Mr. Speaker, I believe you were one of those individuals who stood twice, but that is for another day.
I want to get back to the gravity of the matter at hand and this very important private member's bill that I bring to this honoured chamber tonight.
As I was saying, two weeks before Kevin strangled Michelle to death, he waited for her inside her darkened Regina home until she arrived later that night. Then he raped her, assaulted her and threatened to kill her if she went to the police. Despite this threat, Michelle made the brave choice to go to the police and ensure that he was charged for these awful crimes.
Unfortunately, after spending one night in jail, Kevin was released on an undertaking not to contact Michelle and to keep the peace and be of good behaviour. The undertaking was reached by an agreement between the crown prosecutor and Kevin's defence lawyer. The judge who made the decision to release Kevin did not hear the facts of the case. I believe that if all pertinent information had been presented to the judge that day, Kevin would not have been freed on bail and, thus, we would have had a much different outcome.
With Kevin released from jail, Michelle tried to take measures to protect herself from him. She cut down the hedges outside her home. She installed extra lighting and locks. It was not enough.
A Regina Leader-Post article, based on the trial transcripts, details what happened on November 4, 2003. It states:
Michelle left the office shortly after 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 4, 2003 and drove the 20 minutes to Kevin's house after he had declined a request from Michelle—relayed by her oldest son—to instead drop off the younger children at her home.
The article goes on to state:
“You used your children for bait, didn't you?” prosecutor Al Johnston charged in cross-examining Kevin at trial. “I did not,” he replied.
The couple's two youngest sons, then aged five and three, were in a bedroom when Michelle arrived. Within minutes of grilling Michelle about her boyfriend, Kevin grabbed her by the neck and squeezed for at least two minutes until she died.
He then took their children to a neighbour's house, returned to Michelle's body, washed her face, and called police. It was 5:18 p.m., less than an hour after Michelle left the [comfort of her] office.
Kevin Lenius was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole eligibility for 12 years.
These are the tragic circumstances which prompted me to propose this private member's bill, which I will refer to as Michelle's law. The passage of the bill would give our hard-working crown prosecutors another tool to help them in their very difficult jobs.
The bill deals with those accused of a serious personal injury offence, as defined in the Criminal Code. It proposes that in those cases, before a judge rules on that person's release, the crown prosecutor shall present the judge with the prosecution's evidence relevant to the release of the accused. Subsection 515(10.1) would be added to the Criminal Code to achieve this amendment.
It is my hope that the bill will be passed by my hon. colleagues in the House. This legislation would place another check in our criminal justice system to help victims and would-be victims of serious violent crimes.
Michelle's law is designed to apply only in limited circumstances. In order for this legislation to apply, the accused must be charged with a serious personal injury offence, as defined in section 752 of the Criminal Code. In order to alleviate claims that the bill would create too much pressure on our criminal justice system, I have deliberately not proposed that this provision be used in all cases where an accused is seeking bail.
According to that Criminal Code section, a serious personal injury offence must be an indictable offence of a certain severity. Examples of the types of offences included in this definition are attempted murder, manslaughter, criminal negligence, discharging a firearm, aggravated assault, assault with a weapon, or causing bodily harm, sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon, and aggravated sexual assault.
The heinous nature of these crimes warrants that the victims of these crimes be adequately protected. I want to emphasize today that I strongly support our crown prosecutors and the important and often unheralded work they do every day to keep us as citizens safe. Michelle's law is in no way meant as a criticism of their efforts. Instead I am trying to provide them with yet another tool to assist them in their difficult jobs with hectic criminal docket court schedules.
Many members of the House may be familiar with another very recent case, which I suggest may not have occurred if the type of law we are debating today had been in place.
In September 2007, in Oak Bay, British Columbia, just outside Victoria, Peter Lee murdered his wife, his six year old son and his wife's parents before he committed suicide. This terrible crime received significant national media attention, with its shocking brutality and ugly contrast to the beautiful Oak Bay neighbourhood in which it occurred.
There is a striking similarity between this case and Michelle's case. Only about a month before Peter Lee took the lives of that entire family, he was charged with aggravated assault of his wife causing bodily harm and two counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. Police said that they believed Lee tried to injure his wife when he crashed his vehicle into a pole, causing his wife to break her arm.
According to media reports, the Victoria police recommended to crown counsel that Lee not be released on bail. They were concerned that he posed a serious risk to his family. Unfortunately the crown prosecutor consented to Lee's release. This decision was signed off by a justice of the peace. Lee was placed under conditions not to contact his wife, visit the family home, visit their restaurant or possess any weapons. Again, this was not enough to prevent a horrific tragedy.
According to media reports, British Columbia's Attorney General Wally Oppal has said that crown prosecutors may not have had all the facts when they agreed to release Lee.
Shortly after the murder-suicide, the province of British Columbia announced a coroner's inquest to investigate the handling of this matter. That coroner's inquest will take place in Victoria later this month. The findings from that inquiry will result in recommendations to try to prevent such a situation from happening again.
Since introducing my private member's bill, I have discussed my proposal with a highly respected crown prosecutor. In his view, a more effective solution to the problem which occurred in these two cases would be to place a reverse onus on an accused charged with a serious personal injury offence. That way the burden would be on the accused to satisfy the judge that the accused should be released pending the next court date.
Currently many offenders in serious personal injury cases, even those involving murder, are released pending trial, even when a bail hearing is held. Thus the problem may be rooted in this system of judicial interim release.
Since the Bail Reform Act was put into place in the 1970s, the onus for bail hearings in almost all criminal offences has been on the Crown. This has resulted in violent criminals being released, endangering our citizens. In fact, I understand that in many cases, crown prosecutors do not even pursue bail hearings because it is seen as a foregone conclusion that the accused will be released.
Clearly this situation must be addressed. The needs and the rights of victims are not being protected under our current system. It is incumbent upon us as parliamentarians to change this law to protect the potential victims of heinous violent crimes.
Michelle's law starts the process. I ask all of my parliamentary colleagues to support this bill, to get it to the justice committee where members of all parties can look at amending this bill to institute a reverse onus clause for cases involving “serious personal injury offences”. This type of amendment would give this bill the teeth it requires so we can truly improve our criminal justice system.
The specific amendment I would present to the justice committee would be to amend the Criminal Code by adding the following short clause in the reverse onus section, subparagraph 515(6)(a)(v). I would add, “(vi) with a serious personal injury offence as defined in section 752”. That section 752 definition of “serious personal injury offence” is the same definition as the earlier provision included in my private member's bill.
We in the House must take decisive action to make our communities safer. In our nation, among solved homicides, half of the women killed were killed by someone with whom they had an intimate relationship.
Further, in a Regina Leader-Post article from December 2006, Saskatoon psychologist Deb Farden stated:
Studies show the point at which a woman leaves a relationship can be the most dangerous--when there needs to be the most vigilance by all the systems.
We need to help these women who have made those difficult choices to leave abusive or dysfunctional relationships. I think that Michelle's law can provide some real assistance to these vulnerable people.
I respectfully ask every member of the House to support this bill at second reading stage, to get it to committee where it can be amended and fine-tuned. I have proposed Michelle's law to protect victims of violent crime from suffering at the hands of offenders who are released on bail without the judge being informed of relevant prosecution evidence.
I thank all hon. members for considering my submission.