Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak to the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code contained in the private member's bill before us today. The amendments contained in Bill C-587, the respecting families of murdered and brutalized persons act, introduced by my colleague, the member of Parliament for Okanagan—Shuswap, are based on the same fundamental idea that underlies many recent legislative initiatives passed by Parliament, which is the interests of victims of crime and of their families and loved ones.
That fundamental proposition is a straightforward one. Families and loved ones of murder victims should not become the secondary victims of a convicted murderer by being forced to relive the details of their terrible loss every time the killer applies for parole.
As hon. members may recall from past debates, both first and second degree murder are punishable by life imprisonment, subject to a period set out in section 745 of the Criminal Code, during which the murderer may not apply for parole. While all murders are morally blameworthy, first and second degree murder are distinguished from each other by the higher degree of moral blameworthiness associated with first degree murder that justifies the longer mandatory period of parole ineligibility of 25 years.
While the mandatory minimum period of parole ineligibility for second degree murder is 10 years, it may be increased in two situations.
First, if a second degree murderer has been convicted of a prior murder or of an intentional killing under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, the parole ineligibility period will be automatically set for the same as first degree murder, namely 25 years. In such cases, the fact that the murderer has killed before is considered to increase his or her moral blameworthiness up to the level of a first degree murderer.
Second, even if the second degree murderer has not killed before, a judge has the discretion under section 745.4 of the Criminal Code to impose a period of parole ineligibility of up to 25 years based on the murderer's character, the nature and circumstances of the murder, and any jury recommendation in this regard. In short, the higher the degree of moral blameworthiness associated with a second degree murder, the longer the parole ineligibility period that may be imposed to reflect it.
It is important to keep the concept of moral blameworthiness in mind when considering the proposals put forward in Bill C-587. These proposals are directed at the most morally blameworthy of murders, those in which the murder victim has also been subjected to an abduction and to a sexual assault by the murderer. It is hard to imagine a more heinous series of acts committed against the victim.
The issue before us today is that, with the exception of the case of multiple murderers, the maximum parole ineligibility period for murder permitted under the Criminal Code is 25 years. This is true, no matter how terrible the circumstances in which the murder may have been committed.
As for multiple murderers, I am aware that in 2011, the Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act came into force. These Criminal Code amendments permit a judge to impose a parole ineligibility period on a multiple murderer for the first murder in accordance with the provisions I have already described. The judge will also be authorized to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods of 25 years, one for each victim after the first, to ensure that the lives of each and every victim will be reflected in the sentence ultimately imposed upon the murderer.
In short, this important legislation would help to ensure that no victim's life would be discounted at the time of sentencing.
However, the result of the seemingly arbitrary limit on parole ineligibility of 25 years on those who kill once in the circumstances reflected in Bill C-587 is a symbolic devaluation of the suffering of the murder victim, as well as an apparent disregard of the extreme level of moral blameworthiness exhibited by the murderer. One has only to recall the horrible murder of Tori Stafford by Michael Rafferty to realize the truth of this statement.
The member for Malpeque just said that this bill was a solution in search of a problem. I would ask him to review the terrible circumstances of the murder of that young girl, Tori Stafford, and then stand back up in the House and say whether there is no problem that needs to be addressed. This, in my view, addresses this situation and this problem. This problem has, unfortunately, occurred all too often in Canadian history. That is what we get from the moral equivalence of the Liberal Party.
Allow me to be more specific about what Bill C-587 would do.
First, it would amend section 745 of the Criminal Code to require a mandatory parole ineligibility period of 25 years for anyone convicted of murder who had also been convicted of committing one of the listed kidnapping and abduction offences, as well as one of the listed sexual offences against the murder victim. In short, the 25-year period would only apply if the murderer had been convicted of three offences against the same victim. This would ensure that this measure would be applied only against those whose crimes would justify this level of sanction.
Second, the bill would authorize a sentencing judge to replace that 25-year minimum parole ineligibility period with a longer period of up to 40 years based on the character of the offender, the nature and circumstances of the offences and any jury recommendation in this regard.
As I described earlier in the context of second degree murder, these are well-established Criminal Code criteria that permit the judge and jury who have heard the evidence at trial to make this important sentencing decision. Under the existing law, murderers who kidnap and sexually assault their victims already receive long sentences. This would continue to be true under Bill C-587.
However, the bill would also protect families and loved ones of murdered victims from the trauma of repeated parole applications of the murderer. As the hon. member for Okanagan—Shuswap said, when he introduced this legislation on April 7, “Sadistic criminals convicted of such heinous crimes are never granted parole, thus the hearings are unnecessary and are extremely painful for the victims’ families to endure”.
I will point out the terrible trauma that the victims of Clifford Olson went through when he had multiple parole hearings, even though we all knew, and he knew, that he would never be released. However, every two years, he would require the families of those victims to appear before a Parole Board hearing to go through and relive the horrible murders of their children over and over again.
In short, the bill is not just about creating stiffer penalties for sadistic murderers by allowing a judge to impose up to 40 years of parole ineligibility on the depraved murderers targeted by these measures. This bill is also about saving the families and loved ones of the victims from having to go through the agony of unnecessary and often traumatic Parole Board hearings.
If the member for Malpeque does not believe there is a problem here that needs to be solved, I would ask him to go and speak to the families of some of these victims and hear about the torture that they go through having to relive the awful circumstances of the murders of their loved ones over and over again. I would refer him to Sharon Rosenfeldt, who is the mother of one of Clifford Olson's victims. Perhaps he should speak to her and hear her point of view on this matter.
This is the fundamental proposition at the heart of the important measures proposed in the bill. It is far too often the case that the families and loved ones of victims experience a greater degree of pain and experience a greater sense of loss because the justice system has failed to protect them from being re-victimized every two years when the murderer applies in vein for parole.
Moreover, Bill C-587 is entirely consistent with past legislation passed by the House, such as the Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act. It ensures that a life sentence of imprisonment for murder means just that: life in prison.
I will point out that in the past the Liberal justice critic has said that if the Liberals were to form a government, they would repeal that law which removed the faint hope clause and they would restore the faint hope clause, allowing murderers like the late Clifford Olson to have those continual Parole Board hearings.
Bill C-587 is also entirely consistent with another piece of important legislation that the House is also being asked to examine, Bill C-32, the victims bill of rights act, which was introduced on April 3 of this year. The victims bill of rights would put victims at the heart of the justice system in order to rebalance the scales of justice away from criminals and toward those who have suffered at their hands.
Bill C-587 is yet another example of this long overdue rebalancing. I urge all hon. members to examine it from this point of view. If they do, I am sure they will agree with me that it ought to be moved to the committee and third reading to ensure that it becomes the law of the land in the shortest time possible.
I thank all members for their attention and urge them to come together in the interests of the families and loved ones of the truly horrific crimes targeted by Bill C-587, such as the family of Tori Stafford. I strongly urge all members therefore to give their full support to this bill and ensure its swift passage.