Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois about Bill C-48, which has to do with parole and cumulative sentences. This bill offers an option. It is not often that we see a crime bill introduced by the Conservatives that gives judges options. In this case, it gives them the option of imposing additional periods of parole ineligibility in cases of multiple murders. It gives judges the choice of adding them. The Bloc always likes putting things in the hands of judges for obvious reasons.
In a murder case, the judge and the jury can very quickly make recommendations on parole. There is a prison in my riding and I know people who have committed crimes, who are in this prison and who will one day have their sentences reduced or be released on parole and thus return to society. These people are all prepared to do so, and I do not see why we would keep someone in prison who had one moment of weakness, a momentary lapse, or simply a lack of understanding of our society's values. I do not see why we would never give them the possibility of living a normal life.
The Bloc Québécois is in favour of the principle of Bill C-48. I think it will be interesting, in committee, to ensure that the basic principles that give freedom to judges are conserved. This bill has to do with murder, the worst crime, which has the most significant consequences for victims and which affects the public the most. Bill C-48 would enable judges to increase parole the ineligibility period when they are pronouncing a sentence—not after, of course—in cases of multiple murders.
As my hon. colleague said earlier, multiple murders are very rare. In fact, only 0.2% of all murders in Canada in the last 35 years were multiple murders. These are major offences, I agree, but they are also extremely rare. What that means is that a good number of the bills now before the House deal with extremely rare incidents, probably because the government cannot find more general issues to address and, as we know too well, the government likes to say it is tough on crime and to put a good spin on it.
We all agree that the most serious crimes deserve the most serious penalties and are therefore subject to imprisonment for life. Sentences that are too light or parole that is too easy, such as parole after one-sixth of sentence—and we introduced a bill to do away with that—undermine the judicial system and only give credence to the misguided notion that criminals are treated better than their victims.
By the way, this bill does not improve the lot of the victims. The government keeps saying that we must focus on the victims of crime, but it has not done so in this bill. This bill is all about the criminals.
It seems unusual that a second murder would not result in an additional sentence. We all agree on that. Under Bill C-48, the judge would at least have the option of imposing consecutive periods of parole ineligibility. It would be up to him to decide.
But the Bloc Québécois thinks that punishment cannot be the sole objective of the legal system, to the detriment of rehabilitation and reintegration. We still believe in that, and we do not expect to change our minds soon. In fact, we are not the only ones who believe that parole, rehabilitation and reintegration are important. Last week, there was an article in the paper from a coalition of eleven Christian churches in Canada that said: “According to the Church Council on Justice and Corrections, the criminal justice policy of the Conservative government is not helping the victims or the offenders.” That rather confirms what I was saying earlier. Bills are always drafted to deal with criminals, not to assist the victims.
This article listed what the eleven churches want people to know. It asked what Jesus would do with modern-day criminals. It asked if he would let them languish behind bars even longer or if he would try to reintroduce them into society. It is an interesting question because the Conservatives often fall back on the religious view of punishment. They have built their preconceived notions of crime on a that foundation. And now the religious are reminding them of that.
That is how the eleven churches stated their position. It comes at the moment when the government, with bills like Bill C-48 and all of the other bills it is introducing, is already seeing it will need to build more and bigger prisons. In my riding as well, apparently the prison will be expanded to add 192 beds. Yet, for 10 or 15 years, the number of inmates in that prison has decreased on a regular basis. Why? Because there has been an increase in rehabilitation—more people on parole who have been rehabilitated. However, it seems that they will succeed in having more laws that will lengthen sentences and so, we will need more prisons.
What is interesting, and Bill C-48 would lead to this as well, is that 192 prison beds will cost $45 million. Simple division reveals that each concrete bed will cost $248,000. This amount represents two social housing units for prisoners, two units out in our society. The Conservatives prefer to build jails and take people out of society at the attractive price of $248,000 per prisoner. You must agree that this money would allow us to do other things on the outside.
The interesting part that I would like to share is where all of the churches of Canada are listed, be they Catholic, Protestant, Lutheran, etc. This is what it says:
This group believes that incarcerating criminals for longer and longer periods, which is what the Conservative government in Ottawa is proposing, does not benefit either victims or offenders.
This is quite basic. I will continue:
I am most concerned that you and the Government of Canada are prepared to significantly increase investment in the building of new prisons.
These are religious leaders saying this. They went on to say:
Proposed new federal laws will ensure that more Canadians are sent to prison for longer periods, a strategy that has been repeatedly proven neither to reduce crime nor to assist victims.
If I understand correctly, Bill C-48 would put people in prison for longer periods of time to ensure that they do not reoffend. People are beginning to realize that it is not the length of time spent in prison that matters, but rather it is the money that is invested in rehabilitation. Offenders need to be re-educated, to be taught the moral values of society, to learn a trade, and they need to be looked after when they are released. Instead of simply giving them a cell in a prison, they must be given a place to live, a job, and a chance to return to society. Those are the ones who will not reoffend. We have a long way to go. We seem to be forgetting about victims.
I will continue quoting these religious leaders, because what they are saying is interesting:
These offenders are disproportionately poor, ill-equipped to learn, from the most disadvantaged and marginalized groups.
This is how religious leaders, who are also part of society, describe criminals.
They require treatment, health services, educational, employment and housing interventions, all less expensive and more humane than incarceration.
That is far from what is happening in Bill C-48, even though, in reality, there is nothing shocking about it. The principle is fine, but we can see that it is leading down the same path. They want to be able to incarcerate an increasing number of people.
The bishops continue:
We are called to be a people in relationship with each other through our conflicts and sins, with the ingenious creativity of God's Spirit to find our way back into covenant community.
They did not mean a community of Alliance members. What surprises me is that the Conservatives, who are so respectful of religion, do not listen to messages as important as this one and continue to think that the only way to make criminals disappear is to put them in prison.
Coming back to the quote:
How can that be if we automatically exclude and cut ourselves off from all those we label “criminal”?
There is a lot of wisdom in that. It is a pleasure for me to say so here in the House because I do not talk about religion very often. Sometimes I do, though, because I think these people have good things to say, as can be seen here. Their message is worth repeating. That is why they said it, so that it would be repeated and we could try to make the Conservatives understand that being tough on crime is not the only path but there are also rehabilitation paths.
In my riding, when the Conservatives came to power in 2006, before the second election they won, they eliminated one streetworker job.
I will not mention the town because that would be giving away too much. This streetworker made $40,000 a year. The Conservative government saved $40,000 a year even though this worker could have been out helping youths who were having difficulties and giving them advice to keep them out of jail. He could get them interested in other things such as learning a trade. He could encourage them to show more respect and give them some concept of morality, which they had not necessarily acquired in broken homes. The $40,000 that the federal government saved is not even a drop in its budget, hardly even one electron.
The opposition maintains, quite rightly, that there should be fewer crime bills. We have the impression that the government mostly just wants to make political hay by being tough on crime, as my colleague said. There were only about 45 recidivists among the 2,900 murderers in Canada over 35 years. We are talking, therefore, about an infinitesimal number. So why rework so many laws? Why not pass a general act instead of acts with such a narrow focus each time?
Here is a quote from some church members on their view of human dignity:
Our Church supports restorative justice...Both for moral and practical reasons, society should be concerned not only with how long prisoners are incarcerated for, but with their character when they leave prison. Every person is made in God's image and has received the gift of dignity...Our goal is not to be for or against a government, but to explain that there are alternatives to prison.
The Bloc Québécois also supports this type of restorative justice. These words should linger and influence current legislation.
They are not trying to engage in politics. They are trying to make the government understand that we cannot invest in prisons indefinitely. It is not a solution. The solution is to come back to rehabilitation.