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House of Commons Hansard #131 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was sentence.

Topics

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-59 even if the other parties have had no real interest in seriously debating or discussing it. Today we are here so the Bloc and Conservatives can pay lip service to getting tough on crime.

Bill C-59 is hastily prepared legislation that introduces sweeping changes to the Criminal Code that would alter the parole rules for every non-violent first-time offender, regardless of the severity of the crime. The Bloc struck a backroom deal with the Conservatives, which we know, to fast-track the bill without any serious committee study or consultation with victims. Interestingly enough, the Quebec bar has said that it does not agree with the position that has been taken by the Bloc. In fact, it said:

The Québec Bar would like to state its opposition to Bill C-59 concerning accelerated parole and conditional release, which you introduced in the House of Commons on February 9.

Firstly, the Bar is opposed to the retroactive effect of the proposed legislation. ...we would like to point out that some people chose to plead guilty after considering the advantages of accelerated parole. Changing the sentencing rules after these people have made their decisions and their choices is unfair and opens the door to constitutional challenges.

Secondly, the Québec Bar believes that before this bill is passed, it should go through the same process as all legislation, including a thorough study of the advantages and disadvantages of the current legislation and an impact study of the proposed changes. The findings of these studies should be made public so that there can be informed debate on this issue.

We can all agree that serious cases of white-collar fraud have been terribly damaging to families across Canada and particularly in Quebec. We share the anger and frustration that is felt when serious criminals have their sentences reduced.

Over a year and a half ago, the Liberal Party called for legislation to put an end to parole for white-collar criminals who have only served one-sixth of their sentences. The Liberal Party was the first party to put forward a comprehensive proposal to deal with white-collar crime.

The Conservatives could have supported the proposals made by us concerning parole but they chose to play politics instead and fraudster Vincent Lacroix was given conditional release. Now they are simply trying to do damage control and win some votes in Quebec. They had the chance but they were not concerned with protecting victims at that time.

The Liberal caucus wants to see the current flawed proposal amended so that it better reflects the high standard Liberal position that we had previously put forward that better targets the real problem: the serious white-collar fraudsters who should not be eligible for early parole. The other parties seem intent on making it look as though we are not supportive of ensuring that white-collar fraudsters are not eligible for early parole. Again, this is not the case at all and their position is deceitful.

Two years ago, several of my colleagues participated in a press conference with the victims of Earl Jones' Ponzi scheme. We were calling for increased measures to protect victims of white-collar crimes then. We were asking the government to move quickly on this matter and to introduce legislation that would eliminate one-sixth accelerated parole for white-collar criminals. We were especially concerned with eliminating early parole for fraudsters who have multiple victims and have inflicted serious financial damage to individuals and families.

I am wondering why the Conservatives have taken so long to get down to doing anything about this problem and, when they do it, it is ill thought out and flawed to the core. Instead of trying to rush this legislation through Parliament, we are asking for serious debate and discussion on a very serious matter. Making legislation as a belated knee-jerk reaction to an issue is highly emotional and is no way to conduct the business of Parliament.

What needs to be done is that experts in the judicial field need to be consulted and the committee must carefully consider all the options that are available, as is now being proposed by the Quebec Bar. This is too important a matter not to be looked at thoroughly.

We are all aware of the devastating consequences that white-collar crimes have on the lives of people. We are all becoming more aware of the need to be vigilant in protecting our investments and who we trust with our money.

We are all in agreement that action needs to be taken to ensure white-collar criminals are held accountable for their crimes, which can be just as devastating to the well-being of people as violent crimes. We have been asking the government to take action for some time now. It is only now getting around to it.

The spectre of white-collar crime is increasing. In the past, white-collar crimes tended to be considered victimless crimes. When people thought of white-collar crimes, they typically thought of crimes being committed against large corporations and governments.

However, with the advent of the likes of Bernie Madoff in the United States and Earl Jones in Canada, we have seen the human face of fraud and devastating consequences it has for hundreds, if not thousands, of people. People have reacted with anger and frustration at these crimes and the men who willingly carried them out over the years.

The entire life savings of people have been wiped out and investments completely disappeared, leaving them with nothing and no chance to ever recover.

As we know, under the current system, white-collar offenders can be released after as little as one-sixth of their sentence in prison for their crimes. Bill C-59 could give us all a chance to change this and to support Canadians who have become the victims of crime, if the government would take the time to get this legislation right.

The Liberal Party has always considered helping victims of crimes to be at the core of our justice policies and we have always supported victims to ensure their voices are heard.

The Liberals have repeatedly said, since the revelation of the criminal activities of Earl Jones, that the current government needs to focus its criminal legislation amendments on protecting victims and preventing crimes.

Back in 2009, we suggested that the country needed tougher sentences for white-collar criminals. The laxity of the current legislation has made Canada an attractive place for those who wish to rip off their fellow citizens. As a country, we need to ensure that the consequences of such actions are stringent enough to truly deter this type of criminal activity.

Keeping our laws focused on protecting Canadians means that we need to go further than simply addressing the penalties in place for those who would seek to defraud hard-working Canadians. The government needs to help victims by negotiating international treaties that would allow stolen money being held overseas to be tracked and returned to the rightful owners.

Furthermore, the Conservative government needs to revamp Canada Revenue Agency procedures regarding tax moneys paid by victims on fictitious interest payments. Law-abiding Canadians who have diligently filed their tax returns and paid the calculated income tax based on documents with false amounts, provided to them by people engaged in criminal activity, should be entitled to a refund of any tax moneys paid on non-existent interest payments.

If it wants to understand the Liberal position, I ask the government to read the transcripts of the hearings that the justice committee held on Bill C-21, the white-collar bill. There it will find that the Liberals supported that bill. The government might want to also check the media coverage of a press conference held over two years ago, in which Liberals called on the government then to remove the one-sixth accelerated parole release for white-collar criminals.

In the justice committee this past fall, when the white-collar crime bill was being examined, it was a Liberal member who brought in an amendment that would have eliminated the one-sixth accelerated release or early parole release, as it is commonly called, for white-collar criminals and major fraudsters.

The amendment was subsequently ruled out of order by the Conservative chair. A Liberal MP challenged the chair and the Conservatives and the Bloc formed an alliance and voted to uphold the chair's ruling. They were the ones who voted against eliminating the one-sixth early parole option.

The government may want to check its facts before making such ridiculous claims that the Liberals do not support victims.

We are calling on the government to make the proper amendments to this legislation. As with all other Conservative tough on crime bills, this one would introduce sweeping changes to the Criminal Code that would unfairly target all people who have been guilty of a criminal offence. This is contrary to our justice system, which also aims at rehabilitating and reforming those who have committed offences. Parole does exist for a tried and tested reason and it does offer a second chance to those who have demonstrated their willingness to change to come back into the fold of society as co-operative, productive and contributing members.

The government has made a pact with the separatists to fast-track the bill without any serious committee study. There has been no consultation with victims or legal experts. There has been no discussion of this matter until Friday.

The impact of white-collar crime costs taxpayers and the treasury a lot of money because of the complex investigations that have to be conducted. The fraudsters are committing fraud against those vulnerable people. Fraud is not victimless. Fraud preys on the weak and the vulnerable in society. The Liberals support sending the bill to committee because we believe it is the right thing to do.

The principles behind the stricter sentencing rules are very important. However, we also know that they are not enough to prevent these frauds from happening. Sentencing is important, but prevention is equally important in white-collar crime.

The question is why the government will not use this opportunity to do more and do it properly. The opposition and the public have been calling on the government to end the one-sixth accelerated parole provision for these types of offenders and the government has not acted yet. We hope that by sending it to committee, we can have some thoughtful discussion and develop solid legislation.

Let me be clear. The Liberal Party is more than supportive of eliminating the one-sixth accelerated parole provision. We support this in principle. What we do not support is the railroading of legislation through Parliament based on shady backroom deals made between the government and the Bloc. This is simply unacceptable. This is not the way Parliament should work. It is not what Canadians expect of those who represent them in the House.

The government, with the support of the NDP, has already given white-collar criminals a free pass by voting down a Liberal amendment that would have ensured a two-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for criminals who defrauded the public through things like Ponzi schemes.

I guess it is not enough that the Conservative government so passively watches as seniors living in poverty rise by an alarming 25%. Now, with the help of the NDP, the Conservatives have made sure that those same seniors get no justice when they have been bilked of their life savings by white-collar criminals like Earl Jones.

The Liberal Party tried to get the Conservatives' white-collar crime Bill C-21 amended so it would cover stock manipulation and Ponzi schemes, like the $50 million scheme perpetrated by Earl Jones that ended up wiping out the personal savings of nearly 150 investors.

Victims groups came to Ottawa last year to appear before the parliamentary justice and human rights committee to not only request stiffer sentences for white-collar crime, but also for a longer period before which a while-collar criminal could make an application for parole, up from the one-sixth of sentence that exists today.

If the truth be known, the current government has been soft on white-collar crime in general.

Consistent with his neo-conservative ideology of privatization and deregulation, the Prime Minister wants greater self-regulation of Canada's financial industry. The Conservatives already put forth a plan in the 2007 budget to adopt principles-based regulation of the securities and financial industry. The problem is business principles are, by nature, about making money, not about looking out for the welfare of the public.

Now the government is gung-ho to make sure it looks tough on white-collar criminals. This is typical Conservative too little, too late scheme of preying on the emotions of victims of white-collar crime. If the government had been listening to Canadians all along, and to the Liberal Party, it would have known this was an issue years ago and that it should have been dealt with when the Liberal Party first brought it forward.

The government has never handled white-collar crime effectively. We can think of examples from the corporate world, such as Bre-X Minerals and Nortel. It has taken years for the government to proceed with cases against these corporate offenders. As far as it goes for individual investors, such as the victims of Earl Jones, the system has long been handing out slap on the wrist punishments to those who deliberately steal from others.

The government has only recently taken a serious look at white-collar crime, and that has been at the insistence of the Liberal Party. It has taken the government too long to realize that an aging and vulnerable population has been targeted by sophisticated financial criminals for years.

Denial always comes with compound interest. This means that being too soft for too long on white-collar criminals has a steep price attached. It has undermined confidence in our financial markets, especially in the international community, and it has created a political problem.

The government has failed to protect seniors who have been duped out of their life savings. It is seniors who have been most victimized precisely because they do have savings and they do make investments to help cover the costs of retirement. These costs of retirement are very high. In fact, today, rising costs impact seniors whether it is the cost of home heating, or it is the cost of food and medicines. All these costs have to be considered by seniors in their retirement. The little they have in the way of savings, they try to invest time and time again to ensure that they have some additional money. Look what happens when they are taken for a ride.

We support the government as it now tries to toughen up the laws that deal with white-collar crime. However, there is always the risk that the fundamental flaws in this system will be glossed over because such action is taken hastily and without thought.

Financial crimes are generally very complicated to unwind. That is only one reason why law enforcement agencies, many of which have suffered budget and staff cuts, take so long to assemble the cases against fraudsters. The advent of the Internet and other sophisticated technology has only made it harder to keep up with these criminals, but the government has failed to adequately fund law enforcement agencies that would investigate and bring white-collar criminals to justice.

Different jurisdictions and regulations from province to province also complicate matters, as does the international component of investigations. The fact that there is no single national securities regulator to enforce one set of standardized rules does not help matters either.

These are some of the reasons why we insist the government take the time to get the legislation right once and for all. It needs to work with the legislators in Parliament and recognize how important it is to deal with white-collar crime. It needs to find away to work together and acknowledge the fact that the right thing to do is to send this to committee to see if we can get it right.

We do not need to rush this legislation through Parliament. We need to take our time to consider the legislation and to consult with the experts and victims. The victims are the ones who have been unfairly targeted by white-collar criminals. We need to listen to them. We need to hear what they have to say. We need to learn from their experience. We also need to talk to legal experts. We need to send this to committee so the House can get the legislation right.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Madam Speaker, I was somewhat confused by the comments of my hon. colleague. Maybe she can clarify this for me. In one sense I hear the member speak about victims and that we need to stand up for victims of white-collar crimes. At at the same time, she says that the bill should not be retroactive. Unfortunately for the victims of Earl Jones, if this bill is not retroactive, these victims will never have any kind of justice served.

This is what one of the victims of Earl Jones has to say:

Do you know what it feels like to be ready to retire, knowing you have enough money to enjoy your home and to do some travelling, but suddenly to have the carpet pulled from under your feet? We have gone through this because of Earl Jones and the fraud he perpetuated for so long. We have lost our nest egg, as well as the money we wanted to leave to our children. We have had to go back to work. We don't want to see this man out on parole as early as next December. This is not a good system. Please work with the other parties to come to a good conclusion for all of us that have been victims of "white collar crime".

What would my hon. colleague have to say to the victim of Earl Jones who wants him to receive justice for this crime?

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Madam Speaker, that is precisely why we need to take our time with the legislation. We need to listen to the victims. We need to listen to the legal experts. We do not need to rush this legislation through. Let us send it to committee. Let us listen to the very people from whom she has quoted. Let us ensure that we cover all of our bases. Instead of rushing this through, we need to listen to those who have been impacted. We have to recognize how serious this issue is and we need to take our time to get it right.

We can rush this through and miss some important components, but at the end of the day, we know there are serious issues. People are being impacted negatively. People are being hurt by this.

We must do whatever we can to get it right. That means listening to the victims and the legal experts. Let us do that. Let us send it to committee and let us get it right.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I agree with many of the member's points. She talked about the problem in large part being the lack of regulation in this country, and I think she is right about that.

However, the fact is the white-collar criminals were running amok before the Conservatives even formed government. It was so serious that Jean Chrétien's government set up IMETs within the police forces. I believe six of them were in place, but they had a very poor track record. Only five people were convicted in five years, whereas the United States managed to convict 1,200 white-collar criminals. Clearly, the system of regulation in Canada has to be changed.

The Conservatives are in government right now and they are not really doing anything that would change those regulations. They have to stop appointing to the regulatory boards people who recently left the jobs they are supposed to be regulating. We cannot expect to have a proper regulating environment when the regulators are golfing with the people they are regulating. That is the system the Liberals set up and the Conservatives have done absolutely nothing to change it. That is what they should be looking at.

Passing bills like this one is fine, but the Conservatives should be looking at re-regulating so that Earl Jones could not have taken advantage of people in the first place.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Madam Speaker, I did not hear a question, but I acknowledge the input from my colleague on how important it is that we get regulation right. As he said, this issue is as much about trying to deal with white-collar crime from a regulation perspective as it is about dealing with the situation where people like Earl Jones are taking advantage of others who want to invest.

I acknowledge what he is saying in terms of getting it right. That is why I keep going back to the point that we need not be rushing this bill through. We need to take our time with it. We need to send the bill to committee. We need to look at the flaws in the system now, whether it is regulation or whatever it is. We need to get it right. We need to send the bill to committee and work together, as my hon. colleague said, to get it right once and for all.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

February 15th, 2011 / 3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

Madam Speaker, my question is with regard to the expediency behind moving the bill to committee.

I would like to point out the lack of speed with which the Liberal Party coalition on the other side deals with bills. Bill C-5 has been in committee since the fall. Bill C-17, the terrorism bill, has been lingering in committee, as has Bill C-23B, concerning pardons for offenders. All of these bills have been in committee for months and months and yet there has been no action from the opposition to help us move them along. Instead, in the fall those members spent time going on a witch hunt against the RCMP, the Toronto police department and other good men and women who do a job every day.

I wonder if the member could say why she has not been able to push the law and order mandate to get these things through. That is what we are trying to do and every day we fight roadblocks from her party and the critic for public safety.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Madam Speaker, interestingly enough, when the Conservatives stand to speak to an issue, it is always to point the finger in the other direction. They always blame someone else for a backlog and suggest that it is someone other than themselves who is holding up the process.

If the Conservatives were willing to work with all of the parties on the legislation, if they realized that they do not have all the answers, that other parties have some good ideas as well and if they acknowledged that, then I am sure things would move much more quickly. The problem is, whenever we try to bring forward suggestions in committee, the government always finds a way to say that either the Liberals or another party in the House of Commons is not working with the government to make it happen.

The reality is that it takes everybody to make it happen. We need to work together. We need to acknowledge that no one group has all the answers. The ideas, proposals and amendments that members from other parties put forward need to be considered. That is what we are proposing in terms of this piece of legislation. Let us send it to committee and have that discussion.

The Conservatives have to take the other parties seriously. They cannot sit around the table in committee and just pooh-pooh the input other parties have on legislation.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Madam Speaker, I picked up on what I think is a little weasel phrase. The member said that she wants to return the bill to committee because she wants to get it right. Really, those are code words for removing the retroactivity provisions of this bill.

She talks about wanting to protect Canadians against the Earl Joneses of this country, but she wants to ensure that this bill before us, which would remove accelerated parole, would not be retroactive so that Mr. Earl Jones would actually get out of jail after serving only one-sixth of his sentence.

I want the member to state for the record right here in this House what the Liberal position is. Are the Liberals prepared to accept removing retroactivity which would allow Earl Jones to leave jail after serving only one-sixth of his sentence? That is what the victims are asking her as well.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Madam Speaker, the Conservatives will stand in this House and put questions across the floor, but they will not agree to the idea of getting this right by having a discussion in committee about what we need to do with this legislation to respond to the needs of victims of crime. White-collar criminals need to be taken to task. We need to deal with them in a responsible manner. We need to ensure that this does not continue.

Yes, let us get it right. Let us work together in this House and in committee to get this legislation right.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-59, Abolition of Early Parole Act. This is an important piece of legislation and I am happy to contribute to the proceedings in an effort to have it passed as swiftly as possible.

It is always great to have the opportunity to talk about how our government is delivering on its commitment to Canadians to keep their country, their communities and their streets safe and secure.

I would like to thank hon. members for engaging in the process of helping us create a strong piece of legislation that will level the playing field for all offenders who seek parole.

Our government has told Canadians many times since coming to power in 2006 that our priority is to keep them safe and secure. We have done more than just talk about keeping Canadians safe and secure. We have taken decisive action to deliver on that commitment, because our government is a government of action, not words.

We have taken action by introducing a host of legislation to tackle crime while strengthening the rights of victims and their families. We have worked very hard to make our streets and communities safer for everyone by giving law enforcement officials the tools they need to do their jobs.

We have also taken action to crack down on organized crime and on violent gun crimes in particular. We have passed legislation to increase sentences handed out to people convicted of drive-by shootings and murders connected to organized crime.

I am proud to say that our government passed legislation last year to strengthen the national sex offender registry and the national DNA data bank. We have also introduced legislation to strengthen the International Transfer of Offenders Act.

We have introduced bills to fix the pardon system and keep serious offenders from having their criminal record suspended, and to end the use of house arrest for serious and violent crimes.

In our ongoing efforts to make sure that people convicted of a crime do the appropriate time behind bars, our government has also passed bills that limit the amount of credit given for time spent in pre-sentence custody.

Our government has taken action to tackle property crime, including the serious crimes of auto theft and trafficking in property that is obtained by crime.

We have also taken action to provide additional police resources in our communities. As an example, we have hired 1,000 additional RCMP personnel to help combat crime and keep our communities safe from coast to coast to coast.

Our government has pledged to keep Canadians safe, and as hon. members can see from this impressive track record, this is exactly what we are doing.

Our government has also pledged to Canadians that we will make changes to the corrections and conditional release system that strengthen the rights of victims and give them a voice.

We have heard much talk by hon. members on the other side of the House who question the costs involved in improving and strengthening our correctional system. What hon. members do not talk about is the heavy toll that crime takes on individual victims, their families, communities and society at large. That is why we have taken action to ensure that the scales of justice are balanced to include victims.

Since the day we took office, we have being doing a lot of things to help victims of crime and make sure that victims' needs are taken into consideration in all aspects of our public safety and justice agenda.

There are many programs already in place, and we are moving ahead on several initiatives to ensure that victims' voices are heard, and to ensure that victims' concerns are addressed.

As an example of the importance our government has placed on helping victims, we committed over $50 million over four years to improve the federal victims strategy, which exists to help victims navigate and deal with the criminal justice system.

As another example, we created the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime to be an independent resource for victims.

The National Office for Victims at Public Safety Canada is also working hard to give victims a greater voice in the corrections and conditional release process and to assist victims in getting access to the information and services that they might need.

Our government is proud of the work the National Office for Victims has done to reach out to more victims of crime through consultation and outreach. The office also works with aboriginal communities to help victims get better access to information and services.

I could talk about many more initiatives and actions that our government is taking to put victims' rights at the forefront of the justice system. I would like to turn, however, to the matter at hand, that of Bill C-59.

Hand in hand with our efforts to help victims, we must ensure that we keep dangerous offenders off our streets and out of our communities. We must ensure that anyone who is sentenced to prison for a crime remains in prison for the proper length of time before being eligible for parole. This is what Bill C-59 aims to do.

Bill C-59 would amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act by abolishing accelerated parole review. Accelerated parole review was incorporated into the CCRA in 1992 to do exactly what it sounds like, accelerate the parole review process for those first-time offenders who have not been convicted of a crime involving violence, organized crime, or a serious drug offence.

When it was first introduced and up until 1997, accelerated parole review only applied to full parole eligibility. In 1997, however, accelerated parole review was amended to include day parole, making it possible for white-collar offenders to apply for day parole after serving only one-sixth of their sentence or six months, whichever is longer.

As we stand here in this House in 2011, we understand that the situation in 1997 was not the same as what we now face in 2011. We believe that accelerated parole review is an unfair practice and it should be abolished.

One of the key crimes that accelerated parole review applies to is that of fraud. Under accelerated parole review, first-time offenders charged with a white-collar crime such as fraud need only serve one-sixth of their sentence before they are eligible to apply for day parole.

Under accelerated parole review as well, these offenders do not have to attend a parole board hearing in person. The application is submitted and approved on paper alone. The offender is not required to appear before the Parole Board of Canada officials to make a case for his or her day parole application.

Finally, under accelerated parole review, the Parole Board of Canada has little choice but to release the offender on day parole if there are no reasonable grounds to believe that the offender will commit a new violent crime.

It is difficult for me and for many Canadians to understand why an offender who commits a crime like fraud should be given a fast track to apply for day parole. We do not agree that someone who steals hundreds of thousands of dollars, and often millions, from hard-working Canadians through a fraudulent investment scheme should be allowed to apply for day parole without any need to appear in person before the parole board. Nor do we agree with the criterion that the parole board must release the offender back in the community if there is no evidence that he or she will commit a new violent crime.

That is why we have introduced Bill C-59. I would like to address in turn the three key elements of the parole system that will change under Bill C-59.

First and foremost, Bill C-59 will change the rules so that white collar offenders must wait the same amount of time as any other offender before applying for day parole. That is, they are not eligible to apply for day parole until six months before they are eligible for full parole. This makes sense. Why should these offenders be allowed to apply for day parole sooner than any other offender? They committed a serious crime and, therefore, they must serve the time.

Second, by abolishing accelerated parole review, we will ensure that white collar offenders must stand in front of a Parole Board of Canada hearing in person, just like every other offender. Again, it only makes sense that all offenders must go through the same process to apply for parole. Parole should not be seen as a given or a sure thing. All offenders should be expected to stand in front of a parole board hearing and convince board officials they are not going to commit another crime.

Finally, this legislation will ensure that white collar offenders must pass the same test of eligibility for parole as all other offenders. In other words, the parole board must be convinced that this offender will not commit any new crime, never mind the current criterion of a vicious crime or criminal offence, but any new crime. It is only fair and just that all offenders must face the same test to determine if they can be trusted to return to the streets of our communities.

As hon. members can see, Bill C-59 is all about levelling the playing field for all offenders. No longer will people who are charged with fraud have an expedited process when it comes to applying for parole. No longer will victims of fraud have to watch in disappointment when the offender is allowed to apply for day parole after serving only a small fraction of their sentence.

By passing this legislation we will send a message to these offenders and to Canadians that we will no longer support a system that favours offenders who steal hundreds of thousands of dollars, and sometimes millions, from hard-working Canadians.

I urge all hon. members to join us in taking a stand today to end this unfair, two-tiered parole system. I urge all members of the House to vote in favour of Bill C-59.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the member knows full well that when the Conservatives were in opposition five years ago and the Liberal government of the day brought in closure, they rebelled at the idea. They did not approve of it. They did not like it one bit. Now they see nothing wrong with jumping in bed with the Bloc and forcing closure when there is absolutely no need for it in this situation. It would take maybe two or three extra days, but we could have proper committee hearings.

We will have the spectacle tonight of a committee meeting starting at 10 o'clock and ending at 3 in the morning. Is this allowing for public input?

In my province of Manitoba, we have committee meetings at normal hours when bills are dealt with. The public is invited. The member knows that, as he is from Manitoba. Any member of the public is invited to show up and make a 10-minute presentation to that committee. We do not set up our meetings to start at 10 a.m. and run until 3 a.m. Whom are we going to invite? What experts are we going to invite at that hour to get proper input on this bill? This is a bad way to conduct business, and the member knows it.

We have asked the member about the cost of this bill. The member must have some sort of costing because governments do not introduce legislation without having information at their fingertips.

Could the member tell me the projected financial cost of the implementation of this bill?

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, I find it a little rich that the member for Elmwood—Transcona, who was in the Manitoba legislature, would talk about having committee meetings at all hours of the night. A few years ago, the agriculture committee was holding hearings on a moratorium on the hog industry. Those hearings went through the night. Over 300 farmers and people in the community wanted to appear before that committee, but the meeting dragged on and on. People were not able to stay in the middle of the night to make their presentations. It was really unfortunate that people were not provided with a true opportunity.

Different procedural moves and antics are often used by all parties of the House to make sure that debate is not turned into a filibuster. That is essentially what the NDP wanted to do here.

I am chair of environment committee and we just went through this process while studying a private member's bill. The opposition parties worked as a coalition and limited the amount of time that any party could speak on any clause within the bill. If Conservative members were to share their time equally, they were limited to speaking not more than one and a half minutes on a particular clause.

If the member wants to talk about stifling debate, that stifled debate. That prohibited other members from being able to get up and voice their concerns about particular clauses in a troublesome bill, namely Bill C-469.

I am surprised that the member never rose and asked me a question about the importance of bringing this bill to fruition and that we actually get rid of the accelerated parole review.

I want to turn his attention to what some of the victims are saying.

The Earl Jones Victims Organizing Committee actually put out a press release saying:

The elimination of the so-called 1/6th access to early day parole for crimes committed by non-violent offenders not only better protects these victims, but also serves to provide the strongest deterrent in our society against any acts of serious fraud, and theft resulting from such fraud, from white-collar criminals.

One of the victims from Lac-Saint-Louis, Quebec, is quoted as saying:

As a victim of the Earl Jones Ponzi Scheme I know first hand how devastating the effects that white collar crime has had on the lives of the victims, their families and their descendants. Almost every week there is a new Ponzi Scheme discovered in Canada and to date there is little incentive in our current criminal code to discourage criminals from taking this lucrative path. White collar crime is fast becoming the most debilitating crime for Seniors in the country. We have been left without our savings and have been shamed and ridiculed in the press. Time is of the essence in this matter.

Thus we are hearing directly from victims that we must do this, that we must make sure that these fraudsters play by the same rules as violent offenders and every other criminal in our federal penitentiaries. Stony Mountain Institution is in my riding and I have attended parole board hearings. It is a thorough and just process and there is no reason why fraudsters, the people out there stealing money from Canadians and seniors, should not have to go through the same process as every other convict.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Conservative Huron—Bruce, ON

Madam Speaker, that was certainly a thorough answer, if I have ever heard one.

The member for Selkirk—Interlake is obviously very passionate about this bill and the possible benefits it will have for victims and victims' rights. The member for Elmwood—Transcona, though, is dead wrong.

It is a minor point, but the meeting does not start at 10 o'clock. It starts at 6:30 p.m. just down the hallway. He is welcome to sit in and watch, if he would like to.

What is interesting is that we never hear about the victims from NDP members. Nothing in his question was about victims. We never once hear about the victims from them. Then they talk about sending the bill to committee or something else, but the fact is that they drag their feet. I am on the public safety committee and at least three bills have been dragged along by the coalition since the fall, and we cannot move them along.

I would like the member for Selkirk—Interlake to tell the House and viewers at home a bit more about how this bill will help the victims and victims' rights, and also about the antics of the coalition in dragging its feet on these bills in committee. It is outrageous.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, that is a great question. It is rather disturbing that there is so much legislation before the House that gets shuffled off to committee, and so often what we are seeing are the antics of opposition parties to slow down and stall legislation. The justice committee is completely overwhelmed with bills and cannot deal with them, because the opposition either continues to call witnesses and does not put closure on hearing from them or essentially shuffles it off the agenda completely.

It is important that we take our jobs seriously and deal with legislation in a timely manner and address all the concerns people have. However, we need to ensure that we get bills moving through the process and not stall them deliberately.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, while the hon. member may have given a good speech, he really has not described how this bill helps victims.

As I read the bill, it would alter parole eligibility date for federal convictions from one-sixth of a sentence to two-sixths. I am trying to figure out how that helps victims, particularly in light of the fact that when we are dealing with white collar crime, when the money is gone the money is gone.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, the member knows full well that by changing the parole review system in determining eligibility, we are giving victims the opportunity to actually attend the Parole Board hearings and have their input and their victim's statement read into the record on whether those individuals will ever be released. Therefore, we are empowering those victims.

Earlier I quoted from the press release from the Earl Jones victims support organizing committee. It says that if we want to put in place strong deterrents, we need to ensure that these fraudsters are not eligible to get out there and do it again. By changing the system, we are also providing an opportunity to close the window for those individuals to go out and commit another crime that involves fraud.

We are not just talking about eligibility based upon people committing a violent crime, because these criminals are only fraudsters and not likely to commit violent offences, but now it would be all offences. Will these individuals go out and commit fraud again? Will they go out and set up another Ponzi scheme that will take money away from even more Canadians and more seniors and people's savings? That is what the bill is all about.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Elmwood—Transcona.

Bill C-59 deals with an issue that we have needed to address for at least the five years that the government has been in power. However, it sat on its hands and passed all sorts of other silly laws, including in the area of criminal law, which in its mind took precedence over this particular bill.

I find it surprising that the Bloc members never acknowledged the fact that these amendments were initially introduced under the Mulroney Conservative government in 1992 and then introduced in 1997 by the Liberal government. During that time in 1992, the Bloc members, who were Conservative members at the time, voted for those amendments. In 1997, the whole Bloc caucus voted for the amendments that affected the types of victims that we are hearing so much about today. Of course that was done after they had been victimized. However, any number of steps could have been taken, both at the federal and provincial levels of government, to prevent these types of crimes. I will address that a bit more toward the end of my speech today.

The issue that we have before us today with regard to changing these provisions for early release is that we are doing it almost totally in reaction to one case, the Earl Jones case out of Montreal, Quebec. Earl Jones will be eligible for early release somewhere between December 2011 and the spring of 2012. It is not as though it is tomorrow or next month. We have at least nine months, if not a full year, before we attempt to stop him from being able to use it.

As an aside, whether in debate or in private conversations, I have not heard of one member of the House, including my entire caucus, who is opposed to ensuring that Earl Jones does not serve only one-sixth of his sentence. We all agree that we should be doing something about this. However, as is so typical of the government, especially in the criminal justice area, there is much overreaction and overkill. I castigate the Bloc members for agreeing to this on the basis of the few facts that we have.

We do not have answers to a series of questions that we have posed. We have some partial figures and partial facts but we have nowhere near a clear picture, nor will we get it this evening at committee. For instance, we do not know how many people are released on an annual basis under this one-sixth provision. We do not know how many of those released are in full parole, how many are in day parole or how many are spending their time in halfway houses, which is another form of detention. We also do not know what crimes they have committed before being released.

Every Conservative member who I have heard speak to this, and I think the Bloc is making the same mistake, assumes that the offenders who are eligible are white-collar criminals. I can say that is absolutely not true but I must admit that I do not know how many of the offenders committed the stereotypical white-collar crime and how many were incarcerated for other reasons. We know they are crimes of a non-violent nature, because that is the criteria for eligibility, and that it has to be a first offence. We also know that the offenders must show that they are not at risk of committing a violent crime. All of those criteria are written in the statute of the corrections act now.

However, we do not know what crimes those offenders have committed or what their individual factual situations are. We have some indication that a good number of those who are eligible for this had originally committed the crime because of addictions, whether it be gambling, alcohol, drugs, et cetera. However, they are eligible because they have since dealt with those issues while in custody or, in some cases, even before sentencing. However, all of those are unknowns in terms of absolute numbers.

We have a figure of approximately 800 people who get this benefit each year. We do not know how many weeks, months or years it takes off their sentences, so we do not have a sense of how much it will cost if they stay in the full-blown prison for an extra few weeks, a few months or a few years. It costs, on average, $93,000 per inmate per year. If we do the math, that is $93 million. The number may be higher than that or a bit lower but we never hear the Conservatives, when they are talking about victims, say how much it will cost the Canadian taxpayers. The only answer we ever get is that they are prepared to pay the price. That is false. All we have to do is look to the United States where we are seeing state after state changing their laws to reduce their prison population because they are bankrupting themselves by putting many more prisoners in prison for lengthier periods of time.

We need answers to those questions. We do not know, for instance, the effect it has on the rate of recidivism, which is a straight public safety issue. The individuals who benefit from this commit fewer crimes. The figures we do have on that indicate that their rate of recidivism is lower than if they serve their full one-third or up to two-thirds sentence. By extending this, by passing the bill, we may be creating greater risk to the Canadian citizenry.

There is a number of questions as to how should we deal with this. We have certainly put forward suggestions. Are there specific crimes that should be excluded from the use of this section? We passed a few months ago in the House the Conservative answer to white-collar crime, which was not that to any significant degree, but in that we put in that if people steal a million dollars or more they will spend at least a minimum of one year in jail. We could be putting that type of provision in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to say that the one-sixth does not apply if a person has committed this crime. That is what is in there now with regard to other crimes, but with regard to white-collar crime, we could put a very specific section in that would say that a person is not entitled to it if the person has done this. That is a very simple amendment and it would address the current crises that we have, in the minds of the Bloc Québécois and in the minds of the Conservatives, with regard to Earl Jones. It would solve that problem right there. It is simple enough.

For the long term, what we should be doing with the one-sixth is that at the time of sentencing the judge should be allowed the discretion, which we will have to write into the Criminal Code, to say that the crime is so serious, even though it is non-violent, and with so many victims, or whatever other criteria we want to build in, that the individual will not be entitled to a one-sixth reduction. It is gone for those people. That would be step number one.

Step number two would be to give a very similar discretion to the Parole Board, which it does not have now. The Parole Board, as it stands now, is required to establish the three criteria of an offender: first offender, non-violent offender and not likely to commit a violent crime before he or she is allowed out. The board has to prove why a person should be held back. We should be taking away the reverse onus on the Parole Board and giving it a general discretion. If the person is not likely to be a risk to society and he or she meet certain criteria, then the board has the right to release the person. However, if it is felt for any reason, it would be that broad of a discretion, it would not release the individual. There are things like that which can be done.

There are other specific crimes. We are hearing anecdotally that some members of organized crime, organized syndicates, biker gangs are able to take advantage of this because of what they were convicted of. That should not be allowed. I can envision quite easily amendments that would prevent them from accessing it.

There are ways of fine-tuning this, tailoring it for those people who, I think Canadians would generally agree, should be entitled to this. We can let them out, but restrict the others.

I see my time is up. Hopefully my friend from Elmwood—Transcona will be able to cover the issue around the prevention of these crimes.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Madam Speaker, my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh serves a useful role on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights that I chair. We have had a chance to work through many different bills.

The bill before us is intended to eliminate accelerated release so that white-collar criminals cannot get out of jail early. In other words, they cannot get out on day parole after serving only one-sixth of their sentence.

My colleague mentioned that there are a number of cases that have focused our attention on this bill. However, it was actually a case in British Columbia that dealt with a drug dealer convicted of a non-violent crime.

Perhaps my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh could comment on whether these kinds of individuals deserve day parole after serving only one-sixth of their sentence.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, the member obviously was not paying attention to the latter part of my speech when I specifically addressed the issue of drugs and organized crime members.

I want to make the point that we in the NDP are very clear that there are provisions within the existing corrections act around the one-sixth provision that need to be changed. I made that very clear. I spoke of it yesterday. My colleague from Vancouver spoke on it today.

That is why we are quite prepared today to vote as a caucus to send the bill to committee this evening, but we want to be very clear, and this is what the member who just asked the question is missing. This bill excludes everybody. It is not just the drug dealer in his area of the country, but everybody else. There are certain people who should in fact qualify for this.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Madam Speaker, I am always compelled by the international examples and I have always liked the expression that there is nothing new under the sun.

The member gave a few examples that were primarily American, but he could refer back to the example where this has been done before. In the case of Bill C-59, there is nothing new under the sun.

I was wondering if he could again give some examples of how other states within the United States went about doing this and are now, in many cases I suspect, scaling back from that.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, what is happening in the United States is interesting. We had a witness, a private consultant who works closely with the Mennonite Central Committee, in front of our justice committee last week. He was going to California, which is one of the more notorious states in terms of an increase in their prison population over the last 20 to 30 years with about a 300% increase in the prison population. He was going there to describe some of the provisions that we have here.

The United States generally does not have this kind of provision that I am aware of in any of its states. However, California was forced last spring to release something like 40,000 to 45,000 prisoners, including drug dealers and other people who had committed violent crimes. They are having to do that, but mostly they are closing prisons and releasing people. They are changing their drug laws, doing away with mandatory minimums in most cases and shortening the length of time that people can be sentenced, particularly for drug crimes. That is what is happening in the United States.

In other parts of the world, western Europe, the democracies of Australia and New Zealand, no one has gone down this route to any significant degree with the kind of mandatory minimums that the Conservative government is using. They just do not do it. If they do, they always leave residual discretion in the hands of the judiciary to deal with individual cases, which is really what this section is about. It allows that discretionary role to be played if the person has cleaned up his or her act, is not a risk to society, is able to contribute when he or she gets back into society, is rehabilitated and does not commit more crimes. That is what we need to be doing.

This section is such an over-reach that it is throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Before resuming debate, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, Persons with Disabilities.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to follow the member for Windsor—Tecumseh in speaking to Bill C-59. Our party supports sending this bill to committee.

We as a group passed Bill C-21 recently. That bill dealt with providing a mandatory minimum two year sentence for white-collar criminals involved in schemes and thefts over $1 million.

Today government members have continually asked what the victims want. The victims want their money back. They did not want their money stolen in the first place.

This bill deals with the issue after the fact, after the money is gone. We need proper regulation of financial institutions, banks and investment salespeople in this country to prevent this type of thing from happening in the future.

Twenty-five per cent of the members in the House, excluding myself, are lawyers. We all know how lawyers' trust funds are dealt with. We all know how real estate brokers' trust funds are dealt with. They are dealt in trust because of past abuses. The provinces have brought in laws to define how trust funds have to be dealt with.

My understanding of the Earl Jones case is that he was not registered. How can a person invest money on behalf of clients for many years and not be registered under any authority within the jurisdiction in which he is living? Mr. Jones was dealing with financial institutions and those financial institutions should be responsible for policing their salespeople.

What was the bank's responsibility? What was the financial institutions' and the insurance companies' responsibility? What was the responsibility of the people that he was buying these investments from on behalf of his clients?

Most investors in this country are protected in case a financial adviser makes off with an investment. Most people would be compensated by the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization. That organization has a plan to compensate individuals when dealers run off with money. Banks and institutions have a corporate responsibility. We need to tighten up on the front end before the money disappears. In a five year period in the United States, 1,200 people, including Conrad Black, were sent to prison. In Canada, there were five.

This problem did not just start with the Conservative government five years ago. The Liberals faced the same problem for many years. They recognized the problem because in 2003 they set up the IMET program. Six groups operate under this particular unit within the police force. After a five year period it had only five successful convictions and imprisonments to show for its time in office. I am not saying it was a bad idea. It just did not achieve great results during that period. It should be studied and improved upon.

We also have to look at our regulatory environment. We have to start appointing to the regulatory bodies people who are not playing golf with the very people they are regulating. An incestuous relationship can develop anywhere one looks in society if we do not have the proper balance.

When we get a regulatory body, be it the Ontario Securities Commission or the national securities agency that we are debating in the House on an ongoing basis, if those regulators are not on the ball and if they are not actively trying to pursue abuses, if they are not fearful of arresting some of their friends, then we will have results. We will have activity and the arrest rate will go up and people will be put in prison in this country. Once people like Earl Jones recognize that it is going to be a one-way trip to a prison sentence, then we will see better protection.

The point is we have all these protections. We have protections in insurance. We have protections in real estate. We have protections for the law society. How difficult can it be for us to examine this area a little more and put in these protections to stop people like Earl Jones? That is how we should consider approaching this problem at the front end as opposed to the back end.

We have a lot of issues and very limited time to deal with them. I definitely want to deal with the issue of what works in crime prevention and enforcement and what does not.

A situation has developed in the United States where Newt Gingrich, who helped to create the problem, is now providing an answer from the right. The fact is it goes back further to Ronald Reagan's days and the "three strikes and you are out" that he brought in as Governor of California, and how their system developed into a warehousing system for criminals in the state. At the end of day it resulted in a higher crime rate and almost bankrupted the state in the process.

Newt Gingrich has recently changed his position on this. Not only him, but Ed Meese and other right-wing Republicans in the United States have actually come around to the NDP's approach on crime, as surprising as that might be.

We only have to look at Texas as an example. In Texas in 2007 the Republicans started to work with the Democrats. What a novel idea that is. It is like a minority government here. Why cannot all parties get together? The Gary Filmon government did it in Manitoba a number of years ago. It was a Conservative government. It worked successfully.

By the way, I ran into Gary Filmon over the Christmas holidays. I asked him if he ever contacted the federal government. He said he had sent a long email when the Conservatives came to power, but he said he had never heard back at all.

In 2007, the Democrats and Republicans in Texas decided against building more prisons. Instead they opted to enhance proven community correction approaches such as drug courts. We have those here in Canada, but I guess they did not have them in Texas. The reforms were forecast to save $2 billion in prison costs over five years. Also Texas redirected much of the money saved into community treatment for the mentally ill and low-level drug addicts. We are doing that here in this country.

These reforms reduced the Texas prison population. Now there is no waiting list for drug treatment in the state. Crime dropped 10% in the period from 2004, the year before the reforms, through to 2009. The crime rate is now at its lowest level since 1973.

In South Carolina, Newt Gingrich is talking about taking prison beds for dangerous criminals and punishing low-risk offenders through lower-cost community supervision. This is not a left-wing person talking. It is New Gingrich. It is the people that Conservatives like to follow. That is where they take their direction from, and I have an even better example. I hope I have time to provide it. I may have to wait until my questions and answers.

That is the issue of the crime rate in Florida versus in New York. Over the past seven years Florida's incarceration rate has increased 16% while that of New York's has decreased 16%.

The crime rate in New York has fallen twice as much as the rate in Florida has, but New York spent less on its prisons and delivered better public policy. In other words, the crime rate was higher in Florida and the cost was higher. New York had a lower crime rate and a lower cost.

Those are great examples. The members opposite should brush up on them.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know my colleague was unable to get through all of it.

I just want to ask the member about a preventive approach to white-collar crime, so that people like Earl Jones would not be allowed to operate. There could be a system that would require them to register. They would have to show their registration. They would be monitored. They could not receive any money unless they were registered and met certain qualifications to be able to advise and direct investment.

Added to that kind of a structure, beyond the initial registration, would be a monitoring structure, much as lawyers have their trust funds monitored and the funeral industry has its trust funds monitored. It could be that kind of an approach and strict enforcement if there was a breach.

Could the member comment on that?

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good point. That is essentially what I have been talking about.

After 9/11, we saw almost immediate changes to the way people set up bank accounts. If people in business went to the bank to try to change their bank account, they would have to dig up their articles of incorporation, et cetera. That is how strict we are.

How could a guy like Earl Jones set up and operate for many years, and deal with all of these banks and financial institutions, and move around big amounts of money? He did not hide the money in a sock somewhere and move it around that way. He had it in a financial institution.