Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-23.
First, I thank our party's critic, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, who has done a very good job in the research on the bill. As he has indicated, we will be supporting this bill at second reading, getting it to committee so we can initiate the process of having witnesses appear and proper professional opinions given on this whole area. We certainly support a thorough study of the pardon system by the committee. In the next few minutes I will outline the history of what the government has done in this area.
We also want to look at extending the ineligibility periods for certain kinds of offences.
We also support giving the Parole Board more discretion to deny pardons, particularly in cases that would shock the conscience of Canadians.
We also want to hear from correctional experts, from victims, from police and from other groups to ensure our pardon system is strengthened and fair.
The government has held itself out as being very sympathetic and on the side of victims. Yet three years ago, when it appointed Mr. Sullivan as the victims rights' advocate, it proceeded to ignore his advice, to the point where in the last several months, it refused to renew his contract because he criticized it for not being supportive of victims' rights and being more concerned about the punishment side of the equation. I think that speaks volumes of where the government is on this issue. It talks a great line out in the public about how supportive it is of victims, but at the end of the day, it does not come through for them.
The fact is Mr. Sullivan is now no longer working in that job because he did his job and he stood up for victims. He was rewarded by the government by being fired, in essence, because his contract was not renewed.
We have proposed that the government introduce urgent legislation that would immediately stop pardons from being granted in outrageous cases, while preserving the process of study for the rest of the bill. We have taken language from the Conservative bill and strengthened it by referring to crimes that shock the conscience of Canadians, which is language not present in its bill.
We know the bill will not pass all of the various readings before we break for the summer, and Canadians are concerned about the potential for Karla Homolka getting a pardon. As a result, we have said that we would support the government bringing in an immediate bill dealing with this issue. We want to immediately stop pardons from being granted in outrageous cases. The Karla Homolka case is certainly one that fits within that category and would be covered by the proposal of our critic, the member for Vancouver Kingsway. Then we would separately study the rest of the bill in the committee. That is our proposed.
We have offered the government this option and we are prepared to move on it today. However, the government has rejected it. What the purpose and reason is for it to take that kind of attitude on the bill beyond me when we have offered it the solution to what we see as the immediate problem.
We not support a U.S.-style three strikes and they are out correctional system because, and only because, it has never worked where it was tried. It was the flavour of the month, flavour of the decade, back in the Ronald Reagan administration. We saw many American prisons become privately owned. The new prison development became private prison development. Under the three strikes and they are out, the Americans built more prisons and filled them up. At the end of the day, the crime rate in the United States went up. It did not go down.
After all these years of a proven failed system, there are situations like Governor Schwarzenegger, who I was fortunate to speak to at the governors' conference in February in Washington. His state is on bankruptcy notice. He is being forced, as are other jurisdictions in the United States, to let people out of jail. They cannot afford to keep them in jail anymore because of the enormous cost involved.
What do we have here? We have the Conservatives following a discredited system that does not work.
Our members have said over and over again that we need to look at best practices. The Conservatives are great about talking about best practices in business. Let us scan the world and find out what works in other jurisdictions and let us try to do the same thing.
We know there are programs that work in certain countries in the European Union. With respect to the area of auto thefts, we know different jurisdictions in Canada have tried different ideas. Some work better than others.
We found in the province of Manitoba that by having a combination of a gang suppression strategy involving the police force identifying the top 50 car thieves, keeping them under surveillance, picking them up and keeping them in custody, it reduced our car theft rates dramatically to the point that last year we had zero car thefts on one day.
Four or five years ago an immobilizer program with Manitoba public insurance was not working well. If people installed immobilizers, they would get a break on their car insurance. Guess what? People were not taking up the program. The government woke up one day and decided to make it mandatory for people to install immobilizers and the government paid for them and gave people a reduction in their insurance. There was some grumbling, but by and large it has been widely accepted in Manitoba. Now hundreds of thousands of cars have immobilizers and the thieves cannot steal them cars anymore
This problem will take care of itself because over time, as all the old cars are taken off the road, new cars will have the proper immobilizer systems in place at the factory, where it should be done. In fact, the Manitoba government deserves credit for mandating immobilizers in new cars effective last year.
This is something that could have been foreseen. The insurance bureaus in Canada and in the United States have known for years that we could put immobilizers in cars in the factory for say $30. However, to save the $30, the car companies preferred to let the public pay $300 for immobilizers if they wanted them. This could have been done, yet the insurance industry kept paying the claims and people kept paying higher insurance rates. What kind of an insane system is that?
We could have been on top of this 20 years ago had we put these requirements on the car companies to bring in proper immobilizers. It would have saved the public an awful lot on insurance rates and it would have cut down the death rate. When people steal cars, they can get into car accidents and kill people. All this could have been foreseen.
However, we go back to Ronald Reagan who told the car companies that they did not have to attain certain standards. He reduced the standards. This is the same president who brought in the “three strikes and you're out” program. The Conservatives are back to Ronald Reagan's days.
In any event, we have offered a solution to the government and we still would prefer to get an answer as to whether the Conservatives would prefer to bring in this bill today. We will support the bill to stop these pardons from being granted in outrageous cases. We feel that would be a big part of the solution, not to follow the discredited policies of the past.
Bill C-23 would renames “pardons” as a “record suspension”. It also would increase the eligibility period, which must pass before a pardon application could be submitted, from the current five years to ten years for indictable offences and from the current three years to five years for summary offences. It would also prohibit those convicted of four or more indictable offences from ever receiving a pardon. It would prohibit anyone convicted of one or more offences from a designated list of sex offences from ever receiving a pardon. With respect to pardon applications for indictable offences, the Parole Board would be required to deny a pardon if granting it would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.
On that last point, this is the section that would apply to Karla Homolka, which is already in this existing Bill C-23, but nothing in the rest of the bill would serve to deny her a pardon. The increased waiting periods proposed will require her to wait five more years before applying, but only that one section will actually stop the pardon from ever being granted.
If the House were to adopt the NDP's suggestion, then we could deal with it summarily, we could deal with it today, and the problem would be at an end. Then we could follow the bill through to committee where we would deal with the issue as we should.
In 2006 the government, under the former public safety minister, oversaw a review of the pardon system in response to the Clark Noble case, a convicted sex offender. At the time, the government made a big issue of the case. It was a new government and it would to review the pardon system. After all this, one would think there would be some revolutionary change by the government, but that is wrong. At the end of the day, the 2006 review by the former minister of public safety led to just minor changes, including a requirement for two Parole Board members to review the pardon applications from sex offenders. Ultimately the tough on crime minister and government signed off on the current system as adequately protecting public safety.
What happened after that is that a government member, the member for Surrey North, who has a lot of credibility on this issue, introduced Motion No. 514. It is a very good motion and is still before the House. We support the motion, which states:
That the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security be instructed to undertake a review of the Criminal Records Act and report to the House within three months on how it could be strengthened to ensure that the National Parole Board puts the public’s safety first in all its decisions.
Not only did the government do its review in 2006, which did nothing, but, rather than introduce this bill, Bill C-23, to solve this problem, it had a government backbencher introduce a motion asking for a review of the pardon system. Then all of a sudden the Graham James issue came to the fore, and overnight this became a serious issue again and the government brought in Bill C-23, essentially cutting the rug out from under the member for Surrey North, a government member.
The government did not even give the member for Surrey North a fair hearing. She did a lot of work on her motion which is before the House, and the government short-circuited it. The government said that the agenda has changed because people are interested in an issue that just popped up and calls for Bill C-23 to be brought in, regardless of the fact that a member with some credibility on the issue brought forth a motion which is the proper way to look at it. The member is asking for a review of the Criminal Records Act and for a report within three months to strengthen the system. At the end of the day, we all support the member's motion.
The public can be forgiven for being somewhat confused about what goes on around this place and what goes on with the government as it lurches back and forth not only on its crime agenda but on its whole legislative agenda. Let us look at the priorities of the government right now. One of its priorities is to close down six prison farms. Another priority is to spend $1 billion for the G20 and G8 summits which should be held on a military base or at the United Nations. To spend $1 billion of public money when the government is running a deficit of $56 billion just defies all logic.
We are looking at a government that definitely has misplaced priorities. It has no plan, or if there is a plan, it is certainly not letting us know what it is. The public must be confused about where the government is going on this issue.
We have offered to solve the problem but the government has said no. We are going into the summer recess. This bill will be in committee and nothing will happen with it until the fall and then we will be starting over. There is no sensibility as to how the government operates.
In terms of the provisions, we have suggested that this bill move quickly. The government knows that it cannot pass this bill through the committee and the Senate--it has to get through the Senate as well--before the summer recess. We know that all parties will not give unanimous consent; that is pretty much a given around here.
Once again, we brought forward a specific targeted bill to make these changes, to prevent the granting of pardons that would shock the conscience of Canadians and bring the administration of justice into disrepute. That is exactly what this House calls for at this point to solve the problem. We provided the solution, and we are waiting for the acceptance of the government on this point.