Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today in support of the life means life legislation as put forward by the hon. member for Calgary Signal Hill.
I would like to take a moment to talk a bit about something that happened in my riding of Foothills not long ago. Some good friends of mine, Debbie and Ed Sands, lost their daughter Amy Sands. Amy was murdered in Calgary. I saw what that incident did to the family. The court case went on for more than a year. Each and every time I spoke with Ed and Debbie after they attended the court hearings, I could hear the toll it took on the two of them and their family. Debbie Sands has just published a book called A Moth to the Flame . It is about her daughter and what transpired not only in her life but also unfortunately culminating in her murder. This has had a lasting impact on the Sands family and the Okotoks community as a whole.
The life means life bill would protect families of victims so they would not have to relive their nightmares over and over again by continually going to parole hearings, whether it was every two years or five years, especially when there was faint hope that the perpetrator would ever be granted parole. Regardless of that, the system does not protect the victims. Unfortunately I am sure the Sands family will have to go through this process for decades.
I would like to also talk about the essence of the legislation.
By eliminating parole eligibility for high treason and for the most heinous murders, the criminal law amendments in the bill would ensure that the worst offenders would spend the rest of their lives in prison. The bill would help to protect Canadians because it would ensure that the most violent offenders would remain locked up for their entire natural lives.
As I said, for me one of the most important things about this legislation is that it would protect the victim's family. For example, let us consider Sharon Rosenfeldt, the mother of one of Clifford Olson's victims, who, along with her family, had to go to parole hearings every two years to hear Clifford Olson tell them why he should be released. They had to relive the trauma of losing their son every two years, over and over again.
The proposed life means life act also provides a more clear proportionality in sentencing between first and second degree murder. Through various acts of Parliament we have made some second degree murders fit under the same sentencing regime as first degree murder, including having 25 years without parole.
Let me use Robert Pickton as an example. He murdered several women on his British Columbia pig farm in a case that certainly garnered international attention. In the absence of proof of planning and deliberation, he was convicted of second degree murder but subjected by the court to a 25-year parole ineligibility period under section 745.4 of the Criminal Code.
The bar for first degree murder is understandably high, as it should be. To get a conviction requires the strongest possible proof on behalf of the state. The penalty therefore for those convicted should be equally as strong. Canadians often are surprised to learn that when a court of law gives a life sentence, it actually does not mean the person convicted goes to prison for life. Far from it in most cases.
Our colleagues across the floor will say that the life means life bill is unreasonable, that it is different than maybe other countries, especially western democracies, but I digress. That is just simply not the case. Bill C-C-229 would align Canada's criminal justice system with those of other parliamentary democracies, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.
The system in the United Kingdom is quite interesting, and I would like to share a bit about how that system works.
While we set minimum parole eligibility dates in Canada, England does it somewhat differently. In England, the court determines the seriousness of the murder and selects an appropriate time for parole eligibility. It usually starts with 15 years, but more serious murders will naturally go up to 25, 30 or even more, including an entire life before the individual is granted parole.
The court then considers aggravating and mitigating factors and adds to or subtracts from the 15-year starting point as warranted.
The English system has the ability to hand down life without any chance of parole for the most serious of crimes. The English law, similar to this bill, gives only the minister the ability to grant parole on compassionate grounds.
In England there are four categories of murder for which the sentences are exceptionally high. The first is multiple murders involving premeditation, abduction, or sexual or sadistic elements. The second is the murder of a child that involves abduction or sexual or sadistic elements. The third is murder to advance a political, religious, or ideological cause. The fourth category is murder by any offender previously convicted of murder.
As members can see, what is being proposed by my colleague is not unreasonable. In fact, I would argue that it is common sense. It is not just another Conservative get-tough-on-crime bill. This is something that one of the oldest democracies in the world, the United Kingdom, already has and has successfully implemented. Australia and New Zealand have as well, just to name a few examples. I make this point to outline the common sense in the life means life act brought forward by my colleague.
Again, if members listen to the comments from my colleagues opposite, they will argue that this is unreasonable or is in some way inhumane. My argument is simply that it is not. This would impact only the most heinous of crimes.
We have also heard from my colleagues across the floor that this would somehow have a substantial impact on the cost of our judicial system, especially our penitentiaries and jails. However, again, I want to stress the fact that the life means life law would only come into effect for the most heinous of crimes, so really, it would only be for a small number of criminals and criminal cases.
Still, the message we are sending is very important: when people commit a heinous crime, whether it is kidnapping or treason or an exceptionally vicious murder, life means life. When someone is given a life sentence under those circumstances, it means life in jail.
I would like to now turn my attention away from a comparison of this bill to its counterparts in other countries and instead make a plea to my hon. colleagues. I ask those members across the way who are dead set against this bill to think for a moment about the victims' families. I ask that they think for a moment of those families whose loved ones have been taken away at the hands of a murderer, a murderer who planned those actions in cold blood. It was not about rage. It was not about spite. It was a hard, cold calculation.
I ask that members try to imagine, as a father, a mother, a sister, or a brother, losing a loved one or a child. Would members really want to relive that death over and over again at parole hearing after parole hearing? Would they really want the fear of the murderer being released back into a community hanging over their heads? Would they really want to believe that the person who murdered their loved one in the most heinous manner had any opportunities to be rehabilitated? I would argue that I do not think my colleagues on the other side would believe that. None of us would.
It is only fair, then, that we finally take a stand for the rights of victims and their families. It is only fair that when a heinous murder is committed, we realize the finality of that action and we respond in kind. It is only fair that we recognize the loss of family members, friends, and loved ones.
The life means life act would finally put victims and their surviving families ahead of the rights of the murderer. It would finally acknowledge that there are some among us who should never be allowed to walk freely among us again. Finally, this would mean that a life sentence would actually mean life in prison.