Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by making it clear that I am absolutely convinced that all members of the House support public safety and want laws that keep people safe. However, we have differences of opinion about how to achieve that goal.
Our differences of opinion are reflected in North America as a whole. Down south, in the United States, those who supported extreme punishment won. Right now, their prisons are home to over one-quarter of the prison population worldwide. That is bankrupting some states. They have to release people from jail without even looking at individual cases because they simply do not have the space to keep them locked up. Their crime rate is much higher than ours. One is three and a half times more likely to be a murder victim in the United States than in Canada, and five times more likely to be murdered in the United States than in Quebec, by the way. It is a fiasco. I think that we need to adopt a more intelligent approach because the debate is lacking in intelligence.
The fact that we are against anti-crime provisions does not mean that we are in favour of criminals' rights or that we do not care about public safety even though they say that this is about being tough on crime.
I believe that, in my career, I have done a lot for public safety. I think that I have done a lot more than many people here, and probably more than our Minister of Justice. I worked with chiefs Duchesneau and Barbeau to create the Carcajou squads. When we came up with that approach to policing, I believed that if police officers pooled their information about crime, they would make remarkable progress. I was not thinking just of what was part of the official record, but of the information in their heads. That is what made Carcajou so original, and it produced remarkable results with officers from different police forces working two by two on cases. That model has often been used in Canada and even in other countries.
At the end of this three and a half year process, 321 members of organized crime were arrested. There was never any criticism of the way the evidence against them was gathered and they were all convicted. They received various sentences depending on the seriousness of the crimes they had committed, but especially on their involvement. No one ever complained about this aspect.
I believe my past shows that I was concerned about and capable of fighting organized crime, but I remain convinced that imprisonment is a serious measure that needs to be used in moderation. There are certainly other ways to get people to correct their behaviour.
We are currently discussing pardons in this House. People commit crimes because they are not perfect. Nonetheless, we have to realize that it is also very important that people have a goal to achieve that provides some sort of benefit, that they not be guided solely by the fear of punishment.
Napoleon understood that. He handed out vast quantities of medals because he knew that people are motivated more by reward than by the fear of punishment.
When a person has been sentenced and has served that sentence and will have a hard time reintegrating into society, is it not good to think he could be provided a goal to achieve, the goal of being pardoned, which would be recognized by the community if he proves over a set period of time that he is worthy of it?
It is a long period of time nonetheless, much longer than what the previous speakers stated. We must consider that the clock starts once all conditions added to the sentence have elapsed.
In the majority of sentences handed down, if not all of them, the judges specify a term of imprisonment plus the requirement to keep the peace and to comply with certain conditions for a period of at least three years. In the case of criminal offences, where the time is five years, it is not five years after release from prison, but five years from the time all conditions have elapsed.
Very often, if a sentence of five years is handed down and parole is granted, the clock does not start at the end of the five-year sentence but at the end of the two additional years imposed by the judge. The same principle applies when it is three years.
In my career, I saw how the system worked when these laws did not exist. The law created the possibility of granting a pardon. I believe that is the term used in the first law, which was subsequently amended. This possibility was created because it was understood that it was very difficult for a person who had served time in jail or received a criminal conviction to reintegrate into society. They have difficulty finding work and face many obstacles on the road to rehabilitation. It was deemed to be a good idea.
Society believed that a pardon could be granted after a certain period of time, which was fairly long nonetheless. It is not five years. It is five years plus the period of time during which they must comply with certain conditions. Seven years is almost as long as the time required to complete classical studies, which last eight years. That is rather long. It gave the person a valid reason to respect the law and to change their behaviour.
They want to change the terminology again. We are now considering the term “record suspension”. Why are they so afraid of the term “pardon”? As far as I know, forgiveness is a value that is taught by all major religions. I received a very religious education, but I am no longer religious. In fact, I have often described myself as being agnostic.
I am at a point in my life when I am beginning to have doubts. I wonder if I should continue to be agnostic or return to religion. At a certain point in my life, I was very interested in the origins of the world. Science gave more of an explanation than religion did.
The doubt sown in me by Albert Camus when I was young remains deeply entrenched. In La Peste, he wrote that God cannot be both infinitely just and infinitely powerful; otherwise, he would not allow children to suffer. When I was young I was told that the ways of the Lord were unfathomable.
I still have my doubts. I am not practising, even though I was married in the church and my children were all baptized and they, in turn, have had their children baptized.
Yet, I still remember that this religion was the foundation for my values, and I think it is the same for everyone. Does anyone here remember Christ's last words upon the cross? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Christ's last living words were words of forgiveness.
Another thing that left a significant impression on me was the film Gandhi, a wonderful film by David Attenborough, or perhaps his brother. At one point, someone reveals to Gandhi that he has done something horrible. During some sort of protest, he got carried away with hatred for the people of the other religion. He took a baby and hit it against a wall until it was dead. Obviously, it was a despicable act. Gandhi told this man that what he had done was horrible and that his punishment was to take an orphan Muslim child—the man being Hindu—and raise the child as his own son. Again, there was that belief that is espoused by all major religions.
During my life, in my travels and in the readings I have done before travelling, I have noticed that major religions—Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism—all preach not only love for one's neighbour, but also pardon. Why are we afraid of using that word?
It seems to me that telling someone that he can be pardoned after at least seven to nine years serves as a goal that promotes rehabilitation. I use those figures because there is the five-year period, plus the customary two- to three-year period during which the judge requires the offender to keep the peace, plus the investigations, which take from 18 months to 2 years. But honestly, now we are going to tell someone that we are going to give him a record suspension. Good God, the people who came up with that were not educators. I do not think it will encourage many people. Moreover, when people have been told the impact of a pardon and what comes from it, I have heard them ask themselves why they would apply for one if it has virtually no impact.
I believe that it does have an impact and that that positive goal acts as an incentive for rehabilitation.
The government has taken a specific case and, as it has done with so many bills during this session, it has extrapolated it to a large number of cases. The public may be concerned about the Graham James case, because it involves sexual offences. But I would remind the House that there is no absolute pardon in such cases, because records of sexual offences are kept apart and can be consulted if the offender wants to volunteer or work in a place where he would be close to children or even close to adults if he is working in a health care centre.
The government says that the automatic granting of pardons needs to be reviewed. Personally, I do not believe that pardons are granted automatically. Some are denied. We have been told that more than 800 are denied every year, after an investigation is conducted.
Once again, the government has taken a specific case and blown it out of all proportion. I can give at least two examples that I feel are more important. There is the supposed law against child trafficking.
Obviously, everyone thinks that someone found guilty of child trafficking must receive an extremely harsh punishment. However, if we actually read the bill, which very few people have done, we see that, other than in the title, it does not mention trafficking. It talks about the exploitation of persons under the age of 18 years. There is a minimum.
The minimum is certainly appropriate for child traffickers, but obviously it would not apply as well to all cases where persons under the age of 18 have been exploited. Exploitation can refer to the exchange of money as a salary— but few children earn a salary, and for income received for services. The law's target is a dreadful crime, but the legislation has not been carefully worded so that it specifically addresses this crime. Instead, all kinds of other crimes are being included.
The same thing is being done with Bill C-16, which would restrict the availability of conditional sentences for violent and dangerous offenders. Fine, but the legislation already allows for a judge to refuse to give a conditional sentence, to be served at home, if public safety is at risk. Am I the only one who thinks that granting a conditional sentence to a violent and dangerous offender jeopardizes public safety, and that judges should not do that?
I would like to come back to child trafficking. I recognize that this trafficking is a form of exploitation, but not all exploitation comes in the form of child trafficking. The sentence that is appropriate for child traffickers is not necessarily appropriate for other forms of exploitation, which can last a day or a few hours.
How is the success of a pardon project measured? We are told that 97% of people who benefited from this type of pardon, which is not actually a pardon because it involves public recognition of that pardon, have not committed other criminal offences and they respected the conditions imposed on them. That seems like a very good success rate, 97%.
Perhaps we are very different in Quebec. The Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms recognizes that we must not discriminate on the basis of a criminal record.
However, it is true that the case of Graham James is an example of leniency or premature pardon for people who have committed criminal acts of a sexual nature. As I said, we know that these files are under wraps. That is why they are approved. Part of the public seems outraged, but that is not the case with Manon Cornellier, who was so well quoted by the member for Ahuntsic, who spoke before me. I am convinced that people are outraged because they do not know the success rate and the time it takes. They are unaware of the minor nature of the material consequences of granting pardons.
If these people look at the basic tenets of their religion, whatever that religion may be, they will see that granting a pardon, after this time period and on these conditions, is a way to honour their religion and is good for public safety.