Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-229, which aims to change the law concerning life sentences for the most serious offenders. Bill C-229 proposes mandatory and discretionary sentences of life without parole for certain murders. I will not be supporting this bill.
Bill C-229 is nearly identical to former Bill C-53, the life means life act, which was introduced by the previous government on March 11, 2015. That bill died on the Order Paper with the dissolution of Parliament.
The bill would change the existing criminal law in three ways.
First, it would make imprisonment without parole mandatory for high treason; for planned and deliberate murder if committed during a sexual assault, kidnapping, or terrorism offence; where the victim is a police officer or correctional officer, or if committed in a particularly brutal way.
Second, the bill would provide judges with the ability to impose a life sentence of imprisonment without parole for any other first degree murder, as well as for any second degree murder where the offender was previously convicted of murder or of an intentional killing under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.
Finally, the bill would amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to provide that an offender sentenced to life imprisonment without parole may apply for an executive release by the Governor in Council after having served 35 years in custody. If released by the Governor in Council, the offender would be subject to conditions similar to parole conditions and the offender's sentence would continue to be administered under the jurisdiction of the Correctional Service of Canada and the Parole Board of Canada.
We agree that public safety is of paramount importance; however, I am not convinced that the measures contained in the bill would actually result in increasing public safety. Our government made a commitment to use evidence in our decision-making and there is precious little of it which stands to support this bill.
The amendments contained in Bill C-229 would be unprecedented in Canadian law. They are also, in my view, unnecessary. I agree that the most serious offenders, murderers, should be dealt with accordingly by the criminal law. I can also confidently say that the most serious offenders, in fact, are dealt with accordingly by the criminal law.
Our judiciary and the Correctional Service already possess the tools necessary to ensure the most serious offenders will not be released from custody, specifically in the form of a dangerous offender designation. This bill would seek to limit the discretion of our judiciary and the Correctional Service. That is not something I can support.
While it is true that some individuals may eventually be released from prison, this would only happen after their application has been carefully reviewed by the Parole Board of Canada. In addition, those who are released have lifelong restrictions placed on their liberty and may be re-incarcerated if they breach a condition of their release. I believe that our current system works effectively and I have confidence in the ability of the Parole Board of Canada to make appropriate decisions, taking into account all relevant circumstances. Therefore, I question why these changes would be required.
Indeed, for that group of offenders who, under the current regime, would benefit from rehabilitation and gradual reintegration into society, Bill C-229 would require them to stay in jail longer. This bill only favours punishment for punishment's sake and does not meet our other sentencing objectives, including, for example, rehabilitation. I do not believe that Canadians would accept such an approach.
I also have concerns about the constitutionality of this bill, and I am not alone in this view. Stakeholders, including the Elizabeth Fry Society, have raised questions not only about the bill's constitutionality, but also whether its measures are even required. Our government has indicated repeatedly the importance of respecting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and ensuring that our work is consistent with it. Supporting this legislation would not be in keeping with that commitment.
It should be noted that the Liberal Party has consistently opposed the measures contained in this bill, including when it was introduced as the former government's Bill C-53.
At that time, we noted our objection to the proposed introduction of a new regime that would require an offender to submit an application to the Minister of Public Safety for executive release by the Governor in Council after serving 35 years of their sentence, rather than to the Parole Board of Canada.
Others raised similar concerns about Bill C-53, including the Canadian Bar Association and the John Howard Society. These stakeholders were of the view that Bill C-53's proposed measures, which are replicated in Bill C-229, would not improve public safety and that there is no evidence that offenders convicted of serious crimes are paroled unjustifiably.
Some stakeholders, when discussing Bill C-53, also noted that excessively long periods of incarceration that eliminate the prospect of offender rehabilitation are destructive to offenders' physical and mental health, and fail to properly balance the principles of punishment with those of rehabilitation and reintegration. These principles are a core part of our corrections philosophy. Nothing in Bill C-229 would address these concerns.
To be fair, some stakeholders may support the objectives of Bill C-229, if they believe it would protect society by keeping violent or dangerous criminals in custody for longer periods. However, as I have already said, the most serious offenders who would be caught by this bill would already be unlikely to ever be released, given the public security risk they pose.
I would also like to point out the concerns that I have with respect to the impact that Bill C-229 may have on indigenous peoples. As members know, the government has recently put forward Canada's new position with respect to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Persons.
The government has made clear its commitment to change the relationship between Canada and the indigenous population. We know that there is an overrepresentation of indigenous people in federal custody, for a multitude of reasons. I am concerned that Bill C-229 would do nothing to address this problem. I do not believe we should be advancing initiatives such as Bill C-229 at a time when crime rates continue to decrease and the overrepresentation of indigenous peoples in prison continues to persist.
The government has signalled its intention to comprehensively examine the current state of the criminal justice system, and I am hopeful that this issue will be examined thoroughly. It is an issue which demands attention and, more importantly, action.
I urge all members to oppose Bill C-229. Its proposals are ideologically driven, not supported by available evidence, and would do nothing to improve public safety. It would further limit the discretion of the judiciary and is not the kind of legal reform we need in this country.