Mr. Speaker, I withdraw that. Because of the recess, we have become a little relaxed on things. I apologize very much for that.
The Prime Minister of Canada killed his own bill. The Prime Minister of Canada took the legs out from underneath the Minister of Justice. However, he survived another day and then waited 48 more days to introduce this bill that is so important.
I will go back to the bill. On its merits, the bill is tough on crime. It sure is. It is late on crime, very late. There is a saying that justice delayed is justice denied. If the minister believes so vehemently in this bill, why did he delay it so much and do injustice to the people of Canada? That is a good question.
Some of my colleagues, particularly on the other side of the House, have tried to describe us on this side as weak on crime. Nothing could be more false. I wish our laws were tougher on a wide range of crimes. I wish the government and the minister would act with more dispatch on the important aspects that threaten Canadians today. Not two crimes out of 1,500 since 1987. There are far more important and urgent issues that involve the security of our public than this issue. Even when the Conservatives profess to think it is an important issue, they delay the heck out of it.
I consider the sentencing principles of denouncing unlawful conduct, deterring offences, and the separation of offenders from society to be very important. They are in the code that we believe in, the Criminal Code section 718. Every law should be seen through the prism of section 718 because it affects the balance of how we treat offenders. It is the Criminal Code. It is to put criminals in programs, including incarceration, that deal with their crimes. First of all there has to be an offender, there has to be a crime, and there has to be a punishment. We are talking about the punishment phase here.
The case that Liberal colleagues want to keep Canadians safe cannot be disputed. We want this country to be tougher on crimes and we believe we have very good ideas on how to get tougher. This does not mean we have to buy into the ridiculous idea that Bill S-6 is going to make Canada tough on crime. Let me be clear. The Liberals are not opposed to the repeal of the faint hope clause in this instance. The questions are why it took so long, why they are targeting something that is so minor in impact, and why they are dilly-dallying on the important criminal laws that need to be enacted.
Repealing the faint hope clause will likely have no drastic effect whatsoever. It affects such a small group of individuals that what negative impact it could have will likely be very limited. So we will not oppose it. However, we have to object to the shameless promotion of the so-called toughness of the bill and the whole Conservative agenda on fighting crime. It goes right to the top, not to the Prime Minister in this case, but to the short title.
The Minister of Justice went on about how inane it is to attack a short title. It is what Canadians believe the bill to be when they look at the short title. Someone looking at the short title of this bill, which was clearly crafted by some republican hack who also writes the tops of cereal boxes, would not have any clue what phase in the criminal justice system this deals with, and could not be guided by the short title.
This bill deals with the faint hope clause. It is to live or die, to eliminate it, to modify it, to let it live another day. That is what the bill is about. People may understand that, but they certainly would not understand the shameless self-promoting title chosen by the Conservatives, which engenders that they want a snappy title, they want to over-promise and under-deliver. Finally, it is their job every night to put the fear of potential harm that does not exist in the hearts and minds of Canadians.
Wow, what leadership that is, to say, “I am your leader and I am going to scare you tonight. Look at the 7 o'clock news”. That is what the government does, and in this crime, the Minister of Justice is an accomplice of the Prime Minister of Canada.
I am ready to support a government, if we could see one that would be tough on crime. However, the only thing tough about these bills is the short title. Getting to that, the short title of the bill is “Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act”.
If the Conservatives want to write poetry, if they want to write television titles, they should choose another occupation. However, if they want to stick to the realm of criminal law, they should look at the Criminal Code and pick titles that relate to it.
We Liberals have amended the bill to remove the short title. We amended the short title because it was disingenuous and misleading. Criminals who receive life sentences in Canada do serve serious time. How dare the Conservatives accuse us of delaying this bill for refusing to agree to a short title that tries to create a problem that does not exist.
Perhaps the problem is one of perception and the Progressive Conservatives, of which the Minister of Justice was a proud member and a cabinet member himself, can be part of the explanation as to why we have a perception problem with respect to life sentences for first degree murder, for example. If we asked Canadians what happens when someone is convicted of first degree murder, the answer would be that one gets a life sentence. I bet if we asked if that meant serving life in prison, most Canadians would think so.
We have to remember it was a Liberal government that enacted this law as a compromise for eliminating the death penalty. This very intricate compromise has been upheld by the Supreme Court and commented upon. It seems to be the balance with which we have lived in Canada for a long time. It says that a person who commits first degree murder will receive a life sentence and will be eligible for parole after 25 years served.
In addition, this faint hope clause we speak of recognizes that if after 15 years in prison a first degree murderer has shown elements of rehabilitation, denounces his or her own unlawful conduct, is likely to be deterred for life and fits all of the sentencing principles that we have lived with in society, that person might be eligible for early parole after passing through a whole series of hoops, including the empanelling of a jury, the selection of a chief justice to review the file and finally a parole hearing. That is a lot of hoops to go through. As I have said, of 1,500 who were eligible, I think only 146 actually received the faint hope consideration or early parole.
Let us remember the years when a Conservative government was in power. It did nothing to change these provisions of the Criminal Code because Progressive Conservatives believed that this was an adequate balance. However, today the Alliance Reform Conservatives believe this is an urgent and pressing problem. It is so urgent that they introduced it, let it die by their own hand and took 48 days to reintroduce it. They are really ragging the puck on something that is so urgent.
What is urgent for the Conservatives is to get out before the media and say that there is a real problem with murderers running around the streets of our home towns and they are going to make sure they never get out of prison. It is disingenuous because, in this chamber at least, everybody knows that a life sentence means 25 years with eligibility for parole. Everyone knows that in Canada the average sentence served is about 28 years for a first degree murder. Everybody should know that is just behind the United States where first degree murder has a combination of the death penalty and 29-odd years.
Everyone should also know that there are developed, civilized, important countries of the world that have average time served for first degree murder at a much lower number of years: 10, 11, 12 and 13 years for countries like Britain, Belgium, Australia and the Antipodes.
We are not lax on crime. If I were to take credit for this legislation as a Liberal from the 1970s, one could not say that being just a hair under the United States for time served is lax on crime. It can be said on a newscast and said in here, but out in the public there ought to be a little more truth and sincerity when addressing important issues such as crime and justice. That has been lacking in the whole debate on crime since I came here in 2006.
At committee we have had expert witnesses tell us that not only is there no evidence to suggest that the elimination of the faint hope clause will make our communities safer, but Canada is a world leader, as I just mentioned, in incarceration times. It means then we are tough on crime already in this respect.
I have underscored before that hope is already faint. Correctional Service Canada shows that the average time spent is actually 28.4 years, 10 years longer than in many other countries. Hope is already faint for criminals here. Time in custody is already serious for criminals.
I had occasion, after we rose in December, to visit Dorchester Penitentiary and to see the conditions under which criminals were kept. I heard from wardens and officials at one of our oldest units in the country. The said that they lived a bit in fiscal and security fear of what the Conservative government had in mind by overpopulating a prison that was as old, almost, as Confederation itself.
Time in custody is already serious. If it is the government's will to make hope even fainter for criminals, we cannot say that two individuals is a track record of a failure in this regard. What we have to say is that this overall section affects so few criminals and people in our country that it is not really the object we want to talk about today. We want to talk about what the government has done in other serious areas of the law in law reform.
As I have already mentioned, this bill will have a very limited effect on very few criminals. The faint hope clause has been in effect for 30 years and has made it possible for 130 people to be paroled.
The Conservatives are trying to make us believe that the bill tackles a serious problem. Is that how they protect Canadians and show respect for victims? Criminals are not fools, and neither are victims. Bills such as this will not reduce the crime rate. What this bill really does is make a minor change to how a small number of inmates are paroled.
The Liberal Party will vote in favour of this bill as quickly as possible because it is waiting impatiently for this government to bring forward a bill that is truly tough on crime.
We want to move on with the bill so the government can have the time and space to put forward a bill that is truly tough on crime. At the justice committee five different witnesses have said the same thing, that the bill is not tough on crime. As John Howard Society told us in its committee submission:
Eliminating the faint hope clause, which in practice only allows the earlier application for parole of a handful of already assessed, low-risk, rehabilitated applicants who have already served at minimum 15 years...is unnecessary...and will not improve community safety.
One would have thought in the ensuing years since Bill C-36 was introduced that there might have been new evidence. Alas, there was not.
The aspect of keeping people safe is far different than making them feel that they are safe. The government does a deep disservice to the latter by fearmongering and causing Canadians to feel that the system is not working. It is almost tantamount to treason to say that our criminal justice system does not work.
When first elected, Conservatives and the Prime Minister of Canada were not reluctant to say that Liberal-appointed judges were weak on crime. He also said, in his drive-by schmear, that the Liberal-appointed Senate was useless.
With the passage of time, Conservatives have now had their hands on the rudder for over five years and have appointed a lot of judges to the Supreme Court and the courts of appeal. I do not hear in the Prime Minister's speeches that it is now the fault of judges or that it is no longer the Senate's fault. Talk about victims. He is blaming a narrow number of victims for the perception that the battle on crime is not working because Conservatives have done precious little to actually attack crime. All they have done is make people feel that there is more crime.
This is the conundrum we have. If we speak against a law and order bill, we look like we are pro victim. If the government speaks against the judiciary, it looks like it is undermining the system. What it all means, unfortunately, is that Canadians cannot get a true picture of what is going on with respect to criminality in our country.
I would lay down the sword, along with the Minister of Justice and others, and say that some of us are lawyers and officers of the court. Law societies would be looking at me if I denied it, but that is extremely important. However, we have a higher duty than that. We have a duty to the Canadian public to be truthful and earnest and say, yes, that there are growing areas of crime that we need to attack surgically by implementations that we have spoken about at an all party committee in an in camera meeting. We have talked to judges in camera and know that these tools would be useful in fighting that criminality.
It is not helpful to go on the six o'clock news and say that it is a mess out there, that it is riotous, that judges and prosecutors do not care, that the opposition will not pass government bills, that people should head for the hills, lock their doors and turn out the lights or that they should get a shotgun because they do not have to register them anymore. The point is it is a disservice that all in Parliament is doing to the perception of public safety.
Let us talk about the Liberal agenda. Since prorogation, we have seen a series of bills on criminal law that simply fail to meet the expectation of being tough on crime. We have a different idea about being tough on crime. We want our country to be tough on crime we want to protect and respect victims. We will achieve that end with solutions that are based on evidence and on fact, not on being gluttons for glamour, TV, publicity and fearmongering that those on the other side are. The science of criminology has produced a multitude of sophisticated evidence based on research and fact and we are told how effectively tough on crime certain bills are.
In summary, it seems that the only part of justice the government gets is the word “just”. We want to protect the victims in the funding of witness protection programs and counselling not by just funding the advertising of victims' abuse programs. We want to fund crime prevention so we can avoid crimes altogether not just try to scare people with harsher punishment that we know to be ineffective. We want to equip police officers not just throw even longer sentences at criminals.
I will conclude with a real-life situation. People should talk to corrections officers at a place like Dorchester and ask them if they are not a little afraid about public safety with the onslaught of prisoners who are coming in without the adequate resources and training within the institutions. What are those inmates going to do when they get out of overcrowded prisons with no treatment? That will be cause for fear some day and it has to be corrected.