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House of Commons Hansard #130 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was offenders.

Topics

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

When this matter was last before the House, the hon. member for Abbotsford had the floor. There are four minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks.

I therefore call upon the hon. member for Abbotsford.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, before question period, I was highlighting the many different initiatives our Conservative government had taken since 2006 to make our communities safer, such as bills that strengthen our justice system and efforts to put more police officers on the streets and the funding that is required for that.

I also talked about the bill before us regarding accelerated parole review and looking to eliminate because of serious concerns that Canadian citizens have expressed.

I have discussed the first difference between an accelerated parole review process and a regular parole review process. I would like to now talk about the other two. Let us look at the second major difference.

For most offenders, applying for parole means attending a parole review hearing in person. They must appear before the Parole Board and persuade it that they are ready to live in society as law-abiding citizens. It is quite different for white-collar and other non-violent offenders. That process involves only paperwork. The reviews are done on paper. There are no hearings for the individuals to attend. There is no need for offenders to plead their cases to officials face to face. Again, this is akin to a two-tiered system.

We are telling these offenders and all Canadians that fraud and white-collar crime really is not so bad, that stealing hundreds of thousands and, in some cases, millions of dollars from hard-working Canadians is not such a serious crime. This is unfair to victims. Canadians who have lost their retirement savings are telling us to make changes to the system. That is exactly what we are doing.

Finally, I come to the third key difference between an accelerated parole review and regular day parole. It is perhaps the most shocking one.

As I mentioned at the very beginning of my speech, under accelerated parole first-time offenders convicted of fraud can apply for day parole after serving just one-sixth of their sentence. They can then apply for full parole after serving only one-third of their sentence.

Allow me to do the math on this. Someone convicted of 12 years in prison for defrauding seniors, for example, can apply for day parole after serving only two years in jail. Canadians are shocked. Individuals and families who have lost their retirement savings, their nest eggs, cannot recoup those loses in only two years. In many cases, the loss can be a devastating blow that tears families and relationships apart. Two years later, they continue to struggle with the significant impact of the crime, while the offender is now able to apply for day parole.

How does this compare with the system currently in place for regular day parole? These offenders can only apply for day parole six months before they are eligible for full parole. This means they have to serve almost one-third of their sentence before they can even apply for day parole. It is only fair that non-violent white-collar offenders have to wait the same amount of time before applying for parole.

Therefore, by amending the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, we are recognizing the severity of white-collar and other non-violent crimes and ensuring that the Parole Board of Canada applies the same rules to all criminals. We are sending a message to those who plan to defraud Canadians out of their hard-earned money that they will face the same system of justice as everyone else.

It is time we abolish accelerated parole review and ensure that the time spent in prison fits the crime. That is what Canadians have asked us to do and we are delivering.

I call on my colleagues in the House to work together to ensure the swift passage of Bill C-59.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, the first question I have for the member is this. At the justice committee two years ago, why did the Conservatives not support the amendments we put forward to ensure that those who were large scale white-collar criminals would not have the accelerated parole review provision at their disposal?

Second, if he wants to close debate and have no discussion, what are the costs? How much will this cost? Could he give us those figures and, if not, how on earth can we be asked to vote blind?

Third, I agree we have to eliminate the accelerated parole review process for large scale fraudsters. However, the fact is all evidence has shown that for individuals who are first-time non-violent offenders the process helps with rehabilitation and actually makes communities safer. Given that, can the member demonstrate any evidence, and by “any” I mean of any kind, that shows eliminating it will actually make communities demonstrably safer? In fact, I can offer many examples of the exact opposite. Therefore, could he offer one scientific study, or one jurisdiction or one example where this has worked? I can give boatloads of evidence to the contrary.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member has asked three different questions. I do not think we have time to answer all of them, but it bears noting he is a member of a party that has consistently preferred the rights of criminals over the rights of victims.

Time and time again, I listen to Liberal members talk on our criminal justice bills and virtually never do we hear the word “victim” used. This Conservative government is here to stand up for victims and to protect victims of crime.

The member suggested that somehow removing early parole makes communities safer. That is hogwash. When we incapacitate serious criminals such as the Earl Joneses of this world who want to defraud seniors of their life savings, when we take them out of our communities for longer periods of time, our communities are, by definition, safer.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the premise from the New Democrats' perspective is a bill designed to go after Mr. Jones, or Vincent Lacroix , or others. As we have done before in the Karla Homolka case, the House can design something to make sure that a specific thing does not happen such as Earl Jones getting out on early release or parole after serving one-sixth of the sentence that my colleague talked about.

The problem with the bill the government has presented today is the process it is using which is closure, shutting down debate. Any testimony or witnesses have been restricted dramatically. Also, this will affect more than 1,000 people a year and we do not know the effect that will have because the government has not supplied us with any information.

The New Democrats are interested in dealing with the government on the principle of the bill, removing early parole and early sentence release, but we have reservations about the process that is being used. Closure is the most dramatic procedure that can be used in the parliamentary system. The government is ramming the bill through, closing off debate, allowing no witnesses or testimony. Can my colleague understand that?

Can he understand why this is an abhorrent form of governance? This is the thing we fight against, which his party fought against before. There are many quotations from former Conservative-Alliance members criticizing the then Liberal government for using closure. I am sure my hon. colleague actually spoke against this very procedure being used in the House.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not believe Canadians will take any lessons from the NDP on how to protect communities and get tough on crime.

As chair of the justice committee, I can say that the New Democrats oppose our efforts to get tough on drug-related crimes. They oppose our efforts to get tough on sexual crimes against children. They oppose mandatory sentences on the most prolific and dangerous offenders in our communities.

This is an effort on the part of the NDP and the Liberals to delay this legislation, which would allow people like Earl Jones to get out on accelerated release. That is exactly why we want this legislation to pass now, not six months from now.

We are getting the job done. We are standing up for the victims of crime in Canada and our Conservative government will continue to seek new ways to protect Canadians against violent as well as non-violent crimes, including fraud.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, particularly after the last intervention we should take a look at the history of this matter.

The reality is that more than two years ago at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights Liberal members moved amendments that would see the accelerated parole review eliminated in cases where there was large-scale white collar crime. We would make sure it would be eliminated for large-scale fraudsters. We pushed for that two years ago. We said those changes were important and we were ignored.

Some long period of time later an omnibus bill dealing with a whole host of matters was brought forward to the Standing Committee on Public Safety. I have heard several times today Conservative members stand in their place and talk about how the public safety committee delayed the bill. Here is the truth. Government members had every opportunity to bring that bill forward, but they did not do that. In point of fact, when they were given the opportunity with more than half the days to advance the bills they wanted to, the bill never made their list. Never once in committee did Conservative members talk about the urgent and sudden need for the bill.

What changed? Mr. Lacroix was let out. Something that should have been dealt with a couple of years ago was not. Mr. Lacroix was released. The government was caught with its pants down by not acting. Suddenly there was a flurry of interest. We had to fix it and we had to fix it now. No questions were to be asked. As a result of the government dropping the ball, it told us that the bill was to be passed overnight.

Good legislation is not written on the back of napkins. Good legislation is not rammed through in a few hours with little consideration to its outcome or impact. The decisions that we make in the House have profound and lasting implications not just on community safety, but also on the budgetary capacity of this country.

With respect to this bill, the notion that we would engage closure, that we would shut down debate when the government has refused to act for so long, is reprehensible.

To the Bloc Québécois members who say we have to do this right now because of Earl Jones, that we only have two months to act, I can tell them that Mr. Jones would not be eligible for these provisions until some years from now. These considerations are electoral and political. They are not in any way based on some urgent need to fix the situation with Mr. Jones.

I said we stand firm on the principle that for large-scale fraudsters these provisions should not be in place. But it is worth mentioning why this provision exists in the first place.

One of the reasons accelerated parole review was brought in was that it is so costly to look at the alternative. We have to remember that we are talking about first time, non-violent offenders.

According to Correctional Services Canada's data, in 2006-07 the cost on average of incarcerating somebody was $93,000. The cost can range from about $85,000 to a high of about $160,000, but the median is $93,000. The cost of conditional release is $23,000. That is a difference of some $70,000 a year per offender.

If we are going to toss out conditional release in these instances, we had better be pretty darned sure we are getting a good result, that we are appreciably making a difference in improving community safety.

Yet when we look at Correctional Services documents around why it says that accelerated parole review is actually needed it says:

The intent of Accelerated parole review is to provide for formal recognition in law that non-violent and violent offenders should not be subject to the same conditional release process.

It also states:

The main focus of APR was to address public safety and reintegration. It was designed to ensure that lower risk offenders were released at the earliest possible date in their sentence to allow the Correctional Service and the National Parole Board additional time for dealing with more serious offenders.

Studies have shown there is a tendency for low risk offenders to be negatively impacted by the prison experience. In other words, changing this would not only cost more than $70,000 for every inmate but, according to Correctional Services Canada and according to all data I have been able to see on this, for first time non-violent offenders, incarceration is the worst place to go for protracted periods of time.

We would end up putting a minor criminal who has had that first interaction with the law in for a protracted period of incarceration and turn out a major criminal. We are turning our prisons into crime factories.

If this were some debate in the abstract, some debate where we were debating philosophical differences, unsure of the outcomes of what we were talking about, this difference could be intellectually tolerated. In point of fact, this plan has been tried before. I am going to come to that point in a minute, but before I do want to look at some of the other ways.

It is really interesting that the government has invoked closure on a motion to ram the bill through when there are so many other elements dealing with white collar crime that it refuses to act upon. Not only did it refuse two years ago to act on our move to end it when it came to serious white collar crime, but it made cuts to the RCMP task force on white collar crime.

I had interviews today about cuts that have been made to the national police service, in general. At the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, we recently made improvements to the sex offender registry. Yet, we find now that the federal government is throwing more of the burden of funding things such as the national sex offender registry and funding for the RCMP task force on white collar crime to the RCMP, so that the RCMP is having to cut from its services to make up from the shortfall and cuts that are being made by the federal government.

The government is waving around a big stick, saying how tough it is by moving a bill like this one, and at the same time, it is cutting things that actually stop these crimes from happening. How crazy is that? Basically, this is a government that is slashing from the things that stop the crimes, slashing from the things that stop there being victims in the first place and then loading it all up on the back end, throwing them all in jail and allowing the problem to get worse.

This is what is so offensive about the Conservatives standing and saying that the different opposition parties do not talk enough about victims. Do they not realize that if we had less crime, we would have fewer victims? I did not think that was something that we had to spell out or put on paper. Is there not an understanding that if we invest in things like prevention, or if we invest in the RCMP white collar task force on crime, or if we invest in the things that actually stop crimes before they happen, we have fewer victims?

Let us think about this. If we have fewer people in prison, we ultimately have a safer society because there are fewer criminals, and fewer criminals mean less crime.

What I find particularly concerning about this is that there is another bill that we have been dealing with for a long time, on lawful access. The House has been saying for years that we need to modernize our laws to allow law enforcement agencies to go after criminals who are conducting business through electronic media. Technology has changed dramatically but our legislation has not. Police officers have been begging for these tools. Yet, bill after bill gets killed by prorogation, by election, and it continues to languish here--

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Lee Richardson Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

By the Liberals.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Somebody said, “by the Liberals”. I would ask the member to take a look at it because we have been begging for this bill to come forward. It was a prorogation by the Conservatives that killed it not once, but twice. We have now been waiting for over a year for that bill to come back.

Police beg for those tools that are important to go after large-scale fraud and other crimes committed online, yet no priority is assigned to that whatsoever.

One of the most fundamental things in a bill, particularly when we are asked to vote on it on the spot, overnight, at lightning speed, is what is the cost? What is the financial implication of the bill before us?

It would shock Canadians to know that the House is being asked to vote on a bill that has had no cost analysis done on it whatsoever.

The Conservatives say not to worry about the cost, that it is manageable, that we should just trust them.

I remember when the House was told that before on a crime bill. I remember the minister standing in his place, talking about the fact that a bill was going to cost $90 million. That was the two-for-one remand credit. The House was told that over a five-year period the cost would be about $90 million.

That did not sound right to me. I called the Parliamentary Budget Officer and after conversations, I made a formal request for the real costs to be analyzed.

When the Parliamentary Budget Officer agreed to do a study on the costs of not only that bill but the overall crime agenda, suddenly the minister said that he had made a mistake, that the cost was not $90 million but $2 billion. That is not a little wrong, that is a universe wrong. However, after eight months of blocking him from getting information and not releasing data, the cost was not $2 billion but $10 billion to $13 billion.

We could just keep ramming these bills through and not think about them. The net result would be exactly what happened to California, a state that is nearly bankrupt, that has no money for health care, education or infrastructure and is ravaged by the impacts of these policies.

We cannot ask Parliament to vote with a blindfold on. We cannot tell Parliament to swallow whatever bill is thrown in front of it because there are some lines we want to use or some politics we want to play. If we are going to make intelligent decisions as a House, we need to have real and honest information.

That brings me to the second point. The Conservatives say that there is no cost that is too great, that it does not matter how much it costs, that we need to vote for it because it will make us safer. All evidence says the opposite. This stuff does not make us safer. In point of fact, it makes us much less safe.

If we look at statistics on rehabilitation, and we are again talking about first-time non-violent offenders, all statistics from anywhere in the world tell us that things like conditional release lead to lower reoffending rates. So that I can do the math for Conservatives who will stand and attack me for not talking about victims, lower reoffending rates mean less victims, lower reoffending rates mean less crime, lower reoffending rates mean there is less victimization. We can play games with it but the point we are driving at is that we want a safer society, one where there are less victims and less victimization.

Again, I am not talking about Earl Jones. We have already agreed that for large scale fraudsters this should be off the table. That was proposed two years ago, if members will remember. What we are talking about is for the more minor offenders. The path to ensuring they do not reoffend and that they get back on track as good taxpaying citizens who contribute to their communities and societies does not occur through long periods of incarceration.

Let us look at some real world examples. Let us take a look at the father of this whole prison punishment agenda, Newt Gingrich. He gave birth to this particular philosophy and agenda. What is he saying now? In an article in The Washington Post dated January 7, 2011, he states:

There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential. We spent $68 billion in 2010 on corrections - 300 per cent more than 25 years ago. The prison population is growing 13 times faster than the general population. These facts should trouble every American.

Our prisons might be worth the current cost if the recidivism rate were not so high, but, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, half of the prisoners released this year are expected to be back in prison within three years. If our prison policies are failing half of the time, and we know that there are more humane, effective alternatives, it is time to fundamentally rethink how we treat and rehabilitate our prisoners.

We can no longer afford business as usual with prisons. The criminal justice system is broken....

Mr. Gingrich goes on to say:

Some people attribute the nation's recent drop in crime to more people being locked up. But the facts show otherwise. While crime fell in nearly every state over the past seven years, some of those with the largest reductions in crime have also lowered their prison population. Compare Florida and New York. Over the past seven years, Florida's incarceration rate has increased 16 per cent, while New York's decreased 16 per cent. Yet the crime rate in New York has fallen twice as much as Florida's. Put another way, although New York spent less on its prisons, it delivered better public safety.

As stewards of the nation's dollars and as stewards of public safety more broadly, is that not the objective? Are we in this House not charged with facilitating public safety and to do it in the most cost effective, intelligent way possible?

We all agree on this. I cannot out-punish the Conservatives but if we take that logic to its ultimate conclusion, where does it go? The Conservatives stand in the House and say that they are tougher and harder. Keep taking it out and where does it go? Where does it end? Punishment should not be at the heart of our agenda. What should be at the heart of our agenda is public safety, effective public policy and wise and prudent use of public dollars.

In the United Kingdom it is the Conservatives who are now undoing this type of punishment, this backward agenda that I have been talking about. In the United Kingdom I recently met with a delegation that came over to study Canada's low crime rate and, simultaneously, low incarceration rate. They were here to emulate that. They saw it as something to look to like a beacon to copy and emulate. When they got here they were shocked when they found out that we were tossing it all in the garbage and that we were chasing the very thing they were trying to run away from.

One of the people in the delegation said to me, “My God. Do not do it. It is so hard to undo”. As the United Kingdom now tries to undo that, it is finding enormous difficulty reversing the course because once all of those new prisons are built and all of those new costs borne, the cost of providing effective programming and effective rehabilitation is very low. Instead of focusing it on violent offenders and using incarceration to protect society, there is now a catch-all with prisons that are overflowing and bursting at the seams, situations like that of California where the Supreme Court of California had to release 4,000 inmates onto the street because there was no more room for them. Everybody is tossed into a giant pot with no money to make them better and with populations ever-growing because it feeds itself like a giant beast. In fact, in California it has seen the rate of recidivism now cross over 70%. Is this what we want to emulate?

We can look at states like Texas that is now reversing these policies. We have to scratch our heads and wonder why Canada, alone in the world, is chasing after this Californian disaster. Why, when the rest of the world has recognized that it does not work, do we keep running after it at full pace, with abandon, without asking any questions? Why are we moving things like closure motions to say how dare we even have a debate about what is best or how we best move forward, where debate, instead of being an honest exchange of ideas where we say that we are concerned with people like Earl Jones and we do not want him to get an early pardon, how do we achieve that mutually and in a bipartisan way? Instead, that debate of honest concerns about the bill, honest desire to have dialogue, is made farcical.

We are attacked as if somehow we want to release Earl Jones, even though we do not. I have come to the conclusion that the desire is not for good legislation. The desire is to play politics. It is almost as if there is a nascent desire on the part of the other side, hoping that we will vote against it because there are so many egregious problems within the bill. They hope to create some kind of political caricature instead of actually addressing the major issues that are important and where there lies common ground.

Soon this bill will have the opportunity to go before committee. I implore members of the Bloc Québécois, who have been deliberate and largely intelligent and thoughtful on these bills, to take a moment to think about what is being passed and to join with us in saying that amendments probably will be necessary to be sure that we do not ensnarl a whole bunch of other people who are not intended in this process, but to go after a problem that is legitimate and does need to be fixed.

It is not us saying this. It is not the rest of the world recalling a disaster. Even here in Canada, churches from coast to coast have united in condemning these types of bills.

Health care providers have come forward and have unanimously condemned these bills. People on the front lines of rehabilitation who actually making people better are asking not to do this.

The bottom line is that we cannot vote in the dark. We should not be forced to vote for things that we already know will not work. Where there is consensus, let us be honest about the consensus and focus the debate on real differences.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, in the earlier part of his speech, the previous speaker said something about differentiating between major crimes and minor crimes and not putting people who are so-called guilty of minor crimes in prison with the people who commit major crimes.

Does the member not consider people who lose their entire life savings to be victims of a very major crime?

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, if the member had listened to my comments, he would have heard yes, absolutely, which is why two years ago we said that we must fix this, that we must end it.

For people, like Mr. Jones, who are large scale fraudsters, let us end this. We have been pre-eminently clear on this point for several years now, ever since it was first raised as a concern. I think our biggest concern is that it has taken this long to actually address it.

My problem is that I was reading about other criminals. I was reading from a Correctional Service Canada document that was talking about the implications and importance of the accelerated parole review for first-time non-violent offenders. For the member's edification, I will re-read the particular quote. It reads, “The main focus of APR was to address public safety and reintegration” by enabling Correctional Service Canada and the National Parole Board to focus their attention on dangerous offenders at a high risk of re-offending. Studies have shown that there is a tendency for low risk offenders to be negatively impacted by the prison experience.

Therefore, for large-scale offenders, absolutely. For others, where all evidence shows us that in fact longer periods of incarceration do nothing other than create more crime and less safe communities, no.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, the Liberal member who just spoke always defends his opinions very fervently. He is often very convincing but, this time, he has convinced me of the Liberal Party's inconsistency on this issue.

In September 2009, the Bloc Québécois introduced Bill C-434 on the abolition of automatic parole after one-sixth of a sentence is served. We asked for the unanimous consent of the House. The Liberals and the NDP supported us but the Conservatives did not. We reiterated this request on March 4, 2010. Once again, the Liberals and the NDP supported our request but the Conservatives did not.

Now, just when we have managed to convince the Conservatives, all of a sudden, the other two parties have done an about-face for all sorts of reasons. The hon. member has presented arguments. He said that it will cost a lot of money to keep certain people in prison. Why were these arguments not discussed in the House when we asked for unanimous consent and obtained their support?

Everyone agrees that we must abolish automatic parole after one-sixth of a sentence is served; however, for reasons I do not understand, things have changed. I would like the hon. member to explain to me why, all of a sudden, they no longer agree with this.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, first of all, if the Bloc Québécois wants to work with the Liberal Party, it needs to talk to us. The discussions between the Conservative Party and the Bloc Québécois were held in secret. The Liberal Party did not have a chance to talk to the Bloc Québécois. If we had had the chance to do so, I would have certainly said that it is very important to resolve issues like the cases of Vincent Lacroix and Earl Jones, who committed very serious crimes. It is clear that there is a consensus there.

However, I would like to point out that there are a number of people who commit less serious crimes and we must therefore keep the existing process and ensure that our rehabilitation system is working properly. They should work with us and if there are things that are not working properly, the bill can be amended in committee.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, the argument of the Conservatives to this point is that there is a great need for urgency. This is why they are doing this super closure motion that denies all debate. It does not allow parliamentarians to do the very thing we are in the House to do, which is to scrutinize laws and try to understand their implications.

When we have asked government members for evidence on costing, on how many criminals we are talking about and who they are, they come back with PMO spin lines, which is not very much of a debate at all.

The other argument is the government blames the opposition for any delays that may have happened. However, the bill was killed twice at the government's own hands. Every time it kills it, it adds another 6, 12, 18 months to the whole process. Yet the government pretends that those prorogations, that shutting down and locking of the doors of Parliament, never happened. On the argument of urgency, obviously this was not urgent for the government because it killed it twice.

The argument of efficacy is that this will do something to better Canadians and stop the Earl Joneses of the world. It is too late to stop Lacroix because he has already been released. The Conservatives say that the effectiveness of this bill will somehow be everything that Canadians need with respect to white-collar crime.

On both of those arguments, we have asked the government members time and again to give us some shred of evidence that the urgency is needed now, that we must ram this through without debate, or that when this does come into law, it will actually do what the government promises to do.

My colleague sits on the committee. Has evidence been brought forward that proves this must happen now? If the bill does come into law, because of the new coalition arrangement between the Bloc and the Conservatives, will it somehow stop the Earl Joneses of the future from doing what he did to our pensioners?

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member's questions are extremely important questions.

The reality is the Bloc and Conservative members went off to negotiate and conjured up some deal that did not include the rest of the parties. They then stormed out the doors and said that the bill needed to be passed now, that there was no time to think, just ram it through and off we go. This is particularly curious, given the fact that there has been a long-standing debate on this.

One of the Bloc members quite rightfully pointed out that the House had dealt with the issue before. Many times it was brought up by us, including at committee, to try to stop people like Mr. Lacroix from getting out.

As I said earlier, the truth is the Conservatives were caught with their pants down. They did not fix this. They did not listen to recommendations made in justice committee or in the House to shut down these provisions for large scale fraudsters. Now they are embarrassed by it and are trying to ram something through overnight. This is about politics. The idea we have to do this overnight is a sudden urgency that has appeared out of nowhere.

As I have said, the bill has been languishing without the government making any effort to push it forward until the Lacroix case came forth.

What I find particularly disturbing is this. I hope at some point in the debate a member from the Conservatives will say something other than he or she is too busy to answer questions.

We want to know some very basic stuff. First, how much will this cost? Give us the breakdown and show us an analysis of where those costs come from. Second, from a perspective of rehabilitation, show us an analysis that the government has done that shows how this will demonstrably improve public safety. If it cannot do either of those, then perhaps it is time for it to consider how fast it is trying to move the bill.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Kania Liberal Brampton West, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for standing up for recent analysis and reasonable criminal justice legislation. He is the subject matter of personal attacks almost every day in the House of Commons because the government refuses to answer in a logical and lucid manner.

I would like to ask him about Bill C-21. In the justice committee last fall, Liberal amendments were put forward that if passed and accepted, would have eliminated the one-sixth accelerated parole review. In fact, Mr. Lacroix would not have been released if the Conservatives and the Bloc had not voted to defeat those amendments. The fact is both parties are arguing for closure today for Bill C-59, which only went through first reading on February 9, Would my colleague to comment upon that logic and consistency?

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member is absolutely right. We need honesty in this debate. If there was an honest interest in blocking someone like Earl Jones from getting access to accelerated parole, after we introduced the idea two years ago, the Conservatives could have come to us and said that they agreed with us and that we should try to make it happen. We would have said “of course”.

However, the Conservatives did not choose that course of action. They decided to go to the Bloc Québécois. Instead of getting rid of it for the cases they are talking about, they are getting rid of it in every instance. Therefore, we are now put into this situation where Bloc members are adopting something I am not even sure they have fully thought out. Perhaps they have been duped by the Conservatives.

This needs a bit more time than it is being afforded in the House today.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to join in the debate today and to support the motion before us. I am splitting my time with the member for Brant.

I listened with great interest to the comments of several of our hon. members and I appreciate this opportunity to set the record straight on a number of fronts. Some of our colleagues today suggest that the motion before us is somehow not in the best interest of a free and open debate. The implication is that our government is not listening to Canadians, that we are just moving forward without time to hear what people are telling us.

That is patently false. Canadians have spoken loud and clear since our government was first elected, and our government is listening. Canadians have told us that they want us to take action to keep our streets and our communities safe. Our government has delivered on our commitment to build safer communities in a number of different ways.

Canadians have told us that they want us to work together to get tough on crime. Again, our government has listened and we have introduced and passed a wide range of bills to deliver on our commitment to get tough on crime.

Canadians have told us that they want a justice system that will work the way it should. Again, our government is taking action to ensure that it does. That includes keeping dangerous offenders behind bars, not releasing them into the streets automatically before they are ready. That is why we have introduced new laws to end early parole for offences of murder and to prevent potentially dangerous offenders from serving their sentences in their homes.

Previously, there was a practice for offenders to be granted extra credit for the length of their sentences for time they had served before or during their trial. That was not acceptable to many Canadians, and our government is listening. That is why we have delivered legislation that limits credit for time served in pre-sentence custody.

We have also introduced legislation to tackle property crime, including the serious of crimes of auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime. I am proud to note that our government has passed legislation to help reform the pardon system. In particular, we have ensured that the Parole Board of Canada has the discretion it needs to determine whether granting a pardon would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

In addition, our government has passed legislation to strengthen the National Sex Offender Registry and the National DNA Data Bank so all sex offenders are registered. After all, our government has taken significant action that achieves results in tackling crime in our communities, and we will continue to do more.

We are doing more because that is what Canadians have told us they need. They want a government that listens. Our government has. They want a government that takes decisive action. Our government has done just that, and that is what we are doing again today.

We have heard for several years that many Canadians want to do away with the current system of accelerated parole review. We have heard it from victims of crime and other white-collar crimes, many of whom have seen their entire life savings disappear in the blink of an eye. Many Canadians are outraged that fraudsters, con artists and swindlers can be reviewed for parole after serving just one-sixth of their sentence. Many Canadians ask why offenders should be treated differently from others just because they use a balance sheet rather than a gun as a weapon.

Canadians want answers. They want us to listen and, most of all, they want us to take action today. They do not want us to take action next year. They do not want us to delay taking action. The truth is all of us know what needs to be done. Canadians want results, and, again, our government is listening and taking action. Bill C-59 is all about that. It is about standing up for victims, and that includes victims of white-collar crimes and fraud.

Today, someone who commits fraud, in other words, someone who preys on hard-working, law-abiding Canadians and perhaps swindles their life savings from them is treated differently from other offenders. These offenders receive what sounds like a stiff sentence, but the sentence does not always reflect the amount of time an offender will actually spend in prison.

Today, a white-collar criminal might receive a sentence of 12 years, or perhaps in some cases more, but the reality is many are released on parole before other offenders who might receive a similar sentence.

Unlike other offenders who are generally eligible for day parole six months before full parole, white-collar or non-violent criminals can be free just after a few months in some cases. The general rule of thumb is they can access a process called accelerated parole review after serving one-sixth of their sentence and full parole after one-third of their sentence.

What makes the review process expedited is that these accelerated parole reviews are accomplished through a paper review by the National Parole Board of Canada, whereas regular parole reviews are normally done by way of a hearing in person. The test for accelerated parole review is also lower.

The National Parole Board of Canada only has to have reasonable grounds to believe that the offender will not commit a violent offence, whereas with other offenders the test is whether the person is an undue risk to commit any type of crime upon release.

The bottom line is that the parole board, when dealing with these cases, has limited discretion. The test is whether someone is going to commit a violent offence.

Even if the parole board believes someone will commit another fraud, the board is still compelled to release that individual under supervision at one-sixth of the sentence. That means in many cases people who are convicted of crimes that have had devastating effects on the lives and livelihood of Canadians often spend very little in prison.

The end result is that offenders convicted of white-collar crimes are often released under supervision after a few months. Fraudsters are given lengthy sentences, but these sentences do not result in much time spent in prison.

No wonder Canadians' faith in the justice and corrections system is shaken. No wonder they want change. That is what our government is doing today.

Bill C-59 would abolish accelerated parole review and repeal sections of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that govern the accelerated parole review regime.

It will mean that offenders who commit non-violent or white-collar crimes are put on the same footing as other offenders. They will be eligible for regular day parole review six months prior to full parole eligibility and full parole review after serving one-third their sentence.

Rather than being subject to a paper review, they will be subject to an in-person hearing. The test as to whether he or she should be released will be whether that individual presents an unmanageable risk of committing another crime.

The changes which our government is proposing will mean that Canadians can have faith that offenders convicted of white-collar crimes will not escape full accountability for their actions. These changes will mean that Canadians can have faith that their voices are being heard and that our government is taking action to deliver on our commitments.

I am therefore very proud to support the motion before us today so all of us can ensure that Bill C-59 receives the expeditious passage for which Canadians have called.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member's speech at second reading, but we have not reached that stage yet. We are dealing with a procedural motion on the bill, which would close down debate and prescribes that we will not spend very much time debating the bill.

The member is probably aware that finance committee has asked for a costing of the various justice bills and that request has been denied on the basis that it constitutes cabinet confidence, that it is a state secret.

Would the member care to explain to the House and to Canadians why information about the impact of a piece of legislation in this place will not be available to members of Parliament so we can make good laws and wise decisions?

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, it is interesting to note that whenever colleagues across the way are opposed to some action, they will always find a reason to throw up obstacle after obstacle.

In this debate, we need to get to the heart of what we are trying to accomplish. We are trying to reintroduce a measure of accountability and responsibility on the part of those who have been sentenced. Before individuals automatically become eligible for parole, they will have to show some evidence that the right has been earned. There has to be some evidence of an offender's participation in a rehabilitative program, evidence that he or she has the actual desire for change so when released, he or she will not simply re-enter society and perhaps victimize others.

We agree that white-collar crime is not a violent crime in the sense that there is physical injury. However, one cannot argue that when seniors lose their life savings to one of these people it is incumbent upon the Government of Canada to stand up and protect those victims. The best way to protect them is to not allow that person out so they can continue their schemes.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2011 / 4:10 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Madam Speaker, I ask this question of the member because I know he is a thoughtful person.

I have sat through a number of debates in this House where we have moved aggressively to make it rougher and tougher for people who come in conflict with the law. We buy into an approach to criminal justice that has been tried in other jurisdictions and found to be wanting.

A police friend from Los Angeles told me how gangs are dealt with there. They tried the tough on crime approach, of giving people longer sentences, not allowing for parole and probation, that kind of thing. He found that it made the situation worse.

Would the member share with me why we would be moving with such haste on a subject on which perhaps we should be talking about what is better for the whole of society? Where do healing and reconciliation come into his scheme of things? Does he not think we should be spending more time thinking about that and looking at ways where that might be the end result? He and I know that when healing, forgiveness and reconciliation happen, we are all better for it, including the perpetrator and the victim.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, I accept that question in the spirit in which it was asked.

On this side of the House we are very concerned about a balanced justice system, one that, yes, does consider preventive measures. We have invested millions of dollars on prevention schemes, such as drug prevention programs, and so on.

We also are very concerned about rehabilitation. To say that keeping someone in prison is a harsh message of punishment I think misses the point. All along our members have been arguing that what we are asking for is protection for victims and potential victims. There is a huge difference between punishment and simply keeping that potential offender away from the possibility of reoffending.

Personally, I am all for forgiveness and as an individual, I can do that. However, these people have a debt to pay to society, in terms of not being reintroduced to society until, as the material suggests, they have given evidence that they want to change and that they are actually participating in a rehabilitation program to ensure that kind of change occurs.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise today in support of the motion which will help ensure that we pass Bill C-59, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act into law in the most timely way possible.

Accelerated parole review has been a topic of discussion and debate both here and in the public, including the media, for some time now. We have all heard the heart-wrenching stories about how hard-working Canadians have been deceived into voluntarily handing over their life savings and how their lives, and ultimately their futures, have been destroyed by the white collar criminals who defrauded them.

Canadians have told us that they want action on crime. They want the punishment to fit the crime. They also want to ensure that the rights of offenders are balanced with the rights of victims and law-abiding citizens. The bill would do just that. This legislation would ensure that white collar offenders are held accountable for their crimes and would increase justice for victims by providing tougher sentences for those responsible.

Just a few years ago fraud was considered by many to be a faceless crime as it was seen typically to be committed against big business and multinational corporations. Today, however, victims of fraud are coming forward to tell their stories about how their lives have been changed forever. These individuals and groups are working hard to protect others from suffering the same loss of financial security and confidence that they have endured.

Fraud comes in many forms, including securities-related frauds, such as Ponzi schemes, and mortgage and real estate fraud. In all cases, it involves deception as well as dishonest conduct that deprives the other person of his or her property or puts his or her property at risk.

Fraud can have a devastating impact on the lives of victims, including loss of life savings and feelings of humiliation for having been duped into voluntarily handing over their property or their finances. For many victims of fraud, their lives will never be the same. The crime has damaged them not only financially, but emotionally.

Currently, as hon. members know, offenders convicted of non-violent offences can apply for day parole at one-sixth of their sentence and full parole at one-third of their sentence through an expedited process called accelerated parole review. This can only occur if the Parole Board of Canada is satisfied that there are no reasonable grounds to believe that the offender, if released, is likely to commit an offence involving violence before the expiration of his or her sentence. This means an offender convicted of a serious white collar crime, for example, could be eligible for this type of early release.

Bill C-59 is an opportunity for all of us to change the current system and to stand up for Canadians who have been victimized through this type of crime. Standing up for victims of crime is, and always has been, at the forefront of this government's public safety and justice agenda.

The Government of Canada is committed to supporting victims of crime and to ensuring that victims have a greater voice in the criminal justice system. As a demonstration of this commitment, the government has contributed $52 million over four years to enhance the federal victims strategy. This will go a long way to better meet the needs of victims.

Furthermore, in 2007, the federal government created the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, an independent resource for victims in Canada. This office was created to ensure that the federal government meets its obligations to the victims of crime.

Additionally, the Policy Centre for Victim Issues at the Department of Justice works with other federal government agencies, as well as provincial and territorial governments, to help victims and their families understand their role in the criminal justice system and the laws, services and assistance available to them.

The National Office for Victims, which is within the Department of Public Safety, is a single national point of contact for victims who have concerns about offenders and questions about the federal correctional system and the Canadian justice system. This is a starting place for them to ask their questions and get them answered.

The National Office for Victims is a central resource that offers vital information to victims through a toll-free line which victims or members of the general public may call free of charge from anywhere in Canada or the United States. The office also provides input on policy and legislative initiatives, education about victims' issues for members of the criminal justice system, and networking and support for the Correctional Service of Canada and the Parole Board of Canada.

We are also helping victims get the information and services they need online through a victim services directory, which is housed at the Department of Justice. Through this directory, victims and service providers are able to locate the necessary services and organizations they may require in their area. Through these services, this government sincerely wishes to lighten the load of Canadians who have been victimized by providing valuable information and resources that are only a click or phone call away.

We are also cracking down on crime and have introduced numerous pieces of legislation to support our agenda. Furthermore, this government has passed legislation to help combat identity theft and identity fraud which has been identified as a fast-growing problem throughout North America.

We have also introduced legislation that would ensure victims can have a voice at Parole Board of Canada hearings, while ensuring that offenders cannot withdraw their parole applications 14 days or less before a hearing date. Victims of crime have called on this government for changes to the current system and our government has delivered. Bill C-59 would only further build on and strengthen our history of standing up for Canadians who have been victimized.

Many victims of white collar crimes and fraud in particular are shocked and appalled to discover that the individuals who commit these types of crimes can be eligible for supervised release into the community shortly after they are sentenced. Unless the Parole Board of Canada has reason to believe offenders will commit violent acts if released, it must release them into the community under conditions. This means that offenders convicted of serious white collar crimes can be eligible for this type of early release.

As it stands, an offender sentenced to 12 years could be released into the community on day parole in just two years and fully paroled in four years. Is justice being served to Canadians who have been victims of this type of crime? The answer is simply no.

Canadians lose faith in the criminal justice system when they feel that the punishment does not fit the crime. Canadians must believe that our justice and corrections systems are working for them. That is why our government has made the rights of victims and the protection of society our priority. That is why we have introduced Bill C-59.

Bill C-59 would abolish the current system of accelerated parole review whereby offenders who commit non-violent crimes such as fraud can be released on day parole after serving as little as one-sixth of their sentence. Under the proposed legislation, offenders who commit fraud and other white collar crimes would be eligible for regular day parole at the earliest six months prior to full parole eligibility. Through this legislation, this government is sending a strong message to white collar offenders that if they commit the crime, they have to face the consequences of the law.

Canadians have spoken and we are listening. Above all, Canadians want us to work together to take immediate action to ensure that the changes our government is proposing are passed into law. This would mean victims of fraud and other white collar crimes could in fact see that justice is served. I call on all hon. members to support the bill before us today and to work together to ensure Bill C-59 receives speedy passage.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, the arguments are becoming clear. A number of examples have been given of other jurisdictions which have increased the time served by those who commit non-violent crimes and the evidence appears to be that the recidivism rate actually goes up. In Florida that is the case. In New York it was the reverse. The time in prison was lowered and the recidivism rate went down.

I wonder if the member could assist the House by providing the basis for saying that keeping people in jail longer is going to protect people, when in fact the expectation, based on hard evidence, is that the reoffending rate is going to go up.