Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate today on Bill C-229. For the reasons I will briefly outline, I will not be supporting this proposed legislation.
Bill C-229 aims to change the law concerning the amount of time an offender who has been sentenced to a life sentence would remain in prison. It proposes mandatory and discretionary sentences of life without parole for offenders who have been convicted of murder in certain circumstances.
Bill C-229 would make imprisonment without parole mandatory for high treason or for a planned and deliberate murder if committed during a sexual assault, kidnapping, terrorism offence, or where a victim is a police officer or corrections official, or if it is committed in a particularly brutal way.
Second, the bill would provide judges with the discretion to impose a life sentence and imprisonment without parole for any other first degree murder and for any second degree murder if 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 could 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. This means that if the offender committed another crime, he or she would go back to prison.
I am opposing Bill C-229 for two reasons. First, the amendments proposed are, in my view, unnecessary and would be unprecedented in Canadian law with respect to their harshness and treatment of offenders. Second, I am very concerned about the charter risks associated with this initiative.
To be clear, there is no disagreement that the most serious offenders, murderers, should be dealt with accordingly by criminal law. However, in my view, the law already does just that. It is important for all members to appreciate the current state of the law and what this means in practical terms for those convicted of murder.
The offence of murder is the most serious crime in Canadian law and is accordingly subject to the most serious punishment available in Canadian law. All murder convictions carry a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. As is well known, someone convicted of first degree murder is ineligible for parole for 25 years. A person convicted of second degree murder is ineligible for parole for at least 10 years and up to 25 years. Once eligible, offenders may apply for parole, but that does not mean they will necessarily receive it.
A decision to release someone on parole is one taken by the Parole Board of Canada. The safety of the public is the foremost consideration in deciding whether to grant someone parole. Accordingly, in reality, the most serious offenders, who pose an ongoing risk to public safety, will never, under our current law, be released from custody. In fact, the majority of persons convicted of murder are never released from custody, and the few that are rarely reoffend.
The Parole Board of Canada reports that of those convicted of either first or second degree murder who were conditionally released on full parole between 1994 and 2014, only 4% were re-incarcerated for having committed a violent offence. To take but one example, the notorious serial killer Clifford Olsen died in prison, despite repeated applications for parole, after serving 30 years in custody.
Quite frankly, I see no gap in the current law such that Bill C-229 should be supported.
Moreover, I am also very concerned about the charter viability of the bill. The government has indicated repeatedly the importance of respecting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and of ensuring that our work is consistent with it.
I believe that if we were to support this bill, we would not be respecting the charter, particularly an offender's sections 7 and 12 charter rights.
The proposed measures contained in Bill C-229 carry significant vulnerabilities in relation to section 7, the right to life, liberty, and security of the person, and section 12, the right not to be subject to cruel and unusual treatment or punishment, of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
This is due, in part, to the proposal in this bill for increased parole eligibility date for all offenders convicted of first-degree murder from 25 years to 35 years. Canadian legal principles do not contemplate the creation of a sentencing regime under which there would be absolutely no possibility of legal consideration, during an extended sentence, of the merits of an offender's continued incarceration.
Based on existing case law, it seems to me that the proposal to detain beyond 25 years would raise significant charter issues. As parliamentarians, we can be firm in our responses to serious criminal behaviour. We can take measures to improve the safety of our citizens and our communities. However, we must ensure that we do so in a manner that is fair and respects the constitutionally guaranteed rights of all Canadians.
The government is working to increase the safety and security for Canadians in many ways. Bill C-229 would not make our communities safer.
I am confident in the ability of the Parole Board of Canada to make appropriate decisions regarding which individuals may or may not be released from prison and what types of restrictions may be placed on their liberty.
The existing sentencing provisions for those convicted of murder and the related parole system reflects an appropriate balance that effectively prevents the most serious offenders from ever being released on parole. Life without parole for most offenders as proposed is unprecedented in Canadian law and would generate criticism and increased costs.
I am opposing Bill C-229 as it would not improve public safety and is not a bill that would achieve the objective of a justice system that Canadians can be proud of. I urge all members to join me in voting against this unnecessarily punitive legislation.