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

Topics

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am not aware of any offenders who were in prison less than two years. There is always a chance. Look at the crime prevention strategy that the city of Surrey had put together in consultation with all the MLAs, all the MPs from different groups and experts. It has come up with punishments based on the crimes. When there is a crime with a lesser degree of offence, the individual can be rehabilitated by using the social dollars that we can put into the system.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, could the member tell us if this bill would have any effect on a particular group in his riding, the people he deals with the most? The justice system has a different effect on different Canadians.

Is there a reason why the government keeps bringing back the same bill after the experts have said it needs improvement?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Yukon mentioned in his speech that our country was very diverse economically, socially and culturally. My riding is as well. It is a very diverse riding from an economic and cultural perspective. I agree with the member for Yukon that the bill would create similar challenges to those that the member and his constituents would experience.

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4:25 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will follow-up on my last question to the hon. member. I asked if he knew of any examples where conditional sentences posed a problem. I am curious about his party's support of the bill at second reading, when neither he nor anyone in his party, I respectfully suggest, cannot come up with a single instance of a problem created by a conditional sentence which would justify Parliament restricting judges from giving conditional sentences.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, we want to send the bill to committee to ensure we can have a realistic discussion there. We can bring in the experts. The bill, I would hope, would incorporate crimes like sexual assault, luring children and abduction. I also hope we can take out the ones we do not need in the bill. We can do that at committee stage.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am going to begin my speech by picking up where the hon. member left over because I think this is the kind of problem in this Parliament and in this country right now in terms of making policy and crime bills when we do not have the facts in front of us.

The facts are that under the current law, no one can get a conditional sentence unless they have been sentenced to two years less a day. That means nobody who has been sentenced by a judge and who has been given a sentence of over two years qualifies for a conditional sentence. So the kinds of examples that are being brought up, of luring children and sexual offences, are not the kinds of offences that are being considered for conditional sentences because those are people who would get sentences of more than two years.

It is a good place for me to begin. Where New Democrats want to take the public debate in this country in terms of crime bills is back to a fact-based, intelligence-based, smart on crime perspective. Unfortunately, that is not something we have seen a lot of from this particular government.

New Democrats begin from the point of view that public safety is best served when offenders do not reoffend, when people who have breached the Criminal Code come back into our communities and do not commit another criminal offence. That is the best way to keep Canadians safe in this country.

Over 95% of the people who end up in prison in this country, whether provincial or federal, are coming back into our communities. Not only should we be approaching our carceral and our justice policy in this country based on facts and intelligence, but we should be basing it on self-interest. Canadians are only safe when those people come out of prison and do not reoffend.

Conversely, locking people in jail only to have them come out and commit more crimes does nothing to make our communities safer.

Bill C-16 seeks to curtail and restrict the number of conditional sentences, and the number of conditional sentence circumstances that judges are permitted to hand out in this country.

Let us look at the facts. Conditional sentences are proven to help with offender rehabilitation. Conditional sentences are an important crime prevention tool because they decrease the recidivism rate.

No policy maker who understands that point would stand in this House and say that we should be restricting the number of conditional sentences given by judges in this country if they truly believe that we want offenders to stop reoffending.

Most rehabilitation programs can be more effectively implemented when the offender is in the community rather than in custody.

Members on all sides of this House on the public safety committee have heard evidence time and time again, and we all agree, that up to 80% of offenders in our federal institutions suffer from a mental health or an addictions issue. Now if that is the case, a very important tool available to the judges of this country, when they determine that an offender does have a mental illness or an addiction, is to ensure that those offenders get access to treatment. Where are those treatment facilities located? Predominantly in the community.

What judges will often do, when they determine that the root cause of a person's brush with the law, an offence, is related to that individual's addiction or mental health issue, then often the most intelligent, smartest and safest thing to do is to give that individual a conditional sentence, where he or she is serving time in the community with the condition that he or she obtain treatment, the breach of which means going back to prison.

Or, we can do as the government suggests and get rid of that option and put that person in jail. Every single person who studied this issue in the public safety committee will say that there is a total lack of appropriate mental health services and an absolutely terribly long waiting list for anybody to get effective treatment for alcoholism or a drug addiction.

Also, we would be putting those people into prisons where there is almost a total absence of 12-step programs and a total absence of access to healthy, sober and clean peers who can actually assist the addicts and alcoholics with their recovery because we do not find those people in prison too often.

Statistics Canada said in a 2006 study that 11% of offenders who spent their sentences under supervision in the community committed a further offence within 12 months of the conclusion of their sentences. This compares with 30% of those who do jail time.

The fact is that there is a recidivism rate of one-third of the people given conditional sentences. That is right, the recidivism rate for those who get conditional sentences is three times less than those who go to jail. How, then, can a government credibly say that it is sound public policy for those people not to get conditional sentences?

Let us talk further about the facts. Let us look at the current process for conditional sentences. The process for giving conditional sentences in this country is already strict. This is the present situation for someone to be eligible for a conditional sentence. The offence committed must not be a serious personal injury offence involving the use or attempted use of violence or conduct endangering the life or safety of another person, and with a maximum sentence of 10 years or more.

Right off the bat, conditional sentences are not available to people who are involved in a serious personal injury offence or even the attempted use of violence. Any of these hysterical examples of violent people serving time in the community in front of their big screen TVs is simply false.

There must not be a terrorism or criminal organization offence with a maximum of 10 years or more. We are not talking about gang members or anybody involved in any kind of serious terrorist, criminal organization or gang offence.

It must not be an offence with a mandatory minimum sentence. They are excluded from conditional sentences as well.

As I have said before, a conditional sentence may only be awarded by a judge when the sentence that is considered appropriate in the case was two years less a day. People who lure children are not getting sentences of two years less a day. They are getting longer sentences than that.

I am going to pause and talk about cost for a moment. The government wants to get tough on crime on someone else's dime. When it restricts conditional sentences in this manner to sentences of two years less a day, it means that offenders are doing their time in provincial jails, not federal ones.

When the government gets tough on crime, it is dumping 100% of the cost of that policy on the provinces. Not only is that not right, I wonder how the provinces in this country feel. We are starting to tally up the cost of the government's tough on crime policies and we are finding out that we can measure that in the tens of billions of dollars.

Last and most important, a condition sentence today may only be granted when the judge is satisfied that serving the sentence in the community would not endanger the safety of the community. That is the current law. The question I asked earlier and would ask any member of the House is to give me an example where a person is serving a conditional sentence in the community and there is a problem. Nobody can point to it.

The government wants to change the law, but it has no facts. It does not surprise me because one of the members of the government famously went on television a few weeks ago and said she did not care if the statistics showed that crime was going down, she just feels it. It is about time that we restored some facts, intelligence, and logic in developing criminal policy in this country.

Once a conditional sentence is granted, what happens? Offenders must keep the peace and be of good behaviour, they must not miss court appearances, they must report to a supervisor, and they must remain within the jurisdiction of the court. Optional conditions include mandatory community service, prohibition on drug and alcohol consumption, prohibition on owning a weapon, attending treatment programs, and any other condition that the court considers desirable.

When we stop and think about that, what we have is a system where a judge can craft an appropriate sentence in an appropriate circumstance that will help offenders correct their behaviour. That is why we called it Correctional Services Canada, not the punishment services of Canada. The point is that anybody who truly cares about making our communities safe wants to ensure that we do everything we can to have offenders correct their behaviour.

How is that served by restricting the very tools that a judge needs to correct the actual behaviour?

I want to talk a bit about costs. Again, the current government has asked us to support legislation which will see a significant increase in the prison population. That is not debatable. When the government says it does not want people serving their time in the community, it wants them serving it in prison, one does do not have to be a logician to know that means that is going to swell the number of people in our prisons.

Last week, the government's own estimate for its two for one sentencing bill ballooned by 2000% overnight. The minister stood last Tuesday and said that the cost of that bill would be $90 million. When faced with the Parliamentary Budget Officer's study about to come out, he amended that figure the next day and said, sorry, that it would cost $2 billion. For one bill, the federal cost will be $2 billion. That is out of the minister's own mouth. And there are another 12 bills coming.

Now, the $2 billion of course is only the federal component of that bill. For the provinces, which are going see their prisons swell by ending the two for one provision, the cost is estimated at between $5 billion and $8 billion.

So, one bill alone, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates, is going to cost Canadians $10 billion. This bill will do the same thing. It will add more people to our prisons.

I also want to talk about the absolute poor drafting of this bill. This bill would, and this government wants this, eliminate conditional sentence options for all offences in the Criminal Code, which have a maximum sentence of 14 years or life.

Do members know what offences would caught by that? There are some offences in there that are caught, which I think we can agree, that are not appropriate for conditional sentences. However, how about forging a testamentary instrument? Perjury? Fraud over $5,000? Being in possession of counterfeit money? These are the kinds of offences that the current government wants to say to a judge that absolutely do not qualify for conditional sentences.

Those are exactly the kinds of sentences that may be entirely appropriate. We may have people who have a drug addiction. We may have people who are desperate for money. And so, what do they do? They counterfeit money. Or they commit fraud over $5,000. That is not very much in today's economy. So, they commit fraud of $6,000 or $7,000. It may be totally appropriate to sentence these people to stay in the community, and attend drug and alcohol treatment as a means of getting at the root cause of the problem. This bill would do away with that.

I want to turn for a bit to victims and the idea of restitution. The federal victims ombudsperson, who was just let go by the current government just two weeks ago, has said that one of the most important things to victims is that they know that the person who perpetrated the crime against them is receiving rehabilitation. They have a direct interest in the rehabilitation of the offender. It is important to the victims' healing. They want to know, at the very least, after they have suffered, that the person who committed the act against them will not do it again, that nobody else has to suffer the pain, the profound pain that those victims have suffered.

So, when we have a conditional sentence, and let us say we have offenders who have a job in the community, and they receive a fine ordered against them or they are ordered to make restitution against the victim, do we not as Canadians want these people to comply with that? How are we served by saying, “No, we are going to take these people out of the community, they will lose their job, and we are going to put them in prison for 18 months. There. That's better.”? Of course it is not. It is ridiculous.

We want these offenders, in that case, to be working in the community and taking responsibility for their actions and making good to the victims. That often requires these people to continue working and maintaining their employment so that they have the means to pay their fine or to pay the victims the restitution that is owed to them, or to obtain the services and treatment that is required in order to make the victim satisfied that they will not commit an offence again.

We know that the cost of keeping an inmate in a federal jail is approximately $100,000 a year for a male offender and about $140,000 a year for a female offender. Keeping an inmate in provincial custody costs about $52,000 a year. The estimated cost of keeping someone in the community, under community supervision, and a conditional sentence is $2,398 per inmate per year.

Let us look at the tally so far. Nobody can point to any problems with conditional sentences now. They give judges a wide array of tools to fashion an appropriate sentence. Conditional sentences are better for victims. Conditional sentences are better for rehabilitation. Conditional sentences are better for restitution. They cost approximately 3% of what it costs to incarcerate someone federally. They cost about 5% of what it costs to incarcerate someone provincially.

When the government talks about victims, the only victims I see in its current suite of criminal bills are the Canadian taxpayers. That is who the real victims are in this, and here is the kicker. All of these bills that are coming forward for purely ideological reasons have been tried before in the United States. We are not guessing what the effects of these bills will be. We know what they will be. The fact is that not only will these bills cost tens of billions of dollars to Canadian taxpayers, but they will not even make our communities safer.

I am going to repeat that. After spending that money, after all the rhetoric, we cannot even say that crime rates will come down as a result of these policies. How do we know that? Because 30 of the United States during the 1980s and 1990s tried these very methods. We know what the crime rates are in those states. We know what happened when states built bigger prisons, cracked down on crime and locked up more people in harsher conditions for longer. We know. Canada does not have to make that mistake again.

It may be arguable that we could spend $20 billion or $30 billion over the next five years in this country and we could have a good debate if at least it arguably made crime rates go down, but we know they do not. It is bad public policy. It is bad economics. It is a bad criminal justice approach.

I want to say something about the previous minister, because some of these words are not my words; some of these words are the government's own members' words. The previous minister of public safety, about six months ago, said that the mentally ill should not be in our federal prisons, that it is not an appropriate place for mentally ill people to be. Where should they be then? They should be in the community getting access to the services they require to deal with their mental illness issues. How do we do that? We do that by giving conditional sentences. How does this bill square with what the previous minister of public safety said? It does not.

In the case of R. v. Proulx, the Supreme Court of Canada examined the issue of conditional sentences, and this is what the court found:

[W]hen the objectives of rehabilitation, reparation and promotion of a sense of responsibility may realistically be achieved...a conditional sentence will likely be the appropriate sanction....

The Supreme Court found that a conditional sentence can provide a significant amount of denunciation, particularly when onerous conditions are imposed. It found that a conditional sentence can also provide significant deterrence if sufficiently punitive conditions are imposed.

The highest court in our land, the best legal minds have examined conditional sentences and said that they do deter criminals. They do denounce criminal activity and they are most often the best sanctions to promote rehabilitation, reparation and a sense of responsibility.

I am going to conclude by talking about victims, because the New Democrats care about victims in this country. This is what victims want. They want us to denounce crime and deter criminals. They want to know that offenders are being rehabilitated. They want to know that when those people come back to the community, they will not be hurt by them again. That is why we need to pursue policies in this country that are smart, not tough, but smart. Conditional sentences achieve all of these goals.

I encourage every member of this House to look at the facts carefully, put ideology aside and fashion criminal policy in this country that is effective, intelligent and what Canadians really want.

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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I will ask one question now and if there is time later, I will ask other ones.

The member made an excellent point about people in the criminal justice system. I think he said that 80% are there for reasons of either mental illness or addictions. Many Canadians are not aware of that. The criminal justice system is not simply chock full of people who have chosen to do wrong, but it is people who have addictions, health problems or mental illness.

I think the government members are sincere in wanting to reduce crime, but the fact is that many of their bills are misguided. If the government members were serious about reducing crime would they not put the emphasis on and resources and energy into those 80% who are there because of mental problems or addictions? That would be a great starting point. I am not sure that Canada does sufficiently well at this time dealing with people in those unfortunate situations.

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4:50 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for his astute question. He is absolutely correct in that not only is the government going in a misguided direction with bills like this one, but it should be going in a completely different direction.

If we really want safe communities in this country, then we need to start putting resources into front-line mental health services and into addiction and alcohol treatment centres. We need to start attacking poverty and homelessness. Most importantly, I know that aboriginal issues are important to the member because he comes from an area of the country that has a strong aboriginal population. We all know that aboriginals are vastly overrepresented in our prison system. Aboriginal women are the fastest growing segment of our prison population and very often they are faced with these problems. Those are the kinds of things we need to attack if we are serious about cracking down on crime in this country.

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4:50 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member for Vancouver Kingsway made an incredibly cogent, thoughtful and fact-based speech. He certainly made a strong case as I know there were strong cases made during committee.

Does the member think it is rather disrespectful that the bill was brought forward yet again without the changes reflecting the input of all of the witnesses and members of the House? I find it really troubling that we have a dialogue in the House and then the bills are not adjusted.

I have had the opportunity of reviewing the Library of Parliament material. It has done a very cogent review of the conditional sentencing provisions that were only in place for a little more than a decade. It provides extreme detail in how conditional sentencing is to be provided.

I would refer the member to another example about addiction which probably does not merit incarceration. That would be gambling addiction which is a serious problem across Canada.

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4:50 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her intelligent observations as well. She does a great job representing the people of Edmonton—Strathcona and brings an intelligent approach to every issue in the House.

I want to answer by talking about victims again because the government likes to invoke crime victims to justify its legislation. This bill shows the government is not putting the needs of victims first. Steve Sullivan, the former victims' ombudsman until he was let go by the government, said:

By focusing solely on sending guys to prison longer, we're not serving the majority of victims of crime out there. We have to broaden our perspective of meeting victims' needs and sentencing might be a part of that, but it's a very small part for most victims.

...the stuff we hear every day on the phone is the needs of victims will not be...addressed by having offenders stay in prison longer.

Once again, if we really care about victims in this country, we need to focus on making them safe. That means dealing successfully, adequately and effectively with people who commit wrongdoing.

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4:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the member on an excellent speech. He is absolutely right when he says that Steve Sullivan has criticized the government. After all, Steve Sullivan was the government's choice as the first Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime.

The wheels are coming off this tough on crime bus that the government is driving because, in the last week Steve Sullivan criticized the government. One of the ministers had to admit that rather than a $90 million cost on the two-for-one sentencing the cost was going to be $2 billion. Now we have information that perhaps the cost for Bill C-19 might be as high as $783 million if we add an extra 15,000 people into the prison population. That is a cost that is going to be borne by the provinces, by the taxpayers in those provinces.

In its budgetary documents, has the government budgeted for these projections? The government knows what the cost item is going to be for bills like this one. Could the member tell us whether the government has any plans for adding these amounts into its budget for next year?

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4:55 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, the truth is that the government has been anything but transparent and forthcoming on the issue of the cost of its crime bills. For the last year the government has utterly refused to provide an estimate of the cost of its crime bills. For the last six months it has taken one-third of the staff of the office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer to cost out these bills.

One bill cost $10 billion. This bill will add billions more. Mandatory minimums for people who have as few as five marijuana plants will put more people in prison and probably will cost billions of dollars more as well. It is not an exaggeration to say that Canadians can measure the cost of the government's, what I would call, dumb on crime approach, to be in the tens of billions of dollars.

In terms of cost, I do not think that is where Canadians want to put their money, particularly when it will not make communities safer.

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4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, before I ask my question, I would like to say in all sincerity that I have always appreciated the speeches from the member for Vancouver Kingsway, as well as his exceptional preparation beforehand. I recognize that our two parties think very much alike on various issues, except when it comes to Quebec's sovereignty, of course. He showed once again how thorough his preparation is, and his examples are both noteworthy and timely.

I would like him to speak to one point in particular. There is a lot of confusion over conditional sentences versus suspended sentences. A suspended sentence is when a judge does not hand down the sentence that he could, but suspends sentencing on certain conditions. If the person meets these conditions, the judge cannot hand down a sentence.

A conditional sentence is what he basically just spoke about, when the judge hands down a sentence and he believes that the person could serve it in the community, again, with certain conditions. If these conditions are not met, the person will spend the rest of his sentence in jail.

If this option is taken away, what direction does he think judges will take with the excessive number of cases they will have because of this bill? Will they opt for a suspended sentence, incarceration or a third option, a fine? These would always be cases of not more than two years in prison.

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4:55 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to express to the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin on behalf of all members of the House our appreciation for the work he has done in this place. He is an example to us all with his intelligent approach to justice. He was the minister of public security in Quebec and he brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to these issues.

He is absolutely correct. The fundamental principle of sentencing is that a sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender. The primary goal of conditional sentencing is simply to reduce the reliance upon incarceration. The conditional sentence provides an opportunity to further incorporate restorative justice concepts into the sentence process by encouraging those who have caused harm to acknowledge this fact and to make reparation. It seeks once again to get at the underlying causes of the behaviour.

I was in Athens, Ontario last night meeting with some wonderful people who talked about prison farms. They told me that a lot of offenders are people who have simply done something wrong. They are not necessarily bad people; they are people who need correcting. Conditional sentencing is an important tool in helping people correct their behaviour, and this makes us all safer.

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5 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-16, especially since at our caucus meeting this morning, our colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin gave an excellent presentation on this important bill.

I am the chief organizer for the Bloc Québécois. I therefore have a political role as well. Before I go on any further about Bill C-16, I will try to explain how this bill shows that the Conservatives are in political disarray.

When the Conservatives came to power in 2006 and 2008, transparency was one of the main planks in their election platform. But the Speaker of the House was forced to take the Conservatives to task on the issue of Afghan detainees. So the Conservatives can no longer use transparency to score political points.

Then there was probity. The Liberal regime had just come to an end with the sponsorship scandal, and the Conservatives were keen to show that they were whiter than snow. It was their way of positioning themselves as the alternative to the Liberals, who were facing corruption charges.

In recent weeks, with the affair involving Rahim Jaffer and the former status of women minister, we have seen that the Conservatives do what the Liberals did as soon as they get the chance, so the Conservatives should forget about probity.

They also talked about the economy. They styled themselves as the great defenders of the economy, and they said they were going to help the economy turn around. But they made some very unfortunate decisions, such as reducing the GST. That was in their election platform twice, and it cost them $14 billion. Today, we have a deficit of close to $50 billion, and the Conservatives are trying to blame the global economy. It is true that there was a crisis, but the Conservatives did themselves out of substantial revenue with their political ideology. I remember that they even wanted to put things right in the employment insurance fund. The Liberals had taken $54 billion from that fund to reinvest in the consolidated revenue fund and pay other expenses instead of putting the money toward EI.

In recent weeks, government ministers have been saying that there is no more surplus in the EI fund. There will be an annual deficit. The $50 billion is gone. The Liberals spent it, but the Conservatives neglected to say that they ran up a $50 billion deficit this year.

What is left of their political agenda? They can be tough on crime. That is what they have left. That is why I said that the Conservatives are in disarray.

Look at the title of Bill C-16. It is quite something. Bill C-16 contains the exact same provisions as Bill C-42, which died on the order paper due to prorogation. Once again, they used Parliament for partisan purposes. Bill C-16 is now known as the Ending House Arrest for Property and Other Serious Crimes by Serious and Violent Offenders Act. Bill C-42, which is in fact the same bill, was known as the Ending Conditional Sentences for Property and Other Serious Crimes Act.

The Conservatives are grasping at straws. They are trying to use any means to prove that they are tough on crime and that they are trying to defend the public. However, this bill deals with something other than crime.

The title, Ending House Arrest for Property and Other Serious Crimes by Serious and Violent Offenders Act, suggests that it will solve the problem of extremely violent offenders, even though the bill really deals with conditional sentences. It has very little to do with the extreme violence suggested by the title.

Before 1996, persons found guilty of a criminal offence and sentenced to less than two years' imprisonment had to serve the sentence in jail. They no longer participated in their regular activities, such as work or school, and lost the ability to fulfill their family, professional and social responsibilities.

Conditional sentencing for adults has only been in place for 13 years. The bill before us amends a law that has only existed for 13 years. Conditional sentencing became law in 1996 with a bill that received the support of the Bloc Québécois. Our party felt it was important to create an alternative to incarceration because judges need as many tools as possible in order to hand down the most appropriate sentence, the one likely to result in the reintegration of the offender, while guaranteeing public safety and the appearance of justice.

Once again, this takes public safety into account. It is the first condition that must be taken into account, and that is why my colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin mentioned it in his excellent speech this morning.

Before handing down a conditional sentence, the judge must first respect an initial condition, that public safety not be jeopardized. If the individual is a danger to the community, the judge will not release him into the community or will not issue a sentence that allows him to be in the community. The judge will simply send him to jail.

When an individual receives a conditional sentence, this means that he will serve his sentence within the community. He therefore stays out of jail as long as he respects the mandatory and optional conditions imposed by the court.

The main condition is house arrest. The courts have decided that someone who has received a conditional sentence must, in principle, be on house arrest for the duration of the sentence.

Prior to 1996, people found guilty of a criminal offence and sentenced to terms of just a few days were required in all cases to serve their time in prison. The primary objective of conditional sentences was to reduce incarceration and give the courts an alternative.

This is where we see the Conservative demagogy. It reminds me of the Quebec film À soir on fait peur au monde. The Conservatives believe that there are many criminals roaming the streets and that they are very violent and extremely dangerous. They are talking about sentences of less than two years for serious crimes—a crime is a crime—but for which we have been trying, since 1996, to focus on reintegration: young people go to school, fathers have jobs, and so on.

When the judge has determined that there is no danger to society, it is explained to the offender that he will be monitored, but that he can keep his job and support his family, as opposed to how it was prior to 1996, when he would have been sent to prison, would have lost his job, and would not have been able to support his family.

Prior to 1996, people found guilty of a criminal offence and sentenced to terms of just a few days were required in all cases to serve their time. Since the adoption of conditional sentencing, judges can give a person who poses no danger to public safety a sentence that is less than two years to be served in the community.

The Criminal Code requires that a number of conditions be met before the judge can hand down a conditional sentence. That is important to understand. Since the Conservatives have decided to evoke images from the horror film À soir on fait peur au monde, we have to determine if this bill will really put extremely dangerous criminals in jail. The Criminal Code has requirements for conditional sentences. For one, the person must be found guilty of an offence not punishable by a minimum sentence.

There are minimum sentences and, to be eligible for a conditional sentence, the person must not be charged with a offence punishable by a minimum sentence.

The judge has to find that the offence merits a jail term of less than two years. I will say it again, a crime is a crime and it is always serious. However, when the crime is punishable by two years less a day, it is understood that this sentence obviously does not apply to the most serious crimes in society.

The judge must be convinced that serving the sentence in the community would not pose a threat to public safety. I spoke earlier about the title of the bill: Ending House Arrest for Property and Other Serious Crimes by Serious and Violent Offenders Act. The Conservatives want to be tough on crime. Every week they try to change public opinion because things are not going well with all their other political endeavours. Being tough on crime is all they have left. Of course, once again, they are trying to mislead us. Indeed, judges must be convinced that serving the sentence in the community would not pose a threat to public safety. So the first condition is that the offender must not be someone who poses a threat to society.

The judge must be convinced that the conditional sentence meets the criteria of the principles of sentencing set out in sections 718 and 718.2 of the Criminal Code. Of course I am not a criminal lawyer. If I have time later, I will talk more about those sections.

The following offences are ineligible: offences prosecuted by way of indictment; offences punishable by a maximum of 10 years or more; offences related to organized crime; terrorism offences; and serious personal injury offences, pursuant to section 752. I repeat, those offences are not eligible for conditional sentencing. Those are people who are convicted for being a member of organized crime, for a terrorism offence or for a serious personal injury offence, in which the victim was seriously injured or there was an attempt to cause serious personal injury or attempted murder, all very serious offences.

Bill C-16 adds to the list of offences that preclude conditional sentencing. Once again, the Conservatives' goal is to make that list longer. Let us continue with our original theory that the Conservatives are having political problems with the rest of their election promises. Being tough on crime is all they have left. They did not dare abolish conditional sentencing. They probably have another bill ready to go in a few years in which they will add more crimes to the list of offences that preclude conditional sentencing. That will allow them to continue their partisan politics, play their horror film again and scare everyone. That is the Conservative reality.

And that, by the way, is what the Republicans did. The crime rate in the United States is much higher than in Canada and higher still than in Quebec. The U.S. administration has had to release 30,000 prisoners over the past few months, primarily because it ran out of money, it ran out of room in the prisons and it was felt that the crimes and the sentences would be better managed through monitoring on the outside than by keeping those people on the inside.

For partisan and political purposes, the Conservatives probably want to score political points for trying to reassure people who have suffered serious harm from serious crimes. Indeed, this happens. There are street gangs. Crimes are committed, but I have never heard the government extending millions and billions of dollars to fight organized crime or to fight street gangs or very serious crimes. For that matter, I have not heard the government announce any funding for rehabilitation either.

As the hon. member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin so very intelligently made us realize, people who have committed crimes and been rehabilitated do not brag about it. We must take the time to look around us. There are people who have committed crimes, had the good fortune to be rehabilitated and today are good and honest citizens. The problem with such people is that they do not brag about it, while we are more aware of violent crimes and those who commit them because that is what we see so often on television and in other media.

As I said, our colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin intelligently—brilliantly even—told us that at this point in time, we can only imagine how many sentences are handed down in every court in Quebec and the rest of Canada every day.

Errors may occur, but should we scrap the whole system because one judge makes some kind of mistake? I think that is easy for the Conservatives to do. Television cameras are typically set up near courthouses to keep an eye on what is going on. That is something we see every day, something we live with. We rarely see good news stories on television. The media like to sensationalize bad news stories. However, the thousands of rulings handed down are generally excellent considering how justice is administered in Quebec and Canada. We have inherited a very good justice system from our forebears.

We inherited our justice system from our parents and grandparents. It is a choice. I am looking at how the Conservatives want to change it. There was a big debate on abortion in the House. Our predecessors resolved that issue.

For purely partisan reasons, some people are doing everything in their power to reopen debates that have been put aside. It is the sound and fury of partisan politics once again. I often say to those who will listen that power can make people crazy. Some of the people in power in this House are well on their way there. Once again, the only thing the Conservatives have left is their tough on crime agenda, and they are going to milk it for all it is worth. That is what is going on today with Bill C-16.

We have to take a respectful approach to this bill because the cases that will be exempt from the legislation involve conditional sentencing, which was brought in in 1996. As I said, Bill C-16 adds more crimes to the list of those not eligible for conditional sentencing.

Parts of the proposed new section 742.1 read as follows:

(c) the offence is not an offence, prosecuted by way of indictment, for which the maximum term of imprisonment is 14 years or life;...

(e) the offence is not an offence, prosecuted by way of indictment, for which the maximum term of imprisonment is 10 years, that

(i) resulted in bodily harm,

(ii) involved the import, export, trafficking or production of drugs, or

(iii) involved the use of a weapon; and

(f) the offence is not an offence, prosecuted by way of indictment, under any of the following provisions:

(i) section 144 (prison breach),

(ii) section 172.1 (luring a child),

(iii) section 264 (criminal harassment),...

(v) section 279 (kidnapping),...

(viii) paragraph 334(a) (theft over $5000),

(ix) paragraph 348(1)(e) (breaking and entering...),

(x) section 349 (being unlawfully in a dwelling-house), and

(xi) section 435 (arson for fraudulent purpose).

It can be any kind of arson, even setting fire to a moped. That is why members have to understand that adding to the list of offences for which a judge can no longer hand down a conditional sentence restricts the power of the law passed in 1996.

Once again, the government is restricting judges' power and, I repeat, we are talking about sentences of two years or less, so two years less a day. That is the reality.

The list is so long now that it is almost like turning the clock back 10 years to a time when conditional sentences did not exist as an alternative for adults.

Criminologists have long agreed that tougher sentences do not reduce crime. Recent studies confirm that there is little correlation between the severity of a sentence and the number of offences. But publicizing arrest rates and increasing the likelihood of being arrested do really have an impact on crime.

A conditional sentence not only involves a penalty, but also rehabilitation and restorative justice. This combination is more likely than incarceration in a correctional facility to prevent an offender from continuing to endanger the public after serving his sentence.

In addition, certain conditional sentences require the offender to make restitution to the victim and society and comply with very strict rules. Since 2000—

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5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe.

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5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his speech. I would like to ask him a question about conditional sentencing.

Some say that the conditional sentencing system no longer works. I imagine that we will learn more in committee when witnesses appear before it. Some will speak of the effectiveness of this system.

If the system is not working well, does the member believe it is because the federal government does not provide the provinces with enough money to manage it?

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5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is right, especially because sentences of less than two years are administered provincially. First of all, the federal government has not invested enough in rehabilitation. We have seen that. Furthermore, if we decide to jail these people, they will serve their sentences in provincial institutions.

The Conservatives are trying to scare people. They want to promote their political interests with their tough on crime ideas. However, the provinces, not the federal government, will be footing the bill.

I realize that the committee will study conditional sentences. I hope it will ask to hear from those responsible, the provinces, because they will be footing the real bill.

This law was established in 1996 in order to provide for rehabilitation. It is less costly than placing someone under surveillance in the community. According to the report we have today, it costs 10 times less to serve a sentence in the community than in a prison.

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5:20 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been following this debate closely, as I have many of the amendments that have been brought forward by the government in its effort to brand itself as the party that is tough on crime. Having supported some of the bills it has brought forward with respect to criminal law amendments, I am consistently struck by how it is not really being tough on crime and I would prefer that it be smart on crime.

I have studied this bill and have spent a lot of time, not just in this session but in both Parliaments since being elected, dealing with crime legislation. All of us have enhanced our literacy, so to speak, on these issues. The bill before us today is talking about a blanket elimination of conditional sentences.

I know the member is very well versed in these issues. I do not recall any really high profile cases where conditional sentencing was an issue and yet the government is not proposing some small surgical amendments to deal with those cases, if and when they exist, but rather a broad-based elimination of the entire conditional sentencing system.

Is the member aware of any specifics that would culminate in a draconian bill like one? If so, would he comment on those and let me know whether this bill, to his satisfaction, addresses those?

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5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is correct. This bill does not address anything, other than the Conservatives' political deficit. They are really working hard on that. If a government is tough on crime, it cannot be smart on crime. The Conservatives talked about transparency in their election promises. As we can see from everything going on with the Afghan detainee issue, transparency is not one of their strong suits.

When it comes to integrity, the Conservatives are no smarter than the Liberals with their sponsorship scandal, if we look at what happened with Rahim Jaffer and the former status of women minister.

There was a $16 billion surplus when the Conservatives took power. We are now looking at a deficit of $50 billion. They are no smarter when it comes to economics.

All they have left is being tough on crime, but they cannot be smart on crime.

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5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. He gave a wonderful explanation of how the Bloc Québécois see this bill. I would like to ask him a question about judges.

In every piece of legislation, the Conservatives seem to be questioning the judges' judgments. And that is no redundancy, that is reality. The judges are there to judge and to render judgments. Does he not think that this is contempt for the justice that is meted out by these great people we have in Canada?

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5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question.

The symbol of justice is a set of scales. It is true that this balance has always been sought in Quebec and Canada. As I was explaining, we are not the ones who created this balance system, but rather our predecessors did. They made that choice.

The Americans made a different choice. Now, for purely partisan reasons, the Conservative Party is trying to copy the American system, which has gone way too far. As I was saying earlier, the Obama administration had to release over 30,000 prisoners. There was no more money to keep them in custody, and thus no more money for rehabilitation, and it was thought that their offences were not serious enough to warrant keeping them in custody.

Once again, it is a choice based on partisan politics. The Conservatives believe that by being tough on crime, they are pleasing the media, that are often present in courtrooms, but personally, I trust our predecessors' judgment, and that is not the kind of society I want to pass on to my children.

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5:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, from what we are hearing today from the members in their speeches, the wheels are definitely coming off this tough on crime bus that the government has been trying to drive for the last couple of elections.

The first example was the Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Mr. Steve Sullivan, who criticized the government for not taking action on victim's rights.

We had one of the ministers backtracking on another crime bill the other day, the two for one bill, and having to admit that it will cost $2 billion rather than $90 million.

Earlier today, a Bloc member indicated that under Bill C-16, at $52,205 per inmate, that will cost about $780 million for the extra prisoners and that will be paid by the provinces, not the federal government.

Does the member think the government has been negligent in not costing out this proposal before it brought it to Parliament or does he thing the government actually knows what the cost will be and just will not tell us?

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5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is right. I seriously think this is just political bravado by the Conservatives who are trying to score political points. I would not be surprised if they have not done any calculations. What is more, my colleague is absolutely right. The federal government is dumping the problem and its cost on the provinces and that is tough for them to take. I trust my colleague and I also trust the hon. member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin. I know they will be able to get to the truth in committee and show how the Conservatives are passing the buck to the provinces.

This will not solve anything and no one is asking for this. My colleague is right; there is no call for this. Whether we are talking about the prison system or the legal system, no one is asking for this legislation to be changed, especially not the provinces who do not want to end up paying the bill.

The House resumed from May 4 consideration of the motion and of the amendment.