Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I join in the debate on Bill today.
Like many of my colleagues, the hon. members in this House, I have spent quite some time talking to Canadians about the need for this legislation. I am confident that all of us are hearing the same thing; that it is time to take action to crack down on white-collar offenders and we need to do it now.
I have heard from victims who have told me that they are tired of seeing and hearing about offenders who have perhaps wiped out their life savings and are not serving appropriate times for their actions. I have spoken to ordinary Canadians and to the families of innocent victims and they told me that it was time for all of us to work together to crack down on the activities of white-collar offenders who might not use a gun but who, nonetheless, wreak havoc on the lives of hard-working and law-abiding Canadians. They told me that we need to get tough on those offenders whose illegal activities leave scores of victims in their wake.
I am therefore pleased to support the bill before us today, which would do all of that and would build on our government's already impressive record of standing up for victims and cracking down on all types of crime.
Over the last five years, our government has done a lot to make our streets safer through investments in crime prevention, law enforcement and in the tools for police officers to do their jobs. In fact, several of our justice bills last year alone received royal assent, including: Bill , which targets gang violence and organized crime by addressing issues such as gang murders, drive-by shootings and additional protection for police and the police officers; Bill , which fulfills our government's commitment to Canadians to help keep offenders from being given two-for-one credit and sometimes three-for-one credit in pre-sentencing custody; and Bill , which will help combat the complex, serious and growing problem of identity theft and identity fraud.
I am also proud to say that our government recently passed legislation to help reform the pardon system. In particular, we have made sure that the National Parole Board of Canada has the discretion it needs to determine whether granting a pardon would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.
We have passed legislation targeting gang violence and organized crime by addressing issues such as gang murders, drive-by shootings and additional protection for police officers.
We recently passed legislation to strengthen the National Sex Offenders Registry and the national DNA data bank in order to better protect our children and other vulnerable members of society from sexual predators.
Of course our government has most recently introduced legislation to crack down on individuals involved in the despicable crime of human smuggling, which threatens our communities as well as Canada's immigration system.
In addition, our government has provided more money to the provinces and the territories so that they can hire additional police officers. I am very proud to note that Statistics Canada reported in December that the number of police officers across Canada is now at its highest point since 1981.
As well, the government has taken action to help young people make smart choices and avoid becoming involved in gang activity through programs funded through the National Crime Prevention Centre.
Our government has taken significant action that achieves results in tackling crime in our communities. We will continue to do more.
It is no secret that crimes and criminal activities can take on many forms. We often hear about violent gun crimes and communities which can and often do shatter lives. As I have mentioned, our government has done a lot to get tough with offenders who commit such terrible acts.
Of course, there are other types of crimes that can be just as devastating even though they do not involve the use of handguns. All of us have heard about the ruined lives left behind by white-collar offenders who prey on law-abiding citizens, often leaving them with nothing to show for a lifetime of hard work and savings for their retirement.
All of us have heard about the need to take action, to crack down on white-collar crime and stand up for the victims. That is what the legislation before us today would do.
As we have heard today, many offenders obtain parole early through a process called accelerated parole review. First-time offenders who have committed non-violent offences can access day parole at one-sixth of their sentence and full parole at one-third of their sentence. Unless the Parole Board of Canada has reasonable grounds to believe these offenders will commit a violent offence if released, it must release them into the community.
This means that, in some cases, a fraudster, a thief or even a drug dealer can be back on the streets early. Such an offender could be sentenced to 12 years but actually be released into the community on day parole in just 2 short years and fully paroled at just 4 years. The status quo gives the Parole Board little or no 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 nonetheless compelled to release them.
What makes the review process even more expedited is that these accelerated parole reviews are accomplished through a paper review by the Parole Board of Canada, whereas regular parole reviews are normally done by way of a hearing.
The test for accelerated parole review is also lower. The 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 if released. The test for accelerated parole review is whether someone is going to commit a violent offence. Even if the Parole Board believes that someone will commit another fraud, the board is still compelled to release the person under supervision at one-sixth of his or her sentence. In many cases that means that people who are convicted of crimes that have had devastating effects on the lives and livelihood of Canadians often spend very little time in prison. The end result is that offenders convicted of white-collar crimes are often released under supervision after only a very few short months. Offenders are given lengthy sentences which do not result in much time actually spent in prison.
This offends Canadians' sense of justice and it undermines their faith in our justice and in our corrections system. It should offend all of our senses of justice, and we need to change this. Canadians want change and that is what our government is delivering.
Bill would abolish accelerated parole review and repeal sections of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that govern the accelerated parole review regime. It would mean that offenders who commit non-violent or white-collar crimes are put on the same footing as other offenders. They would 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. Rather than being subject to a paper review, they would be subject to an in-person hearing. The test as to whether they should be released would be whether they present an unmanageable risk of committing another crime. It is a very key point and something that all members should highlight.
The changes that our government is proposing would mean that Canadians can have faith that offenders convicted of white-collar crimes will not escape full accountability for their actions.
Our government has listened to the concerns of victims of fraud and other crimes and we are taking action on their concerns. By fixing the problem of early parole for offenders, we are following through on our tackling crime agenda. Our government believes that Canadians deserve a justice system that balances the rights of offenders with the rights of law-abiding citizens.
The commitment we are announcing today brings us another step closer to this important goal. Once again I urge all hon. members to work with the government to ensure that Bill is passed into law in the most timely way possible.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill even if the other parties have had no real interest in seriously debating or discussing it. Today we are here so the Bloc and Conservatives can pay lip service to getting tough on crime.
Bill is hastily prepared legislation that introduces sweeping changes to the Criminal Code that would alter the parole rules for every non-violent first-time offender, regardless of the severity of the crime. The Bloc struck a backroom deal with the Conservatives, which we know, to fast-track the bill without any serious committee study or consultation with victims. Interestingly enough, the Quebec bar has said that it does not agree with the position that has been taken by the Bloc. In fact, it said:
|| The Québec Bar would like to state its opposition to Bill C-59 concerning accelerated parole and conditional release, which you introduced in the House of Commons on February 9.
|| Firstly, the Bar is opposed to the retroactive effect of the proposed legislation. ...we would like to point out that some people chose to plead guilty after considering the advantages of accelerated parole. Changing the sentencing rules after these people have made their decisions and their choices is unfair and opens the door to constitutional challenges.
|| Secondly, the Québec Bar believes that before this bill is passed, it should go through the same process as all legislation, including a thorough study of the advantages and disadvantages of the current legislation and an impact study of the proposed changes. The findings of these studies should be made public so that there can be informed debate on this issue.
We can all agree that serious cases of white-collar fraud have been terribly damaging to families across Canada and particularly in Quebec. We share the anger and frustration that is felt when serious criminals have their sentences reduced.
Over a year and a half ago, the Liberal Party called for legislation to put an end to parole for white-collar criminals who have only served one-sixth of their sentences. The Liberal Party was the first party to put forward a comprehensive proposal to deal with white-collar crime.
The Conservatives could have supported the proposals made by us concerning parole but they chose to play politics instead and fraudster Vincent Lacroix was given conditional release. Now they are simply trying to do damage control and win some votes in Quebec. They had the chance but they were not concerned with protecting victims at that time.
The Liberal caucus wants to see the current flawed proposal amended so that it better reflects the high standard Liberal position that we had previously put forward that better targets the real problem: the serious white-collar fraudsters who should not be eligible for early parole. The other parties seem intent on making it look as though we are not supportive of ensuring that white-collar fraudsters are not eligible for early parole. Again, this is not the case at all and their position is deceitful.
Two years ago, several of my colleagues participated in a press conference with the victims of Earl Jones' Ponzi scheme. We were calling for increased measures to protect victims of white-collar crimes then. We were asking the government to move quickly on this matter and to introduce legislation that would eliminate one-sixth accelerated parole for white-collar criminals. We were especially concerned with eliminating early parole for fraudsters who have multiple victims and have inflicted serious financial damage to individuals and families.
I am wondering why the Conservatives have taken so long to get down to doing anything about this problem and, when they do it, it is ill thought out and flawed to the core. Instead of trying to rush this legislation through Parliament, we are asking for serious debate and discussion on a very serious matter. Making legislation as a belated knee-jerk reaction to an issue is highly emotional and is no way to conduct the business of Parliament.
What needs to be done is that experts in the judicial field need to be consulted and the committee must carefully consider all the options that are available, as is now being proposed by the Quebec Bar. This is too important a matter not to be looked at thoroughly.
We are all aware of the devastating consequences that white-collar crimes have on the lives of people. We are all becoming more aware of the need to be vigilant in protecting our investments and who we trust with our money.
We are all in agreement that action needs to be taken to ensure white-collar criminals are held accountable for their crimes, which can be just as devastating to the well-being of people as violent crimes. We have been asking the government to take action for some time now. It is only now getting around to it.
The spectre of white-collar crime is increasing. In the past, white-collar crimes tended to be considered victimless crimes. When people thought of white-collar crimes, they typically thought of crimes being committed against large corporations and governments.
However, with the advent of the likes of Bernie Madoff in the United States and Earl Jones in Canada, we have seen the human face of fraud and devastating consequences it has for hundreds, if not thousands, of people. People have reacted with anger and frustration at these crimes and the men who willingly carried them out over the years.
The entire life savings of people have been wiped out and investments completely disappeared, leaving them with nothing and no chance to ever recover.
As we know, under the current system, white-collar offenders can be released after as little as one-sixth of their sentence in prison for their crimes. Bill could give us all a chance to change this and to support Canadians who have become the victims of crime, if the government would take the time to get this legislation right.
The Liberal Party has always considered helping victims of crimes to be at the core of our justice policies and we have always supported victims to ensure their voices are heard.
The Liberals have repeatedly said, since the revelation of the criminal activities of Earl Jones, that the current government needs to focus its criminal legislation amendments on protecting victims and preventing crimes.
Back in 2009, we suggested that the country needed tougher sentences for white-collar criminals. The laxity of the current legislation has made Canada an attractive place for those who wish to rip off their fellow citizens. As a country, we need to ensure that the consequences of such actions are stringent enough to truly deter this type of criminal activity.
Keeping our laws focused on protecting Canadians means that we need to go further than simply addressing the penalties in place for those who would seek to defraud hard-working Canadians. The government needs to help victims by negotiating international treaties that would allow stolen money being held overseas to be tracked and returned to the rightful owners.
Furthermore, the Conservative government needs to revamp Canada Revenue Agency procedures regarding tax moneys paid by victims on fictitious interest payments. Law-abiding Canadians who have diligently filed their tax returns and paid the calculated income tax based on documents with false amounts, provided to them by people engaged in criminal activity, should be entitled to a refund of any tax moneys paid on non-existent interest payments.
If it wants to understand the Liberal position, I ask the government to read the transcripts of the hearings that the justice committee held on Bill , the white-collar bill. There it will find that the Liberals supported that bill. The government might want to also check the media coverage of a press conference held over two years ago, in which Liberals called on the government then to remove the one-sixth accelerated parole release for white-collar criminals.
In the justice committee this past fall, when the white-collar crime bill was being examined, it was a Liberal member who brought in an amendment that would have eliminated the one-sixth accelerated release or early parole release, as it is commonly called, for white-collar criminals and major fraudsters.
The amendment was subsequently ruled out of order by the Conservative chair. A Liberal MP challenged the chair and the Conservatives and the Bloc formed an alliance and voted to uphold the chair's ruling. They were the ones who voted against eliminating the one-sixth early parole option.
The government may want to check its facts before making such ridiculous claims that the Liberals do not support victims.
We are calling on the government to make the proper amendments to this legislation. As with all other Conservative tough on crime bills, this one would introduce sweeping changes to the Criminal Code that would unfairly target all people who have been guilty of a criminal offence. This is contrary to our justice system, which also aims at rehabilitating and reforming those who have committed offences. Parole does exist for a tried and tested reason and it does offer a second chance to those who have demonstrated their willingness to change to come back into the fold of society as co-operative, productive and contributing members.
The government has made a pact with the separatists to fast-track the bill without any serious committee study. There has been no consultation with victims or legal experts. There has been no discussion of this matter until Friday.
The impact of white-collar crime costs taxpayers and the treasury a lot of money because of the complex investigations that have to be conducted. The fraudsters are committing fraud against those vulnerable people. Fraud is not victimless. Fraud preys on the weak and the vulnerable in society. The Liberals support sending the bill to committee because we believe it is the right thing to do.
The principles behind the stricter sentencing rules are very important. However, we also know that they are not enough to prevent these frauds from happening. Sentencing is important, but prevention is equally important in white-collar crime.
The question is why the government will not use this opportunity to do more and do it properly. The opposition and the public have been calling on the government to end the one-sixth accelerated parole provision for these types of offenders and the government has not acted yet. We hope that by sending it to committee, we can have some thoughtful discussion and develop solid legislation.
Let me be clear. The Liberal Party is more than supportive of eliminating the one-sixth accelerated parole provision. We support this in principle. What we do not support is the railroading of legislation through Parliament based on shady backroom deals made between the government and the Bloc. This is simply unacceptable. This is not the way Parliament should work. It is not what Canadians expect of those who represent them in the House.
The government, with the support of the NDP, has already given white-collar criminals a free pass by voting down a Liberal amendment that would have ensured a two-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for criminals who defrauded the public through things like Ponzi schemes.
I guess it is not enough that the Conservative government so passively watches as seniors living in poverty rise by an alarming 25%. Now, with the help of the NDP, the Conservatives have made sure that those same seniors get no justice when they have been bilked of their life savings by white-collar criminals like Earl Jones.
The Liberal Party tried to get the Conservatives' white-collar crime Bill amended so it would cover stock manipulation and Ponzi schemes, like the $50 million scheme perpetrated by Earl Jones that ended up wiping out the personal savings of nearly 150 investors.
Victims groups came to Ottawa last year to appear before the parliamentary justice and human rights committee to not only request stiffer sentences for white-collar crime, but also for a longer period before which a while-collar criminal could make an application for parole, up from the one-sixth of sentence that exists today.
If the truth be known, the current government has been soft on white-collar crime in general.
Consistent with his neo-conservative ideology of privatization and deregulation, the wants greater self-regulation of Canada's financial industry. The Conservatives already put forth a plan in the 2007 budget to adopt principles-based regulation of the securities and financial industry. The problem is business principles are, by nature, about making money, not about looking out for the welfare of the public.
Now the government is gung-ho to make sure it looks tough on white-collar criminals. This is typical Conservative too little, too late scheme of preying on the emotions of victims of white-collar crime. If the government had been listening to Canadians all along, and to the Liberal Party, it would have known this was an issue years ago and that it should have been dealt with when the Liberal Party first brought it forward.
The government has never handled white-collar crime effectively. We can think of examples from the corporate world, such as Bre-X Minerals and Nortel. It has taken years for the government to proceed with cases against these corporate offenders. As far as it goes for individual investors, such as the victims of Earl Jones, the system has long been handing out slap on the wrist punishments to those who deliberately steal from others.
The government has only recently taken a serious look at white-collar crime, and that has been at the insistence of the Liberal Party. It has taken the government too long to realize that an aging and vulnerable population has been targeted by sophisticated financial criminals for years.
Denial always comes with compound interest. This means that being too soft for too long on white-collar criminals has a steep price attached. It has undermined confidence in our financial markets, especially in the international community, and it has created a political problem.
The government has failed to protect seniors who have been duped out of their life savings. It is seniors who have been most victimized precisely because they do have savings and they do make investments to help cover the costs of retirement. These costs of retirement are very high. In fact, today, rising costs impact seniors whether it is the cost of home heating, or it is the cost of food and medicines. All these costs have to be considered by seniors in their retirement. The little they have in the way of savings, they try to invest time and time again to ensure that they have some additional money. Look what happens when they are taken for a ride.
We support the government as it now tries to toughen up the laws that deal with white-collar crime. However, there is always the risk that the fundamental flaws in this system will be glossed over because such action is taken hastily and without thought.
Financial crimes are generally very complicated to unwind. That is only one reason why law enforcement agencies, many of which have suffered budget and staff cuts, take so long to assemble the cases against fraudsters. The advent of the Internet and other sophisticated technology has only made it harder to keep up with these criminals, but the government has failed to adequately fund law enforcement agencies that would investigate and bring white-collar criminals to justice.
Different jurisdictions and regulations from province to province also complicate matters, as does the international component of investigations. The fact that there is no single national securities regulator to enforce one set of standardized rules does not help matters either.
These are some of the reasons why we insist the government take the time to get the legislation right once and for all. It needs to work with the legislators in Parliament and recognize how important it is to deal with white-collar crime. It needs to find away to work together and acknowledge the fact that the right thing to do is to send this to committee to see if we can get it right.
We do not need to rush this legislation through Parliament. We need to take our time to consider the legislation and to consult with the experts and victims. The victims are the ones who have been unfairly targeted by white-collar criminals. We need to listen to them. We need to hear what they have to say. We need to learn from their experience. We also need to talk to legal experts. We need to send this to committee so the House can get the legislation right.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in support of Bill . This is an important piece of legislation and I am happy to contribute to the proceedings in an effort to have it passed as swiftly as possible.
It is always great to have the opportunity to talk about how our government is delivering on its commitment to Canadians to keep their country, their communities and their streets safe and secure.
I would like to thank hon. members for engaging in the process of helping us create a strong piece of legislation that will level the playing field for all offenders who seek parole.
Our government has told Canadians many times since coming to power in 2006 that our priority is to keep them safe and secure. We have done more than just talk about keeping Canadians safe and secure. We have taken decisive action to deliver on that commitment, because our government is a government of action, not words.
We have taken action by introducing a host of legislation to tackle crime while strengthening the rights of victims and their families. We have worked very hard to make our streets and communities safer for everyone by giving law enforcement officials the tools they need to do their jobs.
We have also taken action to crack down on organized crime and on violent gun crimes in particular. We have passed legislation to increase sentences handed out to people convicted of drive-by shootings and murders connected to organized crime.
I am proud to say that our government passed legislation last year to strengthen the national sex offender registry and the national DNA data bank. We have also introduced legislation to strengthen the International Transfer of Offenders Act.
We have introduced bills to fix the pardon system and keep serious offenders from having their criminal record suspended, and to end the use of house arrest for serious and violent crimes.
In our ongoing efforts to make sure that people convicted of a crime do the appropriate time behind bars, our government has also passed bills that limit the amount of credit given for time spent in pre-sentence custody.
Our government has taken action to tackle property crime, including the serious crimes of auto theft and trafficking in property that is obtained by crime.
We have also taken action to provide additional police resources in our communities. As an example, we have hired 1,000 additional RCMP personnel to help combat crime and keep our communities safe from coast to coast to coast.
Our government has pledged to keep Canadians safe, and as hon. members can see from this impressive track record, this is exactly what we are doing.
Our government has also pledged to Canadians that we will make changes to the corrections and conditional release system that strengthen the rights of victims and give them a voice.
We have heard much talk by hon. members on the other side of the House who question the costs involved in improving and strengthening our correctional system. What hon. members do not talk about is the heavy toll that crime takes on individual victims, their families, communities and society at large. That is why we have taken action to ensure that the scales of justice are balanced to include victims.
Since the day we took office, we have being doing a lot of things to help victims of crime and make sure that victims' needs are taken into consideration in all aspects of our public safety and justice agenda.
There are many programs already in place, and we are moving ahead on several initiatives to ensure that victims' voices are heard, and to ensure that victims' concerns are addressed.
As an example of the importance our government has placed on helping victims, we committed over $50 million over four years to improve the federal victims strategy, which exists to help victims navigate and deal with the criminal justice system.
As another example, we created the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime to be an independent resource for victims.
The National Office for Victims at Public Safety Canada is also working hard to give victims a greater voice in the corrections and conditional release process and to assist victims in getting access to the information and services that they might need.
Our government is proud of the work the National Office for Victims has done to reach out to more victims of crime through consultation and outreach. The office also works with aboriginal communities to help victims get better access to information and services.
I could talk about many more initiatives and actions that our government is taking to put victims' rights at the forefront of the justice system. I would like to turn, however, to the matter at hand, that of Bill .
Hand in hand with our efforts to help victims, we must ensure that we keep dangerous offenders off our streets and out of our communities. We must ensure that anyone who is sentenced to prison for a crime remains in prison for the proper length of time before being eligible for parole. This is what Bill aims to do.
Bill C-59 would amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act by abolishing accelerated parole review. Accelerated parole review was incorporated into the CCRA in 1992 to do exactly what it sounds like, accelerate the parole review process for those first-time offenders who have not been convicted of a crime involving violence, organized crime, or a serious drug offence.
When it was first introduced and up until 1997, accelerated parole review only applied to full parole eligibility. In 1997, however, accelerated parole review was amended to include day parole, making it possible for white-collar offenders to apply for day parole after serving only one-sixth of their sentence or six months, whichever is longer.
As we stand here in this House in 2011, we understand that the situation in 1997 was not the same as what we now face in 2011. We believe that accelerated parole review is an unfair practice and it should be abolished.
One of the key crimes that accelerated parole review applies to is that of fraud. Under accelerated parole review, first-time offenders charged with a white-collar crime such as fraud need only serve one-sixth of their sentence before they are eligible to apply for day parole.
Under accelerated parole review as well, these offenders do not have to attend a parole board hearing in person. The application is submitted and approved on paper alone. The offender is not required to appear before the Parole Board of Canada officials to make a case for his or her day parole application.
Finally, under accelerated parole review, the Parole Board of Canada has little choice but to release the offender on day parole if there are no reasonable grounds to believe that the offender will commit a new violent crime.
It is difficult for me and for many Canadians to understand why an offender who commits a crime like fraud should be given a fast track to apply for day parole. We do not agree that someone who steals hundreds of thousands of dollars, and often millions, from hard-working Canadians through a fraudulent investment scheme should be allowed to apply for day parole without any need to appear in person before the parole board. Nor do we agree with the criterion that the parole board must release the offender back in the community if there is no evidence that he or she will commit a new violent crime.
That is why we have introduced Bill . I would like to address in turn the three key elements of the parole system that will change under Bill .
First and foremost, Bill will change the rules so that white collar offenders must wait the same amount of time as any other offender before applying for day parole. That is, they are not eligible to apply for day parole until six months before they are eligible for full parole. This makes sense. Why should these offenders be allowed to apply for day parole sooner than any other offender? They committed a serious crime and, therefore, they must serve the time.
Second, by abolishing accelerated parole review, we will ensure that white collar offenders must stand in front of a Parole Board of Canada hearing in person, just like every other offender. Again, it only makes sense that all offenders must go through the same process to apply for parole. Parole should not be seen as a given or a sure thing. All offenders should be expected to stand in front of a parole board hearing and convince board officials they are not going to commit another crime.
Finally, this legislation will ensure that white collar offenders must pass the same test of eligibility for parole as all other offenders. In other words, the parole board must be convinced that this offender will not commit any new crime, never mind the current criterion of a vicious crime or criminal offence, but any new crime. It is only fair and just that all offenders must face the same test to determine if they can be trusted to return to the streets of our communities.
As hon. members can see, Bill is all about levelling the playing field for all offenders. No longer will people who are charged with fraud have an expedited process when it comes to applying for parole. No longer will victims of fraud have to watch in disappointment when the offender is allowed to apply for day parole after serving only a small fraction of their sentence.
By passing this legislation we will send a message to these offenders and to Canadians that we will no longer support a system that favours offenders who steal hundreds of thousands of dollars, and sometimes millions, from hard-working Canadians.
I urge all hon. members to join us in taking a stand today to end this unfair, two-tiered parole system. I urge all members of the House to vote in favour of Bill .
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from .
Bill deals with an issue that we have needed to address for at least the five years that the government has been in power. However, it sat on its hands and passed all sorts of other silly laws, including in the area of criminal law, which in its mind took precedence over this particular bill.
I find it surprising that the Bloc members never acknowledged the fact that these amendments were initially introduced under the Mulroney Conservative government in 1992 and then introduced in 1997 by the Liberal government. During that time in 1992, the Bloc members, who were Conservative members at the time, voted for those amendments. In 1997, the whole Bloc caucus voted for the amendments that affected the types of victims that we are hearing so much about today. Of course that was done after they had been victimized. However, any number of steps could have been taken, both at the federal and provincial levels of government, to prevent these types of crimes. I will address that a bit more toward the end of my speech today.
The issue that we have before us today with regard to changing these provisions for early release is that we are doing it almost totally in reaction to one case, the Earl Jones case out of Montreal, Quebec. Earl Jones will be eligible for early release somewhere between December 2011 and the spring of 2012. It is not as though it is tomorrow or next month. We have at least nine months, if not a full year, before we attempt to stop him from being able to use it.
As an aside, whether in debate or in private conversations, I have not heard of one member of the House, including my entire caucus, who is opposed to ensuring that Earl Jones does not serve only one-sixth of his sentence. We all agree that we should be doing something about this. However, as is so typical of the government, especially in the criminal justice area, there is much overreaction and overkill. I castigate the Bloc members for agreeing to this on the basis of the few facts that we have.
We do not have answers to a series of questions that we have posed. We have some partial figures and partial facts but we have nowhere near a clear picture, nor will we get it this evening at committee. For instance, we do not know how many people are released on an annual basis under this one-sixth provision. We do not know how many of those released are in full parole, how many are in day parole or how many are spending their time in halfway houses, which is another form of detention. We also do not know what crimes they have committed before being released.
Every Conservative member who I have heard speak to this, and I think the Bloc is making the same mistake, assumes that the offenders who are eligible are white-collar criminals. I can say that is absolutely not true but I must admit that I do not know how many of the offenders committed the stereotypical white-collar crime and how many were incarcerated for other reasons. We know they are crimes of a non-violent nature, because that is the criteria for eligibility, and that it has to be a first offence. We also know that the offenders must show that they are not at risk of committing a violent crime. All of those criteria are written in the statute of the corrections act now.
However, we do not know what crimes those offenders have committed or what their individual factual situations are. We have some indication that a good number of those who are eligible for this had originally committed the crime because of addictions, whether it be gambling, alcohol, drugs, et cetera. However, they are eligible because they have since dealt with those issues while in custody or, in some cases, even before sentencing. However, all of those are unknowns in terms of absolute numbers.
We have a figure of approximately 800 people who get this benefit each year. We do not know how many weeks, months or years it takes off their sentences, so we do not have a sense of how much it will cost if they stay in the full-blown prison for an extra few weeks, a few months or a few years. It costs, on average, $93,000 per inmate per year. If we do the math, that is $93 million. The number may be higher than that or a bit lower but we never hear the Conservatives, when they are talking about victims, say how much it will cost the Canadian taxpayers. The only answer we ever get is that they are prepared to pay the price. That is false. All we have to do is look to the United States where we are seeing state after state changing their laws to reduce their prison population because they are bankrupting themselves by putting many more prisoners in prison for lengthier periods of time.
We need answers to those questions. We do not know, for instance, the effect it has on the rate of recidivism, which is a straight public safety issue. The individuals who benefit from this commit fewer crimes. The figures we do have on that indicate that their rate of recidivism is lower than if they serve their full one-third or up to two-thirds sentence. By extending this, by passing the bill, we may be creating greater risk to the Canadian citizenry.
There is a number of questions as to how should we deal with this. We have certainly put forward suggestions. Are there specific crimes that should be excluded from the use of this section? We passed a few months ago in the House the Conservative answer to white-collar crime, which was not that to any significant degree, but in that we put in that if people steal a million dollars or more they will spend at least a minimum of one year in jail. We could be putting that type of provision in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to say that the one-sixth does not apply if a person has committed this crime. That is what is in there now with regard to other crimes, but with regard to white-collar crime, we could put a very specific section in that would say that a person is not entitled to it if the person has done this. That is a very simple amendment and it would address the current crises that we have, in the minds of the Bloc Québécois and in the minds of the Conservatives, with regard to Earl Jones. It would solve that problem right there. It is simple enough.
For the long term, what we should be doing with the one-sixth is that at the time of sentencing the judge should be allowed the discretion, which we will have to write into the Criminal Code, to say that the crime is so serious, even though it is non-violent, and with so many victims, or whatever other criteria we want to build in, that the individual will not be entitled to a one-sixth reduction. It is gone for those people. That would be step number one.
Step number two would be to give a very similar discretion to the Parole Board, which it does not have now. The Parole Board, as it stands now, is required to establish the three criteria of an offender: first offender, non-violent offender and not likely to commit a violent crime before he or she is allowed out. The board has to prove why a person should be held back. We should be taking away the reverse onus on the Parole Board and giving it a general discretion. If the person is not likely to be a risk to society and he or she meet certain criteria, then the board has the right to release the person. However, if it is felt for any reason, it would be that broad of a discretion, it would not release the individual. There are things like that which can be done.
There are other specific crimes. We are hearing anecdotally that some members of organized crime, organized syndicates, biker gangs are able to take advantage of this because of what they were convicted of. That should not be allowed. I can envision quite easily amendments that would prevent them from accessing it.
There are ways of fine-tuning this, tailoring it for those people who, I think Canadians would generally agree, should be entitled to this. We can let them out, but restrict the others.
I see my time is up. Hopefully my friend from will be able to cover the issue around the prevention of these crimes.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to follow the member for in speaking to Bill . Our party supports sending this bill to committee.
We as a group passed Bill recently. That bill dealt with providing a mandatory minimum two year sentence for white-collar criminals involved in schemes and thefts over $1 million.
Today government members have continually asked what the victims want. The victims want their money back. They did not want their money stolen in the first place.
This bill deals with the issue after the fact, after the money is gone. We need proper regulation of financial institutions, banks and investment salespeople in this country to prevent this type of thing from happening in the future.
Twenty-five per cent of the members in the House, excluding myself, are lawyers. We all know how lawyers' trust funds are dealt with. We all know how real estate brokers' trust funds are dealt with. They are dealt in trust because of past abuses. The provinces have brought in laws to define how trust funds have to be dealt with.
My understanding of the Earl Jones case is that he was not registered. How can a person invest money on behalf of clients for many years and not be registered under any authority within the jurisdiction in which he is living? Mr. Jones was dealing with financial institutions and those financial institutions should be responsible for policing their salespeople.
What was the bank's responsibility? What was the financial institutions' and the insurance companies' responsibility? What was the responsibility of the people that he was buying these investments from on behalf of his clients?
Most investors in this country are protected in case a financial adviser makes off with an investment. Most people would be compensated by the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization. That organization has a plan to compensate individuals when dealers run off with money. Banks and institutions have a corporate responsibility. We need to tighten up on the front end before the money disappears. In a five year period in the United States, 1,200 people, including Conrad Black, were sent to prison. In Canada, there were five.
This problem did not just start with the Conservative government five years ago. The Liberals faced the same problem for many years. They recognized the problem because in 2003 they set up the IMET program. Six groups operate under this particular unit within the police force. After a five year period it had only five successful convictions and imprisonments to show for its time in office. I am not saying it was a bad idea. It just did not achieve great results during that period. It should be studied and improved upon.
We also have to look at our regulatory environment. We have to start appointing to the regulatory bodies people who are not playing golf with the very people they are regulating. An incestuous relationship can develop anywhere one looks in society if we do not have the proper balance.
When we get a regulatory body, be it the Ontario Securities Commission or the national securities agency that we are debating in the House on an ongoing basis, if those regulators are not on the ball and if they are not actively trying to pursue abuses, if they are not fearful of arresting some of their friends, then we will have results. We will have activity and the arrest rate will go up and people will be put in prison in this country. Once people like Earl Jones recognize that it is going to be a one-way trip to a prison sentence, then we will see better protection.
The point is we have all these protections. We have protections in insurance. We have protections in real estate. We have protections for the law society. How difficult can it be for us to examine this area a little more and put in these protections to stop people like Earl Jones? That is how we should consider approaching this problem at the front end as opposed to the back end.
We have a lot of issues and very limited time to deal with them. I definitely want to deal with the issue of what works in crime prevention and enforcement and what does not.
A situation has developed in the United States where Newt Gingrich, who helped to create the problem, is now providing an answer from the right. The fact is it goes back further to Ronald Reagan's days and the "three strikes and you are out" that he brought in as Governor of California, and how their system developed into a warehousing system for criminals in the state. At the end of day it resulted in a higher crime rate and almost bankrupted the state in the process.
Newt Gingrich has recently changed his position on this. Not only him, but Ed Meese and other right-wing Republicans in the United States have actually come around to the NDP's approach on crime, as surprising as that might be.
We only have to look at Texas as an example. In Texas in 2007 the Republicans started to work with the Democrats. What a novel idea that is. It is like a minority government here. Why cannot all parties get together? The Gary Filmon government did it in Manitoba a number of years ago. It was a Conservative government. It worked successfully.
By the way, I ran into Gary Filmon over the Christmas holidays. I asked him if he ever contacted the federal government. He said he had sent a long email when the Conservatives came to power, but he said he had never heard back at all.
In 2007, the Democrats and Republicans in Texas decided against building more prisons. Instead they opted to enhance proven community correction approaches such as drug courts. We have those here in Canada, but I guess they did not have them in Texas. The reforms were forecast to save $2 billion in prison costs over five years. Also Texas redirected much of the money saved into community treatment for the mentally ill and low-level drug addicts. We are doing that here in this country.
These reforms reduced the Texas prison population. Now there is no waiting list for drug treatment in the state. Crime dropped 10% in the period from 2004, the year before the reforms, through to 2009. The crime rate is now at its lowest level since 1973.
In South Carolina, Newt Gingrich is talking about taking prison beds for dangerous criminals and punishing low-risk offenders through lower-cost community supervision. This is not a left-wing person talking. It is New Gingrich. It is the people that Conservatives like to follow. That is where they take their direction from, and I have an even better example. I hope I have time to provide it. I may have to wait until my questions and answers.
That is the issue of the crime rate in Florida versus in New York. Over the past seven years Florida's incarceration rate has increased 16% while that of New York's has decreased 16%.
The crime rate in New York has fallen twice as much as the rate in Florida has, but New York spent less on its prisons and delivered better public policy. In other words, the crime rate was higher in Florida and the cost was higher. New York had a lower crime rate and a lower cost.
Those are great examples. The members opposite should brush up on them.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this bill. Since I spoke to the motion regarding the disposition of the bill yesterday, there have been some developments. However, I do want to take this opportunity to add some points which I did not have time to do yesterday, given the 10-minute limit.
I would like to focus on the democracy argument.
In terms of the Canadian democracy, we have an executive branch, which is the and the cabinet, which essentially, on a day-to-day basis, runs the government. The job of the Parliament of Canada and the members of Parliament who are not sworn into cabinet is to keep the executive branch in check. The executive is supposed to report to somebody. It is not a dictatorship. Yet, what we have here is a circumstance where the executive branch of government is attempting to circumvent the democratic process by invoking closure on a bill that is not urgent by anybody's definition of urgency.
The Conservatives had the opportunity last fall, with respect to Bill , to approve Liberal amendments in the justice committee which would have eliminated the one-sixth accelerated parole review. This would have prevented Mr. Lacroix from being released, which is the reason we are here today, because of the public outcry about it. It would have prevented Mr. Lacroix, if they had voted for it, from being released. However, the Bloc and the Conservatives voted to defeat those amendments in the fall of 2010. Now, because of the public outcry over the release of Mr. Lacroix, we are here in an undemocratic environment with the executive branch of Canada's government attempting to stop Parliament from asking questions and from getting the information that is required. Those pieces of information that would be eliminated are important.
I am on the public safety committee and I have the notice for tonight's meeting. Because of the closure motion, the bill will be voted on this afternoon. Everybody knows that the bill will pass, because the Conservatives and the Bloc have teamed up. The Conservatives like to use the word “coalition”, so I will use it. They have teamed up to form a coalition on this piece of legislation to stop the democratic process.
It is not the first time either. In the past, the Conservatives attempted to reach a coalition deal with the Bloc to defeat the Martin government. They run their ads about coalitions. It is hypocritical for them to do that. Canadians should know this is something they have attempted to do before and they are doing it now with the Bloc. They are circumventing the democratic process.
In terms of the information that we must have, we need to know the costs that are involved. We will be asking for the costs.
An hon. member: Who is hiding what?
Mr. Andrew Kania: A minister just asked off mic, “Who is hiding what?” What is the government hiding in terms of the cost?
We will go to the public safety committee tonight after we have the vote on the bill, which will be successful, based on the coalition between the Conservatives and the Bloc. We will be sitting for four hours, until 11 p.m. or later. The way the motion is worded, if the amendments and study are not done within that period of time, the bill will be reported back to the House without any amendments.
They have already told the committee, “It does not matter what you do. It does not matter what you say. You have a certain amount of time and if we do not like what you are doing, the bill will come back to the House and will become law. So you are wasting your time anyway”.
We can go to the committee. The Conservatives can filibuster or there could be amendments, or no amendments, or whatever. We all know the bill will come back to the House. We all know that the coalition between the Conservatives and the Bloc will rush this bill through the House of Commons without proper consideration.
What are the costs? How much will this cost? They will not say. Tonight, in the public safety committee, I will be asking those questions. I will be asking: What will this cost? Why are we doing this? Why are we doing this now? What are the social implications of changing this law at this stage?
Maybe this is a good thing to do. Maybe the legislation as it is currently written should not be changed. Maybe the legislation should be changed slightly. The point is, Canadians will not have the opportunity to have their elected representatives provide that sober second thought in committee and in Parliament through proper debate, because the executive branch of government, supported by the Bloc, has invoked closure. In essence they are stopping the elected representatives of the Canadian people from properly considering this legislation in circumstances where there is no urgency.
I challenge the government. Why did it not do this for other measures? Where was closure invoked when it came to the economic crisis in Canada? We have had the worst economic situation in Canadian history since the depression. Where was closure invoked to help the Canadian people? Where was closure invoked for EI changes?
In March 2009 a motion was passed by the Parliament of Canada calling for EI changes to help Canadians weather the storm. The government ignored the motion, of course, which also is anti-democratic. There have been a number of instances. Paul Kennedy, Ms. Keen and a whole bunch of people who do not agree with the government are fired or their terms are not renewed, which is all anti-democratic. It is a pattern with the government.
We are in a situation where we will examine a piece of legislation under a gun tonight. We already know it will pass. We already know that amendments will not be passed. We will be faced with this without even knowing what we are doing.
If a closure motion is supposed to be for urgent matters, why have the Conservatives used it for this and only this and only after they refused to pass the amendments the Liberals suggested last fall? Those amendments would have prevented Mr. Lacroix from getting early parole. They could have done that then, but they did not.
After people found out they did not do that and Mr. Lacroix was released, now it is urgent to deal with the situation and invoke closure and anti-democratic processes. Once again, if the Conservatives like doing this and they say it is urgent, why do they never do it on economic issues? If they like to use an anti-democratic process to help Canadians, to protect Canadians, to take care of Canadians, why have they never used this when people are suffering, are unemployed, lack health care and pensions?
How about the Nortel pensioners? Let us talk about them for a moment. When they lost their pensions and medical coverage and did not get help in terms of bankruptcy proceedings, why did the Conservatives not invoke closure to help them? The Conservatives in the Senate were defeating that legislation because they did not care.
Where is the closure on other issues? It is not used on anything else. There are urgent matters that Canadians need to deal with. Rather than spending yesterday and today debating closure on a non-urgent piece of criminal justice legislation, why are the Conservatives not dealing with economic issues? We have the largest deficit in Canadian history. Why were we not discussing that yesterday and today? The cost of living is going up exponentially. Why are we not discussing that and how to help productivity?
We have the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs which have been replaced with temporary, part-time jobs, or as I referred to yesterday, McJobs. Why are we not discussing job creation plans?
We experience embarrassment on the international stage. There is the situation with the UAE and the environmental conferences where we have received Fossil of the Year awards two years in a row. Why are we not discussing environmental issues on an urgent basis?
If the Conservatives love this anti-democratic procedure, there are many issues on which closure could have been invoked. However, they are invoking closure as a form of damage control. They are trying to tell Quebeckers and other Canadians that they are upset that Mr. Lacroix was released early, but they are not, because they had a chance last fall to stop that. They could have accepted the Liberals' amendments in justice committee, as I mentioned, but they refused to do that. So, what is the urgency of this situation?
In terms of what has occurred since the comments I made yesterday, I now have a letter from the Quebec bar. I will read this letter into the record. It is addressed to the , and as a member of the public safety committee, it was forwarded to me. It is with respect to the bill and it reads as follows:
|| The Quebec Bar would like to state its opposition to Bill C-59 concerning accelerated parole and conditional release, which you introduced in the House of Commons on February 9.
I will pick up on that point. February 9, 2011 is when the bill was introduced. This is not something that has been languishing for two years.
The earlier bill, Bill , died with the prorogation. We had two prorogations that wiped the slate clean of all legislation that could have been invoked and in law earlier. Without those two prorogations, this would have been addressed and that law would have been amended a long time ago, rather than continually reintroducing the same bills in the House of Commons. It is an anti-democratic part of the pattern of the government.
Going back to the letter, it states:
|| Firstly, the Bar is opposed to the retroactive effect of the proposed legislation. Like the Association des avocats en droit carcéral du Québec, we would like to point out that some people chose to plead guilty after considering the advantages of accelerated parole. Changing the sentencing rules after these people have made their decisions and their choices is unfair and opens the door to constitutional challenges.
Forget for the moment whether one agrees with that paragraph or not. That is not even the point of today's closure vote and the debate that took place yesterday. The point is there is an issue that needs to be discussed. We need experts to speak about whether the retroactive provisions are constitutional according to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Constitution of Canada.
Yes, they do constrain the government. Conservatives may not like to think that, but they do. Experts should be testifying before the committee as to whether they are constitutional. If there is any reasonable doubt as to whether the provisions are constitutional, they should be either left out or there should be a reference made to the Supreme Court of Canada to let us know if they are.
It is absolutely unfair for the government to force people who have agreed to plea bargains to hire lawyers, spend money on legal fees, go to court and eventually seek a final ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada, if they can afford it, just to find out whether these provisions are constitutional. The minister has an obligation to provide an opinion and consider whether these provisions are constitutional, but how can that be done in a responsible manner when the government has invoked closure, there has been no debate and no witnesses have testified.
Based on the individuals on the witness list for tonight, which we have not heard from yet, I would be very surprised if testimony will be provided during the four hours allowed for the debate. I would be very surprised if anybody will have the expertise to comment about the constitutionality of these provisions.
In essence, the government is saying that it does not care and that it is going to invoke closure. It knows it made a mistake. It should have passed the Liberal amendments last fall that would have prevented Mr. Lacroix from being released. However, it did not do that, neither did the Bloc. They both voted against the amendments. Now it is trying to do something about it.
We are in a situation now where we will have a very short debate with no sober second thought and no proper consideration. Even if there is and even if the committee does not agree, it will come back within four hours anyway. It will be reported back to the House and then further amendments can be filed until 3 a.m. It sounds very urgent, but there is no urgency. The urgency was last fall when it was ignored and the Liberal amendments were defeated.
If this were urgent in those circumstances, why has the government not done the same for economic matters? The people listening at home, those who have lost their jobs, or their houses or cannot afford their mortgages or pay for their kids' various extracurricular activities, might ask why the government has not invoked closure on some type of economic legislation to help them.
Why is one-third or more of the government's entire agenda “law and order” when all empirical objective experts have said, for a repeated number of years, that crime rates have gone down? Why is the government trying to make people think that crime rates are going up and that it is taking steps to protect them when that is not what is occurring?
Today I had the honour of reading a statement into the House. Another example is Bill , the international transfer of offenders act. Last week the stood in the House of Commons during question period and criticized the Liberal Party for opposing provisions of that legislation, which deals with the transfer of Canadians incarcerated abroad who seek to apply to be transferred back directly to a Canadian prison. It is from prison in a foreign country for a crime committed in a foreign country against a foreign citizen to a Canadian prison. The transfer, in most cases, makes sense if people are in a foreign country that does not have proper rehabilitation. In some jurisdictions, I believe even in the United States, foreign citizens cannot get rehabilitation, so they will get nothing.
Since most of these people will be released back into Canadian society anyway, by definition it would be good for them to receive rehabilitation. However, a lot of them will not get it unless they are transferred back to Canada.
A key point is this. If they have committed a crime in a foreign country to a foreign citizen but they are not transferred back to a Canadian prison before their sentence has been completed, then when their sentence is over and completed in the foreign jurisdiction, because they have a Canadian passport, they can come back into Canada, free and clear. They will have no criminal record. There will be no ties upon them in terms of our parole system. It will be like they never committed a crime.
Imagine some of the serious crimes that could have happened abroad and they were incarcerated for them. There will be no record of it in Canada and there will be no ties on them in Canada if we do not bring them back and put them in a Canadian prison before their sentence expires.
Is that not logical to do? Is that not the best thing to do to protect Canadian safety? However, when that question was posed to the last week, rather than answer it, he attacked. That is what the government does.
My colleague from is the recipient of almost daily personal attacks. He asks questions in the House of Commons in a logical and lucid manner, seeking to get intelligent responses, facts and figures, but the government attacks him personally, trying to turn the channel and not responding to its shortcomings in this legislation.
When the was asked the question last week on the international transfer of offenders act, which once again makes perfect sense for the protection of Canadians, his response was to say “You are not thinking about Canadian victims.”
Let us think about that for a moment. He says that we are not thinking about a Canadian victims. This is about Canadians incarcerated in a foreign country for a crime committed in a foreign country to a foreign citizen. In these circumstances, we have asked the government why those people would not be brought back to ensure they have rehabilitation. If they are brought back early, they will then have a Canadian criminal record, they will go through the Canadian parole system and we will have some controls. With that stem, we can ensure we minimize the risk they will commit the same harm to Canadians living here.
Members can check the record, but his response was that we were not thinking about Canadian victims. What is this? It is rhetoric. There is no logic to it. Why can we not get honest responses that deal with the issues? Why can we not have a reasoned debate rather than mudslinging and personal attacks on our Liberal critic for public safety?
I will finish this letter from the Quebec Bar Association. It states:
|| Secondly, the Quebec Bar believes that before this bill is passed, it should go through the same process as all legislation, including a thorough study of the advantages and disadvantages of the current legislation and an impact study of the proposed changes. The findings of these studies should be made public so that there can be an informed debate on this issue.
|| Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Once again, that was a February 15 letter from the Quebec Bar addressed to the , asking for sober second thought, to follow democracy, to consider this and make a responsible decision. Conservatives should not try simply to do something because they failed to pass the Liberal amendments last fall, with the help of the Bloc, which would have stopped Mr. Lacroix from being released.