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House of Commons Hansard #70 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.

Topics

Criminal Records Act ReviewPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Surrey North for her Motion No. 514 on public safety and criminal records. She is a long-standing champion of the rights of victims and for trying to make our justice system a better functioning system. I want to congratulate her for her tireless work in this area. This particular motion deals with criminal records and it is certainly one that needs to be changed.

There are a number of issues with respect to, for example, the pardon system. We saw the situation of the hockey player, Mr. James, who received a pardon despite having victimized dozens of young boys for a long period of time. All Canadians were outraged that this individual received a pardon and we have seen other individuals who committed very serious crimes receive or are going to receive pardons.

The whole issue of pardons and records came out of the Criminal Records Act. It was done by Don Tolmie back in the 1960s. It was done in a well-meaning way but unfortunately, such things have not panned out as they should. As a result of that, we have seen that changes are necessary with respect to how we do that.

Back in 2000, the then government of Mr. Chrétien made a number of amendments to the Criminal Records Act, including changes requiring that applicants whose pardon applications had been refused must wait at least a year before reapplying, and automatically revoking pardons for anybody with new convictions. There are certain things that can be done to move forward in this area, including precluding individuals who commit serious, indictable offences from ever getting a pardon. It is offensive that this occurs and I think a lot of the public would wonder, as many of us did, how this could possibly happen.

Historically, the National Parole Board's hands have been tied. What it does is assess somebody, and if he or she has had an unblemished record for five years after the conviction, the National Parole Board is obliged to give that person a pardon. That is the system that we have.

Changing the system and providing the National Parole Board with the ability to refuse pardons for individuals who have committed violent offences, including sexual offences, is something that is welcome and certainly sends a very clear message that individuals who have committed these serious crimes will always have it on their records. As I said before, this is something that needs to be changed.

I would also draw attention to something that needs to change in terms of the RCMP.

There was a decision called the McNeil decision that came down through the courts, which in many ways put the police on trial. It actually puts disclosure obligations on the police officer for a wide variety of crimes, from DUIs all the way to homicide investigations. In other words, in a trial, the RCMP officers are put on trial, and long aspects of disclosure in terms of personal information on them have to be disclosed to the defence and the court. This to me is absolutely absurd. It is not the RCMP officer who is on trial. It is the person who is charged with the offence who is on trial.

The impact of this, of course, has been quite devastating because it has put a huge administrative burden on the RCMP in terms of quite extensive legal, human resources and administrative costs. This is not a small problem. It is a large problem and a large impediment to the ability of our police officers to do their jobs and implement the legal system that we have in our country.

As a result, it is causing an entanglement within our justice system. I would strongly encourage the government to take a look at this McNeil decision and introduce in this House changes to reverse it. In times of fiscal austerity and a significant difference between the job that our RCMP has to do and the resources it has, now it is being forced to pour huge amounts of money into large administrative costs that are not necessary in terms of being able to deliver the justice and protection that the Canadian public needs.

Today, one could safely say that the system we have really does not take into account the complexity of the charter of rights, the duty to account, and the constitutional ambiguity that surrounds the job that police officers engage in today. Their job keeps on changing and the legal obligations on them keep on changing, which makes it much more difficult for them to do their jobs. I would strongly encourage the government to look at this and implement changes that are desperately required to enable our police officers to do their jobs.

Some of us in the House are disappointed that in coming back to the House after three months working in our ridings, the long gun registry came to the forefront. All of us understand that changes have to happen. Chief Superintendent Cheliak and his team did an excellent job of changing the registry, changing the administrative burden that had been on the shoulders of individuals who owned long guns. Whatever has to happen in the future to make this better, I would encourage the government to work with us and people who own long guns to ensure that whatever other changes are required do happen to make this less of an onerous task on them.

Most of the gun owners, at least in my community, have actually said that they support the registry, that the changes that were made by the RCMP and that the capping of costs at $4 million a year they found to be a fair and reasonable trade-off, given the fact that all the major police groups in the country, from the RCMP to the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Canadian Police Association and others, have actually asked for this.

There also needs to be some mending of fences between individuals who live in rural areas and those who live in urban areas. This has caused a wedge between them and we need to do a better job of understanding that there has been misinformation which needs to be corrected. Some of the concerns of those who own long guns must be listened to, and whatever changes that are required to improve the system need to be done.

I want to compliment the member for Surrey North. There is an opportunity for us to work together to improve the efficiency of our justice system. One of the first things that can be done is to listen to our police officers. They labour under some very difficult administrative and legal obligations which actually pull them away from doing their duty, which is investigating those who allegedly commit crimes in our country.

Because of the administrative overlay that they have, valuable and limited resources are being taken away from the sharp end of policing in Canada and are buried in administrative costs. Taking police officers away from front line duties to sit at desks, filling out endless forms, is not effective, not useful, and can actually mar the implementation of our judicial system.

There are a lot of opportunities to listen to the RCMP and other police forces across the country. Personally, I do not think they are being listened to right now in many cases. They have a lot of superb solutions that can enable us to achieve a fair and effective judicial system, but they are the ones on the front line. They are the ones who can provide some very innovative solutions and they ought to be listened to.

The government needs to understand there are things it can do on the judicial side that are important. The government did not use a good chunk of the crime prevention moneys. It has removed quite significantly moneys for victims. Moneys have been cut, which is remarkable, for victims rights groups. I would ask the government to reinstate those moneys.

There are two very powerful things the government could do to reduce crime. An early learning head start program will reduce crime by 40% to 50%. Changing the drug laws in our country would also significantly reduce crime because the current prohibition puts money into the hands of organized crime gangs in our country.

There are many fact-based solutions the government could implement to improve our judicial system and make our country a safer place. I would strongly encourage it to implement those solutions.

Criminal Records Act ReviewPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Kenora Ontario

Conservative

Greg Rickford ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, I am certainly grateful for the opportunity to join in this important debate on the motion from the hon. member for Surrey North, and I thank her for this opportunity to speak to it.

Recently, many Canadians were made aware that the current system of pardons in this country might not work in a way that always and unequivocally puts public safety first. Canadians were outraged when they learned that sex offender Graham James, for example, received a pardon. They are understandably concerned that other notorious criminals may also get a rubber stamp. That is why our Conservative government took swift and necessary action last spring.

Bill C-23A gives the National Parole Board the tools it needs to decide if granting a pardon is warranted, and it ensures that the waiting period to apply for a pardon better reflects the severity of the crimes committed. That is not all. I urge all members of this House to support the remaining reforms as they are contained Bill C-23B.

Our government has made listening to the views of Canadians and especially the voices of victims one of our top priorities since we were first elected in 2006. We have, in fact, heard from victims and victims groups that support these reforms.

I would like to first commend the hon. member for her ongoing work on behalf of victims and for bringing this important matter forward.

As we heard, the legislation governing the pardon system was such that a pardon was granted to nearly all ex-offenders who applied for one. Let me put that into concrete terms. According to the National Parole Board, just 2% of all applications for a pardon were rejected in 2008-09. That compares with only 1% in 2007-08 and again a mere 1% in 2006-07. In 2006-07, only 103 of 14,851 applications were rejected. The following year, only 175 of 25,021 applications for a pardon received by the National Parole Board were, in fact, rejected.

Those numbers raise some troubling questions and concerns for many Canadians. Many Canadians asked whether the current system simply operated as a rubber stamp. Others wanted to know whether there were enough safeguards in place. These were the issues we needed to examine very carefully, with an eye to making sure that the needs of victims and the safety and security of Canadians always comes first. We remain committed to ensuring that the pardon process is not a rubber stamp. That is why we brought Bill C-23 forward.

We advanced the most critical aspects of pardon reform before the summer break, but we have much more work to do. I call on the opposition to continue the work we accomplished in June and to side with victims and law-abiding Canadians and not with criminals.

The general rule of thumb at the time was that people convicted of summary offences were eligible for a pardon three years after finishing their sentences, provided they had not been convicted of any other offences during that period. Pardons in these cases were automatic, and the National Parole Board had absolutely no discretion to refuse an application.

For those convicted of more serious indictable offences, the waiting period was a bit longer, five years, and applicants had to demonstrate that they had had good conduct. However, each application was either accepted or rejected using exactly the same criteria, regardless of the nature of the offence. Again, it was a rubber stamp. There was no discretion to weigh the impact on victims. There was no discretion to say that granting a pardon in cases such as those involving sex offences against children might not be appropriate, despite the fact that such acts often leave a lasting and devastating scar on the victim, a scar that may never heal.

We heard from victims who, along with many other Canadians, questioned the fairness of a pardon system that would allow sex offenders to virtually wipe the judicial slate clean after as few as three years.

We heard from many Canadians who told us that some offenders should perhaps not be granted pardons at all.

All of this is why our government introduced Bill C-23, legislation that would implement fundamental reforms to help ensure, among other things, that the National Parole Board would have more discretion when reviewing applications for a pardon.

The changes our government proposed, and were approved by Parliament as Bill C-23A, allowed the board to examine factors such as the nature, gravity and the duration of an offence in reaching its decisions for an offender convicted of an indictable offence as well as the circumstances surrounding the commission of that offence, of course, information relating to an applicant's criminal history.

Other changes will mean the waiting period is now 10 years in the case of a serious personal injury offence, including manslaughter, when the applicant was sentenced to two years or more. The waiting period is now 10 years for those convicted of a sexual offence related to a child and prosecuted by way of indictment. Other applicants convicted of a sexual offence, prosecuted by summary conviction, must now wait five years. People convicted of an indictable offence will need to prove to the National Parole Board that receiving a pardon will contribute to his or her rehabilitation and not bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

Such changes are necessary in order to give the National Parole Board the tools it needs to ensure our justice system is not put into disrepute. Because we owe it to all Canadians, especially victims of serious crimes, to ensure that the system puts public safety first and the interests of victims first, we moved quickly and responsibly to bring forward these reforms which are tough but also fair.

Our government believes they were necessary because our justice system must always include compassion for victims.

I would like to reiterate once again that our government is prepared to take further necessary steps to ensure that Canadians can have confidence in our justice system, and that victims of unfortunate serious crimes lie at the forefront of our judicial policy with respect to their protection.

Furthermore, our record reflects our commitment to protecting Canadians, taking action to stand up for victims and cracking down on crime.

I, therefore, urge all hon. members to support Motion No. 514 before us today and to continue to work with the government to ensure we have a pardon system that works the way it should. That is the way a pardon system should work and that is the way the House of Commons should work. I am glad to see in this instance such is the case.

I again thank the member for Surrey North for this great opportunity to speak to Motion No. 514 which is an important issue in my riding as well.

Criminal Records Act ReviewPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Resuming debate.

With her five minute right of reply, the hon. member for Surrey North.

Criminal Records Act ReviewPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Dona Cadman Conservative Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity today to discuss Surrey North's motion before the House calling for a parliamentary examination of the pardon system.

In the last session, Parliament undertook an initiative in Bill C-23A in responding to the widespread concern of Canadians over a seemingly automatic pardon system.

Recently I shared the outrage of Canadians that notorious sex offender, Graham James, received a pardon and had his criminal record sealed by the Parole Board of Canada. The government was understandably concerned that other notorious criminals would also get a rubber stamp. That is why we took quick and decisive action to advance the most critical aspects of our pardon reform.

We listened to Canadians and, most important, we listened to the victims themselves, all of whom told us the same thing, which was that change was needed and that it was needed now. I, therefore, urge all my colleagues in the House to work together on this. We need to continue our good work and reform legislation to ensure the protection of families, communities and, most important, victims.

The way the rules were written allowed the vast majority of offenders to receive a pardon. If an individual had been convicted, served his or her time and was not convicted again for either three or five years after completing their sentence, he or she was entitled to a pardon.

The pardon approval rate under the previous system suggests that the Parole Board of Canada has been interpreting the Criminal Records Act as requiring it to grant a pardon in almost all cases. In essence, it has come to be an almost automatic entitlement. This does not mean pardons will not continue to play a very important role in the offender rehabilitation process. It will, but it will cease to be the rubber stamp it has become.

Under the previous system, the rules allowed for little difference between indictable and summary offences. For a summary conviction, offenders needed to wait three years after serving their sentence and before they could apply for and be granted a pardon. Those convicted of indictable offences needed to wait five years and demonstrate good conduct, after which they could apply for and be granted a pardon.

I believe there is a big difference between people who are convicted of an offence, such as break and enter when they were young, and people who are chronic serious offenders. We need to look very carefully at whether our pardon system should treat these people with very different criminal histories in the same manner. Our government tabled legislation will provide the Parole Board direction to consider such factors when rendering a decision.

The legislation that our government introduced and was eventually approved by Parliament established that the Parole Board can deny a pardon in any case where granting it would “bring the administration of justice into disrepute”. I believe that this is the central provision.

In addition, ineligibility periods have been extended, particularly for cases processed by indictment and involving sentences of more than two years, such as those offences involving personal injury and sexual offences against children.

I believe all members in the House owe the responsibility to not just their families and friends but to their constituents to ensure we make our promise good to Canada and make a better and safer place to live. I ask for the support of all hon. members in the passing of Motion No. 514. Together we can reform the pardon system to ensure it better reflects Canadian values.

Criminal Records Act ReviewPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The time provided for debate has expired. The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Criminal Records Act ReviewPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Criminal Records Act ReviewPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Criminal Records Act ReviewPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Criminal Records Act ReviewPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Criminal Records Act ReviewPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Criminal Records Act ReviewPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93 the division stands deferred until Wednesday, September 29, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

It being 1:54 p.m., this House stands adjourned until next Monday at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 1:54 p.m.)