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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was police.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as Bloc MP for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin (Québec)

Won his last election, in 2008, with 46% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act November 16th, 2010

Madam Speaker, I will begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois intends to support this bill at this stage. However, I still think this bill is useless, because our system is perfectly capable of taking into account aggravating circumstances around crimes such as multiple murders, which are perhaps more serious than single murders. I say “perhaps” because some single murders are more serious than multiple murders. I will give some examples in a moment.

All this bill does is delay the possibility of early parole. For a convicted criminal to obtain early parole, a judge has to give him permission to go before a jury and explain why he should get parole. Then, the decision is made by another jury. Clearly, this other jury, like the judge, will consider whether there were two murders or just one. Some single murders are more serious than double murders.

For those who have just tuned in, we are discussing the possibility of amending the Criminal Code so that in the case of multiple murders or murders committed by someone who has already been convicted of murder, eligibility for parole will be delayed, for reasons that can be explained. Multiple murders fall into one of two categories: those that are committed at the same time and those that are committed by someone who was previously convicted of murder. In any event, the sentence for murder is life in prison. We will not do silly things as they do in the United States, where people are put away for several hundred years just to impress the public. However, it is possible to delay eligibility for parole.

Here is how the judge will proceed. When he hears a case involving multiple murders, he must first put the following question to the jury:

You have found the accused guilty of murder. The law requires that I now pronounce a sentence of imprisonment for life against the accused. Do you wish to make any recommendation with respect to the period without eligibility for parole to be served for this murder consecutively to the period without eligibility for parole imposed for the previous murder? You are not required to make any recommendation, but if you do, your recommendation will be considered by me when I make my determination.

So, the jury that heard the case can give its opinion, since it is very familiar with the circumstances surrounding the murder. If the judge ignores their recommendation, he is required to justify his decision. Once again, I completely agree with this. As far as I know, when judges render a decision they must provide their reasoning. The bill states that this must be done orally or in writing. I obviously do not object to this part of the bill. However, I find that it is completely pointless.

As we say, plenty is no plague. But we also say that the perfect is the enemy of the good. In this case, I agree more with the first proverb that plenty is no plague. Forcing judges to do something they would already do seems pointless to me, but it does no harm.

We must understand in what context these decisions are made. Mr. Sapers, the Correctional Investigator of Canada, testified before a Senate committee regarding the provisions that allow for early parole, even for individuals sentenced to life in prison. He said:

...the average time served in prison for first degree murder in Canada is 28.4 years. By comparison, the average time served for the same sentence in New Zealand, Scotland, Sweden and Belgium is approximately 12 years. The time served in Canada is already greater than that in most other advanced democracies, including the United States....

Anyone who follows our debates will probably know that the United States is the country that incarcerates the highest number of people, per capita, in the world. But we hold the record on this. If this bill passes, Canada could beat the United States when it comes to the average length of a life sentence. The average length of a life sentence with possibility of parole is 18.5 years in the United States. Members should note that these American statistics do not take into account sentences for which there is no possibility of parole.

Mr. Sapers spoke about what kind of offenders this applies to:

Offenders serving a life sentence in Canada automatically spend at least the first two years of their sentence at a maximum security institution, regardless of their assessed risk. In Canada, a life sentence does, in fact, mean life. Offenders with a life sentence released into the community are supervised until the time of their death.

That is how we know that they do not reoffend. Only in one case of murder was another serious crime committed.

Relative to many other countries that Canada often compares itself to, offenders convicted of first degree murder in this country are already serving a more punitive sentence.

Therefore, I find these provisions to be pointless, especially when we consider the process for obtaining the right to apply for parole to the Parole Board prior to serving 25 years. First, the offender must submit an application to a judge and prove that it is likely, or that there is a substantial likelihood, at least by the preponderance of evidence, that a jury would grant leave to apply. Next, a jury is summoned and it must agree unanimously that the offender may have a hearing before the Parole Board.

Although this system is rather cumbersome, in my mind it is fully justified because, since 1987, only 150 people have been given the right to apply to the Parole Board prior to serving 25 years.

Therefore, this bill would apply to relatively few cases. Even without this bill, such applications would first be considered by a jury that would determine the prisoner's eligibility to apply to the Parole Board, and then by the Parole Board members before parole was granted. The result would be virtually the same. However, as I said, because the discretion of judges is not being restricted, we are prepared to support this bill.

To be clear, we do not consider ourselves to be soft on crime or hard on crime. I really like an expression I heard for the first time when the current Leader of the Opposition gave one of his first speeches in the House, from the bench behind me. He said that it was not about being soft on crime or tough on crime, but it was about being smart on crime and applying the law intelligently.

Everyone understands that the sentences handed down are not determined by just anyone. They must be determined by independent, competent people. Remember that a judge does not live in a bubble; judges read newspapers, listen to the radio, watch television and keep informed. Like many of us, they are perfectly aware of how opinions evolve and of the real dangers threatening society. Based on my experience as a lawyer, I can say that some judges are far tougher than the average member of the public, while others, it is true, are less tough. However, they are all independent and do not need the public's approval, as we do, in order to keep their position or have their mandate renewed, as is the case for members here. Everyone knows that this independence is an important and necessary quality.

In addition, it must be understood that objective factors are important for a judge or anyone else who is handing down a sentence. For example, it is obvious that killing two people is more serious than killing one. But subjective factors also need to be taken into consideration during every sentencing. Why did the person do this? Is it obvious that the person was already leading a criminal life? Their criminal background is considered. What was their motivation? Were they led into this crime by other people? Because, I want to point out that someone can be found guilty of a murder that they did not personally commit but that they were complicit in. Sometimes the accomplices are not as monstrous as the people who committed the crime, but that is not always the case.

I want to give an example that has always stuck with me. “Mom” Boucher, head of the Hells Angels for years, was convicted of the murder a prison guard, a crime that he did not commit himself but that he had ordered or encouraged. The person who committed the murder stopped a prison bus and began shooting, killing one person. When he tried to shoot the other person, the gun jammed and they took off on their motorbike. He was found guilty of one murder instead of two.

Look at the family tragedy that took place last year in Lac Saint-Jean. Desperate parents had asked for help from other family members. No one could have known that their lives would end in such a horrific fashion. These were people who had never been involved in any sort of criminal activity. They were so desperate that they decided that the whole family had to die. In my view, this is a decision that seems to fall within the realms of both psychiatry and justice. If the woman who survived was put on trial, it was because it was found that she was not mentally ill to the point where she was not criminally liable.

I agree that, in order to acquit someone of a crime by reason of insanity, the mental illness must be fairly severe. These parents purchased enough drugs so they could take some themselves and give some to their children.

The husband died. The two children died. The wife survived. It is a multiple murder. Everyone would subjectively agree that Mom Boucher's attitude was much more serious than the attitude of this woman.

When it comes down to it, a balance must always be found when convicting someone of a criminal offence or imposing a sentence on that person There are objective criteria, which are those that must be set out by Parliament; however Parliament cannot be expected to determine all of the subjective factors that could arise in each case. That is why we need the people who impose sentences to be fair, educated in matters of law and, above all, independent. They examine all sides of the issue and render a judgment. We would like to invent a system for imposing sentences that would do that reliably.

If the Bloc were opposed to this, then I would oppose the Bloc. However, I personally believe that such a system—one in which independent judges determine the appropriate sentence in specific cases—is fair, and that sentences should be individualized as much as possible. Apparently, this is not what the government thinks.

That is basically why, in this case, we agree on the bill. We think it is unnecessary. It will apply to only a very small number of people. Since 1987, only 150 people have been granted parole before 25 years were up. This shows that those provisions are applied very cautiously. However, it is good for the government to be able to say it is tough on crime. That is the main objective. Our Republican neighbours to the south have taught us how to win elections and so we are still adopting these provisions. Personally, I think that is the main motive behind a bill like this one.

Quite frankly, despite the contempt I have for their motives, I nevertheless recognize that this bill certainly does not do any harm, because it still allows the judiciary sufficient discretion. The minister is always telling us that wherever he goes in public, everyone always talks to him. I would remind the minister that perhaps a jury—since a jury must be involved—is also representative, even more representative of public opinion, compared to people who show up to say a few words to him when he appears in public.

Since it will be decided by a jury and since the provisions are not mandatory for judges who, if they make an exception, must justify it—which is only right and what they already do—we will therefore support these provisions.

Once again we are confident that our position is not based on ideology, unless people believe that defending the fact that sentences should be not only dissuasive, but also fair, individualized and determined by well-informed, independent judges is ideological. If that is ideological, then many other countries share our ideology. I have already mentioned an interesting fact about other similar countries. Mr. Sapers listed them. In other countries, like New Zealand, England and Belgium, the average sentence served by individuals convicted of murder is 12 years. Here it is 28.4 years. So it is safe to say that we are well above the average.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act November 16th, 2010

Madam Speaker, I have a great deal of respect for the previous speaker. I have a difficult question for him. In his opinion, what is the Minister of Justice trying to accomplish by introducing such a bill?

Public Safety November 5th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, Toronto's chief of police, Bill Blair, said, “we did not have the appropriate warrants on the day of the arrests”. Which means that the people arrested in the University of Toronto gymnasium during the G20 were arrested illegally.

Will the government set up an independent public inquiry to shed light on these unfortunate affronts to democracy?

Tackling Auto Theft and Property Crime Act November 5th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, this bill is very late in coming to us for adoption. Parliament has been ready to adopt such a bill for at least six years. It follows Bill C-53, which, if I am not mistaken, was introduced by the Liberals in a parliament long ago. It was followed by Bill C-26, which died on the order paper because of the selfish use of prorogation for political reasons, thus putting an end to all the work done by Parliament up to that point. The auto theft situation has changed, and the law definitely needs to be adapted; more precise measures need to be introduced because this type of crime has evolved.

It should be said from the outset that there are two types of automobile thefts. First there are joyrides, meaning that young people steal automobiles because they enjoy driving them around. Then there are those who steal automobiles to sell them elsewhere or, often, to dismantle them and sell them for parts. That is a very organized form of crime and deserves harsher punishments. However, the law has certain ways of fighting this type of crime.

With respect to young people who steal, anyone who has been through that age, anyone who has kids and talks about this knows that young men are really fascinated by cars. Most of the people involved are young men because young women typically consider cars to be just a way to get around. Young men are really eager to drive. This happens in both wealthy and disadvantaged areas, but in the poorer areas, they have fewer opportunities, so they are tempted when there is peer pressure to take a car for a spin. That is the usual way things happen, as we have come to realize over the years.

There was once a minimum sentence for auto theft, and because it seemed too harsh for joyrides, the government came up with a bizarre-sounding charge: taking a vehicle without the owner's permission with the intent to deprive the owner of it “temporarily or absolutely”. That is the definition of theft. It was bizarre to have this additional offence, but this oddity took into account the fact that, in the case of joyrides, police officers and the Crown found it extreme to charge these young people with auto theft and seek the minimum penalty, which was two years in jail at the time, I believe.

Anyway, that minimum sentence was removed a while ago, in 1985, I gather. I am still checking that, but it does not matter. That kind of opportunistic crime can be headed off with restorative measures and rehabilitation.

Then there is the other kind of theft. Nobody likes thieves of any kind, but some are truly despicable, such as those who belong to organizations that steal cars for parts or ship them abroad to sell and make a profit. The act also deals with trafficking in property obtained by crime.

When an individual is knowingly in possession of property obtained by crime, that is a criminal offence that is punishable by the same maximum penalty that applies to the theft offence.

When I was a young lawyer, it was often said in court that if there was no fence, there would be no thief. But that offence is often committed by people who normally live very honest lives otherwise. They could not be identified as having ties to organized crime, but they might be tempted to buy a television or other stolen property. That is the offence of possession of stolen property. Now I think it is safe to say that those who traffic in property obtained by crime are committing a more serious offence than the individual who takes advantage of a situation and buys stolen property.

We should use the opportunity provided by this proposed legislation to add this new offence of trafficking in, importing or exporting property obtained by crime. The new maximum penalty is 14 years, while the penalty for possession of stolen goods is normally two years.

The other advantage of creating the offence of trafficking in property obtained by crime is that customs officials can intervene by consulting the electronic records of stolen vehicles. As soon as they realize that someone is trying to get a stolen vehicle into or out of the country through customs, they can immediately seize the stolen property. They would thus find someone in possession of stolen property, which would be an offence. This would allow them to take action immediately, which they cannot do under current legislation. So this is another area that this bill improves.

The bill makes another improvement in that it finally creates the new offence of tampering with a vehicle identification number without lawful excuse. But why would someone want to tamper with the vehicle identification number? Obviously, because the vehicle was stolen or for some other illegal purpose. Clearly, by doing that, the individual is committing a crime or intending to commit one. The proposed legislation states that not only is this evidence that the individual intends to commit a crime, but it is evidence that a crime is being committed. Once again, I think the maximum sentence is reasonable under these circumstances. So this is another significant improvement brought about by this bill.

The bill also includes minimum sentences. The majority of parliamentarians in this House know that I have reservations about minimum sentences, but my position has never been cast in stone. We accept minimum sentences for the most serious offences, such as murder. However, we generally do not look favourably on minimum sentences because they serve no purpose, as all the research shows.

The odd thing is that, before the government began manifesting this tendency or compulsion to add minimum sentences everywhere and to multiply the number of minimum sentences in the law, it commissioned a study of other studies. A vast number of studies have been carried out. The government asked Department of Justice officials to look at the research on the effectiveness of minimum sentences in Commonwealth countries.

There is always the temptation to establish minimum sentences.They are popular. That is why the government is imposing them. There is no other reason. When we hear them talking about minimum sentences and getting tough on crime, their clapping and their attitude proves that their goal is not to have measures that will effectively fight crime; they are excited by the thought that this will bring them more votes.

That is what happened in the United States.

Everybody wanted to institute minimum sentences for just about anything. As a result, many people are now being jailed in the United States whereas a generation ago, about 30 years ago, the U.S rate of incarceration was about the same as that in Canada and Europe. Today, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. It is seven times that of Canada, and six to eight or ten times that of European countries. Is anyone prepared to say that the United States is seven times safer? No.

The first reason why minimum sentences do not work is that people ignore them. I could challenge my colleagues in this House to tell me how many minimum sentences there are in the Criminal Code and to name five. Most people cannot.

The second reason is that when criminals commit a crime they are not usually thinking about the sentence they will be given if they are caught. Instead, they focus on not getting caught and they take precautions to that end.

For minimum sentences to be a deterrent, people have to be aware of them. Here we have a minimum sentence, but for a third offence. Judges should warn people when they are sentenced for their first offence that if they commit a second offence a minimum sentence will apply. Judges did not do that as much as I would have liked when I was practising. I did it as a lawyer and they knew it. In this case, since we are talking about the third offence, I do not think it is justified and I do not believe this will really have an impact, but let us just say it is more acceptable. We will not vote against this because overall the bill is beneficial, but I do not really see the need for this aspect.

I hope that during sentencing, judges will warn people, especially young people, because they are the ones who matter here. Whether they have stolen cars for joyrides or they are getting into stealing because they are working for an organization that dismantles cars, they need to know that they risk getting a six-month prison sentence for a third offence. Frankly, if I were the judge and I had a young or not so young person standing before me whom I was sentencing for a third offence, I would consider giving him a sentence of at least six months and perhaps more. In these cases, people are warned.

Car theft in Canada has decreased since 1996, but it is still quite prevalent. There certainly are differences from one province to the next, but that has not really been elaborated on. It is not a bad idea to talk about that. In Quebec, we experience a specific phenomenon. From what I know about crime, I know that in Quebec our big ports have a lot to do with it. Organized crime works mainly in stealing luxury vehicles, and it is organized well enough to quickly load cars onto containers that are being shipped abroad. That is why in Quebec we have a rather high rate of automobile theft, but it is much lower than the rate in Manitoba. I understand why and I will leave it to people from that region to talk about the difficulties they encounter. They have come up with a smart approach to tracking car thieves.

Generally speaking, this bill is long overdue. It is scandalous that it was not brought before us when we were all in favour of passing it. We agree because it is—

Criminal Code November 4th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I have to say that when I saw this bill my first reaction was to think it was useless. I cannot imagine that anyone uses a police uniform or other articles for anything other than committing a criminal offence. It is true that people are somewhat fascinated by police uniforms.

In fact, I remember seeing someone walking around the Montreal courthouse in a uniform that he had probably had made for him, and it really looked like a police uniform. He had a marshal's baton and was always impeccable. He really enjoyed talking to people. He had a straight-back demeanour. Everyone figured he was a little crazy but not dangerous. No one ever thought of accusing him of impersonating a police officer. His uniform did not really look that much like a police officer's. His baton looked more like a marshal's baton or one that belonged to a commander of a military establishment on parade.

It seemed clear to me that if someone was dressing up as a police officer, they must have dishonest intentions. And that is already covered in the Criminal Code.

I have to say that I am impressed with the research that has been done by the member who introduced this bill. I think that, as he said, his proposal fills a gap in the Criminal Code. As a consequence, we will support it.

I am not as impressed with some of the reasons he gives for supporting it. I even started questioning whether or not we should support it when he said that the bill is important because we need to be tough on crime. That is the answer to everything.

When will the government understand that being tough on crime and lax on arms gives results like those in the United States? The incarceration rate in the United States used to be comparable to Canada's, but in one generation it has become seven times higher than Canada's. What has that achieved? Why are their homicide rates three times that of Canada and five times that of Quebec?

It seems to me that this combination of tough on crime and lax on arms should convince everyone who knows that they are going in the wrong direction. We must not be tough on crime; we must be smart on crime. And smart on crime can mean giving harsh sentences when they are warranted, but it can also mean giving restorative sentences, sentences that promote rehabilitation, when they are warranted. In general, the public tends to support harsh sentences in theory, but in practice, it tends to favour rehabilitation, especially when they learn that children they know have ended up involved in a crime. They would like judges to take that into account.

We are balanced in Canada. Our incarceration rate is fairly comparable to rates in western Europe. England has a slightly higher rate than we do, as does Scotland, but generally, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands all have lower incarceration rates than Canada. Our crime rates are generally comparable.

However, the free country, I will say, that has the highest rate of violent crime is the same country that has the harshest sentences. Also, people seem to forget that it also has the remarkable distinction of having beat out Russia. No one ever would have thought that the United States would incarcerate more people than Russia. But it has. Today, the United States is at about 730 prisoners for every 100,000 inhabitants, while Russia is at about 680.

It is even said that half of all inmates in the world are found in American prisons. Frankly, are people any safer in the U.S. than they are here? Some people will say it depends on the neighbourhood. If there are some safe neighbourhoods in the U.S., then, considering the crime rate in that country, that means that others are extremely dangerous. Why do people in the United States feel the need to carry a weapon to protect themselves? That does not give the impression of a safe society, even though it has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

I would love to see the member forget about his tough on crime principles. I prefer his patient, precise and intelligent work. He discovered a weakness in the Criminal Code and then exposed it and documented it. He has convinced us that his work was far from useless. That is why we will support him. He deserves our congratulations and our thanks for this work.

Justice October 29th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, since sentences of less than two years are served in provincial prisons, including those in Quebec, and since house arrest only applies to sentences of less than two years, it means that if we pass this law, there will be more prisoners in provincial prisons, which are already overflowing, but not one additional person in federal prisons.

Does the minister have any idea how much this will cost Quebec and the provinces? Does he have an estimate of this cost? If so, can he share it with us?

Justice October 29th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Justice has called his legislation, Bill C-16, the Ending House Arrest for Property and Other Serious Crimes by Serious and Violent Offenders Act.

This is untrue for two reasons. First, this measure only applies to those sentenced to less than two years. In addition, the law clearly states that violent and dangerous offenders cannot benefit from this measure.

Preventing Human Smugglers From Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act October 28th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, the point raised by the previous member is a very important one. Will the government acknowledge that a ship can be leased to transport legitimate refugees, and that these refugees may agree to pay a reasonable amount of money so that the ship can reach foreign shores? Will it also recognize the fact that the captain would be remunerated?

How do we make a distinction between a captain who receives reasonable remuneration for the risks he is taking and the expenses he is incurring, as opposed to a captain who is doing it for profit? An investigation would have to be done after the fact. I think that the government member knows very well that in the past our welcome for refugees has been an example for the world. We have had no complaints about the refugees, because they have truly enriched our country.

Now, in different circumstances that may appear similar, how will we distinguish between those who are charging a fair price and those who are exploiting refugees? The second kind has neither the government's sympathy nor ours, I should add.

Justice October 27th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, when will the minister answer the question?

This kind of sentence is common in Europe. Our experiences here in Canada have been conclusive regarding their effectiveness in rehabilitating many offenders. The minister has every right to think that such sentences should be abolished or seriously limited, but to say that it is to stop violent, dangerous offenders from serving their sentences at home is simply not true.

Will the minister confirm that his bill applies only to less serious crimes, which carry sentences of less than two years?

Justice October 27th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, only sentences of less than two years can be served at home. So we are not talking about violent, dangerous offenders. Furthermore, judges who grant this measure must be convinced that it presents no risk to public safety. If a judge were to grant this measure to a violent, dangerous offender, that would clearly be grounds for an appeal.

Can the minister confirm this to be true under existing legislation and that, therefore, violent, dangerous offenders are not allowed to serve their sentences in the community?