Mr. Speaker, judging by the wording of the motion I get the impression the Reform Party is accusing the government of being insensitive to the concerns of victims regarding section 745.6 of the Criminal Code. Let me assure hon. members of the House that nothing could be further from the truth.
In developing the amendments to section 745.6 which were recently passed by the House the government had the concerns and perspective of victims squarely in mind. I am referring to the amendments introduced in the House on June 11, 1996 as Bill C-45, an act to amend the Criminal Code (judicial review of parole ineligibility) and another act, now S.C. 1996, chapter 34. These amendments received royal assent on December 18, 1996 and were brought into force on January 9, 1997.
Turning to the substance of those amendments I note for hon. members that as of January 9, 1997 any person who commits multiple murders will no longer be entitled to bring an application under section 745.6. Judicial review of the parole ineligibility period will simply not be an option for anyone who commits more than one murder. This would include those offenders, fortunately few in number, who have become known in the popular media as serial killers.
In these cases the offender will be required to serve the full 25 years with no eligibility for parole and no chance under section 745.6 to review that ineligibility period. This means that for future cases of this nature victims' families will not be forced to face the prospect of a section 745.6 review.
The second point I note about the amendment is the introduction of a mechanism to screen out applications that have no merit. As of January 9, 1997 any application brought under the section regardless of when the offence was committed will be submitted to a superior court judge for a paper review of the case to see if the case has a reasonable prospect of success.
During the paper review the judge will consider written materials presented by the crown and by the offender. If the offender cannot show that his or her application has a reasonable chance of success-and the legislation places the onus on the offender to prove this point-the application will be stopped there. It will not be permitted to proceed to a hearing before the jury.
The amendment will prevent the type of revictimization the Reform Party motion refers to in any case where the application has no reasonable prospect of success. These applications will be screened out at any early stage. They will not be allowed to proceed to a full and public hearing before a judge and jury.
The third point to note about the amendments is that a significant change has been made concerning the number of jury members that must be convinced before an offender can obtain a reduction in the parole ineligibility period. Before these amendments were passed an offender only had to convince two-thirds of the jury or eight members out of twelve. As a result of Bill C-45 an offender will now have to convince each and every member of the jury to get any reduction at all in the parole ineligibility period.
To recap the effect of these important changes to this section and to the review process, as of January 9, 1997 no person who commits multiple murders will be allowed to apply for a review under section 745.6 of the Criminal Code. All applications brought after this date, whether the crimes were committed before or after January 9, 1997, will be subjected to a paper review by a superior court judge and may well be screened out if the offender cannot show a reasonable chance of success. For those applications that do not get screened out, the offender will have to convince all 12 members of the jury to get any reduction in the parole ineligibility period, not merely eight members of the jury as was previously legislated.
The government listened. It listened long and hard to the concerns of victims before and during the development of these amendments and during their passage through both Houses of Parliament.
During this process it became apparent that one of the reasons for the concern about section 745.6 was that until recently many people were unaware of the existence of this provision. For example, the families of murder victims often find out about section 745.6 through the media many years after the trial and conviction of the offender. This late discovery leads to a sense of surprise and betrayal. It reopens old wounds.
The sense of surprise and betrayal was evident in the testimony of many of the victims who appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs and the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs when these committees considered Bill C-45.
As a result of listening to this concern, on February 27, 1997 the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada announced that he had written to his colleagues, the provincial attorneys general, to ask them to issue instructions to their crown attorneys that the families of victims were to be advised of the existence and the effect of section 745.6 at the time of sentencing in all appropriate murder cases.
By implementing this simple and practical procedure we can ensure the families of victims are never caught by surprise by the existence of section 745.6 again.
Sadly there are people sitting in the House who would rather muddy the waters with half-truths than come out with what exactly happened in the amendment of the legislation.
I am delighted the hon. member for Sarnia-Lambton was here at the beginning of this afternoon's debate to set the record straight.