Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise in sponsorship of this important bill before us today. Bill would fundamentally overhaul the system of pardons in this country in order to ensure that the rights of victims and law-abiding Canadians are properly balanced with those of offenders.
We told Canadians that this is what we would do several weeks ago, and our government is one of action. We deliver on our commitments both expeditiously and thoughtfully. Over the last few weeks, I believe that all of us have been made aware of just how important this legislation is. We have heard from many ordinary Canadians who wonder how a serial sex offender such as Graham James could have his record sealed just five years after finishing his sentence.
We have heard from other Canadians who asked the same question about other offenders who may be eligible to receive a pardon for their offences with almost no regard for what kind of crimes they have committed or the lasting impact on victims.
We have heard from victims themselves who have spoken about the pain and suffering they have endured for many years. Those same victims have urged us to ensure that the changes our government is proposing are quickly passed into law. We have heard from victims who have told us that this bill is on the right track. We have heard from many of them that these changes are needed. We have heard that the changes proposed by Bill are tough, but also that they are fair.
I therefore urge all hon. members to work with us to give Bill the speedy passage it deserves so that we can ensure that the pardon system in this country works the way it should.
For many people today, the word “pardon” somehow implies that previous offences have been completely forgotten, regardless of how much pain and suffering was caused to the victim. A pardon suggests that everything is now okay because the offender has waited three or five years and stayed clear of the justice system for that time. Our government believes that this is not an accurate reflection of how the legal system works.
How the system really works is that in certain cases and under certain conditions, an ex-offender's record is sealed and kept apart from public view so that ex-offenders have an opportunity to get on with their lives as law-abiding citizens who can more easily find work and more fully contribute to society, but the record can again be brought back into view under certain circumstances, so it is suspended rather than permanently deleted. Bill would therefore amend the Criminal Records Act to replace the word “pardon” with the more accurate “record suspension” to reflect this fact.
Today if individuals want to receive a pardon, or record suspension, all they need to do is finish their sentences and stay clear of the law for three or five years. To many people, the process appears to be virtually automatic, and the numbers would support that view. Only 2% of all applications were rejected by the National Parole Board last year and only 1% of the applications were rejected the year before that. Our government and indeed many Canadians believe these numbers indicate that fundamental reforms are required to the way the National Parole Board works.
As the recently noted, our government believes that a pardon is not a right. There are some cases and some occasions where actions should never be pardoned. Bill therefore proposes amendments to the Criminal Records Act to provide the National Parole Board with the tools and discretion it needs so that in certain cases, individuals convicted of serious crimes would not be eligible for a pardon or record suspension. In particular, Bill would amend the Criminal Records Act so that individuals convicted of certain sexual offences against minors would not be eligible for a record suspension unless they could prove to the National Parole Board that the offence did not involve a position of trust, bodily harm or the threat of violence.
Victims and victims' advocacy groups have asked for these changes and our government is delivering them.
Under this new legislation, individuals convicted of four or more indictable offences would not be eligible to apply for a record suspension. In cases where an ex-offender is eligible to apply for a record suspension, the waiting period for some re-offences would be increased from three to five years, and for indictable offences, from five to ten years.
For indictable offences, the changes our government is proposing would allow the board to examine factors such as the nature, gravity and duration of an offence. The board would also take into account the circumstances surrounding the commission of the offence and the applicant's criminal history.
As well, a person convicted of an indictable offence would need to prove to the National Parole Board that receiving a suspension of record will contribute to his or her rehabilitation and will not bring the administration of justice into disrepute.
As I mentioned before, the changes our government is proposing are tough but they are also fair. It is not just our government that is saying this. Sheldon Kennedy, one of the former victims of Graham James, recently noted, with regard to the reforms that the government is proposing, that, “There was a lot of thought put into them—and that the approach—is balanced”.
The Globe and Mail also recently noted:
Reforming Canada's system of pardons to disqualify child sex offenders such as the former junior hockey coach Graham James – or worse, child sex killer Karla Homolka – is sensible. It's also reasonable to scrap the term “pardon” and substitute “record suspension.” Pardon implies a forgiveness that the offender may not have earned.
In the same light, Ron Jette of the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Network, in an interview with CTV, said “that granting a child molester a pardon would be a slap in the face to a victim'” and essentially tell the victim that he or she does not matter.
Our government agrees, as do millions of Canadians who want us to continue to take the necessary steps to secure the safety of all Canadians. That is what the proposed reforms in Bill would do.
I therefore would again strongly urge all hon. members to give this vital bill the speedy passage it deserves.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill , a bill the government introduced to amend the Criminal Records Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
In summary, the bill aims to amend the Criminal Records Act substituting the term “pardon” with the more narrowly defined “record suspension” and would prohibit record suspension in the cases of individuals convicted of sex offences perpetrated on children. The bill would also restrict record suspensions in cases of repeat offenders and extend the waiting periods required between parole and eligibility for record suspension. It would also create regular reporting requirements for the National Parole Board to the .
We will be supporting the bill to go to committee and are supportive of changes to the system that currently exists for granting pardons. However, it bears mentioning that three years ago the then minister of public safety had undertaken a review of this system of granting pardons and had said that everything had been fixed. Therefore, this is not the first time the government has looked at this issue. Three years ago, the then minister conducted no hearings and did not consult the public safety committee but made some minor changes and said that the problem was solved and that we did not need to worry about it anymore. In fact, what was done at that point in time was to add a second person to the review panel and say that both people had to be in unanimous agreement that someone would be given a pardon before it was allowed.
That was the end of it until, of course, a major sensational story hit the media, a very unfortunate story involving Mr. James receiving a pardon, and suddenly the government had a renewed interest in the topic. What we see again and again is that the government waits for a sensational story, something that is very emotional that it can use politically, and then writes legislation on the back of a napkin to capitalize on. Usually this is done particularly when Conservatives are under siege for some other political issue. In this issue, under scrutiny and attack for their complete mismanagement of the G8 and G20 meetings that are being held in Huntsville and Toronto. It rings a little hollow when they come out and demand urgent action and feign outrage when they have been in government for more than four years and themselves reviewed this issue three years ago.
A couple of areas in the bill do cause concern. When we are dealing with sex offenders, I fully support those changes. They are important and we recognize that, but there are a couple of areas on which we want clarification. One area is the indictable offences. The length of time for someone to receive a pardon would increase from three to five years to five to ten years. Some indictable offences can be for something that is serious but also something relatively minor. For example, if someone were charged with marijuana possession, that could be an indictable offence. If someone were involved in cheque fraud, clearly not something we would want to see anybody engage in, but that also could be an indictable offence. Someone who was in a desperate financial situation and made a really dumb choice to engage in cheque fraud could be in a situation where she or he would not get a pardon for 10 years.
This is a major difference, because someone who is 18 years old and has to wait three years for a pardon and are then able to continue their life at 21, is materially different than someone who has to wait 10 years for a pardon and would be then 28 years of age before he or she could begin his or her life.
It bears mentioning that we have pardons for a reason. While we would all agree that there are certain people who should never get pardons, trying to hold that out as if everybody is dishonest is, frankly, a perversion of fact. When the stands and says that this is about stopping Karla Homolka from getting a pardon, of course no one wants to see her get a pardon. What a bunch of absurdity to even raise that, to put the victims' families through that. The reality is that most people who are getting pardons are people who have made mistakes but clearly deserve another chance and be given an opportunity to redeem themselves and positively contribute to society.
If somebody, for example, were charged with marijuana possession when they were 18 years old, would we want to see that person never able to be employed? Would we want to see that person live in poverty with no hope for the rest of his or her life and no opportunity to clear his or her name?
I would hope most members of the House would say no, that it is not a fair thing to do and that it is not just. Of course we want to ensure that those who have committed serious crimes do not have the opportunity to get pardons but that is something that should have been done four years ago, and particularly three years ago when there was another sensational case that the then public safety minister was talking about.
What deeply concerns me is that my comments today, my legitimate concern around a bill and asking questions, will almost certainly be twisted and contorted for partisan gain. I am just saying that we need to look at this in committee, that we need to ensure the right people will have the right outcomes here and that people who do not deserve it will not be caught in a mistake, particularly when the legislation is written in such haste.
Instead, when we ask questions, that is contorted as somehow being for criminals. I will give an example. Recently I was speaking to the issue of taxpayers paying benefits for prisoners in jail. The case of Clifford Olson, of course, is invoked because the government seeks to get the maximum amount of emotion and to get people as disturbed and angry as it possibly can as it plays politics with people's emotions toward crime.
I will go over what the Conservative member for said:
Yesterday, the Liberal MP for Ajax—Pickering shamefully defended prisoners getting taxpayer funded old age security benefits.
Some hon. members: Shame.
Mr. Mark Holland: Before members shame it, maybe they should hear the facts. If they actually waited for facts instead of yelling the word shame, I think this would work better.
Another member, the member for , went on to basically repeat the same thing and then the minister stood up and made the same proclamation.
Here is the problem. Here is what I said, “Mr. Speaker, you clearly do not want a situation where someone who is in jail and committed a minor offence is suddenly losing their pension”.
I said that my concern was not with Clifford Olson and not with somebody who committed a serious crime, I clearly stated, in very plain language for anybody who bothered to read it, that my concern was that somebody who committed a minor offence would be caught up in losing his or her benefits. I simply wanted to ask that question at committee.
Has this House degenerated to the point where just asking a question about a bill and having a concern that somebody who does not deserve to be caught in something that it is not fair is then translated into somehow standing up for prisoners? That is the degeneration of the debate in this place and it is shameful. There has been no apology and no attempt to correct the record even though it has been made very clear in the media, mocked, that this would be done.
Even now, without even hearing me speak or hearing the facts, members on the other side yell the word “shame”. It is a shame. It is a terrible shame that a government would distort facts and information to try to use crime as a political weapon.
The reality is, without any question, that crime is an issue that deserves bipartisanship. It needs to be based on evidence. We need to take a step back and ask how we can make our communities safer. I am a father of three children. I would say that every member in this place who has a child and cares for their safety, cares for—
An hon. member: Are they all yours?
Madam Speaker, it is disappointing that when I reference the fact that I have three children, there is an attack that is levelled on me even about that.
What I was trying to say, if they would bother to listen instead of shouting things at me, is that every member in this House cares about their family, cares about their community, and came to this place because they want to make their country and their community a better place. When members cast aspersions on other members, on their motivations, to say that somehow I care less about my children or somehow I care less about my community than they do theirs, that is when the word “shame” is appropriate.
When we are having discussions about how to proceed with keeping our community safe, why do we not do it honestly? Why do we not do it with integrity? Why do we not do it by a method in which people who elect us expect us to operate?
I think that this bill, again, deserves to be supported, deserves to go forward, deserves to be looked at committee, but it also deserves to be questioned. People who have legitimate and fair questions about that should be assured that a young person who is 18 years old is not going to be in a situation where his or her life will be destroyed unnecessarily. They must be able to have a voice to that issue.
Playing games with crime has to end. We have to move to an evidence-based system.
When we had the former victims' ombudsman, now let go for reasons we do not know, saying the current government's plan for victims was unbalanced and would not work, when we had the correctional investigator sounding the alert, saying that our prison systems were getting ready to burst or were overloaded, when we had a saying that a bill was going to cost $90 million and then under threat of a PBO report, a Parliamentary Budget Officer report, saying, “Now that the truth is going to come out, it's $2 billion, not $90 million”, I think the government has a problem with numbers.
It has a problem adding up costs, not just with this but with the G8 and G20 and the budget. It said we were not in deficit when we were in fact heading into Canada's largest deficit we have had in our history, a deficit before the economic downturn even began. The government is more interested in hyperbole, in trying to twist and contort things to play games, and to play politics than it is interested in public policy.
What concerns me about a bill like this is that I know that what started this bill was talking points. What started this bill was how the government could win with it politically, not how to create good public policy.
Instead of asking that question, instead of starting as a starting point, let us develop good legislation, let us do what is right for Canadians, let us base it on evidence, and let us base it on making our communities safer. Yet, the government based it on politics. It based it on writing something on the back of a napkin, creating talking points, and then worrying whatever the legislation will be later.
There are lives in the balance and Canadians expect much more of us.
I am going to finish on this note. When we have a situation as fortunate as Canada's is where, while we still do face crime, we have one of the lowest crime rates anywhere in the industrialized world, where we have seen crime decline year over year, what we would expect is a government that would be investing in seeing that trend continue, taking a look at jurisdictions that have succeeded. We would see a government that would be investing in things like crime prevention, in victims, in front-line support, in mental health, in drug addiction, and things that really bring crime down, as evidence has shown.
Instead, on the same thing, because it thinks it will win more votes, this is a government that is dumping billions into prisons.
There was a delegation that came from the United Kingdom to study how Canada could have such a low crime rate and such a low rate of incarceration. When the delegates got to Canada and saw this government's direction, that it was racing after a Republican failed model that had been a disaster and crushed in states like California, that was done in the U.K. to disastrous effect, they said, “Please don't do this. Don't walk this road. Because if you do, it'll be incredibly hard to undo. It'll cost you billions of dollars. It'll make your communities less safe. It'll turn young people from minor criminals into serious ones, throwing them into jails that are overcrowded without programs to make them better, criminalizing them, and continuing a cycle of violence that often was happening well before they arrived in that jail cell”.
Victims are not some people who appear out of the ether. Victims are often people who have been living in cycles of victimization. They are often offenders themselves, people who turn to substance abuse to get out of their horrific situations, people who end up developing mental disorders because of their terrible situations.
There are not bad people and good people, and black and white. There is the truth, and the truth is that if we follow evidence, if we care, if we invest in things such as crime prevention, early intervention, and trying to turn young people away from dark paths, that works.
Dumping money on a political agenda designed to win votes, chasing after a system that did not work, that was broken, where every jurisdiction that adopted it is saying it was a disaster and crushing it, is the wrong way to go. All I am asking is that the government listen to reason and evidence.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this bill to amend the Criminal Records Act by substituting the term “record suspension” for the term “pardon” and extending the ineligibility period for applications for a record suspension. It also makes certain offences ineligible for a record suspension and enables the National Parole Board to consider additional factors when deciding whether to order a record suspension
The Bloc Québécois is in favour of a review of the Criminal Records Act in committee. We would have preferred this to be done more rationally and intelligently through a review in committee rather than through a cobbled together bill full of poison pills. In any event, we are accustomed to the Conservatives' attitude and their way of doing things.
The Conservatives' usual modus operandi for this type of thing is to wait for a heinous event to be reported in the media. They latch on to the story, act outraged and then draft a bill that proposes repression, punishment, double punishment and non-pardons. To top it all off, they put on a big show to give the impression that they are taking care of public safety and victims.
For this bill, the government used the same modus operandi: a media event concerning the 2007 pardon of hockey coach Graham James. Then Bill is announced with great fanfare to supposedly get tough on crime when it comes to pardoning pedophiles. The bill apparently targets pedophiles.
In fact, the bill is full of poison pills that will affect not only pedophiles—it does indeed do that—but everyone from purse snatchers to marijuana smokers to ordinary thieves.
I am not the only one who says so. In an article in Le Devoir, Ms. Cornellier said:
Once again, the government is taking advantage of an incident, a controversy, to push changes that will have drastic consequences. Making certain criminals who have served their time ineligible for pardon can compromise rehabilitation efforts and, as a result, the long-term safety of society. Whether the minister likes it or not, the possibility of a pardon, in the most serious cases, is an incentive to make an effort towards social reintegration. In more minor cases, for example with old marijuana possession convictions, it can help clear up some troubles.
Now there is someone who understands what the government is doing.
Is the Bloc Québécois in favour of examining the Criminal Records Act to review automatic pardons for pedophiles? Yes. Do we think that pedophiles should be subject to more careful and in-depth analysis by the National Parole Board? Yes, obviously. But does this bill deal with only pedophiles? No.
With this bill, the Conservatives are once again using a media event—the Graham James case—to present a complete overhaul of the pardon system, which works fine as it is. In fact, 97% of those who have received pardons have not reoffended. That means that 3% have. Do we need to be more vigilant with them? Yes, but does that mean that we need a complete overhaul of the pardon system? I do not think so.
It is a matter of looking into what kinds of crimes those who fall into that 3% have committed. We would have to ask ourselves how we can improve legislation to specifically address that 3%. That would be an intelligent analysis. Is that what the bill does? In my opinion, no.
Let us look at the current system. First, a pardon does not erase the fact that a person was convicted.
A pardon just means that a person's record is suspended. The record is removed from the Canadian Police Information Centre. Information on other convictions is also removed. If a police officer searches for the person's name in the information centre after the pardon is granted, he will not find it. But if the person commits another crime, the record becomes public again. It is therefore suspended as long as the person obeys the law.
Currently, if an offender who has been pardoned for a sexual offence applies for a job that involves contact with children or vulnerable persons, a police force or any other authorized organization can, with the applicant's permission, check whether he was ever pardoned. If the applicant was convicted of child-related offences, it is up to the employer to decide whether or not to hire him.
Moreover, a person convicted on indictment must currently wait five years to apply for a pardon. That is five years from the time the sentence has been completely served, meaning that the offender's fines have been paid, he has completed his probation period and he has finished paying his debt. Beginning at that point, he must wait five years from the time he was convicted on indictment before applying. It can take from 6 to 18 months to get an answer, and sometimes even longer, depending on how complex the case is. A person convicted of a summary conviction offence must wait three years to apply.
With this new bill, the length of time people will have to wait before applying will increase from five to 10 years and from three to five years. I want to raise another point before I talk about the 10-year ineligibility period. The effect of a record suspension is limited to Canada. Certainly, if the American authorities have the record in their system, a person may be refused entry into the U.S. at the border. Records generally remain in the American system even if the person has been pardoned.
Only the is authorized to provide information about a pardoned individual's file. He may provide such information only under exceptional circumstances and only if he believes that providing the information is relevant to the administration of justice or public safety in Canada or if it is related to another state.
What does the act cover now? Let us consider the first point on which I believe everyone in the House will agree, which is that any person convicted of “an offence involving sexual activity relating to a minor...unless the applicant can demonstrate s/he was “close in age” and that the offence did not involve a position of trust/authority, bodily harm or threat of violence/intimidation” would be ineligible for a record suspension.
Who could disagree with that? The committee will have to consider whether that can be improved upon.
We have some questions about the 10-year and 5-year provisions. This bill would increase the waiting time from 5 years to 10 years for convictions on indictment and from 3 years to 5 years for summary convictions. What does that really mean? I decided to have a little fun checking out the Criminal Code. Here is what I found in section 437, which is about false alarms:
Every one who wilfully, without reasonable cause, by outcry, ringing bells, using a fire alarm, telephone or telegraph, or in any other manner, makes or circulates or causes to be made or circulated an alarm of fire is guilty of
(a) an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or
(b) an offence punishable on summary conviction.
The Criminal Code is full of minor offences that deal with all kinds of things, such as removing a natural bar without permission. But a person convicted of an indictable offence must wait 10 years after paying the fine to request a pardon. How will that affect the person's ability to find a job? We have to understand that a criminal record can close many doors when it comes to employment.
When I read this bill, an image came to mind. When I was studying criminology, I remember that we were told that a long time ago criminal records did not exist. Criminals were identified by branding with a hot iron. Branding worked for livestock. It meant that criminals would be marked for life and, in addition, it was extremely humiliating. Branding was a kind of permanent criminal record. It could not be erased and criminals would experience rejection and humiliation for the rest of their lives. They would live like pariahs. The branding was often chosen based on the crime: “T” for thieves, or “C” for counterfeiters. According to the French Penal Code from 1810, criminals were branded on the right shoulder: “T” for hard labour, travaux forcés, or “TP” for hard labour for life, travaux à perpétuité. I was very surprised to see that in Canadian military prisons “D” was used for deserters. We have make sure that we do not regress to those times.
We are concerned about the idea that people who have been convicted of more than three offences resulting in prison sentences of more than a year would be ineligible for record suspension. Take a typical case of an 18 year old who committed three robberies. That person would not be able to redeem himself even if, after two or three years, he no longer wanted to be a delinquent and decided that he wanted to go back to school and rebuild his life, and really wanted to turn things around. This young man, at the age of 25, married with children, wanting to start a career and be a good person, would not be able make a criminal record request because he had committed three offences, so it would not be allowed. He would live in constant shame, all because he made the wrong choices in his youth. And despite having turned his life around, he would be branded for life. It is the same symbolism.
The Conservative government is a little like the Javert character in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. Javert is the police officer who has always believed that once a man becomes a criminal, he is always a criminal and there is no such thing as pardon or rehabilitation. He regarded the law as divine law. He thought that Jean Valjean would remain a criminal his entire life, but Jean Valjean demonstrated that, on the contrary, he was capable of pity, clemency and rehabilitation. Poor Javert was completely devastated, jumped off the Pont Notre-Dame and drowned in the Seine.
We are wondering what the connection is between doubling the time required to obtain a pardon in all cases and James Graham, who was charged with pedophilia. There is no connection. The only point that links this case, which got a lot of media attention, is that there were a few changes to the terminology. Apart from that, nothing else really made sense, because the system already works just fine. I repeat: 97% of people who received pardons have never reoffended.
Applying this measure across the board does not make sense. Society has implemented this means of suspending criminal records precisely in order to allow men and women the opportunity to find decent jobs, support their families, pay their taxes and get away from their criminal past. I believe this last point is the only one that guarantees a safer society, and not the Conservatives' obsession with ever-lasting punishment.
What do the Conservatives think today? Do they believe that by making life more difficult for reformed individuals, people who have not reoffended, we will be better protected? If those people are starving, if they and their family members do not have good jobs, do not earn much money or have any income security, do they think we will be collectively richer and safer? I do not think so. Do they believe that life has meaning only if people pay for their mistakes for the rest of their lives? I do not think so. Should we be happy or pleased about the suffering and difficulties facing those who have fallen and made mistakes, when three to five years after they have served their entire sentence and have never reoffended, they try to redeem themselves? Is that what Christian generosity is all about?
This bill sends a clear signal that what the Conservatives want is to get rid of the word “rehabilitation” in every case. Unfortunately, that is what they are all about.
There are cases that call for extra caution, for extra careful thought and analysis before a decision is made to grant a pardon or not. Every case is different. I think the people at the National Parole Board are smart. They are experienced people whose job it is to look at every case. We can give them additional tools, and we have to have confidence in a system with a 97% success rate. The success rate is not 3%, but 97%.
Sexual offences, especially those involving minors, need to be looked at carefully, and the act needs to be reviewed as it pertains to such offences. We agree. But please, let us avoid the Conservatives' tendency to exaggerate and put all offenders in the same boat. They would have us lock everyone up and throw away the key.
The Bloc Québécois feels that a thoughtful, rational, non-partisan study of the Criminal Records Act could be good for victims, for our society and for the rehabilitation of offenders and I would even say former offenders.
With this criterion in mind, we will support sending this bill to committee. Clearly, public safety must be the top priority in deciding whether or not to grant a record suspension, and it can be ensured by rehabilitating offenders and pardoning people who have been rehabilitated. We will not build more just societies by branding people for life and making them wear scarlet letters.
I still have a minute left, but I have nothing more to say. Everything has been said.
Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill from two perspectives.
First, do we need to study the pardon bill, or the record bill, or whatever lovely name we want to give it? It really does not matter what one calls it. We need to look at how to go about granting pardons to folks who have committed different categories of offences. It seems appropriate that we should be doing that. However, it seems to me that we could have done that three years ago, because what has been said previously in this House is true. There were opportunities. There was a quick look at it, and the minister decided that it was good enough and simply said that things were fine.
We saw the most recent example of this in the press, which reported that Mr. James was granted a pardon a couple of years ago. It twigged the government's interest in looking at the pardon bill.
My community in the Niagara Peninsula went through an absolutely horrendous evil with Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. I do not know how else to explain it to hon. members. We lived through a series of things that no one should have to live through. Clearly, for us, the granting of a pardon to Karla Homolka is unconscionable. Unfortunately, the bill before us cannot be passed in time to prevent Ms. Homolka from applying for a pardon.
New Democrats offered the government a way out by suggesting that we split this bill with a motion that would allow us to deal now with people like Karla Homolka. We would look for unanimity in the House, which I believe the government could get, to fast-track it so that Ms. Homolka would not be granted a pardon. The motion stated:
That, in the opinion of the House, urgent changes to the Criminal Records Act are required to prevent pardons from being granted that would shock the conscience of Canadians or bring the administration of justice into disrepute, and therefore the government should immediately introduce legislation with the specific purpose to empower the National Parole Board to deny pardons in cases where granting a pardon would shock the conscience of Canadians or bring the administration of justice into disrepute....
It was an opportunity to do this, and hopefully, there still will be an opportunity to do this.
I met with the granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. French on Friday. She wrote me a letter asking what I could do to help with this issue. She was very compelling. She did not have to be. I raised my family in that community. I know what it was like to live through that period of time and the fear it generated. We lived through what was for all of us a period of anxiety that none of us had ever experienced before, which none of us ever want to experience again, especially those of us who had young girls, who were the specific targets.
I invited her to speak with me about the issue she was representing. She had generated within a very short period of time 1,700 names, which she sent to the . She was imploring him to take out this piece and work on this one aspect. As I explained how we could do that, she was extremely gratified. She said that this is what she would like to see happen. As I explained to her, the other parts of the pardon act do not pertain to the types of heinous crimes that were committed by Ms. Homolka and her spouse, Paul Bernardo.
I talked to her about a young man who had sent me an email. This young man was a 19-year-old who was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. He said that he had done it, he was guilty, he was caught, and he served what he had to under the Criminal Code. He pleaded guilty to his act. He said that he had never done it again, that he will never do it again in his life, and that he had accepted the punishment. He also asked that we please not add a couple of more years to the punishment, because he did not deserve it.
When I related that story to Ms. Doyle, she said that he was right; he did not.
I thought that was absolutely compelling testimony from the granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. French and the niece of Kristen French. She got that. She said that I was right that he should not have to suffer any more. He had suffered enough.
However, she also relayed the message that she and her family should not have to suffer again. Every time the name is raised and the event is talked about, they suffer again what happened to them in an all too real way that most of us cannot imagine. For them, it is never over, as she said to me. She was quite cogent about the fact that it is never over for them. One day leads to the next, but they are always reminded in one form or another.
If Ms. Homolka were to receive a pardon, for the French family, and indeed, for the members of my community in the Niagara Peninsula, it would be as if she had been forgiven. To be truthful, the French family does not want her to be forgiven. I know that my community in the Niagara Peninsula does not want to forgive her either.
I implore the government to reconsider and find a way, with the help of this side of the House, of course, because that hand is open to you and is extended to you, to ensure that this indeed does not happen. Let us not have that family relive those days. Let them rest assured that the acts perpetrated by that couple will forever be admonished and will never be pardoned in the sense that it is okay and it is now over. For them, as I said, it can never be over.
All of us understand it in a mental way, in the sense that we can intellectualize it, but to understand it as they do, in our hearts and in our guts, is next to impossible for us, including those of us who lived in the region and understood this absolute horror on a first-hand basis.
I would ask the House, especially the government, to hear what Ms. Talin French-Doyle said in her letter, which states:
Victims of crimes are direct and indirect as in family, friends and even the general public in the case of particularly fear inducing or morally reprehensible acts. Please be aware that each time an offender name is mentioned or the ongoing events of their life are documented, the victims, both direct and indirect are brought back to the events of the offence. In this regard, the past is never gone for victims and the world will never be the same again.
She went on to say:
Forgiveness is the right of a victim, not a requirement of the State.
Ms. Doyle is asking the government and all of us in this place to help the French family not have to endure what they have endured for so many years by allowing a pardon. Time is of the essence, because as we know, indeed, the application process could start as early as next month. There is no guarantee that it will happen, but no one in the House can guarantee the Frenches that it will not. They are asking the House to ensure that it cannot happen in Ms. Homolka's case. We have that ability.
It would be a shame, in a magnitude of disproportionate terms, not to ensure that we stop it, especially when we have the ability to do so. We owe it to the French family to say that we will ensure that this request it is making of its government is carried forward. It is not asking a lot. It is simply asking that the government do what it wants to do with its own legislation, but to do it now.
I believe if the government were to ask for that one section, we may find that we could get it done. That would send a message to the French family that we have not forgotten it, that we understand the type of terror it went through, we understand the pain it has suffered and still continues to suffer and we understand if this is one small thing we can do, we will do for the family.
I implore the government to consider Mr. and Mrs. French when it thinks about what it can do in the immediate term. For those who perhaps are less familiar with the case, albeit for me to recite the horrors of it because they are horrors, they may want to go back and do a little research to understand that case and what was perpetrated on those young women, the horror the family faced and what it felt like to live in a community that was wretched by fear.
I will not take the time to go through the details because they are absolutely heinous and extremely gory. I would never want to subject anyone, through a debate, to have to listen to those sorts of details. However, people should make themselves aware of it so they can understand what that family lives with every day of its life.
Let me speak to the other side of the bill, which really needs to go to committee to be studied. Like the young man I referenced earlier who had a drunk driving conviction, we need to look at those clauses of the bill. We need to ask ourselves if it is appropriate for the timeline we now have or should it be extended perhaps for him and for others. We need to study it and we need to have expert witnesses who know the criminal justice system and what works and what does not.
Clearly we have examples around the world on things that do work. People do deserve to get pardoned, provided they meet the requirements set out in law, people who are participating in the broader community, who have not committed other offences, who are deemed to be of good character and who are moving on with their lives. As my hon. colleague said earlier, they do not deserve to have a brand put on them for the rest of their lives. They deserve the opportunity to move forward with their lives and we want to see that happen.
However, we need to talk to folks who understand the system and not make law on the fly because of something we see in the newspaper or because we missed one in the case of Mr. James and then rush to try to ensure it works.
One of the provisions in the bill is the three strikes and out. The three strikes and out law in the U.S. does not work. Why do we want to incorporate things that do not work into legislation? We want to make good, appropriate legislation to ensure that it does work for society.
It is about all of us, not just those who ask for a pardon. It is about the broader community. We want everyone to participate in the system so when we say people are pardoned, it is because society says they are and believes in that pardon. Those people can then go forward with their lives knowing full well that whatever punishment they have served, society has said to them to move forward with their lives.
In one of the three strikes and out clauses in the bill, one could be charged with three offences during one crime. If that is the case and one happens to be a younger person, or a not so young person, who commits a crime and is charged with three serious offences, that person would never be pardoned. There could have been all kinds of underlying reasons as to why the person committed that offence at that moment in time. It could have been an impaired mental state, a deep depression, anxiety, some sort of mental breakdown or any number of things that happened at that point in the person's life. This could happen to all of us.
Mental health experts say a great many of us can suffer mental breakdown. Most of us do not want to have that happen to us and when we see it in the broader community, or our families, it is heart-rending. However, to punish people for the rest of their lives based on what happened to them in a moment of time that would never happen again is not appropriate.
It is more appropriate that we take the system, ensure we understand the rules, ensure we review it and allow ourselves to be educated around what works and what does not. We should talk to the John Howard Society and Elizabeth Fry Society. The Salvation Army in my community works with folks in halfway houses to help them integrate into the broader community. There are all manners of occupations and groups around the country that work with folks as they come out of incarceration. They can help us understand what it takes to help them on their way and what we should look for when we pardon them.
Except for those I referenced earlier who should never be pardoned, the Karla Homolkas of this world, we want others to be pardoned. I think all of society wants that. If they fit the criteria, if they have successfully done all of the things society has asked them to do, then it is fair and appropriate of society say that they have met all the requirements put before them and if they request it, they will granted the pardon.
If the government is serious about the pardon system, then it has an obligation to Canadians to ensure it gets it right. It seems we have not done so to date. The very reason the Conservatives have rushed this forward is their acceptance of not getting it right three years ago when they took a quick look at it and put it back on the shelf thinking all is well and now recognize that all is not well.
In my community we recognize that all is not well in the system when we look at a person who should never get a pardon but is about to get one if we do not act. If the government is not going to act on this issue, then clearly the government is going to take responsibility for another individual who should never receive a pardon. It will have to answer why that happened. It will be the government's responsibility, when it had the opportunity to ensure it did not happen, to answer the question as to why it happened.
The act has become bigger than many folks probably thought it would be. I am sure many folks thought it was only about a pardon system and what could be so difficult about that. It is difficult because we are dealing with the future of other human beings and we are dealing with society determining whether it wants to give to other individuals in the broader community the right to move forward with their lives. It is up to us to say that we understand that they have decided to move forward and put their past behind them, that we accept the fact they want to move forward and therefore we grant them that pardon. Without this, in many cases, they will be unable to move forward and it will hang over them for a long time.
The other side of the coin must be that there are those we can never pardon and time is of the essence. I look to the government to say that it will not allow Ms. Homolka to get a pardon and that it will ensure that. Then I can convey that message to the Frenches, that they can rest assured it will never be seen in their lifetime.
Madam Speaker, I am proud to voice my support for the bill the hon. has placed before the House.
As hon. members are aware, just a few weeks ago Canadians were shocked to learn that someone who had been convicted of sex offences against children had been granted a pardon.
The pardon granted to Mr. Graham James revealed what millions of Canadians and this government judged to be a number of unacceptable flaws in the Criminal Records Act. An editorial published by the Victoria Times Colonist shortly after the news of that pardon became public stated very clearly what many Canadians were feeling.
While it means well, the legislation flunks the most basic of tests. It fails to make morally relevant distinctions. It impedes vital police work. It imposes the most lax of standards on officials. And it offends our sense of propriety.
Perhaps needless to say, those are very serious failings, unacceptable in a country that prides itself on fairness and balance of its justice system. The bill before us today, Bill will bring the proper balance to the Criminal Records Act.
Bill will put public safety where it belongs, at the forefront of all decisions. Under Bill , the word “pardon” would be replaced by “record suspension”. The bill would have the power to deny a record suspension if, for example, investigative evidence showed that granting one would bring the administration of justice into disrepute. This bill would allow the board to consider a wide range of factors in making its decisions.
I am sure hon. members will agree that this is the way the system should work. Our justice system is based on fairness and balance. The National Parole Board cannot make decisions that are fair and balanced if it does not have the tools it needs.
To ensure offenders have every opportunity to demonstrate that they can benefit from a second chance, Bill will extend the waiting period before an offender can apply for a record suspension. For summary offences, the period would be lengthened to five years from three years, and for those convicted of an indictable offence, from five years to ten years. In other words, record suspensions would be granted only to those who have fully demonstrated that they have earned a second chance. This is as it should be and Bill would make it so.
Bill would also ensure that the Criminal Records Act recognizes what Canadians recognize, that some offenders simply should not have their records suspended. There are cases where the insult to our sense of propriety or the risk to public safety is simply too great to justify a record suspension.
A person convicted of more than three indictable offences has demonstrated a pattern of behaviour that invites the question, can a potential risk to the public safety posed by a suspension of that person's criminal record be justified? In the opinion of many Canadians and of this government, the answer is no.
The pardon system was created to recognize the right of an offender to have a second chance, to start over with what amounts to a clean slate, but the right to a second chance must be balanced against the need to protect public safety, which must be the primary consideration at all times.
Bill will provide that assurance by making anyone convicted of more than three indictable offences ineligible for a record suspension.
As for offending our sense of propriety, in the words of an editorial in a recent edition of the Ottawa Citizen:
Sex offenders who prey on children are a special class of criminal. It's one thing to let them out of jail when they've served their time, but it's wrong to pretend all is forgotten. Certainly, the children who are victimized will never be allowed to forget.
That is why Bill would make anyone convicted of a sexual offence against a child ineligible for a record suspension.
We have seen and heard the response from the victims of Mr. James and other sex offenders who have been granted pardons under the act. They feel, quite rightly, that insult has been added to injury.
Legislation should not do further harm to those who have been harmed already. As underscored earlier, by replacing the term “pardon” with “record suspension”, Bill will help to show our respect for the victims of crime and the physical and emotional injuries they may have suffered. This is the very least we can offer to the victims of crime and I urge all members to support the quick passage of this bill.
I have listened to the previous speakers. We have learned from them and we have heard them say that they support parts of this bill, that it should go before the committee for further study. We have just heard that we need to sever parts of the bill to accommodate other members' feelings with regard to parts of the bill that are good and parts of the bill that need study. We also heard from other members who said that they have already tried to solve the problem and they did not quite do it, so now the government has come back with additional regulation.
It is important for Canadians to understand that criminal law and laws are like society. They change and they grow. They need change and they need refinement, and like most of us in real life, we react to things that happen around us. The government has a legislative agenda when it comes to public safety in our country and this is one of those pieces of legislation that addresses the need for Canadians to understand that the criminal justice system must work for them.
I believe that this piece of legislation does just that. It balances the need for people to have their records suspended so they can get on with their lives, but also the need of society to feel that public safety, that their safety and the safety of their children and their loved ones, is being taken into account by this House. I believe this piece of legislation goes a long way toward achieving just that.
I welcome the co-operation of all members, especially the members of the public safety committee and the members of the justice committee who will be looking at the legislation that has come before this House, so that they can look at it with a view to how their constituents really feel as opposed to: “How do I feel?" or “How does my party feel?”
In the coffee shops around this country, when we talk about the situation with Mr. James and the situation, as has been mentioned, with Karla Homolka, this is the kind of legislation that they not only ask for, but quite frankly they demand.
I look forward to the co-operation of other members to ensure that this legislation sees speedy passage.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to say a few words on Bill .
I want to start with an anecdote and history in . My uncle was a member of this House. He also was a provincial court judge for over 35 years. He had the nickname of “Hanging Henry”. One might think he was hard on law and order stuff, but over the years I have come to know many people who appeared in front of him as young offenders, as first-time offenders. They told me or members of my family that Judge Henry gave them a chance. He was stern and scared the living daylights out of them, but he gave them an opportunity to change their lives around because they faced the wall of justice and an uncertain future because of that. Because of the harshness and the severity of that wall of justice, many of those people are very important and contributing members of society.
That is the preamble to what we should be thinking about in terms of the pardon process. Less than a month ago, the introduced this bill. It is another of the Conservatives' criminal justice pieces that was proposed with much fanfare, but it has been relatively unexamined. Of course, the purpose of the House of Commons is to look at bills in their first blush, send them to committees where they will be studied with the aid of testimony from witnesses, not just experts, but ordinary people who come forward like many of the people who appeared in front of my uncle over 35 years to say that they were given a chance and thank goodness, because now they are fathers or mothers and contribute to society, have jobs and so on.
The full effects of the bill will be clearly looked at in committee, but in short, the eliminating pardons for serious crimes act would amend the Criminal Records Act to substitute the word “pardon” with the more defined “record suspension”. As Canadians have been made aware, in cases of individuals convicted of sexual offences perpetrated on children, this bill would also prohibit pardons or record suspensions. Repeat offenders have also been targeted in the bill such that record suspensions or pardons would be restricted and the waiting period between parole and eligibility for record suspension would be extended.
Finally, regular reports to the from the National Parole Board would be instituted.
At present, a pardon permits a Canadian citizen convicted of a criminal offence who has completed his or her sentence to have his or her criminal record kept separate. By and large, all the applications received by the National Parole Board are granted. Of particular note as the House proceeds forward with the debate on this bill is the fact that since 1970, the year when major amendments were made to the Criminal Code, 96% of all pardons granted are still in effect. That is an important underlying fact to the debate here and the debate that will take place at committee. Ninety-six per cent of all pardons granted since 1970 remain in effect. This means, again subject to the test of the evidence at committee, that only 4% of the people have had pardons, record suspensions, withdrawn.
We might say that the system is working because the pardon granted has allowed individuals to pursue a life that at least is not so derelict of following the law that they had their pardon revoked. Virtually all citizens who receive a pardon do not recommit crimes in their community or elsewhere.
Nevertheless, news headlines of late have attempted to paint a picture where Canada enables continued crime through the doling out of pardons. The impression by the ongoing Conservative manipulation of public sentiment machine would have people believe that pardons are being thrown out of a truck on side streets and everybody who gets a pardon then goes out and commits a crime and does not merit these pardons. It does not seem to be the case. As the research has shown, the continued existence of pardons in the Canadian justice system is not reason for the continuation of crime in our communities.
Let us examine the objectives in reality of the pardon system as they are today. The bill's introduction is very recent. By my calculation, around June 23 the government will have been in power for about four and a half years. In a normal person's lifetime, four and a half years is a significant period. It could be a period of raising a child from infancy to young childhood. It could be a period of important progress in one's working career. In this environment of perpetual electioneering, one would expect the government to be well on its way with its agenda.
Given that in the 4.5 year range, we have only heard about pardons now, we would have to conclude that this has not been on the radar screen for the government. The government has not really brought it up before; therefore, it has not been a priority. We could say with a liberal interpretation of timing and its agenda that it brought up other justice bills before this and attempted to move them forward.
There are earnest justice-doers on the other side. Sadly, their feet were taken out from other them with the continual prorogation of Parliament. Bills go to the bottom of the list and have to come up through the system again. It is a shame. It is a waste of time. For serious legislation to be delayed by the electioneering and prorogation that takes place in our political system is something that another House or a committee on another day may and should look at.
Pardons were not a hot priority for the government in four and a half years. It is important to examine the very nature behind pardons in Canada. Pardons allow people who have been convicted of a criminal offence, completed their sentence and demonstrated they are law-abiding citizens to have their criminal record kept separate and apart from other criminal records.
Why is that important? It is important for people to get rehabilitated and for those who have been rehabilitated to reintegrate into the community. We cannot go through every pardon that has been given, but if 96% of the pardons that have been given have been given to people who have not reoffended, one has to think that they are not breaking laws and that the pardons have probably permitted them to reintegrate into society in a better way.
How is that so? Again, without the benefit of the evidence, which is why we are sending it to committee, one would expect that when a person applies for a job, a 10- or 15-year-old criminal conviction might stand in the way of an employer hiring that person. The Criminal Records Act and National Parole Board may currently issue, grant, deny and revoke pardons for convictions under the regulations and federal acts of Canada. Under that power, only 4% of pardons since 1970 have been revoked.
What we do not have a real thorough grasp on, and I am sure the committee will do its due diligence and find this out, is how many are currently issued, granted and denied. We would perhaps like to know whether the denials are given with reasons or for reasons that make sense in our interpretation of criminal law and are in consonance with our principles of rehabilitation. I think we would all like to know that. We would benefit from this. However, as I say, this is really the first time this topic has come up in this House.
The aim here is to give convicted offenders the chance to reform their lives and return as citizens with respect for the law. For example, the pardon system can often allow offenders to find employment even when criminal background checks are performed. This is not to undermine the safety of Canadians but to ensure that reformed individuals can reintegrate into society.
What seems to be missing in a lot of the Conservative justice agenda is that if we put convicted criminals away for a long time, society will be safer, but for how long? That is the key issue and the fundamental difference between the lock-them-up-out-of-sight-for-a-long-time theory of reintegration of offenders to the reality that most offenders eventually get out.
The question for the security of the public is: What kind of individual do we want coming out after a sentence ends? A five year term will end. It may end sooner rather than later but it will end after five years. Do we want a person coming out who has put a modicum of effort toward rehabilitation? Do we want that person to get a job and be reintegrated into the taxpaying workforce? I would hope the answer from all sides would be yes.
The pardon system as it works now seems to work in that direction. A pardon presently removes all information pertaining to particular convictions from the Canadian Police Information Centre, or CPIC, as anybody involved with the law and police forces of this country would know it as. What does it show on CPIC? Is the individual's record on CPIC? Only the has the authority to disclose this information.
While a pardon under the Criminal Records Act affects records in federal departments and agencies, provincial and municipal law enforcement officials generally co-operate with any restrictions to accessing records.
With particular relevance to the bill before us, sexual offenders may presently receive pardons but the offender's name will remain on the National Sex Offender Registry. To illustrate some of the points that brought this to the attention of the government and of the House, a sex offender will always be part of a National Sex Offender Registry.
A debate is now going on in this country as to how well the registry is working. Every community, village, town, city, region, province and county have raised concerns about the level of awareness citizens have with respect to a convicted sexual offender and his or her inter-relationship with the National Sex Offender Registry. However, we are not talking about that here. We are talking about pardons and this is a difference that should be highlighted because the government should be moving with all haste to examine as well, maybe on a corollary basis, the National Sex Offender Registry system to see how it is working or not.
Highly important is understanding that pardons carry no international recognition and areas under foreign control may disregard the consequences of a pardon here in Canada. That situation sometimes arises with respect to our largest neighbour and biggest trading partner to the south where pardons are recognized out of order. Convictions are not masked at American borders. We often have members of the House from all parties pleading for constituents who are truck drivers trying to get across the border with a record of conviction from many years in the past, and certainly in their past intellectually because they now contribute to society.
Regarding the application process for pardons, the National Parole Board has the final say on which applicant gets a pardon and which one does not. One important point is that even if the individual's application is denied, the individual can reapply annually.
I would like to highlight a number of statistics released by the National Parole Board. These are the most recent we have but I am sure the committee will be more specific in its questioning of National Parole Board officials. In 2009-10, 24,000 pardons were granted and a mere 425 were denied. We do not know why but it would be interesting to ask the witnesses at committee why pardons were denied. In the last five years, almost 112,000 people were pardoned. That is a significant figure considering the population of our country.
The key item that must be acknowledged again is that 96% of all pardons are still in force. One would have to review that on an objective basis as being a tremendous success rate. It clearly denotes the percentage of recipients who remain crime-free. Is that not the objective of all our criminal justice legislation? This low revocation rate of pardons has been largely attributed to the significant waiting periods required under the existing framework for eligibility.
I certainly see the cause for criticism over the number of applications approved by the National Parole Board but we should hesitate to claim the approval of a pardon as a mere rubber-stamp process.
The developments of more recent years that I want to address derive from 2006 when the then minister of public safety examined the pardon system and proposed no significant changes. That was then. Now it is a big concern. Today the government now appears to feel that a substantial overhaul is warranted. What has changed between the then minister of public safety's review in 2006 and now?
Could it be that the Conservatives are reacting as a government to some highly salacious, high-profile instances in a system that serves about 100,000 applications in the last 5 years, and I will be conservative with the figures, of some 25,000 applications a year? It wants to change the system based on 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 highly publicized cases, cases that bring us, as members of Parliament and right-thinking people, to a conclusion that those persons should not even be able to apply for pardon and certainly should not get a pardon.
Do we do that in our real life? Do we taken 1 case out of 25,000 and say that everything has to be changed right away, especially when we look at it as a House or at least as the government did some 3 or 4 years ago and said that everything was fine? There must have been a reason why everything was fine in 2006 and now it is awful. We would like to know that at committee, which is why we will support sending it to committee.
The changes that make for the most debate in this House would be whether we should change the name from “pardon” to “record suspension”. I think that is a flip of the coin. As long as people know that “record suspension” means “pardon” and it will not deter people from applying and will not bring different results from the same process, I am not sure there is much to be added or gained by the change of terms.
There seems to be a heavy moral element to it. People are used to the term “pardon”, but is it really a “pardon”? It is not society saying that it forgives people for everything they have done that is under the rubric of this offence, It is just saying that their record will be kept in a separate area and not be used against them if they apply for a job to get reintegrated into the community. Maybe the label is accurate.
Why was that not done in 2006? Why has it not been done before? I would like to hear from Public Safety officials as to the history of the term “pardon” and the history of the term “record suspension”.
Many of us will know the aspect of the bill championed above all else by the government has been the amendment to make those convicted of more than three indictable crimes or of sexual offences against minors ineligible for a pardon.
I am a parent of three young girls, so I may have a bias in this chamber, but I personally do not have a real problem with a pardon not being considered for a person who has been convicted of a sexual offence against a minor. I am not speaking for my party nor am I speaking for members of the committee but that is something that must be looked at by the committee and every member of the House has to come to some reckoning on it.
With respect to the three indictable offences, everybody thinks indictable offences are the most serious and most egregious. This is where I call for discretion in the system because my old Uncle Henry had it and he saved a lot of people, I think, by being stern with them but giving them an out, giving them a chance to rehabilitate.
I am sure the committee will hear an instance of a person who has three indictable offence convictions who is probably able to be reintegrated or has and received a pardon and did very well by it. I do not know, because this is all before the evidence comes into play.
On a similar note, for record suspensions the bill would increase the period of ineligibility to five years for summary conviction offences and ten years for indictable offences. In summary, that is a way of looking tougher but will it be more efficacious?
Ninety-six percent of people do not reoffend. The system is not that loosey-goosey. There are a significant number of years before a person can even apply for a pardon and many of the pardons that are given are given on the basis of the facts put very up very steadfastly by the National Parole Board and other people.
We will send this to committee. I am not sure that this is not just a knee-jerk reaction to some very egregious headlines about Graham James, et cetera. However, anybody who stands in this House and says that if members are not for this bill they are for Graham James getting a pardon, that is illogical and it is wrong.
We all want to protect society but let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater if the pardon system as we know it for the vast majority of applicants is working. If it works for them and gets them back into society, it works for society, which is us.