Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak in support of the legislation before us. As hon. members know, we are here to discuss Bill , which would make important changes to our parole system.
As we have heard from my hon. colleagues, the legislation has one clear purpose. That purpose is to abolish the system known as accelerated parole review. This is not complex legislation, with many layers and detailed lists of amendments. That is why the name of the proposed act is also clear: Bill .
The legislation proposes to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to put an end to the current practice of giving white-collar offenders early eligibility for day parole.
We are not creating new regulations. Nor are we looking for ways to complicate the parole system. Instead, we are standardizing a system that currently has two sets of rules for two different types of offenders. In essence, we have a two-tiered system.
Under this system, an offender who has committed a violent crime, like murder or assault, cannot apply for day parole until six months before he or she is eligible for full parole. On the other hand, individuals who are sentenced to jail for committing a white-collar crime, like fraud, can apply for day parole after serving only one-sixth of their sentence. This puts non-violent offenders on a different playing field.
The individual who is sentenced to 12 years in jail for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from unsuspecting Canadians is well aware that he or she will only have to serve two years in jail before being eligible to apply for day parole. Also, under the current system, it states that the offender who committed a violent crime must appear in person before the Parole Board of Canada and stand in front of board officials to plead his or her case. This is not the case for non-violent white-collar offenders. In their case, the application for day parole is done on paper. They are not compelled in person at a Parole Board hearing.
Under the current system, a violent offender must clearly show the Parole Board of Canada that he or she will not commit another crime once released on parole. If the Parole Board cannot find reasonable grounds to believe the offender will commit another crime, any crime, it will then approve parole.
The system works differently for non-violent and white-collar offenders. The only test they must pass in order to be released on parole is that the Parole Board must not find a reason to believe the individual will commit a violent offence.
I would like to repeat that last part because it is certainly one of the most confounding parts of the current system. Under APR, the individual who has committed a non-violent crime must be released on parole if there is no evidence that he or she will commit a violent crime.
I would suggest that the number of people jailed for a non-violent act like fraud who then end up committing a violent crime once on parole must be a fairly low number. The reality is most of the people who are in jail for scamming people out of their investments are not likely to have a violent past.
It seems odd, then, that this would be the ruler with which their future freedom is measured. Instead, it would make more sense for the Parole Board to use the same test as it uses for all offenders, that they must show they will not commit any new crime in order to be released.
As hon. members can see, the current system of accelerated parole review is not working. In addition to giving white-collar offenders an easier and faster system in which to apply for parole, it also removes any incentive for these offenders to work toward rehabilitation. They know they need only serve one-sixth of their sentence before applying for day parole. They know they will not have to present themselves to the Parole Board of Canada in person to plead their case. They also know that if there is no evidence they will commit a violent crime once released, the Parole Board has no choice but to release them.
Again, where is the incentive for this individual to make progress toward rehabilitation? The simple answer is there is no incentive. Our government is determined to change the system so it puts all offenders on the same level. In essence, we are streamlining the parole system so all offenders are treated the same. This makes sense and this is what we intend to do.
We have heard from hon. members on the other side of the House who say that the actions we are taking to improve our law enforcement and corrections and justice system are just too costly. However, our government has said more than once that we will not count nickels and dimes when it comes to protecting victims of crime and their families.
We have told Canadians that we will not turn our backs on victims who feel they do not have a voice in our justice system.
This is why we are asking all hon. members to support Bill . We are urging all hon. members to stand with us in support of victims.
I have listened with great interest to my hon. colleagues who have spoken eloquently about the devastating impact that this crime can have on the lives of hard-working Canadians and their families. Some of these victims have overcome their shame and humiliation to come forward and tell their stories and provide evidence in court that helps convict these fraud artists. This cannot be an easy decision for these victims, especially as they start the process of picking up the pieces of their lives. It then comes as a shock to these victims and, in fact, to all Canadians when this offender is allowed to apply for day parole after serving a small portion of his or her sentence.
As I mentioned earlier, we have heard the example of how someone who is sentenced to 12 years in prison can be eligible for day parole within just 2 years. In those same two years, the victims have struggled to find their normalcy and to repair the damage left in the wake of this white-collar crime. It is these victims who we must consider when we discuss Bill . In fact, our government has always put victims of crime first in our efforts to improve the legal and corrections system.
We have introduced legislation to give victims a voice at the Parole Board hearings and to ensure that offenders cannot pull out of their hearing at the last minute.
We have also supported many programs and initiatives that ensure that the voices of victims are heard and that their concerns are addressed, including the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime and public safety, Canada's national office for victims.
Our government is proud of our track record to support the rights of victims. We have told Canadians we will do what is right and we will keep their communities safe and secure. Bill is an important step in this process and we ask all hon. members to support the legislation.
Mr. Speaker, in a couple of hours this House will vote at third reading on a bill that we have had about three days to work on. Parliament is yet again being asked to vote on a bill with absolutely no idea whatsoever what the costs will be. Effectively, Parliament has a blindfold on and has been wished good luck. It will find out after the bill has been passed and the money has been long since spent what the financial implications are. This is no way to conduct business.
As I watched last night, we had a couple of hours to listen to witnesses and listen to serious concerns regarding this bill. Yet again there was a closure motion so we could only deal with it until 10 o'clock.
Here are the facts. This sudden urgency, this sudden flurry of activity that came from the government could have been easily avoided if it had listened over the last number of years when Liberal members said that we should make sure we fix this, that we should shut down the provisions that allow someone like Earl Jones or Mr. Lacroix to get out early. We have been very clear on that. We have consistently pushed for it. We did so in press releases. We did so at the justice committee, moving it as amendments. The government refused to act. Then Mr. Lacroix got out because of the government's inaction. The government was caught with its pants down. It was embarrassed and suddenly, there was a flurry of activity. Suddenly it said that we should adopt this overnight or we do not care about victims; adopt this overnight or we are on the side of criminals. It is a defensive argument and it debases this House.
I have sat here and I have listened to members talk about rape victims. Just yesterday a Conservative member stood in the House and said that there are certain members of Parliament, of course they were not named, who support organizations that do not want jail time for people who rape children. What on earth is happening to debate when the Conservatives do this kind of thing? This is debate about first-time non-violent offenders and there is someone standing in the House talking about raping children and saying there are members in the House who do not support tough sentences for somebody who commits a crime like that. That is shameful. It shows us how desperate the Conservatives are to put politics ahead of an honest debate.
Here is the honest truth. Over the last two years not only did we advocate for these types of provisions that would stop someone like Earl Jones from getting released early, but in committee last night I, along with Liberal members and members of the NDP, proposed a series of amendments to make it targeted.
We voted yesterday at second reading to have the ability at committee to debate this matter, to focus it and get rid of the most offensive provisions that touch on things that frankly none of the Conservatives has been talking about and to determine what the Conservatives say the stated purpose of the bill is. What did they do? They voted against those amendments. In recorded vote after recorded vote, they blocked our efforts to amend the legislation.
Then they had the audacity, the intellectual dishonesty, to stand in the House and say that we do not care about victims, that we want to let Earl Jones out. It is despicable and it is dishonest.
To say that we have fair differences, to say that between us there are bridges we cannot build, that we cannot find compromise in certain areas, that is fine. To say that we both care about public safety, we both want to make a difference but we have a different approach to how we want to achieve it, is fair. However, to stand in the House and say that certain members support criminals, certain members do not support victims, give me a break.
Every single one of us in the House was elected because we care about our communities and our families. Every single one of us in the House comes here every day to try to make a better country, a safer country, with less violence and fewer problems. When we cast aspersions like that, the only thing we do is turn off Canadians and have them tune out. They say that this is not real debate and is nothing but games.
What I am trying to do here, and what we have tried consistently to do over the last number of days, is to point out deep concerns we have with provisions in the bill that eliminate the accelerated parole process for everyone.
Why should we care about that? First of all, this bill does nothing for victims. I mentioned that in my question.
It is worth mentioning that the member for asked a series of good questions to victims. He asked what was more important to them and what did they want to see. Their most emphatic responses were around things like restitution and the ability to get money back from the people who victimized them. These are people who lost their life savings. Their first priority is getting back those savings. Certainly one of the first priorities of the government should be to stand side by side with them and say it is going to do everything it can do to get that money back.
One victim talked about his concerns with the idea that somebody like Earl Jones would just leave the country with his hard-earned money. We should be there for the victim every step of the way.
We heard another victim talk about the tax complications that come with this kind of situation. There are tax difficulties. As a government, and I speak in the collective sense of parliamentarians, we should be seeking ways to give tax breaks and different ways of assisting people who have been in that situation to dig themselves out.
We certainly heard from victims about the importance of enforcement, about putting money into the RCMP. It was only two days ago we heard about deep cuts of some $20 million that had been made to the national police services, which now the RCMP has to fund because there is a shortfall from the federal government. This is for services as essential as the sex offender registry and CPIC. We also know about cuts that have been made to the RCMP task force on white-collar crime.
It strikes me as disingenuous to say that opposition members do not care about victims when we are saying we have to do more to stop there being victims in the first place. We watched more than 70% being slashed from the crime prevention budget. When I talk to not-for-profit groups across the country that do great work in trying to stop crime before it happens and they tell me that they have to focus all their attention and energy on maintaining what little federal funding they have left to stop crime in their communities, that is wrong. When we talk about prevention, it is specifically because we care about victimization. It is specifically because we want safer communities, that we want honest answers for them.
In those examples, by investing in community capacity, by investing in police resources, by passing bills like what we have been pushing for, for well over four years now, to give lawful access abilities to our police to chase after criminals who use electronic media to perpetrate their crimes, by enabling them in those ways, we stop there being victims in the first place.
For anybody who has been victimized, the first thing that goes through his or her mind is how to make sure the pain and hurt and suffering never happens again. How do we stop it? It is not just about punishment.
On the punishment front, I cede to the Conservatives. They want to out-punish us. That is fine. The question is: Where does that lead? If our only objective is punishment, if we do not invest in those things I was talking about around prevention, where all those cuts have been made, we do no service to victims.
The Conservatives hand-picked the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Steve Sullivan. When he came to the conclusion after working with the Conservative government that the Conservative plan for victims will not work and is the wrong direction to go, he was fired. He was let go only because he spoke out.
Why did he say this plan was broken and would not work? It was not just because the Conservatives cut more than 40% from the victims of crime initiative, an initiative that sought to break cycles of victims that feed criminality. We have to remember that many victims become criminals if we do not address the base pain of their victimization. He said that not nearly enough money was being put into prevention and because of the cuts he saw, not nearly enough resources were being put into policing and not nearly enough resources were being put into helping victims once they had been victimized. Those are the kinds of things we have to do.
The Conservative plan to chase after incarceration and only incarceration as the solution, and then to vilify anybody who suggests that we should also look at other ideas, has been tried before. I mention this because it is important before embarking on a new endeavour to ask if somebody has tried this before.
Here in Canada we enjoy very low crime rates. During the years of Liberal power, we saw the crime rate, year over year, go down. At the same time, we enjoyed very low rates of incarceration. In thinking about it, those things are actually symbiotic. If there is a low rate of incarceration and a small number of people in prison, it is because there is less crime and fewer criminals. If there are overflowing prisons, and we are building more and more and it is growing and growing, it is because we have a lot of crime. It is not a good indicator.
In Canada, we had a strong model and, if we are going to break from that, where are we going? This same hyper-partisan approach to crime was tried by Republicans in states like California where they tried to vilify people who talked about prevention and investing in rehabilitation and programs. They called them people who did not care about victims and talked about them in the same kind of hyper-partisan terms that we have seen on the other side. Then they proceeded down a path of building more and more prisons, just churning them out one after the other.
What happens? Let us look at this bill. This bill disproportionately affects women. Some 62% of the people who will be affected by this will be women. These are women who are coming out of vulnerable situations or who are in situations where they are in a bad relationship or bad associations and end up carrying, not necessarily drugs, but goods of some sort, such as stolen goods. They are probably doing it under duress because they are in a bad situation, an impoverished situation.
If those women are a first-time non-violent offenders, this bill would eliminate their opportunity to move into conditional release. What does throwing them in jail longer and potentially keeping them away from their children for longer periods of time? Does that promote public safety?
In the experience of California, it did not. What ended up happening was that when they took first-time non-violent offenders and put them in jail for longer periods of time, there was a degradation in their condition.
Now that the prisons are more full and more replete with first-time non-violent offenders, there is less money to go around, which means that programs and services will be less effective. We already see that happening here in Canada where there is less money for programs and services. The correctional investigator is saying that we have a developing crisis here and there just is not enough money to deal with all of the people coming in to make them better.
Offenders who go into prison for a minor crime, go into an environment that is overcrowded and that does not have the services to address their root condition, remembering that more than 80% of inmates suffer from addiction issues. In the women's population, a quarter suffer from serious mental health issues. We are giving no money to those issues. In fact, we see it starting to slip away more and more. We then release them and, in this case, it is six months or two years later, whatever the case may be.
What happens when they get out? They start committing more serious crimes. In California, this vicious cycle became so bad that the rate of recidivism, that rate of reoffending, was over 70%, which means that for every 10 people who walked out a prison door, 7 would commit a crime.
We heard an interesting statistic last night. The violent reoffending rate for people who have been accessing the program is 0.3%. We are tossing out the window a program that has a violent recidivism rate of 0.3%. The system we are emulating is the California model that sees violent recidivism rates, not only in the double digits, but over 20%. It does not seem to me like that is something we would want to chase.
The problem in this vicious cycle is that it keeps feeding itself, it keeps chugging. The more those services are cut, the more people who go into prisons and the more stretched we become, the less there is available.
In California's example, it eventually had to go to private prisons where the conditions got even worse, where double bunking became triple bunking and where the lack of services became a complete absence of services. I do not think that is a path we want to cross.
When we look at the bill, we should consider the fact that many legal experts, including the Barreau du Québec, say that it is unconstitutional as well, that the retroactive features contained within the bill are unconstitutional and will not stand up to challenge. It is probably the result of hastily crafted legislation that was done behind closed doors, did not involve the parties and rammed through in three days, but those sorts of things are important to look at.
In a broader sense, in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Cameron is undoing this kind of punishment agenda, while in the United States we see an undoing of this kind of agenda. Newt Gingrich, who is considered the father of this whole idea, is saying that it is broken and it does not work. Canadian Conservatives stand alone in the world, conspicuously so, in chasing after this disaster.
I will point to one other quick example before I make a couple of other points. We need to look at Florida versus the state of New York and the two approaches they took. New York decided that this kind of prison agenda was not making sense, so it actually reduced its overall incarceration rate by some 16%. At the same time, Florida continued charging forward with these types of conservative policies for non-violent offenders. The result was that Florida had an increase of 16% in its incarceration.
If we use Conservative logic, Florida should have been a Nirvana. Florida should have suddenly seen massive decreases in its crime. The opposite was true. Not only was Florida now burdened with billions of dollars in new costs, but its crime rate had gone up. Meanwhile, in New York, which saved billions of dollars and decreased incarceration, its crime rate went down. That is the case, the tale, everywhere it has been tried. This is not some debate in abstraction.
This is a debate with hard evidence and, if we care, not just about costs but also about victims, if we care about making a difference and making our communities safe and we are honest about that intention and not seeking to play politics, it takes longer to explain but it makes sense to do the right thing.
It is important to read the comments that came in from the correctional investigator. These are his statistics and the concerns that he expressed. He said, “The abolition of APR will result in non-violent offenders remaining in federal custody for significantly longer periods before being released into the community—this with limited net public safety benefit”.
He goes on to say, “We can also expect that the Parole Board of Canada will have to hold more hearings than before, as APR typically is conducted by a paper review. These associated costs, in addition to significant incarceration costs, are important and need to be calculated”.
“Of course, we have nothing. They refused to give us the figures”.
“Statistics show that overcrowding in prisons leads to higher levels of tension and violence and jeopardizes the safety of staff, inmates and visitors”.
He continues on to say, “With overcrowding, timely and comprehensive access to offender programs, treatment and meaningful employment opportunities are measurably diminished”.
He continues on to say, “Capacity is currently most limited at the most medium security level, where bulk of correctional programming is supposed to take place and this bill will negatively impact it”.
He goes on to talk about the overrepresentation of aboriginal people and how the bill will disproportionately impact them. He continues to say that the office is concerned, as I mentioned before, about women offenders and the fact that this disproportionately targets them. We must remember that for women offenders the cost of incarceration is anywhere from $180,000 to $250,000 a year.
These are not smart solutions. They are backward, failed Republican solutions and we do not need them here. We need to be smart, not dumb, on crime.
Mr. Speaker, I am thinking of the victims of Vincent Lacroix, Earl Jones and Leon Kordzian—a fraudster who wrought havoc in my riding—as I rise today on Bill .
For the past four years, members of this Parliament have talked about this provision. There is no doubt that for four years we have wanted to abolish it.
What initially surprised us—and it was not much of a surprise after all—was that the Conservatives stood in the way of the speedy passage of our bill, which sought to eliminate the one-sixth accelerated parole rule.
Let me provide a little background so that members have a better understanding of the provision we are seeking to abolish.
This mechanism, which allows for the release of inmates after they have served one-sixth of their sentence, is also known as accelerated parole review, and is already contained in sections 119(1), 125, 126 and 126(1) of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
Put simply, a criminal sentenced to two years or more in a federal institution may have early parole after serving one-sixth of his sentence, subject to an accelerated parole review. I want to make this very clear and I am going to come back to it later.
Under the current rules, for a first federal sentence, where an inmate has committed no violent crime involving organized crime or terrorism, no sexual crimes, nor been an accomplice to any such offences, has not been ordered to serve at least half of his sentence for a drug-related crime, and is not likely to commit a violent crime—he can commit another kind of crime, just not a violent crime—the inmate may be released. Those are the criteria in the act as it stands—criteria that we wish to abolish.
Consequently, if an inmate meets all of these criteria, he may, subject to this procedure, be released after serving one-sixth of his sentence. Under this procedure, he may even be released after serving a third of his sentence, which equates to full parole.
The public does take a very dim view of this mechanism, and I understand this perfectly. People wonder why, if a judge has sentenced someone to 13 years, the inmate is released after serving 15 months. We have seen that quite often: we saw it with Vincent Lacroix and we would have seen it with Earl Jones, but that will not be the case, I hope, because this bill will be passed. As my colleague just said, we also might have seen it in the case of certain drug traffickers who delegated the violent jobs to their foot soldiers. It brings the justice system into disrepute and makes it look rather distorted and lax. People are asking questions. I completely understand that the general public thinks it makes no sense.
Let us remember that this bill did not fall from the sky and did not just turn up overnight. I am going to give you a short timeline.
It started in July 2006 with Paul Coffin. I think the Liberals are very familiar with this guy, a player in the sponsorship scandal who was released after serving one-sixth of his 18-month sentence. We are not talking about fraud, we are talking about corruption and the sponsorship scandal. This is a far cry from Vincent Lacroix.
In October 2006, another one, Jean Brault, the founder of Groupaction and a key player in the sponsorship scandal, was released after serving six months of his 30-month sentence.
In June 2007, the Bloc Québécois proposed a justice plan, in which one of the things it called for was the repeal of this provision.
In December 2007, Vincent Lacroix was sentenced on criminal charges for the first time.
In August 2008, Jean Lafleur—that name may ring a bell with some—was released after serving seven months of his 42-month sentence. On September 14, 2009, the Bloc made its first request for unanimous consent of the House for the speedy passage of Bill . As I said, the Conservatives alone opposed it, for purely partisan reasons. On February 15, 2009, Charles Guité was released on parole after serving six months of his 42-month sentence. On October 26, 2009, the Conservatives introduced Bill , to abolish parole after one-sixth of a sentence, but their Prime Minister shut down Parliament, and as we know, the government’s bills died.
On March 4, 2010, we tried again. Once more we sought the consent of the House. The Liberals supported us, as they had the first time, and the NDP supported us too. Only the Conservatives did not want to hear anything about it, for purely political reasons. On June 15, 2010, they introduced Bill , which is now in a committee that still has not heard witnesses. So their bill is far from passing. I would remind the House that it contains not only the repeal of accelerated parole review but all kinds of other things that will need very careful study.
On January 27, 2011, Vincent Lacroix was released after serving one-sixth of his sentence. It was the talk of all the media, a huge scandal, and I certainly agree with that. Suddenly the Conservatives woke up. I was in the House myself and saw the hon. member for , the Bloc leader, head for the Prime Minister to discuss this and try to reach an arrangement. After much discussion, an agreement was reached. On February 10, I asked for the unanimous consent of the House to pass this bill, but the Liberals and the NDP refused, even though they had agreed in March 2010 and September 2009.
As members can appreciate, this bill did not come out of nowhere. It did not emerge out of the clear blue sky. It has taken four long years, and so far as I am concerned, the people of Quebec and Canada have finally glimpsed ultimate victory. Tonight, perhaps, they will be able to cheer that victory. People are fed up, and some of the victims appeared yesterday before the committee to tell us how their daily lives and their families had been affected and how they had suffered psychologically because of these criminals. The abolition of this provision will correct certain aberrations that people most often criticize. What they want is not necessarily tougher sentences but sentences that are actually served.
I want to give a fast overview of our committee meeting last night. It lasted four hours, including two hours of hearings and then the clause by clause study. First, we were told that the passage of this bill would not prevent criminals at very low risk of reoffending from possibly being released. However, there will be an evaluation of various crime-related factors, a real risk-assessment that is not necessarily based on the likelihood of reoffending through the commission of a violent crime. The risk assessment will focus on the actual individual in question. If he is a fraudster, for example, the likelihood that he will reoffend by committing a violent crime is low, but the likelihood of another fraud may be much greater.
We must be careful. We are saying that by eliminating this provision, we will be allowing a more comprehensive risk assessment.
I would like to give some idea of the factors that lead this kind of individual to commit crimes. This is based on the work of psychiatrist Robert Hare who wrote Snakes In Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work. Perhaps some members are familiar with his book. He explains who these white collar criminals are.
It is very simple. There are two types of people who commit fraud. In an interview, Robert Hare once said, “For many ordinary criminals, crime is their job.” Like everyone else who gets up in the morning and goes to work, so do they. “They are professionals who understand the risks, but choose to run the risks in order to take advantage of a windfall in the end.”
Then there are others: the psychopaths. I am not talking about a psychopath with a knife hidden in the forest. That is not who I am talking about. I am not talking about psychopaths who seek out young children to sexually abuse them. I am talking about psychopaths who follow small investors to steal from them. Such people exist. These psychopaths are not the same as ordinary criminals.
Robert Hare also said, “These people are not the kind who calculate the risks and rewards. They believe they are entitled to the money they are stealing and that other human beings are objects with no feelings or rights. Professional criminals can have a conscience and feel loyalty to others, to their families, for instance. A psychopath feels no loyalty to anyone but himself.”
Earl Jones, for instance, defrauded his own daughter. What a perfect example. I could go on forever in order to prove that these people should no longer be assessed based on the risk of violent recidivism, but rather based on the risk of any recidivism. That is what this bill will do, by eliminating accelerated parole review.
Yesterday I was looking at the record of the National Parole Board decision regarding the release of Vincent Lacroix. It is very clear. The commissioner said that the assessment done by the multidisciplinary team convinced the board that this individual would not reoffend by committing a violent crime, which is true. However, what is the real analysis of the risk of a repeat offence? He is a fraudster. He is not a murderer; he is a fraudster. He is not a pedophile; he is a fraudster. What kind of crime would he commit again? A violent crime? The risk of that kind of repeat offence is very low. He will reoffend by doing what he knows best and what he considers a profession. He gets up in the morning, puts on a nice suit and defrauds seniors. Vincent Lacroix is one thing, but who would Mr. Kordzian defraud? He would defraud seniors, women who were single parents and disadvantaged people who did not speak French or English. Those are the people he would go after, and that is unacceptable.
Yesterday in committee, Mr. Zinger, the Executive Director and General Counsel for the Office of the Correctional Investigator, set the record straight, in my opinion. I asked him whether he was saying that full parole would no longer exist if the bill were passed the following morning—as I hope will be the case—and that people would serve two-thirds of their sentence. He replied that no, it was the accelerated parole review process that would be eliminated. That is clear.
Fundamentally, this accelerated process is a review on paper, based on a file, a criterion that is different from risk.
He is saying that all that will happen is that members will no longer conduct an administrative review of the case; they will have to actually evaluate the offender's risk of reoffending. The members will have to look at the person in front of them and decide whether he should be released or not. That is their job. Are the members paper pushers? No. They are there to meet these people and assess the risk along with a multidisciplinary team. It is high time this ended. They are paid well; they need to do their job. Of course, they have to be given the chance to do their job.
If the law forces them to release someone because they think that the offender, the criminal, will not reoffend by committing a violent crime, they can only do what the law gives them the authority to do. They are completely heartbroken at times because they want to keep an offender in detention, but they cannot. I would be very surprised if the person who let Vincent Lacroix out after one-sixth of his sentence really wanted to release him.
When this bill is passed, the National Parole Board will take into consideration the overall risk of reoffending in order to ensure public safety. It is true that we are not talking about serial killers, but they are still killers; they are economic predators. They destroy lives. Yesterday we heard from one of Vincent Lacroix's victims whose friends committed suicide. What is murder? Is it killing someone directly? What about murder at arm's length? Where did this idea of classifying murder come from? If my brother committed suicide tomorrow because someone ruined his life, would I be pleased to hear that that person did not kill him? What a disgrace. Incredible.
This bill brings up many emotions and we need to stay calm. With this bill, the National Parole Board will no longer be forced to release another Vincent Lacroix, and yes, I said “forced”.
I will continue to talk about what happened in committee. Ms. Campbell from the Corrections and Criminal Justice Directorate was telling us that this bill does not abolish the one-third of a sentence or day parole six months prior to one-third of a sentence. The bill serves only to remove the provision on accelerated parole review.
Since I have two minutes remaining, I would like to go directly to one of the points she raised. She said that sentences of three years or less would not really be affected by this provision. Day parole review would still be at about one-sixth of the sentence. The difference is the ability to examine the case and, in a way, assess the overall risk of recidivism.
I did a few quick calculations. I asked Ms. Campbell some questions yesterday. She said that the average sentence for female offenders is approximately three years or less. I asked her for the figures for men for 2004-05 to 2008-09 and she said that just over 50% of male offenders serve sentences of three years or less. Generally speaking, those who are sentenced to three years or less will not be affected by this provision. Offenders who, after assessment, are found to present an unacceptable risk to society will not be released. All those who commit smaller-scale fraud, the offenders I refer to as casual or opportunistic criminals, will not be affected.
There will be a risk assessment and if we can assume the risk, they will be released.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank hon. members for their indulgence in that regard.
I want to start first by talking about victims. Victims of crime in this country experience pain. Victims in this country need support. Victims of crime in this country require justice. Victims in our nation need healing. MPs from every corner of the House understand the need for understanding when it comes to victims of crime and respect for their involvement in the justice system to make sure that their interests are always at the forefront as we consider a proper justice system in this country.
Unfortunately, Bill before us, despite the rhetoric, would do absolutely nothing for victims. It would not compensate, not give one penny, to a victim of crime, including a victim of fraud, for financial devastation. It would not assist a single victim to get his or her life back on track, an individual who has been abused and affected by any of these crimes.
The government and the Bloc Québécois claim the bill was motivated by the Earl Jones and Lacroix cases. Of course, those are white-collar fraud artists who bilked hundreds, perhaps thousands of investors out of their funds. In the case of one of the fraudsters it was $50 million and in the case of the other it was $100 million. This bill would not return one penny of compensation to the victims.
At committee last night we heard from three victims of these two perpetrators of fraud. They told us that they have to work three jobs and are having difficulty with the tax system. Their lives have been thrown into near bankruptcy. They acknowledged that Bill would not help them one bit to deal with those very real problems.
Bill would eliminate accelerated parole for all first-time nonviolent offenders. One of the problems with this bill is that, as the Bloc has proposed it and the government has accepted it, it would not target white-collar criminals. It paints a broad brush on every single first-time nonviolent offender. That is the problem with this legislation.
Last night at committee New Democrats moved amendments that would have changed the law in this country to make sure that white-collar fraudsters, like Earl Jones and Mr. Lacroix, would not qualify for accelerated parole. We would fix and surgically target the problem that has been identified by my colleagues on both sides of the House. Those amendments were voted down. I do not know how serious I can take the government's claims that it is really interested in targeting perpetrators of white-collar crime.
My friend from the Bloc just gave a speech saying that this bill would wipe out not just people who commit fraud but all people who are first-time nonviolent offenders. Bloc members think that is a good thing.
I have two words to raise in the House: Ashley Smith. I heard the member for talk about New Brunswick. She comes from that area of the country where Ashley Smith came from. Ashley Smith, a 15 year old girl, became involved in the justice system by committing the crime of throwing a crab apple at a postal worker. She ended up in the federal prison system. Why? Because once she was in the system she had mental health issues. She started having oppositional problems with guards. She would struggle. They would charge her with assault. Imagine, a 15 year old girl with mental health problems being charged with assault. These things just snowballed down the hill and before she knew it she was in a federal institution. She hanged herself in a federal prison cell at the age of 19.
Is that the kind of person my hon. colleague from thinks should not be let out at one-sixth so she could get the mental health services that she needs? That is the crime? That is the criminal that the Bloc Québécois thinks should not qualify for one-sixth release with supervision in the community?
That is exactly the person who will be caught by this crime and that is why this is a bad bill. It is a bad bill because it paints every single one of the first-time offenders in this country with the same brush. I expect that from the Conservatives. I am shocked to see it from the Bloc Québécois.
Today is a sad day for Canada, because it is a sad day for democracy as the Bloc Québécois and the Conservatives combine to shut down debate. There is no urgency to this bill. The Conservatives themselves admit that they did not introduce this bill for four years. There is no pressing urgency that means that the House cannot take the deliberate, careful considered time that my colleague from so intelligently called for.
If there is good solid evidence, if there is good argument and fact to back up the Conservatives' case, why are they afraid to bring those facts forward and have a fulsome debate to establish that? No, they had to invoke closure on this House.
I was at a meeting last night from 6:30 until 11 o'clock with four hours of debate, as this bill gets returned to the House for report stage and third reading and the vote today because the Conservatives are afraid of debate. They know that these facts will come out.
Here are the facts that we heard at committee last night that I noticed my friend from the Bloc did not tell anybody about. In the last five years, 7,200 first-time offenders were eligible for accelerated parole review and 4,800 were granted day parole. That is approximately 1,000 per year. Some 67% of people who qualified for accelerated parole were granted it. That means that one-third were not. In terms of any notion that Canadians may have that this is automatic and everybody is getting it, that is not true.
After five years the success rate is 84% of the people who were granted accelerated parole over the last five years completed their sentence without committing any offence, not a violent offence, not a non-violent offence. If they did commit any offence, they would immediately have their accelerated parole cancelled and they would be back in a federal penitentiary.
Zero point three per cent of people granted accelerated parole in the last five years resulted in the revocation for a violent offence. There is an 84% success and 0.3% failure. Those are the numbers.
Now, this bill would cancel that completely. Why is this a good program? It is because of the people who committed their first offence, a non-violent offence, who go into prison. We recognize that we can separate the violent offenders from the non-violent offenders and focus our resources on the people who really require the attention. We give them a short, sharp experience with the worst experience in Canada they can have, which is in a federal penitentiary. Then, when we are satisfied they will not commit a violent offence, and that is the test, we move them into another correctional facility.
This is not the case of offenders getting out of prison. We are changing the place where they serve their sentence. Mr. Lacroix and Mrs. Smith will serve their 12-year sentences. Ashley Smith, if she came out, would continue to serve her sentence. The question here is whether we put them in a more appropriate place to serve their sentence instead of being in a crime factory of a penitentiary.
My hon. colleague from who went with me to prisons across this country knows the true state of services in our federal prisons where 80% of our inmates have an addiction and approximately one-third of them have mental illnesses. She knows and the Bloc knows, or they ought to know, that our federal system is not giving timely, effective treatment to those people.
What does keeping those people in from one-sixth of their sentence to two-sixths of their sentence do? Nothing. Actually, it will make things worse. Or, would we rather have that person at one-sixth being transferred to a halfway house in the community where they can get access to addictions treatment and mental health services, be connected with their family, maybe get a job and maybe get reintegrated slowly. Maybe women could get access to sex abuse therapy. We know that almost every single woman in prison has suffered from sex abuse. I do not hear any talk about that.
I want to finish with cost. It costs $140,000 a year to keep a male offender in a federal penitentiary and $185,000 a year for a female offender. In a halfway house, it is $25,000 to $40,000. One thousand people a year get accelerated parole. This bill would put 1,000 people in prison at a cost of at least $100,000 more a year and that is $100 million a year.
I would rather give the victims of Earl Jones and Mr. Lacroix that $100 million. I bet they would be happier if we compensated them for their losses instead of sticking the taxpayer with the recurring annual bill of $100 million that will do nothing to reduce crime and will do nothing for victims.
In conclusion, Marjean Fichtenberg of the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crimes, another person who represents victims, said:
--this law-and-order agenda, where they're building more prisons, is still leaving the victim out because it's still focusing only on the offender.
This bill is bad law and I urge every member to vote against it. It will cost the taxpayers money and it will not do a darn thing for community safety.
Madam Speaker, as I know that you were listening to every word of my speech, you would be well aware that we were indeed addressing the subject at hand, that is, a bill that will make it impossible for a non-violent first-time offender to be released from prison after serving one-sixth of his sentence and serve out the following sixth of his sentence in a halfway house.
It is true that these criminals will not be locked up in prison, but that does not mean that they will be completely free. What does this mean, in practical terms? It means that the member for , the so-called expert criminologist, is presiding over the following situation.
As of Friday of this week, an aboriginal woman who was with a friend when he committed a crime and was handed a three-year prison sentence was automatically entitled to have her file referred for a review to determine whether she could at least begin serving out her sentence in the community, as part of a transition process. This was a first offence and there was no violent crime committed.
For two days, the member for , who rose earlier, and her colleagues have been stressing the fact that this is a retroactive piece of legislation. In democracies, however, new penalties are not applied retroactively, since that approach flies in the face of every principle of a democratic society. And yet that is what the right—and when I say the right, I mean the members of the Bloc and their new allies, the Conservatives—are ensuring will happen.
The member for stated here, in this House, that this is a possibility and that it is only the review process that will change, which is not true. She argues that it is just the accelerated parole review provision that is being scrapped, which is completely false. She has misunderstood the very substance of the bill.
If the Bloc is making the wrong decision—as even the Barreau du Québec argues it is—on the basis of the misguided analysis of the member for , there is still time for it to change course. I believe, however, that the Bloc is afraid of the Conservatives' political weight in the outlying regions of Quebec. That is what concerns the Bloc Québécois. As Bernard Descôteaux so eloquently stated in an editorial that appeared last week in Le Devoir, cheap pre-election “populism” is behind the Bloc’s position on this issue.
Last week, when the Bloc made a deal with the Conservatives behind closed doors, its members had the nerve to tell us that because they had gotten something, like victims of the Stockholm syndrome they had to thank the Conservatives and, despite our role as members of Parliament and our primary duty to study bills, there would be no parliamentary committee and no right to ask any questions because they had made a deal with the Conservatives.
I have some news for the Bloc Québécois. There is a party with principles in this House, the New Democratic Party, and we will stand up to the right wingers in Canada. We will stand up for individual rights and freedoms and will not swallow an abbreviated, false analysis cooked up by pseudo-experts who have managed to convince the Bloc leader that this bill does not do what it obviously does. That is why the Barreau du Québec is opposed to the bill. That is why all the experts in penal law are opposed to it. That is why there is opposition to the bill from everyone who has a democratic conscience and hears the Conservatives pat themselves on the back and say that they want to impose another sentence, that after the judge, after the decision, after the sentence, there will be a new, retroactive penalty. It is antidemocratic, and we, for our part, will say that.
We will not let the newly formed right intimidate or influence us or spout nonsense at us just because it is afraid of the Conservatives’ strength in the regions of Quebec.
It is disgraceful that there has not been any objective, independent study of the number of cases. My colleague from gave the best available figures last night: 1,500 cases a year, of which 900 to 1,000 are granted. The cost could well be $100 million a year.
Earl Jones’s victims would like very much to be compensated by the federal government, rather than seeing another $100 million spent annually because the Bloc is afraid of the Conservatives in the regions—100 million new dollars a year.
On Friday this week, someone who has served the sentence imposed by a judge—the woman in my example—will learn that thanks to the member for , she has not finished serving her sentence, she may not go to a halfway house, she may not be in the community or be closer to her children. She is going to stay in a penitentiary. What we have here is the new right, the new and improved Bloc Québécois. It is not a social democratic Bloc Québécois. The Bloc Québécois is learning all about political opportunism as the election approaches. Shame.
We are speaking up against this trend. To see where some effort could have been put into this, we need to look at the actual court documents in the Earl Jones case. I am going to read an excerpt from a Royal Bank of Canada document:
Mr. Jones returned my call. I offered him our ratelink essential package service because his fees are over $150.00 every month. He is using this account for business purposes as an In Trust account, however, I told him this is not a formal trust account and he could get himself in trouble....
It was years before the case came to light. What did the Royal Bank do? Nothing. What did the inspector of financial institutions, a federal government official, do about the Royal Bank? Nothing. What did the Government of Canada do about the inspector of financial institutions? Nothing. What did Earl Jones’s victims get? Nothing, zero. These are documents from the class action that has been launched in the Earl Jones case.
If the Bloc Québécois is really so concerned about Earl Jones’s victims, it would be fighting for half of that money, which would compensate 100% of Earl Jones’s victims in one stroke, if it were put to that use. Instead, to score a political point, the Bloc members are saying we should spend another $1 million a year with no objective study about the retroactive effect, the number of cases, the ultimate cost and the kind of cases affected by this half-baked and ill-conceived decision that the Bloc and its new allies in the Conservative Party are imposing. It is a shameful day for democracy. It is a shameful day when the Bloc gets into bed with the Conservatives on this.