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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

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, it debases this House when a member, on a bill, says something so patently outrageous as to suggest that any member of this House from any party would not abhor violence against a child, particularly rape of a child. To hold that there is a person in this House who would not want jail time for a person who raped a child is reprehensible. To try to cast an aspersion on any member of this House in that way is despicable and debases this House.

I would say that this is how this argument has degenerated. It is not an honest exchange of ideas about how we can make our communities safer. Instead there is mudslinging, saying that certain members do not care about victims, certain members do not care about criminals. There is probably not a person in this House who has not been touched by violence, whose family members have not been touched by violence. I have stories within my own family that I will not touch on.

However, I can tell members that it brings us all deep pain, whether it happens in our lives, or it happens in the lives of the people we love, or it happens in the communities we serve. Every member of this House steps forward to try to reduce that pain, to try to find a way to reduce victimization and make our communities safe.

When we start a debate, we have to start with that premise, that every one of us comes to this place honestly wanting to make safer communities and better places, that every single one of us, while we may have different perspectives on how we achieve it, wants only the best for our country, for our children and for our communities.

When someone talks about not caring about somebody who has raped a child, when someone talks about somebody not caring about victims, it is such ridiculous, over-the-top hyperbole that turns off Canadians and makes them think that none of us really cares about the work we are doing in this House.

I have said it so many times before. I can respect that the hon. member or any other one disagrees with me, and that is their right, that the approach we are advocating on crime is one that they do not support. However, let us take a look at the facts, and let us come back to this bill.

This bill is about first-time non-violent offenders, but the Conservatives are talking about rape victims. This is what they try to do. We were dealing with the pardon issue and every single one of us in this House said, “Let's get together and make sure we shut down loopholes that allow somebody like Karla Homolka to get a pardon”. And yet, when we had concerns about the 18-year-old single mother who writes a cheque for groceries that is fraudulent and suddenly is going to be caught up in the bill and we said we had concerns with that and that we should have an honest discussion about it, what was the Conservatives' response? It was that the member for Ajax—Pickering wanted to let Karla Homolka get a pardon. It is so dishonest, so disingenuous and does such a disservice to the debate that it has to be called out.

On this bill, let us look at the history. While they are trying to vilify this party, the truth is the principal ideas contained at the heart of this bill, which is to go after large-scale fraudsters, were principles that we espoused years ago. In fact, as I mentioned in justice committee, we proposed ending the provisions that would allow somebody who committed large-scale fraud from getting an accelerated parole review. We proposed that a couple of years ago. The Conservatives voted against it at that time. We continued to advocate for that over the last number of years, but it did not go anywhere until the case of Mr. Lacroix.

Mr. Lacroix was released. There was an enormous amount of publicity in Quebec. The government was caught with its pants down and suddenly, it demanded action overnight, ”Let's go. No debate. Don't think about it. Don't you care about victims? This is urgent.”

The Conservatives stand here and talk about rape victims, demanding that we pass their legislation without debate, without discussion. They bring about closure motions when this is something we could have dealt with two years ago.

Those are the facts.

The concern I have with respect to this bill is that, unfortunately, it does not just deal with large-scale fraud. This bill, as it has now been presented, would eliminate the one-sixth accelerated provisions for all first-time non-violent offenders.

I would point to Correctional Services Canada's own documents. I said a lot of this yesterday but I think it bears repeating. Correctional Services' own document, when it explains the importance of the accelerated pardon review for first-time non-violent offenders, states that the main focus of the accelerated pardon review was to address public safety and reintegration by enabling Correctional Services Canada and the national parole board to focus their attention on dangerous offenders at a high risk of reoffending and that studies have shown there is a tendency for low-risk offenders to be negatively impacted by the prison experience.

What does that mean? It means that for first-time non-violent offenders, long periods of incarceration often turn those minor offenders into major offenders. It means they go in for a more minor crime and come out a major criminal ready to commit major crimes.

More than 90% of people who will walk into a prison will walk out. Fundamentally the question we have to ask is: Who do we want walking out that door? Do we want someone who is rehabilitated, who is ready to make a positive contribution to society, pay their taxes and be a good citizen, or someone who has become a hardened criminal?

I know the answer for me. I would look at evidence and I would suggest that all members do that. One of the questions I have asked repeatedly in the House is for Conservatives to give us the information these decisions are based on. Can they show a single jurisdiction anywhere in the world, where these types of policies of longer and longer incarcerations have been anything but a complete failure?

We are going to be debating Bill S-10 which would take someone who gave away a Tylenol 3 a mandatory minimum. Someone who has six marijuana plants in a dorm room and gives some to their roommate would be treated the same as a Hells Angels member who has 200 marijuana plants.

It is going to make our prisons replete with young people. The problem is that all this has been tried before. I have asked for examples of where these longer periods of incarceration for first-time non-violent offenders has led to anything but higher recidivism.

I point to the examples in California, Florida and other states, and also in the United Kingdom which walked this road for about 20 years. Their experience was that when first-time non-violent offenders had the period of time they were incarcerated extended, the prison population ballooned and the ability to provide rehabilitation was diminished. It becomes a deadly cycle. The more people there are, the fewer dollars there are to be able to make the people who are in the prison better. That money gets stretched and pulled. It means that as people come out, the rate at which they reoffend continues to go higher.

I will add this in because the Conservatives always say we do not talk about victims. I am amazed I have to make these connections for them, but I will. If there is less crime, there are fewer victims. If there is less recidivism, there are fewer victims. If there is a lower rate of reoffending when people walk out of a prison, that means there is going to be less crime and fewer victims.

In California this began feeding itself. It became bigger and bigger. Then it had to privatize its prisons and things got even worse. Double-bunking became triple-bunking. The recidivism rate, the rate of reoffending, was driven to over 70%. This means that for every 10 people who walked out of a prison in California, 7 would reoffend.

The impact on California was devastating and not only in terms of the fiscal impacts. California was in a situation where it was nearly bankrupt. It had no money for health care, education or infrastructure. And worse, its crime rate had gone up.

I hear many Conservative members saying how dare we question the cost, that we should absorb it no matter what the cost is. That might be an argument we could entertain if the facts did not show that at the same time these costs were soaring, crime rates were going up with it.

A most recent example is with two different states in the U.S., New York and Florida, which took two very different paths. New York focused on prevention, harm reduction and reducing victimization on the front end. Florida took the conservative path of longer periods of incarceration. In the example of New York, there was a 16% reduction in incarceration. In Florida, there was a 16% increase in incarceration. It went in the opposite direction on incarceration.

According to Conservative logic, Florida should have been nirvana. It should have seen its crime rates fall, victimization down and people cheering on the streets. The opposite happened. It was in fact New York which saw a reduction in its crime rate. It was in fact New York which saw fewer victims. It was in fact New York which saw far greater results. Florida saw its crime rate rise. Crime went up. If we are going to walk these paths, why can we not look at evidence and the facts and see where this is driving us?

In the United Kingdom, a new Conservative government was elected which is trying to undo what it calls a punishment agenda, failed policies very similar to what we see the Conservatives pursuing. That punishment agenda did not work. It drove crime rates up and robbed money from the treasury which could have been used for other priorities. That government is finding it enormously difficult to undo.

One of the cases, ironically, it is studying that it wants to emulate is Canada which simultaneously enjoys low rates of incarceration and a low crime rate. Yet we are running from that. In fact, when we look across the board, it is the Conservative Party of Canada that stands alone pursuing these policies. Countries in the rest of the world abhor them. They have looked at the disastrous failed attempts and said they cannot go there and will not do it again.

That is why this is not a debate in abstraction. This is not some clash of ideas with no precedent or where things have not been tried. This is something that has been proven. The evidence is in front of us, if we were only to look at it.

I read this yesterday, but the debate will continue for the next couple of days and it is worth mentioning. The father of these policies, Newt Gingrich, with a contract with America, led the whole punishment agenda and threw it out there saying that is the way it was going to solve crime. He has now repented all of that and said it was a complete and total failure that states need to run from.

In The Washington Post on January 7, 2011, he wrote:

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% more than 25 years ago.

Think about that. When the Americans commenced this journey 25 years ago, their incarceration rate was 300 times lower. At that time, the rate of incarceration between Canada and the U.S. was fairly similar. Now the divide is enormous. He went on to state:

The prison population is growing 13 times faster than the general population. These facts should trouble every American.

It should be noted that while the rate of incarceration in the U.S. has climbed by 300% over that period, Canada's rate of incarceration has remained stable. Interestingly enough, our violent crime rate and other crime rates have been falling greater than or, in some cases, equal to the United States, despite the fact that we did not embark on this enormous cost of prisons, the $68 billion that the U.S. is spending on corrections.

Mr. Gingrich continued:

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.

That is an American statistic. As I mentioned, in California it is even higher at 70%. The American statistic overall is 50%. It is hardly something we would want to emulate.

He continued:

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--

I will read one more excerpt because it is important.

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.

He cites the example I gave of New York and Florida as follows:

Put another way, although New York spent less on its prisons, it delivered better public safety.

When the person who invented this idea and really drove it as a political force in North American politics is abandoning it, is it not time to take a pause, think carefully about what we are doing and wonder if there is not a better way to ensure that we reduce victims and improve community safety?

On this bill in particular I have repeatedly asked some pretty basic questions, but have never received an answer. If the government is going to invoke closure and say we have to deal with things right away, it should have answers to these questions.

One question is cost. I can recall in this House the Minister of Public Safety saying that the cost of the two-for-one remand bill was going to be $90 million. I mentioned yesterday that I took that to the PBO as it did not sound right. As soon as he agreed to my request to do a study, that number changed overnight from $90 million to $2 billion. The minister said that, oops, he had made a mistake and it is $2 billion. What precipitated it? It was knowing the PBO was going to look at the books.

After eight months of study it was not $2 billion; it was $10 billion to $13 billion. That is one bill. We have 18 other bills on the table. How irresponsible would we be as a Parliament if we voted for things where we did not know the costs? To put a blindfold over our eyes and be asked to vote in the dark with no idea of the fiscal implications of what we are doing is the height of irresponsibility.

The second question that would be obvious to ask is: What data does the government have on the impact that this would have to make communities safer?

The speeches in the House from every party are about how we can make our communities safer. I have given all kinds of evidence from different jurisdictions about my concerns on eliminating the one-sixth provision for non-violent, first-time offenders who have not committed large-scale fraud.

I agree, if it is large-scale fraud, like those by Earl Jones or Mr. Lacroix, let us make sure we eliminate that. We could do that today. That is a debate that should have happened over two years ago.

However, I have asked for the evidence, the science, on which the government is basing the decision to eliminate this for all individuals. Show how that enhances public safety. Show how that reduces victimization. That information has not been forthcoming either because it does not exist or because the results are not very compelling.

I want to briefly mention that we have seen cuts to the RCMP white-collar task force which need to be restored if the government is honestly interested in going after white-collar crime. We have a lawful access bill that would empower police to go after information electronically that has been languishing in the House for years. We have cuts to the national police service on things like CPIC and the sex offender registry. There are all kinds of cuts that the government should be restoring.

We have seen more than a 70% cut to crime prevention and more than a 40% cut to the victims of crime. We saw the government's hand-picked victims ombudsman, Steve Sullivan, fired after he said the plan for victims is unbalanced and would not work.

I say to the government very earnestly, if it is honestly interested in victims, if it is honestly interested in community safety, there is a path that is evidence-based and involves restoring a lot of the cuts it has made. The most effective way to make communities safe is by stopping crime from happening in the first place.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his defence of a position that most people in the House can actually support because it is based on fact.

My colleague raised the issue of Mr. Gingrich in the United States and the fact that all of us are in favour of reducing crime. However, in terms of cost benefit, one of the most effective and science-based approaches to reducing the number of criminals, reducing the number of victims and reducing crime is through early learning programs.

In Ypsilanti, Michigan, there is more than a 35-year experience with the head start program that showed that for youth crime there was a 60% reduction in youth crime, massive declines in welfare rates and improved access and outcomes in school. All of those work dramatically and effectively to reduce crime and the cost is merely a fraction of what it takes to incarcerate somebody, which can be anywhere upward of $120,000 a year for somebody in a maximum security prison.

The government literally annihilated a plan that we had put forward, which was signed with the provinces, for an early learning head start program. Will the hon. member comment on the effectiveness of early learning programs from the prenatal stage to age five, which, I might add, would also address one of the major problems that we have in jail, which is the issue of fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects?

Would my colleague inform the government that it would be well advised, for the safety of the public and for the wise use of the public purse, to support a national early learning head start program?

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague's question raises an important point concerning how we think about prevention because prevention is about more than just the programs the Conservatives are cutting, although those are vital. These are programs that help the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, church groups and others to build community capacity so that when somebody is starting to head down a dark path they can pull the individual back and give him or her hope and opportunity.

As my colleague says, early childhood education, early childhood learning, is an essential component to getting a head start in life. We know that the first three years for a child are the most formative, and we know that Canada is lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of what we are providing with regard to early childhood learning and education.

We had reached an agreement with the provinces. It is important to restore that.

I also would point out the work of people like Dr. Irvin Waller who has pointed out that for every dollar we put into prevention we save $11 in the cost of incarceration and probation. There is an enormous amount of money that could be saved here.

It is ironic that if we do the right thing and invest in prevention, not only do we stop there being a victim in the first place, we also have the opportunity to reduce our costs. We reduce victimization, reduce crime and reduce costs and it becomes a very positive virtuous circle, which is what we want to strive for.

The alternative is that as we cut from prevention, as the government has, and as we cut from victims' services and from rehabilitation in prisons because the population is ballooning and we cannot handle it, we create a vicious downward spiral. It creates the exact opposite impact where we are throwing more and more money toward the punishment and nobody is ever getting better. Therefore, we are creating more and more crime and it becomes a vicious out of control cycle.

The member points to something very important and that is the need to invest in all forms of prevention, which includes ensuring that young people have education and food and are not going to school hungry.

When I was in Regina and had an opportunity to tour some of the worst neighbourhoods in the country with the former chief of police there, we went into homes where children had to pull tarps around an oven for heat. Clearly, that is not a situation that is conducive to somebody having a positive life.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Conservative Barrie, ON

Madam Speaker, the member for Ajax—Pickering is very eloquent at putting his point out but he is skirting around the bottom line, which is that it is certainly not fair in any sense that someone who has committed a serious white-collar crime would be eligible for parole after one-sixth of the sentence. I do not think any resident of his riding would find that fair. That is what it comes down to. Someone who has been sentenced to 12 years would be eligible for parole at two years. That is not appropriate and I do not think any Canadian would find that to be an appropriate sentence.

Members can flaunt all the U.S. statistics that they like. They can mention California or New York but this is the House of Commons. We are in Canada. An obsession with U.S. statistics may serve well in the U.S. Congress, but we should look at what works here in Canada. Certainly Canadians and residents in Ajax—Pickering would not believe it is appropriate to simply slap someone on the wrist for a serious crime. We need to take serious crime seriously, and that is what this bill is about.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, the question from the member for Barrie gives me an opportunity to be very clear on our position, if he did not understand it before.

For serious large-scale fraud, there is no question that we are with the Conservatives 100%. We were with them two years ago when we introduced these ideas and said that we needed to end it. It is something that we feel should not be in place.

The reason I stated not just the United States but also the United Kingdom is that they walked this road of trying a policy for first-time non-violent offenders who are not large-scale fraudsters of giving long periods of incarceration, and it was a disaster.

However, if he wants to talk about Canada, Canada is a remarkable success story. We have a low rate of incarceration and a low rate of crime. It is something that we should look at and be proud of because it is one of the best systems in the world. It could be improved and made better but we should not toss it out of the window for a system that failed.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Madam Speaker, I have a very simple question for my colleague. I have to admit that I do not understand the current position of the Liberal Party and the NDP.

The aim of this bill is exactly the same as that of the bill we introduced that we wanted to fast-track in September 2009 and March 2010: to abolish the one-sixth rule and accelerated parole review. The Liberal Party and the NDP had agreed to abolish this almost automatic procedure. We went and convinced the Conservatives to agree to abolish the procedure and now that they have agreed, why are the other parties no longer willing to do so? It is the exact same issue.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member's question but I think she is missing two important facts. One is that we agree absolutely that for large-scale fraud this has to be eliminated.

However, this bill goes far beyond that. I know the member, who is the critic for public safety and national security for the Bloc, has been very reasonable on other bills but she should take a careful look at what this would do. It would not just eliminate it for Mr. Lacroix or Mr. Jones. It would eliminate it across the board, in every single instance, for first-time non-violent offenders.

We are tossing a program that has been very successful in reducing crime rates and making our communities safer in Canada into the garbage because we want to go after one group. Let us just go after that group of individuals, those large-scale fraudsters.

The Quebec bar association should be consulted because it has stated very clearly that there are major problems with the bill. It cannot be passed as is because there is a problem with the rights conferred by the Charter.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the member talked about the United States situation and dealt a bit with Texas. However, in 2007, Texas decided against building more prisons and opted to enhance proven community correction approaches, such as drug courts. The reforms in that state were forecast to save $2 billion over five years. In fact, it redirected much of the money into community treatment for the mentally ill and low-level drug addicts. These reforms reduced Texas' prison population. Now there are no waiting lists in Texas for drug treatment programs. Crime has dropped 10% from 2004, a year before the reform started.

I would like to ask the member if he would like to make some further comments on what Texas has done with, by the way, Republicans and Democrats working together.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, the member for Barrie asked a fair question. Why should we care about what happens in the United States? We should care about what is happening in Texas and what happened in New York because before we embark on something, before we try an experiment, it is worth looking at what has been done before, what was successful and what was not.

Unfortunately, the agenda of just incarceration, incarceration and more incarceration as the only solution has been a failure everywhere it has been tried. Here in Canada, we have had enormous success on investing in prevention, on stopping crimes beforehand. We should look at Texas and other states where they have tried innovative ideas that have reduced crime.

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to speak today to Bill C-59, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accelerated parole review) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. Finally, we are arriving at the conclusion of this great saga.

I will first summarize the current situation. The procedure for parole after one-sixth of the sentence, also known as accelerated parole review, is set out in sections 119(1), 125, 126 and 126(1) of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

In brief, a criminal serving a sentence in a federal institution—a sentence of two or more years—can be paroled after serving one-sixth of his sentence under accelerated parole review.

According to the criteria, provided that the offender has not committed an offence involving violence related to a criminal organization, terrorism or a crime of a sexual nature or been an accomplice to such an offence, he is not subject to an order requiring him to serve at least half of the sentence for a drug-related offence. The offender must have been sentenced to a federal penitentiary for the first time and must not be likely to commit a violent offence. These are some of the criteria in the current law.

Consequently, an offender who meets all these criteria is eligible for accelerated parole review, which means that he could be released on day parole after serving six months or the equivalent of one-sixth of his sentence, whichever is longer.

This mechanism is often negatively perceived by the public, which does not understand why white collar criminals or other kinds of criminals serve only a tiny fraction of the sentence given them. This also makes the justice system seem lax. I must admit that I completely understand their position. There is good reason to question this process. People do not necessarily want tougher sentences, they just want the sentences to be enforced.

I feel that this mechanism hurts the parole system as well as the overall justice system. And it also undermines the public's confidence in our ability to protect them.

Before I go any further, I would like to provide a bit of history. The NDP and Liberal members are so surprised and outraged by what is happening today that I will tell them what led to all these events. Then they will understand that this bill did not just come out of nowhere.

It began in July 2006. Paul Coffin—I think the Liberals know him—was involved in the sponsorship scandal and was released after having served one-sixth of his 18-month sentence. This is not a question of fraud; this was pure corruption on the part of those involved in the sponsorship scandal. This is not Vincent Lacroix.

In October 2006, Jean Brault, a second person who was a main player in the sponsorship scandal and founder of Groupaction, was released on October 6, 2006. He served six months of his 30-month sentence.

In June 2007, the Bloc Québécois introduced a justice plan that included a demand for the abolition of this practice that allows fraudsters to serve only a tiny fraction of their sentence.

In December 2007, Vincent Lacroix was criminally convicted for the first time.

In August 2008, Jean Lafleur was released after having served only 7 months of his 42-month sentence. Jean Lafleur is a name that should still ring some bells.

On September 14, 2009, the Bloc Québécois asked for unanimous consent for the quick passage of Bill C-434. That was the first request.

The Conservatives opposed it, once again for partisan reasons. On February 15, 2009, Joseph Charles Guité was released on parole after serving six months of a 42-month sentence. On October 26, 2009, the Conservatives introduced Bill C-53 to abolish the one-sixth of sentence rule. They did not want unanimous consent, so they introduced their own bill. We had no problem with it and were prepared to support it. It was a reaction, but that was fine. Then the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament, so the bill died on the order paper.

On March 4, 2010, we again asked the House for unanimous consent for speedy passage of the bill, which had the same objective—to abolish accelerated parole review. Once again, the Conservatives opposed it for purely partisan reasons.

On June 15, 2010, the Conservatives introduced Bill C-39, which is currently before the committee. It aims to abolish the one-sixth of sentence rule, but it also contains a number of other measures. It needs to be thoroughly examined, but we have not yet even begun to hear any witness testimony. Understandably, it might take some time for this bill to go through the legislative process.

On January 27, 2011, Vincent Lacroix was released after serving one-sixth of his sentence. He served 15 months of a 13-year sentence. On January 31, I was in this House and saw the Bloc Québécois leader go out of his way to see the Prime Minister. They had a discussion. The Conservatives finally changed their minds and we are now working together. It appears that the Liberals would have liked to be the ones to take this initiative. Yesterday my public safety colleague almost seemed ready to issue some criticisms, because his party had not initiated this. We need to forget about that and look ahead to the future. We are working with the Conservatives and now we have Bill C-59.

On February 10, 2011, I asked for the unanimous consent of the House, and what did we hear? From both sides, the Liberals and the NDP clearly said that they were not interested in unanimous consent and they needed more time to examine something that they had already accepted in September 2009 and March 2010.

This bill did not fall from the sky; it did not appear out of nowhere. It took a long time for it to get to where it is now, and I think it is important.

Eliminating what is now virtually automatic parole after one-sixth of the sentence is served will remedy some of the bizarre and most often criticized situations, such as sentences for economic crimes, for example. And the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering is right, it is not just economic crimes that are affected. I saw a good example when I was a parole officer. There was a man who was part of the mafia who had never been caught for violent offences. That is not unlikely because people like him delegate their dirty work to subordinates. A good organizer with a lot of hired people on hand who is not even accused of gangsterism can also benefit from this. There are many other people, who are not necessarily petty fraudsters or petty thieves, who might be rehabilitated. It is true. By the way, these people still have a chance at rehabilitation with Bill C-59. The only thing this bill does is get rid of automatic parole after one-sixth of the sentence. However, these people could very well get day parole six months before they have served one-third of their sentence. That is already a common occurrence.

Bill C-59 abolishes this provision and will ensure that people like Vincent Lacroix serve their sentence. It is too late for Vincent Lacroix because he has already been released and he had to serve only one-sixth of his sentence.

Abolishing this provision will confirm the role of parole officers, who will be able to assess the risk of recidivism and the risk to society based on criminogenic factors and the ability of this type of criminal to reintegrate into society. They will also be able to determine whether these inmates have to stay at the detention centre to take programs. Let us not forget that assessments take time. When an accused ends up at a regional reception centre, it takes approximately six months of assessment before he is sent to a penitentiary. Then the offender has to take programs, which takes time. It takes more than 15 months to be able to say congratulations, you are rehabilitated, thank you and goodbye to an offender who then goes to a halfway house in Ontario and hides some place where very few people know him. It is okay to do that, but we have to allow these people to take programs, and they can do that when they are incarcerated.

Abolishing this procedure will help create a balance between the credibility of the justice system and the objective of rehabilitation, if we want to really talk about rehabilitation, because the offender has to want to be rehabilitated. I will give some examples of comments made by some judges and prosecutors regarding accelerated parole review. I did not really understand what the member was saying earlier. He should have said it in English. I think he was talking about how the Quebec bar association is not very happy with the bill. I will give him some other examples of people who, on the contrary, think that accelerated parole review is appalling. The best example is Justice Wagner, who presided over the case of Vincent Lacroix. He sent a very clear message to politicians about parole, and it concerns all of us:

The reflection of the Courts cannot and must not take into account the consequences and the terms and conditions of parole, which are not their responsibility and over which they have no control.

Justice Wagner added:

While Mr. Lacroix's crimes were not accompanied by direct physical violence...his crimes caused his victims and their families considerable moral violence because of the stress, insecurity and uncertainty experienced by those who lost their life savings intended for their retirement.

Furthermore, Justice Wagner said:

The Court feels that it is important to point out that parole is the responsibility of Parliament and that it is up to politicians to answer for their acts or omissions.

That is good advice.

In addition, Mr. Brodeur, the crown prosecutor on this case, said, “This judgment sends a clear message that elected officials will have to hear. Parole after one-sixth of the sentence is served is, in some cases, unreasonable.” He is talking about us there.

I repeat: abolishing accelerated parole review after one-sixth of the sentence is served will give professionals working in our prisons the ability to recommend to the appropriate authorities—the National Parole Board in this case—the right action plan for each offender, based on the work the individual has done in prison. It will also help restore the credibility of our justice system.

I would now like to direct my comments to the Liberal and NDP opposition. Their attitude is not only inconsistent; it is irresponsible. Ironically, unlike the Conservatives, they agreed to back us twice, once in September 2009 and again in March 2010, in order to secure swift passage of the bill. And yet, the bill being introduced today is similar and serves exactly the same purpose. It is quite clear that they are simply stonewalling on an issue about which all Quebeckers agree. I am sure that if we were to poll Canadians tomorrow morning, they would agree with this assessment.

The Liberals and the New Democrats are the ones trying to stall the process. Here is the clearest example of that: on February 7, 2011, the NDP stated publicly—at least they were quick about it and very frank—that they would not support any fast-tracking on this issue. The Liberals followed suit a few days later. We saw their official response on February 10, when I called for speedy passage of the bill.

And yet, I repeat, not once over the past four years did they speak out against this initiative. The NDP claims that it wants to take its time in considering this bill, but in my opinion they are confusing the expressions to take one’s time and to stall.

We pressed ahead to get this bill fast-tracked and we have demonstrated that we are amenable to making accommodations. However, as I see it, the NDP would rather complain. We, on the other hand, intend to move ahead on this issue with a clear conscience.

Yesterday, during debate, a Liberal member argued without much conviction that there was a difference between our previous bill on abolishing accelerated parole review and Bill C-59. That is completely untrue. Also included in Bill C-59 is what essentially amounts to a number of consequential amendments. It is just window dressing; exactly the same process is being considered.

In my opinion, the opposition from the Liberal Party and the NDP amounts to pure partisanship. Furthermore, yesterday—and I will not rehash this—it was clear to me from the speech delivered by my colleague, the critic for public safety, that he was a little disappointed the government did not approach them. But that is another kettle of fish.

I would once again remind Liberal and NDP members that their current fecklessness, if emulated by the majority of parliamentarians in this House—and I hope that will not be the case—would potentially pave the way for the premature release of another financial predator, Mr. Earl Jones. To my mind, these are financial predators.

Need I remind the House that Earl Jones perfected a Ponzi scheme whereby he paid his clients out of their invested capital? He stole between $50 million and $75 million from 150 people. He was convicted on February 15, 2010, and sentenced to 11 years behind bars. He is now expected to be released in December 2011—this year, in other words—after serving only one-sixth of his sentence. This, as I made clear yesterday, explains the urgency of the matter.

I will give you another example. In Montreal and Laval, Mr. Kordzian, an unsavoury individual who is actually from my riding, unscrupulously defrauded 25 people of close to $1 million. These people lost everything: their retirement savings, their homes. I said this yesterday and I will say it again today: the leader of the Liberal Party came to my riding and was five minutes away from the coffee shop where Mr. Kordzian had operated. Had he listened to what the victims had to say, his party would not still be waffling on this issue the way they are now.

I would like to give a few examples of major frauds that were committed in the ridings of some of the hon. members from other parties in the hopes of convincing them to reconsider their positions. In the riding of Ajax—Pickering, a man was sentenced to two years in prison. He defrauded people of thousands of dollars through telemarketing. He was a senior manager at Datacom Marketing Inc. He pleaded guilty to six counts of fraud estimated at several million dollars.

Another prime example occurred in the riding of the member for Vancouver East, who is also the public safety critic. In this case, an individual defrauded 60 investors of $8.2 million through two companies, CPLC Limited Partnership and CPLC Management Group Ltd.

As you can see, this is not happening only in my riding. It is happening just about everywhere in Canada. Another example occurred in Brossard—La Prairie. One of the five Norbourg employees who were accused of fraud, Mr. Deschambault, a chartered accountant from La Prairie, was accused of 112 counts of fraud. He defrauded—

Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order. The hon. member's time has run out, but she may be able to make additional comments during questions and comments.

The Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification.

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11:30 a.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeMinister of State (Western Economic Diversification)

Madam Speaker, I listened to the remarks of the member. I would like her to expand on her thoughts because it is a huge issue in Quebec. Why would the Liberal and NDP members from Quebec be so against the bill? What would their reasons be, because obviously they feel they represent their constituents?

Given her thoughts and different examples, could she perhaps enlighten the House as to why she thinks the members, particularly from Quebec, would oppose the bill?

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11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her question.

I will respond by saying that I do not understand why they are opposed, especially given that this is the exact same bill that they were willing to support in September 2009 and March 2010.

I do not understand it and, what is more, this directly affects both Quebec and places across Canada. I gave the example of the riding of Brossard—La Prairie, where one of the people accused in the Norbourg scandal, who faced 112 charges, helped to commit the fraud.

There is an excellent example from the riding of Brampton West, where a couple was arrested and charged with fraud related to a small business loan guaranteed by the Canadian government. They defrauded individuals as well as all of Canada, the entire government and all taxpayers. Defrauding the government is serious because it amounts to defrauding the entire country. That is unacceptable, just as it is unacceptable to defraud seniors and small investors. A total of $244,800 in bonds guaranteed by the government were stolen in Brampton West. I could go on and talk about many other ridings.

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11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, Quebec has done some innovative work in crime prevention. Some of the work has taken place in Montreal. In our province of British Columbia, Dr. Clyde Hertzman has also done some great work.

We see the challenges of members of the prison population. They have committed crimes, but we want to prevent that from happening and we want to reduce the prison population.

Some of the work in Montreal has been really outstanding, particularly in drug policy, as has happened in the University of British Columbia with Dr. Julio Montaner at the Centre for Excellence.

I have a question for my colleague. Should the government not adopt science-based principles that work to reduce crime, thereby reduce victims and save taxpayer money? By doing that, there is a virtuous cycle that we will not eliminate all crimes, but the government has it within its hands to dramatically reduce the amount of criminality within our society, save taxpayer money and reduce the number of victims. Should the government not be adopting those principles, policies and investments that actually work and ultimately achieve the goals of the government?

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11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question. When it comes to crime, whether fraud, drugs, prostitution or human trafficking, we need to look at the whole picture. On the one hand, we need to stop taking an approach based on punishment. We completely agree with the Liberal member. Furthermore, most of the bills we pass aim to strike a balance between prevention, rehabilitation and punishment. We cannot ignore the punishment aspect, but it must be balanced with the other aspects. We need to invest as much in research on various kinds of crime as in prevention. I think the NCPC budget should be increased.

On the other hand, we need to invest in investigations and work more on rehabilitation. We have been told that in prisons, programs for people with mental health and substance abuse problems were subject to quotas. More and more people with mental health issues are in our federal institutions, which have fewer and fewer resources to help them. That all costs money, but I think it is a good investment because it helps protect society. Investing in prevention also helps protect society, because it might prevent people from committing crimes.

I have worked in prisons, and the one-sixth of sentence rule applies to only a tiny fraction of the federal prison population. The least serious cases are in provincial facilities and are serving much shorter sentences. Also, when they are released, they have to do community service. Their crimes are generally minor offences. The cases of inmates in federal institutions are usually more difficult and more serious, and must be treated cautiously.

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11:35 a.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague said she used to work in the field of probation and parole, as I did. Yesterday, we took part in a panel discussion and I was thinking about this. The NDP believes that the law should be stricter with white collar criminals. Sentences should be strict for criminals who, like Earl Jones, steal savings, often life savings, from small investors. However, this bill will have an impact on all criminals.

My colleague also talked about the difficulties some criminals have, especially mental health problems. Will they end up staying in prison a little longer because of this bill? I think we should be focusing on prevention instead. I would like the hon. member's opinion on that.

When a bill is introduced, we have to review it thoroughly to consider, for instance, whether there is a constitutional challenge with regard to retroactivity. Can the hon. member guarantee that retroactivity of this bill will survive a constitutional challenge?

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11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Madam Speaker, it seems as if there were 10,000 questions wrapped up in that one, but I will try to answer as well as I can.

I can believe that the NDP wants to study this backwards and forwards, but there is something I really do not understand and maybe I can ask the hon. member. Why were they not very interested in studying this back in September 2009 and March 2010? They seemed convinced. Suddenly now, they want to study it. I think this is just a pretext and all they really want is to delay the passage of the bill. That is all. If they really wanted to study it, that is what they would have said in September 2009 and last March.

We should also be very careful here. What this bill does is simply abolish accelerated parole review, which is virtually automatic after one-sixth of the sentence has been served. Only a tiny portion of all inmates are affected. The NDP talks about 900 people, but I would like to see their figures. We will not talk about numbers because they do not have any. Not only are just a tiny number of people affected, but if society can take these people on, they will be released six months before one-third of their sentence. So nothing changes there.

The bill does not eliminate day parole. It is only accelerated parole review that is abolished. There is a small effect on the amount of time, but apart from that, if a person can be rehabilitated and society can take the risk, that person can go to a halfway house beginning six months from one-third of the sentence. At least parole officers cannot be forced any more to release someone because the law says so. Personally, I have seen that several times. We had people before us whom we thought it did not make sense to release. But the law is clear. They are released if it is a first federal sentence for a non-violent crime.

But we need to be careful again. What does the word violence mean here? It is physical violence. What do we do with moral or psychological violence? The law is silent on that score.

What we are doing, therefore, is restoring the decision-making ability of parole officers on the one hand and the credibility of the justice system on the other. And someone who has—

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11:40 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. Resuming debate.

The hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway.

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11:40 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I am happy to rise on behalf of the New Democratic Party to speak to this important bill. Bill C-59 proposes to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to eliminate a concept called accelerated parole review, APR.

APR allows first-time non-violent offenders to apply for day parole after serving one-sixth of their sentence. Their full parole date remains, as with all offenders, at one-third of their sentence. In addition, parole for these offenders is granted without a Parole Board hearing, subject to the board always having the ability to make the case that the offender is at risk to commit a violent offence in the community.

Generally these applications, while not automatic and while not a rubber stamp, are granted with the protection of having the National Parole Board meet the burden of establishing that the person is unlikely to offend.

Before we get any further into the merits of the bill, I want to talk a bit about the context. The first thing to note is the unusual spectre of seeing the Conservatives propped up by the Bloc Québécois.

In 2008, when the New Democrats and the Liberals sat down at a table to negotiate a progressive agenda for government in our country, supported only by the Bloc's agreement not to bring down that Liberal-NDP legislative agenda for two years, the Conservative government, the Prime Minister went apoplectic. They said that it was wrong, that it was undemocratic and that there was nothing more untoward than seeing the spectre of the NDP and Liberals propped up by the separatists.

The Conservatives divided the country from coast to coast and used one of the most vile principles in politics, the one of dividing region against region, founding nation against founding nation, language against language. They used it as a political weapon across the country to save their political hide.

Yet what do we have today? It is a backroom deal cut by the Prime Minister with the leader of the Bloc Québecois, the separatists, to get a piece of legislation into the House. My how things change. What kind of hypocrisy is that?

I think Canadians will see it. They are used to hypocrisy from the government. Canadians have seen the Conservatives campaign for years on the absolute unacceptability of an appointed Senate and then have watched them stuff that Senate with party bag people.

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11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

On a point of order, Madam Speaker, I think you know that the member going on about the Senate, et cetera, is hardly relevant to the bill. I would like the debate to continue as it should on Bill C-59.

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11:45 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I am sure the hon. member will tie these comments to the subject at hand.

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February 15th, 2011 / 11:45 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, of course I will tie them together, because the context of a bill or why it is before the House is always a matter of relevance. I can understand why the Conservatives do not want anyone in the House to remind Canadians of their hypocrisy.

When we see the Conservatives and separatists come together and co-operate today on the bill before the House, I think that what the government has said in the past about co-operating with separatists is entirely relevant. Of course, it is understandable why my hon. colleague would not want us to remind Canadians of that.

Again, on hypocrisy, the Prime Minister talked about Afghanistan and bringing the troops home in 2011. That went down the toilet. Bringing any decision or vote before the House on deploying troops back to Canada also went down the toilet. We are used to hypocrisy by the government.

Today we are debating a bill brought forward by the government, supported by the separatists, but I want to talk about the way it was done. It was done in a way that absolutely subverts democracy. Conservatives cut a deal, brought the bill before the House quickly and invoked closure so that we cannot have meaningful debate on the bill.

It was a backroom deal to cut off debate so that we as parliamentarians cannot perform the due diligence that Canadians want us to do to determine the impacts of this bill, how much it will cost and what effect it will have on our prison system. To me, that shows a lack of confidence in the merits of the bill by Conservatives and the Bloc, because if they were confident in it they would not be afraid of having a fulsome and thorough debate in examining the bill.

Let us talk about the bill. New Democrats understand the concern of Canadians and the sentiments that underlie this bill. Two issues have caused the bill to come before the House. The first is the spectre in Quebec of two high-profile white collar fraudsters, Earl Jones and Mr. Lacroix, who defrauded thousands of investors out of millions and millions of dollars. The prospect of their coming out of prison after serving one-sixth of their sentences has, quite rightly, made people upset in Quebec and across this country.

The second is that it is a quite reasonable concern of Canadians to raise an issue with the concept of some people coming out of a federal penitentiary and being moved to other places of incarceration after serving only one-sixth of their time. Those are valid concerns.

Canadians may know that accelerated parole is only available to first-time offenders who have committed a non-violent offence. Canadians may also find it relevant to know that those people are not coming out of prison and going into the community. They are not let out jail; it is the place of their incarceration that is being shifted. Instead of being in a federal penitentiary, after serving one-sixth of their time, they generally move to halfway houses, which are places of incarceration in our communities, where they still serve their sentences. If someone gets a sentence of 10 years, they still get that 10-year sentence but the place where they serve the sentence is moved.

I want to point out that the New Democrats have a long and proud history in the House of being tough on white collar crime. The New Democrats worked to strengthen the provisions in Bill C-21 to toughen the penalties for white collar crime and, I might point out, those amendments by the New Democrats were defeated by other parties in the House.

New Democrats also have a long and proud tradition of standing up for strong regulation in the financial sector, standing up against banks and finance companies and stock market behaviour to make sure those are well-regulated industries and that we minimize the opportunity for Canadians to be bilked or defrauded out of their money. Those efforts, I might add, are generally resisted by the Conservatives, and often by their coalition partner, the Liberals, and now by their new coalition partner, the Bloc Québécois, as they usually try to stop the efforts to ensure that we protect consumers in this country.

I also want to say that New Democrats understand the pain in Quebec. We understand the absolute and profound damage that has been caused by these unregulated white collar criminals who have defrauded so many people out of their life savings, and New Democrats believe that we have to crack down on them. The issue, of course, is to do that in an intelligent and targeted way, in a way that will actually help.

I want to go over some of the facts of this bill.

APR was introduced in 1992 and was expanded in 1997. It was considered a measure to help the correctional services focus on more dangerous offenders and thus save money.

In 2007 the Correctional Service of Canada review panel, headed by the Mike Harris era Conservative minister for privatization, Rob Sampson, recommended that APR be eliminated. We can thus see the genesis of this idea. He argued that parole should be reformed. The roadmap that Mr. Sampson developed and that the panel issued has been widely criticized, comprehensively criticized, as the absolutely wrong approach to our prisons, both in terms of effectiveness and cost.

The Conservatives have introduced measures to eliminate APR twice before, in Bill C-53, which died on prorogation without receiving any debate; and as part of an omnibus CCRA amendment, Bill C-39, which is currently before public safety committee.

I want to review some of the challenges of this bill. On the one hand, we have the spectre of some Canadians getting out after serving one-sixth of their sentence in a federal penitentiary and being moved to a different institution. That is absolutely the wrong message we want to send when talking about serious white collar crimes.

It is important to note that under the current legislation, there are some crimes that are not eligible for accelerated parole. One thing New Democrats ask is that if there are crimes that we do not think should qualify for accelerated parole, then why do we not study what those crimes should be and add them to the already existing list of crimes for which accelerated parole is not available? That is a surgical, intelligent approach.

Right now, out of 13,000 people in federal penitentiaries, there are approximately 1,000 people who currently would be affected by this legislation. Unlike the Conservatives' approach to crime, which is to take one poster person and target a bill to get at that person and to paint a broad brush of everybody else, it is clear that we do not have a uniform sample within those 1,000 people.

Caught up in those 1,000 people not eligible under this bill would be a person like a young aboriginal woman in jail for the first time maybe for passing bad cheques. She may have children in the community. She may have an addictions problem. She may have a mental health issue. It may be advantageous, both for her and for the community's safety, to move her into a halfway house in the community after one-sixth of her sentence were served in a federal penitentiary, where she could get the help for her issues she could not get inside a penitentiary. That is the kind of person who would also be caught by this bill.

I want to talk about services. I have been in 25 federal institutions in this country in the last year and a half. I will tell the House what I found: Our federal penitentiaries are a complete disaster in terms of offering timely and effective programming to our federal prisoners.

This bill would take 1,000 people who would otherwise be eligible to be moved into community facilities at one-sixth of their sentences, where they would get those services, and would make them stay in prison for another one-sixth of their time. Will those people have access to the types of services they need?

We have heard in committee that 80% of offenders in our federal institutions suffer from addictions. We are also just starting to touch the surface on the secondary problem of mental illness, which is also profoundly substantial.

If those people in our federal penitentiaries are not getting addictions treatment in a timely and effective way or treatment for their mental illnesses, this bill would keep them in those penitentiaries longer. Does the government want to put additional money and resources into our federal prisons to deal with that? I have not heard those members say that. No bill has been introduced by the government that would add those kinds of services to our prisons.

I released an internal document prepared by the correctional service. It stated that two bills alone, Bill C-25, the bill eliminating the two-for-one credit for pre-sentencing custody, and Bill S-6, the bill that adds mandatory minimums for gun crimes, would add 4,000 offenders to our prisons in the next two to three years. They would cause the government to hire 3,300 new personnel, which we estimate would cost a quarter of a billion dollars on personnel each and every year. As well, it has been estimated that it would require the government to spend somewhere between $5 billion and $10 billion to build new prisons in the next five to 10 years.

This bill would take 1,000 people and make them stay in prison longer. That may be a wise thing or it may not be, but I ask the following questions.

Has the government costed out what this will cost? I haven't heard it say anything about that. I have heard the government tell Canadians it is none of their business what the crime bills cost. It claims cabinet confidence when we ask what the crime bills will cost Canadian taxpayers.

Might I remind the government that it is not its money; the money that it is spending is Canadian taxpayers' money. Canadian taxpayers have the right to know the cost of any legislation. Yet the government hides. Why? It does not want to tell Canadians that the result of its crime agenda will cost billions of dollars. What is worse is that it will not make our communities any safer.

The political right in the United States has tried these policies over the last 30 years, people like Newt Gingrich, people in Texas and the American south. They have built more prisons, locked up people, tightened up parole, made people serve longer sentences and are now reversing those measures as we speak. This is not rhetoric. It is fact. The United States is actually adopting the exact opposite policies of this government because it knows that these are bankrupting its treasuries and not reducing crime rates.

As a matter of fact, the states that are focusing on crime prevention, on addressing the root causes of crime, such as addictions and mental health, and are putting resources into treating those issues are making their communities safer and reducing crime rates. However, this government is pursuing a policy that is 30 years out of date and proven wrong.

There is another reason that we might want to move someone from a federal penitentiary after a short, sharp experience into a community facility like a halfway house. It might be better for their reintegration. It would put them closer to their families and support structures. It would allow them to work. I have heard the government say many times that the best social welfare program is a job. It would put that person in a community where they would have more access to required services such as mental health assistance and therapy, addictions treatments and help for any number of different physical or mental ailments they may have.

What are we saying? We are saying that transferring someone into that kind of facility is better for them and makes it more likely they will not reoffend, which is better for community safety.

Have we considered that? No, because the Bloc and the government have combined to ram this bill through in Parliament within a matter of days of debate.

One thing I have noticed about this chamber is that it is never good public policy to make legislation on the fly, under pressure and without study. I do not care what the bill is: no bill, no federal legislation that will affect thousands of Canadians, should ever be passed by this House without our thoroughly vetting that bill and understanding all of its implications and consequences.

What is the impact on community safety? What is the impact on prison overcrowding? What is the impact and how many more prison cells will we have to build if we have to keep more people in prison for longer? What will it cost? Which crimes should we be targeting? All of these questions are valid questions that any responsible parliamentarian would want the answers to before voting on a bill. However, the Conservatives and the Bloc, the separatists and the Conservatives, have joined together to say, no, we cannot have that debate.

The New Democrats have a number of positive suggestions in this regard. Again, we understand there are some crimes that should not get accelerated parole, particularly by white collar criminals who bilk people out of their savings. However, why do we not look at making surgical amendments to the legislation to add crimes to the list that do not qualify for accelerated parole? A second alternative is to allow a judge to have discretion at the time of sentencing to determine whether a person should or should not qualify for accelerated parole.

Those are amendments the New Democrats will be bringing to the committee tonight, in the four hours the government and the separatists have allotted for debate, after which they are going to invoke closure.

In those four hours, we will be exploring answers to these questions for Canadians. We are going to try to understand the impact of this bill on our penal system and on our treasury. We are going to propose amendments to fix the problems that Canadians want fixed, but do not damage the rehabilitation and community safety. That is what the New Democrats are about: responsible parliamentarianship. That is not what we see in this bill.

I want to focus on the way our parole system works.

Our parole system is a carefully crafted system that has developed over decades. One cannot tinker with just one part and not expect it to have an impact on other parts. There are theories of punishment as to how we can best alter behaviour.

The purpose of our prison system is corrections. It is to try to correct the behaviour of people so that when they re-enter society they do not reoffend. That is the best public safety policy we could have. That is why we have sophisticated notions of punishment and reward where people get a short, sharp experience with prison and then reintegrate into society. As parliamentarians, we should be encouraging that process.

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Noon

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member has raised some very good points. Clearly, without having the normal debate on such a bill, it interferes with parliamentarians' rights to have an informed discussion so that they can make good laws and wise decisions.

Having said that, the debate that has gone on so far seems to have focused on certain extreme cases to make the general case. My concern is there are some offences to which this bill would apply where to not have the option of early parole would not be in the public interest. Studies have clearly shown that recidivism rates increase when the amount of prison time increases relative to those who get early parole.

I would ask the member whether or not he is aware of any studies that show that more incarceration actually results in less recidivism in the community.

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12:05 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his astute comments.

We are not the only society grappling with crime in the world. Every society is grappling with crime. There are many different approaches to deal with it. There are very harsh, firm approaches that are characterized in countries in Asia. We see more liberal approaches in northern Europe. There are different approaches all over the world.

I have asked the government with the full resources of the public safety department and the justice department, to name one jurisdiction in the world for which they have data to show that these policies work to reduce the crime rate and make communities safer. It has never given me one example, not one.

We on this side have come up with many examples of states that have tried these kinds of policies and are reversing them. They know that in the real laboratory of life, after spending billions of dollars on building more prisons and putting people in prison for longer, there is no measurable impact on reducing crime. It is quite the opposite.

In Texas, after cracking down on crime for over 30 years, the rate of recidivism was 50%. That means one out of every two people would be going right back into prison. That does not tell me it is a successful corrections program.

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12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for all the work he does on the public safety committee.

The member closed his comments by talking about the corrections system and a series of rewards and punishments, rewards for good behaviour and punishments for bad behaviour to help correct the individual.

I am curious as to why he supports automatic accelerated parole. Would he not favour a system of earned parole if he actually sees merit in a system of benefits for those who behave well in the corrections system?