Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise and speak to Bill C-16, which, but for prorogation, might be Bill C-42 and, but for incessant elections, might be Bill C-70. In any event, this is a proposed law that speaks to a tool the judiciary has in its toolbox called conditional sentencing.
I am struck by the previous speaker and the tone in the House generally when it comes to characterizing bills by names that presumably everyone can understand what they mean. The Conservative government attempts to cut, with a very large swath, colour with a large brush, a whole area of law with a very simply phrase.
For people tuning in to the debate about Bill C-16, they would, because of the way the government labels bills, think this is a debate about ending house arrest for property and other serious crimes by serious and violent offenders. That would be the title of the book or the movie that people would be watching if they were tuning in to this debate.
When we actually peel away the layers of the onion, we realize that we are talking about an enactment of Parliament that was substantially amended in 1995, with some minor amendments in the last Parliament, which is imposing conditional sentence. It does not say imposing house arrest with a big screen TV and extreme television. That is not to be found in the code.
The Criminal Code is a large volume that regulates the laws punishing criminals for proven facts that lead to a sentence or conviction. The Criminal Code does that. It is divided up into many sections, sections involving offences against the state, invasions of privacy, offences against the person, offences against property. Administrative aspects are in there as well. There are some 800 sections in the code and one of those sections deals with imposing a conditional sentence.
Let us be clear. If someone who commits a crime is sentenced to two years less a day, that individual is eligible, in some cases, for conditional sentence. Anybody who is found guilty of an offence that gets a sentence of more than two years is not, will not be, has never been, eligible for conditional sentencing.
Maybe some the people listening today are parents. They realize that if they take away their teenage daughter's cellphone, that is pretty serious punishment. If they banish her to her room for a week, that is really serious punishment. However, if they tell her she has to eat her vegetables, that is not that serious in the realm of possibilities of sentencing.
Conditional sentencing is available to judges. It provides them with the opportunity to say that there is some possible merit in the person. The individual has done a bad thing, but maybe he or she could be rehabilitated, maybe we could get to the root cause of why he or she is acting this way.
This opens up the larger debate of what are we doing as a Parliament about crime prevention.
We have been doing very little lately because we are spending our time watching our own big screen TVs and the Minister of Justice saying that this bill would end house arrest for property and other serious offences, when in fact it is trying to curb a tool being used by judges and prosecutors every day.
Let us be clear again. A defence attorney defends a person accused of something. That is not within the realm of this debate here. We are making law that would be used by police officers and prosecutors. Police charge a person with an offence. Prosecutors will look at a whole range of proof possibilities. They will also look at the range of possible sentencing. The prosecutors, the police and eventually the judge will look at the sentence in a holistic fashion and say that there are a number of options available, such as the individual is just a bad person and he or she should be locked away. Unfortunately the Conservative government thinks everybody falls into that category, and there are a number who do.
However, there are also people who, because of addictions to substances or horrendous nurturing child development socio-economic background problems, are driven to crime. A number of people, because of mental illness, which still has not been addressed in our communities, may turn to a life of crime and perhaps, in the first few incidences, are committing crimes that a judge, a prosecutor or a police force official would say that the person could benefit from a conditional sentence. Conditional sentences are often recommended by prosecutors.
This painting of the picture by the Conservatives that all policemen and all prosecutors want the most harsh sentence and want to put the person away is not always the case.
This is why we have debate in the House and why we have committees where we will hear from the people actually doing the work, the prosecutors, the policemen and, hopefully, the judges. They will tell us that this is a tool that exists among all the other tools which include incarceration. If someone commits an offence they can be charged with an offence and incarcerated. If it is a really serious offence, the offender will get a really long jail sentence.
My friend from Edmonton—St. Albert does not want to talk about cases but let us cut it up as to the type of offences that might occur and the sentences that would be incurred.
If someone commits a really serious sexual assault involving bodily harm and it is his fourth offence, he will not get six months or a year. He will get a serious sentence, not a conditional sentence. It is an academic argument. It is a wrong argument to say that we are giving house arrest to the big screen TV watching criminals for the very serious offences on multiple occasions. The evidence will be before us in committee. Contrary to what my friend from Edmonton--St. Albert said, the committee and this Parliament have not heard any evidence about conditional sentencing. We will hear that if the bill goes to committee.
I would remind members of the House that we get the big wheel of the justice committee going and then all of a sudden there is a prorogation and we start all over again. Heavy is the head that wears the crown over there, in that the government keeps stopping Parliament and bringing in legislation and we have to hear evidence all over again.
However, we are looking forward to hearing from the participants in the justice system as to whether the tool is being used and whether it works.
As I was saying, the other tools that a judge, prosecutor and police officials have at their disposal is to work together toward incarcerating criminals. Let us review that one. In many circumstances the best deterrent for future criminal activity is having someone not out and available to do that crime. There is no question about that. The best prospect for public security and public safety with respect to certain individuals is keeping them incarcerated. A little side note is that when they are in our corrections facilities they often commit crimes as well because it is not as controlled as Canadians would like to think. Criminal activities do take place inside our corrections facilities. Therefore, when we remove someone it is not as if we are getting rid of their criminal activity. That is number one.
Number two is that without any rehabilitative programs and without any care for making the person better, the period of incarceration has, in many cases, especially for a first or second offender who might merit a conditional sentence, the opposite effect. The offender does not learn necessarily good things in prison and he or she comes out a worse offender or a worse potential offender.
There is another fallacy in the Conservatives' hide and seek justice philosophy. They think they can convince the Canadian public that by putting people away and removing them from society they will never come back into society, and, in some cases that is true. I do not have the facts in front of me about that but our list of dangerous or long term offenders who will be incarcerated forever, multiple murderers, is in the percentage of 1%, 2% or 3% of our incarcerees now. I think it is that low.
I will be conservative for a moment and say that the vast majority, 80% perhaps, of offenders will get out of prison. When they get out even the Conservative would need to come up with a reason to put them back in. Therefore, they do need to reoffend and thus the victimization reoccurs.
What is in everyone's interest is to know that incarceration happens, which is the first element in the toolkit. Second, if there is a sentence that merits a period of leave or freedom, it can be accomplished with a guilty plea, a sentence and a probation order. In some cases, a probation order would be very acceptable. However, as we heard time and again, probation orders are not as fluid. They are not a useful tool to judges because they do not allow as many conditions attended to the probation order as a conditional sentence. I do not hear the government saying that we should end all probation orders. It must think the probation order works even though it has fewer conditions than a conditional sentence regime.
The conditional sentence is the third element in the toolbox that I would like to discuss. It is found in section 742.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada which, as I have said before, is the best thing a Conservative justice minister ever did by creating the Criminal Code or putting it together. That is some 100 years ago and we are looking for some improvement and some new things from a Conservative justice minister, but near the end of the code it has a tool for judges to say that if a person is convicted of a offence and it is less than two years and, this is a key thing, the judge is satisfied that serving the sentence in the community would not endanger the safety of the community and would be consistent with the fundamental purpose and principles of sentencing set out in section 718, the conditional sentence may work and may be used by a judge.
Section 718, which I have referred to a number of times, is probably the most important part of the Criminal Code because it sets out our principles of sentencing and they do not weight one more than the other. It says that if a person has done a crime we should seek to denounce that crime. There also should be an element of deterrence so that it does not happen again. Deterrence is general to the general public. If a person does something, the conviction of that and the sentence attended to it should deter people generally from doing that and it certainly should deter the person specifically.
There are also elements of rehabilitation. Is the person who committed the crime and has been convicted eligible to be rehabilitated? The goal of most of the criminal justice legislation that comes from this place must be to make society safer. Making society safer would occur if there were less crime. There would be less crime if there were a serious crime prevention agenda, a serious attended budget for crime prevention and less bickering between the federal government and the provinces with respect to how to spend resources on crime prevention.
For a moment I will digress and say that there is a bickering by distance. The provinces may get social transfers but they always say that they do not have enough resources to fund probation officers and police officers who intervene in the community. The provinces are doing very little with federal money to get involved in crime prevention. We must remember that everything with the government is storefront. It is not what is behind the storefront, but in the storefront the Conservatives put the Ombudsman of Victims of Crime, Mr. Steve Sullivan. He did an admirable job. He spoke up for victims. However, like Kevin Page, AECL and everyone who gives the government a few problems, speaks up and speaks the truth to power, the Conservatives are not renewing the contract to Mr. Sullivan. How serious are they about victims rights really and how serious are they about a crime prevention agenda?
The provinces would like to do more in this regard.
I do not know if our intergovernmental affairs critic is here but in the old days there were a number of first ministers meetings, attorneys general, justice ministers and even the prime minister might be involved occasionally in the past, but there has been very little dialogue with respect to crime prevention and to changes to the Criminal Code from the current government members.
The Conservatives are not as much interested in finding the root causes of crime and treating them, or in finding out what programs are effective and funding them, or in talking to the provinces on how to better implement their programs on a national scale, province by province and territory by territory, as they are in the 5 p.m., 6 p.m. in the Atlantic provinces and 6:30 p.m. in Newfoundland, national news stories that say, “We have done this today. Look at us. We are going to make the language simple.”
I find nothing wrong with simple language but in this case it is misleading to say that this is about house arrest. This is about the section of the code that gives the judge options. If a judge chooses to employ the conditional sentence for a crime that is less than two years, he or she may, in most cases has to, implement certain conditions, and they are here, that every person convicted of a crime that befits a conditional sentence shall keep the peace and be of good behaviour, shall appear before the court when required to do so, shall report to a supervisor within two working days after making the order, thereafter, when required and at the behest of the supervisor, shall remain within the jurisdiction of the court unless has permission to do otherwise, shall notify the court or the supervisor in advance of any change of name or address and promptly notify the court.
If any of those conditions are broken, and if provinces are adequately funded for officers to enforce these orders, which is a big problem for the provinces, the government throws out legislation, puts it on the books and subsequently has a turf war with the provinces and territories as to how the laws will be implemented and who pays for it. There is a systemic downloading of services to provinces in this regard. However, those are the standard conditions and if they are broken the person goes back.
I think we will hear from witnesses, if this goes to committee, why it is a valuable tool that need not be restricted any more than it is and needs to be a tool of the judicial discretion that exists. We must remember that from the moment the government took office it has attacked judges because it did not like anyone who was not in their caucus, which is getting smaller month by month. In other words, the government would like to have judges like those in the United States who run on political campaigns, on a set of political promises and toe a political party line.
The government has had very little respect for judges since it came to power and now it wants to take away further discretion. It is okay to have that belief, but when it stands and says that it believes in judicial discretion, its actions with respect to legislation does not show that.
Let us talk about a good judge, a good prosecution and good police officer bringing an individual to court who may be saved. These additional conditions are available to a judge for people who have been found guilty of an offence for which a conditional sentence order might apply. They could be ordered to abstain from the consumption of alcohol or other intoxicating substances. There is no such order in our corrections facilities. It is a given that they cannot in corrections facilities but the reality is that it happens.
As I said earlier, and I think we would all agree, many people who commit crimes and are in our prisons have substance abuse issues. It is the root cause of much crime in this country. We should be doing something to allow judges to force people convicted of offences to refrain from consuming alcohol or intoxicating substances.
Another condition could be abstaining from owning, possessing or carrying a weapon. Other conditions are to provide for the support and care of dependents, if the person has them; perform up to 240 hours of community services over a period not exceeding 18 months; attend a treatment program approved by a province; and comply with, and this is the catch-all, such other reasonable conditions as the court considers desirable.
Let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let us keep conditional sentences subject to what the evidence tells us about their efficacy. Let us not completely denigrate the system, which is the whole pith and substance of what the hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert, in leading the government in this discussion, said. He said that because conditional sentences are used, so people can watch their big screen TVs, the whole system of justice is brought into disrepute.
What brings the system of justice into disrepute is the agent of the government, the representative of the government who stands here and says that something that is being used every day by good judges, good prosecutors and good policemen is not working. That is what brings it into disrepute.