I call the meeting to order.
This is meeting 51 of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Today is Wednesday, December 2, 2009. Because the minister is not here and we don't want to waste any time, we have a little bit of committee business that we could deal with.
You have before you the agenda for today. We are going to have Minister Nicholson here for most of the next two hours, but there was one item that I wanted to address concerning committee business.
Madam Clerk, do you have the list of the witnesses that we still have appearing?
You may recall that we had scheduled some RCMP witnesses. Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to hear from them, so we've had to reschedule them.
I believe we have two more meetings left, on December 7 and December 9, and then we're done for this year. What we have scheduled for December 7 is witnesses Al Rosen by videoconference, the Canadian Bar Association, the Department of Finance, and Jean-Paul Brodeur. Then in the second hour on December 7 we have the RCMP—we missed having them the last two times—and we have the Attorney General of New Brunswick, by special request of Mr. Murphy.
That's on December 7. Then on December 9 we presently have scheduled Joey Davis and Janet Watson, Jenn Lofgren, Mike Miles, and Melanie Johannink. I understand they are all victims or family members of victims. Thereafter we would be proposing to go to clause-by-clause.
Is that a schedule you can live with?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I'm pleased to be with you once again, this time on Bill This bill will contribute to people's confidence in the criminal justice system by proposing additional restrictions to the use of conditional sentences of imprisonment.
I know this committee is quite familiar with the issue, given the amendments that took place in 2007. To understand why we're pursuing other reforms, I'd like to say this. Conditional sentences became a sentencing option over 13 years ago with the proclamation in September 1996 of the sentencing reform bill. Conditional sentences were to provide an intermediate sentencing option between probation and incarceration to permit less serious offenders to remain in the community under strict conditions: their sentence was less than two years; the court was satisfied that allowing the offender to serve the sentence of imprisonment in the community would not endanger the safety of the community; and the offence was not punishable by a mandatory term of imprisonment.
In 2000, the Supreme Court of Canada held in Regina v. Proulx that a sentencing court must first find that a sentence of imprisonment of less than two years is appropriate, before considering whether the sentence can be served in the community under a conditional sentence order. In other words, a court must be of the opinion that a probation order and/or a fine would not adequately address the seriousness of the offence; a penitentiary term would not be necessary to do so; and a sentence of less than two years would be appropriate. Once this decision is made, a court would then determine whether the sentence of imprisonment of less than two years may be served in the community, bearing in mind the other prerequisites in section 742.
A number of observers, including some of my provincial and territorial colleagues, became increasingly concerned with the wide array of offences that received conditional sentences of imprisonment. By the time our government assumed power in 2006, it had become clear to us that further limits to the availability of conditional sentences were needed. We responded to those concerns when we tabled Bill on May 4, 2006. It was referred to this committee a month later, in June. Bill C-9, in its original form, proposed to eliminate conditional sentences for offences prosecuted by indictment and punishable by a sentence of 10 years or more.
It was, and still is, the opinion of this government that offences prosecuted by indictment and punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of 10, 14 years, or life are serious offences that should not result in a conditional sentence order. This is so, even if the court ultimately finds that a sentence of less than two years is proportionate to the circumstances of the offence. Bill C-9, as originally drafted, would have caught serious crime, such as weapon offences, offences committed against children, and serious property crimes. However, Bill C-9 was amended so it would only capture terrorism offences, organized crime offences, and serious personal injury offences as defined in section 752 of the Criminal Code--those that are punishable by a maximum of 10 years or more and prosecuted by indictment. This was similar to the approach taken in Bill that the previous government had tabled in the fall of 2005, but died on the order paper.
The amendments to Bill created some strange results. First, the amendment to Bill C-9 created a situation whereby offences punishable by a maximum of 14 years' imprisonment or life are not all considered to be serious crimes. I shouldn't have to remind the members of this committee that these are the highest maximum available in the code.
Second, as a result of the amendments to Bill C-9, offences contained in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act are not excluded for eligibility for a conditional sentence unless they are committed as part of a criminal organization. Consequently, the production, importation, and trafficking of a schedule 1 drug, such as heroin, would not be caught and would still be eligible for a conditional sentence of imprisonment. As members of the committee know, our government has proposed mandatory penalties for serious drug offences in Bill . I therefore expect that when that legislation is enacted, as I hope it soon will be, these offences will be ineligible for a conditional sentence.
Third, the use of the term “serious personal injury”, as defined for dangerous and long-term offenders, was appropriated to serve as a limit to the availability of conditional sentences as a result of the amendments to Bill C-9. Up until that bill's coming into force on December 1, 2007, sentencing courts had only to interpret serious personal injury offence for the purpose of determining whether the threshold for a dangerous or long-term offender application had been met, because that term only applied to dangerous and long-term offenders. Since Bill C-9 came into force, courts have wrestled with the interpretation of serious personal injury offences in the context of conditional sentences.
A concern with the definition of serious personal injury offences is that serious property crimes such as fraud could still be eligible for a conditional sentence. We're all aware of the recent examples of the devastating impact of fraudulent conduct. Victims who have lost their life savings have called for strengthened sentences for these types of crime. It is difficult to disagree with their concerns, especially considering the fact that fraud, which is punishable by a maximum sentence of 14 years, would still be eligible for a conditional sentence, despite the reforms enacted in Bill C-9.
It's clear to me, and I suggest to many Canadians, that greater clarity and consistency are needed to eliminate the availability of conditional sentences for serious violent and serious property crimes. For these reasons, Bill C-42 proposes to remove the reference to serious personal injury offences in section 742.1 and make all offences that are punishable by 14 years or life ineligible for a conditional sentence. This would make the offence of fraud and many other crimes ineligible for a conditional sentence.
Bill C-42 would also clearly make offences that are prosecuted by indictment and punishable by 10 years and result in bodily harm, involve the import-export, trafficking, or production of drugs, or involve the use of a weapon ineligible for a conditional sentence. While these elements of the legislation will significantly limit the ambit of the conditional sentencing regime, the addition of these categories would not exclude all serious offences prosecuted by indictment and punishable by a maximum of 10 years. Therefore, Bill C-42 lists specific offences prosecuted by indictment and punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years that would be ineligible for a conditional sentence. These include prison breach, luring a child, criminal harassment, sexual assault, kidnapping, trafficking in persons, abduction, theft over $5,000, breaking and entering a place other than a dwelling house, being unlawfully in a dwelling house, and arson for fraudulent purposes. In addition, once Bill C-26 comes into force, conditional sentences will no longer be available for the proposed offence of auto theft. The bill is presently before the Senate.
Mr. Chairman, conditional sentences are an appropriate sentencing tool in many cases, but their use does need to be restricted when it comes to serious property and serious violent offences. A more prudent use of conditional sentence orders should strengthen confidence in the sanction and the administration of justice.
I'd like to conclude by saying, Mr. Chairman, that passage of Bill C-42 is an important step towards more just sentences that will protect our communities, our families, and respect our sense of justice. The use of conditional sentences for less serious offences and less serious offenders, as was intended when they were first created, will improve public confidence in criminal justice.
I hope this will receive quick consideration by this committee and we'll get this matter back into the House soon.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
First of all, with respect to serious fraud, as you know, the maximum penalty, the maximum sentence as it exists now, quite apart from the bill we've introduced on white collar crime, is 14 years. I think people in this country have a real problem with the idea that these individuals are eligible to be sent home after their conviction. I think they have a problem with that, and I agree with those Canadians who have a problem with that.
You can say, for the most part, that they're not going to get two years less a day, and in the majority of the cases I'm pleased to say they don't get off very easily. But on the idea that you could be eligible to go home after you've committed a serious white collar crime, I think a lot of people have problems with that. So that is taken care of in this bill. This is one of the reasons I'm urging its quick passage.
In addition, with the passage of our white collar crime bill, it would become ineligible in any case, quite frankly, because with mandatory prison terms in the other bill, again it would be ineligible. Either way, we have to get rid of house arrest or conditional sentencing for these individuals.
Now, with respect to restitution, you quite correctly pointed out that there is some very good work being done at the provincial level with respect to assistance, as much as property-related issues, for the most part, are within provincial jurisdiction, so of course they have been taking steps in that direction. But you were here when I testified--I believe you were--on the white collar crime bill, and as I pointed out in that particular bill, there are specific provisions that relate directly to people making a claim and, as I say, making the judicial system more user-friendly for people who find themselves as victims of fraud.
So there is a role to play, of course, for the federal government, and I'm pleased that this particular legislation takes direct aim at assisting victims and making the system a little bit better for them. But again, you're quite correct to say that provincial governments have made substantial progress in this area as well.
Good morning, Mr. Minister.
Mr. Minister, I often reiterate that two or three months ago when you and the Prime Minister were here, we met people who had been scammed, robbed or bilked by what are known as white-collar criminals. They subsequently came to give evidence. They spoke to us and you greeted them. They then told us that they were almost insulted that those people had the charge stayed at some point, as is currently the case with one of them. They were genuinely shocked, and the retiree who spoke to us, Mr. Kube, said that he had lost his faith in the justice system. We have to restore people's trust in the justice system.
I think this is an important element. This is my first comment, and I am a bit disappointed, because Bill , which I worked on with my colleagues, was completely gutted the last time. I could not believe it, and I remember that in Montreal around the same time, there were seven or eight home invasions for which people were given suspended sentences because it was their first offence and they did not hit anyone. Yet they entered someone's home at night. The people were afraid.
I would like to know if, in your opinion, Bill can restore the faith of those who in reality are good people but are literally being assaulted by there criminals, both economically and in their private home.
You've touched on a very important point, Mr. Petit. That is the role of victims. People want to have confidence in our criminal justice system. If they believe that people who do terrible things to them...if they are the victims of kidnapping, forceable confinement, trafficking in people, sexual assault, criminal harassment, luring a child, and they hear that these people are eligible for house arrest, it hurts the criminal justice system. It hurts people's confidence in the criminal justice system. It's a bad idea to continue this.
What we have to do in the Criminal Code is respond to that. We have to respond to what we believe is our own good common sense as to what is serious and what is the appropriate measure to be taken with that, and it has to be reflected in the Criminal Code. You asked if people want to have confidence in the criminal justice system. Of course they do. They want to have that. And our job is to do that. Is this bill going to restore people's confidence? I say it's part of what it will.
I was actually careful in my opening comments. I said this will “help” on these things. We have about a dozen bills before this Parliament right now. All of them are moving in the same direction, to help restore people's confidence in the criminal justice system or help them to continue to have confidence in the criminal justice system. These are what we have to do. We know that criminals are becoming more sophisticated, and this particular one is not always directed at people who are into sophisticated crimes--some of it is. When people are into arson for fraudulent purposes, yes, you could get some sophisticated operations in there. But people want this to strike that balance. They want these individuals to get the help they need, but they want to send out the message that we take these matters very seriously in Canadian society and that there have to be meaningful consequences that these individuals are eligible for when they commit some of these terrible crimes.
Again, in an objective look at this bill that you have before you, I think people say that this is a reasonable compromise between less serious and more serious offences, and that yes, these are serious offences. When you start talking about a sexual assault prosecuted by indictment, we're talking about a very serious business, and people, I think right across this country--I'm completely confident--do not want to see these people eligible for house arrest under any circumstances.
So that is the job we have before us, striking that appropriate balance. I think this bill, among all the bills that this committee has had a look at and introduced before Parliament, strikes that appropriate balance.
You see, I, too, was a litigator for a long time. I argued for a suspended sentence many times, and I was often successful , because there is one fundamental thing, Mr. Minister: the judicial discretion of judges. It seems to me that what you are trying to do with this bill is take away judges' discretion. I heard you say, Mr. Minister, that it is not normal for a person who has committed sexual assault or sexual touching to be sent home. Obviously. No judge has ordered that; I am not aware of any. If you are aware of such a case, I would like to know. That is clearly unacceptable. It is clear that judges have much better judgment than that.
I am worried, and the figures we have been given cannot lie. Each year, between 13,000 and 15,000 criminals are given a suspended sentence. According to staff in your department, a third of those criminals, which, if I know how to count, is between 3,000 and 5,000, would no longer qualify. And because it is a provincial matter, it will be up to the provinces to take an additional 3,000 to 5,000 offenders. Speaking proportionally, Quebec alone would expect to have an extra 1,000 to 1,200 offenders. I would like you to tell me that the Solicitor General of Quebec told you that he agrees with Bill , but I have not read that anywhere. I don't know if you have a document on that subject somewhere. If you do, I would like to have it, because I do not have it. I have nothing from Quebec which tells me that anyone agrees that Bill C-42 should be passed. Yes, there have to be restrictions, but on December 16, 2005, Statistics Canada released figures showing that judges were clamping down on people who violated the conditions of their suspended sentence.
I am asking myself this question. Mr. Minister, is it not too soon to review legislation that provides for suspended sentences and has been in force since 1996? Could we not give it 15 or 20 years at least to see if the courts have adjusted to sentencing before we go back and amend these sections of the Criminal Code yet again?
It's interesting, Mr. Rathgeber. You talked about victims groups, and I've met with a lot of them over the last three years as justice minister. A group that I very recently met with were people who were victims of white collar crime, or people who advocate for tougher sentences against white collar crime. I pointed out to them that these people who are convicted of white collar crime, serious fraud, are eligible for conditional sentences, and to a person they disagreed with that. I guess that's the point we're making here.
It's recognized by just about everybody that these are very serious offences, the most serious offences, quite frankly, in the Criminal Code--the ones for life, 14 years, 10 years. We were specific. Criminal harassment, sexual assault, kidnapping, forceable confinement, trafficking in persons.... We can argue about it, but I think most people would say if you're proceeding by indictment against these very serious offences, these people should be ineligible to be sent home afterwards.
Now, Monsieur Lemay says don't worry about them, nobody will send them home. Well great, then we're all agreed, if these people aren't going to be sent home. The Criminal Code will be just stating the obvious, and what I think is apparent to everybody is that if you get convicted of the most serious crimes in Canada within Canada's Criminal Code, you shouldn't be eligible to be sent home. And that's great; then we can move on. Let's get to other constructive things we can do to try to rehabilitate these individuals.
But as you say, we have to reach out to these victims who are looking to Parliament to recognize their legitimate concerns. I have every sympathy with them. And you're quite correct that I, my parliamentary secretary Rob Moore, Monsieur Petit, and you and others have taken a very active interest in reaching out to these victims. I commend you for that, and I thank you for the question.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I'm pleased to be here before the members of the standing committee to answer questions or hear comments concerning supplementary estimates (B) for the Department of Justice.
As you know, Mr. Chairman, our government was elected on a promise to tackle crime, and we're unwavering in our commitment to fighting crime and protecting Canadians so that our communities are safe places for people to live, raise their families, and do business. To help us fulfill that commitment, I've relied on the advice and the tireless efforts of the employees of the Department of Justice, and I deeply appreciate their support as our government moves forward with its crime agenda.
Our government firmly believes that the protection of society must remain the first priority of our criminal justice system and that sentences should reflect the severity of the crime. To that effect, we've succeeded in implementing legislation to ensure adequate sentences, such as our comprehensive Tackling Violent Crime Act, which legislated tougher jail time for serious gun crimes, increased the age of protection from 14 to 16 years to better protect our youth from adult sexual predators, and provided strong penalties for alcohol-impaired driving. In addition, we've also increased penalties for those convicted of street racing, ended conditional sentences for serious personal injury offences, and passed legislation to combat illegal copying of films in movie theatres.
In our fight against identity theft, we have succeeded in adding three new offences to the Criminal Code through Bill , targeting the early stages of identity-related crime and giving the police the tools they had been lacking to move against this ever growing problem before the damage is done.
With regard to gangs and organized crime, we have passed Bill , which will increase penalties for murders and reckless shootings connected to these activities. Once it comes into force, any murder connected to organized crime activity will automatically be considered first degree and subject to a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without eligibility for parole for 25 years.
On October 22, our government succeeded in eliminating two-for-one credit for time spent in jail while waiting for trial, a practice that disproportionately reduced prison sentences for some violent offenders. Police associations, victim groups, and indeed all provinces and territories expressed their support for that bill.
Mr. Chairman, our government has made great strides, but there is more that we can be doing to protect Canadians. For example, in recent months I have spoken to victims of various fraud schemes and white collar crime, and they clearly attested to the gravity of those crimes. Fraud can have a devastating impact on the lives of its victims, not only as it affects their financial security but also through feelings of humiliation for having been deceived and voluntarily handing over their life savings. These schemes can be every bit as devastating as a physical assault.
The determination of these victims to call for action on fraud in the face of their emotional turmoil reaffirmed the need to act quickly and effectively against this type of crime. That's why I recently introduced Bill , which cracks down on white collar crime and fraud and increases justice for victims.
These measures will allow victims to be heard and their concerns to be taken seriously by the courts.
We've also taken extremely seriously the many instances of child sexual exploitation facilitated by the Internet. The worldwide web provides new and easier means for offenders to make, view, and distribute child pornography, resulting in a significant increase not only in the availability and volume of pornography but also in the level of violence perpetrated against children.
Our government recently proposed a mandatory reporting regime across Canada that will require suppliers of Internet services to report certain information about Internet child pornography. This is one more step in our efforts to better protect children from sexual predators and help police rescue these young victims and prosecute the criminals responsible.
Our government has shown its concern for the victims of multiple murderers and their families. We firmly believe that the families of murder victims should not be made to feel that the life of their loved one doesn't count. This is why I tabled Bill C-36, which will permit judges to impose consecutive periods of parole ineligibility for multiple murderers.
While there can only be one life sentence for an offender who commits more than one murder, the parole ineligibility period, 25 years in the case of a first-degree murderer, could be imposed consecutively for each subsequent murder. In addition, we continue to seek elimination of the “faint hope” clause of the Criminal Code. By saying no to early parole for murderers, our government hopes to spare families the pain of attending repeated parole eligibility hearings and having to re-live these unspeakable losses over and over again.
Both of these pieces of legislation would acknowledge the value of every life taken by this most serious of crimes. It would ensure the criminals responsible serve a sentence that more adequately reflects the gravity of their crimes.
Mr. Chair, protecting people is a priority, not an afterthought. Our government remains committed to improving our justice system in order to properly address the problem of drug producers and traffickers.
Last spring I was in Vancouver to announce, alongside senior law enforcement officials, that our government was seeking to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act by introducing Bill .
This legislation would impose mandatory sentences on drug producers and traffickers, especially targeting the criminal enterprise of gangs and other violent criminal organizations, because we know that drugs are the currency of organized crime.
Having this legislation passed as quickly as possible would better protect our communities and send a clear message that if you produce and traffic in marijuana, if you're into the grow op business in residential neighbourhoods, if you threaten the safety of Canada's communities, you will serve jail time.
It's been six months since that bill was referred to the Senate. It's still not out of committee. I certainly urge all members of Parliament to do whatever we can to ensure and promote and push to get that important piece of legislation passed.
We are doing many things at the department. One of the things we are doing is investing some $10 million in the guns, gangs, and drugs initiative, which funds community-based programs that seek to help youth resist the lure of gang involvement and illicit drug use.
The Department of Justice is also committed to continuing to play a leadership role in strengthening the justice system through non-legislative means. The department has requested some $3 million in the main estimates for grants and contributions under the justice partnership and innovation program. This program contributes to policy development to ensure that justice remains accessible, efficient, effective, and that it reflects Canadian values.
We're also committed to helping victims better navigate and deal with the criminal justice and correctional systems. To that end, we have increased allocations to the victims fund to, among other things, provide greater financial assistance to those victims who wish to attend national parole board hearings, assist Canadians victimized abroad, provide additional funding to provincial and territorial governments to enhance or develop new services for underserviced victims of crime, and provide resources to the territories to directly assist victims with emergency costs.
In total, we have increased the funding for the federal victim strategy by $52 million over four years. We've also created the independent federal ombudsman for victims of crime to ensure that the federal government lives up to its commitments and obligations to victims of crime and to give victims a strong and effective voice in the criminal justice system.
We also recognize that aboriginal people enter our justice system in disproportionate numbers. As a result, we have renewed our commitment to the aboriginal justice strategy until 2012. We will make an additional investment of $40 million, for a total of $85 million over five years.
The strategy funds programs that provide justice services to more than 400 aboriginal communities across Canada, helping to hold offenders accountable for their actions, increase awareness of victims issues, and promote greater youth connection with aboriginal culture and traditions.
Mr. Chairman, ours is a busy agenda. I think we are doing important work. It's an important component of what we are here to do as members of Parliament.
I thank this committee for its work in moving forward on these justice initiatives. I look forward to more cooperation from this committee. Thank you again.
Three or four years ago, when we did the estimates you had to talk about the actual figures. It later developed that you can pretty much ask anything. But I might actually try to ask some questions about money, programs, the future, or the past as it relates to some of the budget items.
I want to ask about public prosecutions, a relatively new animal. I remember sitting on Bill C-2 and the accountability act. We were a little time getting someone appointed. I suppose it's up and running now, and yet we don't hear too much about its operation. I suppose we should be happy that it's not on the front pages all the time, because that would mean there was a run on public misfeasance. But it's an investment of money, and it's something this government feels strongly about having established. It didn't meet much resistance from the opposition. I would like to know what DPP is doing, what it's supposed to do, how much it's costing, and whether you feel it has been effective.
I'll channel these questions—I have two or three and you can pick out the ones you want to answer.
I also wanted to ask about the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs, who oversees all the federally appointed judges. There is a slight increase there. Do you feel, Minister, that because of your busy legislative agenda, there is some extra pressure on judicial expenses?
Finally, I wanted to ask about impaired driving. This committee had a study on impaired driving. It's pretty much the opinion of this committee that we wouldn't go to the lower limit that MADD was asking for. But there have been calls for mandatory jail sentences of seven days for impaired drivers. It's very arbitrary. But on these three items, would you care to give us some response?
I would be glad to, Mr. Murphy.
The budget for the public prosecution service for this fiscal year is $166.7 million. The public prosecutions were separated from the Department of Justice to make sure there was no suggestion of interference. The director of public prosecutions has responsibility for prosecutions under federal legislation. I think this was a step in the right direction. We wanted to make sure that, in the people's view, everything was completely above board and separate from political influence. I don't think anybody has suggested that there was a problem in the past. Nevertheless, I think most people see this as a step in the right direction.
I believe it has worked well. I would imagine that it would be possible for you, Mr. Chairman, to call Mr. Saunders before the committee to talk about the public prosecution service. It has been well received in Canada, it works well, and these are the budgetary requirements.
You spoke about the commissioner for judicial affairs. I enumerated a number of pieces of legislation that have been passed. We've increased the number of judges in Canada. These are steps in the right direction that meet the needs and challenges of our judicial system. As for the expenses for judges, I haven't had any problems brought to my attention. The system that we have in place seems to work well.
With respect to impaired driving, we made changes in the Tackling Violent Crime Act related to the impaired driving provisions. The report of your committee was well received by me. But because the administration of these items is within provincial jurisdiction and we share a responsibility in this area, I think there needs to be more consultation with the provinces. I'm pleased to have the recommendations of the committee. Our agenda has been very busy, but I don't close the door on future changes to the Criminal Code.
With respect to the quadrennial commissions, my office is meeting with judges on the procedure and other possible improvements to the quadrennial commission judges, just so you know.
I think I indicated in my comments to Monsieur Ménard that the quadrennial commission is definitely an improvement over the way it was done 20 years ago in this country. But as I say, I leave the door open to improvements in that, and we're having discussions with them.
With respect to the $3.3 million for the public prosecutions, the item is called a profiling. This is a process where funds approved for a department for a specific purpose during a fiscal year are reallocated to be used for the same purpose by the department in the following year, and this is with respect to accommodations, information management, and information technology. So it was money not used in one fiscal year moved over to another. That's what I have been told.
With respect to your question on legal aid, as you know, the base for legal aid is now permanent. We made that permanent with respect to criminal legal aid.
There are great responsibilities with respect to refugee determination, the Immigration Review Board, and we provide for that. Again, we'll have to see, of course, in the next budget, Monsieur Ménard, as to what, if any change--