Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I join in the debate on Bill C-59, the Abolition of Early Parole Act today.
Like many of my colleagues, the hon. members in this House, I have spent quite some time talking to Canadians about the need for this legislation. I am confident that all of us are hearing the same thing; that it is time to take action to crack down on white-collar offenders and we need to do it now.
I have heard from victims who have told me that they are tired of seeing and hearing about offenders who have perhaps wiped out their life savings and are not serving appropriate times for their actions. I have spoken to ordinary Canadians and to the families of innocent victims and they told me that it was time for all of us to work together to crack down on the activities of white-collar offenders who might not use a gun but who, nonetheless, wreak havoc on the lives of hard-working and law-abiding Canadians. They told me that we need to get tough on those offenders whose illegal activities leave scores of victims in their wake.
I am therefore pleased to support the bill before us today, which would do all of that and would build on our government's already impressive record of standing up for victims and cracking down on all types of crime.
Over the last five years, our government has done a lot to make our streets safer through investments in crime prevention, law enforcement and in the tools for police officers to do their jobs. In fact, several of our justice bills last year alone received royal assent, including: Bill C-14, which targets gang violence and organized crime by addressing issues such as gang murders, drive-by shootings and additional protection for police and the police officers; Bill C-25, which fulfills our government's commitment to Canadians to help keep offenders from being given two-for-one credit and sometimes three-for-one credit in pre-sentencing custody; and Bill S-4, which will help combat the complex, serious and growing problem of identity theft and identity fraud.
I am also proud to say that our government recently passed legislation to help reform the pardon system. In particular, we have made sure that the National Parole Board of Canada has the discretion it needs to determine whether granting a pardon would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.
We have passed legislation targeting gang violence and organized crime by addressing issues such as gang murders, drive-by shootings and additional protection for police officers.
We recently passed legislation to strengthen the National Sex Offenders Registry and the national DNA data bank in order to better protect our children and other vulnerable members of society from sexual predators.
Of course our government has most recently introduced legislation to crack down on individuals involved in the despicable crime of human smuggling, which threatens our communities as well as Canada's immigration system.
In addition, our government has provided more money to the provinces and the territories so that they can hire additional police officers. I am very proud to note that Statistics Canada reported in December that the number of police officers across Canada is now at its highest point since 1981.
As well, the government has taken action to help young people make smart choices and avoid becoming involved in gang activity through programs funded through the National Crime Prevention Centre.
Our government has taken significant action that achieves results in tackling crime in our communities. We will continue to do more.
It is no secret that crimes and criminal activities can take on many forms. We often hear about violent gun crimes and communities which can and often do shatter lives. As I have mentioned, our government has done a lot to get tough with offenders who commit such terrible acts.
Of course, there are other types of crimes that can be just as devastating even though they do not involve the use of handguns. All of us have heard about the ruined lives left behind by white-collar offenders who prey on law-abiding citizens, often leaving them with nothing to show for a lifetime of hard work and savings for their retirement.
All of us have heard about the need to take action, to crack down on white-collar crime and stand up for the victims. That is what the legislation before us today would do.
As we have heard today, many offenders obtain parole early through a process called accelerated parole review. First-time offenders who have committed non-violent offences can access day parole at one-sixth of their sentence and full parole at one-third of their sentence. Unless the Parole Board of Canada has reasonable grounds to believe these offenders will commit a violent offence if released, it must release them into the community.
This means that, in some cases, a fraudster, a thief or even a drug dealer can be back on the streets early. Such an offender could be sentenced to 12 years but actually be released into the community on day parole in just 2 short years and fully paroled at just 4 years. The status quo gives the Parole Board little or no discretion in dealing with these cases. The test is whether an offender is likely to commit a violent offence. As a result, even if the Parole Board believes the offender is likely to commit another fraud, another theft or another drug offence, it is nonetheless compelled to release them.
What makes the review process even more expedited is that these accelerated parole reviews are accomplished through a paper review by the Parole Board of Canada, whereas regular parole reviews are normally done by way of a hearing.
The test for accelerated parole review is also lower. The Parole Board of Canada only has to have reasonable grounds to believe that the offender will not commit a violent offence, whereas, with other offenders, the test is whether the person is an undue risk to commit any type of crime if released. The test for accelerated parole review is whether someone is going to commit a violent offence. Even if the Parole Board believes that someone will commit another fraud, the board is still compelled to release the person under supervision at one-sixth of his or her sentence. In many cases that means that people who are convicted of crimes that have had devastating effects on the lives and livelihood of Canadians often spend very little time in prison. The end result is that offenders convicted of white-collar crimes are often released under supervision after only a very few short months. Offenders are given lengthy sentences which do not result in much time actually spent in prison.
This offends Canadians' sense of justice and it undermines their faith in our justice and in our corrections system. It should offend all of our senses of justice, and we need to change this. Canadians want change and that is what our government is delivering.
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 are 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. It is a very key point and something that all members should highlight.
The changes that our government is proposing would mean that Canadians can have faith that offenders convicted of white-collar crimes will not escape full accountability for their actions.
Our government has listened to the concerns of victims of fraud and other crimes and we are taking action on their concerns. By fixing the problem of early parole for offenders, we are following through on our tackling crime agenda. Our government believes that Canadians deserve a justice system that balances the rights of offenders with the rights of law-abiding citizens.
The commitment we are announcing today brings us another step closer to this important goal. Once again I urge all hon. members to work with the government to ensure that Bill C-59 is passed into law in the most timely way possible.