Madam Speaker, first of all, on this first day back in the House of Commons, I would like to thank all the voters and people in my riding who have kept me in the House of Commons for the past five years, through two elections.
I am honoured to have the opportunity to participate in today's debate on Bill , the Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act.
The proposed amendments to the Criminal Code will authorize a judge, when an offender is convicted of more than one first or second degree murder or a combination of first and second degree murders and is sentenced to life in prison, to impose separate 25-year periods of parole ineligibility for the second and any subsequent murder. These additional 25-year periods would be consecutive to the period of parole ineligibility imposed for the first murder.
In exercising this authority, sentencing judges will have regard to already-existing Criminal Code criteria that will ensure that the proposed measures are applied to the most incorrigible offenders—those whose crimes are such that they would be unlikely to ever obtain parole.
Judges will also be required to give, either orally or in writing, reasons for the decision to impose or not to impose consecutive parole inadmissibility periods. This will benefit the families and loved ones of murder victims who have long complained that they are left in the dark as to why certain decisions are taken during the trial and sentencing process.
The measures proposed in Bill will accomplish three things. First, they will better reflect the tragedy of multiple murders by enabling a judge to acknowledge each and every life lost.
Under current law, multiple murderers serve life sentences and corresponding parole ineligibility periods for each murder concurrently. The result is that they serve only 25 years in custody before being eligible for parole, no matter how many lives they may have taken.
Many Canadians are dismayed by this. They cannot understand why a sentence for murder is unable to take account in a concrete way of the fact that more than one life has been taken. Many argue that the law as it now stands seems to give a “volume discount” to multiple murderers.
This symbolic devaluation of the lives of victims has a strong negative impact on the families and loved ones of murder victims. All too often they experience a greater degree of pain and experience a greater sense of loss because the justice system has failed to mete out a specific punishment for each and every life lost. Bill would help correct this.
The second thing that Bill C-48 would do is reinforce the denunciatory and retributive functions of the parole ineligibility period attached to a sentence of life imprisonment.
Murder is the most serious crime and must be denounced in the strongest terms. This has already been recognized by the highest court of the land. In the 1987 Vaillancourt case, the Supreme Court highlighted the extreme stigma attached to murder that flows from the moral blameworthiness of deliberately taking the life of another person.
This moral blameworthiness justifies the appropriately severe penalty that murder attracts: life imprisonment accompanied by a period of parole ineligibility of up to 25 years.
Many would ask whether it is appropriate that the penalty for taking more than one life is the same as the penalty for taking one life. That is a good question. I would note, in response, that a life sentence is, indeed, for life. An offender cannot be sentenced to more than one life sentence.
Bill is based on the proposition that killing more than one person reflects a higher degree of moral blameworthiness and ought to allow the imposition of additional periods of parole ineligibility.
Bill C-48 would ensure that the judge who presides over the conviction of a multiple murderer and who is therefore in the best position to assess that person’s degree of moral blameworthiness remains the one authorized to decide whether that more severe penalty ought to be imposed.
As I mentioned earlier, that decision would be based on the existing criteria in section 754.4 of the Criminal Code. Judges already use these criteria to decide how long a second degree murderer ought to serve in custody before being able to apply for parole.
I will elaborate on that last point which, I must point out, has already been discussed in previous debates.
As hon. members may recall, the punishment for first and second degree murder is life imprisonment accompanied by a period of ineligibility for parole determined according to section 745 of the Criminal Code.
For first degree murderers as well as for any second degree murderer who has killed before, that period is 25 years from the time of being brought into custody.
For all other second degree murderers, that period is 10 years, unless the judge uses the authority bestowed by section 745.4 to set a period of ineligibility for parole up to 25 years.
Such a decision will be based on “the character of the offender, the nature of the offence and the circumstances surrounding its commission and the recommendation, if any, made [by a jury]”.
In summary, Canadian law already sets out a sliding scale of parole ineligibility to account for particularly incorrigible offenders or particularly egregious crimes.
As for the application of these criteria, the courts have stated over and over again that the most important factor to consider in deciding whether to extend the parole ineligibility period of a second degree murderer is the protection of society.
Bill proposes to use exactly the same criteria for the imposition of consecutive periods of parole ineligibility on multiple murderers—again, multiple murderers. I am convinced that the same principles will apply, and that judges will therefore look to the protection of society in making their decisions.
This leads me naturally to the third thing that Bill C-48 will do, namely, to enhance the protection of society by permitting judges to keep the most incorrigible multiple murderers in custody for longer periods of time that better correspond to their crimes, which is only normal.
Bill would ensure that our communities are safe and that offenders convicted of multiple murders, who should never be released, will never be released.
In this vein, the proposed amendments would also protect the families and loved ones of multiple murder victims, who are forced to listen all over again to the details of these horrible crimes at parole hearings held after the maximum parole ineligibility period possible under the current act expires.
If Bill is passed, it will not affect the rights of those multiple murderers currently on parole nor will it usurp the role of the National Parole Board.
Bill will not prevent convicted multiple murderers now serving life sentences from seeking parole when their parole ineligibility periods expire, nor will it call into question National Parole Board decisions to release those who meet the criteria for parole.
Bill will only apply to those who commit more than one murder after the legislation comes into force.
In short, Bill is neither retroactive nor retributive. It represents the reaffirmation of our government's commitment to respond to Canadians' concerns about strengthening the justice system by ensuring that the most serious offenders do the most serious time.
Bill was studied thoroughly by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which saw fit to make one amendment.
This amendment would require a judge to give oral or written reasons in the event he or she decides to impose consecutive periods of parole ineligibility on a convicted multiple murderer. The bill, as originally drafted, called for reasons only if the judge declined to do so.
Our government believes this amendment is unnecessary and could even have unintended consequences. In fact, our government's original objective for requiring a judge to give reasons for not imposing consecutive periods of parole ineligibility for a multiple murderer was to ensure that victims would be informed of the reasons for not doing so.
As I have already explained, the amendment proposed by the Liberal critic would compel judges to explain their reasons for imposing consecutive periods of parole ineligibility on an offender convicted of multiple murderers. In other words and to put it simply, this amendment would mean that murderers will be told the judge's reasons. The ultimate aim of our bill was to restore the balance between victims' rights and offenders' rights, a balance that had been lacking for some time. I believe that the consequences of this amendment work against our objective.
The Conservative members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights tried unsuccessfully to reverse the amendment, which was supported by all opposition members. Although we oppose that change, I believe that the need for this bill is more important than the political games that the opposition members are playing. For that reason, and so as not to slow the progress of this bill, our government supports the current version of Bill .
I would like to ask all members of the House to help me achieve these objectives by supporting this bill.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill . First, the title of the bill raises questions. Yesterday, the 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 , 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 , 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 . 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.
Madam Speaker, I would like to say right away that we agree. This is a good bill and we will therefore vote in favour of it.
We feel that this is not at all the spirit that motivates the government. It is still motivated by the political benefit that can be derived. It is clear that this bill is being introduced for the second time so that the government can publicly state for the second time that it opposes sentence discounts. That is a disgraceful term to use in regard to our legal system and, besides, there is no truth to it. They want us to think a life sentence comes at a discount. It is not at a discount. Does someone have two lives if there are two victims? It is nonsense. Once again, they are taking their cue from the Americans, who have the ridiculous habit of imposing totally unrealistic sentences, such as 175 years in jail. For example, a lawyer told his client on leaving not to worry, he only had to do what he could.
The Conservatives are still using expressions that are pure propaganda. This title is pure propaganda. It is untrue. There are no sentence discounts for murder in Canada. It is true that there are multiple murders, but usually there is just one murder victim per person.
What we should remember is that, ultimately, this bill will not have much effect on the prison term that offenders serve because that decision—and this is why I think the bill is quite good—is made by the people who were there for the trial, that is to say, the judge and jury. At the end of a trial, the jury is asked whether it thinks the period of ineligibility for parole should be extended, in other words, the time until the offender can apply for it. The judge must take this opinion into account and give his reasons.
It would be better, as the hon. member for suggested, if the judge had a bit more discretionary power to vary the sentence in some cases and did not have to decide between 25 and 50 years, as is currently the case. But it does not matter that much in the end. In any case, if the judge did not do it, the National Parole Board would ultimately take it into account.
We need to recognize that there are multiple murders that are less serious than single murders and there are single murders that are more serious than multiple murders. The existence of multiple victims is certainly one of the most important circumstances to be taken into account when a decision is made whether to grant parole. However, current events offer some glaring examples of this difference.
Members know that the man who was considered to be the leader of the Hells Angels, Maurice “Mom” Boucher, gave his permission to go after prison guards. He encouraged someone to go to prisons and kill two guards who were transporting prisoners. Two people showed up: one drove the motorcycle and the other was on the back. They killed the first prison guard. When they came around to kill the second, the gun jammed. Thus, Maurice “Mom” Boucher was found guilty of complicity in the murder of a single guard.
Consider another case from the news. Members will recall the horrific case in Saint-Jérôme last year of the young surgeon who was well loved in the community and deeply in love with his wife, also a doctor. When she left him, he killed their two children. That was obviously an act of desperation. One has to wonder why.
He absolutely deserves a sentence and should spend a considerable amount of time in prison. And he will, because in this case, he will not be able to apply for parole after 15 years; he will not be able to apply for 25 years because it was a multiple murder. However, it is clear that we do not need to treat the surgeon the same way as the leader of the Hells Angels, “Mom” Boucher.
There is another recent example. A poor, desperate family in Lac-Saint-Jean asked for help, but no one reached out. They eventually came to the horrible conclusion that life was not worth living, either for the parents or their children. They got enough medication to kill four people. They were eventually found in the house, and all of them were unconscious. Doctors were still able to save the woman. She survived and was charged with murdering her husband and two children, which makes sense. She was convicted. That said, there is a difference between this woman and “Mom” Boucher. Clearly, her behaviour was abnormal in psychiatric terms, but that does not justify what she did and did not render her incapable of making decisions. Consequently, it was not an admissible defence against criminal charges. But her actions were still not the same as those of “Mom” Boucher.
Think about the killer in Tucson and imagine if that happened here. In that case as well, there were multiple murders. That is very important. And there is the case of those who planted the bomb that exploded on the Air India flight. Clearly the fact that there are multiple murders will be taken into consideration by those who have to rule on parole. Obviously it is an important factor, but one that has been taken into consideration and always will be, even if this bill is not passed.
However, I see an improvement here. Currently, the decision is left up to the Parole Board concerning multiple murder cases. I think that the fact that, in future, the jury that heard the trial and the judge who will make the decision will be asked for their opinion is an improvement in the law.
Another case of appalling multiple murders is the case of Colonel Williams.
That said, in the language used by the government, a little rigour is needed. The current is really not of the same calibre as many of his predecessors. He always manages to lower himself to the same level as an alley cat, with his political battles. He is in fact the one who is inspiring all these titles, which are more like propaganda slogans than informative titles for bills. Once again, he continues to show his contempt for judges and for the system. Using an expression like “sentence discounts” is, once again, an expression of his contempt in an effort to gain a slight political advantage, to show just how tough he is on crime. This is becoming a habit of his. I remember another bill the Conservatives loudly applauded that he called the “Ending House Arrest for...Serious and Violent Offenders Act”. No judge would ever allow serious and violent offenders to serve their sentences at home. It is already prohibited under existing legislation. The first criterion a judge must consider before allowing an offender to serve his sentence at home is the danger it would present to public safety.
In my opinion, if a serious and violent offender were to serve his sentence at home, that would pose a risk to public safety. So judges to do not impose such sentences.
The title of the bill clearly indicates that it is an insult to the judiciary. The member is laughing at us because we care about titles. Yes, we care about titles that are propaganda. Why does he use false propaganda in his bill titles? In my opinion, this shows once again that he has not achieved the same level of wisdom and excellence that previous justice ministers achieved—people like Guy Favreau, Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Mark MacGuigan, among others. He is not of the same calibre as his predecessors.
However, his bill does include one improvement, that is, the role of the judge and jury that heard the case. That is the only improvement it contains, but few changes were made.
In his arguments in favour of this legislation, the government member spoke of the victims who will have to continue attending National Parole Board hearings and listen to the account of the crimes of which their loved ones were the victims. A victim's family members are not required to attend these hearings. Usually half the victims decide to attend and the other half choose not to. However, there is nothing stopping those who decide not to attend from sharing their thoughts in writing or otherwise.
In that respect, there is a quick fix to all this. In fact, it might already be included in the law, but I am not sure whether this applies to Olson. Currently under the law, when someone sentenced to life in prison applies for parole before the end of his sentence—let us say that person is allowed to apply after serving 15 years—the jury making the decision on the initial application can effectively determine how long the offender will have to wait before he can apply for parole a second time. It seems to me this also applies to Olson, but perhaps not, since he has already served a minimum of 25 years. There simply needs to be a provision similar to the one that already exists under the law for those who apply 15 or 25 years after their prison term begins, in order for the jury to make its decision. In a case like Olson's, it is obvious. If ever Colonel Williams decided after 25 years to apply for parole every two years, all we would need is a provision whereby the jury hearing the initial application could determine how long Mr. Williams would have to wait before making another request. That way, the jury would lift this burden from the victims' families.
When we are dealing with this legislation it is important to remember that for the past 40 years in Canada, murderers have been serving the longest sentences. It is surprising to see that since the death penalty was abolished, murderers are serving much longer sentences than those served by murderers who had been sentenced to death, but whose sentence had been commuted. Before 1968, the average length of sentence served by murderers sentenced to death whose sentence was commuted was seven years. From 1968 to 1974, the average increased to 10 years. Since 1974 and with other reforms, the average has increased to 28.4 years. In civilized countries comparable to Canada—such as the United States—the average is roughly 15 years. For example, the average is 14 years in England and 12 years in Sweden.
When amendments were made in 1976, this information was used to establish that a decision to sentence a person to life in prison without any possibility of parole should potentially be reviewed after 15 years. Fifteen years was slightly longer than the average time frame in other civilized countries.
It is significant that Canada is the country with the longest time frame. It seems that the Conservatives' goal is to also make Canada one of the countries with the most severe sentences. I would like to remind members that we have a way to go before we catch up with the United States, the country that currently incarcerates the highest number of people, per capita, in the world. It used to be Russia, but the Americans now have a higher incarceration rate. The incarceration rate in the United States is currently seven times higher than in Canada.
Members have also spoken about the role and influence of the media. I would like to remind the media that they should perhaps be a bit more careful about criticizing court decisions. For example, the Parole Board of Canada has a gradual release program that involves sending offenders to halfway houses. There is only one difference between offenders' liberty in prison and their liberty in a halfway house: the halfway house does not have any walls, barbed wire or armed guards to ensure that offenders do not leave. However, as in prison, offenders living in a halfway house must eat when they are told, eat what they are given, do what they are told throughout the day, and live with other offenders. They are deprived of most of their freedom. After a time, these offenders may be allowed to have employment, but they have to work during the hours prescribed and they must return to and sleep at the halfway house. Little by little, offenders are given more freedom. It is important to understand that offenders who are released on parole do not have the freedom they had before they went to prison.
Newspapers generally refer to a change in status when an offender is released from prison. They say that the person has gained their freedom. That is false because it is a very limited freedom. This needs to be taken into consideration. The expense is an important consideration because the average cost of keeping an offender in prison is $110,000 compared to $30,000 if they are in a halfway house. It is possible to restrict the freedom of a good number of offenders who are not dangerous enough to be kept in the traditional maximum security setting of a prison.
In committee, we finally managed to impose an amendment on the government. It should be very clear that the opposition members find it an outright insult that judges must provide written or oral reasons for their decision in the event that they refuse to impose the most severe measure. It is customary for judges to provide reasons for their decisions in one way or another, but why impose an additional requirement if a specific measure is not applied?
This is in the same vein as the titles of laws implying that, in Canada, we give sentence discounts, as if there were sales on goodness knows what, or that judges allow serious and violent offenders to serve their sentences in the community, even though this is prohibited by law.
It is always the same story. This is something new for the Conservative Party. I do not believe that former Prime Ministers Joe Clark or Brian Mulroney adopted this habit of scoring political points at the expense of judges or the parole system.
We have had many intelligent discussions in Parliament about the role of parole. The fact remains that the parole system has been of great benefit in dealing with crime.
Madam Speaker, I am sure my colleague from will not mind if I go ahead of him, and I am sure he will stay in the chamber and pay very close attention to all of my comments, as I will to his comments shortly.
Just to be clear about the position of the NDP, we still have grave reservations about the bill. A number of members of our caucus are leaning to support it and a number are leaning to oppose it. Once the debate is completed, we will make a final decision in that regard.
What has happened here is classic example of the way the government, as well as the Conservative Party, approaches the issue of crime. It tends to be obviously ideological in many cases, and in a number of cases, it is emotional, as opposed to an approach based on good public policy, good planning, on how to cope with those people in our society, going all the way to the extreme, who are prepared to commit murder.
The bill is really designed to go after the Clifford Olsons, the Paul Bernardos and the Picktons of the world. That is the way the Conservatives portrayed it. That is the way the Conservatives sold it to the public.
However, we have heard stories today of the multiple murderers who do not fit that pattern at all. We heard in the last few minutes from the Bloc about the situation in Quebec up around Saint-Jérôme, where a well-known, well-respected surgeon killed his two children after his marriage broke up. We heard of another instance from one of the members from Scarborough about a situation that was, in effect, infanticide; but again, it was a multiple murder of two children by a mother.
Under the existing law the faint hope clause does not apply to multiple murders, including the two circumstances I just described, which of course we do not hear from the Conservatives. In those cases, therefore, those murderers will spend 25 years in custody before becoming eligible for parole. Because they cannot apply for parole until the 25th year, they will probably spend another year, maybe more, in custody. On average, even where it is clear they are rehabilitated and clearly not a risk to society at all, they will spend 26 years of their lives behind bars in those fact situations.
They say that maybe there are exceptions, but they still have to be sure to get the Olsons of the world. However, the reality is that roughly 80% of all murders are committed by people in the latter category, not the Olson category, that is, they know the victim and the victim knows them. A lot of it is inter-family or, at the very least, among acquaintances.
What the government is doing with the bill is trying to solve a problem related to Clifford Olson that will, unfortunately, in other cases, cause an injustice.
I will use the reaction we saw in the Latimer case, where we had a repeated battle in the courts over whether there was some way he could be released before the 10 years, the minimum he had to serve, based on the crime he was convicted of at that time, the murder of his daughter. There was a great discussion in the country. It went both ways. I think the country was roughly evenly divided. As much as 50% of the country said that in that circumstance, and I want to be clear that it was not a position I supported, maybe he should be allowed, once convicted, to spend less than the absolute minimum of 10 years.
We have any number of other cases, when the facts are presented to our society as a whole, where they would say the same thing, that 10 years is fine; 15 years is too much; and 25 years definitely too much.
Canadians are basically a fair people. They look for justice and they certainly want it to be clear in our society that there are going to be consequences for whatever crime one commits and, obviously, serious consequences if it is a murder, if someone takes another's life. There is no question about that: they see that as fair, they see that as just. However, from all my experiences and all the reading I have done, I also believe they want everyone to be treated fairly. If the person is Clifford Olson, they want him kept in custody for the rest of his life. It is the same with Paul Bernardo. However, if it is the Latimer case, that certainly would not be the consensus in the country.
Thus the bill is clearly designed for a problem that we recognize exists. The consequences of the bill, though, will create many more problems, and the government is not seeing that.
It really is the difference between multiple or double murders and single murders. Perhaps I should put this statistic on the table. On average, in Canada, every year we have between 14 and 16 multiple murders. The vast majority of them are not of the serial killer type; the vast majority of them are the husband or the partner losing control and killing, almost always, both his partner and the partner's new lover. Those are the majority of cases.
When we look at that, most Canadians would say that the existing system, the faint hope clause, which will disappear if the bill we were debating yesterday is passed, combined with this bill will create very many more problems and injustices, as I think the average Canadian would say, if he or she looked at the individual cases.
We cannot consider this bill just in light of itself. We have to look at Bill , because the Liberals are clearly going to support it, along with the government, and it is going to pass. We are going to end up in a situation where judges are going to be confronted, in the multiple murder situation, with having to make the decision. My colleague from was right about this. There are going to be very few cases where the judges in this country are going to be prepared to use this bill, this law, if it goes through, which obviously appears to be the case. I suppose this is a point one has to make if one is going to support the bill. It will be on the basis that it is probably going to be used properly by our judges.
In spite of the disrespect we constantly hear and see from the government, and we see it in this bill, when it speaks of our judiciary, it is at least equal to the best judiciary in the world, and it arguably is the best judiciary in the world, at both levels, that of provincial appointments and federal appointments. It is not perfect, but it has no superior bench anyplace in the world. It may have a few peers, but it has no superior.
Therefore, those judges, on an individual basis, when confronted with the reality of a multiple murderer before them and a conviction they have registered after a full-blown trial, will have to decide whether they are going to send someone to jail for 50 years for three murders, or 75 years. In the vast majority of cases, as I say, with the exception perhaps of Olson, they are not going to do that.
The evidence in committee from lawyers and people from organizations like the John Howard Society and Elizabeth Fry Society was interesting. It was very clear that at the time of sentencing judges knew that it was impossible to say what would happen 25 years down the road. If it is a multiple murder, they know that the person under our existing law would not be eligible to apply for parole up to 25 years.
The vast majority of judges, very near 100% of them, would say that they do not know, with any degree of certainty, what a person will be like 25 years from now, where psychological and psychiatric treatment will be 25 years from now in terms of the ability to cope with someone like this and be sure the offender goes back into society without being a risk. Judges will say that they will not invoke the provisions of Bill , which will happen in the vast majority of cases.
It may happen occasionally if there is a Pickton or Olson in front of the court. Members who want to support the bill could perhaps assuage their consciences by saying it will rarely be used and based on the trust we have in our judiciary, it will only be used when appropriate.
One other point will be in the minds of the judges but obviously is not in the mind of the government. I say that because there are alternatives, such as the way we could deal with serial killers, and I will come back to that in a few minutes. What is going to be in the mind of the judiciary is the need to be sure that our criminal justice system does not become a point of ridicule, that by sentencing a serial killer in particular to 200, 300 or 400 years, and nobody lives that long, they do not expose the court, the judiciary and the criminal justice system to the kind of ridicule that could produce, as we have seen in the United States.
In some states in the U.S. people can be sentenced to 100 years for each murder. Someone who has committed two or three murders can be sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for up to 300 or 400 years. That is not uncommon in the United States and it draws ridicule from outside the U.S. on its system.
That will be in the minds of the judges every time they consider this. They will look at whether they know what a person will be like 25 years from now. In the vast majority of cases, they will say no. They will then ask themselves if they should risk the possibility of bringing the system under ridicule and disrepute. Again, they will want to decide on the basis of safety that they do not invoke these provisions.
Another reason for supporting the bill is because there is judicial discretion.
There is another point in the bill, which quite frankly shows the ignorance of the Conservative government. It has put in a provision without understanding how trials work in the country, murder trials in particular. The provision is that judges are required to put to jury, after the conviction, if it wants to make a recommendation as to whether the person should spend multiple periods of time without eligibility for parole. It actually has the wording that the judge must read to the jury.
What the government does not understand is the reality of what jury members have just gone through. They have oftentimes sat through one to several weeks of what can be extremely stressful testimony around murders. They are very tired and stressed out, but right after the conviction judges are required to read this direction to them and inquire as to whether they want to make recommendations. There is no psychological basis for them to be able to do that.
The other point the government does not understand is how this works. There is no evidence given to the jury at that point about this person. The person, in most cases, does not testify, so there is no psychological or psychiatric evidence before the jury as to what is an appropriate way to deal with the person or whether the person can be dealt with at all. In comes down to the fact that the jury has to make this decision completely in the dark.
Then, after saying those two things on the weakness of what the government has proposed for this system, it is only a recommendation and not binding on the judge. The Superior Court judge has the final decision and it is entirely within that person's discretion. As I said earlier, I believe that in the vast majority of cases judges will opt not to invoke the multiple periods of time.
Therefore, what are we doing here? It is obvious that we will pass the bill. The Liberals and the Bloc members have already announced that they will support it, along with the government. However, we are creating a system that is not going to be used very often, but that has a major risk of being used in situations where the average Canadian, knowing the facts, would say that it is not appropriate and further puts us at risk of our system being ridiculed, much as the system in the United States is in some cases.
On the alternatives, we have heard from other members of the House and the evidence at committee about these facts. Our system of dealing with murderers goes back to the mid-1970s when we opted, as a society, to do away with the death penalty. At that point, we said that this was the way we would treat murderers, depending on whether it was manslaughter, second degree or first degree murder. That was when we brought in the faint hope clause. At that time, it was fixed at 25 years spent, without the faint hope clause, for first degree murder.
The faint hope clause allowed application for parole at 15 years if it could be justified first to a judge, then to a judge and jury and then ultimately to the Parole Board. It was a three-step process. That was the system, but we made some changes to it to deal with the multiple murderers in 1997 to exclude them from that process.
In the mid-1970s, and again in 1997, we knew that we were sending people to prison much longer than all the countries to which we were compared, with the exception of some of the states in the U.S. that are close to us. The majority of the states in the U.S. have life sentences that are shorter than ours. Every other jurisdiction, England, all of western Europe, Australia and New Zealand, countries that have societies that are very similar to ours, have much shorter periods of time for people being sent to custody. The average is running around 15 years, but in a number of countries it is less than that. I think in New Zealand it is 12 or 14 years now. Currently, in England it is 14 years. On average, we are at 28.4 years.
There is an alternative as to how we deal with the serial killer, and that is to use the dangerous offender section of the code. It needs to be changed so it is specifically available to our judges, courts, police and prosecutors. If we made that available to them in the serial killer case, it would solve the problem that we are trying to address here, but not doing so very effectively.
Mr. Speaker, we are continuing debate on Bill , a bill dealing with consecutive periods of parole ineligibility. That sounds fairly clinical. The area we are dealing with is unfortunately circumstances that follow the conviction of individuals for a second or third first degree murder.
Currently, a life sentence is imposed following a conviction of first degree murder. However, there is a fair bit of misconception about that life sentence. To keep it simple, in my view a life sentence is simply that, a sentence for life. The individual will never be out of sentence. There will never be a sentence expiry. There will always be a connection between the state and the individual, whether the person is in a prison, some other location or, in some cases, released under a reporting scenario.
What has muddied the waters on this is the fact that the Criminal Code imposes a parole ineligibility period of 25 years for someone convicted of first degree murder. That means that the person is not eligible to even request parole. Having said that, we have the procedures involving the faint hope clause. Therefore, I must put an asterisk beside that.
However, just in terms of basic sentencing, someone who is convicted of first degree murder has a life sentence. That is essentially forever, so long as the person lives; in other words, the person may not apply and is not eligible for any type of parole before the expiry of the 25 years. That applies whether the person is 20 years old or 50 years old when convicted. The sentence is for life.
The bill deals with the parole ineligibility period of 25 years. In the past there has been some suggestion that the parole ineligibility period should be increased in cases where an individual has committed more than one murder. As I understand it, most people presently working in corrections take the view that once people have been sentenced to life they are on the hook forever. Their considerations are all of the normal sentencing considerations, including deterrents, denunciation, safety to the community and those types of things.
There is no automatic release after 25 years either. For a person who is given a life sentence, 25 years is simply the period for which he or she is ineligible to apply for parole. Therefore, there is no automatic release after 25 years. The phrase “life 25” does not mean that prisoners are released after 25 years. It means they are ineligible to apply for parole within that timeframe. The Parole Board can only consider parole for an individual after the 25 years of imprisonment. Therefore, for many, “life 25” means forever. Offenders will never be released. For some it means 30 years and for others 40 years in prison. That is how it works and it has developed the population inside the prison system. They are referred to as “lifers”. It is actually a fairly stable population group within the prison system. Everyone wishes there were fewer of them. However, they exist and it is a somewhat stable population. Some say the reason it is stable is that prisoners are aware they will remain in prison for a long time and they do not want the prison system upset. They like stability.
These individuals also foresee the possibility, remote for some, zero possibility for others, that they will be released at some point before they die. They appear to like that smooth run up to when that period of potential release is there.
I have had the privilege as a member to visit many prisons across the country. By the time many of those individuals get there, they do not have a lot of incentive to leave. It varies from offender to offender. It is a sad circumstance when someone 70 years old and not considered to be a danger to the public simply does not want to leave and stays incarcerated. Some people would say that is fine, let him or her rot. In terms of the way we run our prisons that is not necessarily in keeping with the standards. However, I am diverging slightly from the bill.
Lest anybody has any doubt, the bill does not deal with individuals already convicted of multiple murders. It only applies to people who are convicted subsequent to its passage. It does not deal with people who have already served 25 years of a life sentence. Those people will continue to be dealt with under the current law, and should they apply for parole, they have the ability to try and convince the Parole Board they should be released on some basis, not that their sentence ends but that they be released on some basis.
The bill does not have anything to do with the procedures related to the faint hope clause. There has also been legislation before the House dealing with that. The faint hope clause does not apply to multiple murders in the first place and the individual has to apply to a judge to be able to get approval to apply to the Parole Board. The individual has to get permission from a judge and from the Parole Board and then he or she has to make an application. This bill does not actually affect the faint hope clause at all.
It is important to note that the bill does not automatically impose a second 25 year period of ineligibility for parole. Right now the parole ineligibility period is 25 years. The bill does not say that if someone commits a second murder, that individual would have an automatic additional 25 year period of ineligibility. The bill does not do that. That is one of the reasons the bill has a chance to pass, and I get the impression that it will pass.
Bill would impose some discretion. Although my colleague from did not find the procedural provision helpful in section 745.21, an explicit instruction is given to the jury in these trials where it is asked to comment. The jury is asked to provide its recommendation if it so wishes as to whether or not the judge should impose a second 25 year ineligibility period. The instruction reads:
|| 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.
The jury in the second trial is invited to make a recommendation and most people would find that quite reasonable, although as has been stated here, it will be difficult sometimes for a jury to make a recommendation in a circumstance like this when it has not had the benefit of hearing from the accused. In this particular circumstance the accused will have already been convicted, but just. That person may or may not have taken the stand and all of the evidence will have come in from third parties. There will be no psychiatric or other medical evidence pertaining to the individual.
Most juries would find themselves underequipped to make a recommendation but in some cases a jury will make a citizen's judgment, if I can put it that way. We have heard the circumstances of those very sad, tragic killings in Surrey of innocent people who quite innocently came up against a gangland group, and a jury might say that it had heard enough to make a recommendation.
Anyway, the recommendation, if made, is made and then later on the judge must make a decision. The wording there says that a judge may, having regard to the character of the offender, the nature of the offence and the circumstances surrounding its commission and the recommendation, if any, made by the jury, order that the periods without parole eligibility are to be served consecutively.
There is the discretion on the part of a judge and if a judge does not decide to make these periods consecutive, he or she must give reasons. I would have thought that we might have wanted to have reasons either way but I am sure the judge will give reasons either way because in murder convictions there is a high probability of scrutiny of that judgment, potential for appeal, and a judge would not want to be seen making any decision, one way or another, without giving appropriate reasons. I am sure all Canadians agree with that perspective.
There will be a considered and rational decision made by a court about these parole ineligibility periods and it will be based on information brought out at the trial, either in the trial itself or in the sentencing phase.
I am prepared to give the bill guarded support because there is this discretion and not because I believe that the legislation in its execution will make the public any safer. I do not think anybody is seriously suggesting that this is public safety related. I should not say nobody because the bill has a short title where the government says that this bill may be cited as the protecting Canadians by ending sentence discounts for multiple murders act. The government somehow believes that this would make Canadians safer. I actually do not see that.
The second thing is that the judge, in making a decision about a second parole ineligibility period, cannot simply increase it by five, ten or fifteen years. The legislation only allows the judge to double it. I would either be 25 years or 50 years. Many of us think that is kind of dumb. It is actually more likely to make the judge decide not to impose the 50 years. I am speaking from my own experience, but we must keep in mind that this is judicial discretion. While the pretence here is that we are throwing the book at the convicted person, the fact is that there will be a jury, with or without recommendation, and there will be a judge who will be making a discretionary decision. We tried to vary this at the committee but without success, which is too bad.
What is the real effect of this on the street? Fortunately, there are not many of these multiple murders in our society. Regrettably, of course, there are some but there are not many and, because they are so notorious, we know about them all and we remember them. It becomes a litany over a quarter century of all of these terrible killings. They are truly sad but we remember them more than most of the others.
It seems to me that what will happen over time is that after 25 years the same logic and rationale that is currently used by the Parole Board in determining whether a person can be released on parole, whether it is murder or any other conviction, but let us just focus on second degree and first degree murder, the Parole Board will exercise its judgment as to whether the person, having regard to all of the circumstances, the denunciation, the deterrence, the public safety, can be safely released from prison.? That is what the Parole Board does all the time and it makes a whole lot of good decisions.
Is there a mistake once in a while? There could be. Do judges make mistakes? Maybe they do once in a while.
I remember that when I was first elected to this place in the late 1980s there were two separate cases of parole releases where very bad things happened. There were also prison escapes where some very bad things happened. However, the corrections system has improved and I think it is managing things much better.
I think that the same logic that is used by the Parole Board will actually be transmitted over to judges. The judges will begin to think the same way. When it comes time to either impose or not impose the second 25-year period of ineligibility, they will be thinking: Can this person be dealt with via the single parole ineligibility period? In other words, will we see him or her released in some fashion on parole, not end of sentence, after 25, 30 or 35 years? The only other alternative, if they impose the second 25-year period, would be release after 50 years and for many people that will be never. Judges will need to take on the challenge of thinking this way. I have every confidence that they will do it properly within the law and in the public interest and will serve each of the communities they in which they serve.
However, will it make a difference in deterrence? Beyond any shadow of a doubt, and I am not trying to make light of this, I cannot imagine that any prospective killers will pull out their copy of the Criminal Code before they commit the murder to try to determine whether they might or might not have a second period of parole ineligibility. This just will not happen and it is illogical to think that it would happen. Will there be any direct deterrence by this? I suspect not.
I also accept that many people in society like the mathematical simplicity of being able to see what a period of hard time in prison is in relation to the criminal act they have committed. If they rob a bank they will get five years, if they rob two banks they will get ten years and if they rob three banks they will get fifteen years. I can subscribe to the mathematical simplicity of that and a sense of justice, or whatever it is, not retribution. However, in this case we must keep in mind that we are not dealing with the sentence. The sentence is life. It always has been and still is. We are only dealing with a parole ineligibility issue.
While much of this, and some of the other legislation with which we have had to deal, is a sham, is posturing and is pretence, this one has a very small tweak to it. I do not think there is any sense of discount. We just need ask Mr. Olson or Mr. Bernardo if there is a discount there for them. There is no discount. This is a lifetime enterprise for them. They are in jail and I do not think the Parole Board is going to see it any other way.
I regret that we need to deal with 10 or 20 separate Criminal Code bills. The government seems intent on trotting out every little vignette, scenario and bill number with a very sexy title. I think it is a bit of a distortion of how we can work around here.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to Bill , which deals with the possibility of making periods without eligibility for parole consecutive in the case of multiple murders.
On October 28, 2009, the Minister of Justice introduced Bill , which was intended to protect Canadians by ending sentence discounts for multiple murders. It had been introduced at first reading and died on the order paper at the end of 2009 because the Conservative Party and the Prime Minister decided to prorogue the House, thus putting an end to all bills.
Bill C-54 is therefore the ancestor of Bill C-48. The Conservative Party did not think Bill C-48 was very important, since it waited until October 5, 2010 to introduce it. Even if it had the intention, it was not a major priority of the Conservative Party since prorogation put an end to Bill C-54. In spite of the fact that the House resumed in February-March 2010, the government waited until October 5, 2010 to introduce Bill C-48.
The new provisions would authorize judges to impose consecutive periods without eligibility for parole on individuals convicted of more than one first degree or second degree murder. Under the existing rules, individuals who are sentenced for multiple murders receive simultaneous periods without parole eligibility. I say this to make it clear that judges could now extend the period without eligibility by making the periods consecutive. It would then be longer before the criminal could be eligible for parole than under the present legislation.
Judges would not be required to impose consecutive periods, but they would have to make their decision having regard to the character of the offender, the nature of the offences and the circumstances surrounding their commission, and the recommendation, if any, made by the jury. They would also have to give reasons either orally or in writing for not imposing consecutive periods. Judges are allowed that latitude. That is why the Bloc Québécois supports Bill in principle, because it is judges who will decide.
Bill C-48 deals with the most serious crime, the one that has the most severe consequences for victims and affects the public most strongly: murder. Its aim is to allow sentencing judges to make periods without eligibility for parole consecutive in multiple murder cases.
First, the most serious crimes deserve the most serious penalties and are therefore subject to imprisonment for life. The Bloc Québécois is firmly opposed to sentences that are too light or parole that is too easy, such as parole after one-sixth of sentence, for example. Twice, our party has introduced bills in the House to have criminals serve their full sentence and not be able to get parole after one-sixth of sentence.
In the news, we saw white collar criminal Vincent Lacroix become eligible for parole last week. He is now in society, in a halfway house in Montreal.
We consider that to be completely and utterly appalling. Criminals like Vincent Lacroix have stigmatized their victims for the rest of their lives. These victims lost all their money, although there was a settlement before the courts thanks to the banks and companies that processed the funds. It was essentially an out-of-court settlement with no evidence presented.
No evidence-based trial was ever contemplated because these companies quite simply did not want to be saddled going forward with a bad corporate image. The companies instead decided to settle for the full amount of the victims' losses. The fact remains, however, that for five years these victims were traumatized. Moreover, Vincent Lacroix, the ringleader, a criminal, is on parole after serving one-sixth of his sentence, because the parole officers quite simply did not consider him to be a criminal who presented a danger to society.
Vincent Lacroix obviously did not murder anyone, but he did commit a very serious crime: he defrauded his fellow man and traumatized the majority of his clients. In the eyes of the Bloc Québécois, this is a crime for which the perpetrator should be forced to serve out his entire sentence with no possibility of parole. In fact, the whole concept of parole and being eligible for release after serving one-sixth of one's sentence undermines the credibility of the entire judicial system and only gives credence to the misguided notion that criminals are treated better than their victims.
There is the rub, particularly in the case of Vincent Lacroix. Once again, a criminal has been handed a sentence and yet does not serve out this complete sentence behind bars. He is rehabilitated and deemed reputable because he has been paroled. He can re-enter society on certain conditions, but the fact is, he is now there, in society. I repeat, these criminals should serve out their full sentence.
Bill deals only with criminals who have committed the most serious crime, murder. It seems unusual that a second murder would not result in an additional sentence. Logic dictates, however, that it is not possible to serve out two life sentences. Under Bill C–48, the judge would at least have the option of imposing consecutive periods of parole ineligibility.
Under the current legislation, even if someone has been handed one, two or three life sentences, that person is eligible for parole, regardless of whether the parole is associated with the first sentence. It is not possible to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods by virtue of the fact that a person has been handed several life sentences for his many crimes. The judge is not permitted to make an order that such a person will be ineligible for a specific number of years. Under Bill , it would be possible to increase the period of ineligibility so that the most violent criminals are forced to serve out their complete sentence.
In addition, the Bloc Québécois thinks that punishment cannot be the sole objective of the legal system, to the neglect of rehabilitation and reintegration. Parole, even for murderers, is an important step in the rehabilitation and reintegration process because these people end up returning to society some day. It is very important, therefore, for them to have the best possible treatment to ensure that their reintegration is safe for the rest of society.
There is no question, therefore, of asking for the pure and simple abolition of parole. It is what enables criminals to be treated and reintegrated into society. Life sentences inevitably mean that offenders can be reintegrated into society after 25 years.
The Bloc Québécois is going to support the bill, but not in order to increase the range of penalties at a judge’s disposal to punish a crime. Despite what the minister says, we know very well that these measures have no dissuasive effect, especially in cases of recidivism, which are very rare. This is an exceptional measure, therefore, for exceptional cases where the jury provides its opinion and judges keep their discretionary powers. That is why the Bloc Québécois will support this measure: in the end, it is the jury that makes the recommendation and judges keep their discretionary powers.
We want to point out, though, that recidivism is rare and it is very expensive to keep people in prison after they have served long sentences—nearly 30 years on average—even though the recidivism rate is very low. In addition, not all victims feel comforted by extended prison terms. Maybe we could do more for them, rather than looking upon prison as the only solution to crime. We should also be able to look at what the victims go through so that judges can have an array of choices in passing sentence, depending on the consequences of the crime.
According to the legislative summary, the most serious crimes in the Criminal Code can be punished by life sentences. For some crimes, such as treason and murder, life in prison is the only sentence provided and is therefore the minimum sentence.
Homicide is divided into several categories: murder, manslaughter and infanticide. Murder is the most serious kind of homicide. It is an act committed with the intention of killing or mortally wounding someone or an illegal act that the offender knows is likely to cause death. There are two kinds of murder: first degree and second degree.
First degree murder is premeditated and deliberate, a planned murder. Other kinds of murder are automatically equated with first degree murder under the Criminal Code. This applies in particular to the murder of a police officer or a prison guard and murder that occurs in the course of an airplane hijacking, sexual assault, or a hostage taking.
Manslaughter has occurred when there is no intention to kill but there is negligence. For example, it could include firing a gun through a hedge with no concern for whether there is someone on the other side.
When it comes to sentencing, the Criminal Code is clear. Anyone committing murder in the first or second degree is guilty of a crime and must be sentenced to life in prison. Only the parole ineligibility period may vary depending on whether a first or a second degree murder was committed. In the case of first degree murder, parole is not permitted for a minimum of 25 years, as I previously stated. In the case of second degree murder, the judge determines the parole ineligibility period within a 10- to 25-year range.
The maximum sentence for manslaughter is life behind bars, and there is no minimum term of imprisonment, except when a firearm is used. Nor is there any minimum parole ineligibility period. The regular rules therefore apply.
Under the current system, multiple murderers serve out their life sentences simultaneously and are therefore subject to a single 25-year parole ineligibility period. The only exception currently is when a murder is committed in prison by a person who has already being convicted on murder charges. What is important to understand is that if a person were to commit two murders, the judge would be able to extend the ineligibility period beyond the 25-year mark. Such an individual could end up spending the remainder of his days behind bars.
It is important to remember that even inmates who have been given early release are subject to lifelong supervision and may be put back behind bars for any transgression. It is also worth noting that, to date, among the many people who have been granted early release, only one has reoffended, the crime in this case being armed robbery. It should be noted, however, that under the Criminal Code persons sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for over 15 years may ask the court, once they have served a minimum of 15 years of their sentence, to reduce the parole ineligibility period. The government is attempting to scrap this measure by way of separate bill, Bill .
Once in effect, this legislation would enable judges to hand down consecutive periods of parole ineligibility to persons convicted of several first or second degree murders. In other words, if a person were to commit two murders, the judge would be able to order two periods of ineligibility, one 25-year period for the initial sentence and a further 10 years for the second sentence, or two 25-year periods, for example.
Judges would not be required to impose consecutive periods but would make their decision on the basis of the character of the person being tried. All this amounts to saying that judges retain their freedom, that is to say, it is up to them to decide whether to impose successive periods of ineligibility for parole. They do this on the basis of the character of the person being tried, the nature of the crimes committed and the circumstances surrounding them, and any jury recommendation. Judges would also be required to state orally or in writing why they did not impose consecutive periods of ineligibility.
The said he wanted to ensure that serial killers and recidivists pay the price for their actions. He said the purpose of the bill was to put an end to what he calls “sentence discounts” for multiple murderers. The government should stop using this kind of language, which serves only to discredit our legal system, which he should be defending. We do not think it makes sense to talk of sentence discounts, although it is strange that the sentences for these crimes are regularly served simultaneously.
We also want to take advantage of this opportunity to raise a few more points. In regard to recidivism, between January 1975 and March 2006, 19,210 offenders who had served a sentence for homicide—9,091 for murder and 10,119 for manslaughter—returned to the community, either on parole or on statutory release. Of these 19,210 offenders, 45 were later convicted of another 96 homicides in Canada. The reoffenders therefore amounted to 0.2% of the 19,210 people convicted of homicide who were released into the community over the last 31 years. During this period, police forces in Canada were apprised of more than 18,000 homicides. The criminals who reoffended while on parole by committing another homicide therefore accounted for 0.5% of all the homicides committed in Canada over the last 31 years. The figures show, therefore, that there is no basis for all the exaggerated arguments focused on safety.
Since the last death sentence was carried out in Canada in 1962, the period served by offenders convicted of murder prior to full parole has increased dramatically. Offenders serving life terms for murders committed before January 4, 1968 were paroled after seven years. Offenders serving life terms for murders committed between January 4, 1968 and January 1, 1974 were paroled after 10 years. Thereafter, the period varied between 10 and 25 years, depending on the kind of murder committed.
In addition, the average term of incarceration for offenders sentenced to life for first degree murder shows that the average served in Canada is longer than in all the countries examined, including the United States, except for American offenders serving a life sentence without possibility of parole. In addition to the countries referred to in the legislative summary, we must include Sweden, at 12 years, and England, at 14 years, while the average time spent in custody in Canada is 28 years and four months.
In terms of hope, as we said during debate on Bill , we should encourage inmates serving a life sentence to behave well and seek out rehabilitation programs. That is how we will contribute to improving the safety of guards and other employees in the correctional service. It is therefore important that a parole system remain, so it is in criminals’ interests to improve themselves in prison, because without that system it would be difficult for the entire prison system and especially for the employees who work in it.
The government is not standing up for victims. It is using them to push its penitentiaries policy. Some people may in fact support an application for early parole by an inmate who has already served a very long period of incarceration. For example, when the victim and inmate are related or know each other, as was the case in 84 percent of solved homicides in 2007, or when the murderer is very young, the victim’s family may approve of parole after a long period of incarceration.
Bill , not the bill that is before us, but another bill introduced in the Senate, would eliminate all possibility of early parole for all inmates, regardless of the circumstances and the views of the victim’s family.
In the case of Richard Kowbel, which was heard in the British Columbia Supreme Court, the young man had attacked his family, killing his mother and seriously injuring his father and sister. Both his father and his sister testified in support of his 15-year review application. We think judges should give reasons for their decisions in all cases, whether to make periods without eligibility consecutive or not. It will be understood—
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill , one of the many crime bills the government has introduced over the last five years. The government has introduced these bills on several occasions, only to prorogue Parliament or to call an election earlier than necessary. This brings into question the Conservatives' lack of sincerity about the bills, whether they seriously believe in passing and implementing the bills or whether it is all about planks in their election platform.
For example, when the government prorogued Parliament a year ago, the bill had a different number. One would have thought the government would come back into the House last March and reintroduce this bill along with all of the other ones it had killed when it prorogued Parliament, yet it took the government 216 days to get around to reintroducing this bill. That should be an indicator to people watching today that the government's commitment is a bit lacking in this area.
In the last few days there has been a shifting of political ground in the United States. On January 7 Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives and a great power in the Republican Party in the United States for a number of years, teamed up with other top-level Republicans from even the Reagan days, such as Ed Meese and other people like him. They essentially came around to 100% of the NDP position and in many cases the Bloc position, and sometimes the Liberal position, on crime.
If Conservative members of Parliament actually read what Newt Gingrich had to say, they would be quite impressed because when Newt Gingrich talks about crime now, he talks about getting it right on crime, doing what works. That is what we as parliamentarians should be looking at. If members of the Conservative Party were to take a time-out to study what Newt Gingrich had to say on January 7, to look at the situation in North Carolina and in Texas over the last five years, they would recognize there is a brand of conservatism in the United States which is saying, “What we are doing here is not working. We are wasting a lot of tax dollars. There is a way to be smart on crime. Let us do that”.
These are the issues the NDP, the Bloc, and the Liberals have been addressing in this House consistently over the last few years.
If I have some time at the end of my speech, I will deal with more of the issues of what Newt Gingrich had to say. If anybody would like a copy of this article, I would be very pleased to provide it. I am particularly interested in members from the Conservative Party who might be interested in reading this article because they are obviously going to hear more about this in the future. It is dated January 7. It is a very recent publication by Newt Gingrich.
This bill is one that is getting pretty much unanimous support in the House. All of the parties will be supporting it, even though we all have observations, reservations and suspicions about why the government wants to push it through at this time.
Bill , as I indicated, has had previous incarnations and numbers. It is an act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to the National Defence Act. The short title, which has been a subject of debate here and at committee, is “Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act”. The debate rages in the House about the appropriateness of that title and having that type of short title for these bills. I believe that over time the government will see the folly of this strategy and will come back to the old way of doing things, which is to simply call it what it is.
I note that it is not just the Conservative government here that is doing things like that. The NDP government in Manitoba has resorted to putting short titles on specific bills, I guess to make them more palatable for the press to report on.
Nevertheless, this bill was given first reading in the House on October 5, 2010. As I indicated, clearly 216 days went by before this tough on crime government actually started to get tough on crime. It let that time go by. The Conservatives could have called an election last September and this bill would not have been reintroduced. That shows their commitment.
The bill amends the Criminal Code with respect to the parole admissibility period for offenders convicted of multiple murders. This is done by affording judges the opportunity to make the parole ineligibility periods for multiple murders consecutive rather than concurrent. The bill also makes consequential amendments to the National Defence Act.
One of the reasons this bill is getting support from the Bloc and other sources in the House is that it does leave the judge with discretion. That is reasonably important. However, it was mentioned by speakers earlier today that an amendment was introduced but it was defeated. Now a judge will have a choice between 25 years or 50 years, where in fact, the judge's discretion perhaps should be somewhere in between. If the judge is only given an option of 25 years or 50 years, that may not be workable in the long run. As I mentioned, there are very few cases to which this would apply. I have statistics, which I will get to later, that indicate the actual number of cases that would be involved.
Consecutive parole ineligibility periods for multiple murderers will not be mandatory under the provisions of Bill . Judges will be left with the discretion to consider the character of the offender, the nature and circumstances of the offence and any jury recommendations before deciding on whether consecutive parole ineligibility periods are appropriate. The bill will also require that judges state orally or in writing the basis for any decision not to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods on multiple murderers.
I want to get into some of the provisions of the current law, how it came about and demonstrate that this is not a simple process. We get a false impression, thanks to the simplicity of media reports and the concentration on only those exceptions, the few cases that are extreme rather than the norm. The public gets the impression it is a revolving-door system. I hear that when I go door to door. We had coffee parties in my riding in the last few weeks and people told me that was their impression from listening to the media. The reality in dealing with the system is that it is quite different. That is why I want to get into the mechanics and requirements for moving through the system.
In 1976 Parliament repealed the death penalty and imposed a mandatory life sentence for the offence of murder. Offenders who were convicted of first degree murder serve a minimum life sentence with no eligibility for parole before they have served 25 years.
I have indicated the average amount of time spent in prison by murderers in Canada is 28 years, which makes the average in Canada pretty much the highest in the world. There are statistics to show that in other countries that we are very familiar with and actually admire the average is much less, and they are not considered unsafe countries by any means.
For offenders convicted of second degree murder, a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment is also imposed, with the judge setting the parole eligibility to a point between 10 and 25 years. Those serving a life sentence can only be released from prison if granted parole by the National Parole Board.
Unlike most inmates who are serving a sentence of a fixed length, for example, 2, 10 or 20 years, lifers are not entitled to statutory release. If granted parole they will, for the rest of their lives, remain subject to the conditions of parole and the supervision of a Correctional Service Canada parole officer.
Once again, people like Clifford Olson will never get out of prison, nor will Robert Pickton or any other person in this situation. For us to pretend otherwise is doing a disservice to the public.
Parole may be revoked and offenders returned to prison any time they violate the conditions of parole or commit any new offence. Not all lifers will be granted parole. Some may never be released on parole because they continue to represent too great a risk to reoffend.
The one exception to the 25 year parole ineligibility period for first degree murder or to the 15 to 25 year parole ineligibility period for second degree murder is the so-called faint hope clause. We discussed that yesterday.
During the years following its initial introduction in 1976, the faint hope provision underwent a number of amendments. I will mention the criteria for the possible release on parole of someone serving a life sentence.
The inmate must have served at least 15 years of the sentence. The inmate who has been convicted of more than one murder, or at least one of the murders was committed after January 9, 1997 when certain amendments came into force, will not apply for a review of his or her parole ineligibility period. These were amendments brought in under the Chrétien government. They basically disallowed multiple murderers from involving themselves with the faint hope clause. That is not the impression the government likes to leave with the public, but multiple murderers cannot apply anyway.
To seek a reduction in the number of years of imprisonment without eligibility for parole, the offender must apply to the chief justice of the province or territory in which his or her conviction took place. The chief justice or a superior court judge designated by the chief justice must first determine whether the applicant has shown that there is a reasonable prospect the application for review will succeed. The assessment is based on, once again, a number of criteria.
This is not a simple process. It is not a revolving door at all. It is very involved, which is why, at the end of the day, while there are 13,000 people in prison, we are looking at very small numbers of people to whom this act would apply.
The criteria that the assessment is based on are: the character of the applicant; the applicant's conduct while serving the sentence, for example, he or she is not involved in prison riots and other altercations within the system; the nature of the offence for which the applicant was convicted; any information provided by the victims; the victims' input is taken at the time of the imposition of the sentence or the time of the hearing under this section; and any other matters the judge considers relevant to the circumstances.
If the application is dismissed for lack of reasonable prospect of success, the chief justice may set a time for another application, and once again, not earlier than two years after the dismissal, or he or she may declare that the inmate will not be entitled to make another application at all, and that would be the end of it. If the chief justice or judge determines that the application has a reasonable prospect of success, a judge will be assigned to hear the matter with a jury. In determining whether the period of parole ineligibility should be reduced, the jury should consider the five criteria that I outlined above. The jury's determination to reduce the parole ineligibility period must be unanimous. It cannot be split. It has to be a unanimous decision .
The victims of the offender's crime may provide information, either orally or in writing or in any other manner the judge considers appropriate. If the application is dismissed, the jury may, by a two-thirds majority, either set a time not earlier than two years after the determination when the inmate may make another application, or it may decide that the inmate will not be entitled to make any further applications.
If a jury determines that the number of years of imprisonment without eligibility for parole ought to be reduced, a two-thirds majority of the jury may substitute a lesser number of years of imprisonment without eligibility for parole than the number then applicable. The number of years without eligibility for parole that it may assign could range from 15 to 24 years.
Once permission to apply for early parole has been granted, the inmate must apply to the National Parole Board to obtain parole. Whether the inmate is released and when is the sole decision of the National Parole Board. It is based on a risk assessment, with the protection of the public as its foremost consideration. Board members must also be satisfied that the offender would follow specific conditions, which may include a restriction of movement, participation in treatment programs, which, once again, even Newt Gingrich is now sold on as a way to deal with issues like this in the United States, and prohibitions on associating with certain people such as victims, children, convicted criminals, whatever the particulars are of that case.
The faint hope clause review is not a forum for a retrial of the original offence, nor is it a parole hearing. A favourable decision by the judge and the jury simply advances the date at which the offender may apply for parole.
The Criminal Code implicitly provides that all sentences should be served concurrently unless the sentencing judge directs that a sentence is to be served consecutively or legislation requires that it is to be served consecutively. For example, section 85(4) of the Criminal Code requires that a sentence for using a firearm in the commission of an offence shall be served consecutively to any other punishment imposed on the person for an offence arising out of the same event or series of events.
Section 83.26 mandates, once again, consecutive sentences, exactly what the government is talking about. We have consecutive sentences for the sentence for use of a firearm in the commission of a crime, plus consecutive sentences for terrorist activity. It is not as if we do not have those applications elsewhere other than the case of a life sentence. Section 467.1(4) requires consecutive sentences for organized crime. Those are the three exceptions.
One example of when a consecutive sentence may be imposed by a sentencing judge is when the offender is already under sentence of imprisonment. In cases where more than one murder has been committed, and I had indicated the numbers are rather small, the offender serves his or her sentences concurrently. A sentence of a term of years imposed consecutive to a sentence of life imprisonment is not valid in law. Life imprisonment means imprisonment for life, notwithstanding any release on parole.
We get into this whole issue that if someone is already sentenced for life, how many lives can that person serve? If a person is in prison for life and lives to be 100 years old, what is the point of having two or three life sentences, because that person is not going to have more than one life at the end of the day. That is the point.
The consequence of this is that a consecutive life sentence could not take effect until the offender has actually died. The courts have held that Parliament cannot have contemplated this physical impossibility, which would tend to bring the law into disrepute, nor is the faint hope clause available so long as at least one of the murders was committed after January 9, 1997.
I want to deal with an issue that has been mentioned by a number of other people, which is that in 1999 an international comparison of the average time served in custody by an offender with a life sentence for first degree murder showed Canada exceeds the average time served in all countries surveyed, including the United States, with the exception of U.S. offenders serving life sentences without parole. The estimated average time that a Canadian convicted for first degree murder spent in prison was 28.4 years.
I just wanted to advise as to what some of the other countries do, countries that we look up to, that we--
Mr. Speaker, here we go again. This is yet another bill where the government is likely more concerned with how it will be perceived by the public for bringing this bill forward and trying to portray an image of getting tough on crime. If the government really wanted to get tough on crime, it would show it in the types of expenditures and programming that would ensure fewer crimes would be committed.
Bill has appeared before the House in the past, in a different form of course. That was prior to the time when the and saw fit to prorogue the session, ultimately killing everything on the order paper at that time.
Following caucus, cabinet or, more specifically, the 's office discussions, the determination was made that the government could still get more points on this bill by reintroducing it in the form we see today, Bill .
To make matters worse, the government often tries to give the impression that the Liberal Party is causing problems with the bill not passing. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Liberal Party has gone out of its way to try to accommodate the government in regard to coming up with legislation and supporting legislation that would be of benefit.
The members for and had championed a private member's bill that dealt with concurrent versus consecutive sentencing. We only wish the Conservative government would give the same sort of attention to that bill such as it gives to its own bills. The private member's bill had a great deal of merit and ultimately could have been brought before a committee.
Instead of doing that, because it did not necessarily fit its agenda, the government felt it was in its best interest to reintroduce a bill that previously failed because the it decided to prorogue the session, killing a number of bills that were on the order paper.
Today we find ourselves, once again, at second reading, with the government asking members of the opposition to allow the bill to pass. The bill is pretty straightforward. I suspect there is a sense of co-operation in wanting this bill to go to the next stage to see if there is the possibility of the government being willing to accept friendly amendments that would give it that much more appeal and would ultimately allow it to receive passage in the House.
Opposition members look forward to the government having an open mind as this bill goes through the stages. We are a little bit skeptical in terms the government's willingness to acknowledge ideas that come from the opposition.
In terms of the actual need for the legislation, one of the things we need to take a look at is some statistical information in regard to homicide. In terms of public response to different types of homicide, there are very few that are viewed as horrific as those involving more than one victim. There are examples.
Canadian history shows we have had some fairly horrific cases involving a number of victims where one individual took a toll on social justice. These individuals did so much damage or caused so much concern when in fact something could have been done if more programming, services and supports were in place to prevent some of these horrific acts.
I understand we are at third reading stage of the bill. I recognize there is always the opportunity for changes. I look forward to the bill ultimately going through its final stage in the House of Commons.
I want to focus my attention on some of the statistics. The information the legislative library provides us with is great. In 1999 the number of cases involving 2 victims was 26, 3 victims were 2 and 4 and more victims was 1. The number of victims has been relatively consistent through the years. In 1999 there was one multiple homicide case involving four or more victims. In 2001 there were two. In 2002 there was one. There were no convictions in 2003-04. There was one case in 2005. In 2006 there were three. In 2007 there were three. In 2008 there was one. Fourteen cases involved four or more victims. This bill would apply to them.
If we canvass the different stakeholders, some would ultimately argue to what degree individuals have been convicted of four or more murders and have been released before serving 25 years. This question has been posed to me, but I did not know the answer. I am not sure if the government provided that information. However, it is relevant to know to what degree individuals within our system who have been convicted of four or more murders are provided with the opportunity to be released prior to serving 25 years. I suspect, and I could be wrong, that we would not find any at that level. I look to the government to please inform me if I am wrong.
In regard to three victims or less in that same period of time, we are talking somewhere in the neighbourhood of 31 cases. Where the increases get significant is the multiple factor of 2 where the number jumps up to 210 cases between 1999 and 2008.
The issue of multiple murders is something that gets a great deal of attention from the media as the public responds hastily toward individuals who commit these types of crimes. The public wants to know that punishment is taken into consideration when someone commits a horrendous crime such as murder.
A number of different cases in the history of Canada clearly highlight the need for us to look at the difference in the wording of consecutive versus concurrent based on different reports, whether it is through the media, or stakeholders, or individuals or discussions with constituents over the years.
As a justice critic at the provincial level, I often have to meet and consult with a wide variety of individuals at that grassroots level. Over the years I have heard from literally hundreds of victims of crime; there is that sense of helplessness, a sense that the government is not listening to what is being done or what is happening in the communities, and they do have a high expectation that the justice system will in fact work for them.
When I look at the legislation as it is, in third reading and in these final stages, I am interested in seeing how it fits in with what the expectation of the public really is. What I find is that generally speaking, the public as a whole will support it. They support it, I believe, because they want to feel comfortable in knowing that there is a significant consequence to some of these horrific crimes that are being committed in our society.
I have looked at the government over the last couple of weeks in particular. I started off my comments by saying, “Here we go again”. What I was referring to is that the bill before us today would have very little, if any, impact in preventing crimes from occurring. Having this piece of legislation is not going to stop a multiple murder from occurring--at least, I do not believe that to be the case--yet the government seems to want to put its priorities in terms of bringing in legislation of this nature, while at the same time--and maybe I would not be as offended if it were not doing it at the same time--it is cutting back on what I believe are some programs that would go a long way in protecting society.
Ultimately I would make reference to the cutbacks happening in Winnipeg, in particular in the Winnipeg North-Winnipeg Centre area, which I believe is most affected. These cutbacks will ultimately prevent organizations from being able to keep kids out of gangs and gang activities. I say that because in reviewing some of those statistics that I referenced, we will find that a number of those individual cases are in fact gang-related. There are gangs that do commit multiple murders. That is nothing new to the House of Commons. I am sure that the House has heard that on numerous occasions. However, the point is that by cutting back funding or by not allowing the funding to continue for these anti-gang measures in Winnipeg, we are causing potential harm going forward.
We can look again at some of the statistics that have been provided. We will find that in most cases multiple murders are family-based or relation-based situations, but there are areas where on numerous occasions it has come from a stranger, and quite often strangers or unknowns involve, in essence, elements such as gang activities. In Manitoba we have had some gang incidents involving murder, and the government, I believe, could have played a role in being able to address those types of crimes going forward.
It is nice to see a government respond to the issue of multiple murders and consecutive versus concurrent sentencing. This is nothing new per se. It has been talked about for a while; I made reference that some of my Liberal colleagues have introduced a private member's bill dealing with that particular issue. It is nice to see some action being taken on it, but the real concern for me is that we take advantage of opportunities such as this to say to the government that there is so much more it could be doing that would make a difference.
I am very disappointed that the government has chosen not to make the commitment for the funds necessary to keep kids out of gangs. Some of the programs the government is effectively saying “no more” to include things such as O.A.S.I.S. in Manitoba, which has helped refugees to not slip into potential gang-type activities by ensuring that there are skill sets programs, English as a second language, and other similar programs. There are intense mentorship programs engaging high-risk youth. These programs will be disappearing unless alternative funding is found, because this government is pulling the money away from these groups. As a result, we are putting those kids at risk.
I believe it is dishonest to do that and think that the issue of crime is being dealt with. To deal with crime, we need to provide support. We have to start dealing with the issue of what is causing crime to take place. It is great that we are able to deal with legislation for crime after the fact, but at the end of the day I am just as interested in trying to prevent some of those crimes from happening in the future.
When we look at this bill and at some of the murders that take place, we may find that some could have been prevented if we had better programming at the other end. I suggest that it would be far more cost-efficient to invest at that end than to have to store individuals who have committed these types of crimes in jails for 25-30 years and beyond, especially when we get into the area of multiple murders.
At the end of the day, with the information provided to us, there is a strong argument that the bill will be passing in the House of Commons and ultimately become law if we believe, as we do, that at this point the government is prepared to see the bill carry its way through. We see that as a positive thing.
However, yesterday we talked about the faint hope clause. In dealing with issues such as this, involving concurrent versus consecutive sentences or the faint hope clause, what we are really talking about is longer periods of time of incarceration. Many would argue that having consecutive sentences or getting rid of the faint hope clause may cause other issues within the system that would need to be dealt with.
Those issues are related in good part to behaviour. Typically an inmate will review many different things in terms of how their behaviour might impact--
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to speak to this important bill, Bill , which deals with the issue of the desirability or undesirability of concurrent or consecutive sentences when dealing with multiple murderers.
The bill, by way of background, would amend the Criminal Code and make consequential amendments to the National Defence Act, and was given first reading in the House in October of last year.
The bill specifically amends the Criminal Code with respect to the parole inadmissibility period for offenders convicted of multiple murders. This is done by affording judges the opportunity to make the parole ineligibility period for multiple murderers consecutive rather than concurrent.
Consecutive parole ineligibility periods for multiple murderers would not be mandatory under the bill. Instead, judges would be left with the discretion to consider the character of the offender, the nature and circumstances of the offence and any jury recommendations before deciding upon whether consecutive parole ineligibility periods were appropriate or not. The bill would require that judges state orally or in writing the basis for their decision not to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods on multiple murderers.
The current law is this: in 1976, when Parliament repealed the death penalty, it imposed a mandatory life sentence for the offence of murder. Offenders convicted of first degree murder serve life as a minimum sentence, with no eligibility for parole for at least 25 years. For offenders convicted of second degree murder, a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment is also imposed, with the judge setting the parole eligibility at some point between 10 and 25 years, depending on the circumstances.
Those serving a life sentence can only be released from prison if they are granted parole by the National Parole Board. Unlike most inmates who are serving a sentence of a fixed length--for instance, two, five or 10 years--people who have received a life sentence are not entitled to statutory release. If granted parole, however, they will, for the rest of their lives, remain subject to the conditions of parole and under the supervision of the Correctional Service of Canada and the parole officers who would be assigned to them.
It is important to understand that parole may be revoked and offenders returned to prison at any time if they violate the conditions of parole or if they commit a new offence. Of course, it is important to understand that not all people who have life sentences will be granted parole. Some--in fact, many--may never be released on parole, because they continue to represent too great a risk to reoffend.
We talked yesterday about the faint hope clause, which gives people who have been given a life sentence and who have not committed more than one murder the opportunity to apply for parole earlier than 25 years. In the House yesterday we went over the many stringent conditions that would have to occur before that would be allowed to happen.
I think it is important to understand that what we are talking about here is something different, which is what the appropriate sentence would be for someone who has murdered two or more people. The Criminal Code typically provides that all sentences shall be served concurrently unless a sentencing judge directs sentences to be served consecutively or legislation requires that they be served consecutively. For example, subsection 85(4) of the Criminal Code requires that a sentence for using a firearm in the commission of an offence shall be served consecutively to any other punishment imposed on the person for an offence arising out of the same event or series of events. Section 83.26, which mandates consecutive sentences for terrorist activities, is an example other than in the case of a life sentence, and section 467.14 requires consecutive sentences for organized crime offences. One example of when a consecutive sentence may be imposed by a sentencing judge occurs when the offender is already under a sentence of imprisonment.
We see that in our criminal law we have situations in which consecutive sentences are specifically provided for automatically, and in some cases we have situations in which a judge has the discretion to impose sentences to be served consecutively, as opposed to concurrently or at the same time.
In cases in which more than one murder has been committed, at present the offender serves his or her life sentences concurrently. A sentence of a term of years imposed consecutive to a sentence of life imprisonment is not, under the present law, valid.
Life imprisonment means imprisonment for life, notwithstanding any release on parole. The consequence of this is that a consecutive life sentence cannot take effect until the offender has died. The courts have held that Parliament cannot have contemplated this physical impossibility, which would tend to bring the law into disrepute. Nor is the faint hope clause available, so long as at least one of the murders was committed after January 9, 1997.
What we are dealing with today is a legislative proposal that would give judges in this country the discretion, in the case of a person convicted of multiple murders, two or more murders, to consider the advisability of levying consecutive life sentences, which would mean 25 years for one conviction and then a further 25 years for the second.
The New Democrats are supporting this bill at this stage and I want to go through some of the reasons we are supporting it.
It's the best thing you have done so far this year.
Mr. Don Davies: I hear some welcome applause from members on the opposite side.
One of the major reasons we are supporting this bill is that it enshrines in law a concept that we New Democrats have been championing and pushing for consistently for decades, and that is the concept of judicial discretion.
One of the cornerstones of our justice system is the notion that we have an independent judiciary and that within that judiciary, judges have the ability to exercise their discretion to fashion the appropriate remedies in the appropriate cases. That is a hallmark of the western judicial system, and that is because no two cases are alike. It does not matter how many cases we read: each individual has some unique circumstance present in his or her case that requires the judge, or judgment, to reflect.
Our country is based very strongly on what, of course, are sometimes two competing values. One is the concept of collective rights and the other is the concept of individual rights. In a modern democratic society, respect for the rights of the individual is something that is very important as a bulwark against the excesses of the state.
We are seeing right now in Egypt a people rising up against an oppressive autocratic regime that has not respected the democratic rights of people. We see what happens when people join together and say that is enough. It is important to build into any respectful society strong respect for the rights of an individual.