House of Commons Hansard #97 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was pope.


Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, the rationale for my intervention is really to take advantage of this opportunity to talk about how to not have people committing murders in the first place and how to not have victims of violent crime.

The intervention that I have put forward was really a plea to the government. I hope members from all parties will be able to adopt those interventions that have been, and are, useful in terms of preventing the horrible victimization that occurs in our society.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the member for talking a little bit about the root causes of crime, because if the government is going to get tough on crime, it has to understand why it happens.

The member also spoke about fetal alcohol syndrome, which is now called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder because it has broadened. Back in 1997, the Provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba did a study and a review of their prison systems and the inmates there. They found, startlingly, that 50% of the inmates in their prisons suffered from mental health disorders related to alcohol taken by a mother during pregnancy. That was also confirmed by Anne McLellan, our federal minister of justice at the time.

I would ask the member to elaborate just a little bit further on the need to be tough on crime, but to understand that there are crimes in which rehabilitation of the perpetrator is not possible and that our institutions are failing people who have mental health disorders.

Rehabilitation for people with mental health disorders is learning how to cope with their problem. Institutionalization and assistance, not rehabilitation in a jail, is appropriate.

Would the member agree that the argument also shows why building more jails is not actually necessary, that there is enough room in our jails for the real criminals, and that what we have to do is make sure that in our jails there are not people who should not be in those institutions?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to honour my colleague for all his tireless work on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. He has been a champion to deal with this challenge since he was elected in 1993. I honour and thank him for his service in tirelessly bringing up this issue.

He is absolutely correct, and as I mentioned before, in Nunavut, one quarter of all babies are born with FASD. On the streets of Victoria, for example, there are about 1,450 people on the street. Two-thirds of those people have what we call dual diagnosis, which means that they have a psychiatric problem and they have a substance abuse problem. These conditions often go hand in hand. One sometimes occurs first, but they can shift back and forth. The tragedy of it is that we are not dealing with this properly.

People who commit violent crimes must be in jail to protect society, there is no question about that. We support that, but what we are trying to do is prevent that from ever happening. The member is absolutely right that, for too many people, the institutions are not available. There are some people who simply cannot take care of themselves. Rather than suggesting that they just go out in the community where there are not the community services for them, enable them to have an institution where they can live in peace and security and get the care they require because they cannot live on their own and there are not the resources, frankly, to be able to provide them to live on their own. What happens is that they fall through the cracks and they wind up on the street and doing a number of things that they should not do or should not feel compelled to do.

Why not be smart about it and address the issues of psychiatric challenges and substance abuse in an intelligent, fact-based way and in a medical way? These are medical problems, not judicial problems.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.


Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, I have a great deal of respect for the previous speaker. I have a difficult question for him. In his opinion, what is the Minister of Justice trying to accomplish by introducing such a bill?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank my friend for his question.

It is unfortunate that a significant bulk of the government's bills have been justice bills to make the Conservatives look “tough on crime” to the general public because it is politically advantageous. The tragedy is that in the process of so-called looking tough on crime, it is not effective on crime. It is actually making the country less secure and harming the public. The irony is that while it can be portrayed from the government's perspective that it is introducing bills that are going to keep people safer because it is tough on crime, the reality is that it does not happen. These bills are going to make Canadians less safe and less secure, and that is the tragedy of it.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.


Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, I will begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois intends to support this bill at this stage. However, I still think this bill is useless, because our system is perfectly capable of taking into account aggravating circumstances around crimes such as multiple murders, which are perhaps more serious than single murders. I say “perhaps” because some single murders are more serious than multiple murders. I will give some examples in a moment.

All this bill does is delay the possibility of early parole. For a convicted criminal to obtain early parole, a judge has to give him permission to go before a jury and explain why he should get parole. Then, the decision is made by another jury. Clearly, this other jury, like the judge, will consider whether there were two murders or just one. Some single murders are more serious than double murders.

For those who have just tuned in, we are discussing the possibility of amending the Criminal Code so that in the case of multiple murders or murders committed by someone who has already been convicted of murder, eligibility for parole will be delayed, for reasons that can be explained. Multiple murders fall into one of two categories: those that are committed at the same time and those that are committed by someone who was previously convicted of murder. In any event, the sentence for murder is life in prison. We will not do silly things as they do in the United States, where people are put away for several hundred years just to impress the public. However, it is possible to delay eligibility for parole.

Here is how the judge will proceed. When he hears a case involving multiple murders, he must first put the following question to the jury:

You have found the accused guilty of murder. The law requires that I now pronounce a sentence of imprisonment for life against the accused. 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? You are not required to make any recommendation, but if you do, your recommendation will be considered by me when I make my determination.

So, the jury that heard the case can give its opinion, since it is very familiar with the circumstances surrounding the murder. If the judge ignores their recommendation, he is required to justify his decision. Once again, I completely agree with this. As far as I know, when judges render a decision they must provide their reasoning. The bill states that this must be done orally or in writing. I obviously do not object to this part of the bill. However, I find that it is completely pointless.

As we say, plenty is no plague. But we also say that the perfect is the enemy of the good. In this case, I agree more with the first proverb that plenty is no plague. Forcing judges to do something they would already do seems pointless to me, but it does no harm.

We must understand in what context these decisions are made. Mr. Sapers, the Correctional Investigator of Canada, testified before a Senate committee regarding the provisions that allow for early parole, even for individuals sentenced to life in prison. He said:

...the average time served in prison for first degree murder in Canada is 28.4 years. By comparison, the average time served for the same sentence in New Zealand, Scotland, Sweden and Belgium is approximately 12 years. The time served in Canada is already greater than that in most other advanced democracies, including the United States....

Anyone who follows our debates will probably know that the United States is the country that incarcerates the highest number of people, per capita, in the world. But we hold the record on this. If this bill passes, Canada could beat the United States when it comes to the average length of a life sentence. The average length of a life sentence with possibility of parole is 18.5 years in the United States. Members should note that these American statistics do not take into account sentences for which there is no possibility of parole.

Mr. Sapers spoke about what kind of offenders this applies to:

Offenders serving a life sentence in Canada automatically spend at least the first two years of their sentence at a maximum security institution, regardless of their assessed risk. In Canada, a life sentence does, in fact, mean life. Offenders with a life sentence released into the community are supervised until the time of their death.

That is how we know that they do not reoffend. Only in one case of murder was another serious crime committed.

Relative to many other countries that Canada often compares itself to, offenders convicted of first degree murder in this country are already serving a more punitive sentence.

Therefore, I find these provisions to be pointless, especially when we consider the process for obtaining the right to apply for parole to the Parole Board prior to serving 25 years. First, the offender must submit an application to a judge and prove that it is likely, or that there is a substantial likelihood, at least by the preponderance of evidence, that a jury would grant leave to apply. Next, a jury is summoned and it must agree unanimously that the offender may have a hearing before the Parole Board.

Although this system is rather cumbersome, in my mind it is fully justified because, since 1987, only 150 people have been given the right to apply to the Parole Board prior to serving 25 years.

Therefore, this bill would apply to relatively few cases. Even without this bill, such applications would first be considered by a jury that would determine the prisoner's eligibility to apply to the Parole Board, and then by the Parole Board members before parole was granted. The result would be virtually the same. However, as I said, because the discretion of judges is not being restricted, we are prepared to support this bill.

To be clear, we do not consider ourselves to be soft on crime or hard on crime. I really like an expression I heard for the first time when the current Leader of the Opposition gave one of his first speeches in the House, from the bench behind me. He said that it was not about being soft on crime or tough on crime, but it was about being smart on crime and applying the law intelligently.

Everyone understands that the sentences handed down are not determined by just anyone. They must be determined by independent, competent people. Remember that a judge does not live in a bubble; judges read newspapers, listen to the radio, watch television and keep informed. Like many of us, they are perfectly aware of how opinions evolve and of the real dangers threatening society. Based on my experience as a lawyer, I can say that some judges are far tougher than the average member of the public, while others, it is true, are less tough. However, they are all independent and do not need the public's approval, as we do, in order to keep their position or have their mandate renewed, as is the case for members here. Everyone knows that this independence is an important and necessary quality.

In addition, it must be understood that objective factors are important for a judge or anyone else who is handing down a sentence. For example, it is obvious that killing two people is more serious than killing one. But subjective factors also need to be taken into consideration during every sentencing. Why did the person do this? Is it obvious that the person was already leading a criminal life? Their criminal background is considered. What was their motivation? Were they led into this crime by other people? Because, I want to point out that someone can be found guilty of a murder that they did not personally commit but that they were complicit in. Sometimes the accomplices are not as monstrous as the people who committed the crime, but that is not always the case.

I want to give an example that has always stuck with me. “Mom” Boucher, head of the Hells Angels for years, was convicted of the murder a prison guard, a crime that he did not commit himself but that he had ordered or encouraged. The person who committed the murder stopped a prison bus and began shooting, killing one person. When he tried to shoot the other person, the gun jammed and they took off on their motorbike. He was found guilty of one murder instead of two.

Look at the family tragedy that took place last year in Lac Saint-Jean. Desperate parents had asked for help from other family members. No one could have known that their lives would end in such a horrific fashion. These were people who had never been involved in any sort of criminal activity. They were so desperate that they decided that the whole family had to die. In my view, this is a decision that seems to fall within the realms of both psychiatry and justice. If the woman who survived was put on trial, it was because it was found that she was not mentally ill to the point where she was not criminally liable.

I agree that, in order to acquit someone of a crime by reason of insanity, the mental illness must be fairly severe. These parents purchased enough drugs so they could take some themselves and give some to their children.

The husband died. The two children died. The wife survived. It is a multiple murder. Everyone would subjectively agree that Mom Boucher's attitude was much more serious than the attitude of this woman.

When it comes down to it, a balance must always be found when convicting someone of a criminal offence or imposing a sentence on that person There are objective criteria, which are those that must be set out by Parliament; however Parliament cannot be expected to determine all of the subjective factors that could arise in each case. That is why we need the people who impose sentences to be fair, educated in matters of law and, above all, independent. They examine all sides of the issue and render a judgment. We would like to invent a system for imposing sentences that would do that reliably.

If the Bloc were opposed to this, then I would oppose the Bloc. However, I personally believe that such a system—one in which independent judges determine the appropriate sentence in specific cases—is fair, and that sentences should be individualized as much as possible. Apparently, this is not what the government thinks.

That is basically why, in this case, we agree on the bill. We think it is unnecessary. It will apply to only a very small number of people. Since 1987, only 150 people have been granted parole before 25 years were up. This shows that those provisions are applied very cautiously. However, it is good for the government to be able to say it is tough on crime. That is the main objective. Our Republican neighbours to the south have taught us how to win elections and so we are still adopting these provisions. Personally, I think that is the main motive behind a bill like this one.

Quite frankly, despite the contempt I have for their motives, I nevertheless recognize that this bill certainly does not do any harm, because it still allows the judiciary sufficient discretion. The minister is always telling us that wherever he goes in public, everyone always talks to him. I would remind the minister that perhaps a jury—since a jury must be involved—is also representative, even more representative of public opinion, compared to people who show up to say a few words to him when he appears in public.

Since it will be decided by a jury and since the provisions are not mandatory for judges who, if they make an exception, must justify it—which is only right and what they already do—we will therefore support these provisions.

Once again we are confident that our position is not based on ideology, unless people believe that defending the fact that sentences should be not only dissuasive, but also fair, individualized and determined by well-informed, independent judges is ideological. If that is ideological, then many other countries share our ideology. I have already mentioned an interesting fact about other similar countries. Mr. Sapers listed them. In other countries, like New Zealand, England and Belgium, the average sentence served by individuals convicted of murder is 12 years. Here it is 28.4 years. So it is safe to say that we are well above the average.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Niagara Falls Ontario


Rob Nicholson ConservativeMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, the member in question said that the government boasts about being tough on crime. That is because we are tough on crime. We always have to look for consensus on that, but nobody would suggest the Bloc is tough on crime. I think we can all agree on that.

Certainly, what we have heard from members of the Bloc over the last couple of days, and indeed throughout this Parliament, is entirely consistent with that. They opposed the faint hope clause, the loophole for lifers, the bill that we brought forward to reduce the victimization in this country. The Bloc was against it.

Bloc members have a problem with this consecutive parole ineligibility. The hon. member talks about ideology. I say to him, do not be so ideological and not have a look at what victims are saying.

I am trying to find out exactly where the Bloc members are, and I appreciate this is not confined to the Bloc, and that the Liberals are on this bandwagon. If the hon. member checks Hansard, yesterday his colleague spent most of his time attacking the short title of the bill. I just want to know, is this where the Bloc is going in the next federal election? Will Bloc members say that when it comes to crime, they have their priority, which is to spend all their time worrying about the titles of bills? That is it. That is what the Bloc stands for.

That is not what the government stands for. Those are not our priorities. I wonder if the hon. member could address that. Is this the new priority? I appreciate it is not just confined to the Bloc. I want to make that very clear. I appreciate the Liberals have this hang-up as well, but that is what most of the speech yesterday from his colleague was all about, the short title of the bill. Is this the new priority for the Bloc? Is this where the Bloc will concentrate in the justice area?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 11:05 a.m.


Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was not here yesterday. I do not come to the House on Mondays. I am at the House from Tuesday to Friday and others are here from Monday to Thursday.

The reason we object to certain titles, if the minister must know, is that they are propaganda, if not lies.

I will give a clear example of a dishonest title. I think it is referred to as the “Ending house arrest for...serious and violent offenders act”. However, the current legislation applies only to sentences of more than two years. I submit to the minister that when individuals are violent and dangerous, they are sentenced more than two years. Furthermore, under the current legislation, a judge's primary consideration in sentencing a person to house arrest is that the individual is not a threat to public safety. Need I convince the minister that violent and dangerous people threaten public safety and that, accordingly, if judges were to use these provisions to release violent and dangerous offenders, they would be disregarding the legislation as it currently exists?

The minister has the nerve to claim that Canadian judges are violating the law and releasing violent and dangerous offenders who threaten public safety. It is an insult to the judiciary and an absolute lie.

Many of the government's titles are nothing but propaganda. No, I will not tell the voters that we are focusing all our time on titles, but I will certainly tell them that your titles are dishonest.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.


Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to ask the member who has just given this very good speech if he does not think the Minister of Justice, who just intervened, was blowing a lot of hot air, given the fact that the subject of debate yesterday was set by the government? It was a Conservative member who moved the motion to reinstate the short title of the bill. The opposition did not set the subject matter of yesterday's debate. It was the government itself. I could not resist responding to that artificial, plastic, misleading suggestion by the Minister of Justice that somehow it was the opposition that had set up the subject of debate yesterday.

This is a process question as opposed to one on the substance of the bill. Would the member not agree that we would be further ahead if the government had simply introduced one criminal law amendment bill with a half dozen of these changes instead of doing a separate bill for every little change and putting into each bill a short title that had a politically over-torqued commercial for whatever the Conservatives' political agenda is? Then all of these subject items would probably be law and passed by now.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.


Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, I am convinced that the government has set its legislative agenda this way in order to score political points by presenting these bills. The government always tries to get us into trouble when we try to explain that the harsh sentences it proposes in a certain bill are justified in the most serious cases, but there are also less serious cases in which harsh sentences are less justified. That is especially true when the government includes minimum sentences. Minimum sentences have been calculated most of the time and when they were not, I indicated that here. Most of the time, minimum sentences are calculated for the most serious commission of offences. They should reread the aiding and abetting sections in the Criminal Code and they will see that those sections cover a lot of people.

The previous Liberal government had toyed with the idea of a complete overhaul of the Criminal Code. I am sorry that it never happened. The Criminal Code has become impossibly complex because of the way in which the laws are written. Without a background in law and in practising criminal law, no one can understand the proposed provisions.

Like the hon. member asking the question, I think the government is electioneering and trying to show that it is doing something, when in most cases it is doing nothing. This bill is a striking example of legislation that will not amount to much because these provisions are already being applied. The jury considers the circumstances of multiple murders and other cases. They know the difference between Mom Boucher and that poor mother who failed in her suicide attempt.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.


Robert Carrier Bloc Alfred-Pellan, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin for his excellent speech. We always benefit from his vast experience in the Quebec justice system.

A bill like this imposes minimum sentences, but we have seen that such sentences are already imposed by judges and juries. Does it not show a lack of trust in our current judiciary's ability to impose sentences if we develop legislation to impose mandatory minimum sentences?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.


Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, in general, my colleague is correct. But in this particular instance, it is not a matter of sentencing; it is a matter of imposing consecutive ineligibility periods in cases of multiple murders.

Since 1967, experience has shown that juries take this into account. The government demonstrates a lack of trust, not only in our judiciary, but also in our juries, which are there to represent the public. These people are chosen randomly based on panels and voters lists. So they are very representative of the population and have an advantage over us as legislators. They hear a particular case, in which they can not only weigh the seriousness of multiple murders, but also consider other circumstances, such as the degree of complicity. This shows a lack of trust not only in our judiciary, but also in our juries.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.


Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Richmond Hill. I am always proud to share my time in the House with the hon. member or to do important work with him outside the House, as well as on the international scene. I admire him for all the good work he does and the mentorship that he provides.

I feel very passionately about Bill C-48. It represents not only the adoption of the position from a Liberal private member's bill, but it also is a realization that the government has taken a lead on many tough on crime measures from this side of the House.

Over the past five years, my colleague from the riding of Mississauga East—Cooksville has championed a private member's bill to end automatic concurrent sentences for multiple murderers and rapists. I was proud to be a seconder to this important bill when it was brought forward in 2007. I thank the Minister of Justice for incorporating a great idea from the hon. member on this side of the House.

The intent was to allow judges the ability to impose consecutive sentences for heinous crimes, while at the same time eliminating the chance of the most dangerous offenders being eligible for parole. Volume discounts, which have always negated the importance of recognizing each crime in its own set of circumstances, represent one of the Canadian legal system's true travesties of justice.

Under current laws, there is no difference in sentencing between single acts of murder or sexual assault and criminals who commit additional acts of violence. However, those individuals who commit a series of murders should face appropriate punishment on each act independently rather than serving their penalties simultaneously.

For I and my constituents in Newton—North Delta, there is one tragic incident that has made this bill very distinct and important to us. In Surrey in the fall of 2007, plumber Ed Schellenberg was innocently doing his job repairing a fireplace in a 15th floor apartment when he was caught in an assassination of four gang members from a rival gang. Neighbour Chris Mohan was also shot when he happened upon the crime next door on his way out to play hockey.

Mr. Schellenberg and Mr. Mohan were innocent victims that had absolutely nothing to do with the unspeakable acts being committed by the gang members. One might say that they were at the wrong place at the wrong time and they paid the ultimate price. I, however, cannot accept this kind of trite explanation.

These men had every right to be where they were. These men were living their lives and minding their own business. The callous and cold-blooded acts of these murderers took their lives without a second thought. Now the men responsible have been caught and brought to justice, which brings a much needed sense of closure for the families of the victims and every resident of Surrey and Delta.

However, as the law stands now, the perpetrators of the Surrey Six slayings will receive no additional punishment for also murdering the innocent victims Ed Schellenburg and Chris Mohan. The law provides no deterrent to harming these witnesses because the killers knew they would serve no more time if they got caught.

For those plotting or even contemplating mass murder, these additional acts are very easy to rationalize given our current legislation, as a criminal does the same amount of time for one murder as he or she would do for ten.

The changes to this out of date legislation cannot come fast enough. In fact, this new bill is the culmination of 11 years of work. In 1999 a similar bill passed in the House of Commons by a vote of 117 to 40, but failed to make it through the Senate due to a general election being called.

Since my colleague fromMississauga East—Cooksville reintroduced her private member's bill in 2007, the government created many obstacles so it could ignore this wonderful idea. Whether it was proroguing the House to kill all pieces of legislation or simply ignoring an idea because it was proposed by a Liberal member, the government took no notice of the content and intent until recently.

I am very pleased, as I mentioned earlier, that the justice minister had a change of heart and adopted the Liberal bill as part of the government's agenda.

Each victim has his or her own story and it is about time that our justice system begins to recognize this fact. Criminals must understand that there is a penalty for individuals who they hurt, which will hopefully preserve the sanctity of human life before it is too late.

The bill would give back power to judges to use their discretion after considering the character of the offender, the nature and circumstances of the offence and the jury's recommendation. No judge should ever be handcuffed by a section of the Criminal Code that does not recognize the importance of punishing each heinous crime separately. Furthermore, judges should also be required to provide a verbal or written explanation for any decision not to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods on multiple offenders of murder or sexual assault.

Instead of the government's tunnel vision when it comes to its plan to spend $10 billion to $13 billion on building new prisons, the bill represents a tangible and effective step forward to preventing terrible crimes.

I also want to point out for my colleagues across the way that there are many members like myself who believe in a tough and smart on crime approach and that co-operation is always possible should they try to pursue it. However, I also believe in looking at a more holistic approach to being tough on crime, one that takes measures to prevent crime from ever happening, but also one that incorporates the input of all members of the House into the mix.

This is an important proposal to consider, and I encourage my colleagues from all parties to vote in favour of Bill C-48 so it can go to the committee where it can be studied in a very diligent way.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.


Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate, and I will support sending the bill to the committee.

I would like to acknowledge my friend's comments with regard to our colleague from Mississauga East—Cooksville, who repeatedly has brought forth private members' legislation in support of this type of approach, one which most members in the House could adopt.

We had another version of this, Bill C-54, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to the National Defence Act. It is back again. As members know, the House was prorogued and because of that, we did not deal with this issue. This tough on crime government supposedly let it languish and has only brought it back recently. There has been a lot of rhetoric about getting tough on crime, but the reality is when it has come to legislation, the government has not been very speedy in bringing it before the House.

Members may recall that Parliament repealed the death penalty in 1976 and imposed a mandatory life sentence for the offence of murder. Offenders convicted of first degree murder were to serve life, as a minimum sentence, with no eligibility before 25 years. For offenders convicted of second degree murder, a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment was also imposed, with a parole eligibility somewhere between 10 and 25 years when it could be reviewed. Those serving life sentences could only be released on parole by the National Parole Board.

We are all concerned about crime. One of the things we do not hear enough about from the government is the issue of dealing with the causes of crime. In the areas of murder in our country, the statistics have remained relatively stable since 1999. There was a spike in the seventies and early eighties, but it has remained relatively the same since then.

We need to deal with the kinds of programs that deal with alcohol abuse, drug abuse, housing issues, education, issues that really affect the development of crime. It is those social issues that ultimately are the ones that breed crime in Canada. When we do not deal with those, when we say that all the solutions to crime are to throw everybody in prison, it really does not address the causation.

There is an old commercial about changing our oil and filters, which says, “Pay me now or pay me later”. I would rather pay now and deal with the causes of crime rather than have to pay the escalating costs later on down the road. That also could apply to health care, again dealing with prevention first, such as a better diet, exercise, et cetera, rather than the extreme costs that occur later on, particularly in areas of health care.

We know the Criminal Code implicitly provides that all sentences shall be served concurrently, unless a sentencing judge directs or legislation requires that a sentence be served consecutively. For example, section 85(4) of 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 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. One example when a consecutive sentence may be imposed by a sentencing judge is where the offender is already under a sentence of imprisonment.

My colleague from Mississauga East—Cooksville had proposed amendments when we were in government, which I supported. Offenders who killed one person received 25 years. If they killed two or more people, they received 25 years but their sentences were served concurrently. That obviously sent out the wrong message.

We hear that the statistics in Canada are alarming. When I look at England, Ireland or New Zealand, our rates of incarceration, particularly dealing with first degree murder, are significantly higher.

The inability to impose consecutive life sentences does not mean that parole ineligibility periods cannot be effective. A single parole ineligibility period for multiple murders can be increased when someone serving a life sentence receives an additional definite sentence. In such a case the offender is not eligible for full parole until the day on which the additional sentence was imposed. A lot of life sentences are not for 25 years; on average they are 28 years, so it is not automatic.

A large majority of homicides, over 95%, involve a single victim, not multiple victims. Since 1999, the rate has remained relatively stable. An international comparison was done in 1999 which looked at Canada in terms of first degree murder sentences and the average time served in other countries including the United States. With the exception of the U.S., for offenders serving life sentences without parole the average time in Canada was about 28.4 years. The impression out there is that people get a good deal, but they actually serve longer.

It is important that we send the bill to committee so that experts can testify and members of Parliament can have an informed and intelligent review of this legislation. Again, the bill affects a very small number, but we know it is the image out there that affects people's impression of reality, but the reality is clearly different.

In places like England and Wales the ministry of justice has revealed that the mean time served by mandatory lifers, that is murderers, first released from prison in 2008 on life sentences was 16 years, There was no change from the previous year. In Ireland, in 2004, the minister of justice acknowledged that imprisonment averaged 17 years. According to the New Zealand parole board, the average in that country was seven years if sentenced prior to August 1, 1987, and after that date, it was about 10 years. In terms of incarcerating first degree murderers, we are much further along than many other states in the world, particularly Commonwealth states.

Cases such as the Clifford Olson case or Robert Pickton case are the ones which attract national attention. They are the ones on which millions of dollars are spent. People ask what happens to the victims. One of the concerns on this side of the House is we do not want people to have to relive these tragedies every few years. It is important there be incarceration for 25 years, but if there is more than one murder involved, I support, and always have supported, consecutive terms.

Does that mean we have thrown away rehabilitation? Rehabilitation is useful in some cases. I do not know that it would be applicable in the case of multiple murders. We listen to people like Sharon Rosenfeldt, the founder of Victims of Violence. Her comment is that although this bill affects a small number of perpetrators, it still will cause the greatest amount of fear, controversy and unrest in our judicial system and the Canadian public. It will send a message.

If nothing else, as long as we are sending a clear message, that is important. But we should never shy away from the fact that the government has a responsibility to deal with the hard issues of the day, such as the causation of crime. We should start by focusing on youth at a very young age. It starts in our communities and schools. That is where we need to focus. This is again a small minority. We are dealing with this now, but if the government were really serious about dealing with this issue, it would have brought forward this legislation much sooner and it would not have prorogued Parliament in the meantime.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.


Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on Bill C-48. This bill is very much in line with this Conservative government's philosophy and conception of what a justice system should be.

We will support Bill C-48 because it will give judges more flexibility and enable them to hand down tough sentences, if necessary. The bill is a little phoney however, and I will have the opportunity to discuss this later. Indeed, in practice this bill will have an impact on very few cases and, in fact, it essentially reflects the way things work now.

I will begin with an aside on this government's overall vision regarding justice. Virtually every member who has risen in this House has used the expression about being tough on crime. The expression has been used over and over again, and it is an argument the Conservatives haul out at election time, basically their only argument. Upon reflection, I find it somewhat ridiculous because it basically amounts to taking people for fools. Do they sincerely believe that the quality of a justice system can be gauged by the number of years people spend behind bars? Why then go to the trouble of passing balanced legislation and of asking judges to set sentences? Why not put first offenders behind bars for the rest of their lives? That would be the best system, and the toughest on crime. Obviously, anyone with their wits about them knows that this does not make any sense and that the aim of a justice system is not to put people behind bars for as long as possible.

Moreover, a look at the figures, the real world, and justice systems both here and abroad shows that it is not the justice systems that hand out the toughest sentences that get results. Quite to the contrary, the most successful justice systems are generally those that focus on rehabilitation and appropriate sentencing that corresponds to the seriousness of the offence. Such systems ensure that victims feel respected and feel that they have been heard by the justice system. They also ensure that the person committing the crime gets punished. Such systems are also grounded on the premise that it is possible for criminals to be rehabilitated and, when this is done successfully, reintegrated into society.

This is a constant everywhere. For example, we could not imagine a more severe punishment than the death penalty for homicide. Everyone agrees that a death sentence is about as tough on crime as it gets. And yet wherever the death penalty is in use, homicide rates are higher than in countries where it is not in use. This is also true for Canada, where the number of homicides has declined steadily since the death penalty was abolished. That is the clear evidence that this ideology simply does not work. That is not how it works.

We can also look at the average prison term for a murderer in some countries. In Canada, the average is 28.4 years. Criminals are sentenced to life imprisonment, but they are entitled to parole after a certain time. In Canada, on average, the person serves 28.4 years before returning to society. Sweden and England average 12 years and 14.4 years, respectively. By the Conservatives’ theory, those societies should have completely degenerated, with murders happening constantly. But no, that is not the case. In the case of Sweden, we are well aware that its homicide and crime rates are among the lowest in the world.

In this kind of debate, the government often appeals to what it calls “common sense”. It tries to bring out our basic instincts and get us to say that if someone commits a murder, there is only one way to stop them from committing more crimes, and that is to put them in prison and tell them they are going to stay there for as long as possible. This is a mindset imported directly from the United States. That is what happened with Bernard Madoff, who was sentenced to 200 or 300 years in prison. It is ridiculous to sentence a human being to 200 or 300 years in prison.

Certainly, when we talk about these things at home, on public transit or at the office with our co-workers, when we see something shocking, some heinous crime, we are tempted to say that he or she—because there are women murderers—should go to jail for life or be hanged. That is our basic instinct.

As a society, however, we have to go beyond that and ask ourselves what we can do to ensure our safety. All the criminologists and experts who study this issue agree that what genuinely deters criminals is not how harsh the potential sentence is, but the fear of getting caught. That is what has a deterrent effect on people. For example, if someone plans to murder his wife, he is not going to say to himself that if he kills her, he will go to prison for only 24.8 years, then decide not to kill her when he remembers that it has changed and the sentence has risen to 32.7 years. Obviously, people who plan murders think they will not get caught. It is as simple as that. Even threatening to torture them horrifically for two weeks or five years would change nothing, because people think they will not get caught.

If they really wanted to dissuade, they would invest money in prevention in order to avoid situations that lead to crime, rather than spending a fortune on new prisons and on locking people up longer than necessary. Money should also be invested in our police forces to ensure they have the means to prevent crimes, solve them, investigate them, and prove someone guilty in court. If that were done, potential criminals would think they would get caught. That is the message we should be sending out. That would be much more effective than trying to make offenders think that if they are caught, they will get longer sentences.

This model can be seen in the real world. Experts on drinking and driving, for example, all say the same thing: people drink and drive not so much because the punishments are too soft but because they think they will not get caught. There simply are not very many checkpoints on the streets.

Because of all that, we think the government is taking us in exactly the wrong direction for political marketing reasons.

Earlier today, the question of bill titles arose. The Conservative minister made fun of the fact that the opposition members were complaining about the ridiculous titles of the bills that the government introduces and he said it was frankly not a very important issue. If it is not important, then, why does the government insist on giving its bills stupid titles?

This happens not just in the justice area but everywhere. They talk about cracking down on crooked consultants or protecting Canadians against something or other when the bill does not even do that. They talk about ending early release for dangerous criminals when this does not exist. These titles are complete lies. So why does the government do it if it thinks it is unimportant?

The fact is the government does it for political marketing reasons. It does not really believe in the content of its bills itself. It simply inflicts these ridiculous titles on us. Today we have the Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act. That is a completely gratuitous statement devoid of any basis in reality. First, talk about protecting Canadians has no place in the bill. It is just an opinion. Some people, including the Conservatives, say they believe it will protect Canadians. The experts, though, tend to think it will not have any preventive or dissuasive effect. So the title is untrue. There are no sentence discounts for multiple murders. As the law now stands, the minimum sentence for first degree murder, for example, is life in prison. There is no discount. What the bill addresses is the cumulative nature of the parole system. The title has nothing to do with the actual bill

Once again, some members will say that the title itself is not really important. The title does not make the bill, but what that means—and this is what I want to say to the people who are watching today—is that the government is lying right to their faces. Obviously, the people at home are not going to get a copy of the bill and look at the changes it makes to the Criminal Code. They have obligations and work to do. They are very busy with families, children, jobs and homes. I understand that we cannot all study this country's laws. So what will the average person rely on to try to form an opinion? The average person will rely on what he is told the bill does. If he is told the bill protects people against murderers, he will say it is a good bill. Who is opposed to protecting people against murderers? The answer is obvious. But the public is being deceived and fooled by the government. I think that is insulting to the public.

I have the opportunity to talk with people in my riding, as we all do, and sometimes some of them tell me they do not agree with our positions. They have seen the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice on the news, saying that the Bloc Québécois voted in favour of pedophiles. He is very good at that. Someone who hears that calls my office and asks whether the Bloc Québécois voted in favour of pedophiles. Come on. As though any member of this House gets up in the morning and thinks about what he or she could do to help pedophiles. It is completely crazy to even suggest that to the public.

The bill the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice was referring to at the time had to do with the trafficking of minors. The word “trafficking” appeared nowhere in the bill, apart from the title. So the bill's title referred to the trafficking of minors, but the substance of the bill had nothing to do with that. We can see that the government wants to deceive and fool the public.

I tell people to beware of politicians who take them for idiots and think they are incapable of reasoning for themselves.

The substance of this bill gives a judge an opportunity to impose consecutive periods, as opposed to concurrent periods, of ineligibility to apply for parole. In other words, committing a double murder, first degree murder for example, would lead to imprisonment for life. Whether the sentence is served concurrently or consecutively, nothing changes. The person is imprisoned for life and, in terms of parole, there are already minimums and maximums set out in the law, based on the type of homicide. Presently, when the judge decides on the length of time, he only chooses one period. He will obviously consider all of the factors surrounding the homicide, but technically, he hands down only one sentence and does not add them together.

This bill will allow a judge to impose a minimum period of x years before parole for a given murder, and a minimum period of y years for another murder. These periods would be consecutive, meaning that the prisoner could not be released before x plus y years.

If the government wants to clarify a law in this way, even though this is already happening in practice, why not? We feel it is pointless and does nothing. We will support the bill. That shows that the Bloc Québécois agrees with making an effort to give judges more flexibility. We see the opposite as being problematic—trying to take flexibility away from judges in cases where they would add or subtract years of imprisonment based on the details of each particular case.

To properly understand this bill, I would like to provide one little statistic. We are talking about people who have committed murders, who are released and could reoffend. Between January 1975 and March 2006, of the 19,210 offenders who served a sentence for murder or manslaughter and were released on parole or statutory release in the community, 45 were later convicted of committing other murders in Canada. That represents 0.2% of convicted offenders. Clearly, that is too many murders. The 45 murders committed by those 45 individuals are unacceptable and should have been prevented. Everyone in this House can agree on that. By no means do I wish to trivialize or minimize any of those incidents. But over a period of 31 years, that number is less than 1%, specifically, 0.2%.

Speaking of the government's false impressions and political marketing, why did it introduce a bill to try to improve this recidivism rate of only 0.2%, or so it claims, when it is doing nothing to prevent the huge number of murders and homicides committed by first-time offenders?

Why is it tackling the most marginal and least frequent cases first, rather than getting to the heart of the problem? We saw the same philosophy recently with the refugees arriving as stowaways on ships, for instance, the Tamil refugee claimants who arrived in Victoria. The government introduced a bill that targeted less than 2% of potential illegitimate refugee claimants, but no one is talking about the other 98%. If we ignore it, it does not exist. It is absolutely appalling.

Meanwhile, the government puts on a show, does some hand-waving and pretends to care about people's safety, yet at the same time, it attacks the gun registry. It just does not make any sense. There is a very strong consensus among all police chiefs: a gun registry is needed in order to better prevent potential crimes and to help solve certain crimes. It is pure logic. We register our vehicles, as well as our dogs and cats in many municipalities. We even register our motorboats and I do not know what else. Yet the government wants to attack the gun registry.

That is absolutely ridiculous. Why tell people that we are going to make it easier to obtain firearms—the way it is in the United States—and that we will take away some of the tools the police use to prevent murder and locate criminals, but that criminals will serve longer sentences. There is something not right about that. It reveals the government's hypocrisy.

The other element of hypocrisy, which is very typical of this government, is the use of victims. I use the term use in its most negative sense. I would say that victims are used for political purposes. In fact, this government—and the Minister of Justice did it again this morning in the House—tells us that if we are against this bill it is because we support the criminals and not the victims. That is completely untrue. Victims need assistance in the form of financial compensation, greater access to employment insurance, and other, similar measures that the government refuses to provide.

I see that my time is up. I may have the opportunity to add details when answering questions.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I was pleased to listen to the member's presentation on the bill.

As the member knows, it has been over 40 years since the system has been substantially changed in Canada, and the Criminal Code itself is well over 100 years old.

Clearly, the answer is for the government to introduce a crime bill tying all these measures together, rather than bringing them out one step at a time. Actually, the government should go further. The government should form a committee composed of members of all parties and have hearings across the country to keep people more informed and get them participating in the process. That would be the most sensible approach, but the government has opted for a more piecemeal solution. I do not know whether this is even working in the government's favour. Putting all these measures together might give the government more profile. At least, approaching it inclusively would be more consistent and would give the public an opportunity to make presentations before a committee travelling the country.

I would like to ask the member what he thinks of that approach, vis-à-vis what the government has been doing for the last two or three years. We also have to reflect on what the government has done on the budget bill. It took an omnibus approach to legislation, threw in a bunch of measures it cannot get through the House, put it into a budget bill, and then forced the Liberals to support it to stay in office.

If the government would just use that idea on the criminal justice side of things, I think we would all be better served. I ask the member if he has any comments.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders



Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Madam Speaker, I think we have every reason to be critical of the piecemeal approach by which the government introduces many small bills to make changes here and there to the Criminal Code. This is more evidence of what I referred to in my speech about the government doing political marketing. There is no clear vision of what the Criminal Code should look like going forward in 2010. Nothing has been thought out. There are little bits of political marketing here and there. The government introduces bills, lets them die on the order paper because of bogus prorogations, reintroduces them and holds press conferences to announce the exact same bill that was already introduced, and so on. The government ensures that the House uses up as much time as possible looking at a whole bunch of bills. Every time, we have to debate for hours, send bills to committee, wait in line at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and then return to the House. It takes a lot of time and energy on our part to finally get the slightest hint of a result and a quality bill. It would be much more effective to examine a single comprehensive bill to update the Criminal Code, as was done a few years ago with the Civil Code of Quebec, for example.

The government's strategy is deplorable, but it is certainly in line with its overall approach. The government's goal is not to improve the safety of Quebeckers and Canadians. Will we be safer? Will there be fewer murders and less crime, violence and abuse? The government is not interested in that. All it wants to do is spend as much time as possible saying that it will bring in longer sentences and claiming that the bad guys in the opposition defend criminals instead of victims.

In closing, I would like to take this opportunity to say what I did not have time to say earlier. As far as helping victims is concerned, the Bloc Québécois has made some proposals here in the House. We are proposing, among other things, that victims of crime have access to extended employment insurance benefits in order to deal with the trauma and the crime they have experienced without having to worry about going back to work right away or losing their house or going bankrupt. This is a proposal to help victims. However, the Conservatives have never supported us. They say that to help victims, we have to put murderers in prison for 31.4 years instead of 28.2 years. How will it help victims whose lives are falling apart, who are losing their homes and their jobs and who have to declare bankruptcy, to know that the murderer will stay in prison 1.17 years longer after committing a murder?

At some parole hearings, victims testify in favour of releasing the prisoner. The government is being unbelievably hypocritical and is using victims to hide its unwillingness to help them. Instead of helping victims, the government is saying only that it will put people in prison for longer. That does not really help victims. The government's attitude is deplorable. I long for the day the government supports our proposals to help victims of crime financially and in other ways.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my hon. colleague on a well-reasoned, fact-based and progressive speech. He reflects what the majority of Canadians, and I am sure the majority of Québécois, feel is a more responsible and appropriate approach to dealing with the serious problem of crime.

I would be interested to hear him elaborate a bit more on some of the positive steps he and his party would propose to deal with crime, particularly murder, which is what we are dealing with in this bill. He has given a round criticism of the government's proposals and I agree with him on many of those. I wonder if he could give us one or two ideas on what he and his party think would be a better approach to helping our society deal with murder and other crimes.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois has already done so in the past and it continues to support suggestions for improvement. We believe that there are definitely times when the law may be too permissive. We have given the example of parole after serving one-sixth of the sentence for white-collar crimes. We feel that it is abusive and distorts the meaning of the judge's decision, and we want it eliminated. We introduced a bill in the House. We asked for unanimous consent so that it would be passed quickly since all of the parties said that they supported it. The Conservatives, in their usual hypocrisy, refused to give that consent. That shows that they do not really care about getting results; they only care about political marketing. They convinced themselves that they could not support a Bloc Québécois bill that proved that this party, like all the parliamentarians here, is concerned with the safety of Quebeckers and Canadians. Of course not.

We have also made significant proposals in the past. Do not forget that it was the Bloc Québécois that brought the idea of an anti-gang law to the House, which Canada then passed. Our former colleague, Richard Marceau, was a major proponent of this. We continue to make proposals, for example, to prohibit wearing symbols of criminal organizations that have been recognized as such by a judge. We know it is a form of intimidation, and we want it to stop.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf the New Democratic caucus today to Bill C-48, a bill that would provide the judges of our country with the discretion to impose consecutive life sentences in cases of convicted multiple murderers, which would be a change from the current state of law that imposes mandatory life sentences but which are served concurrently.

Questions of crime and punishment are profound. They raise some of the deepest emotions that we as human beings are capable of feeling. They invoke and often deal with feelings of great pain and hurt. Of course, whenever there is a crime committed, we have a victim or multiple victims to consider and their families.

What is indisputable is that behind every crime there is tragedy, a tragedy for the victim and the victim's family and friends, a tragedy for the community, a tragedy for our society and, indeed, a tragedy for the perpetrator, as well as his or her family and relatives.

Any time a crime is committed, we as a society and as parliamentarians must deal with the fact that there are broken lives, damaged lives and, in some cases, permanent harm needs to be dealt with. There is no more profound expression of these concepts than when we are examining the crime of murder.

It has been said that one of the most fundamental functions of government is to ensure the safety and security of our citizens. I agree. A well-functioning and well-organized society is no more than a social compact between citizens where we agree that we will come together and relinquish certain rights and freedoms that we would have in the state of nature and we agree to limit those in exchange for guarantees for our security and our safety.

Going back to philosophers, such as Thomas Hobbes who described life in the state of nature as nasty, brutish and short, we have all agreed that we are all better off when we come together and agree on certain fundamental rules where we can have our personal safety guaranteed, the safety of our families and the safety of our property protected and preserved.

Foremost as citizens, I think fundamentally as citizens, we expect that the integrity of our physical beings is guaranteed above and beyond anything else. That is because we agree that in order to function as a society we need to agree to abide by rules.

Although we have a rights-based society, we all agree that our rights are extended only insofar as they do not offend the rights of others. In order to have a well-functioning society and to have a developing society where we all have our rights to pursue life, liberty and happiness, we must, above all, have our physical and property rights respected.

Those who commit murder commit the most profound violation of these rights. Therefore, the issue becomes that when a murder is committed, and in this case, as we will examine, when multiple murders are committed, what is the proper sentence to impose on someone who has violated such a fundamental and profound precept? More important and of relevance to this bill, what is the proper approach we should take to those who have committed multiple murders?

It is important that we remember that we are talking about murder. First degree murder is the planned and deliberate taking of a life, while second degree murder is a murder that is committed in circumstances that any reasonable person would know would likely lead to death. There are other concepts involved in both of those crimes but that expresses the elements of those serious crimes.

We are not talking about manslaughter where a death has been caused but perhaps without the intent necessarily formed by the person carrying out the act. We are talking about murder and multiple murders. We are talking about someone who has either deliberately or very recklessly, with some form of intention, taken the life of more than one person.

This bill would give a judge the discretion to impose consecutive life sentences for each murder. The life sentence for each murder would be served consecutively, as opposed to be being served concurrently, at the same time. The practical effect of this bill would be that it would empower the judges of our country in an appropriate case, where a judge so sentences, that a person convicted of multiple murders would effectively never get out of prison.

There are some powerful arguments in favour of this bill. First, there is currently no difference in the practical effects of sentencing between someone who murders one person and someone who murders two, five or even 10 people. To most right-thinking people, that is a question that requires some serious answers. In many people's minds, it would be considered unjust.

Second, the argument is that it gives judicial discretion, which is a major reason that I am in support of the bill. I am not necessarily in support of a blanket application of this rule, but I am in favour of judicial discretion.

Judicial discretion is something that is strongly defended and supported by the New Democratic Party. Justice demands respect for our judiciary. It demands an independent judiciary. It demands a non-political judiciary. Justice demands that the person deciding a case does so after hearing all of the facts, after listening to each witness, watching them testify and observing their demeanour. Justice demands someone who is learned and skilled in the law, someone who is bound by rules of fairness and justice to make a decision.

I have great faith in the judges of our land. I have great faith in their integrity, skill and commitment to justice. I am not so sure that it is a faith that is shared by members of the government opposite at all times, who I think are more skeptical and cynical of the judges of our country. I, for one, have great faith in their skills and fairness.

I also have great faith in our appellate system, because when errors occur, and they do occur, our appellate courts are poised and our system is well developed to rectify those errors.

Third in terms of favouring this bill is that multiple murderers presently can apply for parole because they have life sentences that are served concurrently. That means that a multiple murderer can apply for parole even though, as I will talk about, it is almost impossible for them to get it. It puts victims' families through unnecessary pain and anxiety.

When we are dealing with multiple murders, I believe we are dealing with a particular type of criminal who is distinct from most, maybe even from other murderers. Someone who has broken the social compact to such a degree that they have taken the lives of two or more citizens is someone who I think we have to seriously look at locking up for the rest of their natural life.

Presently, as I have said, although a multiple murderer may be able to apply for parole, the truth is they will not get it. There is not one case that I can think of and not one case that has been cited by the government of a multiple murderer being paroled or ever getting out of prison under the current situation. So that leads me to the question of politics.

I think the Conservatives are playing politics with this issue. They have taken a cheap idea that has no practical effect or consequence and they have run with it to try to make themselves look tough.

Here is a case where the government has taken legislative time to propose a change to a law that has no problem to solve. There is no case of a multiple murderer who is getting out of jail on parole. So although philosophically I think this idea has merit and we support it, in terms of its practical consequence we should make no mistake that this bill is all about politics and not about fixing any real problem in our system.

I want to move to the short title of the bill as an example of these politics. The short title named by the government is “Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders”. That is as motivated by politics and partisanship as it is factually wrong. There are no sentence discounts for multiple murders. There is no such thing.

When persons are convicted of multiple murders, they get life sentences for each of those murders, and that life sentence is a life sentence. When a judge imposes multiple life sentences, there is no discount. That is just a cheap and wrong title for the bill, but it is typical of what the government has done by injecting hyper partisanship into the legislation of our country, which I spoke about yesterday and which I think is regrettable and wrong.

I want to talk about what Canadians do want. If we really want to make a dent in crime in our country, Canadians want to see more community policing. They want to see more police on our streets and in our neighbourhoods.

Last week I was in Chinatown in Vancouver. I was meeting with Tony Lam and members of the Vancouver Chinese Merchants Association and members of the community policing office. They told me that they have had to hire private security guards in Chinatown to deal with the vandalism and theft that they experience every day because there are not enough police and there are not enough quick response times to the break-ins. They are demoralized. In fact, they told me that the future of Chinatown in Vancouver is threatened because of the crime that is going on in the downtown east side.

If the government was serious about really trying to take tangible steps to help people in this country, it would start pouring money into community policing, as the New Democrats called for in the last election. We called for the hiring of 2,500 more police officers in this country and that has not happened.

It would pour money into crime prevention, which the government has cut. There was $60 million budgeted for crime prevention in the public safety portfolio last year, and the government spent $44 million. It left unspent one third of the small amount of money on the table for prevention.

Those are the things on which Canadians want to spend: more on crime prevention, more on community policing. That would make a difference in Canadians' lives. That would help make our citizens safe in our communities. That would actually help to lower the crime rate. That would actually put more criminals in prison, instead of putting forth an ideological and philosophical bill that, while I guess we agree with it, will do absolutely nothing to make any Canadian safer.

I want to conclude by talking about some of the root causes of crime, because it is about time we focused on this in the House. Poverty and drug addiction are a fact. Eighty per cent of people in our federal prisons suffer from drug addiction.

I was in the Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon this summer. I asked the staff there what percentage of people who are in prison do they think are in prison because of their addiction. They said 70%. It was not a bleeding heart saying this. It was not a New Democrat saying this. It was not a criminal saying this. These are the correctional officers who work in our federal correction system.

We need to start putting money into alcohol and drug treatment, not out of compassion only but out of cold, hard logic. If we want those people not to reoffend, we need to get at the root causes of why they are offending, if we can. I realize that is not possible for many, but it is possible for some.

To the extent that we can do that, we have to do everything possible as a society and as a Parliament to attack those root causes, because what every Canadian wants is the same thing. We want those offenders, when they come out of jail, and 96% of them do come out of jail, not to reoffend. That is what keeps us safe.

In fact, the victims ombudsman who was let go by the government, or I suppose the proper term is “not reappointed” by the government, Steve Sullivan, said that victims do not want criminals to be in jail longer; what they want is those criminals, when they come out, not to reoffend.

Those are two profoundly different things. Keeping someone in jail for four years instead of three and a half, or seven years instead of six, or 10 years instead of eight will not do anything if we are not attacking the reasons they are in prison in the first place.

I am curious as to how the government will react to what I am saying. I am sure it will attack in some manner, but I will stand by what I said because it is a matter of rational, fact-based logic. We have to attack the roots and that is what the bill does not do.

This bill deals with the consequences of murder. It does nothing to address what might be some of the causes.

In fairness to the government and everyone, we cannot stop murders in this society. We cannot get into the mind of what a Russell Williams is thinking or a Paul Bernardo. Those people have committed the most violent, aggressive, unacceptable breach that is known in society and they should be put away for the rest of their lives. They have lost the right to walk amongst free people in society. Perhaps there is nothing that can be done for people like that. However, people like that represent a small portion of society.

This bill deals with multiple murders and that represents probably the tiniest percentage of people in our federal prisons. I agree that those people should never get out, and in appropriate circumstances, I agree that judges should be able to give consecutive sentences to show society's opprobrium at their crimes.

A Clifford Olson or a Paul Bernardo ought to serve consecutive sentences. They should never be able to put forth a parole application and put the victims, families and communities through the suffering, anxiety and pain that they would have to go through. We know that those people do not deserve to come back into society.

I hope all parliamentarians join together not only in support of this bill, but in support of a broader, more intelligent, fact-based and comprehensive approach to crime in this country so that we can accomplish what we all want in this House, which is safer communities.

I will conclude by saying that the government constantly attacks this side of the House for not caring about crime or not caring about victims, and I wish it would stop doing that. Ad hominem arguments are the lowest form of argument. It is name calling. We usually learn in about grade two that it does not work.

In this House, let us have respect for each other. Let us respect that we all care about crime and victims. We may have different approaches to the best way to deal with those issues, but let us start learning from each other, listening to each other and broadening the debate so that prevention, root causes and rehabilitation can join with a punitive aspect. There is room for a punitive aspect in our penal system. That is part of what it is supposed to do, but it is not everything.

We should involve lawyers, social workers, criminologists, victim groups, police officers and prosecutors. They should be part of a national debate to take a comprehensive view of crime.

Let us stop the politicization of this issue and start dealing with this as a mature society looking at a complex problem. We need to have good policy on crime in this country. We do not need cheap politics in our policy, we need sound facts.

I am prepared, on this side of the House, to work with the government and take its good ideas when they come, and some do. I think this is an idea that is good. However, let us make no mistake: this idea is not going to actually make our communities safer at all. There is room for philosophical improvements in our law, and I think this is one of them.

Let us join together and try to move to that next level as a country and as a society and deal with crime in a manner that I think our citizens want us to do.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for his speech regarding Bill C-48. Last year, it was called Bill C-54.

For the last five years this government has been introducing and reintroducing the same group of crime bills, over and over again. It really has not been held accountable for this by the press. I was reading some press articles on some of these bills. The fact of the matter is that the reporters get the press releases from the government, simply regurgitate the press releases and announce a new initiative.

Somehow when the government prorogues the House or calls a needless election, such as in 2008, this same press does not do its research, pull up previous files and report that the government has already introduced such a bill. The press proceeds to report the legislation as some new initiative. I have been reading several of these articles and that is the impression I get.

Clearly, part of the responsibility lies with the press for not holding this government accountable for what it has been doing: torching its own crime agenda.

The government pretends that it is so important to the public, even with a bill such as this, and this is not the only crime bill. We have unanimous agreement on the part of all the parties in Parliament to pass this legislation, yet the government simply prorogues the House and we have to start all over again. That is not showing proper commitment and respect to the public in Canada or to the legislation being introduced.

I would like to ask the member to expand on those comments.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would prefer to start from the proposition that every member in the House is of good faith. I would like to move us to a debate where we can cease accusing each other of having improper motives and move toward actually debating criminal policy.

I would like to grant government members credit for their interest in the crime issue, and I am not sure that their reintroduction of bills is malevolent in any way. The effect of prorogation is that bills died, and we can question whether the prorogation attempts were valid, credible, or justified. But I would not go so far as to say that the government members purposefully damaged their crime agenda. I do not think that is the case, and I do not think it is fair to the government.

However, there is a real danger, which I have seen in the House, of using fear and crime as a political weapon. It is fair to say that my hon. colleagues on the other side have recognized that using crime and crime policy as a political wedge issue is effective politics in some cases. It can sometimes be bad policy and bad for our society. It can be divisive and make poor criminal policy. But I give the government respect: I believe that members of the government are interested in community safety. We may differ on the ways of achieving safety, but I respect their desire to make Canada safer.

I implore all members of the House, particularly the government, to cease using fear as a political weapon. Crime rates are going down across the board, and we need to approach policy from that point of view.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Oxford Ontario


Dave MacKenzie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague discuss the bill, and I think I heard him say he is going to support it. That is a good thing. I also heard him talk about the lack of policing on the streets of Vancouver. There are two parts to my question.

Number one, I would hope that he would explain to the House that policing responsibility rests in the province. Second, it may be before the hon. member came here, but there were additional moneys put in a budget to provide for additional police officers in provinces and municipalities across the country. I wonder if he could explain why his party voted against that additional money to help put police officers on the street.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was not present in the House when that vote was taken, but there were serious problems with the way the government made moneys available to the provinces. Number one, Conservatives did not earmark that money to the creation of police. For this reason, we had cases where moneys were given to provinces, and the provinces took the money and put it into general revenue. It did not actually result in boots on the ground.

Also, the previous public safety minister made commitments to ongoing federal funding. But these commitments were reneged on by the government, and the funding that was given to the provinces was for only a three-to-five-year period. I have talked to police officers and chiefs of police who said they will not create positions if they do not have a guarantee of permanent funding. Without a guarantee, they might get those officers trained and on the street, only to have those officer positions dry up.

The NDP is in favour of creating stable, consistent, additional funding to put police boots on the ground, and that is something we will continue to push the government to do.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, an issue that was brought up by a colleague of mine goes to what, on the surface of it, is the veneer of all this crime legislation that we are seemingly adopting. It almost leads into the fact that there is some kind of grand vision, but there really is not.

The minister earlier spoke about his frustration with the debate on the title of the bill itself, and in essence that is exactly what is happening. It seems as if all these grand measures have trickled down to smaller measures. My colleague asked why we did not just do one bill and make the changes en masse to the Criminal Code. Perhaps the member would like to comment on that.

The prorogation occurred. There has also been delay after delay. But there does not seem to be one exact vision of what crime control is to become under the government, which has been holding itself out as the champion of crime control for quite some time. Would he comment on the fact that there does not seem to be that vision?

Every time we get some of this legislation, it goes madly off in several directions. For example, the next bill that we will debate will be about people who are incarcerated for longer periods of time receiving money. If that were such an issue, why was it not handled in 2006 when the government was first elected? Now, all of a sudden in 2010, it becomes part of a news item, and it therefore becomes public policy. Perhaps the member could comment on that.

Could he also comment on some of the crime prevention programs that he feels are being ignored?