Mr. Speaker, this is the second time this bill has come before us. We voted against it the first time and in any case, because of prorogation, it was never enacted. It went through the Senate before and now comes to us from that other place. Basically, the bill makes it harder to obtain parole before a minimum period under the law for the most serious murder, first degree murder, specifically, a period of 25 years. For second degree murder, the minimum period before an offender can obtain parole is decided by the presiding judge, who has the discretion to give between 10 and 25 years.
Under current legislation, after 15 years, a convicted murderer sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for 15 to 25 years can apply to the court to have his or her case heard by a jury. The jury decides if that individual can obtain early parole. That was not the case in the beginning, when the legislation was passed several years ago. Now the jury must be unanimous.
This is just one more piece of legislation brought forward by this government that, at first glance, makes it look like they are being tough on crime. According to the government's propaganda, anyone who supports a reasonable approach to fighting crime is defending the rights of the accused or of criminals. These arguments, which are given repeatedly, should convince any observer who hears them long enough that the criminal justice reforms proposed by the Conservative government are motivated by demagoguery. When introducing such bills, the government never considers how effective its proposed measures will be or what ills they may prevent. Instead, it always considers how the measure will affect its election campaign and the majority of voters' superficial understanding of its criminal justice program.
In that respect, the Conservatives are almost blindly following the policies of the Republicans in the United States. Even Democrats win votes when they take a tough-on-crime attitude and describe anyone who advocates a smart, effective approach to fighting crime as being a champion of criminals' rights. This is the only reason the Conservatives introduce these bills. This one is a case in point.
Does this law work? When we look at the statistics, the answer is clear. First, very few people who can apply under this law do apply. Second, not all applications are granted. It makes sense that most applications are granted, given everything offenders have to do to support their application. Have these people reoffended? Not one has committed another murder. Not only have there been no repeat murders, but only one offender has committed a serious offence, and that was a robbery.
So I do not believe that this proves that this bill meets any need whatsoever, unless it is the Conservatives' need to cause conflict with reasonable representatives of the opposition calling for reasonable solutions. Such solutions are not always clear to the general public. The Conservatives introduce bills like this one because it is an easy thing to do and it serves their demagogic purposes.
I want to give an example of how we have always taken a different attitude. A few years ago, legislation was passed that prohibited an offender convicted of multiple murders from applying for parole before having served 25 years.
Let us consider multiple murders. Objectively, multiple murders are certainly more serious than single murders. But should we be guided by this objective factor alone when we decide to release someone? The decision has to take into consideration all the guarantees that have been provided, what this person has had to demonstrate and the fact that this person will remain under the supervision of the National Parole Board for the rest of his life.
In Quebec, we have a striking example of a single murder of a prison guard by a member of the Hells Angels who—according to the jury—was following orders from the leader of the Hells Angels. The latter was found guilty. When the person committed the murder, as he was ordered, the weapon he was using jammed in such a way that when he aimed at two prison guards who were standing next to each other, he killed the first guard but was unable to kill the second. This is certainly one of the most serious crimes not only because it is a murder, in other words deliberately causing the death of another person, but also because of the subjective factors in this case. We are talking about someone who can consider taking a life in cold blood in exchange for some benefit. At the time, Mom Boucher, who had delusions of grandeur, wanted to attack the representatives of law and order to better control his lucrative dealings, and he did so by physically eliminating his competition.
Let us compare that to other multiple murders we have seen recently in Quebec. Early last year, the Chicoutimi police were called by a woman in distress. When the police arrived on the scene, the woman's husband and two children were dead. By all accounts, the woman seemed to still be under the influence of some sort of drug. We knew that the mother and father had both lost their jobs. They had appealed to their immediate family and friends with no luck. They were so desperate that they both decided to end their lives and those of their children. They procured very strong drugs that they gave to their children and then they ingested the drugs themselves. The father died, but the mother survived. The mother is still alive, so in her case this has to be considered a murder, a multiple murder to boot.
We need to look at the motivation behind it. It is an extremely sad story, but it is clear that it is not on the same moral level as Mom Boucher, who ordered one of his flunkies to kill two prison guards in cold blood, simply because they were prison guards.
We saw the same thing last year in the Saint-Jérôme region. We were shocked to hear about another terrible family tragedy. A well-known cardiologist was appreciated for his professional abilities, his rapport with patients, the care he provided, and his dedication to the hospital where he worked. He was married to another doctor. They appeared to be a very happy couple, at least until she decided to leave him. It is difficult to understand the kind of desperation he must have felt, but he decided to kill his two children.
Once again, it is extremely sad. He is not insane to the point of not being criminally responsible, but there are certainly some psychological factors to take into consideration, and it is completely different from the crime committed by Mom Boucher. I believe that Mom Boucher's crime is much worse, and that he certainly deserves a much harsher punishment than those involved in the family tragedies I mentioned. Frankly, what is the point of saying that for one, you are eligible, but for two, you are not?
Here is my view, or the view of my party and the majority of Quebeckers: in these cases, we must also always think about prevention. Yes, we must find a fair punishment for the guilty party, but we must not use simplistic reasoning. We need only look at what we are fighting for with the firearms registry. The current firearms legislation states that all firearms must be registered because they are dangerous. They are not dangerous simply because some people use them to commit murder, but because, very often, they are used in cases of suicide. They are also used by desperate people who sometimes kill other family members before killing themselves.
The current law states that when a person is depressed like that and might commit desperate acts, a court order can be requested in order to take his guns away. It is obvious that this person is likely depressed. But that person may not be depressed forever. They could work through it. However, while that person is depressed, any guns they might have should be taken away. So it is important that the police know what guns to look for and what guns they should take with them to execute the court order. This is one of the provisions that cannot be applied efficiently or effectively if these guns are not registered.
It is telling that some of the biggest advocates of the gun registry are suicide prevention organizations. They were the most ardent supporters in Quebec. Since the bill was passed, there has been a significant drop in suicide rates in Quebec. That is surely not the only reason, but the people who work in suicide prevention feel that it has certainly helped. In fact, even though it is not mandatory to register your guns in Quebec, there are still people who believe in it and register their guns, which shows that they do not intend to use them for criminal purposes.
In any case, it is important because people do change. If their attitude suggests that they might use weapons, if their lives have changed, if they are depressed, we must be able to find them. In fact, that is how it is done. When they are no longer depressed, based on their psychiatrists' opinion, their weapons can be returned to them.
That is the difference in attitudes. It is more complicated to explain and it does not look as good on the hustings as it does to say “we are tough on crime and they are soft on crime”, or say that those who want to enforce criminal law intelligently are defending the rights of the accused and of criminals. That is not the case; it is more complicated than that. I am convinced that if most voters were familiar with these specific cases they would understand that what we are defending is better measures. That is somewhat the case here.
The Conservatives know they have people's superficial support when they say we must be tough on murderers. We must not forget that in this case, a jury of 12 people from the community where that person lived and where the murder took place must unanimously agree to grant the possibility of early parole. The public has representatives to speak on its behalf. If one person out of the 12 does not agree, the request for early parole is refused. Furthermore, to get even that far, the offender must convince a judge that a jury is likely to grant early parole. That is why offenders' behaviour is monitored in prison and reports are produced to determine whether they have changed since committing their crimes.
This is especially important in the case of a crime committed by a young man—someone who has reached the age of majority but is still not very old—who kills his no-good father because he beats his mother and is dangerous. Certainly, defending his mother is no excuse for killing his father, under any circumstances. But if this person is convicted of murder, then that has to be taken into consideration after some time has gone by.
There are other reasons for maintaining such measures. People who are sent to prison need to have hope that if they change their behaviour and make an effort to become rehabilitated so they no longer pose a threat to society, they can get something in return. Human nature is such that behaviour can change out of fear of punishment, but generally it can change much more out of hope for a benefit. Napoleon understood this and awarded lots of medals and so on. Criminologists are well aware of this. People who are sentenced to long prison terms have to be given hope.
It is also important for the safety of correctional officers. If someone knows that good behaviour could get him paroled, then he is more likely to be receptive to rehabilitation and measures to maintain order in the prison. To date, there have been no abuses of these provisions, and it is very difficult for an inmate to get an application approved. The provisions have at least three main advantages, and experience has shown that they work well.