Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on this issue today regarding Bill C-59.
I spoke about this matter earlier today when the Minister of Justice was answering questions and attempting to support the wisdom of invoking closure.
The first thing I want to point out about Bill C-59 is that first reading was only on February 9. While it is true that this was part of a larger bill, it should be remembered that the larger bill was in fact killed by prorogation.
We are therefore here today with the Conservative government invoking closure in circumstances where it had killed the previous bill. It only introduced Bill C-59 on February 9 and has taken the undemocratic step today of invoking closure to limit debate.
In addition to simply being undemocratic, it is not logical. We have to examine this legislation from the perspective of what the bill would do and why at this point in time we cannot make an intelligent decision on whether or not it makes sense.
I think on behalf of all of my colleagues in the Liberal Party, I want to say that nobody has sympathy for Earl Jones or Mr. Lacroix being released early. It was a mistake what happened with Mr. Lacroix. That should never have happened.
However, it never would have happened if the Conservatives had actually turned their heads to this matter and been reasonable back in the fall of 2010 when, in the justice committee, Bill C-21 on white collar crime was being studied. There was a Liberal amendment in committee to eliminate the one-sixth accelerated parole review. That would have prevented Mr. Lacroix from being released early. However, the Bloc Québécois and the Conservatives voted to defeat the Liberal amendments.
The Liberal Party was more than aware of this problem last fall, obviously, but the Bloc and the Conservatives decided to ignore it.
Thus here we are today with the government seeking to invoke closure on Bill C-59. That closure motion was obviously successful. The government did that for Bill C-59 when it was only introduced in first reading on February 9, 2011. It made the argument that this was urgent after Mr. Lacroix was released and, obviously, after voting against the Liberal amendments in justice committee that would have solved this problem.
I therefore suggest, first, that their arguments about the urgency of this bill and the reason to invoke closure and their arguments about being concerned about this type of early release are not logical. If they had been logical, the Conservatives would have supported the Liberal amendments last fall to solve this problem.
Regarding one of the serious reasons why I believe this is premature at this time, every time we pass or change one of these federal statutes, there are consequences, whatever they might be. Some are good and some bad, depending on the legislation, obviously.
However, for this particular legislation, other than cases like those of Mr. Lacroix and Mr. Jones, which are coming, what are we trying to solve? Is it a circumstances where we are trying to eliminate this one-six provision for all offenders, because that is what this would do, including for non-violent first-time offenders?
I suggest, at least in some of those cases, that would be inappropriate, because we would be defeating any chance of these persons being properly rehabilitated and reintegrated into society when, frankly, some of them do not need to be in prison any longer.
If we are going to do this, what I would like to know is how many Canadians who are incarcerated now, and obviously we do not know what will happen in the future, would this affect and what would it cost? It is a very simple question. Do we as parliamentarians not have the right to know what these measures would cost?
A number of us, including our esteemed public safety critic, asked the Minister of Justice today what this would cost. He danced around the question, not once answering it. It was a very simple question: how much would this cost and how many people would it affect, that is, how many people would be in prison longer and what would this cost?
The estimates vary, depending on who is writing the report or providing the information, but I have heard that it costs anywhere from $77,000 to $103,000 per year, per prisoner, to keep them in jail. Whatever the number is, we need to add that up and determine how much more this would cost while also factoring in the need for more prisons. There has to be some figure for this, and as a member of Parliament, I would like to know what it is, so when people are voting they actually know what they are doing.
We need witnesses on this bill. We need to have reasonable committee hearings on this question. We will have four hours to deal with it. I want Canadians to know this. We have a piece of legislation that is designed to fix a problem the Conservatives ignored last fall when they voted down Liberal amendments in the justice committee. However, after Mr. Lacroix's release and after they refused to stop that, they are now saying this is urgent and have invoked closure and they are now are requiring the public safety committee to consider all of this, including clause-by-clause examination of the legislation, within four hours.
If it is done within four hours, that is fine. If it is not done, the bill will be reported back to the House without any amendments. If, for example, the Conservatives decided to filibuster and simply talk out the four hours tomorrow, there would be no chance whatsoever to even attempt to pass amendments. We will see what they do tomorrow, but that is something they have done frequently in the public safety committee, simply talking out the time to avoid actually having votes and trying to forward things constructively.
Thus tomorrow there will be a very limited period of time to have witnesses before the committee to examine this issue. We will be asking questions of the witnesses who do appear, including how much it will cost and the ramifications of this change in the law. However, we will not have an opportunity to call meaningful witnesses for a prolonged period of time into the future.
We will need examples of other individuals, not just those who make the press, like Mr. Jones or Mr. Lacroix, but other persons. Whom would this affect? I would like to know some of the people who are incarcerated right now who would be eligible and who would be stopped from being released on this one-sixth parole system, if this legislation were amended. We need to see what they have done, whether they have been rehabilitated or participated, whether they can make a meaningful contribution of society in the best knowledge of the parole board. I think we need to see those cases.
Another issue that will be given no consideration at this point in time is what will be the effect upon this legislation and whether it is even constitutional. Does it violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in having any retroactive effects? I do not know. That is not for me to decide, but it is something to be discussed and examined and on which witnesses should be called. I do not believe it is something that will be addressed within the four hours tomorrow, because it is all very last minute from what occurred this past Friday.
There are additional solutions that could have been considered to fix this problem with Mr. Jones and Mr. Lacroix. Look at Mr. Jones. I think he received 11 years, or something in that range. Why could we not increase the sentences for such persons who commit such heinous frauds? I have no sympathy for these individuals: they have destroyed people's lives, taken their life savings. Why does the current legislation not allow maximum sentences or tough sentences?
The government likes to say that it is tough on crime. Why is it not being tough in terms of sentences for these sorts of individuals? That is a mistake, and rather than focusing on that, the Conservatives are looking at something that only seems to be politically expedient and will not actually punish the persons who might do this in the future to a more significant extent. If the government is not willing to protect Canadians in this manner, it should fess up and actually admit to it.
Another point is restitution. I would like persons who have been defrauded to automatically have some type of restitution order contained in the sentence. Let me use Mr. Jones as an example.
If Mr. Jones steals millions of dollars from an investor, under part of the criminal justice legislation, judges should be directed to make a restitution order for an appropriate amount of money based on how the investor was defrauded. It should not be optional. It should be mandatory as long as there are set facts.
Under the criminal justice system, we would be convicting somebody beyond a reasonable doubt, but the civil system requires a lesser balance of proof.
In my mind, because it takes more evidence to convict somebody of fraud under the criminal system, it is logical that if an individual is convicted of that fraud, a civil judgment should accompany that conviction. The innocent person would not have to hire a lawyer, go through the process again, bear those expenses and prove the case all over again. In the criminal system it is the Crown, but it is really the same evidence. That is another thing the government could have considered.
I have talked about increasing sentences, but in terms of restitution, that could possibly put money back into the pockets of innocent victims. Maybe the government could assist with some type of tracing system to help people realize something on these judgments.
We could do other things, but the restitution issue has been absolutely forgotten. Instead, we have the politically expedient dramatics of simply attempting this one-sixth possibility without having the sophistication to distinguish the persons who should not be able to avail themselves of this possibility, like Earl Jones. However, people who have committed non-violent offences on a first-time basis would also be caught by this. It would not be fair to a lot of them, it would not logical and it would simply cost the Canadian taxpayer more money.
We have talked about other possibilities. Enforcement is another point. The RCMP integrated market enforcement team in Vancouver looks into these sorts of crimes, but its funding is minor. It is not up to speed in what it requires. Why are we not seeking funding for enforcement as opposed to simply seeking the elimination of early parole when, once again, there is no immediate urgency to this?
The government likes to speak about the possibility of Earl Jones obtaining early parole, but he will not be eligible for parole until at least 2012. We are not talking about anything that is immediate. It is certainly nothing that would invoke closure today and limit the right of members of Parliament to ask questions, have meaningful witnesses at committee and to ask about the costs involved with this.
Some of my other colleagues have mentioned turning Canada into the California of the north. It is a risk. I support some of the crime bills before Parliament and others I do not. However, the risk with all of them is we will have to build more prisons and the costing is not before Parliament yet. We do not know everything the bill will do.
I want to give the House an example of how the intellectual rationalization is not honest at times. That one example is the international transfer of prisoners act, which we discussed in the House last week in question period. The Minister of Public Safety rose in the House and said that the Liberals were not thinking about victims. The legislation would give the minister extra discretion to stop the transfer back to Canada of Canadians who have been incarcerated internationally, such as the transfer of a Canadian from an American prison to a Canadian prison, not releasing him or her back on the street but simply moving the individual from one prison to another.
The rhetoric used is we are not thinking about the victims. By trying to leave these reasonable provisions in force, we are not thinking about the victims. I think the Conservatives are referring to Canadian victims, but that is not logical because the victims in those circumstances would be international victims. If we have a Canadian person who has committed a crime abroad, the victim is there. Yet the rhetoric we hear is that we are not thinking about victims because we think it might be better to bring a prisoner from a foreign prison back to a Canadian prison so he or she can receive rehabilitation.
If we consider look at the analysis, if we do not transfer people back from foreign prisons to Canadian prisons, once they come back into Canada, which they have a right to do as Canadian citizens, they have no criminal record. There is no parole. We have no controls over them. In essence, Canadian citizens are less protected. It is better to bring them back and ensure they have rehabilitation and criminal records. Then when they are released on parole, they have ties and we can monitor them and put conditions in place.
Once again, we get the rhetoric of not protecting victims, yet the victims are abroad and it better protects Canadian citizens if they are brought back to be rehabilitated, to have criminal records and to have ties on them when they are released.
It is not logical, but we hear soft on crime. Frankly, the Conservatives are illogical on crime.
A lot of people, commentators and academics, have criticized the agenda of the government. I will give a couple of examples.
The Calgary Sun criticizes the Conservatives, and some may find that difficult to believe, but it is true. It says:
Tack on vast amounts of money to build more jails and watch the federal deficit soar and the public groan under the weight of unthinking ideology and higher taxes.
It goes on to say:
There’s a right way to reform the justice system and a wrong way to do it.
Naturally, the Conservatives did it the wrong way, going way overboard instead of using some judicious fine-tuning to fix some glaring mistakes.
It goes on to say:
Throwing out the baby with the bathwater, however, is just a reflection of terrible policy prescriptions and Conservative shortsightedness.
That is one commentator in that regard.
We have another think-tank, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which describes this as tough on taxpayers and lazy on crime. It refers to the government using charge rhetoric and misinformation to advance a crime and punishment agenda, which it argues may lead to more crime and cost taxpayers billions of dollars to house more prisoners.
It should be remembered that we have this entire law and order agenda. I want Canadians to know that approximately one-third of everything on the federal docket dales with is law and order legislation. This is what the Conservatives have done when we have the worst recession since the Great Depression.
We have hundreds of thousands of jobs disappearing and being replaced by, what I would like to call, McJobs. We have pension and health care issues. We have lost standing around the world. We have received fossil of the year awards at environmental conferences. Essentially, we have many difficulties and problems, yet the Conservatives, according to some of their own commentators, are simply using these statistics and this agenda to try to make Canadians fearful, to try to convince them that somehow the Conservatives are the ones who will protect them.
If we look at objective statistics, the use of guns in robberies declined 15% in 2009 from 20% in 1999. The violent crime rate decreased by 14%. We have the lowest rate since 1989. I could go on and on. All of the statistics show that across Canada things are getting better, not worse. Yet during these terrible economic circumstances, rather than being responsible and dealing with those issues, we are dealing with one-third of the Conservatives' agenda on criminal law and order.