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.
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.