Mr. Speaker, I am a lawyer. I passed the bar in 1966 and, as luck would have it, my first job was with the provincial government. I was then approached by the federal government, which, at that point, prosecuted almost all lawsuits involving drug-related offences. I was then approached by a large firm that dealt with criminal law. When that firm broke up, I was ready to open my own office. I opened my office and hired lawyers. I was very involved in the bar association. I became vice-president and then president of the Quebec bar. After a short break from my career as a criminal lawyer, I went back to criminal law.
I also taught and was often consulted by the Law Reform Commission, as were many other criminal lawyers. I then went into politics and became the minister of public safety. I had to face the most dangerous criminal gang in the country, the Hells Angels. I appointed the chief of the Sûreté du Québec. I was friends with the Montreal chief of police. We came up with a new method for the police to deal with organized crime. That led to creation of the Carcajou squad. The idea was that police would integrate their data bases containing information about criminals. On the ground, the investigators always worked in pairs—one from Sûreté du Québec, the other from Montreal police. The method worked well enough and the RCMP joined us. We were the first country to break the Hells Angels and arrest the ringleaders of this organization through Opération printemps 2001.
I do not think that anyone can doubt my desire to decrease the number of victims and to find effective ways of fighting crime. I believe that we have already found one. This mixed squad model has spread across Canada and even into the United States. We were the first to use it, in 1997.
To begin with, I must say that of course I am against sentences of house arrest for criminals who commit very serious violent crimes. Would anyone claim to be in favour of such a thing? We can say this so adamantly on our side of the House because we are confident that everyone is against this, as are judges who also probably do not want criminals who commit serious violent crimes to be allowed to return to the comfort of their homes. Thus, judges do not give such sentences to serious, violent criminals. Also, I am entirely convinced, and I think it is obvious, that the best way to protect victims is by reducing crime. In this effort to reduce crime, we need more than just legislation; enforcement techniques must also be considered. And then there is police work, which can sometimes focus as much on prevention as on catching criminals.
I have over 40 years of experience and I was also Quebec's minister of justice. I would point out, however, that the greatest success of the Carcajou squad—an operation that took place over three years and that also led to the loss of some informants who were killed during the operations—was Opération Printemps 2001 during which 322 individuals were arrested. They were all convicted of something and there were never any complaints about how the police had obtained the evidence used in the trials.
Nor do I know anyone who criticized the sentences that were handed down to this group, which included not only the worst offenders and the leaders, but also minor accomplices.
I had not planned on making a career of criminal law, but that experience led me to do some reading and ask some basic questions about why people commit crime. In university, we criticized one another for not being intellectually honest, but it is even worse when dealing with fraud artists and thieves.
I came to believe quite strongly that, although intervention is necessary, sentence length and severity have relatively little effect. Severe sentences are costly, not only in terms of money spent, but also for the individuals destroyed by long periods of incarceration. What is more, some people who should not have been incarcerated for short periods of time are immersed in a criminal environment for months at a time.
Evidence suggests that the most effective approach is rapid intervention and sentencing. Sentence length is relatively unimportant. I quickly became convinced that there is no such thing as a deterrent sentence. Fear of getting caught is what deters people from committing crimes. God knows that I made enough money by helping people avoid a criminal record even when they were not facing the possibility of jail time to know that most people think getting caught and ending up with a record is bad enough.
The best evidence I have seen to suggest that sentence length is not a deterrent is the seven-year minimum sentence for importing marijuana. To be honest, in 1966, I had never even heard of marijuana. That is when it all started. Cannabis can be turned into marijuana and hashish, but the kind of hemp or cannabis grown here was not hallucinogenic at all. Everything was imported. Imports began to soar at that time, despite the threat of seven years in jail. That is the best evidence that sentencing is not an effective deterrent.
All the same, deterrence can work in some circumstances, such as when people know the consequences of an offence and know that they will be subject to those consequences. Here is an example of that.
When I started practising law, judges could choose between a jail sentence and a fine. However, in the 1960s, a new concept from England was added to the Criminal Code: conditional sentences. The judge would tell the offender that he was suspending the sentence subject to certain conditions. In short, rather than imposing a sentence that day, he would suspend it and, if the person abided by the conditions, he would not have the right to impose it. However, if the offender did not abide by the conditions—the judge could set a number of conditions, such as house arrest—he would be brought before the judge and a sentence imposed at that time.
House arrest, by the way, is a common practice in Europe. In all European countries, including England I believe, it is possible to serve a sentence at home. When implemented in Canada, I thought that this might perhaps replace suspended sentences which, in practice, are difficult to administer—so difficult that offenders were not brought back before the judge for sentencing.
The advantage of conditional sentencing is that the judge states that the sentence is 18 months' imprisonment and that it will be served in the community with certain conditions. The conditions can be very harsh. If the offender does not abide by the conditions, the sentence has already been determined and the individual will have to serve the rest of the sentence. If the breach occurs in the second month, he will have to serve 16 months. If the breach occurs in the sixteenth month, he will not have a great deal of time left to serve. However, the deterrent effect is more immediate and, most of the time, the offender quickly understands.
Conditional sentencing also had many other advantages. For example, it made it possible for individuals to keep their jobs and to support their families. It also allowed them, when possible, to make restitution for damages caused by the crime. Because young adults are often the majority of accused people, it allowed them to continue their education or to attend a program to learn a trade and get a job. Moreover, it was less expensive. I believe we have mentioned often enough that it costs $101,000 per year to keep an offender in a federal prison.
It is not televisions or things like that that cost so much. Over 98% of that amount is spent on security. Spending on security is not as high in the provinces, but it is still significant.
The individual is already feeling the immediate consequences of crime. When we send someone to prison, do we realize what kind of environment that is? That person is surrounded by criminals. Too often, the criminals run the prisons and the prisoner organizations inside. For someone who is impressionable, this is not the best environment. Plus, we are causing this person to lose his job, since he cannot report to work, or we are interrupting his schooling, something that could make him a better citizen, a useful citizen. It also trivializes offences. This person is surrounded by plenty of people who did much worse.
The Conservatives always tell us that serious and violent criminals must not be in the comfort of their homes. I do not think that judges give light sentences. This bill is not intended to punish serious and violent criminals—which the law already does—but those who have not committed serious and violent offences, people the judges have decided do not present a danger to public safety. These are the instructions given to judges.
We are always given the example of a case that came up somewhere or another. I notice that most of the time—this time is an exception, but we will look into it—we are talking about sentences imposed in a first instance. Very little is said about these sentences. When a judge hands down a sentence, he or she must take into consideration a number of factors that are mentioned in sections 712 and onward.
Some of these factors push the judge in one direction or another. For example, denouncing the unlawful conduct would be along the lines of indulgence, while deterring offenders or anyone from committing offences would be leaning toward harsher sentences. Separating offenders from society, where necessary, has to do with dangerous offenders. As for providing reparations for harm done to victims or to the community, the judge starts to run into problems because if the person in question is forced to lose their employment, they will not be able to provide the reparation. I believe that true rehabilitation begins with the effort of making restitution to the victim. That is what we should be looking at.
One of these elements, the social reintegration of the offender, takes a different tack. The judge has to consider all of this. Every time hon. members across the way give us an example of a sentence, they only give us one reason. Anthony Doob, the famous criminologist from Toronto, conducted an experiment. He looked at how many reasons the newspapers reported as to why a sentence was handed down. He found that it was one reason and a quarter. He then looked at how many reasons judges gave to justify their sentences and on average they gave 11 to 13 reasons.
If it appears to be so terrible, then why was there no appeal? We are told that two cases are being appealed. I will look into why the appeal courts handed down sentences that were seemingly contradictory. I think, on the contrary, that these sentences might seem contradictory because the facts were quite different and there were some factors that called for harsher measures and others that called for clemency. I do not really like the word clemency, so I will talk about measures to ensure rehabilitation.
This system has been in place for 14 years, and it seems to me that the government should be evaluating how it is applied and the measures it includes before proposing any changes. Nothing in the government's proposals is motivated by danger, poor administration or the disastrous consequences of some action. On the contrary, since this system was put in place, crime has gone down overall. In any case, the government would have to prove to us that house arrests have had negative consequences in enough cases to warrant amending the legislation and wiping out our confidence in the wisdom of judges.
People always talk about the comforts of home and big-screen TV. Although ministers and members may enjoy the comforts of home, when you have had some contact with the criminal world and you have dealt with these people, you know what sort of lives they lead. The main characteristic that people in prison share is that they are socially maladjusted. Sociological studies conducted when I was Minister of Public Safety for Quebec showed that these people are socially maladjusted.
I can guarantee that not one member could spend a week without leaving the basement of most of these people sentenced to house arrest. I would even suggest that they try spending a week in their own home without leaving. They would see whether house arrest is a form of punishment. Just for fun, I once tried to stay home for a whole weekend. House arrest is definitely a form of punishment, especially in the sorts of homes these people live in.
Mention was made of fraud and how it was very different. If it is, then sentences for fraud should be different as well. I do not see why the government is targeting fraud. There is a lot of minor fraud for which short prison sentences or house arrest would not be appropriate. Obviously, this sort of sentence would not do for Earl Jones or Vincent Lacroix, and I believe that all judges would agree.
Mention was also made of the many sentences that would be affected by this measure. Drug trafficking is serious until you look closely at the definitions of trafficking. Trafficking includes giving and offering to give someone drugs. Marijuana is still classified as a drug, so if a guy offers his girlfriend a joint and she says no, he has trafficked in drugs in the eyes of the law. Is he what we would call a dangerous offender?
The government always forgets about less serious cases in its new bills. It talks about the most serious crimes. It eloquently condemns the most serious crimes, but it ignores anything less serious. By focusing on the most serious crimes, it overlooks all of the accomplices who have committed less serious crimes.
Here is another example involving drugs. Parents know that their child is smoking marijuana or hashish. Two or three envelopes arrive from Morocco, but their son tells them not to open the envelopes. What should those parents do? I know what I would do because I know the consequences. However, many parents would keep the envelopes and give the child a lecture. Some parents might throw the envelopes out, which makes them accomplices. What they did was less serious, but if they get caught, they have to suffer the consequences.
I knew one young woman who accepted packages for a friend who was away. In that case, the minimum sentence was applied and she got the same seven years in jail as he did.
Lastly, we have to talk about costs, which are significant. There can be no doubt that costs will go up because of this bill.
This means that they will have to go to provincial jails, but there is no space for them. Double bunking is already happening. Because there is no space for them, they get out sooner. “In and out” treatment is common in cases where it would have been better for individuals to serve their sentences at home with the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads to remind them of the possibility of going back inside.
I do not understand why they have not yet given us the breakdowns, but in this case, the cost alone means that proportionally fewer sentences will be served in their entirety.