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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was quebec.

Last in Parliament November 2009, as Bloc MP for Hochelaga (Québec)

Won his last election, in 2008, with 50% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Truth in Sentencing Act April 20th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this debate on Bill C-25. Earlier, I heard the minister express concern, nervousness and impatience. I felt like suggesting that he sign up for an anger management program, but I held back.

The Bloc Québécois supports this bill. In 2007, the leader of the Bloc Québécois asked me to chair a working group. I worked with the members for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, Abitibi—Témiscamingue and Ahuntsic to propose measures to restore our fellow citizens' confidence in the justice system without turning to easy measures, such as mandatory minimum sentences or tougher sentences.

The measures the committee proposed to the leader of the Bloc Québécois were part of our election platform. They included subsection 719(3), which gives judges some discretion to offer “pre-sentence credit”. However, in our system, “pre-sentence credit” has become more or less automatic.

Let us start at the beginning. Part XXIII of the Criminal Code sets out how judges are to administer justice when it comes to sentencing. It is based on principles of deterrence, denunciation and proportionality. Farther on, when it comes to “pre-sentence credit”, the Code says that it is up to the judge, who can take into account pre-trial detention when sentencing. Why is that in the Criminal Code? At the time, John Turner—I am not sure whether this brings up good memories or bad ones—was the Minister of Justice and soon-to-be leader of the Liberal Party. He was a good friend of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, even though, as I understand it, they crossed swords from time to time in the Liberal Party's history on particular issues.

The fact is that the Minister of Justice at the time, John Turner, proposed an amendment to the Criminal Code that would allow a judge to take pre-trial custody into account. In our justice system, pre-trial custody is the exception, not the rule. Under subsection 515.(10) of the Criminal Code, when individuals are charged with gangsterism, when they have committed terrorism offences, when there is reason to believe they will not attend their trial or when they have not complied with the conditions of their release on bail, a judge can order that they be held pending sentencing. Obviously, this is an exceptional measure. We need to remember that in our system, individuals are generally released pending sentencing.

As a result, the courts have come to determine that individuals in preventive custody are penalized in a sense, as they are not eligible for parole or rehabilitation and education programs because the conditions under which they are held are stricter than in the case of post-sentencing custody.

It was really the Supreme Court of Canada that determined the ratio to use for individuals in preventive custody. Looking at subsection 719(3) of the Criminal Code, we can see that no ratio is specified. The ratio came about as a result of what is known as case law. Judges determined a ratio, and under the rule of stare decisis, that ratio gradually came to apply in trial courts, appeal courts and, of course, the Supreme Court.

I will read what Justice Laskin of the Ontario Court of Appeal said in the Rezaie decision, when the issue of preventive custody was examined for the first time:

...provincial appellate courts have rejected a mathematical formula for crediting pre-trial custody, instead insisting that the amount of time to be credited should be determined on a case by case basis.

What Justice Laskin is describing is the principle of judicial discretion. As each case is unique and must be examined on its own merits, judges must use their judgment, and because of the knowledge they have of the case, they are in the best position to determine the credit for preventive custody or the sentence at trial.

Justice Laskin continues:

Although a fixed multiplier may be unwise, absent justification, sentencing judges should give some credit for time spent in custody before trial—

This principle, stated by a court of appeal, was reiterated in 2000 by Justice Arbour, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The current President of the Treasury Board, then the Minister of Justice, had made rather gratuitous and snide comments about her. The opposition parties did not hesitate to condemn his very harsh words.

In 2000, when Justice Arbour sat on the Supreme Court of Canada, she reviewed the Wust decision. As we know, the Liberal minister at the time, Anne McLellan—I believe she was the only Liberal MP from Alberta who retained office for a number of terms—introduced Bill C-68. It may have been Allan Rock. I could be mistaken.

Mandatory minimum sentences were imposed for offences committed with firearms. The Supreme Court of Canada reviewed the decision. In the case of mandatory minimum sentences, can a credit be given that will result in the offender serving a sentence that is less than the mandatory minimum set out in the Criminal Code? Justice Arbour handed down a ruling establishing a ratio for crediting pre-sentence custody.

I will read paragraph 45 of Justice Arbour's 2000 decision:

In the past, many judges have given more or less two months credit for each month spent in pre-sentencing detention. This is entirely appropriate even though a different ratio could also be applied, for example if the accused has been detained prior to trial in an institution where he or she has had full access to educational, vocational and rehabilitation programs. The often applied ratio of 2:1 reflects not only the harshness of the detention due to the absence of programs, which may be more severe in some cases than in others, but reflects also the fact that none of the remission mechanisms contained in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act apply to that period of detention.

The criminal code makes no ratio provision in subsection 719.(3) for pre-sentence custody. According to the code, the court may take it into account. Based on case law, the Supreme Court established a ratio used by the courts of justice. It is true that the practice has appeared exaggerated. Many of our fellow citizens consider it unfounded and special treatment. I myself have received representations on the matter.

The rule is as follows. An individual is released prior to trial, except if the individual is accused of being a gangster or a terrorist, or has failed to meet set conditions or if the judge believes he will not appear for trial. Some people do not understand why people whose names appear among those of the most hardened criminals and are not released while awaiting their trial are being given a two to one credit for every day spent in remand. In my opinion, the questioning is warranted.

In 2007, the Bloc Québécois, in its usual wisdom, called on the government to pass a measure to correct the situation, which, once again, for many, was unjustifiable, appeared to be special treatment and amounts, in the end, to a practice contrary to the administration of justice.

I sent a text to the press on November 22 following the decision by the Quebec court, criminal division. Members will recall that the Colisée operation led to the imprisonment of mafia leaders. The trial of those arrested in 2006 was held in 2008. As an example of the exaggerated nature of this measure, we need only remember that the head of the Quebec mafia, Nicolo Rizzuto, was charged with gangsterism and possession of proceeds of crime. He was sentenced in 2008, but had been arrested in 2006. He is one of the most hardened criminals and heads a criminal organization funded by extortion, proceeds of crime and gangsterism. The mafia is obviously widespread, very much present, very dangerous and very organized. The Supreme Court ruling was handed down in 2000. This mafia head was sentenced to four years in prison. He was arrested in 2006 and served two years' remand. With the rule being two days of sentence reduction for every day served, he was freed without serving the four-year prison sentence.

The members should ask themselves whether they want the justice system to work in such a way that, because of a rule handed down by the Supreme Court, leaders of criminal organizations like the mafia receive early releases and even a godfather, the most influential person in the mafia, does not have to serve his full four years in prison.

Members will agree that four years in prison is hardly too much for someone in a position like Nicolo Rizzuto's. This is the situation we want to correct. Does that mean suspensions for pre-trial custody should be eliminated? Absolutely not. We acknowledge that when people have been arrested and are in pre-trial custody, they have not been found guilty. The presumption of innocence still applies. We acknowledge that life in these detention centres is tough and the conditions are obviously terrible. We know that if the government ever decided to eliminate this completely, it would go before the Supreme Court and section 12 on cruel and unusual punishment and treatment would be invoked.

So this bill does not abolish the rule. Judges will still have discretion. We want to state, though, as legislators, that the general rule to apply in cases of pre-trial custody is the ratio of one for one. For every day spent in pre-trial custody, one day is subtracted from the sentence to be served. There will be exceptions, of course, and the Minister of Justice pointed this out. However, when exceptions are made—when sentences are reduced by a ratio of a day and a half—they must be justified on the record, in the judgment, and the judge must say why he or she made use of this discretionary power. This will provide some guidance for those studying the case law in the future. There will not be any speculation. Judges will have to explain themselves.

Another provision of the bill concerns sentence credits that cannot exceed the one for one rule when the accused is kept in preventive custody because of his criminal record or failure to comply with bail conditions. Under no circumstances can sentence credits exceed one day in cases involving repeat offenders. We think that this is a well balanced bill and that the these are the instructions members of this House should be giving.

The Bloc Québécois has called for these measures since 2007. In historical terms, it is fair and right to recognize that the Bloc fathered these measures with the report I submitted to the leader of the Bloc in 2007. We have ceaselessly questioned the minister to have these measures put in place.

Earlier, the Minister of Justice was saying that, in certain circumstances, especially with the help of their counsel, people use all sorts of delaying tactics to put off their trial date because time served in remand allows them to reduce their sentences. This is another anomaly that must be corrected. Subterfuge cannot be used to prevent justice from being served.

I say to the government that we will support this bill, with our usual common sense. We hope, however, to scrutinize it thoroughly in committee with all due diligence.

Truth in Sentencing Act April 20th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the minister two or three brief questions. First of all, he knows that the champion of this measure in the House is of course the Bloc Québécois, which, since 2007, has been calling for such a measure to be introduced.

We will support this bill, since we have been calling for it since 2007, when the leader of the Bloc Québécois mandated me to propose justice measures to the caucus. This is the measure we proposed. The minister can therefore count on our support. Of course we hope the bill will pass quickly. We will examine this bill carefully in committee, since we agree that this is an important measure.

In his speech, the minister quoted a report. I would like him to give us a little more information. Was that the report on the parole system that was submitted to his predecessor? I did not really understand. I would like him to elaborate on that report and send me a copy, if possible.

Criminal Code April 1st, 2009

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate. For members who move motions and introduce bills, it is an important time because we generally do so with a great deal of conviction, and that is certainly the best way to call political attention to an issue that we care about.

As my colleagues know, I am a strong proponent of private members' business, and I hope greater importance will be attached to this particular aspect in the near future. I thank all of my Bloc Québécois colleagues who support me in this endeavour to raise the value of what MPs do.

As I think we said during the first hour of debate, the Bloc Québécois will not support this bill. Although we are extremely concerned about the issue of human trafficking and we realize how important this issue is, we have a problem with the proposed remedy.

I was in this House in 2005 when we passed the provisions to be added to the Criminal Code concerning human trafficking, and I was also in this House when my colleague from Québec, who is now deputy leader, led the fight against the exploitation of women in the sex trade.

There are linkages between trafficking in women, exploitation, the sex trade and globalization. It is extremely demoralizing to know that human trafficking, one of the most horrible and atrocious practices, does take place. It is incredible that individuals would organize and carry out the marketing of human beings and that this phenomenon has grown in recent decades on all five continents.

I was reading that a UN agency estimates that between 700,000 and 4 million individuals are victims of human trafficking world-wide. This phenomenon is very disturbing.

Human trafficking represents a loathsome violation of human rights because it is a practice that is incompatible with human dignity. When some individuals assume the right to traffic in human beings, they reduce a human being to a mere object of trade. That is what trafficking in humans represents. The human being is reduced to a slave who is vilely exploited. That is not acceptable. It is carried out with all types of schemes involving trickery, corruption, violence, constraint, confinement, blackmail, deprivation of freedom, and even more troubling, identity theft.

In 2005, the legislators of this Parliament were well advised to include in the Criminal Code a specific offence enabling crown attorneys to bring charges.

I would like to provide a few statistics.

Canada is not untouched by this phenomenon. One would think that this phenomenon does not exist in countries as rich and prosperous as Canada, which operate under the rule of law and where freedoms are protected, and where there are courts of law and charters of human rights to guarantee freedoms. However, that is not the case.

I managed to get some statistics from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We made a conservative estimate, and by “conservative”, I mean prudent. I would not want anyone to think that these numbers came from the Conservative Party. These are prudent numbers that prompt us to be particularly circumspect when discussing this phenomenon.

A conservative estimate suggests that every year in Canada, 3,600 people fall prey to human traffickers. This is not a marginal phenomenon. Of those people, 600 are victims of trafficking for sexual purposes: pornography, prostitution, exotic massage and sex tourism. Another group of people in Canada fall prey to human traffickers in connection with drug trafficking, forced marriage or domestic labour. People are brought to Canada by force, assigned to a residence and denied their freedom. That is also a form of human trafficking. Examples of this have made the headlines in Montreal. This phenomenon exists.

Eight hundred people are victims of human trafficking in connection with drug trafficking, forced marriage, domestic labour, and work in the manufacturing and clothing sectors. More troubling still is the fact that yet another group of people is being bought and sold. Between 1,500 and 2,000 people who are bought and sold pass through Canada. They are brought here to large urban centres, then moved to other destinations where they are to be sold.

There is something wrong with this bill. I believe that the bill's sponsor had good intentions. He has worked very hard on the Standing Committee on Status of Women. However, the Bloc Québécois is not convinced that the Criminal Code provisions that permit charges to be laid need additional listed violations and mandatory minimum sentences.

Parliamentarians here will acknowledge that the Bloc Québécois' positions are consistent. We have never been comfortable with mandatory minimum sentences. There is a lot of literature on the subject, even in the Department of Justice. I have studies conducted by Justice Canada showing that mandatory minimum sentences are not the magical deterrent some people think they are. Not only that, but they can be quite negative when it comes to plea bargaining.

The Bloc Québécois has been a leader in the fight against organized crime. I am not the sort of person who likes to blow his own horn, but when I have to, I will. I introduced the first anti-gang bill in this House in 1995. The former member for Charlesbourg, Richard Marceau, a bright light, an enlightened jurist and a great man who served the people of Charlesbourg well, recommended that the $1,000 bill be removed from circulation and, in the dying days of the Martin government, got a bill passed to reverse the onus of proof for proceeds of crime.

The Bloc Québécois is uncomfortable with mandatory minimum sentences, because we believe that they needlessly tie the hands of the people who administer justice, such as judges and all those involved in a trial. This is not the way to achieve our objective.

It is not that the Bloc Québécois is not sensitive to human trafficking. In 2005, the Bloc Québécois supported the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code. We therefore will not support the bill, and I am certain that our constituents understand our rationale, as I have explained it.

Criminal Code March 26th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague not to anticipate the future too much, even if there is a dash of clairvoyance in all of this. I want to congratulate my colleague for his excellent speech and tell him how much—and I do so on behalf of all of the members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights—we appreciate his presence at the committee. Not only does he have theoretical expertise on the Criminal Code, but he also has a very practical knowledge of it, since he was himself a sought-after criminal lawyer for more than two decades.

Is it not unfair to see the Minister of Justice completely lose all personal dignity and rise to have a temper tantrum, which could put him in the same league as young offenders and cause the loss of all decorum in this House? Would we not be remiss in not reminding people that it was this government that prorogued this House? If we had had more time, we could have had analyses of the bills. It is irresponsible to attack the opposition, when it was the government that prorogued the work of this Parliament not so very long ago.

Justice March 25th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, we are pleased to see that the government has adopted the Bloc Québécois recommendation, made in June 2007, to abolish the practice of two-for-one jail credit. Another practice condemned by the Bloc Québécois is the conditional release of inmates who have served only one-sixth of their sentence.

Does the government also intend to put an end to that practice, which plays a role in discrediting the administration of justice?

Criminal Code March 12th, 2009

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. I also thank him in advance for meeting with the Canadian Arab Federation.

This is a very important question. For example, in the Lindsay case in British Columbia, some Hells Angels were arrested. One of the Hells Angels had left his wallet on his bike at a rally. Since everyone knew it belonged to a member of Hells Angels it was safe from theft. In other words, an entire reign of terror can go along with recognition of affiliation to a group identified by a patch. The Bloc has reflected on this and feels that once an organization has been deemed by a court of justice to be a criminal, the display of symbols linking a person to that organization should be banned.

Criminal Code March 12th, 2009

Madam Speaker, my colleague refers to the youth criminal justice system. What clearly synthesizes the policy of the government, or governments—since neither the Liberals nor the PQ have strayed far from this policy—is the right measure at the right time. We feel that if a youth is caught in time, has a social network and broad range of programs to back him up, this can yield results that are far more profitable than incarceration, which certain parties in this House are a bit too fond of.

Criminal Code March 12th, 2009

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his completely non-partisan question. I thank him for that focus. I agree with my colleague that it has happened in the past, and it is our job to remember, that some bills have been introduced in this House when scientific evidence was not always on-side with developing public policy.

We were talking about mandatory minimum sentences earlier. If my colleague who handles the human resources file were here, he would obviously criticize the fact that there is still a waiting period for the unemployed while the evidence shows that, in the current economic climate, eliminating it would be the best solution for everyone. The truth is that this government does not always agree with what we would call a certain scientific truth or, above all, practicality.

Criminal Code March 12th, 2009

Madam Speaker, the member is right. I remember when I was in my first criminal law course, one of my professors asked us what the Criminal Code called for, and may still call for, for residential burglary. There were about thirty students in the class, each more enthusiastic than the last. We thought it might be six months, a year or two years, but in fact, the sentence could be as long as life in prison. My colleague is therefore right in saying that minimum sentences are not effective.

Second, my colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin is right in stating that many Criminal Code provisions fall under the generic heading of criminal negligence. Right now, there are provisions in the Criminal Code—added in 1997—that cover assault on a peace officer. This bill might not be quite as innovative as one might think. However, it is an attempt to address an urgent matter, and we are ready to give it serious consideration in committee.

Criminal Code March 12th, 2009

Mr. Speaker, we most certainly feel for the victims. Naturally, I was touched. This morning I was rereading the testimony of Mr. Steve Brown and the mother of young Mohan, who was cruelly murdered on his way to a basketball practice. Of course we are touched by such cases. If I were asked whether we would be safe from this phenomenon because of mandatory minimum sentences, my answer would be no.

A judge who does his job well, and we have confidence in our judiciary, will hand down a sentence suited the offence. He will implement the provisions of the Criminal Code that are most pertinent to the offence he must examine. If the Crown is not satisfied with the decision and the sentence, there is the appeal process.

The member was not in the room when we heard from experts who have studied mandatory minimum sentences. None of them said that it is an effective measure. It is not effective because it suggests that a member of a criminal organization will be conversant with the Criminal Code and will plan a crime differently because it will result in a sentence of five rather than four years. The criminal world does not work like that.

Arrests are a much greater deterrent. That is why we agreed. The member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin spoke about this in the House. We would like to see more police in communities and more money for police investigations. However, mandatory minimum sentences are not the answer to the problem raised by my colleague.