Mr. Speaker, given that this is probably one of the last debates we are going to be having on criminal justice matters, I am going to take a somewhat broader approach to this bill. In this 41st Parliament, in this whole series of public safety bills that have been brought forward by the Conservatives, both government bills and private member's bills, we have had a tale of two different agendas: the Conservative tough-on-crime agenda up against the NDP approach of building safer communities
The Conservatives have been relentless in putting forward their tough-on-crime ideas, whether in the raft of government of bills or in private member's bills, which actually should be called “government bills masquerading as private member's bills”, as this one really is. Instead of a comprehensive review of the Criminal Code, what we have are dozens of one-off measures, quite often ripped from the sensational headlines around a single case and presented as a private member's bill, again, alongside government bills that deal with the same issues.
There is, I believe, a fundamental problem with this one-off approach. It is both the problem that it is easy to run into overlap and unintended consequences when we change the Criminal Code and the criminal justice system bit by bit and the problem that before they have any chance to see if the reform is working, they are off changing some other element of the system in ways that may or may not be complementary.
We have heard much in the debate tonight about families that are forced to appear at parole hearings every two years, except that we have already changed that in another private member's bill before the House to an interval of up to four years. Here we are attacking the same problem with two different bills in two different places.
There is also the problem that amendments to criminal justice legislation in private member's bills do not go through the justice ministry, where they would be screened for compliance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. No matter how low the Conservative justice minister sets the bar for probable compliance, bills would still be examined from that angle. I believe that Bill C-587 is one that could have used that scrutiny with regard to its conflict with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
There is a related problem with bills like this one that suggest changes to sentencing and parole provisions, which are actually quite complex in practice. I often doubt that the drafters have the expertise they need in real-world criminal justice. In Bill C-587, it says that it will apply to someone convicted of a series of offences connected to the same incident, such as kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder. What we find in the real world is that, in fact, prosecutors rarely prosecute included offences when they have murder on the table.
When in committee it was asked how many offenders this would actually apply to and what the big problem was we were attacking here, the answer given was that it would apply to one person or perhaps two people a year.
Let me come back to the contrast in approaches between the Conservatives and the New Democrats when it comes to public safety and start by looking at what the components of the Conservatives' tough-on-crime agenda are.
One of those is concern for the rights of victims, and that is a concern that we on this side of the House share and that almost all Canadians, I would say, share. There is a recognition that more needs to be done to support victims in their encounters with the justice system and to make sure that their voices are heard. We have supported measures like the Victims Bill of Rights in order to bring about positive changes. However, we have opposed other measures put forward that claim to be enhancements of victims' rights when they are sure to have negative impacts on public safety down the road and sometimes, in fact, risk creating more victims in the future.
Surely concern for victims also means listening to what most victims cite as their first concern: that there should not be more victims in the future. That means investing in crime prevention and looking at what really works when it comes to rehabilitation. That is one of the ways in which we respect the rights of victims. It is by making sure that there are fewer of them in the future.
The second element of the Conservatives' tough on crime agenda is tougher sentences. It is sometimes difficult to know if Conservatives intend tougher sentences to act as deterrents or if they simply feel that vengeance should be part of the sentencing process in Canada. What is clear is that all the evidence in criminal justice shows that if we are thinking about deterrence, then using tougher sentences clearly does not work. Those people who engage in crime do so out of addiction, mental illness, or rash actions. They do not sit down and thumb through the Criminal Code to see what the penalties are. Few people charged with offences actually have any idea what the possible penalties for their offences are.
There is a kind of deterrence that actually works and this is clearly shown in the research on criminal justice. Deterrence takes place when possible offenders fear the certainty of being caught and prosecuted. The question of whether they will be caught and prosecuted is clearly a question of resources. All those who consciously plot their crimes think that they are the smartest criminals in the world and they will never be caught and if they are caught, they will not be prosecuted. Putting resources into policing and prosecution actually does reduce the incidence of crime.
However, since 2012, the government has cut resources to the RCMP and Corrections and no one should be fooled by the small increases that are in this year's budget. Both the RCMP and Corrections will still have fewer resources now than they had in 2012.
The question of the deterrence that works, the certainty of being caught and prosecuted, is what makes it so important to know when the promised 100 additional RCMP officers for Surrey will actually be on the ground. It is one of the ways we can contribute to public safety in a community that is plagued by gang, drug and gun violence.
The third element in the Conservatives tough on crime agenda seems to be to make sure more people are incarcerated. We have seen that with the vast expansion of mandatory minimum penalties. New Democrats agree that mandatory minimums are appropriate for the most serious and most violent crimes like murder. We have expanded mandatory minimums to a whole range of crimes. The result is that we end up with more people whose crimes are the result of addiction problems or mental illness in our prison system and we certainly end up with more aboriginal people incarcerated despite the Gladue principle.
We have some very disturbing studies showing that the Gladue principle, which says that the whole circumstances of aboriginal people need to be taken into consideration in sentencing, is not being observed certainly in many provinces. Given today's announcements by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the experience that many aboriginal people had at residential schools, it is critically important that we take into account the Gladue principle in sentencing of aboriginal offenders and not just focus on getting more people incarcerated.
The Conservatives will say that the increase in prisons has not happened. It certainly has not happened at the rates that some predicted, but there has been a steady increase in Canadian institutions since the Conservatives came to power and many of them appear to believe that this is a good thing.
The fourth element of the tough on crime agenda tends to be to restrict parole and give less access to parole and to give access to parole only later on in sentencing. We have had this appear in many bills like the one before us today. What the Conservatives seem to be arguing here is that what will keep us safer is keeping people off the streets. Again, the evidence shows that is clearly not the case. Most of the people in the system are coming out of prison and the best way for them to do that is in gradual supervised release back into the community. That is what works.
Instead, what we have under the government is increasing numbers of people being released with shorter supervision periods or with no supervision period at all in parole and not getting any community support that they need. The government has failed to support things like halfway houses and circles of support and accountability, mentioned in an earlier speech, which helped work with sex offenders.
The bill fails to understand another factor and that is the role of possible parole as a factor in rehabilitation and good behaviour within prisons. Those with little or nothing left to lose become a great threat to corrections officers' safety. In contrast, the NDP's public safety agenda is focused on trying to address the real problems that we have, in particular, drug, gang and gun violence in urban areas, violence against women and especially the question of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
The NDP is committed to building safer communities for everyone, not through the government's tough on crime strategy, but instead through a renewed commitment to victims services, crime prevention, effective law enforcement and effective rehabilitation of offenders. We need to help victims of crime get their lives back on track by making sure the necessary services are available to them, including a full range of services from mental health services to legal services. In this area, the Conservatives have clearly failed victims. We need to tackle the causes of crime like poverty, addiction and youth gangs. Again, Conservatives have failed to provide the resources we need to attack these causes of crime.
We need to make sure that law enforcement courts have the resources they need and put a priority on resources directed to fighting violent crime and its consequences. Again, the Conservatives have failed to provide the resources needed for this.
We also need to reduce our reliance on incarceration and increase our funding for community support and rehabilitation programs. This bill contributes nothing to building safer communities. I am surprised to see the Liberals supporting a bill like this, especially when it affects so few people.
I just want to say in my last statement that, if there is any danger of some of the people we are talking about getting released, we have provisions on the books to make sure they would not be released.
On this side, we will be opposing Bill C-587.