Madam Speaker, if my colleague from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe stays, he will hear the most recent statistics. My colleagues in the official opposition and the Conservative Party would do well to remember them. Today we are going to talk about what is really going on, and what this government is trying to do at this time.
I will present many statistics to explain why the system is working so well at present. It puts victims first, unlike what the Conservatives are presenting with Bill S-6.
As of April 9, 2009, of the 265 applications submitted for a reduction in the parole ineligibility period, 140 had been granted. The National Parole Board granted early parole to 127 applicants, 13 of whom later returned to prison. To answer the question on everyone's mind, none of these 13 people went back to prison for the same offence, murder. All of them returned to prison for lesser offences, such as violation of their parole or the conditions of their release, shoplifting or auto theft. So 13 out of 127 people went back to prison. There were 140 originally, so the number went down. Three people were deported, 11 died, one was out on bail and another was in temporary detention. Ninety-eight out of 127 complied with their parole conditions.
More up-to-date figures will be available in the coming weeks, but as of November 4, 2009, 1,023 prisoners who were likely to apply for early parole were in custody. Of this number, 459 had already served at least 15 years of their sentence and 542 had not yet reached the 15-year mark, but will be able to apply in future. On average, every year, 43 of these 1,001 offenders will become eligible to apply for early parole.
The death penalty was abolished in 1976. I know that some of my colleagues opposite would like it to be restored, but I believe that Canada is smarter than that. We will not bring back the death penalty, and we will not let them bring it back. In 1976, when the death penalty was abolished, the famous faint hope clause was introduced. It has always been known by that name. A new classification system for murders was brought in, with first, second and third degree murder.
I would like to explain how this system works for the people who are watching. I am a criminal lawyer, and I can say that a first degree murder is when someone plans a murder and carries it out, killing another person. A first degree murder is premeditated and carries a sentence of 25 years. An offender cannot apply for parole after two years, but has to wait 25 years before being able to apply for eligibility for parole.
Second degree murder is not premeditated. I often give the example of a man who comes home and finds his wife's lover. He takes a gun and kills the man. That is non-premeditated murder.
In that case the offender has to serve at least 10 years of his sentence before he is eligible for parole. Then what happens? The faint hope clause was implemented when the death penalty was abolished. This was done for a number of reasons. I will read an excerpt to prove that I am not making this up. I am citing the Department of Justice and therefore the government:
It had three main purposes: to offer some hope for offenders who demonstrated significant capacity for rehabilitation,—I will come back to that in a moment—to motivate good conduct in prison, and to recognize that it was not in the public interest to continue incarcerating certain offenders beyond a 15-year period.
This is going to hurt because at the end of 15 years they are going to say blah, blah, blah. These three principles are extremely important, including the very first one, “offer some hope for offenders who demonstrated significant capacity for rehabilitation.” We are going to settle this once and for all for those across the way who do not understand anything. It is clear that no one has a right to apply for parole before the end of their prison sentence. That is clear. That person has to have made an effort and demonstrated a capacity for rehabilitation in society. In prison, people are monitored for a very long time before they find out whether they are eligible to apply. Not just anyone can apply. What is more, victims are considered in all this. In my career I had two clients who made this type of application. I told one of them to just forget it. He had no chance because he was not ready. The current system would not release an individual like him, who shows no remorse for his crime.
Our Conservative friends should accept this once and for all. The Parole Board of Canada and the correctional service closely monitor and prepare those who are eligible to apply. As I said earlier, of the 140 eligible persons, only 127 could apply. How does that happen? They tell us that we do not care about the victims.
I will not cite all the Criminal Code provisions, but all the corresponding sections are in the Code. An offender who wishes to file an application must first apply to the chief justice of the court in which his or her conviction took place. That is the first step. For example, the prisoner applies to the Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Québec. In that court, there was a trial with jury. What does the Chief Justice do? The Chief Justice appoints a judge. What does the judge do? The judge has the individual appear without witnesses. The judge asks the offender to convince him that, if 12 people formed a jury, those 12 people would be likely to unanimously recommend that the sentence be reduced.
The Conservatives must stop panicking. It is not true that the person is released if the application is successful. The sentence is reduced but the offender is not released. If the sentence is reduced, the offender may apply to the Parole Board.
I will now come back to the judge. The judge listens to the offender, who must convince the judge that he or she can—not just might—convince a jury. The offender must convince the judge first. That is the first step. If they do not get past this first step, it is game over. The offender must wait another two years before re-applying.
No victims are called, nor do a murder victim's relatives attend. There is no one.
Let us look, for example, at someone who gets past the first step. The judge sees that he has made an effort in prison, that his character has changed, and that it is perhaps worthwhile. The judge summons a jury in the judicial district where the murder was committed. It is not true that people are brought to the prison where the individual is being detained. It all takes place in the judicial district where the individual was convicted.
If a jury does not care about victims, I do not know who does. The individual makes it past the first step and the jury is summoned. The 12 people sit down, and it is the individual, through his lawyer, who must prove, beyond any doubt, that he can get his sentence reduced. He better be up good and early, be prepared, and have done some assessments. This is where the psychologists and psychiatrists come into play. If the Conservatives do not understand that, it is not my fault because I tried. It is clear that the individual who is requesting a reduced sentence must express a degree of sensitivity for the victims of the murder he committed. That is clear.
If he answers the first question by saying that he is not remorseful, his case will go no further. If he says that he would do it all over again, obviously, it will go no further. And at that point, we can say that we did the right thing. What the Conservatives do not understand is that a lot of work has been done with the victim's family before reaching the jury stage. Unfortunately, the murder victim, as far as I know, is dead. This process is far more relevant to those close to the victim.
Not just anyone can apply. The hearing may take hours or days because the individual has to convince the jury. He has to convince 12 people from the judicial district where the murder took place 15, 17, 19, 20 years ago. I know that people in Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary or Vancouver might not remember, but I can tell you that people still remember a murder committed in Abitibi 20 or 25 years ago. I still remember very clearly a murder committed by two individuals; they killed two little aboriginal girls. I know that they are still in detention, even though they applied. Their applications were denied, of course.
In the end, the jury must agree unanimously. It cannot be 10 to 2 or 11 to 1. All 12 people on the jury must agree that the person has convinced them. And if they say yes, what happens then? The jury has been convinced, which means that the individual can apply for parole. The best example is the case of lawyer Michael Dunn. He was charged with and found guilty of first degree murder in the death of his colleague, a lawyer named McNicoll. This happened in Lac-Saint-Jean. He was sentenced to 25 years. He served 17 or 18 years before applying for and being granted parole under the faint hope clause. Today he is an in-reach worker helping criminals reintegrate into society. He is a good person.
Why should we not want to have this type of person rejoin society? Why not keep the faint hope clause? Why change a system that works well?
We asked the Minister of Justice these questions. When he appears before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I will ask him again to provide just one example of a case that did not work out. I just want one. There is not one. There are none because we have ensured that those individuals not ready to return to society are not released. It is that simple.
Individuals get past step one before a judge. They get past step two by convincing a jury. Then they move on to step three. Once leave has been given to have the application heard before a jury, and once the jury has approved the application, the parole board must be convinced. That is step three, and for some it is very difficult. The offender must convince the Parole Board, the board that is responsible for protecting society, enforcing sentences, and ensuring that the offender is ready to return to society. What is the National Parole Board's priority? Protecting society. Is that clear enough?
Hence, it is wrong to say that we do not care about the victims. It is an outright lie that the Conservatives have been spreading in an attempt to ram through Bill S-6. It is false. Not only do we care about protecting victims, we also do everything possible to ensure that an offender does not return to society if not ready.
What happens after that? When an offender applies to the National Parole Board, they must convince the Board that they have a release plan. The Conservatives are not familiar with release plans. They should tour the penitentiaries now and again to see how they work. A release plan is established when an individual is preparing to leave jail. An offender does not go before the National Parole Board and claim that he should be released because he was allowed to apply and appear before the board.
That is not how the system works, not at all. The offender has to submit a release plan. What is a release plan? It is a document that indicates what education the offender has received. Has he taken any training? Has he been rehabilitated? Does he empathize with his victims? What is he going to do if he is released? Does he have a job? Does he have a place to live? We have to remember that we are talking about people who have served 17 to 25 years for first degree murder and a minimum of 10 years for second degree murder, so there has to be a plan for their release.
Now, let us look at how this works. The former Bill C-36 has become Bill S-6 because the Conservatives want to sneak it in through the Senate. I have looked carefully at the bill. The Conservatives are saying that people can make multiple applications. That is not true. The Conservatives are saying that victims are forced to travel for no reason, that they have to go through things that make no sense and that it is not right to bring them back. I want to say one thing about that. An offender who does not make it past the first stage has to apply to a judge. There are no witnesses.
Now, if someone is told by a judge that he cannot go before a jury, he cannot re-apply for two years from the date his application is dismissed. What happens then? The offender has served 17 years of a 25-year sentence. After 17 years, he submits his application. The judge says yes, but the jury says no. The jury is not convened the very next week.
I will conclude by saying that we cannot vote for this bill. If the bill is sent to committee, we will ensure that it is in line with the faint hope clause.