Thank you, Mr. Chair and colleagues.
It's indeed a pleasure to be able to appear on my private member's bill, an act to amend the Criminal Code (increasing parole ineligibility), Bill , the short title of which is the respecting families of murdered and brutalized persons act.
I originally introduced this bill in the first session of the 41st Parliament as Bill . I was promoted in 2013 to parliamentary secretary for defence and had to drop my private member's bill, even though it had received second reading and had been sent it to committee.
The bill was picked up in the second session of the 41st Parliament by our former colleague Colin Mayes, who was the MP for Okanagan—Shuswap, as Bill . It made it through committee, but then there was dissolution of Parliament for the 2015 federal election and that put an end to the bill's moving forward.
This bill amends section 745 of the Criminal Code of Canada to give the power to our judicial system to increase parole ineligibility up to 40 years from the current maximum of 25 years for those who commit a crime of abduction, sexual assault and murder.
Right now, there are charges for all those crimes, under sections 279, 280, 281, 282 and 283 of the Criminal Code for abduction, while sexual assault charges are defined under sections 151 to 153.1, 271, 272 and 273 of the Criminal Code, as well as murder in the first and second degree.
What this bill will do is give the full discretion to our judges and juries. After an individual is convicted of crimes, the judge must ask the jury if they “wish to make a recommendation with respect to the number of years that the accused must serve before the accused is eligible for release for parole”. It is not mandatory for the jury to provide a recommendation, and the judge is not beholden to the jury in taking the recommendation, should it be made.
I know there are some concerns around whether or not this violates section 12 of the charter regarding cruel and unusual punishment. I should state again that this is strictly judicial discretion. The parole ineligibility period can be set at anywhere from 25 years up to 40 years, based upon the discretion of the judge. When determining the parole ineligibility period, the judge must have “regard to the character of the offender, the nature of the offences and the circumstances surrounding their commission”.
I modelled my bill after former Bill , the Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murderers Act. Again, that piece of legislation has stood up to a charter challenge and afforded judges the ability to extend parole ineligibility periods for multiple murder convictions. Rather than having them concurrent, they are now served consecutively.
The way I came up with 40 years for parole ineligibility for the commission of a crime that involves the abduction, sexual assault and murder of an individual, it's on that same transaction. Again, looking at consecutively serving that sentence, for murder, it's 25 years without parole, while abduction faces a maximum parole ineligibility period of 10 years and sexual assault faces a maximum parole ineligibility period of 4.6 years. That's how I arrived at 40.
I can't stress enough that this bill targets the most depraved of our society. It targets those who have never received parole, so we aren't doing anything to further punish the criminal. This is about sparing the families from appearing at unnecessary parole board hearings.
As you know, right now, even if somebody has a life sentence for committing a crime, they can, at year 23, start applying for parole. All too often, we've witnessed that when these individuals apply for parole, they use it as an opportunity to feed their depraved nature and revictimize the families. That's why I brought this forward. It was to be compassionate to the families who have gone through these ongoing, unnecessary and extremely painful Parole Board hearings.
When it comes to the type of criminal this targets, we're talking about criminals like Michael Rafferty and Terri-Lynne McClintic, who abducted, raped and murdered Tori Stafford; Paul Bernardo, who back in the 1990s abducted, raped and murdered Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French. One of the things that really drove me on this was, if you remember back in 2009-10, the ongoing investigation in the arrests of Terri-Lynne McClintic and Michael Rafferty. It was all over the news. As a father of three daughters, it really hurt me knowing that this poor little girl had suffered so badly.
Clifford Olson, at that time, was diagnosed with cancer and was dying in prison. I was driving around in my riding listening to CBC and they were talking to Sharon Rosenfeldt, whose son, Daryn, had been murdered by Clifford Olson. Clifford Olson applied for parole on three occasions. First he used the faint hope clause which existed at that time, and then at year 23 and year 25, he applied for parole again. He used those opportunities to describe in graphic detail how he murdered the Rosenfeldts' son. He would send letters to them, hoping that they'd appear at the Parole Board hearing so he could describe how he killed Daryn.
We know that these individuals never get parole. Parole boards have been very consistent that these psychopaths are never released, so why would we put the families through these ongoing and unnecessary Parole Board hearings? They feel obligated to be there, to stand up for the rights of their loved one, to read their victim impact statement and ensure that the Parole Board never forgets about the heinous crimes that these individuals have committed.
We're also talking about David James Dobson, who murdered Darlene Prioriello. I worked quite closely with Darlene's sister Terri on this bill. Donald Armstrong abducted, raped and murdered Linda Bright back in 1978, and Glenna Fox. David Threinen abducted, raped and murdered Dahrlyne Cranfield, who was only 12 years old; Robert Grubesic, who was nine; Samantha Turner, who was eight; and Cathy Scott, who was seven years old. He died in custody.
We're talking about the Russell Williams, the Luka Magnottas, the Robert Picktons. More recently, in Toronto, Bruce McArthur killed eight men. He abducted them, raped them and then brutally murdered each and every one of his victims.
Mr. Chair, how much time do I have?
I just want to put on the record a couple of quotes from some of the families. I mentioned Linda Bright, Janet and Karen Johnson, Darlene Prioriello and Sharon Rosenfeldt's son Daryn.
Linda Bright was only 16 years old when she was abducted by Donald Armstrong in Kingston. He applied for parole on numerous occasions, including most recently in 2012. Linda's sister Susan Ashley, with whom I worked on this bill as well, said, “My heart breaks having to live through this again. My heart breaks having to watch my mom and dad drag up their thoughts and pain from that deep place inside them where they tuck their hurt away”. Linda's mother, Margaret Bright, said, “This is not fair. We should not have to relive our tragedy. When I remember my daughter, let me remember her as a little girl. Don't make me think about the other awful time in 1978.... Let me tell you this has been the most difficult thing I've had to do in the last 20 years”.
Sharon Rosenfeldt has been very active with the national victims of crime organization and has attended some of my press conferences in the past. She appeared at this committee in 2015 and really drove this home when she was on CBC, as I mentioned, talking about what happened to her son and how the system needs to be fixed. Daryn was only 16 and was a victim of Clifford Olson. They had to go through the faint hope clause hearings in 1997, and parole hearings in 2006 and 2010 before Olson passed away.
He was denied parole every time. Her husband, Gary, who has since passed away, said, “What's really horrendous about this...is this is only the beginning. We're going to have to do this every two years as long as Olson lives. And this is a very painful experience for myself, my family.”
Sharon said, “Attending parole hearings every two years or five years after the offender has served 25 years is cruel and unusual punishment for the victim's family”.
Terri Prioriello, whose sister Darlene was killed in 1982, said, “Families have already been victimized once. They shouldn't have to be victimized every two years. Having to face a loved one's killer and to read what he did to her and how her death has affected our lives is something nobody should ever have to do once, never mind twice.”
She went on to say in an interview in 2007, talking about her mother's impact statement that she read into the record, “I listened to her read it and it was like she was burying Dolly all over again. It was so upsetting for Mom. She cried. Families shouldn't have to go through this all over again.”
Donald Armstrong killed Susan Ashley's sister. Susan Ashley said in 2012 in the London Free Press, “He cannot be fixed. And to put him in the community, it's a public risk to any woman that he can have access to. My family and myself, we really don't want to see another family victimized like we were. It's a terrible thing to have to endure, it's a lifetime of pain and suffering.”
Colleagues, Bill is a bill that is needed in our judicial system. It is fair; it is just, and it is compassionate.
It is fair because it doesn't change the outcomes of current murderers who are incarcerated because they never get parole. All the research we have done proves that they are incarcerated for life. It is just because we are ensuring that the system still gives the power to the courts and the judges to use their discretionary powers and authority to determine the credibility and circumstances of each case and to apply the sentencing fairly and justly. It is compassionate. I can't stress that enough. This is about standing up for the families of the victims, making sure they don't have to endure ongoing and unnecessary Parole Board hearings at which they are revictimized and which all too often feed the depravity of those murderers.
Thank you, James, for bringing this bill forward.
I don't think you can express how deeply people who have to attend National Parole Board hearings are affected. It is the way the system operates. We understand that, but you have explained how people feel about having to go to those Parole Board hearings every two years.
You're talking about people like Clifford Olson. You're not talking about the young man down the street, who inadvertently runs afoul of the law. These are the worst of the worst of the worst.
You mentioned the Tori Stafford case. That's from my own community, my own police department. I see Rodney probably three times a month, maybe more often. His life is a disaster. I can't begin to explain what it has meant to him, so for him to have to go to the National Parole Board for these people just perpetuates and perpetuates.
Your bill is for the families. Is that true?
It's good to see you, James.
We were serving on the defence committee together, and I have enormous respect for Mr. Bezan, in particular for his concern for victims of crime. I was the public safety critic in the last Parliament when this bill first came forward. Mr. Bezan's dedication to victims is unquestionable, and I thank him for the work he does on that.
I know we all share the concern for victims. I think none of us can ever really understand the trauma of families of victims of these most serious crimes, or the victims themselves. I know that around the table we all support improving services for victims. It's one of the things our justice system has a long way to go in.
That said, I opposed this bill in the last Parliament, and I continue to have serious concerns about it. As Mr. Bezan knows, I taught criminal justice for 20 years and spent time in and out of prisons and the parole system. I'm quite familiar with the way it works. The question of safety within the institutions, both for inmates and for correctional workers, comes up with this bill.
If we take away—as the Conservative government did—the faint hope clause, we take away the possibility of parole for people. There are good studies that show people tend to become unmanageable within the prison system if they have nothing left to lose. They tend not to participate in rehabilitation programs, and they tend to misbehave, including with violence, because they have nothing left to lose, because they're not getting out.
The faint hope clause, which was in place from 1976 to 2011, allowed people the chance of applying for parole before 25 years. There were more than 1,000 cases dealt with. I think it was 1.3% of people who were paroled under the faint hope clause, and of course, none of them repeated their offences.
Have you talked to the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers about your bill and the question of safety within the institution?