Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill. I have a great deal of concern with the Conservatives' plan for getting rid of conditional sentencing for so many criminal offences, many of them not violent in nature. Many of them are of a kind that could be open to interpretation in the court as to their severity of impact on the general public.
Bill C-9 is what I call retail politics. The bill is a knee-jerk reaction. It will do nothing to rehabilitate criminals and it will not reduce crime. As far as we can see, it is based on not that much information. Not much information has been provided to the House to examine. In fact, due to the relatively recent introduction of conditional sentencing, there are few academic studies that have been completed on its impact on the criminal justice system. Furthermore, there is a dearth of sentencing statistics in Canada. Even Statistic Canada's adult criminal court survey lacks certain data. Therefore, we are not able to assess very correctly the nature of the impact of conditional sentencing on criminal justice.
In 2003 of the 104,000 sentences of custody imposed across Canada, 13,000 were conditional sentences of imprisonment. Of the people who were incarcerated or under supervision in 2003-04, four out of five were being supervised in communities. Many of them were on probation; 11% were on conditional sentences.
It has not been demonstrated to me nor to my caucus that this bill is going to work effectively to reduce crime or to improve the rehabilitation of criminals.
I come from the north. I have lived and worked in small northern aboriginal communities all my life. I worked in the municipal field as a mayor. For many years I had regular correspondence with the police on the types of offences that were present in our communities. As a member of a small aboriginal community, I was able to see the impact of sentencing on individuals over a long period of time and the types of results that came from incarceration versus sentencing that allowed the criminal to stay in the community.
Canada's aboriginal population will be particularly hard hit by this amendment. We see the statistic in Saskatchewan where 60% of the conditional sentences that were handed down in one year were handed down to aboriginal people. Jails in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are already at peak capacity or overflowing and there is a very large percentage of aboriginal population in those jails.
Last year in Nunavut 200 offenders received conditional sentences and 275 were incarcerated. This is in a population base of about 28,000. One can see the impact that conditional sentencing will have on that small government and its ability to provide justice services to its people.
This month there were 73 prisoners packed into the Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit, a jail designed to hold 40. At the start of this month, Yellowknife's North Slave Correctional Facility for adults, a new jail opened only two years ago, was full. Overflowing jails create environments which are dangerous to guards and inmates.
Also, because these jails are full, northern inmates, many of whom are aboriginal, are being forced into jails in the south, where they do not have access to appropriate cultural rehabilitation programs. They are separated from their families which increases the likelihood that they will not be rehabilitated and will reoffend.
When we look at what is happening right now in the north, we see that in many cases judges and the correctional system want the inmates to remain in the north and not go to the southern institutions, even though they may have received sentences greater than two years. They know that the result of sending these inmates into the higher grade of correction services is they more likely will reoffend.
Is creating situations where offenders are not rehabilitated and continue to commit crimes after release what the Conservatives want? It seems to be, because simply putting more people in jail will only create environments which breed repeat offenders.
Justice is not about throwing people into jail for the purposes of revenge. It is about getting people to return to society and no longer commit crimes.
Canada's north has been at the forefront of developing alternative sentencing arrangements. Many of the communities in my riding have community justice committees that deal with many offences which would normally go before a judge. These committees know the offender and the community and craft sentences to meet the needs of both. Sometimes the committees hand out what would be considered to be light sentences for serious crimes, but the effect is that many of those sentenced through this process do not reoffend.
The committees, also known as sentencing circles, have been copied across the country as an effective means of reducing the level of aboriginal incarceration and reducing the incidence of reoffending.
Eliminating conditional sentences will have a major impact on aboriginal communities across Canada and the north in particular. Already aboriginal people make up a disproportionate percentage of prisoners in our jails. The bill will do nothing but add to that sorry figure.
For aboriginal people, conditional sentences sometimes work better than jail sentences. Recently a Nunavut crown prosecutor said that the reality is that for some people it is more difficult to serve a sentence in their own community than it is to be flown to a jail in Iqaluit, as the community gets to see the punishment.
In many small northern communities there are celebrations when people return from jail, but when they stay in the community, they are seen every day and are forced to deal with their actions with their peers.
In the north, conditional sentences also allow offenders to attend culturally appropriate treatment for problems such as addictions, anger management, mental problems, et cetera. Many of the people in our correctional institutions for very many crimes, and very many violent crimes, likely suffer from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. In some situations people are being incarcerated where in a more tolerant society we would recognize the actual mental condition that leads to the result that we see.
Every person involved in the justice system will agree that each case before the courts is different and must be tried and sentenced on its own merit. The bill flies in the face of this well-known fact. In order to deal with this fact, judges must be allowed the tools necessary to craft sentences that are most likely to result in rehabilitation.
From their words, it is clear that the Conservatives do not trust the judges in this country. Unlike the United States where anybody who gets enough votes can be a judge, this country chooses its judges from the most respected and knowledgeable members of the legal profession. These people do not operate in a vacuum. They see the reality of the criminal justice system. We should allow those who know best to craft sentences that work best.
We should not deny people the tools that are required to do the job effectively. Why would we deny judges the tools that could make their work correct? Why would we want to do that? Is it just a sense of punishing individuals? Is it a sense of revenge, that the only way we can deal with justice is an eye for an eye?
Sometimes judges get it wrong, but there are mechanisms in place to deal with these mistakes. Crowns can appeal sentences when they feel the sentences are too light. Or if a person commits another crime while serving a conditional sentence, the punishment for that crime will be even more severe.