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.