I apologize. I will go more slowly.
My remarks are directed to the question of whether or not incarcerating serious or violent offenders is effective in protecting the public.
My reading of the criminological research suggests that imprisoning serious offenders is indeed effective; that increasing the number of offenders who are incarerated acts to reduce violent crime rates. This effect is especially pronounced with homicide rates. This research supports the wisdom of imprisoning those who have been convicted of serious offences; that is, those punishable by prison terms of ten years or longer.
Some Canadians have a bias against anything American, but to reject American research studies simply because they are American runs the risk of ignoring potentially effective solutions to serious Canadian problems; thus I believe responsible Canadians should examine U.S. justice policies in order to emulate their successes and to avoid their failures. The U.S., being so much larger than we are, simply has a wider and deeper bank of information from which we can learn.
The facts indicate that violent crime rates have fallen faster in the U.S. than they have in Canada. I've had some charts distributed that illustrate this. Between 1992 and 2004, for example, the overall violent crime rate fell 38% in the U.S., but only 13% in Canada. This precipitous drop is even more evident in homicide rates. During the same time period, the homicide rate in the U.S. fell by 41%, while in Canada it only fell 26%.
Criminologists have been studying this drop, which was completely unexpected, with some attention over the past decade. The results of this attention are now becoming clearer. There are literally hundreds of studies. I will limit my discussion to the most important ones.
Especially illuminating is the research conducted by Marvel and Moody, who are among the most respected criminologists in the world. In their time series studies, they found strong results at the national level affirming that expanding prison populations is convincingly tied to reducing violent crime rates.
Marvel and Moody's 1997 research demonstrates that for every 10% increase in the prison population, homicide rates drop 13%. In their studies, of course, they controlled for a wide range of other variables, such as inflation, unemployment, demographic trends, socio-economic factors of a wide variety.
Marvel and Moody found similar but weaker relationships for assault and robbery. They speculate that this weaker statistical relationship is most likely due to the lower quality of arrest data for crimes other than homicide.
Marvel and Moody's results were quite robust, and their research findings have been replicated by other researchers. One study in particular, by Kovandzic and his colleagues in 2004, deserves mention. They not only confirmed Marvel and Moody's earlier findings but also examined the effect on violent crime rates when offenders get out of prison. They found that there was no evidence of a significant positive relationship between prison releases and homicide rates.
Many researchers have observed that prisons are expensive. That's true; however, who ultimately bears the cost of crime is a question of more importance than the cost itself. Yes, prisons cost taxpayers more than does probation or house arrest, but the costs of criminal violence are paid for by the victims—their lives blighted, the lives of husbands, wives, or children lost to criminal violence.
When serious offenders are allowed to escape serious jail time, they are free to commit more violent crimes. Individual Canadians bear these costs.
To take only one example, Jane Creba, who was killed in Toronto on Boxing Day last year, might still be alive had the previous government acted to keep serious offenders in jail longer. Other examples of questionable sentencing decisions are frequently reported in the media.
Research in both the U.S. and Canada suggest that those in social minorities are the victims of violent crime at higher rates than other citizens; thus it follows that increased prison terms will be especially effective in reducing victimization rates among minority members. In Canada, aboriginal victims disproportionately bear the costs of violent crime; thus aboriginal people will be among the primary beneficiaries of a program that incarcerates serious offenders.
Before I conclude, I would like to say a few words about the tendency of some people to refuse to believe statistical studies that do not conform to their previous beliefs. Such a position is buttressed by the cynical claim that statisticians can obtain any results they wish by simply massaging the data.
Such cynicism justifies laziness and ignorance. Certainly, liars and sophists use statistics. Liars misuse words, too, but that does not mean we should give up on language.
In conclusion, despite what you may hear from special interest groups who cherry-pick data, the criminological research is quite clear: longer prison terms for serious or violent offenders has been important in the dramatic fall in violent crime in the U.S. These results support the logic behind , that of incarcerating those who have been convicted of serious offences.
Thank you for your attention.
Conditional sentences at the present time are for those individuals a judge has decided do not need to be imprisoned for rehabilitation or for purposes of community safety. will put some of these people in jail; therefore, without making the community safer, more people will be in jail, and when they get out of jail the risk to the community may well be higher. For this reason, the CBA does not support Bill C-9 yet will make a submission to you that recognizes the significance of serious violent crime.
First with regard to conditional sentence orders, these clearly have a proper place in sentencing. They have dealt with all manner of issues and all manner of sentences. The benefit to society of keeping an offender employed and with their family is too obvious to dispute. Yet at the same time, conditional sentence orders have been significant in the onerous terms that are put on individuals. Individuals may indeed find serving a shorter jail sentence, followed by parole, easier than a conditional sentence order.
Criticism of conditional sentence orders is often centred on the nature of the offence, but conditional sentence orders, it should be remembered, are based on many factors, not just the nature of the offence. They are based on the circumstances of the particular offence and the particular offender, so that any legislation must keep in mind the myriad factors that go into a just sentence. That is why the CBA supports “a more refined tool”, as that term is used on page 4 of the English edition of our brief, page 5 of the French edition.
Because conditional sentence orders provide that much-needed intermediate step between jail and probation, any bill should be slow to restrict the use of conditional sentence orders. Bill has chosen the Criminal Code's use of maximums as the line between conditional sentence orders being available or not. That line is flawed, for two reasons: one, it is too broad; two, it is not based on a coherent principle.
It is too broad because it will sweep up offences for which there is no reason not to have a conditional sentence order, at the very least as an option. Unauthorized use of a computer or mischief causing damage over $5,000 are examples of some situations in which a conditional sentence order might be best left to a judge. We say it is not coherent to use maximums also because they were never intended to create this kind of black-and-white dividing line.
The current sentencing regime allows a good deal of judicial discretion, and it is important to maintain as much judicial discretion as possible. That is so in order to recognize the very broad range of circumstances that can occur in any particular case, and that it is appropriate that the judges have that discretion. They have the expertise, they listen to both sides, and they make those hard decisions that at the end of the day must be made. If the discretion of judges is limited, what is it to be replaced with?
Bill gives a broad “one size fits all” substitute that is not a useful substitute; again it is not a refined tool. One example may suffice.
We know that conditional sentence orders are used at different rates in different provinces. Clearly, the judges have used their discretions in different provinces to make the decision as to what their community needs. Bill C-9 will end that, so that individual regional differences will be run over, for in excess of 100 offences.
Bill C-9 as it currently exists is inconsistent with the proportionality principle of sentencing. The proportionality principle creates respect for the law. Bill C-9 removes, for a broad range of offences, that proportionality of sentences for an individual and for an individual circumstance.
I ask you to consider how Bill will play itself out. Here is an example of an individual who would be sentenced for a counterfeit $20 bill and would not be eligible for a conditional sentence order under Bill C-9.
Judges may well say, in their reasons, that they would not otherwise be sending the person to jail. The judge would say there is no value in taking away the offender's job and the offender's time with family, yet would say that Parliament has left no choice. The judge may well say that an individual ought not to be in jail, wasting taxpayers' money, yet he or she has no discretion to do otherwise. That is why we say, in page 4 in the English version and page 5 in the French version, that this approach can foster disrespect for the law. We say that using proportionality and restraint is not being soft on crime; it is being smart about crime.
Serious, violent crime, nevertheless, is a significant issue. The problem is a limited one and easily identified, and that makes the broad sweep of Bill unnecessary. Our submission accepts that the problem of conditional sentence orders for violent offences can be dealt with by legislation, and we offer three alternative options. They are found on page 6 of the English version and page 7 of the French version.
In conclusion, it is our position that Bill will put people in jail who ought not to be there. It will not increase public safety; indeed, it may increase the risk of reoffending and thus make our communities less safe. A more focused piece of legislation can deal with the problems of serious offences; Bill C-9 is not that focused piece of legislation.
Thank you, committee members, for allowing us to appear on .
I should tell you a bit about ourselves. I'm a recently retired 30-year veteran of the Toronto police service. I left there at the rank of detective sergeant, and in my last posting I was in charge of the major case management section and the retroactive DNA section at the homicide squad.
Before that, I spent six years on secondment or loan to the Ontario Office for Victims of Crime, which provided advice to a succession of attorneys general about public safety and support for crime victim issues.
I've volunteered for the CCAA for the last several years and upon my retirement took on the full-time position of director of public safety.
The Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness has been in existence since 1993. It's an organization that survives solely through charitable donations; we accept no government funding.
The organization has raised awareness about the true cost of neglect through its support of the victims of child abuse.
It's based in Newmarket, Ontario, north of the city of Toronto, and it's powered by a committed group of staff and volunteers who provide support to 70 partner agencies—whether it's fulfilling a child's dream wish, assisting crime victims and adult survivors of abuse, developing abuse prevention programs and resources, or more recently advocating publicly for legislative change.
The CCAA is committed to ending child abuse.
We also have a report. It's called the Martin's Hope report. It's named in honour of Martin Kruze, who was the first survivor of the Maple Leaf Gardens child sex abuse scandal to courageously come forward and publicly disclose.
Convictions were registered in his case against the offender for numerous child sex abuse offences. Only four days after one of the accused, a man by the name of Gordon Stuckless, was sentenced to just two years less a day, Martin tragically took his own life. Although it was too late for Martin, Mr. Stuckless' sentence was increased to five years on appeal.
This proved to be a turning point for the CCAA. Afterwards, the centre conducted ten round tables around the province, and we think this is what's important about our organization. Following those ten round tables, where we spoke to 150 front-line criminal justice professionals, crime victims, and survivors, the CCAA completed the Martin's Hope report, which makes 60 recommendations for change--39 of them directed at the federal government.
We cover a wide variety of areas, including but not limited to the reform of sentencing, parole, and correction laws; the DNA databank; the age of protection; child pornography and the Internet; and children in the sex trade.
One of our recommendations, which is contained within several recommendations about sentencing, is actually about conditional sentencing.
When we spoke to the people around the province at the ten sites, despite the wide variety of voices heard, there was a significant commonality in what was said, with certain themes enunciated at pretty much every site.
When it came to complaints about the justice system, without a doubt the prevalence of conditional sentencing was at the top of the list of those complaints. We suspect that if the same kind of survey was done of those kinds of people in other provinces across the country, we would receive similar complaints.
As all of you here today know, conditional sentences of imprisonment—and that's what they're called—as a sentencing option came to be in 1996 as part of a renewal of sentencing law. The intention was to divert minor offenders from the prison system. In fact, the debate around the amendments at the time—and I remember them—included the fact that it was not intended to be used for serious or violent offences. Ten years of jurisprudence suggests otherwise.
Understand that the CCAA supports targeted and appropriate diversion of offenders from the prison system for less serious crimes. In addition, we support the use of effective restorative justice programs, as part of an overall strategy to reduce recidivism and, if we can, make offenders healthy and whole.
But we and many others believe the expanded use of conditional sentencing for a wide variety of serious offences and offenders has done more to bring the administration of the criminal justice system into disrepute than any other single measure.
Conditional sentencing has been routinely used by judges across this country to sentence literally thousands of serious offenders. Its use is widespread, and Regina v. Proulx at the Supreme Court of Canada has made it clear that there is no presumption forbidding the use of conditional sentencing. It's effectively carved in stone.
Despite the fact that probation orders exists in our sentencing regiment for up to three years, Parliament previously saw fit to add this new option—something that in theory would provide an option between actual incarceration in a correction facility and probation.
What hasn't been confronted in the debate about this, and what I suspect many of your witnesses on Bill will not confront, is that there is little that resembles prison or incarceration when an offender is provided a so-called conditional sentence of imprisonment or “house arrest”, as it is often referred to. Anyone who—and I know many of you have—has spent time in a courtroom knows that when an offender is about to be sentenced, and he bends over to talk to his defence lawyer, he is not pleading with counsel to implore the judge not to sentence him to “house arrest”. There isn't an offender, except for the most institutionalized of recidivists, who pleads for two years less a day in the nearest provincial jail, when staying at home is a possibility.
Let's be honest, there isn't much about staying at home, watching television, surfing the Internet and having the odd drink, along with the usual handful of caveats that allow travel in and out of the house as necessary, that remotely resembles prison. Quite frankly, it is a fraud that has been foisted on the Canadian public—this notion that these sentences are removals of liberty, worthy of being called imprisonment.
It should also be understood that the police aren't monitoring, and the probation service isn't visiting these offenders. Quite frankly, communities don't know what these offenders are doing, or if they are abiding by the conditions as set out in their orders. Justice this isn't, and enhanced public safety this isn't either.
We note that from the legislative summary provided on www.parl.gc.ca, there is little in the way of research on the effectiveness of conditional sentence orders. One notation does jump off the page, though. In a survey attributed to Professor Julian Roberts, he indicates that the successful completion rate of conditional sentences was 63% in 2000-2001, falling from 78% in 1997-98. The note makes the point that the failure rate was largely attributed to breaches of the increasing number of conditions placed upon offenders, rather than allegations of fresh offending.
That is no doubt the case, but one is left wondering if it has to do with the ever-increasing number of dangerous and serious offenders who have been placed on conditional sentences of late. In any event, the fact that the most recently published successful completion rate is at just 63% is quite extraordinary, when one considers that the police and probation are not proactively monitoring these offenders. The bottom line is that it appears that these orders may have a very significant failure rate, minus any kind of ongoing proactive monitoring. How bad would the rate be if they were being properly monitored? This is more then a little bit troubling.
Regarding the offences identified by Bill , as I indicated, CCAA's Martin's Hope report supports the calls from many organizations to repeal the conditional sentencing provisions of the code. We were heartened when the mandatory minimum sentences were recently passed for a variety of child sex offences, with the net result of a repeal—that conditional sentences could no longer be given for those particularly serious crimes perpetrated against children. One of my past co-workers appeared on that bill.
With respect to the current list of offences, as proposed for exclusion by Bill , with a maximum of ten years or more where the crown proceeds by indictment, we see this bar as being placed sufficiently high.
Although our organization has as its mandate the protection of children, we find it difficult to fathom the outcry over some of the offences included on the list. The property crime rate has more then doubled since the 1990s—that's the crime rate, notwithstanding the fact that many people just don't bother reporting offences, due to a loss of faith in the justice system. How much higher would the rate be if people actually reported all of these crimes?
For many people, the kinds of crimes represented—including break and enter, frauds, and for that matter, cattle rustling—all have a significant impact on lives. Many people suffer lifelong trauma after having their home broken into and ransacked and their keepsakes stolen. Fraud artists victimize the trusting and the vulnerable. Often the elderly are targeted, leaving them destitute and broken.
As for cattle theft, we understand it has been a topic of debate at this committee. It might not track so well here in the cozy confines of Ottawa, or in The Beaches, the tony neighbourhood where I live in Toronto, but for ranchers in British Columbia and Alberta who don't have insurance, it's serious business that impacts on their lives and their livelihood.
As an aside, when I travelled through the beautiful Chilcotin region of B.C. a few years ago, I saw a full-sized billboard that said, “We don't call the RCMP when folks steal cattle around these parts”. I'm not countenancing that behaviour, but the message is clear: they've given up and lost faith in the criminal justice system; they're taking care of business themselves. That's not a good thing, folks.
In any event, we think that the fact of the crown having to proceed by indictment for those offences hybrid in nature and the opportunities that currently exist for accelerated parole review, guaranteeing release after one-sixth of a sentence by paper review for certain of these offences, have not set the bar too low for those concerned about these proposed appeals. In fact, we have one area of concern with respect to the bill, and that is in regard to offences committed against children not being included. Specifically, these offences are assault, assault causing bodily harm, and sexual assault, when the crown proceeds summarily. When a child is the victim, these cases are serious matters, and we would encourage the committee to consider a simple amendment that would include those offences when a child is a victim.
A couple of questions have been raised. If the crown doesn't like a conditional sentence, why don't they just appeal it? Crown appeal divisions are overworked and understaffed, as are the appellate courts. We see this as an entirely inappropriate solution; the law has been identified as problematic; Parliament needs to intervene.
Would Bill interfere with restorative justice initiatives? Absolutely not. In the vast majority of cases, there are multiple opportunities to engage in restorative justice long before reaching the point at which a court sees fit to sentence an offender to a period of incarceration. In addition, for those offenders who do end up incarcerated, we would encourage you to focus on enhancing in-custody restorative justice initiatives, and in cases in which offenders have had some success as a result of restorative justice, to tie these successes to earning parole, rather than providing automatic release--i.e., accelerated parole review or statutory release. The end result would be that an offender would receive the dual message of denunciation and deterrence as a result of being incarcerated, coupled with effective restorative justice initiatives tied to earning parole.
Will the police or crown overcharge so as to avoid conditional sentences? Again, we find this hypothesis unrealistic. The crown has the ability to amend charges that the police lay and does so all the time. Crowns make decisions every day about how to proceed, and Bill does not remove that discretion.
In conclusion, although the CCAA would have preferred more extensive amendment of the conditional sentencing provisions of the code, we support the proposed legislation and welcome the direction this government has taken. As indicated, our voice is that of front-line criminal justice professionals, crime victims, and survivors. Additionally, we believe that hard-working and law-abiding Canadians by and large support these kinds of targeted amendments. We do not see this legislation as being driven by ideological considerations, but rather by a concern for enhanced public safety and proportionality in the justice system that recognizes the impact on individual crime victims, communities, and societies at large.
The CCAA supports speedy passage of this legislation as written, and would encourage this committee to consider the additional amendments we have suggested with respect to inclusion of assault, ABH, and sex assault for the hybrid offences by summary when a child is victimized.
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this most important democratic process.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak to you today.
I will follow the lead of my colleagues and tell you a little about why I think I'm here.
I am a criminal law practitioner and professor of sentencing in Montreal. I studied law at McGill from 1979 until I received a first degree in 1982 and a second in 1983. I was admitted to the Quebec Bar Association in 1984. I have either taught courses or lectured at the Université de Montréal, Concordia, McGill University, the bar admission course in the province of Quebec, the Federation of Law Society's national criminal justice program, and training for advocates on the international stage. One of my involvements in the past was with our friends from the Canadian Bar Association, where I was at one point in time chair of the national criminal justice section, and it was a pleasure to do so.
You will hear from people who have a lot more detail, a lot more to say than I do. What I would like very much to do is leave you with a few of the questions that have been in my mind constantly since I heard of and read the contents of Bill .
Bill preoccupies me greatly because sentencing preoccupies me greatly. Sentencing preoccupies me because it's the nuts and bolts of the criminal justice system. With sentencing we decide who is wrong and how wrong they are. Sentencing is what goes on day in and day out in every courthouse in this country, because, depending on the jurisdiction, 75% to 90% of cases end in guilty pleas. Sentencing, ladies and gentlemen, is essential--one of the essential components of our criminal justice system. Sentencing will tell us an awful lot about who we are as a Canadian society.
If serious violent crime is the issue, then I would respectfully submit to the committee that this bill will not address it. This bill will complicate and confuse criminal justice in this country. It will result in inconsistencies from person to person and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
We've spent so much time and energy in Canada looking into sentencing--the Law Reform Commission, a royal commission on sentencing, the 1987 Canadian Sentencing Commission, the 1988 report of the House of Commons entitled Taking Responsibility. We've spent money and time and energy trying to come up with solutions to keep Canadians happy in a safe society with fair sentencing policies. These various commissions led to reforms in 1994, among others, Bill C-41, which talked to us about the purposes and principles of sentencing.
Denunciation, deterrence, sure, with rehabilitation and proportionality. Proportionality is very simple: the sentence has to be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and degree of responsibility of the offender. We cannot and will not sentence in the abstract.
Since 1994 we've legislated aggravating factors. We've said that if the crime is motivated by hate, you're going to get a higher sentence. If it's an abuse of a spouse or child, you're going to get a higher sentence. If it's abuse of authority, breach of trust, or related to the benefit of a criminal organization, you're going to get a higher sentence. It's all in the Criminal Code. We've legislated those little by little over the years because we want to make sure that serious violent crime doesn't go unpunished. In 2002 we legislated that an aggravating factor in breaking and entering is to enter a house when you know or believe that there are people inside, to deal with home invasions.
The law is changing to define which are the factors that will make an offence more serious. How will we evaluate the degree of responsibility of the offender? And the law has changed to look at effective alternatives to incarceration.
These reforms grew out of concern that Canada was incarcerating at an extremely high rate compared with other western Commonwealth countries. Canada's rate was some 153 per 100,000--second only to the U.S., which was far ahead of us at 600 or 700--and this despite the fact that commission after commission in this country had decided that incarceration was harsh and ineffective in many cases.
Justice Vancise of the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal made the point in a case called MacDonald that
||Imprisonment has failed to satisfy a basic function of the Canadian judicial system, which was described in the Report of the Canadian Committee on Corrections, Toward Unity: "to protect society from crime in a manner commanding public support while avoiding needless injury to the offender”.
One of the most prominent jurists in this country made that statement.
Many of these studies also confirm that the length of the sentence was not the deterrent for crime--that the certainty of apprehension and conviction was the biggest deterrent we could hope for in criminal justice, not the length of the sentence.
Our priorities, then, as they are now for all of us, are to keep Canada safe and to choose or develop punishment options that would see public funds--public funds--our money--used wisely and carefully for key sentencing goals, including deterrence and rehabilitation.
No one is pro-crime. No one is untouched by the trauma on an elderly couple of breaking and entering; no one is indifferent to devastation caused by drugs in our society; no one accepts sexual offences against children or adults, against boys or against girls; no one believes auto theft should go unpunished; but as Julian Roberts, a criminologist referred to earlier today here, wrote recently, “The seriousness of the offence cannot be decided before the crime is committed.”
This is the single biggest problem with Bill : it creates arbitrarily a blanket category of offences for which the conditional sentence of imprisonment would not be available without consideration of the specifics of the gravity of the offence or the specifics of the responsibility of the offender.
To target all offences proceeded upon by indictment, for example, meaning the maximum penalty is ten years or more, may not have been intended as arbitrary, but that is the result. The giving of contradictory evidence under oath, no matter how minor the proceeding, would not allow a conditional sentence of imprisonment. Unauthorized possession of a firearm, no matter how grave the circumstances--in downtown Toronto, for example--would be eligible under this new law.
Many offences have a maximum of ten years, but they include a vast range of fact situations that are certainly not equal in gravity. The man who touches the assistant's breast at the office party is guilty of sexual assault--as is the man who proceeds to what we used to call a rape of the 18-year-old secretary in the parking lot.
Not all cases of impaired or dangerous driving causing bodily harm are equal. The elderly man who backs up on the shoulder of the road and kills the motorcyclist is not in the same category, perhaps, as the wanton and the reckless disregard shown by a raving drunk who takes the wheel and seriously injures his partner for life.
Not all frauds represent the same degree of premeditation or the same extent of tragic loss. A $1,000 loss to a bank is serious; a $100,000 loss of life savings is serious too.
Some of the offences targeted by BIll can be proceeded upon only by indictment. Others may be taken as summary or indictable. The crown will make those decisions. What kind of burden are we putting on our crown prosecutors? They are salaried employees of the state, often overwhelmed and overworked, and not individuals named, as are our judges, with guarantees of independence and impartialit. Should it be up to the prosecutor to decide whether the accused has a chance at a rehabilitation program in the context of a conditional sentence of imprisonment? What pressure are we allowing to be put on these officers of the court to eliminate the conditional sentence of imprisonment, when the police or the public clamour for them to charge the more serious offence?
I'm sorry; I guess I'm speaking too fast?
I've talked to victims both as a serving police officer and also in the six years I spent at the Office for Victims of Crime, where we managed complicated cases in which victims were being run off the rails by constituent members of the justice system. There is also, of course, my work at the Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness. These victims were frustrated.
There are a large number of people who don't see the proportionality in staying at home. They are not just crime victims and survivors and front-line criminal justice professionals, but average, hard-working folks, the kind of people with whom I communicate on a regular basis because I'm with this organization. When you tell these people this is actually a sentence of imprisonment, they don't get it; they don't understand it, because it doesn't make any sense to them. Quite frankly, to average people, average folks, hard-working Canadians, it doesn't make any sense, and it doesn't make any sense to me, and I'm somebody who has been in the justice system for 30-plus years. I know some of you think I come at this with a sledgehammer, but I understand the nuances of the system.
I'll go back and repeat myself at the risk of doing that. Judges do a great job of being triers of fact, but I think that generally speaking, in this country, they've lost their way in terms of responding to the needs of the community, the needs of crime victims, and the needs of Canadians in terms of justice and enhanced public safety.
Ms. Schurman mentioned about prison being a failure. Prison's a failure because the way we sentence in this country doesn't work. It's a failure because you're guaranteed automatic parole at one-sixth. It tells you nothing; it tells you nothing about learning and responsibility. You're guaranteed automatic parole at two-thirds, even for the most serious, violent crimes. It's statutory release; you get out of jail no matter what, even if you have 200 institutional violations, so in other words, even if you've been a really bad boy in prison, we are letting you out. It's as simple as that.
You wouldn't do that with your son or daughter when they've run off the rails. You wouldn't say, “You've been really bad for the last two weeks. That punishment I gave you of three weeks? I'm going to cut it off now, because you've been really bad.” That's what we do in this country. It's no surprise that prison has been a disaster.
In the United States of America it's equally no surprise--and I understand there's a lot wrong with what happens south of the border, and we could all have a wonderful debate about that for hours on end--that when they identified the small group of offenders who commit a disproportionate amount of crime and locked them up, the crime rate dropped in the country, and it dropped precipitously.
I think if we took some of those lessons and put them in play in this country and in Bill in conditional sentencing, and a variety of other parole and sentencing issues that our Martin's Hope report speaks to, we could actually bring down the crime rate, enhance public safety, and--because it's not incompatible--assist with habilitation or rehabilitation of offenders.
We on this side have said that we have always wanted the categories of terrorist organization, criminal organization offences, and serious personal injury offences. If we were to capture those offences that we think could be taken down to smaller categories, those would be the included ones that we would be looking at.
Mr. Brooks, I think people need to understand that when a bill.... In the last Parliaments, our past government sent bills to committee after first reading, so there was a lot of flexibility on how you could amend. Now, a bill sent after second reading is much more circumscribed concerning how you can do amendments.
It is somewhat unfair when my colleague across the way, who knows this, starts asking you to cherry-pick through these things, as if we can just propose lists and schedules, when, the way the current section has been set up, it would be more likely to be in categories. That is something that is important to understand for people trying to come before this committee to give us guidance on how we should amend.
That is why we have been trying to.... There are other ways. There could be ways, for instance, of taking the sections and instead of saying 10 years say 14 years, or life. That would have the element of reducing the list, but again, in a more arbitrary manner than would a categorization of offences. I think we have to understand that.
Also, when it has come here on second reading and you amend, you cannot add new elements and create, for instance, a new sentencing principle, because that would be outside the authority of the amendments that are found when you come before this committee after second reading.
So there's far less flexibility than is being suggested here to do real amendments of this bill. It's a question of a way of finding the categories. I say this so that other people coming before us have this knowledge, so that they come with a more targeted approach that would be helpful to this committee, because we are struggling with it. I believe it is very arbitrary, the way it is right now, for the reasons Ms. Schurman gave us.
Ms. Schurman, I'm not sure whether you're familiar with the studies Professor Mauser gave you. Would you feel comfortable commenting on other studies on over-sentencing? It's been stated in the evidence of Mr. Muise that people don't undercharge or overcharge. I believe there are numerous studies available on that point. You would probably be aware of some of them.
Goodbye, Mr. Mauser, and thank you.
To the rest of you, thank you for your interventions today. It's good to have you here.
I know it's a given that there isn't a person in this room, whatever your political stripe or whatever you stand for.... Basically what we're trying to do as a whole is to remember that there are victims out there and they need help. There are just too many victims, and we want it to stop.
Our judge of all we do is the public. I know that in the House of Commons, since I've been here, thirteen years, several million signatures—I'm not talking about thousands—have come in on petitions asking us to do something about the crime in this country. That's from the people who are paying the bills, who pay our salaries, who we serve, and they are not happy with the justice system as we know it today.
If you dared to put a poll out there, I don't think any of us would question for a moment that you would never find a poll indicating that we would get a very high approval rate on our justice system. You certainly wouldn't get it from those who are trying to enforce the laws. I deal with lots of police departments, lots of officers of the law who are very frustrated that they see a revolving door in our justice system, with them re-arresting the same people over and over.
The kinds of crimes that are happening that are really on the rise—and I've watched them carefully since 1993, when I came here—are crimes against children. It's getting absolutely pathetic. I know we've had to have child pornography crime units in Toronto. I know, John, that you're well aware of who they are, how hard they've had to work. With the increase in child pornography and those things related to it, it has turned into a billion-dollar industry. How could that possibly happen? I don't think it would happen if you had a good, solid type of justice system. That's a failure. We're failing our children when this gets to these proportions.
When you go through the justice system, you see farmers going to jail because they sold their own grain—not stolen grain, their own grain. They go to jail, no questions asked, and we bring down the hammer. For a poacher who shoots an elk out of season, there are no questions, bang, it's into jail--you don't dare do that. Mind you, if you rustle a bunch of cattle in my country, they have a sign out there—you were talking about signs—that says “Notice to cattle rustlers: We do not phone 911, we phone Smith & Wesson”. When a justice system leads to those kinds of remarks coming back from the public, the public is not happy, so I think this is an effort to try to show the public that we're interested in doing something about it.
Fortunately, over the years, I came from a profession where I really was high on the popularity list. I was a school teacher and a coach, and everybody loved me. Suddenly I got into politics, and right now I'm down there with the used car salesmen, the lawyers, and the rest of the politicians, at the bottom of the heap, because the public feels we've failed them, and we've failed them dismally.
I suggest to all of you, particularly the Bar Association, that, yes, we believe in rehabilitation, yes, you have to do the best you can, but our major focus has to be on the victims. It has to be. If we don't illustrate to the public that this is exactly where we're focusing and that it's our major concern while we deal with trying to rehabilitate and all these other things, we're just going to continually lose ground. We cannot let the perpetrators who violate our laws gain any more inches. They've gained enough. That's the direction we want to move in with this kind of legislation.
Bill , in my view, is a small step in the direction that we need to go to get that pendulum swinging back so that our society will have some confidence in what we're trying to do. They do not have that any more, without a doubt. I believe this bill is a good step in the direction of getting that confidence back. It's not the be-all and end-all. I know there are lot of things to do.
I certainly don't want to see conditional sentencing thrown out the window. There are certain times when it's the right thing to do. But we're trying to sort it out as much as we can in this committee and in this House.
I thank you for your presentations. No, I don't agree with some of you, and yes, I do agree with a lot of what you've said.
I don't want to have you answer any questions. I'd only like you to think about the public. We have created a very unhappy public, and we had better start doing something about it. We need people like you to help us.
Thank you. My question is addressed to Mr. John Muise, but I would also be interested in hearing the opinion of the other two witnesses who are with us today.
First of all, I have been practising law in Quebec for 30 years. I have a firm of lawyers that deal with criminal matters. I can tell you based on my experience -- I'm confirming this -- that when the Crown offers us a conditional sentence, the client accepts it right away. No one can tell me that it is not the case. I have enough experience in that area, even though it's not police related experience.
Now I am also a parliamentarian. And I can tell you this: we say that our society is not violent -- this goes back to what Mr. Muise was saying -- but in some schools in the Province of Quebec, police officers have to be on site on a full-time basis, because there is violence.
Second, as regards series of violent crimes, some of these crimes may not seem violent at first sight, such as taking drugs. People always say that the poor little guy who smokes a joint every day is not doing anything bad, because he is not involved in trafficking. However, if one or two million people in Canada start smoking a joint every day, that means that the underworld is making money. That immediately brings in organized crime. So, people shouldn't think that because I smoke my joint, I'm not encouraging organized crime.
Another perspective was presented. Mr. Muise, you talked a lot about violent crime, and naturally, I agree with you. Mention has been made of mail theft, because we know this is one of the offences. People have been making a big fuss because there will no longer be conditional sentences available for mail theft.
In my province, when a person aged 58 is receiving disability benefits through social assistance, that person's cheque is $892 a month. Very often these people don't live in the city and it's the letter carrier that delivers their cheque. Imagine if a thief takes their cheque by stealing their mail. I can assure you that's pretty devastating for the 58-year old lady who finds herself in that predicament. She has to go back to see her social worker to have another cheque issued quickly. And that creates problems for her, because she isn't well. That theft of less than $1,000 becomes a horrible experience for her, and yet we're only talking about mail theft.
Around this table, we have been trying from the outset to do something for the accused, who become the convicted when their trial occurs, but we aren't talking about the victims. The victims are important to me, and I'd be interested in hearing your comments, Mr. Muise.
Since conditional sentences became available in 1996, can you tell me whether there has been much violence using firearms in Canada? What is the effect of conditional sentences on armed violence?