Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this chance to speak to Bill C-59, the Abolition of Early Parole Act. The amendments our government is proposing are important for a number of reasons. They build on our government's already impressive record of cracking down on crime. That includes any kind of crime, from those involving handguns, to those involving stolen property, identity theft and fraud.
Our government is committed to building safer streets and communities for everyone. We have delivered on that commitment in countless numbers of ways. The changes our government is proposing in Bill C-59 will also help to ensure that the corrections system works the way it should so that all offenders are held accountable for their actions. That is something our government has been committed to achieving since we were first elected in 2006.
Perhaps most importantly, the changes our government is proposing with Bill C-59 will mean that offenders convicted of fraud will not be eligible for accelerated early parole after serving just a small fraction of their sentences. Therefore, I want to urge all hon. members to support the legislation before us today, which again demonstrates a commitment I believe all of us share, which is to stand up for victims and to crack down on crime and make our communities safer and better places for everyone.
Bill C-59 will essentially do away with what appears to be a two-tier system of parole in this country, which at times appears to treat offenders convicted of fraud as if swindling people of their life savings is somewhat less of a crime than other offences.
Our government believes, and indeed I feel most Canadians would agree, that offenders who commit such crimes should not just receive a slap on the wrist once they are convicted. They should not be out on parole earlier than other offenders simply because their crime was not violent. Their actions can wreak havoc and have wreaked havoc in the lives of countless numbers of Canadians. The devastation that their actions can and have caused can often be irreparable. In many cases, victims have been left wondering where the justice is in this world. Where is justice when such perpetrators can apparently be handed lengthy prison sentences but only serve one or two years in prison? They are left to wonder why the justice system does not seem to be standing up for them. Most of all, they have been left wondering when their interests will be put ahead of the offenders. That day is here. Again, our government is taking action to stand up for victims of crime.
Under the current system of accelerated parole review, so-called white-collar offenders convicted of a first-time non-violent offence are eligible for day parole after serving just one-sixth of their prison sentence. Indeed, not only can they qualify, they are almost certain to receive it. Unlike other offenders, white-collar offenders are in fact almost automatically put into the queue, so to speak, to receive early parole. That is because under the existing rules Correctional Service Canada must refer the cases of offenders entitled to APR to the parole board before their day parole eligibility date so that they may be released under supervision into the community as soon as possible.
Let us think about that. Offenders do not have to apply for parole. Under the current system, that is already taken care of. In fact, Correctional Service Canada in effect does it for them. However, for other offenders the parole board will only receive applications for parole if the offender has informed them that they wish to be granted day parole. That is generally six months before their full parole eligibility date.
Why the double standard? Why are non-violent offenders treated differently? Our government, and I believe the majority of Canadians, would agree that should not occur.
Today, a white-collar offender might receive a sentence of 12 years, perhaps more in some cases. The reality is that many are released on parole before other offenders who might receive a similar sentence. Unlike other offenders who are generally eligible for day parole six months before full parole, white-collar or non-violent criminals can be free after just a few months in some cases. The general rule of thumb is that they can access a process called accelerated parole review after serving one-sixth of their sentence and full day parole after serving one-third of their sentence.
If we look back on some of the cases where we have seen convictions for very serious multi-million dollar fraud, sometimes in the hundreds of millions of dollars, a 12-year sentence is significant. However, when we find that the person has only spent two years in jail, we wonder if the system is being fair. The human cost is much more severe. We have heard of people who have committed suicide. We have heard of people who have lost all of their life savings. They serve what I refer to as a life sentence.
What makes the current parole system even more expedited for white-collar criminals is the accelerated parole reviews are done through a paper review by the Parole Board of Canada, whereas a regular parolee receives one by way of a hearing rather than just a shuffling of papers, as it were, in a paper process. There is no need to meet with the parole board to explain their actions, no need to face their victims. Why should a person be released on day parole if he or she is a white-collar criminal when there are still many people suffering under the weight of poverty because of his or her actions?
The test for accelerated parole review is also lower for white-collar offenders than it is for other offenders. The parole board only has to have reasonable grounds to believe that the offender will not commit a violent crime, whereas with other offenders, the test is whether that person poses an undue risk to commit any type of crime if released.
The bottom line is that the parole board, when dealing with these cases, has limited discretion. The test is whether someone is going to commit a violent offence. Even if the parole board believes someone will commit another fraud, the board is still compelled to release him or her under supervision after serving just one-sixth of his or her sentence. That means, in many cases, that people who are convicted of crimes that have devastating effects on the lives and livelihoods of Canadians may spend very little time in prison.
The end result is that offenders convicted of white-collar crimes can be released under supervision after just a few months. Offenders convicted of fraud are given lengthy sentences which do not result in much time spent in prison at all. This can be difficult to reconcile with Canadians' faith in their justice system and in the corrections system.
Bill C-59 would abolish accelerated parole review and repeal sections of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that govern the accelerated parole review regime. It would mean that offenders who commit non-violent or white-collar crimes would be put on the same footing as other offenders. They would be eligible for regular day parole review six months prior to full parole eligibility, and full parole review after serving one-third of their sentence. Rather than being subject to a paper review, they would be subject to an in-person hearing. The test as to whether they should be released would be whether they present an unmanageable risk of committing another crime.
All of us here have heard of the devastating consequences of white-collar crimes such as fraud. Victims, and I believe the majority of Canadians, are outraged that offenders who have destroyed so many lives should receive preferential treatment. They are outraged that the justice system does not appear to work for them. That needs to change, which is why Bill C-59 is so important.
Our government is committed to standing up for victims, regardless of whether they are victims of gun crime or white-collar crime. Our government is committed to cracking down on crime regardless of who commits it or how it is committed. That is why we have done it in the past and it is why we are going to continue to do it in the future.
I therefore urge all hon. members to work with us, with the government, with most, and I believe all, Canadians. We need to stand up for victims and ensure that Bill C-59 is passed quickly.
May I reiterate that we have seen on the news how white-collar crime not only devastates the lives of people who are the victims of it, but also does something insidious or more so in that it colours people's view of the very system in which we live. People are fearful to invest money in the economy. That means there is a reluctance to invest in job creators. What does that do? In my view, that creates a continuing lack of faith in the system that was designed to keep growing our economy, to invest in jobs and futures for Canadians.
We need to assure Canadians that people who misuse the system and commit the criminal offence of fraud will not receive just a slap on the wrist.