House of Commons photo


Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was respect.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as Liberal MP for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe (New Brunswick)

Lost his last election, in 2011, with 31% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Abolition of Early Parole Act February 15th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I am a little curious as to why the Bloc Québécois is now in a coalition with the Conservative government on issues of crime.

Heretofore, as a member of the Standing Committee on Justice for the last five years, I have not seen the robust presence of the Bloc Québécois with respect to issues surrounding the Criminal Code of Canada. Perhaps it is the third word of that aspect that has bothered the Bloc because it has not supported or discussed in earnest, in any positive way, making changes toward criminology in Canada.

The Liberals have stood for mandatory minimum sentences before. We think the crime agenda of the Conservatives is not evidence-based and is out of whack most of the time, but we offer advice to them on making the laws of Canada harder on criminals and better for society, although they do not always take it.

Where is this new-found Bloc Québécois passion for criminology matters coming from and will we see more of it in the future?

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act February 4th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, I rise to join in the debate on Bill C-46. The bill has been debated in the House for quite some time and quite a few members have spoken to it. There seems to be a theme developing.

I would like to say that having a lengthy debate on a trade agreement like this is largely symbolic. The reason we are having such a debate on a trade issue in this House is that Canada is undergoing a change as an international trading entity. Canada is experiencing its first trade deficit in 30 years. Those who do not understand or study history are doomed to repeat it. There were years well after Confederation when, at various times, various governments attempted to isolate Canada from its natural trading partners and potential trading partners. We saw a period of Conservative isolationism under Prime Minister Diefenbaker, and it was not good for Canada.

What we are seeing here is a government that may talk about free open trade, may talk about improving Canada's international trade situation, may talk about Canada's international reputation as being the foot in the door toward trade negotiations, but that talk has not been followed through with achievement. Let us look at some recent facts.

Canada being denied its seat at the United Nations Security Council was a direct result of a lack of campaigning by the Conservative government for that seat. What campaign there was came all too late and was all too little. I would have thought that, of all people, those Conservatives would know something about campaigning. We will give them some credit. They use government money to campaign domestically. However, when they should have campaigned for the seat on the United Nations Security Council, they did not. We lost that international prestige. Being a member of the Security Council might have opened some doors toward further trade negotiations. It diminished Canada's role and reputation internationally.

Let us look at the second item that has blurred the otherwise glossy image of Canada on the international stage. That is the whole imbroglio around the UAE, losing the back entry, theatre entry, for our forces in Afghanistan over a petty, negligent negotiation over domestic air rights. What a shame to have this squabble on the international scene, which further diminishes Canada's image internationally.

We can start with how the Prime Minister has made statements and has spoken to Americans about how he views Canada. I particularly remember, and will never forget, his comments made about Canada to an American assembly of right-wing conservatives in Canada. He made these comments and they shall never leave my brain as long as I am able to remember them. There is a whole posse of statements.

One of them is, “In Atlantic Canada, they have a culture of defeat”. I am from Atlantic Canada. I found that offensive.

He also talked about bilingualism, one of the founding principles of our nation. The Québécois and the people who speak French in communities outside Quebec have a birthright to speak French and understand their government's services in the French language. It is something which, as a proud Acadian by marriage, I believe in very firmly. It is an entrenched principle in law in Canada, by statute in New Brunswick. I might add that in Canada's first officially bilingual city, the city of Moncton, it is not just law, it is a way of life.

However, the Prime Minister once said, “bilingualism is the god that failed”. That is what the Prime Minister said.

This bill is not about bilingualism. It is about how he perceives our country and how he sells our country to other nations. It is not a real selling pitch to say, “I live there, but in Atlantic Canada they have a culture of defeat. And our official languages policy, well, that is the god that failed”.

Also, he is the person who said that we are a failed northern European welfare state, or something along those lines.

I do not want to get used to quoting the Prime Minister verbatim because there are so many faux pas that diminish our role and reputation as an international leader.

We are facing a trade deficit, the first in 30 years. The Conservative government has diminished our image internationally, yet it wants a deal with Panama so it can say that it is great champion of international trade, that Canada's image will be completely resurrected like Lazarus because it has a deal with Panama.

There are many problems with the state in Panama. There is no question that the NDP would go on ad infinitum about all the problems with Panama. We agree, from a corporate social responsibility point of view, that there are definitely domestic problems in Panama.

There is another sovereign principle though, and that is that we cannot get involved in the affairs of foreign nations directly. What we can do is, by moral suasion, bring countries into the fold by virtue of trading partnerships and show them a better way to treat their people, to achieve internationally accepted standards of corporate social responsibility, social justice at home, et cetera. For this reason this deal is should be supported.

On this side, we see it as a symptom of how little the Conservative government has on the shelf to show for five years of governing and directing Canada through the waters of international trade, international diplomacy and our stature generally.

By definition, we are a trading nation. Our internal market is only 33 million consumers. We also happen to have massive reserves in natural resources. We need to export and import. We need trading partners. We need to cultivate positive relationships with our trading partners. How did we come to lose our trading surplus? Why did the government do this to us when we have a rising dollar and oil reserves that are the envy of most countries in the world?

The Conservative government should have been contemplating the development of new trading partnerships years ago. We knew it was risky to rely so much on our number one trading partner, the United States. The government has been lax in exploring new markets. Whenever we denigrate other countries, it does not help.

If the U.S. economy experience is something similar to Japan's lost decade, and let us hope that is not the case, we stand to keep our negative trade balance for at least a decade if we do not diversify our trading partners.

The government needs to do more to protect us from American protectionism. It is an automatic reaction in down times for some American politicians to close the tent and say that they have to protect their people. I am not debating whether they are mean-spirited or not. In the famous words of an Irish-American politician, Tip O'Neill, all politics is local. That is how protectionist measures evolved in the United States. When we have someone as eminent as Joe Lieberman and other sainted and long serving members of the House and Senate, from both parties, saying that they need to watch and tighten the borders, the economy and get America on its feet first, I believe this is not an intended but inadvertent danger posed by Americans toward our economy.

The government needs to do more to develop new trading partnerships in Europe and in the BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India and China. Let us talk about China for a second.

The government is very slow to move to the realization that China is a behemoth. It is the power of the future. We must make our concerns known about human rights. We all believe in human rights enforcement and upholding human rights internationally. However, we must talk to them. There is no way we can change the heart or the mind of a nation or a people without talking to them. The government did not do that for years.

As I mentioned briefly, we have concerns with the issues of tax havens and labour rights. However, let us look at the conclusion of this.

The famed Panama Canal underwent a $5.7 billion expansion recently. It opens up new opportunities in Central America and Canada and we need to be part of this progress. There is too little that prevents us from entering this agreement. There is so much to win. We are talking about a $90 million economy in Panama. It is not the biggest deal that could be brought to the table, but we support it. We just wish the government would take better care and be a better steward of our international reputation in diplomacy, in trading and in stature.

Canada-U.S. Relations February 4th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, those answers are empty words. The Prime Minister's record on believing in Canada is not admirable. He said we were becoming a “second-tier socialist country” and that we would not even recognize Canada when he was done with it.

To realize this Republican dream, he is now doing his best to make it more to his liking, trying failed policies on trade, crime and the environment.

Why should we expect him to look out for the interests of Canadians, when he would rather follow the example of Sarah Palin and her Tea partiers?

Canada-U.S. Relations February 4th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, every time this Prime Minister negotiates an agreement with the U.S. we end up losing.

Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost in the forestry industry since his softwood lumber agreement. He is exporting our jobs to the United States and importing Republican values to Canada.

Megaprisons, the death penalty, no gun control—is the Prime Minister working for Canadians or for the Republicans?

Canada-U.S. Relations February 4th, 2011

Mr. Speaker, today in Washington the Prime Minister is continuing a pattern of talking to American officials about a perimeter security deal he will not even admit exists. The deal will almost certainly cover security measures, trade, immigration, energy, fresh water and who knows what else.

Why will the Conservatives not tell us about this deal? Is it because every other time they have negotiated with the Americans on softwood lumber, on buy America, on $16 billion fighter jets, Canadians have got a bad deal?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act February 1st, 2011

Madam Speaker, under this legislation, nothing. The cake has been taken out of the oven and it is baked.

However, with respect to other measures, the Conservatives are the government. They can commit money to rehabilitation. What they seem to forget in everything they bring forward is that the incarcerated person is in prison and is facing good Canadian correctional officers. If the incarcerated person gets out, then they are in a community.

The member knows better than most as he was the chairman of the largest city in Canada, metro Toronto, and his father was the mayor of his city. He knows, like most municipal politicians, that issues such as this, offenders in the community, hit first up against municipal governments and the communities. Zoning applications are needed for halfway houses, for instance, enough police officers are needed and ensuring that correctional officials are minding the Parole Board officials to see where these people are. He knows more than most in this chamber about the real impact of offenders released and offenders within the facilities who have had no treatment.

The answer to his question is that not with this legislation and not with anything that I have seen from the government. However, surely it will get the message that people eventually get out of prison and that while they are in prison they better have had some treatment to make them better citizens so that public safety is enhanced. That is the real problem.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act February 1st, 2011

Madam Speaker, the amendment, as I thought I covered in my speech, was an amendment to allow periods without eligibility to be given over to judicial discretion for the choice between 25 years and 50 years. The difference would be that a judge would be given the discretion to choose a period between 25 and 50 years. The bill, as it currently stands, chooses either 25 years or 50 years. The amendment was with regard to that issue.

I would say that the department did not look into this at all and that the government never thought of it at all, but after five years it rushes to the six o'clock news to say it is going to prevent Clifford Olson from getting out when he would never get out anyway.

The government did not do its homework to see if the bill could have this sliding discretion in it because judges, under judicial restraint in Quebec and in the rest of Canada, would choose 25 years instead of 50 years. They might have chosen something in between. It was a good amendment. The government should have crafted it in its bill, and it should do more homework.

Now the government has two parliamentary secretaries for justice. My friend is a very smart and capable man. I suggest that he be allowed to give some advice to the government, which is clearly not very interested in the substance of bills but very much interested in the shiny surface of them.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act February 1st, 2011

Madam Speaker, the member will recall, even though he is the dean of the justice committee, that he has never brought a motion since I have been there to strike these ridiculous hyperbolic titles. Frankly, I was the first guy to strike the title, and that was a few bills ago. I think the message has been received by the Conservatives.

As I said, the only thing I agree with the Minister of Justice on is that debate on the title is silly. I would ask them, in their next bills, to stop bringing us silly titles. That was the message sent.

Unlike my friend from the NDP, we want some legislation to get through. We want it to get through. We have voted for some of this government legislation. Sometimes the NDP is so fixed on the position of being against everything that they do not know what they are for. What we are for is law and order.

I will pick the fight on the short titles with the right person at the right time. I am not going to fight with him on this.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act February 1st, 2011

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-48. First, the title of the bill raises questions. Yesterday, the Minister of Justice stated firmly that it was not important to hold a debate on the short titles of bills. I do not agree with that, Madam Speaker.

I do not think it is unimportant to debate the short titles of bills. This short title phenomenon is directly imported from the United States of America. Its legislatures have been poisonous longer than ours even started to be and I hope that this new session in a working minority government Parliament will have some glimmers of good work and co-operation, but short titles do not help that environment.

The short titles “Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime” also “Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders”, these two bills being combined in the last two days in other words, would not lead a person reading them from afar to what the bills are actually about. It may not be a hill to die on, but let us send a message to the government that if it wants to avoid any debate on the bills, it should make the bills descriptive.

I realize fully that the long title of any of these bills would be lost. The long title on most of these bills are things like “an act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to section 531”. That is not understandable. The purpose of a short title is to indicate what is being amended in the Criminal Code or what the government is trying to do. This is not Mad Men. This is not an advertising campaign to have a catchy title and make the consumer wonder what it is and ask whether it is chewing gum or an automobile. That is not what we are doing. We are trying to give the people of Canada an idea of what the bill is about.

This bill deals with consecutive life sentences and whether or not they should be meted out by a judge. Canadians who have an interest in this could understand that. That is my little presage on the whole title imbroglio. I want to, however, highlight that this bill, Bill C-48, which I will deal with in the committee stage when I refer to amendments that did not pass, actually does a disservice to the victims of crime. Let me begin with the overall overview of the bill.

It is a bill that seeks to make individuals convicted of multiple murders serve life sentences consecutively, one after the other, instead of concurrently, at the same time. At first glance, the bill looks like a good idea. All Liberals and citizens want strict sentences and restricted parole eligibility for multiple murder convictions. That is the first point. Congratulations to the government on that.

Congratulations to the government and the Department of Justice as well for moving from an original position that was anti-judge, anti-judicial discretion. Now with the passage of five years, listening to the experienced Department of Justice officials and, I might add, appointing a whole whack of their friends as judges, it does not want to be seen as attacking judges or judicial discretion as much and there is a stark difference between its first round of justice bills in and around 2006-07 and this bill with respect to that important pillar of our judicial system, which is judicial discretion.

This bill allows for some judicial discretion. Ironically, the reservation of that judicial discretion is the element under the doctrine of judicial restraint which does that disservice to victims, which I will get into shortly.

The bill may seem tough in a sound bite, but it would actually have limited effect on incarceration and parole. It would only change a system that has had its faults but still makes perfect sense. Parole boards are better equipped to decide if an individual is ready to get out at the time of his release. In Canada we have decided to give generous powers to the parole boards and they generally do not release those convicted of multiple murders as soon as they become eligible. That is a fact.

If the Conservatives want to scare the public into believing that a multiple murderer, a serial killer, a Clifford Olson, shall we speak the name, may get out of prison, they want to say that. That is a disservice to how the Parole Board acts. If they have a problem with how the Parole Board does its job, that is an argument for a separate bill.

Let me digress and say I, as an elected representative, have a complaint about how the Parole Board works and it comes out of a victim family, the Davis family. Ron Davis has been a friend of mine for a long time. He was a town councillor in Riverview for a number of years and a community leader.

Ron's daughter was violently murdered in a cornerstore on St. George Street many years ago. The convicted killer has shown no remorse, has taken no steps toward rehabilitation, and is up for parole eligibility as he goes through the system.

We have made a lot of noise about this in the local media and through letter writing and through active and positive roles by successive public safety ministers. I have to underscore here that sometimes there is co-operation. We said what happened to the Davis family is horrible.

Hours before a scheduled parole hearing it was cancelled at the criminal's behest. The criminal seems to control the date, time and place of a hearing. Members of the Davis family were travelling from Moncton to Quebec for this hearing and they had to travel back. To add insult to injury, they had to pay all of their expenses for this hearing in advance. That is an existing law in the books. That existing irregularity and insensitivity is built into the system. Why do we not attack that with legislation? Why do we not do something about that?

The minister wrote a letter. I was quoted in the newspaper. Mr. Davis has his own means and the victims' rights people have their own voice. It should not have to be that way. There should not be a hailstorm of publicity to change the way the National Parole Board does its job.

If there is a deep fear that people like Clifford Olson or the murderers of officers Bourgeois and O'Leary in Moncton are going to get out then why do we not deal with that? If we are concerned about the Parole Board then why do we not deal with it? There have been complaints about the Parole Board and that is why I asked the parliamentary secretary whether this bill is a reaction to how the Parole Board works or how people think the Parole Board works.

The public safety committee has had a review of the Parole Board's workings, but I am not sure that everyone in Canada has heard a full airing and has full confidence in the National Parole Board's workings. We need to do at least an investigation or some corrections, pardon the pun, to the Parole Board and how it works. If that is what this bill is about then it is in the wrong place and it is written in the wrong way.

If all Liberals and opposition members think that most serial killers walk out of jail after 25 years I would be just as worried as anyone else. That is not the case. To the contrary. We have statistics. Defence attorneys will tell us that very few serial killers are actually released after 25 years. What worries me is that the government seems to be trying to invent legal problems that scare Canadians and it has solutions to problems that do not exist.

Two months ago the Times & Transcript in Moncton had an article saying that murderer Clifford Olson was up for parole again. That is scary, but he was not granted parole. He will never be granted parole.

A few weeks later there were articles in newspapers across the country about Russell Williams. The Edmonton Sun, the Calgary Sun, the Winnipeg Sun and the Toronto Sun all wrote that Russell Williams will never get parole but no one can guarantee what is going to happen 25 years from now. That is the pith of the articles. Everyone knows that the crimes of Russell Williams were entirely repulsive but should this bring us to distrust the Parole Board system? If so, let us have an investigation into the Canadian legal principles that have served us well.

Russell Williams will not get out of jail. He committed multiple crimes and multiple murders. If the National Parole Board works the way I have observed it working on high profile, multiple murder cases, he will never get out of jail.

Another recent article in the Edmonton Sun tells us that those convicted of multiple murders would spend more time behind bars under this new legislation. There is no evidence of that. Multiple murderers who serve life sentences stay in jail a lot longer than 25 years.

Members may remember the debate yesterday on Bill S-6, the legislation with respect to the amount of time that murderers serve. First degree murderers in Canada serve 28.4 years on average. There are people who serve longer. Multiple murderers serve longer.

Because it is another committee and another set of legislation and has not been tested, does the National Parole Board now weigh the fact when discussing eligibility of multiple murderers before it?

Is it in the directives, the workings and the results of the National Parole Board to say that a person convicted of two murders is not going to be handled the same way after 25 years as a person who committed one murder? I bet it is. However, we do not have that evidence.

Professor Doug King of Mount Royal University said that the measures in this bill are unlikely to have any deterrent value either, so it will not remove multiple murderers from our community. It will not keep them away from the community any longer, nor will it deter them initially from committing the crime. The only purpose left for the bill is to send a message that life means life and that taking two lives effectively means life in prison.

I believe that already exists. We would like to have the evidence. We do not oppose a message on retribution or on removing the offender from society. We do not oppose the principles in section 718 of the code. However, the principles have to be balanced. There are principles that have to recognize that in lesser crimes there is a role for rehabilitation, even within the corrections system.

I had the opportunity to tour one of the oldest facilities in Canada over the Christmas break, Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick. It houses all kinds of convicted criminals, including murderers. We might not think that rehabilitation for people who are going to be in jail for the rest of their lives is important, because they are never going to be back in society. However, that is not so. If we talk to the correctional officers and their union representatives, we learn that their lives are put in danger by persons inside who have no hope whatsoever of living any sort of acceptable life within the facility. They are in danger every day if internal programming does not keep up with the intake of criminals within the judicial system.

It is a message that is lost on the government. The government and all its members, front benches and back, had better wake up to the message. It had better talk to corrections officers and ensure that it does not lose the support of the corrections officers, who claim that it is flooding the prisons and not keeping up with its commitments toward rehabilitation, training and facility enhancement within the existing facilities and is putting their lives in danger and causing them more anxiety. As a result, they say they are not going to support the government and its programs. I say that as a clarion call to the Conservatives to wake up with respect to issues of law and order.

As a Liberal, I want to be tough on crime. I come from a family of tough-on-crime individuals. My Uncle Henry was a provincial court judge. He was nicknamed “Hanging Henry“. There were no actual life sentences in the provincial court in Moncton, New Brunswick, during his 30 years on the bench, but he was not seen as a softy on crime. Neither am I. Nobody is. Anyone with a family and anyone with regard to the community is not soft on crime. What kind of message is that? That is how the government paints anybody who does not believe what it is saying.

In real democratic debate, one is allowed to say, “Good effort on judicial discretion and good effort on clearing up the message on what a life sentence means, but you missed the mark and you should be working on other things”. That is what we are doing in the House. My message to the government is that it is not the government's sandpile; it is everybody's sandpile. Let us play together in a more reasonable fashion.

The bill really will not change very much. It is part of a tough-on-crime legislative agenda, but it really will not do very much. It is poorly drafted.

I want to talk about an amendment that would have done a better service to the victims.

There is a doctrine known as “judicial restraint”. It has been canvassed and written about. Essentially what it means is to err on the side of caution. If given two options, it is better to take the one that is less likely to be attacked.

I am quoting from the Library of Parliament's Oxford Journal of Legal Studies item on judicial restraint: “The question of how judges ought to exercise judicial restraint is a crucially important constitutional issue that cuts across most areas of public and private law”.

This is an international institutional issue that is dealt with every day by scholars, so it exists. I am not making it up. The point is that if a judge is given a choice between setting parole eligibility at 25 years or 50 years in a conviction for, let us say, two first degree murders, my thought--and also the thought of the authors who talk about judicial restraint--is that a judge will probably pick 25 years.

There was an amendment proposed at committee that would have given the judge true discretion. What is being said in the bill is that a judge will have the discretion of 25 years or 50 years. That is like being on Highway 401 and saying that one could drive in the busy rush hour at 30 miles an hour or 100 miles an hour, neither of which may be safe. In this case, being given the choice between 25 and 50 may not serve the victims and may not serve society.

That amendment was not supported. That amendment was not thoroughly researched before it came to Parliament. It was voted down, and voted down at the peril of victims. What could happen is that a judge may feel that this was an egregious set of murders and that it is not a one-murder eligibility. In other words, if there is a conviction of one crime of first degree murder, the parole eligibility--the time after which the accused convicted person can apply for parole--is 25 years. That is the way it is with one. Under this legislation, a judge with two murders in the same hearing might say, “I'm going to set parole ineligibility at 50 years” or a judge might say, “The accused convicted person is 40 years old; effectively, a 50-year parole ineligibility period is not sensible. There is a chance for rehabilitation. This might have been a crime of passion. This might have been a crime committed with respect to drug and substance abuse”. All those factors might mitigate so that a judge might say, “I will look at a period at 25 years, not 50”.

What the amendment offered and what could have come from the government--and it is not impossible to do this--was a law that would give the judge true discretion between the 25- and 50-year periods. The judge might have been able to say, “These are heinous acts. The convicted person is 40 years old. I will set the period of parole ineligibility to 35 years”. That would have been true judicial discretion. It is discretion that exists; neither I nor any members of the committee often emulate or talk about the American justice system, but it is something that exists in terms of judicial discretion in the United States.

As a lawyer, I thought this would encourage judges to apply their discretion. I thought it would rid judges of their own reticence to use this provision to give longer sentences to multiple murderers, because I do not think a lot of judges would use this extra 25 years. Judges are human. Determining the fate of a person for the next 50 years would put a lot of weight on a judge's shoulders.

I cannot resist quoting my own words, the words I spoke this morning and yesterday in this House about Bill S-6. Certainly these two bills worry me.

There are very real things the government can do, as I said, with respect to the previous legislation. We can be tough on crime for real. This chamber could legislate to protect Canadians from criminality. What are we waiting for? It has been five years. The Conservatives have had their hands on the tiller for five years. Why are they not more aggressive in other areas of the law? They should put more police officers on the street. They did this in New York City. It used to be a crime capital; now 2006 statistics show the lowest crime in that city since 1963.

Where are the promised police officers? Where is the money for rehabilitation? What policies can we borrow from successful experiences everywhere?

There are lots of stark contrasts between Conservatives and Liberals. The Conservatives want to promote their tough-on-crime agenda. They spend all kinds of money on advertising and speeches. We would better equip police forces so that communities across Canada would actually be safer.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act February 1st, 2011

I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice the same question that he was asked by my colleague, the hon. member for York South—Weston. The question is not what he thinks about the National Parole Board's power, but rather whether this bill is before us today due to public complaints about the board. There have been a lot of complaints about the board and its insensitivity towards victims' families, and we now have a bill before us today, which deals with the board's responsibilities.

I would like the member to answer that question.