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.