I was hoping Mr. Teague would be here first to break the ice for me, but unfortunately he has not arrived.
My name is Theresa McCuaig. I am the grandmother of Sylvain Leduc. I'm sure some of you will remember Sylvain's horrible death that was committed in 1995 by the Ace Crew Gang in Ottawa.
I'll briefly touch on Sylvain's death so you may understand the cruelty and the despicable crimes that are imposed on victims. You can tell me at the end if these guys deserve the right to apply for section 745 next year.
Fourteen years ago this week we buried Sylvain. Sylvain was at home with his little cousins watching a movie. One of the little cousins belonged to a gang. She had moved to Sylvain's home to escape from them because she was tired of being beaten up, dominated, used for sex, the drug trade, etc. She had run away to my daughter's home, Sylvain's home, to hide from them. They found her.
We don't know how Sylvain was involved in all of this. We never did get the truth. When they discovered where she was living and hiding, they came for her. Unfortunately, Sylvain's parents were not at home that night. He was babysitting. He was 17.
Three of them stormed the house. Excuse me, first of all they called the house. Sylvain answered and they asked to speak to the female they were looking for. She took the phone, they made threats, and she went outside to talk to them. She foolishly left the door open. As I said, we don't know the reason.
The gang barged into the home and took everyone who was there. The four teens were put in the cargo area of a Jimmy van. They were beaten up. They were told they were going to get beaten so badly that people in Ottawa would be afraid to walk the streets. They were beaten over their heads and shoulders with gun butts. Sylvain cried and asked what was going on. They beat him for speaking. He didn't know what was going on, why they were after her, etc., but somehow he got taken along.
They confined them by pulling the cover off the back part of the cargo van and locking them in there. There were no doors, and they could not escape. Somebody cruelly kept loading and unloading a gun over their heads. When they arrived at a high-rise at the end of town, they marched them out one by one with jackets over their head and a gun in their face. They brought them into a third-floor apartment in that high-rise one by one. As they entered, other gang members grabbed them, tied their hands behind their back, tied their feet, tied a wire around their neck, and blindfolded them.
Sylvain was dragged to the master bedroom along with his little cousin, my little niece. My other little niece was placed in a large closet where garbage bags had been taped all over the walls and floors to put their dead bodies in. The other boy--Sylvain's friend--was placed in the bathroom. There were four youths.
Eleven gang members and associates were in that apartment at the time. Many of them systematically beat Sylvain. Sometimes there were two of them and sometimes there were three. While they were doing that, others took a red-hot curling iron, burnt my little niece on the back of her shoulders and the back of her knees, turned her around, stripped her pants off, and raped her with this red-hot curling iron.
Sylvain died hearing her screams, smelling her burnt flesh, and he defecated when they stomped on his chest. That is the way my grandson died.
Once Sylvain died, they said, “Get garbage bags to put their dead bodies into and bring the other guy out”. Can you imagine the victims who were still alive hearing this? They dragged Sylvain's friend into the master bedroom and began kicking him in the head, and thank the Lord a neighbour had called the police. The police arrived in time to save the other three children, but Sylvain died at the scene.
This was horrible, cruel, premeditated--first-degree murder, premeditation, the taking of a human life in cold blood. It could not have been any more premeditated. While they were in the car on the way to the apartment with the victims, they called to say, “Put curtains in the windows so people don't see us when we beat them. Put garbage bags in the closets. Turn off the lights in the bedroom so we can really spook them.” That is premeditation of the highest degree, ladies and gentlemen.
The people who committed these crimes had committed crimes before. They had a history of committing violent crimes, one of them way back to age 13. Of these 11 offenders, five were young offenders. They went to court, were found guilty, served their 18, 24, and 30 months.
I'm here to tell you they've all reoffended again, and one of them has even been declared a long-term offender, but that's not what we're discussing today.
The leader that night was John Richardson. He was a 26-year-old smart-aleck punk who liked to beat up on people--extortion, beating up prostitutes, you name it. He never worked, never had a job. He lived off drug money, prostitution money, and extortion money. He was feared. He called himself the devil. That was his street name, and the people he hurt so bad moved out of town because they feared him so much, and they never bothered writing victim impact statements to the court or parole boards.
At age 21, I believe, he had five serious charges against him for beating up on people--violent, violent charges. He made a deal with the crown, of course. He was sentenced to 30 months. The judge said he would have loved to have given him five years, but the deal was made because the victims were too scared to come forward.
He was sent to a medium-security prison. He was unmanageable, disrespectful to the staff, cruel to the other inmates, suspected of trafficking drugs while in jail. He would not take responsibility for his crime. He had applied for parole after serving one-third of his sentence and he was denied parole, because they felt he was too dangerous to be set free. The parole board said if he were released before he finished his entire sentence, they believed he would commit murder.
They sent him from the medium- to the maximum-security jail because he was so unmanageable, and then from there to what they call special confinement--I guess you call that the hole.
Magically, somehow someone paroled him. The Corrections Canada people did not follow the process of what they call “gating”, so the parole board could interview him properly, so he was let go. He was let go on his own words, and sure enough, their prediction came true. Forty days later, he's killing our children.
On the night these crimes were committed, when the police arrived, of course, the entire group ran from the building. John Richardson ran to Winnipeg, and there police arrested him when he was on his way to rob a bank with a bunch of little teenaged gang members. He was trying to become the leader of that gang. No remorse. He told some of them in Winnipeg, “I had to leave Ottawa because I did somebody there”. Yes, he sure did.
Eventually they all went to trial, and the evidence was overwhelming. They did not have enough decency to plead guilty. The taxpayers paid for the legal aid. They took us to a trial that lasted, God, about a year and a half. The three accused were on trial at the same time. A year and a half, we went to court. They knew they would be found guilty.
They laughed their way through the entire court process in our faces and knew damn well that they would be found guilty. It was just to waste their time. It gave them something to do. It kept them in Ottawa, at our expense, of course. They were eventually found guilty and sentenced to life. They appealed. They had the gall to appeal. The court of appeal turned them down. Well, they went to the Supreme Court of Canada and the Supreme Court would not hear their claim.
Can anyone tell me why people like that should have the right to ask for section 745—early parole? How can that be? I do not believe these people can be rehabilitated, okay? A few decades ago we went from hanging killers and then to a life sentence, which meant real life, and then that was dropped down to 25 years. Now we are sitting at 15. How can we possibly justify that to my daughter, my family, and those little girls' family? That little girl was in the hospital for three months getting those burns cured.
Sylvain's friend is mentally unstable. He is so afraid. In their minds, they think these people are gone for 25 years. I don't dare tell them about section 745 yet. They are still scared to walk the streets. When they find out that these guys just might be approved for 745, what do I tell them? They're petrified. The little girls are petrified. One has been under psychiatric care since that day. We're talking 14 years down the road, here.
How is it that these people get a second chance at life? Sylvain does not. Our whole entire family has been traumatized and still lives through this pain, and it will forever go on. Next year, if they are successful, all three of them will apply for 745. If they are successful, our family is determined to go to court and read our victim impact statement and to be there. God help us if they all go on in the same week.
I don't know if you know, but a month ago we went to a parole hearing for that young offender, who has now been declared a long-term offender. That was a very difficult thing for us to do. It screwed me up mentally for two weeks. It took me two weeks to get back, because you relive that crime. It's very difficult. If these people apply for section 745 and are refused, they are now allowed to do this every two years. We're going to go through this living hell every two years until 25 years comes along.
If someone who is doing life escapes from jail, or is released on 745, goes out and commits murder again, they go to trial again—wasting our time and taxpayers' money—are found guilty again, and return to jail. But did you know that that new sentence runs concurrent with the old one and that they will only serve the remaining ten years? So the second victim is a freebie. This is not right, people. This is not right. Ce n'est pas bon, ça.
They're saying that the 745 clause was created to give a prisoner hope: you be a good guy for 15 years and there's a faint hope we'll let you go.
Myself, I think the motive for that was to save money: “Let's save ten years of incarceration fees and let's make it sound good”. We'll call it the faint hope clause and encourage a prisoner to be good, keep our guards safer--I honestly don't believe that. I think it was a money issue myself, you know, because it absolutely makes no sense.
Did you know that if you kill one, two, three people, it's okay? You can apply under section 745 if you kill them all on the same day, of course. If you're a serial killer and you kill one here, one there, one there, one there, you may not apply.
Very recently, a father, a son, and a common-law wife placed two beautiful little young girls, teenagers, in a car, along with an ex-wife, pushed the car into a canal, and drowned them all. That is first degree murder, premeditated, with malice aforethought. Three lives.
They will be coming up to court soon, and I'm sure they will be found guilty, because the evidence is pretty good. And these people will be allowed, ladies and gentlemen, to apply under section 745 in 15 years. Is that justice for victims? Does that make sense to you? I find it is a cruel thing for families to have to live through.
Our story is pretty horrible, but there are worse. There are worse. I know there are worse. How do you justify it to a family living with this pain for the rest of their life while the killer gets a second chance?
You know, your statistics aren't that good. I was reading them lately. Many of them returned, like about two-thirds. And as I say, whatever crime they committed while they were out runs concurrently, so who cares? They have nothing to lose, right?
If you want to be sympathetic.... I'm not a vengeful, mean old lady, but do you know what? If I had the choice, my sympathies would lie with prisoners who are dying in jail, who are very, very ill, who we know are too ill to commit any more crimes. I would give them parole.
There is a process in our justice system that allows people to ask for a pardon, and that's reserved for the odd few prisoners who really sincerely are remorseful and want to change their life around. They may apply for a pardon. I say eliminate section 745 and let everybody follow that route.
I'll leave you with that.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Honourable members of this committee, I had a statement prepared, but on Sunday I had a chance to listen to a prisoner that had been rehabilitated, and he was one of the worst of the worst. He had committed murder in prison. He's spent the majority of his life in prison. He had helped rehabilitate a prisoner who is now a member of the Saskatchewan legislature. It's kind of thrown me in a bit of a quandary about what I should be stating to you.
Do I believe that people should pay for their crimes? Most certainly, and I think the more serious the crime, the more serious the time should be, but I believe that we have to temper anything that we do with a certain amount of compassion, not only to the person who's committed the crime, but I think we have to realistically look a little more towards the victims of the crime as well.
When I talk about compassion, I don't believe in the death penalty. I'm against the death penalty because we're now finding out how many times in our justice system we have made mistakes. People have gone to prison for crimes they didn't commit. Can you imagine if somebody had been executed for a crime they didn't commit? So that is off the table as far as I'm concerned.
I believe that if you commit a heinous murder--and to me any murder is heinous--if you take a life deliberately, knowing what you were doing, I believe that you forfeit your freedom, not just for 25 years and not for 30 years. My feeling is, if you took a life, it's now time for you to forfeit yours in society.
I know that puts an economic burden on our system, but as a victim, having an 18-year-old daughter murdered, what would her life have been like? That young man is only going to be 49 when he sees the street again. There's still time to be productive, if he chooses to be productive. In my case, I don't think he will be, but that's a personal opinion.
If we are going to insist, though, that we release murderers after, say, 25 years, somewhere in the system there has to be a proper rehabilitation program, a rehabilitation program that prepares them for society when they come out. Far too often, people go into prison and are forgotten. They are simply left in there like caged animals.
Yes, they say there are education programs, but how many of them are really guided towards that education program? Better yet, how many of them are guided to the program put on by the guy that's teaching them, first of all, how to break into a house better, how to crack a safe better, how to stage a better bank holdup, how to get away with a murder?
So there are lots of education systems going on in our prisons, and those things we have to address as part of the justice world. It's not just the penalty, but what are we going to do to rehabilitate them once they're in there? There's where the compassion comes in for the criminal.
When I think of the young man who murdered my daughter, I looked into his eyes for hours while we went through the process, and I didn't see a spark of compassion for us or for anything that he'd done. He was just stone cold. I know that we're going to have those people in the system, and those people belong in the system and they need to be kept in the system.
Clifford Olson comes to mind, a prime example of a man whose own lawyer said, “If you let him out, within two hours he will recommit.” That's just one member that comes to mind. So we have to be very careful.
We need to have justice and compassion, but we need to keep an eye on these people. We have to know who is in danger of recommitting and who is not.
That's for the more serious crimes, but we have numerous lesser crimes that take place. A man walks into a bank with a gun. He holds up a bank and takes the bank's money. Nobody's injured. He probably gets anywhere from 10 to 15 years in prison. Somebody dressed as well as you gentlemen sits down and creates a little Ponzi scheme, takes millions of dollars from thousands and thousands of people, and we give him four years. Who committed the worst crime?
I'm not an expert, gentlemen. That's for you. My Bible says to pray for those who are in government and those who lead us, so I do. I hope that whatever your beliefs are, you'll look at this bill and realize that serious time has to be paid for serious crime, but by all means with compassion.
This is the most moving testimony we have heard. We have before us two aspects of what it is to be a victim.
Rest assured that I would never be party to the decision to release people who have committed murders in the past, without being reasonably certain—we can never be absolutely certain—that they would not reoffend, for purely economic reasons. I don't think the people had done that before.
I sometimes find it hard to count the zeros, but there are currently 4,000 prisoners serving life sentences in Canada. That represents an expenditure of $400 million, since it costs $100,000 per prisoner. That is an average. The cost is probably higher for people who are in prison longer. I don't think that in a country like ours that is a significant expense; we can certainly handle it.
The concerns of the people who made the rules in the sections you mentioned, including section 745.6, were not about saving money. All of them, like us and even people who are non-believers today, shared a personal philosophy inspired by a religion that preaches forgiveness and believes it is possible that a person can change.
However, I absolutely agree with you: the onus must be very heavy in cases where there has been a murder. Your testimony has given me a lot to think about. My first reaction is: I don't see why we would give people who have been convicted of murder a chance, because murder is the worst of all crimes, it is cold-blooded, premeditated killing, it is committed by a person who is not insane, who was not prompted by some mental illness.
Initially, I thought as Mr. Teague does. Because I was against the death penalty for reasons dating from when I was more religious than I am today—that is a philosophy I have retained—and also because of the possibility that mistakes can be made. I am going to think about it again.
Ms. McCuaig, I do not understand how the people who committed that crime could be released on parole, if only because of the nature of their crime and the way they committed it. I see nothing inhumane about keeping those people in a prison for life, even when they are rehabilitated. And if they are truly rehabilitated, let them continue working to rehabilitate other prisoners. If they are rehabilitated after committing such heinous crimes, let them prove their rehabilitation and hope for nothing from the proof of their rehabilitation other than, if they believe, that they will have earned forgiveness in the next life for the heinous crimes they committed.
I do realize, however, that the number of people who have made applications under these clauses is relatively small. I am told there are 4,000 people in prisons at present. Over the years, only 265 people have tried to make an application solely for that pardon. Of them, only 53% have been allowed to make the application.
So 47% never got to that level. Only 127 applications were allowed. We agree, probably unanimously again, that things should be made even more difficult. For example, there was a time when only a majority of the jury had to be in favour. Today, it must be unanimous. Those people must first satisfy a judge that they may make an application. They must then convene a jury, which must be unanimously in favour, and go before the National Parole Board.
I admit that I cannot imagine granting parole in cases like the ones you have described to us. If there truly is forgiveness, they will have to get it in the next life. I think they should spend the rest of their lives in prison, doing something to make reparation for what they did.
In any case! I am still too emotional to say what I will do. Rest assured, however, that I am in fact going to examine the reasons why those who went before us created this. I think there are two types of reasons. First, so that a person does not despair, they have to be given a reason to want to try to rehabilitate themselves, to the point that they want to do something that would repair the harm they have caused.
Thank you very much for coming today.
We're here discussing an issue about your having to relive what you went through as families, and here we are making you go through it again, and we're talking about having you go through it another time. So I thank you for that. I give you my condolences.
Having been a policeman for 30 years, I can tell you that we never get over how victims feel, because we're intimate with the investigation. Every member of Parliament, I believe—all 308 members of Parliament—would express the same feeling of condolence and remorse to you about your having to go through that, because we share that feeling.
We also have different philosophies on how to deal with the people who commit these crimes. As a member of the public safety and national security committee, and now the justice and human rights committee, I'm going to ask that when you have the time, you go through some of the things we have been doing over the last couple of years and what we're doing now. I say this because in the public safety committee, we're looking at Canada's prison system. We're going to be travelling and looking at that, some of which has to do with this.
What I'm going to say is to take a look at some of the witnesses who are coming here and what they say. Some of the members here will give you statistics. The Department of Justice gave us statistics—and you heard them—that in Canada we keep murderers in jail longer than other places do. I would say that it's probably not as long as some places. The countries studied, of course, are western countries like New Zealand and Australia, the countries that share our same type of society and judicial system. But some of the other countries in the world don't keep their murderers very long, because they kill them.
As a police officer up until a few years ago—around the time I had this job and realized I'd have some tremendous moral obligations I'd have to research and would have to look at my own value systems—I used to believe in the death penalty. But without using certain words and going down another path, I would say that I've changed since then. I used to believe in the death penalty and that anybody who did believe in that had better be ready to pull that lever or push that injector. But now I believe in the sanctity of life from its very beginning to its very end, and therefore I now do not believe in the death penalty.
But what I want to say to you, and I want to do this very tenderly, before I go through some of the other things, is to look at the kinds of witnesses we see before our committee. They outnumber you greatly, and every single one of them believes that we're already too tough on the people we're sending to jail, whether they be from the John Howard Society or the pantheon of criminologists and sociologists, the very experts who some people here believe should be on those panels of 12 people deciding the fate of those prisoners. I guarantee that if they're on those panels, the applicants, the very people you feared, will get out sooner. I would much rather be judged—and that's what our system of justice is built on—by my own peers, the mothers, the grandmothers, the grandfathers, the uncles, the aunts, the mothers and fathers who actually live in the society I live in, not by someone who's cloistered. I'm not demeaning the sociologists or criminologists, please understand. I believe they have a place in our system. But when it comes to judging your fellow man, no one is better suited for that task than your equals—not those who are superior in any way, shape, or form.
So when we talk about qualified people, I believe the average person out there, the people like you, are better qualified to decide that, because they live in the same world you live in. They'll go through the same things you do, day in and day out.
Madam McCuaig, you asked why people like that ask for early parole. It's because we give them the opportunity to. That's number one.
You say you're still afraid to walk the streets and that you're going through psychiatric care. As a police officer, I will use the example of someone I know of who abused three of his four daughters for years, and I'm ashamed to say he was a police officer. But pedophilia and those types of things cross every line, from the very highest in society to the very lowest. The judicial system gave him six years of jail and six years of probation, and the judge said he was being tough on him. I know what their families are going through. Mothers are afraid. His daughters are afraid to allow their husbands to take their children to bed because they think the same thing is happening to them. So they're going through that psychologically.
He was given six years. Somebody said that in the United States they'd give him 60 years. Well, I'm not saying 60 years is right, but I know six years is not right.
You also said these are cruel things to have to live through, and I apologize for that, but we need to hear from you. We need to hear from more people like you to bring our feet to the ground instead of always looking at the numbers and everything else. You are just a statistic if we only use statistics to figure out what to do with our judicial system. That's all you are, and you're the minority--and the people who perpetrated the crime against your nephew, and against your daughter, well, they're the small statistic, and if they're still small, well, we shouldn't count them as much as we should count the majority.
You know, we have white-collar crime. Mr. Teague, you asked who committed the worst crime. That's what we're struggling with in this Parliament, because we are looking at that and deciding as a government what to do. But I'd say, who committed the biggest crime is the person who's carrying the gun or the knife. Our society says that when you pick up a gun or a knife to make somebody do something they don't otherwise want to do or should do, that's more serious than just cheating them. The cheat should go to jail, but the guy with the gun or knife goes to jail for a longer time, because the consequences of not handing over the money might be your life, and that's a terrible thing to do.
I think, Mrs. McCuaig, you said, in terms of conviction for more murders, it was a “freebie”. Today our justice minister announced some more legislation. He doesn't call it a freebie, but he refers to it as a “volume discount”. These words are unfortunate when we deal with people who have gone through some of the things you've gone through, but you know, it's all about grabbing that headline in the press.
Mrs. McCuaig, I did follow the trial evolving, as closely as I could, and I would just like you to comment on some of the things I've said.
Obviously I have listened very carefully to what you said. This is probably the only time I will agree with Mr. Norlock—we have to keep our feet on the ground.
When we meet with witnesses like you, it makes us think. If we do oppose this bill, it is because we believe that a person is entitled to have one last chance. I told the minister that when he appeared before this committee.
I was a criminal lawyer for 30 years, so I have in fact defended people who are in prison today, who committed crimes. And I agree with you completely, Ms. McCuaig: some people should never get out of prison. They are my former clients. I know some. But I also know some who are entitled to a chance. We have to give a person a chance to rehabilitate themselves, even if they have committed a heinous crime.
When I listened to you, it reminded me of the case of two individuals who brutally killed two young Indian girls in my region. Even when they came before the National Parole Board, 20 years later, it was felt that they were not ready to be released.
We think that everyone must be given a chance. I have expressed my disagreement to the minister, and on this I agree with you, about making victims' families and spouses relive the facts every five years. In my opinion, parole must be earned and prepared for.
I somewhat agree with Mr. Teague on this subject as well. If someone wants to try to pull a fast one on us, if you will forgive me for putting it that way, wants to try to hide things from us, there is an important role... Generally, these individuals deal with lawyers for their appearance before the National Parole Board. We have a role to play. The law societies must inform their members that they have an important role to play in this regard. And it is not just a question of money; it is not to free up space in the prisons.
In the Bloc Québécois, we think that there is still room for rehabilitation. I could give you examples. Of the 127 people who have been released on parole, in 2009 that is, 13 have been returned to prison, and not because they committed other murders, because, in this case, we are not talking about murders.
I do not want to go on at further length on this subject. But I do want you to know that I would like to hear testimony like yours more often, because it makes us think and it urges us to be more careful. But I am still very reluctant, and I say this sincerely, because I think it sincerely, to close the last door, because it is the last chance. I am also reluctant to allow individuals to keep coming back to request parole. On that, I agree with you. For first-degree murder, an individual should have only one chance before 25 years, between 15 and 25 years, to make an application. If they lose the case, it's over. They will have to serve the 25 years of their sentence. So they will have to prepare properly and not try to tell lies or talk about this or that thing.
I do not want to go on at further length on this subject, but rest assured that we have heard your message clearly and that it fell on sympathetic ears.
Thank you very much for travelling to be here today.
In closing, Mr. Teague, I want you to know that I have also met someone in the past who was a lawyer, and who killed his colleague so he could collect on his insurance policy. He had never admitted at the time that he had intentionally killed his colleague on a hunting trip. It took him 22 years to admit it. Today, he is on parole and he tours detention centres to talk to inmates, exactly as you heard last weekend.