Mr. Speaker, before question period, I was highlighting the many different initiatives our Conservative government had taken since 2006 to make our communities safer, such as bills that strengthen our justice system and efforts to put more police officers on the streets and the funding that is required for that.
I also talked about the bill before us regarding accelerated parole review and looking to eliminate because of serious concerns that Canadian citizens have expressed.
I have discussed the first difference between an accelerated parole review process and a regular parole review process. I would like to now talk about the other two. Let us look at the second major difference.
For most offenders, applying for parole means attending a parole review hearing in person. They must appear before the Parole Board and persuade it that they are ready to live in society as law-abiding citizens. It is quite different for white-collar and other non-violent offenders. That process involves only paperwork. The reviews are done on paper. There are no hearings for the individuals to attend. There is no need for offenders to plead their cases to officials face to face. Again, this is akin to a two-tiered system.
We are telling these offenders and all Canadians that fraud and white-collar crime really is not so bad, that stealing hundreds of thousands and, in some cases, millions of dollars from hard-working Canadians is not such a serious crime. This is unfair to victims. Canadians who have lost their retirement savings are telling us to make changes to the system. That is exactly what we are doing.
Finally, I come to the third key difference between an accelerated parole review and regular day parole. It is perhaps the most shocking one.
As I mentioned at the very beginning of my speech, under accelerated parole first-time offenders convicted of fraud can apply for day parole after serving just one-sixth of their sentence. They can then apply for full parole after serving only one-third of their sentence.
Allow me to do the math on this. Someone convicted of 12 years in prison for defrauding seniors, for example, can apply for day parole after serving only two years in jail. Canadians are shocked. Individuals and families who have lost their retirement savings, their nest eggs, cannot recoup those loses in only two years. In many cases, the loss can be a devastating blow that tears families and relationships apart. Two years later, they continue to struggle with the significant impact of the crime, while the offender is now able to apply for day parole.
How does this compare with the system currently in place for regular day parole? These offenders can only apply for day parole six months before they are eligible for full parole. This means they have to serve almost one-third of their sentence before they can even apply for day parole. It is only fair that non-violent white-collar offenders have to wait the same amount of time before applying for parole.
Therefore, by amending the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, we are recognizing the severity of white-collar and other non-violent crimes and ensuring that the Parole Board of Canada applies the same rules to all criminals. We are sending a message to those who plan to defraud Canadians out of their hard-earned money that they will face the same system of justice as everyone else.
It is time we abolish accelerated parole review and ensure that the time spent in prison fits the crime. That is what Canadians have asked us to do and we are delivering.
I call on my colleagues in the House to work together to ensure the swift passage of Bill .
Mr. Speaker, particularly after the last intervention we should take a look at the history of this matter.
The reality is that more than two years ago at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights Liberal members moved amendments that would see the accelerated parole review eliminated in cases where there was large-scale white collar crime. We would make sure it would be eliminated for large-scale fraudsters. We pushed for that two years ago. We said those changes were important and we were ignored.
Some long period of time later an omnibus bill dealing with a whole host of matters was brought forward to the Standing Committee on Public Safety. I have heard several times today Conservative members stand in their place and talk about how the public safety committee delayed the bill. Here is the truth. Government members had every opportunity to bring that bill forward, but they did not do that. In point of fact, when they were given the opportunity with more than half the days to advance the bills they wanted to, the bill never made their list. Never once in committee did Conservative members talk about the urgent and sudden need for the bill.
What changed? Mr. Lacroix was let out. Something that should have been dealt with a couple of years ago was not. Mr. Lacroix was released. The government was caught with its pants down by not acting. Suddenly there was a flurry of interest. We had to fix it and we had to fix it now. No questions were to be asked. As a result of the government dropping the ball, it told us that the bill was to be passed overnight.
Good legislation is not written on the back of napkins. Good legislation is not rammed through in a few hours with little consideration to its outcome or impact. The decisions that we make in the House have profound and lasting implications not just on community safety, but also on the budgetary capacity of this country.
With respect to this bill, the notion that we would engage closure, that we would shut down debate when the government has refused to act for so long, is reprehensible.
To the Bloc Québécois members who say we have to do this right now because of Earl Jones, that we only have two months to act, I can tell them that Mr. Jones would not be eligible for these provisions until some years from now. These considerations are electoral and political. They are not in any way based on some urgent need to fix the situation with Mr. Jones.
I said we stand firm on the principle that for large-scale fraudsters these provisions should not be in place. But it is worth mentioning why this provision exists in the first place.
One of the reasons accelerated parole review was brought in was that it is so costly to look at the alternative. We have to remember that we are talking about first time, non-violent offenders.
According to Correctional Services Canada's data, in 2006-07 the cost on average of incarcerating somebody was $93,000. The cost can range from about $85,000 to a high of about $160,000, but the median is $93,000. The cost of conditional release is $23,000. That is a difference of some $70,000 a year per offender.
If we are going to toss out conditional release in these instances, we had better be pretty darned sure we are getting a good result, that we are appreciably making a difference in improving community safety.
Yet when we look at Correctional Services documents around why it says that accelerated parole review is actually needed it says:
The intent of Accelerated parole review is to provide for formal recognition in law that non-violent and violent offenders should not be subject to the same conditional release process.
It also states:
The main focus of APR was to address public safety and reintegration. It was designed to ensure that lower risk offenders were released at the earliest possible date in their sentence to allow the Correctional Service and the National Parole Board additional time for dealing with more serious offenders.
Studies have shown there is a tendency for low risk offenders to be negatively impacted by the prison experience. In other words, changing this would not only cost more than $70,000 for every inmate but, according to Correctional Services Canada and according to all data I have been able to see on this, for first time non-violent offenders, incarceration is the worst place to go for protracted periods of time.
We would end up putting a minor criminal who has had that first interaction with the law in for a protracted period of incarceration and turn out a major criminal. We are turning our prisons into crime factories.
If this were some debate in the abstract, some debate where we were debating philosophical differences, unsure of the outcomes of what we were talking about, this difference could be intellectually tolerated. In point of fact, this plan has been tried before. I am going to come to that point in a minute, but before I do want to look at some of the other ways.
It is really interesting that the government has invoked closure on a motion to ram the bill through when there are so many other elements dealing with white collar crime that it refuses to act upon. Not only did it refuse two years ago to act on our move to end it when it came to serious white collar crime, but it made cuts to the RCMP task force on white collar crime.
I had interviews today about cuts that have been made to the national police service, in general. At the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, we recently made improvements to the sex offender registry. Yet, we find now that the federal government is throwing more of the burden of funding things such as the national sex offender registry and funding for the RCMP task force on white collar crime to the RCMP, so that the RCMP is having to cut from its services to make up from the shortfall and cuts that are being made by the federal government.
The government is waving around a big stick, saying how tough it is by moving a bill like this one, and at the same time, it is cutting things that actually stop these crimes from happening. How crazy is that? Basically, this is a government that is slashing from the things that stop the crimes, slashing from the things that stop there being victims in the first place and then loading it all up on the back end, throwing them all in jail and allowing the problem to get worse.
This is what is so offensive about the Conservatives standing and saying that the different opposition parties do not talk enough about victims. Do they not realize that if we had less crime, we would have fewer victims? I did not think that was something that we had to spell out or put on paper. Is there not an understanding that if we invest in things like prevention, or if we invest in the RCMP white collar task force on crime, or if we invest in the things that actually stop crimes before they happen, we have fewer victims?
Let us think about this. If we have fewer people in prison, we ultimately have a safer society because there are fewer criminals, and fewer criminals mean less crime.
What I find particularly concerning about this is that there is another bill that we have been dealing with for a long time, on lawful access. The House has been saying for years that we need to modernize our laws to allow law enforcement agencies to go after criminals who are conducting business through electronic media. Technology has changed dramatically but our legislation has not. Police officers have been begging for these tools. Yet, bill after bill gets killed by prorogation, by election, and it continues to languish here--
By the Liberals.
Mr. Mark Holland: Somebody said, “by the Liberals”. I would ask the member to take a look at it because we have been begging for this bill to come forward. It was a prorogation by the Conservatives that killed it not once, but twice. We have now been waiting for over a year for that bill to come back.
Police beg for those tools that are important to go after large-scale fraud and other crimes committed online, yet no priority is assigned to that whatsoever.
One of the most fundamental things in a bill, particularly when we are asked to vote on it on the spot, overnight, at lightning speed, is what is the cost? What is the financial implication of the bill before us?
It would shock Canadians to know that the House is being asked to vote on a bill that has had no cost analysis done on it whatsoever.
The Conservatives say not to worry about the cost, that it is manageable, that we should just trust them.
I remember when the House was told that before on a crime bill. I remember the minister standing in his place, talking about the fact that a bill was going to cost $90 million. That was the two-for-one remand credit. The House was told that over a five-year period the cost would be about $90 million.
That did not sound right to me. I called the Parliamentary Budget Officer and after conversations, I made a formal request for the real costs to be analyzed.
When the Parliamentary Budget Officer agreed to do a study on the costs of not only that bill but the overall crime agenda, suddenly the minister said that he had made a mistake, that the cost was not $90 million but $2 billion. That is not a little wrong, that is a universe wrong. However, after eight months of blocking him from getting information and not releasing data, the cost was not $2 billion but $10 billion to $13 billion.
We could just keep ramming these bills through and not think about them. The net result would be exactly what happened to California, a state that is nearly bankrupt, that has no money for health care, education or infrastructure and is ravaged by the impacts of these policies.
We cannot ask Parliament to vote with a blindfold on. We cannot tell Parliament to swallow whatever bill is thrown in front of it because there are some lines we want to use or some politics we want to play. If we are going to make intelligent decisions as a House, we need to have real and honest information.
That brings me to the second point. The Conservatives say that there is no cost that is too great, that it does not matter how much it costs, that we need to vote for it because it will make us safer. All evidence says the opposite. This stuff does not make us safer. In point of fact, it makes us much less safe.
If we look at statistics on rehabilitation, and we are again talking about first-time non-violent offenders, all statistics from anywhere in the world tell us that things like conditional release lead to lower reoffending rates. So that I can do the math for Conservatives who will stand and attack me for not talking about victims, lower reoffending rates mean less victims, lower reoffending rates mean less crime, lower reoffending rates mean there is less victimization. We can play games with it but the point we are driving at is that we want a safer society, one where there are less victims and less victimization.
Again, I am not talking about Earl Jones. We have already agreed that for large scale fraudsters this should be off the table. That was proposed two years ago, if members will remember. What we are talking about is for the more minor offenders. The path to ensuring they do not reoffend and that they get back on track as good taxpaying citizens who contribute to their communities and societies does not occur through long periods of incarceration.
Let us look at some real world examples. Let us take a look at the father of this whole prison punishment agenda, Newt Gingrich. He gave birth to this particular philosophy and agenda. What is he saying now? In an article in The Washington Post dated January 7, 2011, he states:
There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential. We spent $68 billion in 2010 on corrections - 300 per cent more than 25 years ago. The prison population is growing 13 times faster than the general population. These facts should trouble every American.
Our prisons might be worth the current cost if the recidivism rate were not so high, but, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, half of the prisoners released this year are expected to be back in prison within three years. If our prison policies are failing half of the time, and we know that there are more humane, effective alternatives, it is time to fundamentally rethink how we treat and rehabilitate our prisoners.
We can no longer afford business as usual with prisons. The criminal justice system is broken....
Mr. Gingrich goes on to say:
Some people attribute the nation's recent drop in crime to more people being locked up. But the facts show otherwise. While crime fell in nearly every state over the past seven years, some of those with the largest reductions in crime have also lowered their prison population. Compare Florida and New York. Over the past seven years, Florida's incarceration rate has increased 16 per cent, while New York's decreased 16 per cent. Yet the crime rate in New York has fallen twice as much as Florida's. Put another way, although New York spent less on its prisons, it delivered better public safety.
As stewards of the nation's dollars and as stewards of public safety more broadly, is that not the objective? Are we in this House not charged with facilitating public safety and to do it in the most cost effective, intelligent way possible?
We all agree on this. I cannot out-punish the Conservatives but if we take that logic to its ultimate conclusion, where does it go? The Conservatives stand in the House and say that they are tougher and harder. Keep taking it out and where does it go? Where does it end? Punishment should not be at the heart of our agenda. What should be at the heart of our agenda is public safety, effective public policy and wise and prudent use of public dollars.
In the United Kingdom it is the Conservatives who are now undoing this type of punishment, this backward agenda that I have been talking about. In the United Kingdom I recently met with a delegation that came over to study Canada's low crime rate and, simultaneously, low incarceration rate. They were here to emulate that. They saw it as something to look to like a beacon to copy and emulate. When they got here they were shocked when they found out that we were tossing it all in the garbage and that we were chasing the very thing they were trying to run away from.
One of the people in the delegation said to me, “My God. Do not do it. It is so hard to undo”. As the United Kingdom now tries to undo that, it is finding enormous difficulty reversing the course because once all of those new prisons are built and all of those new costs borne, the cost of providing effective programming and effective rehabilitation is very low. Instead of focusing it on violent offenders and using incarceration to protect society, there is now a catch-all with prisons that are overflowing and bursting at the seams, situations like that of California where the Supreme Court of California had to release 4,000 inmates onto the street because there was no more room for them. Everybody is tossed into a giant pot with no money to make them better and with populations ever-growing because it feeds itself like a giant beast. In fact, in California it has seen the rate of recidivism now cross over 70%. Is this what we want to emulate?
We can look at states like Texas that is now reversing these policies. We have to scratch our heads and wonder why Canada, alone in the world, is chasing after this Californian disaster. Why, when the rest of the world has recognized that it does not work, do we keep running after it at full pace, with abandon, without asking any questions? Why are we moving things like closure motions to say how dare we even have a debate about what is best or how we best move forward, where debate, instead of being an honest exchange of ideas where we say that we are concerned with people like Earl Jones and we do not want him to get an early pardon, how do we achieve that mutually and in a bipartisan way? Instead, that debate of honest concerns about the bill, honest desire to have dialogue, is made farcical.
We are attacked as if somehow we want to release Earl Jones, even though we do not. I have come to the conclusion that the desire is not for good legislation. The desire is to play politics. It is almost as if there is a nascent desire on the part of the other side, hoping that we will vote against it because there are so many egregious problems within the bill. They hope to create some kind of political caricature instead of actually addressing the major issues that are important and where there lies common ground.
Soon this bill will have the opportunity to go before committee. I implore members of the Bloc Québécois, who have been deliberate and largely intelligent and thoughtful on these bills, to take a moment to think about what is being passed and to join with us in saying that amendments probably will be necessary to be sure that we do not ensnarl a whole bunch of other people who are not intended in this process, but to go after a problem that is legitimate and does need to be fixed.
It is not us saying this. It is not the rest of the world recalling a disaster. Even here in Canada, churches from coast to coast have united in condemning these types of bills.
Health care providers have come forward and have unanimously condemned these bills. People on the front lines of rehabilitation who actually making people better are asking not to do this.
The bottom line is that we cannot vote in the dark. We should not be forced to vote for things that we already know will not work. Where there is consensus, let us be honest about the consensus and focus the debate on real differences.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to join in the debate today and to support the motion before us. I am splitting my time with the member for .
I listened with great interest to the comments of several of our hon. members and I appreciate this opportunity to set the record straight on a number of fronts. Some of our colleagues today suggest that the motion before us is somehow not in the best interest of a free and open debate. The implication is that our government is not listening to Canadians, that we are just moving forward without time to hear what people are telling us.
That is patently false. Canadians have spoken loud and clear since our government was first elected, and our government is listening. Canadians have told us that they want us to take action to keep our streets and our communities safe. Our government has delivered on our commitment to build safer communities in a number of different ways.
Canadians have told us that they want us to work together to get tough on crime. Again, our government has listened and we have introduced and passed a wide range of bills to deliver on our commitment to get tough on crime.
Canadians have told us that they want a justice system that will work the way it should. Again, our government is taking action to ensure that it does. That includes keeping dangerous offenders behind bars, not releasing them into the streets automatically before they are ready. That is why we have introduced new laws to end early parole for offences of murder and to prevent potentially dangerous offenders from serving their sentences in their homes.
Previously, there was a practice for offenders to be granted extra credit for the length of their sentences for time they had served before or during their trial. That was not acceptable to many Canadians, and our government is listening. That is why we have delivered legislation that limits credit for time served in pre-sentence custody.
We have also introduced legislation to tackle property crime, including the serious of crimes of auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime. I am proud to note that our government has passed legislation to help reform the pardon system. In particular, we have ensured that the Parole Board of Canada has the discretion it needs to determine whether granting a pardon would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.
In addition, our government has passed legislation to strengthen the National Sex Offender Registry and the National DNA Data Bank so all sex offenders are registered. After all, our government has taken significant action that achieves results in tackling crime in our communities, and we will continue to do more.
We are doing more because that is what Canadians have told us they need. They want a government that listens. Our government has. They want a government that takes decisive action. Our government has done just that, and that is what we are doing again today.
We have heard for several years that many Canadians want to do away with the current system of accelerated parole review. We have heard it from victims of crime and other white-collar crimes, many of whom have seen their entire life savings disappear in the blink of an eye. Many Canadians are outraged that fraudsters, con artists and swindlers can be reviewed for parole after serving just one-sixth of their sentence. Many Canadians ask why offenders should be treated differently from others just because they use a balance sheet rather than a gun as a weapon.
Canadians want answers. They want us to listen and, most of all, they want us to take action today. They do not want us to take action next year. They do not want us to delay taking action. The truth is all of us know what needs to be done. Canadians want results, and, again, our government is listening and taking action. Bill is all about that. It is about standing up for victims, and that includes victims of white-collar crimes and fraud.
Today, someone who commits fraud, in other words, someone who preys on hard-working, law-abiding Canadians and perhaps swindles their life savings from them is treated differently from other offenders. These offenders receive what sounds like a stiff sentence, but the sentence does not always reflect the amount of time an offender will actually spend in prison.
Today, a white-collar criminal might receive a sentence of 12 years, or perhaps in some cases more, but the reality is many are released on parole before other offenders who might receive a similar sentence.
Unlike other offenders who are generally eligible for day parole six months before full parole, white-collar or non-violent criminals can be free just after a few months in some cases. The general rule of thumb is they can access a process called accelerated parole review after serving one-sixth of their sentence and full parole after one-third of their sentence.
What makes the review process expedited is that these accelerated parole reviews are accomplished through a paper review by the National Parole Board of Canada, whereas regular parole reviews are normally done by way of a hearing in person. The test for accelerated parole review is also lower.
The National Parole Board of Canada only has to have reasonable grounds to believe that the offender will not commit a violent offence, whereas with other offenders the test is whether the person is an undue risk to commit any type of crime upon release.
The bottom line is that the parole board, when dealing with these cases, has limited discretion. The test is whether someone is going to commit a violent offence.
Even if the parole board believes someone will commit another fraud, the board is still compelled to release that individual under supervision at one-sixth of the sentence. That means in many cases people who are convicted of crimes that have had devastating effects on the lives and livelihood of Canadians often spend very little in prison.
The end result is that offenders convicted of white-collar crimes are often released under supervision after a few months. Fraudsters are given lengthy sentences, but these sentences do not result in much time spent in prison.
No wonder Canadians' faith in the justice and corrections system is shaken. No wonder they want change. That is what our government is doing today.
Bill would abolish accelerated parole review and repeal sections of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that govern the accelerated parole review regime.
It will mean that offenders who commit non-violent or white-collar crimes are put on the same footing as other offenders. They will be eligible for regular day parole review six months prior to full parole eligibility and full parole review after serving one-third their sentence.
Rather than being subject to a paper review, they will be subject to an in-person hearing. The test as to whether he or she should be released will be whether that individual presents an unmanageable risk of committing another crime.
The changes which our government is proposing will mean that Canadians can have faith that offenders convicted of white-collar crimes will not escape full accountability for their actions. These changes will mean that Canadians can have faith that their voices are being heard and that our government is taking action to deliver on our commitments.
I am therefore very proud to support the motion before us today so all of us can ensure that Bill receives the expeditious passage for which Canadians have called.
Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise today in support of the motion which will help ensure that we pass Bill into law in the most timely way possible.
Accelerated parole review has been a topic of discussion and debate both here and in the public, including the media, for some time now. We have all heard the heart-wrenching stories about how hard-working Canadians have been deceived into voluntarily handing over their life savings and how their lives, and ultimately their futures, have been destroyed by the white collar criminals who defrauded them.
Canadians have told us that they want action on crime. They want the punishment to fit the crime. They also want to ensure that the rights of offenders are balanced with the rights of victims and law-abiding citizens. The bill would do just that. This legislation would ensure that white collar offenders are held accountable for their crimes and would increase justice for victims by providing tougher sentences for those responsible.
Just a few years ago fraud was considered by many to be a faceless crime as it was seen typically to be committed against big business and multinational corporations. Today, however, victims of fraud are coming forward to tell their stories about how their lives have been changed forever. These individuals and groups are working hard to protect others from suffering the same loss of financial security and confidence that they have endured.
Fraud comes in many forms, including securities-related frauds, such as Ponzi schemes, and mortgage and real estate fraud. In all cases, it involves deception as well as dishonest conduct that deprives the other person of his or her property or puts his or her property at risk.
Fraud can have a devastating impact on the lives of victims, including loss of life savings and feelings of humiliation for having been duped into voluntarily handing over their property or their finances. For many victims of fraud, their lives will never be the same. The crime has damaged them not only financially, but emotionally.
Currently, as hon. members know, offenders convicted of non-violent offences can apply for day parole at one-sixth of their sentence and full parole at one-third of their sentence through an expedited process called accelerated parole review. This can only occur if the Parole Board of Canada is satisfied that there are no reasonable grounds to believe that the offender, if released, is likely to commit an offence involving violence before the expiration of his or her sentence. This means an offender convicted of a serious white collar crime, for example, could be eligible for this type of early release.
Bill is an opportunity for all of us to change the current system and to stand up for Canadians who have been victimized through this type of crime. Standing up for victims of crime is, and always has been, at the forefront of this government's public safety and justice agenda.
The Government of Canada is committed to supporting victims of crime and to ensuring that victims have a greater voice in the criminal justice system. As a demonstration of this commitment, the government has contributed $52 million over four years to enhance the federal victims strategy. This will go a long way to better meet the needs of victims.
Furthermore, in 2007, the federal government created the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, an independent resource for victims in Canada. This office was created to ensure that the federal government meets its obligations to the victims of crime.
Additionally, the Policy Centre for Victim Issues at the Department of Justice works with other federal government agencies, as well as provincial and territorial governments, to help victims and their families understand their role in the criminal justice system and the laws, services and assistance available to them.
The National Office for Victims, which is within the Department of Public Safety, is a single national point of contact for victims who have concerns about offenders and questions about the federal correctional system and the Canadian justice system. This is a starting place for them to ask their questions and get them answered.
The National Office for Victims is a central resource that offers vital information to victims through a toll-free line which victims or members of the general public may call free of charge from anywhere in Canada or the United States. The office also provides input on policy and legislative initiatives, education about victims' issues for members of the criminal justice system, and networking and support for the Correctional Service of Canada and the Parole Board of Canada.
We are also helping victims get the information and services they need online through a victim services directory, which is housed at the Department of Justice. Through this directory, victims and service providers are able to locate the necessary services and organizations they may require in their area. Through these services, this government sincerely wishes to lighten the load of Canadians who have been victimized by providing valuable information and resources that are only a click or phone call away.
We are also cracking down on crime and have introduced numerous pieces of legislation to support our agenda. Furthermore, this government has passed legislation to help combat identity theft and identity fraud which has been identified as a fast-growing problem throughout North America.
We have also introduced legislation that would ensure victims can have a voice at Parole Board of Canada hearings, while ensuring that offenders cannot withdraw their parole applications 14 days or less before a hearing date. Victims of crime have called on this government for changes to the current system and our government has delivered. Bill would only further build on and strengthen our history of standing up for Canadians who have been victimized.
Many victims of white collar crimes and fraud in particular are shocked and appalled to discover that the individuals who commit these types of crimes can be eligible for supervised release into the community shortly after they are sentenced. Unless the Parole Board of Canada has reason to believe offenders will commit violent acts if released, it must release them into the community under conditions. This means that offenders convicted of serious white collar crimes can be eligible for this type of early release.
As it stands, an offender sentenced to 12 years could be released into the community on day parole in just two years and fully paroled in four years. Is justice being served to Canadians who have been victims of this type of crime? The answer is simply no.
Canadians lose faith in the criminal justice system when they feel that the punishment does not fit the crime. Canadians must believe that our justice and corrections systems are working for them. That is why our government has made the rights of victims and the protection of society our priority. That is why we have introduced Bill .
Bill would abolish the current system of accelerated parole review whereby offenders who commit non-violent crimes such as fraud can be released on day parole after serving as little as one-sixth of their sentence. Under the proposed legislation, offenders who commit fraud and other white collar crimes would be eligible for regular day parole at the earliest six months prior to full parole eligibility. Through this legislation, this government is sending a strong message to white collar offenders that if they commit the crime, they have to face the consequences of the law.
Canadians have spoken and we are listening. Above all, Canadians want us to work together to take immediate action to ensure that the changes our government is proposing are passed into law. This would mean victims of fraud and other white collar crimes could in fact see that justice is served. I call on all hon. members to support the bill before us today and to work together to ensure Bill receives speedy passage.
Madam Speaker, I am sure it is no surprise to hear that the Bloc Québécois will be supporting this government motion.
I am pleased to be speaking in the House today to share our reasons for supporting this motion to limit the time set aside for the consideration of Bill at various stages. As we all know, this bill would eliminate accelerated parole review or, in other words, eliminate automatic parole for a non-violent offender after one-sixth of the sentence has been served.
I must say that I am extremely proud to be a Bloc member of Parliament and to be part of a political party that puts the interests of Quebeckers above all else. We listen to what Quebeckers have to say about each and every aspect of their lives. Not only do we listen to them, but we also speak for them here in the House. Today we are speaking on behalf of Quebec's small investors, people who have been victims of white collar crime. We are also speaking for the seniors who have been tricked by these kinds of fraudsters, not all of whom are necessarily like Vincent Lacroix and Earl Jones. We are speaking for all these people so that they can be heard today in the House.
This debate has shown once again that neither Quebec nor the rest of Canada can count on the Liberals or the NDP. But before I get into why it is important to pass Bill as quickly as possible, I would like to give a little bit of history.
I find this situation very ironic, since twice, on September 14, 2009, and March 3, 2010, the Conservative government refused to support the fast-tracking of the Bloc's Bill , which had the exact same purpose as Bill : to abolish accelerated parole review. At the time, the Liberals and the NDP were not at all opposed to fast-tracking our bill. They supported us twice. Last Thursday, in good faith, I asked for the unanimous consent of the House to fast-track the government's bill, but the NDP and the Liberals refused. That is odd. Now, these two parties want to slow down the process and could bring about the release of a number of fraudsters, not just Earl Jones, who have destroyed entire lives in Quebec and all over Canada. Once we start the debate on Bill C-59, I will give examples from several ridings.
They say that they want to spend more time looking at the bill, but that is odd because they had no problem with passing it quickly in September 2009 and March 2010. I think that they are simply opposing the motion for the sake of opposing it. They have decided to play petty partisan politics at the expense of the victims, and that is not something I say often. All they want is to stall things. It is not a matter of democracy. Earlier we heard them say that they felt that their right to speak was being trampled on, that they were not being allowed to debate and hold committee meetings to talk endlessly about something they had strangely already agreed to in September 2009 and March 2010, without any debate and without asking any questions about the costs, as the Liberal critic was doing earlier. It is as though, in this case, all that the NDP and the Liberals want to do is to childishly annoy the government.
If they want to annoy the government, then they can go right ahead, but not at others' expense.
This is an extremely serious issue, and the attitude of these two parties is irresponsible and despicable. In his speech, the Liberal public safety critic said he was disappointed that the government did not consult the Liberals. That is so childish. They are annoyed that the government consulted the Bloc and not them. That level of childishness is not even found in the schoolyard.
Even though the Conservative MPs and their government introduced this bill and are now supporting the abolition of parole after one-sixth of a sentence, which is more than necessary for justice in Quebec and in Canada, they are responsible for the early release of economic predator Vincent Lacroix. They twice refused, once in September 2009 and once in March 2010, to support a unanimous vote to fast-track the Bloc's bill. The early release of Vincent Lacroix goes completely against the idea of public safety and damages the credibility of our justice system, where a 13-year sentence can turn into 15 months of incarceration.
Through blind partisanship—it is nothing more than that—the Conservatives have contributed to the release of Vincent Lacroix. If we leave it up to the Liberals and the NDP—I am glad we can join forces for a majority and prevent this from happening—then in December it will be the turn of Earl Jones and all those who have not been in the media but have stolen thousands and millions of dollars from people who saved their whole lives only to end up with nothing. It is not just money that vanishes, but entire lives. There are people who lose their homes and the financial cushion that allows them to survive. These are seniors who are no longer able to work and are ending up with nothing. That is unacceptable.
I would like to read to all parliamentarians, all our colleagues, a few excerpts from what the honourable Judge Richard Wagner said on October 9, 2009, about Vincent Lacroix:
The evidence shows that the acts with which Vincent Lacroix was charged and of which he pleaded guilty led to a shortfall of close to $100 million for 9,200 investors, rocked the structure of financial markets, and caused serious moral damages to the victims of this financial scandal, which was unprecedented in the annals of Canadian legal history.
It is true that Vincent Lacroix did not use physical violence in perpetrating his crimes.... While Mr. Lacroix's crimes were not accompanied by direct physical violence, however, the court is of the opinion that his crimes caused his victims and their families considerable moral violence because of the stress, insecurity, and uncertainty experienced by those who lost their life savings intended for their retirement.
The Conservatives did not assume their responsibilities in time to avoid this mess, but we must acknowledge that they are assuming their responsibilities now. The Conservatives' failure to take responsibility was so blatant that they were publicly called out on it many times by the Bloc Québécois and by Vincent Lacroix's victims.
It took some nerve on the part of the and that Conservative senator, who fancies himself as an elected member even though he is afraid to run, to say in a press release last Wednesday that they “called on all members of Parliament to pass the Harper government’s legislation to abolish accelerated parole for white collar criminals”. I do not wish to name the senator, but everyone knows who I am talking about.
They managed to say it with a straight face. Unbelievable. I can assure you that they are good actors.
Mr. Thierry St-Cyr: That is why they did it in a press release. Otherwise, they would have been rolling on the floor.
Ms. Maria Mourani: That is exactly why they did it in a press release.
The Bloc Québécois does not care whether the Bloc or the government sponsored the bill. However, this does seem to be important to my colleague, the Liberal public safety critic. That is not what is important. What is important is that we abolish the one-sixth rule, that we get rid of accelerated parole review, and that we stop undermining our current justice system and people's confidence in our ability to protect them.
The Conservatives have not yet grasped that people do not want harsh sentences, they want sentences that are served. They want sentences to be served in their entirety. Therefore, this Conservative negligence is further proof that this government is, in my view, more concerned with putting on a show than anything else.
However, I am assuming that this goodwill could perhaps shed a little more intellectual light on their view of public safety. I invite them to support other Bloc bills that are currently in the works, effective bills that will ensure public safety and victim protection.
The first Bloc Québécois bill, Bill , would support the families of victims of crime. I will not repeat it, but this bill has received a great deal of support, and I invite them to support it. Another Bloc bill, Bill , would amend the Criminal Code to make it an offence not to report to the authorities instances of sexual or physical abuse of children. I invite them to support this bill as well as my bill on human trafficking, which would make it possible to impose consecutive sentences on traffickers and pimps and also to seize the assets of these criminals. Let us keep the momentum going: I invite them to support our other worthwhile bills.
And now I would like to discuss the urgency of this situation. Why pass this bill quickly and therefore limit the time for debate, given that there is obstruction on all sides? They would prefer to talk about it for days, months, or even years. The question is “"Why?” The answer is: Because it is urgent. We now know—and we all know it—that this provision is absurd, that it makes no sense and that it should be eliminated. We all know it. Yes, it is true that Earl Jones will soon be eligible, but he is not the only one. There are many guys like him that the media do not talk about, who get away with it and discover that crime pays well, because they are making money. They go to prison for a few months and then they are out again.
The Liberal Party of Canada and the NDP are saying that we have plenty of time to study this bill and that the overall system needs to be looked at. That is not true. When we look at Bill , which is currently before committee, we see that not witnesses have yet been heard. And so, debate on the bill at committee stage is far from complete and it still needs to be sent back to the House. I can assure you that at this pace, we can expect Earl Jones and all the others like him—in Quebec, Canada or elsewhere—to have been released.
We cannot forget that Bill includes a number of provisions. It will clearly take longer to study than Bill , which has only one provision.
It would be untrue to say that splitting Bill , as we did, is wrong and should never be done because it would be dreadful. That is hypocritical. In fact, last summer we split Bill , much to the pleasure of the Liberals and the NDP. We kept certain provisions. Other provisions are currently being studied in committee.
I would like to remind the Liberal and NDP members that, if their current irresponsibility were copied by the majority of parliamentarians—which I hope will not be the case—it would lead to the possible early release of another economic predator, Mr. Jones.
Moreover, Judge Hélène Morin had the following to say about Earl Jones. She gave the example of the case of one of Mr. Jones' victims, Ms. JD—her real name has not been released. The story is quite tragic and shocking. Ms. JD's husband was killed by mass murderer Valery Fabrikant at Concordia University in 1992. While she was in mourning for her husband, she turned to Earl Jones for financial and management advice. She had accompanied her husband to a financial planning session in Pointe-Claire a few years previously.
To Ms. JD, Earl Jones seemed incredibly comfortable managing money, an area with which she was not very familiar. Over the years, she began to allow him to make decisions on her behalf more and more frequently.
This woman suffered unbelievable grief as a result of the actions of mass murderer Valery Fabrikant and then she found herself the victim of another predator, this time a financial one, Earl Jones. Can we put ourselves in this woman's shoes? Can we imagine how she must have felt when she found out that this man was going to get out of prison after only a few months? Do we agree that this is not right? And since it is not right, this partisan attitude is even less appropriate. Such an attitude should not prevail here. The public interest should be our priority.
Judge Morin said that Ms. JD was upset when Earl Jones made the headlines. The media described him as a financial predator but she believed that he actually cared about her and her family.
I am not making any of this up. It is normal. Those who commit a fraud of this magnitude and even those who commit smaller-scale fraud are very skilled manipulators.
Judge Morin added that, after all, Mr. Jones had counselled Ms. JD following the death of her husband. Before abandoning him, Ms. JD wanted to know the truth. As she wrote in her statement, the truth was that he had abandoned them, her and the others. He did not have any pity for his clients regardless of their age or needs. In addition to having to deal with the tragic death of her husband, she also had to deal with being a victim of the accused.
This guy was absolutely merciless. And he is just one of many. Fraudsters of that ilk, and even small-time fraudsters, show no mercy for their victims. For them, it is a way to make a fast buck. We can imagine how important it is to keep these people in prison in order to rehabilitate them and to reduce the factors that led them into crime. If they get out after a few months, how can we work with these men and women—for there are also women who do this—and rehabilitate them? It takes time.
However, when a law states that they must be transferred to a halfway house after one-sixth of their sentence is served, how can they participate in any programs on the inside? Is it safe to say that all risk factors have been reduced at that point? Have they worked on their criminogenic factors? Not everything is being considered here.
The petty politics that the Liberals and NDP are playing are only going to help people like Earl Jones and Vincent Lacroix, who are merely symbols; there are many others. The Liberals and NDP are going to allow their release, even though such criminals have not necessarily had the opportunity to take programs that target their criminogenic factors.
In my riding, in Montreal and Laval, we also had our fraudster. There have been a few, but one really stands out: Leon Kordzian. He unscrupulously cheated 25 people in Montreal and Laval out of $1 million.
He speaks several languages and is very intelligent. He defrauded a number of people of Armenian, Lebanese, Iraqi, Greek and Italian origin. He recruited them at a small, well-known, local coffee shop. He had contacts. It is even said that he might have had a contact at the bank. These people lost everything: their retirement, their homes. They are living a nightmare.
At the end of January, the leader of the Liberal Party came to my riding and was five minutes away from the coffee shop where Mr. Kordzian had operated. Did the Liberal leader meet with any of this fraudster's victims? Will he meet with them to explain that, because of his petty politics, this fraudster might get released after serving one-sixth of his sentence? Whether this happens in Ahuntsic, in Canada or in Quebec, the Liberals and the NDP will have to be accountable for this.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House to speak to this bill. I will be splitting my time with the member for . I look forward to her speech.
It is not that often that I get to stand to support a colleague from the Bloc Québécois on a bill, but I am appreciative that we can do it in this case.
It is a pleasure to speak to this today and to ensure that Bill passes into law in a timely and forthright manner.
One of the reasons I feel good about speaking to the bill is this is one of those policies or issues, which 10 years ago, when I was first elected or even running in the nomination, we wanted to have changed. Indeed, it has taken a long time, but when we sense that there is a possibility of this coming into effect, it gives us reason for celebration.
Allow me to begin by emphasizing that the Government of Canada is committed to an approach to crime that places a stronger emphasis on protection of society as a guiding principle for corrections and conditional release. This approach will strengthen victims' rights. It will also increase offender accountability and help offenders to take responsibility for the acts they have perpetrated.
Under the current system, accelerated parole review provides a streamlined parole review process for non-violent offenders serving their first penitentiary sentence. Currently, non-violent offenders can access day parole at one-sixth of their sentence. Then they can receive full parole at two-thirds of their sentence.
The issue of accelerated parole review has been debated here as well as in other venues. It has been debated in the media for a very long time. We are all only too aware of the terrible consequences, both short and long term, that white collar crime, such as fraud, can and does have on the lives of Canadians. We acknowledge that Canadians want the Government of Canada to take action to ensure that white collar offenders are held accountable for their actions. Canadians also want the Government of Canada to do what is right and act in the interests of victims of the crimes. Citizens, constituents and the general public have been very clear. They want us to take action now and they want us to take action quickly, which is what the motion today is about.
We fully understand that crimes of fraud victimize a great number of people. These crimes are not only committed against large corporations, other corporations, or even governments, but individual Canadians and their families are victims as well. We are determined to put an end to such crimes and to give offenders the sentences and the prison time they deserve.
Certainly there is a human face of fraud. It is safe to say many Canadians are often shocked and angered by the harm caused by these acts. Savings have been wiped out. Lives have been ruined. For many victims, the sad and tragic truth is that they can never return to the financial position they were in before the crime was perpetrated. It is both unjust and unacceptable that today, under the current system, white collar offenders can be released after one-sixth of their sentence is served in prison for their crime.
Bill is one of the milestones that will make the kind of important changes needed to support Canadians who have become victims of crime. Helping victims of crime has always been at the heart of the government's public safety and justice agenda. Our government is committed to ensuring that their voices are heard and that their concerns are taken seriously. In fact, we have already taken concrete steps and have made genuine progress as part of our important agenda.
In June of last year, for example, this government set the stage for reforming our corrections system by introducing Bill . The proposed amendments include key reforms in four main areas: first, enhance sharing of information with victims; second, enhance offender responsibility and accountability; third, strengthen the management of offenders and their reintegration; and fourth, modernize disciplinary actions.
We are determined to implement the kind of initiatives to ensure the scales of justice are balanced to include victims.
Other initiatives that we have already taken include the commitment of $52 million over four years to enhance the federal victims strategy so that government can better meet the needs of victims.
We also created the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime as an independent resource for victims to access.
The National Office for Victims at Public Safety Canada is also working to give victims a greater voice in the corrections and conditional release process. It also assists victims in getting access to the information and the services that they may need.
The Policy Centre for Victim Issues at the Department of Justice is also helping the government to better meet the needs of victims, for example, by giving them resources to attend parole hearings and to seek help if they experience crime while they are abroad.
We are also helping victims connect to the services they need through the online victim service directory, which is available on the Justice Canada website. The directory helps victims search for appropriate agencies in their area according to the type of victimization that they have experienced and the type of support that they are seeking. We hope it can help ease the burden on victims of crime who, in some cases, do not know where to turn or what services are available to them. Many in rural parts of the country question whether or not a certain resource is available to them in rural Canada.
We have also made sure that victims have a greater say in this country's parole system by introducing legislation that, among other things, would enshrine in law a victim's right to attend and to make statements at Parole Board of Canada hearings while preventing offenders in most cases from withdrawing their parole applications 14 days or less before a hearing.
Victims of white collar crime and of fraud, in particular, have been dismayed in many cases to find out that the offenders who carry out these acts can be released so soon after they have been sentenced and after they have been perhaps incarcerated.
Unless the Parole Board of Canada has reasonable grounds to believe offenders will commit a violent offence if released, it must automatically release them into the community under supervision. This means that in some cases a fraudster, for example, can be back on the streets much too early. Such an offender could be sentenced to 12 years in prison but he or she could actually be released into the community on day parole in just 2 years and receive full parole in just 4 years. This is not acceptable to many Canadians and it is not acceptable to the Government of Canada.
The status quo gives the Parole Board of Canada limited discretion in dealing with these cases. The test is whether an offender is likely to commit a violent offence. As a result, even if the Parole Board believes the offender is likely to commit another fraud, another theft or another drug offence, it is compelled to release the offender back into the community.
This offends my constituents. It offends most Canadians. It offends them because they believe there is no justice. It undermines their faith in our system. It undermines their faith in the Correctional Service of Canada. Victims want to see these sentences served.
I commend the Bloc for allowing us to proceed with this. I thank the House for the opportunity to speak to this important motion.
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to express my support for this motion, one that will help us deliver the essential reforms proposed in Bill .
We must make no mistake that Canadians rightfully expect that white collar offenders will face consequences for their actions. Today I rise in the chamber to support this motion knowing, like other members, that Canadians have asked us to stand up for the rights of victims of white collar crime. Standing up for those rights means taking action and the motion before us today would do exactly that. It would help ensure the quick passage of Bill .
There may have been a time when Canadians saw white collar crime as a faceless victimless act targeting corporations instead of households. However, I think we can all agree today that fraud and other crimes of this sort can ruin the lives of individuals and their families. The financial security that comes from years of responsible saving can simply vanish overnight. Lives can be instantly turned upside down.
We have a real opportunity before us to fix this problem through Bill . This government has been unwavering in its commitment to better balance the rights of victims with those of offenders. This belief has been at the forefront in driving our public safety and justice agenda. We continue to take several steps to listen and respond to concerns from victims.
One of the early initiatives of this government was the creation of the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime as an independent resource for victims. As a further signal of our commitment to better meet the needs of victims, we committed $52 million over four years to enhance the federal victims strategy. We wanted to ensure that victims were given more opportunity to be heard in the corrections and conditional release process and we wanted to help victims gain access to the information and services they might need.
The National Office for Victims at Public Safety Canada is delivering on this very important work. These efforts also extend to the Policy Centre for Victim Issues at the Department of Justice. Resources made available by the policy centre can help victims attend parole hearings or seek assistance if they experience crime while outside of the country. Not knowing where to turn for help can be an added burden on a victim, one that this government wants to help ease.
The Department of Justice Canada now offers an online victims services directory organized by type of crime experienced and support services offered locally. In addition to these steps, our legislative agenda clearly confirms our commitment to better balancing the rights of victims and law-abiding citizens with the rights of offenders.
We introduced reforms that ensure victims have the right to make statements at Parole Board of Canada hearings. At the same time, we have introduced measures in Bill so that offenders cannot withdraw their parole applications 14 days or less before a hearing date, ensuring that victims do not travel needlessly to attend a hearing that will not take place.
We passed legislation that targets identity theft and identity fraud, crimes that are growing in frequency and in damage. These reforms were asked for by victims and this government responded. Victims duped by white collar offenders are rightfully angered to learn that these offenders can be eligible for supervised release soon after they are sentenced. As it stands, these offenders will be released into the community under supervision after serving one-sixth of their sentences unless the Parole Board of Canada has reasonable grounds to believe these offenders will commit a violent offence if released. Again, this is simply unacceptable.
Let us consider this scenario, one that I, like most Canadians, would find appalling. A white collar offender, whose fraudulent acts may have victimized many, could automatically receive day parole two years into a 12-year sentence. This same individual, who may have emptied the savings of several families, could be granted full parole at four years.
The Parole Board of Canada needs to have the discretion it now lacks in dealing with these cases. The only test now is whether an offender is likely to commit a violent offence. Even when the Parole Board believes the offender is likely to commit another offence, including fraud or theft, it is able to release them if he or she does not meet that test.
Bill would eliminate the current system of accelerated parole review whereby offenders who commit non-violent crimes, such as fraud, can be released on day parole after serving one-sixth of their sentence.
Bill proposes the much-needed reforms that would treat those who commit fraud and other white collar crimes the same way as other offenders. They will be eligible for regular day parole review six months prior to full parole eligibility and full parole review after serving one-third of their sentence.
This government firmly believes that those who commit crimes must be held accountable for their actions, and we took steps accordingly. Victims asked us to, Canadians asked us to and now I ask all hon. members in this House to join with me in supporting the motion before us today. We must ensure the timely passage of Bill . We have a shared responsibility to answer victims and their needs. Let us deliver on that commitment.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on this issue today regarding Bill .
I spoke about this matter earlier today when the was answering questions and attempting to support the wisdom of invoking closure.
The first thing I want to point out about Bill is that first reading was only on February 9. While it is true that this was part of a larger bill, it should be remembered that the larger bill was in fact killed by prorogation.
We are therefore here today with the Conservative government invoking closure in circumstances where it had killed the previous bill. It only introduced Bill on February 9 and has taken the undemocratic step today of invoking closure to limit debate.
In addition to simply being undemocratic, it is not logical. We have to examine this legislation from the perspective of what the bill would do and why at this point in time we cannot make an intelligent decision on whether or not it makes sense.
I think on behalf of all of my colleagues in the Liberal Party, I want to say that nobody has sympathy for Earl Jones or Mr. Lacroix being released early. It was a mistake what happened with Mr. Lacroix. That should never have happened.
However, it never would have happened if the Conservatives had actually turned their heads to this matter and been reasonable back in the fall of 2010 when, in the justice committee, Bill on white collar crime was being studied. There was a Liberal amendment in committee to eliminate the one-sixth accelerated parole review. That would have prevented Mr. Lacroix from being released early. However, the Bloc Québécois and the Conservatives voted to defeat the Liberal amendments.
The Liberal Party was more than aware of this problem last fall, obviously, but the Bloc and the Conservatives decided to ignore it.
Thus here we are today with the government seeking to invoke closure on Bill . That closure motion was obviously successful. The government did that for Bill when it was only introduced in first reading on February 9, 2011. It made the argument that this was urgent after Mr. Lacroix was released and, obviously, after voting against the Liberal amendments in justice committee that would have solved this problem.
I therefore suggest, first, that their arguments about the urgency of this bill and the reason to invoke closure and their arguments about being concerned about this type of early release are not logical. If they had been logical, the Conservatives would have supported the Liberal amendments last fall to solve this problem.
Regarding one of the serious reasons why I believe this is premature at this time, every time we pass or change one of these federal statutes, there are consequences, whatever they might be. Some are good and some bad, depending on the legislation, obviously.
However, for this particular legislation, other than cases like those of Mr. Lacroix and Mr. Jones, which are coming, what are we trying to solve? Is it a circumstances where we are trying to eliminate this one-six provision for all offenders, because that is what this would do, including for non-violent first-time offenders?
I suggest, at least in some of those cases, that would be inappropriate, because we would be defeating any chance of these persons being properly rehabilitated and reintegrated into society when, frankly, some of them do not need to be in prison any longer.
If we are going to do this, what I would like to know is how many Canadians who are incarcerated now, and obviously we do not know what will happen in the future, would this affect and what would it cost? It is a very simple question. Do we as parliamentarians not have the right to know what these measures would cost?
A number of us, including our esteemed public safety critic, asked the today what this would cost. He danced around the question, not once answering it. It was a very simple question: how much would this cost and how many people would it affect, that is, how many people would be in prison longer and what would this cost?
The estimates vary, depending on who is writing the report or providing the information, but I have heard that it costs anywhere from $77,000 to $103,000 per year, per prisoner, to keep them in jail. Whatever the number is, we need to add that up and determine how much more this would cost while also factoring in the need for more prisons. There has to be some figure for this, and as a member of Parliament, I would like to know what it is, so when people are voting they actually know what they are doing.
We need witnesses on this bill. We need to have reasonable committee hearings on this question. We will have four hours to deal with it. I want Canadians to know this. We have a piece of legislation that is designed to fix a problem the Conservatives ignored last fall when they voted down Liberal amendments in the justice committee. However, after Mr. Lacroix's release and after they refused to stop that, they are now saying this is urgent and have invoked closure and they are now are requiring the public safety committee to consider all of this, including clause-by-clause examination of the legislation, within four hours.
If it is done within four hours, that is fine. If it is not done, the bill will be reported back to the House without any amendments. If, for example, the Conservatives decided to filibuster and simply talk out the four hours tomorrow, there would be no chance whatsoever to even attempt to pass amendments. We will see what they do tomorrow, but that is something they have done frequently in the public safety committee, simply talking out the time to avoid actually having votes and trying to forward things constructively.
Thus tomorrow there will be a very limited period of time to have witnesses before the committee to examine this issue. We will be asking questions of the witnesses who do appear, including how much it will cost and the ramifications of this change in the law. However, we will not have an opportunity to call meaningful witnesses for a prolonged period of time into the future.
We will need examples of other individuals, not just those who make the press, like Mr. Jones or Mr. Lacroix, but other persons. Whom would this affect? I would like to know some of the people who are incarcerated right now who would be eligible and who would be stopped from being released on this one-sixth parole system, if this legislation were amended. We need to see what they have done, whether they have been rehabilitated or participated, whether they can make a meaningful contribution of society in the best knowledge of the parole board. I think we need to see those cases.
Another issue that will be given no consideration at this point in time is what will be the effect upon this legislation and whether it is even constitutional. Does it violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in having any retroactive effects? I do not know. That is not for me to decide, but it is something to be discussed and examined and on which witnesses should be called. I do not believe it is something that will be addressed within the four hours tomorrow, because it is all very last minute from what occurred this past Friday.
There are additional solutions that could have been considered to fix this problem with Mr. Jones and Mr. Lacroix. Look at Mr. Jones. I think he received 11 years, or something in that range. Why could we not increase the sentences for such persons who commit such heinous frauds? I have no sympathy for these individuals: they have destroyed people's lives, taken their life savings. Why does the current legislation not allow maximum sentences or tough sentences?
The government likes to say that it is tough on crime. Why is it not being tough in terms of sentences for these sorts of individuals? That is a mistake, and rather than focusing on that, the Conservatives are looking at something that only seems to be politically expedient and will not actually punish the persons who might do this in the future to a more significant extent. If the government is not willing to protect Canadians in this manner, it should fess up and actually admit to it.
Another point is restitution. I would like persons who have been defrauded to automatically have some type of restitution order contained in the sentence. Let me use Mr. Jones as an example.
If Mr. Jones steals millions of dollars from an investor, under part of the criminal justice legislation, judges should be directed to make a restitution order for an appropriate amount of money based on how the investor was defrauded. It should not be optional. It should be mandatory as long as there are set facts.
Under the criminal justice system, we would be convicting somebody beyond a reasonable doubt, but the civil system requires a lesser balance of proof.
In my mind, because it takes more evidence to convict somebody of fraud under the criminal system, it is logical that if an individual is convicted of that fraud, a civil judgment should accompany that conviction. The innocent person would not have to hire a lawyer, go through the process again, bear those expenses and prove the case all over again. In the criminal system it is the Crown, but it is really the same evidence. That is another thing the government could have considered.
I have talked about increasing sentences, but in terms of restitution, that could possibly put money back into the pockets of innocent victims. Maybe the government could assist with some type of tracing system to help people realize something on these judgments.
We could do other things, but the restitution issue has been absolutely forgotten. Instead, we have the politically expedient dramatics of simply attempting this one-sixth possibility without having the sophistication to distinguish the persons who should not be able to avail themselves of this possibility, like Earl Jones. However, people who have committed non-violent offences on a first-time basis would also be caught by this. It would not be fair to a lot of them, it would not logical and it would simply cost the Canadian taxpayer more money.
We have talked about other possibilities. Enforcement is another point. The RCMP integrated market enforcement team in Vancouver looks into these sorts of crimes, but its funding is minor. It is not up to speed in what it requires. Why are we not seeking funding for enforcement as opposed to simply seeking the elimination of early parole when, once again, there is no immediate urgency to this?
The government likes to speak about the possibility of Earl Jones obtaining early parole, but he will not be eligible for parole until at least 2012. We are not talking about anything that is immediate. It is certainly nothing that would invoke closure today and limit the right of members of Parliament to ask questions, have meaningful witnesses at committee and to ask about the costs involved with this.
Some of my other colleagues have mentioned turning Canada into the California of the north. It is a risk. I support some of the crime bills before Parliament and others I do not. However, the risk with all of them is we will have to build more prisons and the costing is not before Parliament yet. We do not know everything the bill will do.
I want to give the House an example of how the intellectual rationalization is not honest at times. That one example is the international transfer of prisoners act, which we discussed in the House last week in question period. The rose in the House and said that the Liberals were not thinking about victims. The legislation would give the minister extra discretion to stop the transfer back to Canada of Canadians who have been incarcerated internationally, such as the transfer of a Canadian from an American prison to a Canadian prison, not releasing him or her back on the street but simply moving the individual from one prison to another.
The rhetoric used is we are not thinking about the victims. By trying to leave these reasonable provisions in force, we are not thinking about the victims. I think the Conservatives are referring to Canadian victims, but that is not logical because the victims in those circumstances would be international victims. If we have a Canadian person who has committed a crime abroad, the victim is there. Yet the rhetoric we hear is that we are not thinking about victims because we think it might be better to bring a prisoner from a foreign prison back to a Canadian prison so he or she can receive rehabilitation.
If we consider look at the analysis, if we do not transfer people back from foreign prisons to Canadian prisons, once they come back into Canada, which they have a right to do as Canadian citizens, they have no criminal record. There is no parole. We have no controls over them. In essence, Canadian citizens are less protected. It is better to bring them back and ensure they have rehabilitation and criminal records. Then when they are released on parole, they have ties and we can monitor them and put conditions in place.
Once again, we get the rhetoric of not protecting victims, yet the victims are abroad and it better protects Canadian citizens if they are brought back to be rehabilitated, to have criminal records and to have ties on them when they are released.
It is not logical, but we hear soft on crime. Frankly, the Conservatives are illogical on crime.
A lot of people, commentators and academics, have criticized the agenda of the government. I will give a couple of examples.
The Calgary Sun criticizes the Conservatives, and some may find that difficult to believe, but it is true. It says:
Tack on vast amounts of money to build more jails and watch the federal deficit soar and the public groan under the weight of unthinking ideology and higher taxes.
It goes on to say:
There’s a right way to reform the justice system and a wrong way to do it.
Naturally, the Conservatives did it the wrong way, going way overboard instead of using some judicious fine-tuning to fix some glaring mistakes.
It goes on to say:
Throwing out the baby with the bathwater, however, is just a reflection of terrible policy prescriptions and Conservative shortsightedness.
That is one commentator in that regard.
We have another think-tank, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which describes this as tough on taxpayers and lazy on crime. It refers to the government using charge rhetoric and misinformation to advance a crime and punishment agenda, which it argues may lead to more crime and cost taxpayers billions of dollars to house more prisoners.
It should be remembered that we have this entire law and order agenda. I want Canadians to know that approximately one-third of everything on the federal docket dales with is law and order legislation. This is what the Conservatives have done when we have the worst recession since the Great Depression.
We have hundreds of thousands of jobs disappearing and being replaced by, what I would like to call, McJobs. We have pension and health care issues. We have lost standing around the world. We have received fossil of the year awards at environmental conferences. Essentially, we have many difficulties and problems, yet the Conservatives, according to some of their own commentators, are simply using these statistics and this agenda to try to make Canadians fearful, to try to convince them that somehow the Conservatives are the ones who will protect them.
If we look at objective statistics, the use of guns in robberies declined 15% in 2009 from 20% in 1999. The violent crime rate decreased by 14%. We have the lowest rate since 1989. I could go on and on. All of the statistics show that across Canada things are getting better, not worse. Yet during these terrible economic circumstances, rather than being responsible and dealing with those issues, we are dealing with one-third of the Conservatives' agenda on criminal law and order.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
It gives me great pleasure today to rise in favour of the motion regarding Bill , which we are hopeful will be passed into law as soon as possible.
Accelerated parole review has been the subject of a great deal of media coverage in recent months. It has also been the subject of a number of debates by parliamentarians and Canadians alike.
As hon. members know, the overwhelming consequences to the victims of white collar crimes, such as fraud, have become an issue all too familiar for Canadians and their families. Canadians have been quite clear and consistent in asking that the government take immediate action to protect the rights of the victims of these crimes and to make certain that offenders convicted of white collar crimes are held accountable for their actions. This would be possible with the passage of this bill.
It was not long ago that such crimes as fraud were considered to be victimless, as many of these crimes were depicted to occur against government, institutions and Canada's business community. This is no longer the view today. Canadians are continually being reminded of the devastating financial consequences that these crimes can bring to them and to people they know and love.
I believe I am speaking for most Canadians when I say that we can no longer continue to be harmed by these acts. Many lives are filled with the agony of financial ruin, and hopes for a brighter future are dashed. For many Canadian victims, this has become the reality as they most often never return to the position where they were before.
The current parole system in Canada allows for those incarcerated for white collar crimes to be eligible for release after serving one-sixth of their sentence.
Victims of crime deserve our support. This is why we have been given the opportunity to change this with Bill .
I will speak briefly about our government's commitment to victims of crime and our ambitious agenda with regard to justice and tackling crime.
The crimes that our citizens are being faced with are very real. We, in turn, must commit to protecting their rights by listening and reacting. This has been one of our consistent priorities since we first were elected in 2006. I am happy to report that we have taken action in a number of areas.
The impact of crime on the lives of individuals, their households and the prosperity of Canadian communities is enormous. That is why we have taken a number of measures to ensure victims' rights are given the prominence and resources they deserve.
One of our first actions upon taking office in 2006 was to introduce the federal victims strategy. Since then, the government has committed over $50 million to this strategy.
An independent resource for victims, the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, was created as one of our first steps toward this endeavour.
Public Safety Canada manages the National Office for Victims, which plays a vital role in providing victims with an opportunity to voice their views in the corrections and conditional release process. It also does much more than that. It helps victims and their families by providing them with information and services they need during what is likely to be a very trying time in their lives.
The Policy Centre for Victim Issues, which is part of the Department of Justice, also plays a critical role in improving the experience of victims of crime in the criminal justice system. It helps victims and their families understand their role in the criminal justice system and the laws, services and assistance available to support them.
The policy centre ensures that the perspectives of victims will be fully considered when relevant federal laws and policies are developed. It also aims to increase awareness both within Canada and internationally about the needs of victims of crime and effective approaches to respond to those needs.
The online victim services directory found on the website of the Department of Justice is an example that our government has gone above and beyond to meet the needs of victims by helping them obtain the services they require.
The directory's numerous objectives include helping service providers, victims and individuals locate services for victims of crime across Canada and allowing victims to determine which services they may require. The directory also acts as a link between organizations and victims with a view toward helping all individuals access victim services. This is how we are ensuring that victims are being heard and that they remain a priority in the justice system.
As I mentioned earlier, our government has made tackling crime and protecting the safety of Canadians one of our chief priorities since being elected in 2006. As such, we have tabled and passed a number of pieces of legislation that are tough on crime with a view to making our streets and citizens safer.
We have passed two pieces of legislation in particular that speak directly to cracking down on violent gun crime and protecting Canadians from the very serious and increasingly complex issues of identity fraud and identity theft.
The government has also introduced legislation that allows victims to have a stronger voice in Canada's parole process. Our legislation will give victims the right not only to attend, but to speak at hearings presided over by the Parole Board of Canada. It will also offer more rigour and structure in the parole hearing process by, in most cases, precluding offenders from withdrawing their parole applications less than two weeks before a scheduled hearing.
Our government has delivered a bill that victims of crime have asked for, one which our government believes they deserve. Bill is another step in our government's long-standing belief that victims matter and that their voices should be heard.
It is important to note that victims of non-violent white collar crimes are often angry or disillusioned to learn that the perpetrators of those crimes are eligible for release relatively soon after they begin serving their sentence. In the current model of accelerated parole review, the Parole Board of Canada has limited discretion unless it believes that the offender in question is likely to commit a violent offence. In practical terms, that means someone who is convicted of a white collar crime is not assessed for parole using the same criteria as for other serious offenders. This is not just, in our government's view. We believe it does not properly serve victims of these often debilitating crimes.
I am sure all Canadians would agree that they would like to see the justice system prevail. Our government believes that Bill is an important step toward making that a reality.
The changes proposed by our government would put offenders who commit fraud and other white collar crimes on the same playing field as other offenders. Their eligibility for regular day parole review would commence six months prior to full parole eligibility, and full parole review after serving one-third of their sentence.
The message we are trying to send with this legislation is that offenders should be held accountable for their actions and that victims' interests should be heard.
It is imperative that we work together to ensure that the changes our government is proposing become law as soon as possible so that justice may be served.
In conclusion, I urge all hon. members to vote in favour of this motion, and by extension, stand up for the victims of white collar crime.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to offer my support for the motion concerning Bill . I thank the hon. member for for sharing his time with me.
I am asking all hon. members to also demonstrate their commitment to ensuring the safety of our communities by making certain that we pass Bill into law as quickly as possible.
The motion before us today will ensure that offenders are held accountable for the crimes they commit.
Not everyone is aware that the current system of accelerated parole review allows people convicted of non-violent offences to apply for day parole after serving a mere one-sixth of their sentence and full parole after serving only one-third. As a defence lawyer for many years, I can assure the House that even lawyers realize this makes it very difficult to take some Canadian sentences seriously. For example, it means that a white collar fraud criminal or a drug dealer who has been sentenced to 12 years can be released on day parole in only two years and fully paroled at just four years out of the original 12 year sentence.
This demands an answer to an important question. Are we considering the rights of victims in accelerated parole reviews? The answer is a resounding no. Parole in such cases is expedited. Unless the Parole Board has reasonable grounds to believe that an offender will commit a violent offence it must by law release the convicted criminal into the community after serving only one-sixth of his or her sentence.
The current accelerated parole review is completed on paper only. Contrast that with regular parole reviews normally done through an in person hearing.
I am sure that hon. members here can agree that when evaluating a convicted criminal's eligibility for parole it is crucial to properly assess the offender. Accelerated parole review actually limits and even prevents a proper assessment.
The victims of these so-called white collar crimes simply want justice. Victims may wonder how much justice there is in Canada after watching these offenders released on full parole after serving only one-third of their sentence. Police services and victims groups have been clear that the conditional release system must be strengthened so that it better protects Canadian communities and better reflects victim expectations.
A crime is a crime whether it was committed with or without physical violence. Crimes such as fraud have sometimes been viewed as victimless since they are often perpetrated against large organizations, corporations or even the government. This is no longer the case. More and more we are hearing about cases of fraudulent white collar crimes committed against individual Canadians. I am sure many hon. members have family members, co-workers or friends who have been hurt by these crimes.
Although these crimes may have been committed without physical violence, the pain and suffering that is experienced as a result of personal fraud wreaks its own form of violence. Many lives have been ruined. In some cases, widows have lost their entire life savings. I am speaking for them. Families have been broken apart by the financial stress occurring as a result of having lost everything. I am speaking for them. Others have had their identity stolen and have suffered the arduous battle of reclaiming their proper identity. In addition to experiencing financial loss due to identity fraud, these victims often have difficulty obtaining credit or restoring their good name. I am speaking for them.
White collar crime often leaves victims experiencing feelings of humiliation for having been deceived. Sadly, it often leads to a myriad of emotional, psychological and even physical ailments. Police associations, victim advocates and ordinary Canadians have been very clear. They want the conditional release system strengthened so that it better protects our communities.
We must take action now, today. We must work quickly to pass Bill . That is what the motion today will achieve for victims. By supporting Bill C-59, we are showing our support for the countless Canadians who have been hurt by these crimes.
Our government is working to ensure that the protection of society is the top priority in all of our decisions. This includes helping victims of crime and making sure that victims' needs are at the centre of our agenda. Our government is making victims' rights a priority. There are already numerous programs in place. We have delivered many measures to ensure that victims' voices are heard and that their needs are met.
Public Safety Canada's National Office for Victims, for example, is a central resource for victims who have concerns about offenders and questions about the federal correctional and Canadian justice systems. The office also provides input on policy and legislative initiatives. It provides education about victims' issues for members of the criminal justice system.
Also, the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime was created to ensure the federal government meets its responsibilities to persons hurt by crime. Victims can contact the office to learn more about their rights and the services available to them. They can make a complaint about any federal agency or legislation dealing with victims of crime. The ombudsman also ensures that policy makers and other criminal justice personnel are aware of victims' needs. She identifies important issues and trends that may negatively impact victims.
One of our government's first actions upon taking office in 2006 was to introduce the federal victims strategy. Since then, the government has committed substantial funding to support this strategy. We have cracked down on organized crime, including drug crime, with tougher sentences and we passed the Tackling Violent Crime Act to better protect 14 and 15-year-old victims.
In addition, we are delivering support to victims of crime directly by giving access to employment insurance benefits for family members of victims of crime. We established the right for unpaid leave for workers in federally-regulated industries. We are making the victim surcharge mandatory to better fund victim services.
I could go on and on as there are many more initiatives and actions that this government is delivering to put victims' rights at the forefront of the justice system. Bill is delivering on the changes that victims of crime have been asking for, changes that are long overdue.
The amendments being proposed would ensure that offenders who commit fraud and other so-called white collar crimes are sentenced to serve time in custody that adequately reflects the seriousness and consequences of their crime. Why would any sensible parliamentarian oppose that?
All offenders would be treated equally, regardless of the nature of their crimes. As such, eligibility for day parole would occur six months prior to full parole eligibility and full parole review still after serving only one-third of their sentences. This is a very mild change, but it is a change that sends a message loud and clear that our government is committed to ensuring that our justice and corrections systems do not put the rights of offenders ahead of the rights of law-abiding citizens. We will continue tackling crime and standing up for those who have been victimized.
I urge all hon. members today to support the motion being debated. Let us all show that we are listening to what Canadians want. Let us all stand up for victims' rights. If we take action now to fix the problem in the parole system that allows for the early release of convicted criminals, we can see to it that victims of fraud see true justice.
Let us all work together to address the concerns of ordinary Canadians and ensure that these important changes receive quick passage into law.
Mr. Speaker, as opposed to everyone on the government side, I will actually speak to what the debate is about right now, which is about shutting down the democratic process in this House by limiting the amount of time that we are allowed to consider a significant issue.
I do not think any party is claiming that this is not a significant issue. It is a significant issue and one that probably should have been dealt with four or five years ago when the Conservatives first formed government.
What we have before us is an undemocratic shut down of debate. The government wants to shove a bill through the House with nowhere near enough time to deal with the facts and to make proper public policy. That is offensive to the democratic process. Speaking as the NDP justice critic and as a lawyer, it is particularly offensive for the government to force a bill through in this manner when we are dealing with criminal justice issues and the question of people's liberty.
What is the government doing? This motion will obviously pass later today because of the holy coalition between the Conservatives and the Bloc, which will be more than enough members to get it through.
I am being reminded that I forgot to tell the House that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from .
This is what will happen. The government will call the bill tomorrow and we will have one day of debate. Allowing for question period and routine proceedings, that will amount to maybe four hours of debate or maybe even a bit less than that. At 5:15 p.m. tomorrow, the bill will be put to a vote. We will have one day of debate at second reading and then the bill will immediately be sent over to committee. The committee will be given until 11 o'clock tomorrow evening to report the bill back to the House. If my math is correct, the committee will have less than five hours to bring forth witnesses, debate the issues, make any amendments and go through the bill clause by clause.
We are talking about a criminal justice bill that would affect the liberty of people in this country and yet debate will be limited.
Then, and I always find this one really cute, if amendments are not approved at committee stage, members will have until 3 a.m., four more hours, to get proposed amendments to the clerk. I do not know who at the Table has been designated to be here until 3 a.m. on Wednesday morning but he or she will need to be because I assume we will have amendments during that period of time.
Wednesday is considered a half day given that the caucus meets on Wednesday morning. The bill will be called again in the afternoon and, by the end of that day, the debate on both report stage and third reading must be completed. A vote will be held that evening and, assuming the coalition will stick together, the bill will pass and be on its way to the Senate where the unelected, Conservative dominated, not responsible, other than to the , Senate will pass the bill and it will become law. The Conservatives have been in office for five years and they will shove the bill through.
We have had one election that was contrary to their laws and two prorogations during that period of time. We had the justice committee tied up for a very long period of time due to the shenanigans of the chair. The justice committee went a whole year without sitting because of the election, the prorogation and the shenanigans of the chair.
When we are talking about the importance of timeliness here, where have the Conservatives been? What they have been doing is what they have done with so many other crime bills. They always talk about protecting the victims but the victims were there five years ago, fours years ago, three years ago, two years ago and last year. When did we see this bill? The first time we saw it was about five or six months ago
There is another thing with regard to timeliness. On two different occasions, the Bloc Québécois introduced a private member's bill seeking unanimous consent. On those two occasions, the Conservative government refused to give unanimous consent. Where were the Conservatives then on protecting the victims? They were sitting on their hands because they wanted to take credit for this. That is what this is all about.
We are now faced with the prospect of an election, potentially in the next few months, so the Conservatives want to ensure they get this through so they can run around the country and say that this is what they have done to get tough on crime. It is a joke and it is highly hypocritical by any objective analysis.
I want to go to what this issue is about. From both the experiences I have had