Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise before the House today.
Before I start, it being Valentine's Day today, I would be remiss if I did not wish my wife at home a Happy Valentine's Day. She did get a bouquet of flowers at work. We have to do what we have to do these days to get a few points in the bank, so I now have a couple at least.
I am very pleased with the opportunity to rise in support of the motion before us today. I have listened with a great deal of interest to the comments of several hon. members. As I am the last speaker on this issue tonight, I imagine there will be a lot of repetition in my comments.
What Bill C-59 means is that all offenders will be put on equal footing when it comes to eligibility for parole. There will be no more distinction made between white-collar and other types offenders.
In essence, Bill C-59 says that all offenders must be held accountable. That has not always been the case as I will explain in a few minutes. Indeed, under the present system, Canadians today can witness con artists and fraudsters spend very little time in jail even though they may have destroyed the lives of hundreds of hard-working and law-abiding Canadians.
Canadians have a right to feel outrage when they hear of con artists, who have been handed seemingly lengthy sentences, walking right out of jail shortly after the ink has dried on the newspaper headlines announcing their conviction. We have all seen that. They have a right to be outraged that the concerns and rights of victims of crime apparently are being ignored. Victims have a right to be outraged, and, indeed, they are. The convicted white-collar offenders are apparently not held fully accountable for their actions. Our government is listening to victims and to all Canadians and taking action. Bill C-59 is about that.
The current system of accelerated parole review goes back to 1992 when the Corrections and Conditional Release Act was enacted. Back then many Canadians had never heard of offenders like Bernie Madoff or Earl Jones. Fraud seemed to be something that happened in the upper boardrooms of large corporations. Today fraud and white-collar crimes are taking on much more of a human face. They not only affect large corporations; they ruin a countless number of lives. They wipe out people's life savings and leave Canadians who have worked hard all their lives impoverished and destitute.
However, what is particularly troubling is that many victims are essentially becoming re-victimized by the relatively small amount of time that con artists and fraudsters have to spend in jail for their crimes.
When the initial provisions were enacted, accelerated parole review applied solely to full parole, and that is it applied after the offender had completed at least one-third of his or her sentence, or seven years, whichever was shorter.
Amazingly enough, the system was changed to make things even more expedited. Today, white-collar criminals who are convicted of a first time non-violent offence can actually qualify for day parole under the terms of the accelerated parole review after serving one-sixth of their sentence. For example, that means someone who has been convicted of fraud and handed a 13-year sentence, and I will return to that shortly, could be actually walking the streets again in as little as two years. Where is the justice in that? Where is consideration given to the impacted victims? It is nowhere to be found.
Under the current system of accelerated parole review, con artists, fraudsters and those who have fleeced hard-working Canadians of their life savings are guaranteed that their cases will be reviewed in advance by the Parole Board of Canada so they can get parole earlier than other offenders.
The way the present system works is white-collar offenders who might have destroyed the lives of hundreds of Canadians are in fact not even required to apply for parole. They do not have to lift a finger. They do not have to notify anyone that they might even be eligible. Everything is just taken care of.
The Corrections and Conditional Release Act currently stipulates that offenders who qualify for advanced parole review are not required to notify the Parole Board of Canada. However, the current Corrections and Conditional Release Act requires that Correctional Service Canada refer the cases of offender eligibility to the APR, to the Parole Board, before their day parole eligibility date so they may be released as early as possible.
That is not all. Under the existing system the parole board is not even required to hold a parole hearing to assess whether offenders eligible for advanced parole review may be released on day parole and full parole. Imagine that. Today, white collar offenders who might have fleeced a neighbour, a friend or even a family member out of hundreds of thousands of dollars does not even have to meet with anyone from the parole board to explain why they should be given parole. Everything is done via paper review. They are essentially let out on day parole after serving one-sixth of their sentence.
That is quite different from other offenders. Applications for parole by other offenders must be reviewed at a hearing at which, for example, they must persuade the parole board they are ready to live in society as law-abiding citizens and that they will comply with the conditions imposed upon them for the release. Today, as I have said, white collar criminals only have to go through a paper review with the parole board and do not ever have to meet or talk to anyone to explain why they should be given parole. It is hard to believe.
What is more, unlike for other offenders, the parole board must grant parole to an offender who is entitled to advanced parole review unless it determines that the offender is likely to commit an offence involving violence before the expiration of a sentence. Let us review here. The Parole Board of Canada must have reasonable grounds to suspect that someone who might never have committed a violent offence before but who has been convicted of fraud will, after he or she is released, suddenly decide to commit a violent offence. That is the only way a white collar offender can be refused parole after serving just a fraction of his or her sentence behind bars.
The standard is quite different for everybody else, of course. For all other offenders the parole board uses a general reoffending criteria to grant or refuse release. In those cases the parole board will grant parole to an offender after it decides whether the offender possesses an unmanageable risk to commit any type of offence once released. Let me repeat that. For all offenders other than white collar offenders, the national parole board must decide that he or she will not commit any offence once released, whether violent or not. It is quite a different standard.
Like many other Canadians, I am wondering why the system currently treats con artists and fraudsters so differently from other offenders. Like many Canadians, I am left wondering where the sense is in that. Where is the justice for the victims?
Perhaps I do not need to recount a few of the stories many of us heard about the way the current APR operates, but I would like to do it anyway for the benefit of hon. members across the way. These stories are not completely new. There are three I want to highlight.
In 2005 David Radler pleaded guilty in the United States to one count of fraud related to the Hollinger case, which, by some accounts, ruined many lives. Mr. Radler received a 29 month sentence and began serving his term in a Pennsylvania prison. He was transferred to a Canadian jail. Mr. Radler received accelerated day parole from the national parole board after serving less than one year behind bars.
In its decision the parole board noted that Mr. Radler “left a trail of many victims”. What the board said was that its review was limited to considering whether Mr. Radler was violent. That was it. It said that “many who have commented on your offence”, that is Mr. Radler's offence, “would argue that the financial devastation you caused to the countless victims would constitute a form of violence”. Those are the words of the parole board, that the victims of Mr. Radler counted his actions to be a form of violence, but there was nothing that could be done about it. Again in the worlds of the parole board, “the board must apply the law in the spirit in which it was written”.
That is why all of us need to ensure that Bill C-59 receives the speedy passage it so richly deserves.
Nearly all Canadians have at least heard of the case of Vincent Lacroix. Mr. Lacroix was president of Norbourg Asset Management. In 2009 he pleaded guilty to 200 fraud charges, admitting he bilked investors out of $115 million. This was one of the most massive frauds in Canadian history and Mr. Lacroix received 13 years in jail. That, unbelievably, is the harshest sentence ever handed out to a white collar offender in Canada, and that is a whole other debate.
In January of this year, Canadians found out that this con artist, who had destroyed countless lives, had served just one-sixth of his sentence in custody and was out on day parole after spending about 18 months behind bars for this multi-million dollar fraud. Can anyone imagine? His victims were reportedly outraged by the early release and they had a definite right to feel that way.
Then there is the case of Earl Jones. Mr. Jones was somewhat of a financial adviser who created a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme which eventually bilked investors of between $50 million to $100 million. Last year, Mr. Jones pleaded guilty to the charges filed and one month later was given a lengthy sentence. Guess what? We have heard the story before and we are going to hear it again. It turns out this con artist who destroyed countless lives will, under the current accelerated parole review rules, be eligible for day parole after serving one-sixth of his sentence.
Such examples are an outrage for millions of Canadians. They are an outrage to those who have been victimized. They are an outrage to our government which has made standing up for victims a top priority.
I therefore urge all hon. members to work with the government to support the motion before us today and ensure that Bill C-59 is passed into law as expeditiously as possible.