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House of Commons Hansard #57 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was colombia.

Topics

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, this is an important issue. I know the member for Welland is one of the strongest advocates that we in the House not forget families like the French family that has suffered so much in the past. I think all members of the House are thinking of the French family today and other families that are impacted by the current situation around pardons.

He has been very eloquent in spelling out the problem. The NDP has urged the government to put forward changes to the Criminal Records Act that could be fast-tracked through the House of Commons. They would not in any way hold up a decisive measure that would avoid the kind of situation we all want to prevent without bringing forward the much broader legislation that has a contrary impact on the lives of a number of other people.

The member for Welland has said very clearly that there is a balance that needs to be maintained. There is also an urgency for action. That is why the NDP has put forward the request to the government to streamline the Criminal Records Act changes, do that in the first stage and ensure that the crimes which shock the conscience of Canadians are not included under pardons. This would head off any possibility of Ms. Homolka getting a pardon.

We put forward this legislation in an effort to fast-track that component of the bill. As yet, the government seems to be resistant to it and prefers a much more difficult, convoluted and, in some parts, poorly drafted bill that does not get the job done on the one hand and will have to be fixed in committee on the other.

The member for Welland has been very articulate on this issue. He is a very strong advocate for the people of his riding and his community who suffered during that period. Why does he think the Conservatives do not seem to be willing to do the right thing in this place right now and streamline the Criminal Records Act changes in a specific way that would resolve this short-term issue and then work with all parties so we could get the broader-based reform that we all want to see? Why have they not done that?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Madam Speaker, it defies logic as to why we need to have all of it at once. As my colleague said, we gave the government a motion last week. It is not an issue of me standing in my place and springing something on the government during debate. We sent it to the government a number of days ago to let it study it, so it had plenty of time to look at it before bringing forward its bill and to see if it had the sense that it would want to do that.

I remain optimistic. I have to be optimistic for my community and, most important, for the French family, that the government will understand why we have asked for this. The government knows its bill is going to committee, which means it cannot get this piece through in time to prohibit Ms. Homolka from applying for a pardon. If it would work with us on this side of the House in a spirit of co-operation, I believe it would find that all of us want to assure the Frenches that a pardon cannot be applied for by Ms. Homolka.

I understand the government has its agenda and bills in hand and wants to move forward with them. However, in this case, when all of us understand the significance of this process and this pardon that Ms. Homolka will ask for, surely this one time, the government, in a spirit of co-operation, would cut the one piece off, get this done, go to committee with the rest of the pieces and work it through. In a bipartisan way and in the spirit of co-operation, it would make the pardon system work for all of our communities and for all of those who will apply for pardons in the future.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Before resuming debate, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Random—Burin—St. George's, Access to Information; and the hon. member for London—Fanshawe, Status of Women.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Northumberland--Quinte West.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Madam Speaker, I am proud to voice my support for the bill the hon. Minister of Public Safety has placed before the House.

As hon. members are aware, just a few weeks ago Canadians were shocked to learn that someone who had been convicted of sex offences against children had been granted a pardon.

The pardon granted to Mr. Graham James revealed what millions of Canadians and this government judged to be a number of unacceptable flaws in the Criminal Records Act. An editorial published by the Victoria Times Colonist shortly after the news of that pardon became public stated very clearly what many Canadians were feeling.

While it means well, the legislation flunks the most basic of tests. It fails to make morally relevant distinctions. It impedes vital police work. It imposes the most lax of standards on officials. And it offends our sense of propriety.

Perhaps needless to say, those are very serious failings, unacceptable in a country that prides itself on fairness and balance of its justice system. The bill before us today, Bill C-23 will bring the proper balance to the Criminal Records Act.

Bill C-23 will put public safety where it belongs, at the forefront of all decisions. Under Bill C-23, the word “pardon” would be replaced by “record suspension”. The bill would have the power to deny a record suspension if, for example, investigative evidence showed that granting one would bring the administration of justice into disrepute. This bill would allow the board to consider a wide range of factors in making its decisions.

I am sure hon. members will agree that this is the way the system should work. Our justice system is based on fairness and balance. The National Parole Board cannot make decisions that are fair and balanced if it does not have the tools it needs.

To ensure offenders have every opportunity to demonstrate that they can benefit from a second chance, Bill C-23 will extend the waiting period before an offender can apply for a record suspension. For summary offences, the period would be lengthened to five years from three years, and for those convicted of an indictable offence, from five years to ten years. In other words, record suspensions would be granted only to those who have fully demonstrated that they have earned a second chance. This is as it should be and Bill C-23 would make it so.

Bill C-23 would also ensure that the Criminal Records Act recognizes what Canadians recognize, that some offenders simply should not have their records suspended. There are cases where the insult to our sense of propriety or the risk to public safety is simply too great to justify a record suspension.

A person convicted of more than three indictable offences has demonstrated a pattern of behaviour that invites the question, can a potential risk to the public safety posed by a suspension of that person's criminal record be justified? In the opinion of many Canadians and of this government, the answer is no.

The pardon system was created to recognize the right of an offender to have a second chance, to start over with what amounts to a clean slate, but the right to a second chance must be balanced against the need to protect public safety, which must be the primary consideration at all times.

Bill C-23 will provide that assurance by making anyone convicted of more than three indictable offences ineligible for a record suspension.

As for offending our sense of propriety, in the words of an editorial in a recent edition of the Ottawa Citizen:

Sex offenders who prey on children are a special class of criminal. It's one thing to let them out of jail when they've served their time, but it's wrong to pretend all is forgotten. Certainly, the children who are victimized will never be allowed to forget.

That is why Bill C-23 would make anyone convicted of a sexual offence against a child ineligible for a record suspension.

We have seen and heard the response from the victims of Mr. James and other sex offenders who have been granted pardons under the act. They feel, quite rightly, that insult has been added to injury.

Legislation should not do further harm to those who have been harmed already. As underscored earlier, by replacing the term “pardon” with “record suspension”, Bill C-23 will help to show our respect for the victims of crime and the physical and emotional injuries they may have suffered. This is the very least we can offer to the victims of crime and I urge all members to support the quick passage of this bill.

I have listened to the previous speakers. We have learned from them and we have heard them say that they support parts of this bill, that it should go before the committee for further study. We have just heard that we need to sever parts of the bill to accommodate other members' feelings with regard to parts of the bill that are good and parts of the bill that need study. We also heard from other members who said that they have already tried to solve the problem and they did not quite do it, so now the government has come back with additional regulation.

It is important for Canadians to understand that criminal law and laws are like society. They change and they grow. They need change and they need refinement, and like most of us in real life, we react to things that happen around us. The government has a legislative agenda when it comes to public safety in our country and this is one of those pieces of legislation that addresses the need for Canadians to understand that the criminal justice system must work for them.

I believe that this piece of legislation does just that. It balances the need for people to have their records suspended so they can get on with their lives, but also the need of society to feel that public safety, that their safety and the safety of their children and their loved ones, is being taken into account by this House. I believe this piece of legislation goes a long way toward achieving just that.

I welcome the co-operation of all members, especially the members of the public safety committee and the members of the justice committee who will be looking at the legislation that has come before this House, so that they can look at it with a view to how their constituents really feel as opposed to: “How do I feel?" or “How does my party feel?”

In the coffee shops around this country, when we talk about the situation with Mr. James and the situation, as has been mentioned, with Karla Homolka, this is the kind of legislation that they not only ask for, but quite frankly they demand.

I look forward to the co-operation of other members to ensure that this legislation sees speedy passage.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his very straightforward and cogent comments on this bill.

One of his comments that stood out for me was the statement that we want to ensure that our Criminal Code represents the current views of society. As my colleague in the NDP mentioned earlier, if we asked around this House, we would probably find the unanimous belief that people find it reprehensible regarding persons such as Karla Homolka, and not to single her out as there are other persons who have been convicted for equally reprehensible behaviour.

What is troubling though is that our party has proposed a solution to this problem. The government, in its wisdom, has brought forward this bill in a time that will not allow both the full review by all members of the House and to address the concerns regarding Karla Homolka. Our proposal would allow for that to be addressed.

It is very critical that amendments to the Criminal Code undergo a full review by the appropriate committee and that all appropriate members of the House have an opportunity to thoroughly review the bill. Given that and given the importance of our elected assembly to represent a perspective of society, which is exactly what a democratic government is all about, would the member care to comment on the proposal we have put forward and the fact that it may well address the very issue that the government has raised?

In fact, the government keeps raising the issue of Karla Homolka. Would it not agree to a reasonable compromise regarding the fact that we will not be able to actually address the very issue which it is showcasing with this bill?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. friend who posed that very interesting question. I would pose the question back. We can do both today, or very soon. We can pass the government's legislative agenda, this particular bill, Bill C-23, which would accommodate the very thing that she and her party want. So, when it comes to co-operation, of course, we are prepared to do that. Let us pass Bill C-23.

That is just what I and the parliamentary secretary have asked. Let us pass the legislation. It is good legislation. It is timely legislation. It is, as I have previously stated before I stood to answer this question, the talk at the coffee shops around this country. It is the talk that I hear from citizens not only in coffee shops but when I meet them at various functions, that the current legislation does not work as effectively as it should work and that our system of public safety needs to be improved. That is what Bill C-23 would do.

So, yes, I agree with her. We could make this bill go through the House very quickly with the co-operation of the official opposition. However, I hasten to remind her that much of the public safety legislation in this House has been held up in the very places and at times where it should have been put forward.

So, yes, we can deal with this very expeditiously in this place. Bill C-23 could receive unanimous support and we could that enacted in a timely fashion that would facilitate the very thing that the member's question poses, the very thing of keeping people from having a pardon when they should not and offending the very core of our sense of propriety in this country.

So, let us just get behind Bill C-23 and pass it unanimously. I agree.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I think the member is missing her point.

We had the government's own member, the member for Surrey North, introduce Motion No. 514, basically calling for a review of this whole area. This comes after four years, in 2006, when the minister of the day said the government was going to do a review, and now the government jumps up and puts in Bill C-23.

What we are saying is if we really want to deal with the problem at hand right now, the case of Karla Homolka, then we have a solution right now where we could pass it today. We propose:

That, in the opinion of the House, urgent changes to the Criminal Records Act are required to prevent pardons from being granted that would shock the conscience of Canadians or bring the administration of justice into disrepute, and therefore the government should immediately introduce legislation with the specific purpose to empower the National Parole Board to deny pardons in cases where granting a pardon would shock the conscience of Canadians or bring the administration of justice into disrepute, with cooperation and support from all parties to move swiftly such legislation through the House and Senate before Parliament rises for the summer, and further that the Standing Committee on Public Safety should be directed to conduct a thorough study of all other changes that should be made to the Canadian pardon system to ensure it is strengthened and fair for all Canadians.

That latter part is what the member for Surrey North has in her Motion No. 514 that we just discussed the other day.

So, let us move ahead. Let us deal with this Karla Homolka issue today. Let us get it through. Then we can proceed with the rest of the bill and give it due process at committee. That is what we are talking about.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Madam Speaker, to me, the question quite simply is, is Bill C-23 a good piece of legislation?

Once again we are seeing where the opposition wants to have a piece of legislation and it is really not necessary. I simply say that this legislation does not have anything in it that would be contrary, I believe, to the average citizen's sense of propriety. It actually addresses some of the issues we are faced with as a society, one of which, as the member who questioned me stated, takes into account the Karla Homolka situation. It takes into account many other situations. We could research and bring up any number of people who are beginning to be eligible for a so-called pardon that we want to change to a record suspension which I think addresses the fundamental issue better.

Therefore, why not pass Bill C-23? There is nothing in it that would make the average citizen in our society feel it is inappropriate. That is why I say to the member that we do not need to approach this in a piecemeal fashion. We do not need to chunk things up, to box them up or to repackage them. Bill C-23 is a good piece of legislation. Before the House rises for the summer constituency period, we could deal with that and we could pass it unanimously.

I am all for that and I believe the government is all for that. Let us just do it. I agree.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, my question is relatively short. The problem with the bill is that it is extremely broad. It is probably a good bill for someone like Graham James. Is it a good bill for Commander Robert Piché, who saved the lives of over 150 people? Later we suddenly learned that he had a rather serious criminal record. He probably would not have been granted a pardon and would not have been the level-headed pilot who safely landed his plane and saved so many lives after losing both his engines over the ocean. Nobody has a problem with his situation.

Once again, as with too many bills introduced by the Conservative government, they start with one specific case and apply it to hundreds of cases that call for different treatment.

Does the member honestly believe that if this bill is appropriate for the case of Graham James, it would also have been appropriate for Commander Robert Piché?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Madam Speaker, quite simply it is typical of the member. We have served on committee for the last four and a half years.

We could begin to raise each specific instance and say this is good but that is bad, we need to change this and we need to change that. We will never have a perfect Criminal Code. We will never have a perfect bill of any kind, but I believe that the National Parole Board will take into account those instances where people are deserving of a record suspension.

Once again I say, pass Bill C-23 and I believe that we will address more properly the feelings of Canadians vis-à-vis record suspension.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to say a few words on Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Records Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

I want to start with an anecdote and history in Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe. My uncle was a member of this House. He also was a provincial court judge for over 35 years. He had the nickname of “Hanging Henry”. One might think he was hard on law and order stuff, but over the years I have come to know many people who appeared in front of him as young offenders, as first-time offenders. They told me or members of my family that Judge Henry gave them a chance. He was stern and scared the living daylights out of them, but he gave them an opportunity to change their lives around because they faced the wall of justice and an uncertain future because of that. Because of the harshness and the severity of that wall of justice, many of those people are very important and contributing members of society.

That is the preamble to what we should be thinking about in terms of the pardon process. Less than a month ago, the Minister of Public Safety introduced this bill. It is another of the Conservatives' criminal justice pieces that was proposed with much fanfare, but it has been relatively unexamined. Of course, the purpose of the House of Commons is to look at bills in their first blush, send them to committees where they will be studied with the aid of testimony from witnesses, not just experts, but ordinary people who come forward like many of the people who appeared in front of my uncle over 35 years to say that they were given a chance and thank goodness, because now they are fathers or mothers and contribute to society, have jobs and so on.

The full effects of the bill will be clearly looked at in committee, but in short, the eliminating pardons for serious crimes act would amend the Criminal Records Act to substitute the word “pardon” with the more defined “record suspension”. As Canadians have been made aware, in cases of individuals convicted of sexual offences perpetrated on children, this bill would also prohibit pardons or record suspensions. Repeat offenders have also been targeted in the bill such that record suspensions or pardons would be restricted and the waiting period between parole and eligibility for record suspension would be extended.

Finally, regular reports to the Minister of Public Safety from the National Parole Board would be instituted.

At present, a pardon permits a Canadian citizen convicted of a criminal offence who has completed his or her sentence to have his or her criminal record kept separate. By and large, all the applications received by the National Parole Board are granted. Of particular note as the House proceeds forward with the debate on this bill is the fact that since 1970, the year when major amendments were made to the Criminal Code, 96% of all pardons granted are still in effect. That is an important underlying fact to the debate here and the debate that will take place at committee. Ninety-six per cent of all pardons granted since 1970 remain in effect. This means, again subject to the test of the evidence at committee, that only 4% of the people have had pardons, record suspensions, withdrawn.

We might say that the system is working because the pardon granted has allowed individuals to pursue a life that at least is not so derelict of following the law that they had their pardon revoked. Virtually all citizens who receive a pardon do not recommit crimes in their community or elsewhere.

Nevertheless, news headlines of late have attempted to paint a picture where Canada enables continued crime through the doling out of pardons. The impression by the ongoing Conservative manipulation of public sentiment machine would have people believe that pardons are being thrown out of a truck on side streets and everybody who gets a pardon then goes out and commits a crime and does not merit these pardons. It does not seem to be the case. As the research has shown, the continued existence of pardons in the Canadian justice system is not reason for the continuation of crime in our communities.

Let us examine the objectives in reality of the pardon system as they are today. The bill's introduction is very recent. By my calculation, around June 23 the government will have been in power for about four and a half years. In a normal person's lifetime, four and a half years is a significant period. It could be a period of raising a child from infancy to young childhood. It could be a period of important progress in one's working career. In this environment of perpetual electioneering, one would expect the government to be well on its way with its agenda.

Given that in the 4.5 year range, we have only heard about pardons now, we would have to conclude that this has not been on the radar screen for the government. The government has not really brought it up before; therefore, it has not been a priority. We could say with a liberal interpretation of timing and its agenda that it brought up other justice bills before this and attempted to move them forward.

There are earnest justice-doers on the other side. Sadly, their feet were taken out from other them with the continual prorogation of Parliament. Bills go to the bottom of the list and have to come up through the system again. It is a shame. It is a waste of time. For serious legislation to be delayed by the electioneering and prorogation that takes place in our political system is something that another House or a committee on another day may and should look at.

Pardons were not a hot priority for the government in four and a half years. It is important to examine the very nature behind pardons in Canada. Pardons allow people who have been convicted of a criminal offence, completed their sentence and demonstrated they are law-abiding citizens to have their criminal record kept separate and apart from other criminal records.

Why is that important? It is important for people to get rehabilitated and for those who have been rehabilitated to reintegrate into the community. We cannot go through every pardon that has been given, but if 96% of the pardons that have been given have been given to people who have not reoffended, one has to think that they are not breaking laws and that the pardons have probably permitted them to reintegrate into society in a better way.

How is that so? Again, without the benefit of the evidence, which is why we are sending it to committee, one would expect that when a person applies for a job, a 10- or 15-year-old criminal conviction might stand in the way of an employer hiring that person. The Criminal Records Act and National Parole Board may currently issue, grant, deny and revoke pardons for convictions under the regulations and federal acts of Canada. Under that power, only 4% of pardons since 1970 have been revoked.

What we do not have a real thorough grasp on, and I am sure the committee will do its due diligence and find this out, is how many are currently issued, granted and denied. We would perhaps like to know whether the denials are given with reasons or for reasons that make sense in our interpretation of criminal law and are in consonance with our principles of rehabilitation. I think we would all like to know that. We would benefit from this. However, as I say, this is really the first time this topic has come up in this House.

The aim here is to give convicted offenders the chance to reform their lives and return as citizens with respect for the law. For example, the pardon system can often allow offenders to find employment even when criminal background checks are performed. This is not to undermine the safety of Canadians but to ensure that reformed individuals can reintegrate into society.

What seems to be missing in a lot of the Conservative justice agenda is that if we put convicted criminals away for a long time, society will be safer, but for how long? That is the key issue and the fundamental difference between the lock-them-up-out-of-sight-for-a-long-time theory of reintegration of offenders to the reality that most offenders eventually get out.

The question for the security of the public is: What kind of individual do we want coming out after a sentence ends? A five year term will end. It may end sooner rather than later but it will end after five years. Do we want a person coming out who has put a modicum of effort toward rehabilitation? Do we want that person to get a job and be reintegrated into the taxpaying workforce? I would hope the answer from all sides would be yes.

The pardon system as it works now seems to work in that direction. A pardon presently removes all information pertaining to particular convictions from the Canadian Police Information Centre, or CPIC, as anybody involved with the law and police forces of this country would know it as. What does it show on CPIC? Is the individual's record on CPIC? Only the Minister of Public Safety has the authority to disclose this information.

While a pardon under the Criminal Records Act affects records in federal departments and agencies, provincial and municipal law enforcement officials generally co-operate with any restrictions to accessing records.

With particular relevance to the bill before us, sexual offenders may presently receive pardons but the offender's name will remain on the National Sex Offender Registry. To illustrate some of the points that brought this to the attention of the government and of the House, a sex offender will always be part of a National Sex Offender Registry.

A debate is now going on in this country as to how well the registry is working. Every community, village, town, city, region, province and county have raised concerns about the level of awareness citizens have with respect to a convicted sexual offender and his or her inter-relationship with the National Sex Offender Registry. However, we are not talking about that here. We are talking about pardons and this is a difference that should be highlighted because the government should be moving with all haste to examine as well, maybe on a corollary basis, the National Sex Offender Registry system to see how it is working or not.

Highly important is understanding that pardons carry no international recognition and areas under foreign control may disregard the consequences of a pardon here in Canada. That situation sometimes arises with respect to our largest neighbour and biggest trading partner to the south where pardons are recognized out of order. Convictions are not masked at American borders. We often have members of the House from all parties pleading for constituents who are truck drivers trying to get across the border with a record of conviction from many years in the past, and certainly in their past intellectually because they now contribute to society.

Regarding the application process for pardons, the National Parole Board has the final say on which applicant gets a pardon and which one does not. One important point is that even if the individual's application is denied, the individual can reapply annually.

I would like to highlight a number of statistics released by the National Parole Board. These are the most recent we have but I am sure the committee will be more specific in its questioning of National Parole Board officials. In 2009-10, 24,000 pardons were granted and a mere 425 were denied. We do not know why but it would be interesting to ask the witnesses at committee why pardons were denied. In the last five years, almost 112,000 people were pardoned. That is a significant figure considering the population of our country.

The key item that must be acknowledged again is that 96% of all pardons are still in force. One would have to review that on an objective basis as being a tremendous success rate. It clearly denotes the percentage of recipients who remain crime-free. Is that not the objective of all our criminal justice legislation? This low revocation rate of pardons has been largely attributed to the significant waiting periods required under the existing framework for eligibility.

I certainly see the cause for criticism over the number of applications approved by the National Parole Board but we should hesitate to claim the approval of a pardon as a mere rubber-stamp process.

The developments of more recent years that I want to address derive from 2006 when the then minister of public safety examined the pardon system and proposed no significant changes. That was then. Now it is a big concern. Today the government now appears to feel that a substantial overhaul is warranted. What has changed between the then minister of public safety's review in 2006 and now?

Could it be that the Conservatives are reacting as a government to some highly salacious, high-profile instances in a system that serves about 100,000 applications in the last 5 years, and I will be conservative with the figures, of some 25,000 applications a year? It wants to change the system based on 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 highly publicized cases, cases that bring us, as members of Parliament and right-thinking people, to a conclusion that those persons should not even be able to apply for pardon and certainly should not get a pardon.

Do we do that in our real life? Do we taken 1 case out of 25,000 and say that everything has to be changed right away, especially when we look at it as a House or at least as the government did some 3 or 4 years ago and said that everything was fine? There must have been a reason why everything was fine in 2006 and now it is awful. We would like to know that at committee, which is why we will support sending it to committee.

The changes that make for the most debate in this House would be whether we should change the name from “pardon” to “record suspension”. I think that is a flip of the coin. As long as people know that “record suspension” means “pardon” and it will not deter people from applying and will not bring different results from the same process, I am not sure there is much to be added or gained by the change of terms.

There seems to be a heavy moral element to it. People are used to the term “pardon”, but is it really a “pardon”? It is not society saying that it forgives people for everything they have done that is under the rubric of this offence, It is just saying that their record will be kept in a separate area and not be used against them if they apply for a job to get reintegrated into the community. Maybe the label is accurate.

Why was that not done in 2006? Why has it not been done before? I would like to hear from Public Safety officials as to the history of the term “pardon” and the history of the term “record suspension”.

Many of us will know the aspect of the bill championed above all else by the government has been the amendment to make those convicted of more than three indictable crimes or of sexual offences against minors ineligible for a pardon.

I am a parent of three young girls, so I may have a bias in this chamber, but I personally do not have a real problem with a pardon not being considered for a person who has been convicted of a sexual offence against a minor. I am not speaking for my party nor am I speaking for members of the committee but that is something that must be looked at by the committee and every member of the House has to come to some reckoning on it.

With respect to the three indictable offences, everybody thinks indictable offences are the most serious and most egregious. This is where I call for discretion in the system because my old Uncle Henry had it and he saved a lot of people, I think, by being stern with them but giving them an out, giving them a chance to rehabilitate.

I am sure the committee will hear an instance of a person who has three indictable offence convictions who is probably able to be reintegrated or has and received a pardon and did very well by it. I do not know, because this is all before the evidence comes into play.

On a similar note, for record suspensions the bill would increase the period of ineligibility to five years for summary conviction offences and ten years for indictable offences. In summary, that is a way of looking tougher but will it be more efficacious?

Ninety-six percent of people do not reoffend. The system is not that loosey-goosey. There are a significant number of years before a person can even apply for a pardon and many of the pardons that are given are given on the basis of the facts put very up very steadfastly by the National Parole Board and other people.

We will send this to committee. I am not sure that this is not just a knee-jerk reaction to some very egregious headlines about Graham James, et cetera. However, anybody who stands in this House and says that if members are not for this bill they are for Graham James getting a pardon, that is illogical and it is wrong.

We all want to protect society but let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater if the pardon system as we know it for the vast majority of applicants is working. If it works for them and gets them back into society, it works for society, which is us.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I note, as the member did, that in 2006, the former minister of public safety, under the present government, I believe in response to the pardon Clark Noble, a convicted sex offender, conducted a review that led to very minor changes, including the requirement for two parole board members to review the pardon applications from sex offenders. Ultimately, the government and the minister signed off on the current system of pardons as being adequate for public safety.

Now we roll the clock ahead to the current year and we have the Conservative member for Surrey North presenting Motion No. 514, which basically asks the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security to undertake a review of the Criminal Records Act and report back to the House within three months.

However, because of current media events, the government jumped the gun, brought in Bill C-23, basically cut the member for Surrey North out of the process and now there is a problem. The former minister said that there was not a problem and now there is.

We in the NDP were prepared to present a motion that could be dealt with right away to deal with the very severe case of Karla Homolka so that in cases that would shock the conscience of Canadians and bring the administration of justice into disrepute, we would be able to deny pardons.

Does the member agree with the NDP motion that was offered to the government in the last week so it could explore the opportunity to bring in a bill to deal specifically with the question at hand? The bill could be passed before we recess for the summer to deal with this important issue identified by the government in the last few weeks. I would ask the member if he agrees with our assessment of what needs to be done now.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is a thoughtful motion but what we have before us is a bill that is based on headlines. Whenever one cites names like Graham James, Karla Homolka and Clifford Olson in public, one is sure to get a very emotional reaction and probably a pretty universal one. The crimes committed by those people were egregious and the idea of pardoning, deleting records or giving benefits to any of them shocks the conscience.

I am in agreement with the member that it is emotionally irrational to completely throw out the system that has been in place and has been approved by all governments, Liberals and Conservatives, over the years because of headlines. What I would like to know, maybe through the motion or through the hearings on this bill, which I think accomplishes the same end, is what evidence there is when a person gets refused a pardon.

We know it is a small number of cases, some 400 or 500 out of 20,000, but there are still 400 or 500 people who apply every year and do not get pardons and I wonder why. Is it because their offences were so egregious that it shocks the conscience? What are the reasons? This is the kind of pith and substance we will get to in the committee and hopefully we will make some good changes out of it.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe for again providing a very insightful and informative speech at second reading on a bill that is important to Canadians. He has laid out some interesting points.

Without hearing from experts, members can only deal with information that is available in the public domain. However, we cannot get the information that the witnesses would bring to the table at committee, and it is extremely important that we have to get this right.

Since this appears to be publicly-driven legislation, does he think the public needs to have some sort of an opportunity or a venue to express their concerns so we can determine whether the word “pardon” is really one of the biggest sticking points? The member is quite right, in some cases in the United States, when there is a pardon of someone who has just been caught doing something, a president would pardon someone is fixated in the mind.

However, it is a public issue and the communications with the public in all aspects of this has to be strictly looked at, simply from the standpoint that the public has a right to know the facts and true, full and plain disclosure.

Could the comment on the need to inform the public?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, absolutely. The member is completely correct. The public will read a headline about Graham James getting a pardon and those three words together “Graham James pardon” I think send a chill. It should not colour the whole process, however. Maybe there is something wrong with the word because it is not a true pardon. As the member indicates, when President Ford, I think, pardoned a number of republicans, it sent the idea that despite the fact they did something wrong, he would let them walk free and they were absolved. A pardon in the common meaning of it means that we are absolved from what we did.

This is not really what this is and it never has been. It is just the word that has been used. It really is sort of a record suspension.

At committee, I would be open to the debate, but the public has to understand that a record suspension is a more accurate reflection of what a pardon is. It is not necessarily a change of a whole system. If we accept that one change in definition, it does not mean we throw out the system. People have to know that the system seems to work and people have to look deep within their own history, their own minds and their own hearts and realize that if they have had relatives, or friends or a co-workers who have done something in their past who luckily have received pardons because they are now working beside them, part of their family and are contributing in a meaningful way to community, this may, in some ways, be changed if the system is changed much further.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to rise in support of Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Records Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. The short title of this bill is “eliminating pardons for serious crimes act”. That is what we believe to be the fundamental objective of these efforts.

With the introduction of Bill C-23, the government has moved forward to significantly reform the current pardon systems and to make good on a commitment to address public safety concerns swiftly and sensibly.

Foremost, these reforms acknowledge that a pardon is not forgiveness. It is an administrative tool to keep someone's criminal record separate and apart, but not erased.

These changes would clearly establish who would not be eligible for a record suspension and, as well, bring about more scrutiny and rigour to the decision-making process for those who apply.

The government has taken action to introduce Bill C-23 because we firmly believe that a pardon is not a right. The commission of serious offences does not warrant a pardon, such as in cases where a sexual offence has been committed against a child. We believe this sentiment is shared by Canadians, in particular victims, who have spoken of the impacts of crime, in particular sexual crimes, and the need for adopting changes to the pardon system.

I urge all hon. members to give their full support for Bill C-23 and work in co-operation with the government to ensure swift passage of this important legislation through Parliament.

One key element of this bill, which I have mentioned, is a shift in the use of—

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Ajax--Pickering on a point of order.

Alleged Comments by An Hon. MemberPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I apologize for interrupting the speech of the hon. member, but I had just left to do an interview and upon returning, was informed that the reason the Speaker, then Madam Speaker, had interrupted my speech was to say that a member had used unparliamentary language. It has come to my attention that the member for Essex, when I was referencing my children, questioned the paternity of my children in a personal smear against me.

That is unacceptable in this place. For somebody to launch a personal attack on a person's family, on their children, is deeply upsetting to me and I would ask the member stand in his place and apologize.

Alleged Comments by An Hon. MemberPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The member for Essex is not present at the moment. The Speaker will examine the blues.

The hon. member for Parkdale—High Park on the same point.

Alleged Comments by An Hon. MemberPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Gerard Kennedy Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I heard the member referred to say, “Are they all his children?”

Alleged Comments by An Hon. MemberPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Cambridge Ontario

Conservative

Gary Goodyear ConservativeMinister of State (Science and Technology) (Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario)

Mr. Speaker, I think what the members opposite are talking about is when the member was going on about how he preferred to protect his children, I said that because I prefer to protect my children, it does not make our opinions different. That might be what the member heard. If that is what he heard and he took it that way, I fully take it back and apologize.

Alleged Comments by An Hon. MemberPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The member for Ajax—Pickering was referring to the member for Essex.

I think I have heard enough, unless the member for Ajax—Pickering wants to bring in a new point.

Alleged Comments by An Hon. MemberPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, if I can, so the matter is extremely clear, what I was referencing actually was that all members of the House care about their children and care about the community. As a father, of course I care every bit as much as a Conservative member about my community and my children. It was at that point that the member for Essex very specifically and very clearly questioned whether they were my children. He was questioning the paternity of my children. It was an attack against my family.

I would ask, if the member is not present right now, that he be requested to make that retraction. It is unbecoming of this place and I find it very upsetting.

Alleged Comments by An Hon. MemberPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I can assure the member for Ajax—Pickering that the Speaker will examine the transcript and perhaps other forms of recordings, if necessary, and if the member for Essex is notified of this point, I am sure he will want to come to the House to clarify.

We will move on with debate. The hon. member for Brant has 15 minutes left.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Records Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.