coming out of prison. As a result of his experience, he came before the committee and made it clear that he had changed his mind. He was no longer sure that we should be getting rid of the faint hope clause. That was his testimony.

There is a Harvard study showing that when people, including the victims, heard all the facts, and it was explained why the judge had made the decision, whether it was a murder case or some violent crime, 80% of them changed their minds and supported the judge's position.

I am wondering if the member has given any thought to trying to get this information, perhaps through a committee travelling across the country. Does he think this would result in a more reasoned approach to sentencing?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I simply take the member back to a point I made earlier about the Filmon minority government from 1988 to 2000 in Manitoba, where the government was against the wall and the premier came up with a reasonable solution. With each and every controversial decision, he would call the opposition leaders together and set up a committee, which travelled around the province and resolved these controversies. I thought it was pretty amazing that they were able to do this. Why this government would not want to is beyond me.

The fact of the matter is, the Conservatives do not want to hear contrary arguments.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I will stop the member there as he is out of time. We will move on with debate, with the hon. member for Mississauga East—Cooksville.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Albina Guarnieri Liberal Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-48. I commend the minister and the government for advancing a cause that I know has as much support among victims and Canadians as any bill we will address this session.

For decades, victims of crime have come to this House seeking the justice the Criminal Code has denied them. Sharon and Gary Rosenfeldt, Debbie Mahaffy, Theresa McCuaig, and Don Edwards have all been denied too long in their simple struggle for a measure of proportionality in sentencing. They came here bearing the memory of personal tragedy of the most brutal order and bearing witness to a justice system that was no less brutal regarding their right to justice.

The bill today could rightly be called a tribute to the courage and dedication of victims who rose above their personal suffering and sought to prevent others from suffering the same injustice. Regrettably, this bill does not come in time for Gary Rosenfeldt and other family members of victims who have died seeing neither justice for their children nor any change in the justice system that failed them.

Today, the Minister of Justice has renewed their hope.

Volume discounts for rapists and murderers is the law in Canada today. It is called concurrent sentencing. It cheapens life. The life of the second, the third, or the eleventh victim does not count in the sentencing equation. The lowest price is the law every day in our courts.

A family must still watch as courts hand down a conviction for the murder of their child, spouse, or parent, and then reel in the reality that not a single day will be served for that crime. Judges cannot be blamed as they have no latitude to impose consecutive sentences for serial killers. When a multiple murderer walks into court, it is justice that is handcuffed.

Fourteen years ago, I introduced a bill calling for an end to this bulk rate for murder. For the next four years, the issue was debated widely in the House, the Senate, and across the country. The effort drew the support of major victims groups, police associations, and eminent lawyers like Scott Newark and Gerry Chipeur. Members from all parties offered support, even attending Senate committee hearings. Among them were Chuck Cadman, John Reynolds and the current ministers of National Defence and Transport.

We learned in that journey that Parliament had what would be called “a democratic deficit”. We learned that average Canadians were a decade ahead of Parliament in their thinking. We learned that too many predators, released because of concurrent sentencing, had found new victims and spawned even more tragedy.

A decade ago in North Bay, Gregory Crick was found guilty of two murders. Mr. Crick had murdered Louis Gauthier back in April, 1996. A witness to that murder went to the police. Gregory Crick proceeded to murder that witness in retaliation. However, when he was finally sentenced, not one day could be added to Mr. Crick's parole ineligibility for the murder of that witness.

In the summer of 1999, there was one particular case where the Crown actually tried to delay sentencing in the hope that the changes I was pursuing in Parliament might be rapidly passed. It was the case of Adrian Kinkead, who was tried and convicted of the brutal murders of Marsha and Tammy Ottey in Scarborough, a process that took three and a half years. Mr. Kinkead was given a mandatory life sentence with no parole for 25 years. However, Mr. Kinkead was already under a life sentence with the same parole ineligibility after being convicted of a completely unrelated murder.

The crown prosecutor in the case, Robert Clark, asked the judged to delay sentencing until a bill similar to the one before you today could be passed.

His stated intent was to permit the judge to extend the period of parole ineligibility to reflect these additional murders. That bill did pass the House of Commons and had the committed support of most of the Senate, but it was stalled in committee. Sixteen months passed without a final vote and an election was called.

There has been a decade of outrage since then. A year ago, on the eve of the first scheduled debate on the government's current bill, the murders of Julie Crocker and Paula Menendez have led to a first degree murder conviction. Then as now, the families would soon realize that only one murder could count in the sentence, that the murder of one of these women would not yield a single day in jail.

This injustice will continue every day that the bill is stalled in this place. Just weeks ago, Russell Williams was able to thank the inertia of Parliament for a future parole hearing. Families of victims were put through a graphic and unnecessary court spectacle so that the Crown and the police could put evidence on the record that could be seen by a parole board 25 years in the future. Those families will have to hope their health permits them to appear decades from now, time and time again, to object and argue against the release of Russell Williams. His case is not unique.

There are no special circumstances that make him different from other multiple murderers. He was a colonel and there are pictures and videos of his crimes that made his situation infamous. But make no mistake: just about every victim of a multiple murderer went through the same horror. It is only that the obscurity of their victimizer is more likely to allow him to be freed.

The statistical fact, as early as 1999, was that multiple murderers are released into the community, on average, just six years after they are eligible for parole, some within a year of their eligibility. So much for the exhausted notion that life is life and that multiple murderers never get out of jail. Most do.

Another absurd crutch is the myth that somehow multiple murderers are rehabilitated in jail, as if they have an addiction that can be easily treated.

Wendy Carroll, a real estate woman, survived having her throat slashed and being left for dead by two paroled multiple murderers just 10 minutes away from my own home. They had both been convicted of two murders. Both were on life sentences. And both were freed in Mississauga and tried to kill again.

Life only means life for the victims of these offenders. Some in the House may still spout the bizarre and unfounded contention that Canadians somehow approve of concurrent sentencing, that they view it as a way to be different from the United States, as if letting multiple murderers back on the street were an act of patriotism or an endorsement of Canadian culture.

In fact, 90% of Canadians polled by Pollara supported mandatory consecutive sentencing for multiple murderers, with none of the judicial discretion currently contained in the bill. So we remain with a system supported by less than 10% of Canadians.

Then there are the skewed parole statistics. Through some digging years ago, I discovered that Francis Roy was in those statistics as a successful parolee. He had murdered Alison Parrott while on parole after receiving a discounted concurrent sentence for raping two girls. But since he was not returned to custody until after his parole expired, he was just another statistical success story and an example of low levels of repeat offenders.

While criminal lawyers and a few senators still support concurrent sentencing, even our most notorious serial killers mock it. I had occasion to witness the obscene spectacle of Clifford Olson's section 745 hearing. It was a 1997 summer day in B.C., not far from where Olson had victimized 11 children. There Olson read out a letter from his lawyer advising him to admit to all his murders at once. This way, the lawyer indicated, Olson could take full advantage of concurrent sentencing. Olson mocked the court, saying, “They can't do nothing. They can only give me a concurrent sentence”.

To this day, Olson is right. The obstruction of Bill C-25 in the Senate in 2000 has allowed a decade of multiple murderers to similarly mock their victims and mock justice.

I encourage members to look past the usual opposition from the predator protection industry and pass this legislation without delay or obstruction. Perhaps then we can finally put an end to volume discounts that deny justice to victims, deny peace to their families and deny safety and security to Canadians.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, that was a very impressive speech, and as a criminal lawyer for over a decade in this country, I had the opportunity to see many times injustices and miscarriages of justice as a result of exactly what the member speaks of.

Based on the passionate nature of her speech and what I thought was a very accurate depiction of what actually takes place at the courthouses across this country, I am wondering if the member has any other positive comments to make in relation to this and indeed whether she has first-hand knowledge of what has taken place in the past other than what she has mentioned, because it certainly seems she is well versed on these particular issues.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Albina Guarnieri Liberal Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, if the bill is about putting proportionality in sentencing when it comes to murder and the best support for victims is to get them justice and closure, endless parole hearings punish the families and releasing their offenders puts families at risk.

I am imploring all members in the House to put closure to this issue by advancing this issue speedily in committee.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will come back to that in a few minutes with my speech and I hope that the member will be present. Although my colleague across the floor may have been a criminal lawyer for 10 years, I was a criminal lawyer for 30 and dealt with some murder cases.

I have some issues with the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville. It is not that we are against Bill C-48. We will most likely and almost definitely vote in favour of it. I will be commenting on certain things. However, she is forgetting one thing: before a criminal can apply, he must show a judge in the legal district where he was convicted of murder that he could potentially present evidence or apply. What the Conservatives have not said—you have to read sections 745 onwards of the Criminal Code—is that a parole application is not automatic, especially in the case of murder, which is the most serious crime under the Criminal Code. I will come back to that in a few minutes.

I am wondering if the hon. member is playing into the Conservatives' hand. I do not know if she read it, but if not, I would suggest that she read section 1, which is the bill's short title. It is completely demagogic in comparison to the bill's objective, which is completely rational. The title, “Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentencing Discounts for Multiple Murders Act”, is untrue. I have never seen a more misleading bill title. I am wondering if my colleague agrees with my observation.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Albina Guarnieri Liberal Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I highlighted in my speech a number of cases where having proportionality in sentencing would have provided some measure of justice for those victims.

I do not understand my hon. colleague from the Bloc, and I implore him to look at those cases I cited as examples. If we had had proportionality in sentencing, perhaps in the case of the Crick murder the witness would have been spared. In the case of the Ottey sisters, I recall viewing the obscene spectacle of the trial that subjected the families to further hardship, and the individual in question did not serve one additional day in jail. The cost of going through a trial and the cost to the victims was obscene, to say the least.

I implore the member to think about this. I am not playing politics with this bill. I implore members not to play politics with this bill. Fundamental justice should be above politics. Victims have waited far too long for such a small measure of justice.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wish to salute the hon. member who just spoke, our colleague from Mississauga East—Cooksville. As an MP, she has spent a great deal of time considering this major issue that the House must address.

The hon. member from the Bloc may suggest that he has been a lawyer for 30 years, however it goes without saying that the hon. member's work in this area for 30 years, and certainly in the last 15 years or 16 years, has been vigilant and diligent. We on this side of the House, certainly in this party, salute her for her efforts, because it is time we had legislation that looks a lot more like this.

We can talk about window dressing in terms of the title, but the fundamental principle that has been enunciated by the member of Parliament is important. It is without avarice. It is certainly not partisan-based. It is in fact logically based.

I was with the hon. member at the section 745 hearings on Clifford Olson. There was a concern expressed by committees in the past about judicial discretion. Can the hon. member clarify that this legislation will, in fact, allow that in this circumstance?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Albina Guarnieri Liberal Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend the hon. member for his support over the years. Certainly my colleague has championed victims and victims' rights. He was very instrumental in helping this bill get to the Senate in 2000. I want to commend him for his hard work.

I certainly hope that this bill will go to committee and get a fair hearing. I will leave it to the government to further highlight the judicial discretion element of this bill.

I think it is imperative to give the judges discretion. Currently the judges have no discretion when it comes to multiple murderers. I recall a renowned judge from Nova Scotia. In my haste I did not bring the quote, but I recall that Justice MacKeigan said that a judge in giving a concurrent sentence is not doing his duty.

I thank the hon. member for his hard work in this endeavour.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the hon. member. For a decade or so, she has been working with her colleagues, and with us to move this bill foward. We have now reached the point where this bill will soon be up for consideration.

So that it is clear, I would like her to tell us whether we are meeting the wish she has been expressing for the past 10 years or so in her riding.

At present, the sentence for multiple murders, for an individual who has killed several people, is only 25 years. With this bill, that sentence could be extended by 10 or 15 years, depending on what the judge decides.

Bill S-6 from the Senate provides for the elimination of the faint hope clause for offenders who have committed multiple crimes because the victims did not get the chance to be heard. Is the hon. member in favour of removing the faint hope clause as set out in Bill S-6?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Albina Guarnieri Liberal Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my fervent belief that there should not be disclaimers or fine print when it comes to the justice system. We should not have a judge proclaim himself or herself in court with one sentence and then suddenly find ourselves with a loophole and a way of circumventing what the judge has declared in court.

A judge hears the testimony, is there to witness the obscenity of the crime and is in a position to make a good determination about a fitting sentence.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-48.

I also believe that this is a very important bill and that it is very difficult to play political football, as I call it, with this long-awaited bill. This is the reincarnation of Bill C-54, which died on the order paper in late 2009. We are now dealing with Bill C-48 which, when we first looked at it, seemed to be a very difficult bill. When I saw it for the first time, my initial comment was that it did not make sense and that, as usual, it was being sneaked in the back door by the Conservatives. I said that because I had read the first clause of the bill, which is the short title and which really does not make sense, “Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act”. I can say that this first clause will obviously not get through committee.

I concur with the hon. member who spoke before me; we will not play political football with this bill. The subject of this bill requires us to study it and vote in favour of it. The Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of this bill so that it can be studied in committee as quickly as possible. I am putting the House on notice that clause 1 of this bill is not acceptable. We are not going to do more advertising and say that we are concerned about the victims when that is not the case. That is not the intent of this bill. It is rather surprising, but its intent is rather heretical. Yes, there are mistakes. I respectfully affirm that there mistakes in the Criminal Code. A person who is found guilty or who pleads guilty today to two, three or four murders, will serve no more than 25 years. That is odd because it is one of the things not found in the Criminal Code. If someone pleads guilty to one, two, three or four break and enters or automobile thefts, the judge will generally say that he has understood nothing, that not only did he commit a break and enter, but that since he committed two, three or four, he should be given additional sentences.

If my memory serves correctly, in 1976, when the death penalty was abolished, the government said the most serious crime was murder. Since it is the toughest sentence, a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years would be imposed and after that, if the individual is rehabilitated, the subsequent articles state he or she could return to society. Except that people forgot about—and this is what Bill C-48 aims to correct—repeat offenders and multiple murderers. Now, people have the nerve to call these sentence discounts. I do not believe they are sentence discounts, with all due respect to my Conservative colleagues who are completely on the wrong track. I believe that when section 745 was created—and I will quote it in a moment—something was overlooked. Perhaps it was not intentional. I was not here in 1976; I was arguing cases, so I do not know. I think it is a mistake that must be corrected today.

People need to understand what happens in a murder case. When an individual is found guilty of murder, his or her trial is generally held before a jury, and it is the jury that reaches a verdict and determines whether the accused is guilty of first or second degree murder.

First degree murder is premeditated murder. If someone plans a murder, he or she will be found guilty of first degree murder. Second degree murder is an unplanned murder. It might involve someone who, in a fit of anger, picks up a guns, shoots someone and kills that individual. I am summarizing quickly, but that is called second degree murder.

Subsection 745.21(1) of Bill C-48 is extremely interesting. It states:

Where a jury finds an accused guilty of murder and that accused has previously been convicted of murder, the judge presiding at the trial shall, before discharging the jury, put to them the following question:

You have found the accused guilty of murder. The law requires that I now pronounce a sentence of imprisonment for life against the accused.

Freeze the picture here. The judge is required to impose a minimum sentence of life in prison. If an individual is found guilty of murder, he will be imprisoned for life. The judge's question continues:

Do you wish to make any recommendation with respect to the period without eligibility for parole to be served for this murder consecutively to the period without eligibility for parole imposed for the previous murder?

That is the crux of the change, which has been requested by a number of jurisdictions over the past few years. I have an example of the sad case of a woman who made a suicide pact with her husband. They had two children and they decided to end their lives. It is sad, but so it goes. Unfortunately in life, things happen. The woman ingested the same drugs as her husband and two children. The three of them died, but unfortunately she survived and was convicted of a triple murder.

The interesting thing about this bill is that it does not provide additional automatic minimum sentences. It provides the judge with the possibility to ask the jury what it thinks. I am utterly convinced that a jury would never have asked a judge for an additional sentence. The woman has to serve 25 years because it was a premeditated murder. The jury will be consulted and the judge could impose an additional prison sentence. This bill is interesting because it focuses on the victims.

Regardless of what our Conservative friends, especially the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice—and I point the finger at him—might think, the Bloc Québécois is concerned about the victims and is voting in favour of this bill. I hope my dear colleagues and the parliamentary secretary are not going to phone Go Radio X FM in Abitibi to say that we are voting against Bill C-48, because they will be mocked, just as they were on Bill C-22.

That said, I suggest that they listen when we speak and that they listen in committee. We will vote in favour of this bill, except with respect to the short title in clause 1.

These things need to be said. When we are talking about someone who has committed multiple murders—think of Colonel Williams or Pickton or Olson—I think that even if this bill had been in force, they would still serve 25 years in prison. That seems highly improbable. That is what the Conservatives do not understand because they have never or rarely worked in criminal law. They have never made a request. They have never, especially not the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, appeared before the National Parole Board. They have certainly never appeared before a Superior Court judge to request a sentence reduction in order to be able to apply.

I will explain because I am sure that he does not understand. I will explain how it works. Someone who is found guilty of murder is sentenced to life in prison. End of story. The Conservatives, and especially the parliamentary secretary, should stop twisting words. The person is sentenced to life in prison and must serve at least 25 years. That is what the law currently says. After 17 years in prison, that individual may make a request to a judge, in the jurisdiction in which he was sentenced, to have the sentence reduced. That does not mean that it will be reduced. On the contrary. There are figures, and I will be able to share them in another speech, but it is clear: there are currently over 4,000 people imprisoned for murder in Canada, and of these 4,000, 146 have made a request and only 123 of those have been allowed to appear before the National Parole Board.

That is what my Conservative colleagues do not understand and, with all due respect, neither does the parliamentary secretary. Not just anyone can apply and Bill C-48 will not change that. It is not true. An eligible person will still be eligible, but the court, taking into consideration the horrible crime—because murder is always horrible—decides. Does someone who committed a double or triple murder deserve an additional prison sentence? That is up to the jury. Obviously we need to make a distinction between a hired assassin, a psychopath and a woman who, in a moment of acute distress, kills her husband and her two children. The Conservatives do not understand that. They will not understand it, but they need to.

That is exactly what Bill C-48 does, regardless of what our Conservative friends might say: it gives a jury that has found someone guilty of a second murder the possibility of recommending to a judge that the person serve an additional five or ten years. That means that the person serves 30, 35 or even 40 years instead of 25. Consequently, that person's chance of applying for parole could be pushed back. With all due respect for my colleagues across the way, there has never, through all these years, been an individual convicted of murder who has been released and then committed another murder. I hope that they understand that and that the people watching understand it as well.

That has never happened, whether my Conservative friends like it or not. We asked the parliamentary secretary about this, but he could not say anything about it. We asked the justice minister to provide us with the figures, but we obtained the figures from the parole board, because we are examining other related bills, including the famous Bill S-6. I hope the parliamentary secretary will have the nerve to rise to ask me about Bill S-6, because I will give him the answer.

I agree with my Liberal colleague, for whom I have a great deal of respect and whom I listened to carefully. I agree that we must not play petty politics with Bill C-48. I agree, we will not politicize it, except for clause 1. We will do so because that is what the Conservatives are doing. Clause 1 must be changed. I hope the real parliamentary secretary, not the one from the Quebec City region, but the other one whom I am not allowed to name—I can name him but I am not able to name his riding—understands that he must amend clause 1. The real title is “An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to the National Defence Act”. It is perfect; I have no problem with it.

However, the “Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act” is inaccurate. I would like the government side to stop spreading these falsehoods. All the numbers we have show that no one has ever received a sentence discount for multiple murders. Yes, there is a mistake. Yes, under section 745, a person receives one 25-year sentence, but that is how the Criminal Code was drafted. That section still exists.

Neither the judge nor anyone can do anything about it. When the death sentence was abolished, no one noticed that this section allowed a murderer convicted of multiple murders to receive the equivalent of a 25-year sentence to serve. However, I can say that the National Parole Board has been monitoring this very closely and will continue to do so to ensure that murderers guilty of multiple murders, psychopaths like Colonel Williams and serial killers like Olson and Pickton will never be released, even if this bill is not passed quickly. I cannot even imagine that.

Obviously, if Bill C-48 is not passed during this session, it will come back in the next sessions and be passed before these people can be released. They will serve 25 years. I do not think that any parole board can release any of the three individuals I just mentioned before the allotted time, which is 25 years because a life sentence is a minimum of 25 years.

Regardless of what my Conservative colleagues, including the parliamentary secretary, might think, the average life sentence served in Canada is 28 years and 7 months, not 25 years. Criminals, especially murderers, stay in prison.

In closing, I would say that this bill fills a major gap in the Criminal Code, a gap that I think deserves our attention, especially in the case of multiple murderers—psychopaths and criminals who have committed more than one murder. Obviously, they might deserve additional sentences. The Bloc will vote in favour of this bill. It will be studied in committee, and quickly we hope.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, our colleague from Mississauga East—Cooksville talked about justice for victims and their families and friends. I do not know how we can talk about this without looking at what happens in other countries like our own.

Does my colleague agree? Does he agree that Canada has the harshest sentences for murderers?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

I thank my colleague for his question.

Whether my Conservative colleagues like it or not, the answer is that it is true. Canada is the country that imposes the longest sentences on its murderers. I am not saying that is a bad thing. That is not what I am saying. I hope the parliamentary secretary will not say that on GO RadioX FM. That is not what I just said.

What I am saying is that Canada currently sentences murderers to longer prison terms than Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and even the United States. Maybe we should look at that more closely.

One thing is extremely important, and I thank my colleague for giving me a chance to point this out. Canada has an organization called the National Parole Board. If there is anyone in Canada who cares about victims, it is the National Parole Board.

Unless the Conservatives want to do away with it and replace it with something else, the National Parole Board must be maintained.

As others have said and as I have always said, people are shocked not by minimum sentences—which are not necessary—but by the fact that offenders do not serve their full sentence.

People are shocked when someone is sentenced to four years in prison and is released after eight months because the prison is full and because the penitentiary says he is a good guy who only defrauded people of $4 million and it was his first offence.

At present, there is a lengthy process to follow before the National Parole Board is asked to consider a case of murder. The murderer will first have to appear before a superior court judge and then convince a jury before going before the parole board.

I can say that not one criminal accused and convicted of murder who has been released has reoffended. There have been no such cases in Canada, and we have the figures to prove it.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my Bloc Québécois colleague for his passionate speech and for the points that he raised about this bill.

I have a question for him regarding the short title.

The member said that in my speech I said that the government should not attempt to play political football with this bill. That was a very accurate summary of what I said about this issue. I was talking about the content of this bill.

I appreciate the fact that he did not twist my words like the Conservative members have done many times.

I think the government is trying to gain political capital with the short title and is trying to mislead the public. It is trying to make the public think that this bill fixes something that it does not.

I would like to know what the member thinks about that. I know that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights already removed the short title of Bill C-22 because it was a politicized title that had nothing to do with the content of the bill.

I would like to hear what the member has to say about that.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

She is quite right. So that it will be clear to the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, I will say it in French. The short title does not make sense. I hope he will convince his colleague, the other parliamentary secretary. The short title makes no sense, because it is false, misleading and does not convey the truth. It is false. Let them give me one scrap of evidence, just one to make me change my mind. They are talking about the Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act. That is not true. That does not make sense. That is petty politics.

I have a great deal of respect for my colleague from Mississauga East—Cooksville who spoke earlier. She was quite right. We are not going to play political football with this bill. However, they must delete clause 1 because the bill is urgent. The rest is fine, and a number of parties want it. It is time to address an oversight, an omission, that allows some criminals who have committed more than one murder to receive a maximum sentence of 25 years and serve perhaps just a bit more. It is true that it does not make sense. Still, the title is just not right. There are no sentence discounts for murders. They must stop mocking people.

I hope that the Conservatives will realize that they will not gain popularity with that kind of title because it just does not make sense. I will tell them right now that I am convinced that on this side, the Liberal Party, the Bloc and the NDP will vote against the short title. Thus, it should be deleted immediately. We will waste less time and the bill will be studied more quickly. I read the rest of the bill with interest and I find that it makes sense, is well written, and meets the needs of 21st-century society.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to this and I do not understand. To me, what is ridiculous here is that we are dealing with something so serious as murder, which usually involves greed or rape or something where an innocent person's life is extinguished, and the majority of the questions of the members opposite are about the title. They do not like the title. I just do not understand why they would not concentrate on the more important aspects, the substantive part of the bill, which is actually what it is all about. The member's argument is that it has never happened, therefore we should not change it. Even though I believe he is wrong, the reality is that we should be talking about the substantive part of the bill. We are trying to protect Canadians. We should be joining together. They should be coming across with hands open to support this bill, which is actually meant to protect Canadians and to punish those people who take another person's life as a result of greed or as a result of lust or something that they have no business being involved in, in the first place. Why do they not deal with that instead of the title? It is shameful.