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View Rick Dykstra Profile
View Rick Dykstra Profile
2015-06-19 10:09 [p.15334]
Mr. Speaker, before I speak to Bill C-53, the life means life act, I first want to thank the member for Edmonton—Leduc not only for his service to our country and to his riding for the last 15 years, but also for his friendship.
There is not a lot said about the relationships that are built here when we get elected. Those relationships are not just found among parties. There are relationships and friendships that are built over the period of time that we serve here on behalf of the people from our communities. The member has become one of my close friends, and I wish him all of the best in his future endeavours.
I also thank him for his time and his commitment to his riding, his community, and his country. It was clear when we heard him speak a moment ago that he is very passionate. He remains as passionate as he was as a young man entering this chamber 15 years ago. He may be a little older now and he may have a little more grey hair, but he is certainly just as passionate about his community and the country that we represent.
Turning to the bill before us, I am here today to speak in support of Bill C-53, the life means life act. I believe that providing sentences of life imprisonment without parole for high treason and the most reprehensible forms of murder would ensure that the most dangerous murderers would never be free to endanger Canadians or their communities. Importantly, Bill C-53 would align Canada's criminal justice system with those of other parliamentary democracies, like England, Australia, and New Zealand. It would also provide for sentences of life without parole for the most vicious murderers.
In this context, the English whole life murder sentencing regime was the object of considerable study and analysis during the development of Bill C-53. The measures proposed in the life means life act have been carefully crafted to reflect Canadian legal principles and the Canadian experience with murder sentencing, while at the same time seeking to avoid some of the pitfalls encountered by the English in implementing their sentencing regime.
Unlike in Canada where minimum parole ineligibility dates for first and second degree murder are mandatory and established by statute, in England the court assesses the seriousness of the murder and selects an appropriate parole ineligibility starting point. The normal parole ineligibility starting point is a presumptive 15 years, but more serious murders will lead to presumptive starting points of 25 years, 30 years, or even whole life. Once the starting point for calculating the parole ineligibility in any particular case has been determined, the court will then add or subtract from it after considering a list of aggravating or mitigating factors before arriving at a final minimum parole ineligibility period. At the expiry of that date, the convicted murderer may apply for parole.
Under this English scheme, if the seriousness of the murder is exceptionally high, the starting point will be a whole life order. A whole life order precludes the offender from ever applying for parole or being released from custody, except by order of the secretary of state on compassionate grounds, such as terminal illness.
In England, there are four categories of murder for which the seriousness is exceptionally high. The first is multiple murder involving premeditation, abduction, or sexual or sadistic elements. The second is the murder of a child that involves abduction or sexual or sadistic elements. The third is murder to advance a political, religious, or ideological cause. The fourth is murder by any offender previously convicted of murder.
Under the English system, once the starting point and all of the aggravating and mitigating factors have been accounted for, a convicted murderer could end up with a final parole ineligibility date ranging from less than 15 years or all the way to the end of natural life in the form of a whole life order.
If we compare the English scheme with what is proposed by Bill C-53, under Bill C-53, a sentence of life without parole would be mandatory for high treason and for the most morally repugnant murders, namely, premeditated murder committed against a police officer or correctional official, or committed during a sexual assault, kidnapping offence, or terrorist offence; or premeditated murder committed in such a brutal way as to indicate that the offender is unlikely to ever be restrained by normal standards of behaviour.
A discretionary sentence of life without parole would be available for all other first degree murders, whether premeditated or not, as well as for second degree murder where the murderer has previously either committed murder or committed an intentional killing under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.
In deciding whether to impose a sentence of life without parole, courts would consider “the character of the accused, the nature of the offence and the circumstances surrounding its commission” and the recommendation by the jury.
These are the same criteria the courts now use to decide whether a second degree murderer will serve a parole ineligibility period longer than 10 years, and whether a multiple murderer will serve consecutive periods of parole ineligibility.
There are clear similarities between what is proposed in Bill C-53 and the English whole life regime. Each penalizes the following categories of murders: those involving premeditation, abduction and sexual offences; those that are premeditated and involve sadistic elements, which Bill C-53 deals with under the heading of brutal murders; those committed in the context of terrorist activity, which the English refer to as murder to advance a political, religious or ideological cause; and those where the killer has murdered before.
Despite these similarities, there are several key differences between the proposed life means life scheme and the English whole life order regime.
First, while the English scheme requires that anyone who commits premeditated murder involving abduction and sexually oriented offences must have murdered more than one victim in order to receive a whole life order, Bill C-53 does not impose such a restriction. Thus, anyone who commits the premeditated murder of a single victim in the course of a kidnapping, forcible confinement, abduction, or sexual assault would be subject to a life sentence of imprisonment without parole under Bill C-53.
Yet another way in which the proposals in Bill C-53 differ from the English whole life order scheme lies in the nature of the criteria for the discretionary imposition of life without parole.
The English scheme contains a detailed list of aggravating and mitigating factors, whereas Bill C-53 does not allow for mitigating factors that would reduce the parole ineligibility period below the mandatory minimums set out in our Criminal Code. Nor does Bill C-53 rely on a list of such factors that may have to be updated from time to time. Instead, reliance is placed on the broad and flexible language capturing all such factors that is reflected in the long-established criteria referred to earlier that focus on the offender's character, the nature and circumstances of the murder and any recommendation in this regard by the jury.
It is clear that Bill C-53 is not only necessary, but its time has come. When an individual commits the horrific crime of murder in the way that I have described in regard to Bill C-53, their sentence should be whole life. The sentence should not be set in a position where any attempt at parole would be accepted.
As we know, certainly from the perspective of a victim's family, having to attend a parole hearing is a kind of torture in a way by having to replay and revisit a most terrible time in their lives. This is not something that is acceptable. It is not something that this government has ever spoken about in the last 10 years in terms of being acceptable. That is why Bill C-53 is one that should be enacted. It should certainly be part of our legislative process when it comes to justice, and it should be a bill that both sides of this House supports.
View Denis Blanchette Profile
View Denis Blanchette Profile
2015-06-19 10:18 [p.15335]
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague across the way for his speech.
Something about the government's attitude toward this subject really bothers me. They are acting as though mechanisms to ensure public safety were not already in place. Specifically, I would like to talk about the Parole Board of Canada. Its mandate gives it the power to refuse parole when public safety is at risk, and victims have opportunities to have their say.
My question for my colleague across the way is therefore a simple one. What tools would his bill create that the Parole Board of Canada does not already have? I do not see what this bill adds.
View Rick Dykstra Profile
View Rick Dykstra Profile
2015-06-19 10:19 [p.15335]
Mr. Speaker, I outlined that at the end of my speech. The fact is that there are such crimes and murders committed in this country by individuals who should not, for any reason, be allowed to sit at a table and request parole. Individuals should serve their sentences based on the murders they committed, and if that crime is so severe and significant that it requires life, then there should be no opportunity for parole.
I understand the member's question. The fact is that if a murder such as I have described that would be judged under Bill C-53 were to be committed, there is no reason the victim's family should ever have to face the perpetrator, the convicted murderer, at a parole board hearing on a regular basis and have to live through what would be indescribable and unacceptable.
If a person commits a crime as outlined in Bill C-53 and as I outlined today in my speech, there would be no opportunity for that individual to earn parole. There would be no opportunity for that person to ever deserve an opportunity to request parole.
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2015-06-19 10:21 [p.15335]
Mr. Speaker, no government in recent memory has wanted to have so much talk and political spin. Let me use this bill as an example. If the bill had been law eight years ago, who in Canadian society would not be here today? I would be interested in knowing that.
The issue I face at the door that constituents are concerned about is safety in their communities. What they are looking for, for example, are ways young people can avoid getting into gangs. The national government has a role to play in working with stakeholders to try to get fewer young people involved in gangs. Maybe my collegue could comment.
View Rick Dykstra Profile
View Rick Dykstra Profile
2015-06-19 10:22 [p.15335]
Mr. Speaker, the member's question moves away from the discussion we are having on Bill C-53.
The member was not here in 2006 when I was elected and we became government. One of the first pieces of work we put it in in public safety was the opportunity for community organizations to access funding to assist young people, whether they were in or out of school, who were travelling down a wayward road. Those young people had the ability to be funded directly by the federal government to enter programs that would assist them in achieving a positive life goal, whether that be a job or continuing their education in high school.
I beg to differ with the member in the strongest of ways. This government has not only insisted on ensuring, as in Bill C-53, that individuals pay a significant price for crimes such as this that they commit. It has also been our goal for the last 10 years to ensure that we assist in preventing crime and assist in educating young people and getting them to understand a positive way of life. We have done that.
View Laurin Liu Profile
View Laurin Liu Profile
2015-06-19 10:23 [p.15336]
Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to say that I will be splitting my time with the member for Trois-Rivières.
Today I rise in the House to speak to Bill C-53, which we will oppose. First though, since this is probably my last speech in the House for this 41st Parliament, I would like to thank all of the staff who have supported us over the past four years: House of Commons staff and the people working in my riding office and my parliamentary office, the interpreters, who do amazing work, the pages, and the people who work for my caucus.
A special thanks goes to my constituents in Rivière-des-Mille-Îles for placing their trust in me over the past four years. It was a tremendous privilege and an honour for me to meet them and talk to them about their concerns. I hope that they will support me again during the next Parliament.
Today we are talking about Bill C-53, a justice bill that was introduced by the government in power. This bill represents yet another step backward. I will digress for a moment to talk about this government's record on justice over the past few years.
First, let us talk about the issue of the missing and murdered aboriginal women. The current government is refusing to conduct an inquiry into this phenomenon, even though aboriginal groups across the country have been calling for such an inquiry. We know that an inquiry is necessary to put a stop to this terrible phenomenon in Canada. The NDP has already committed to conducting a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women. That is a priority for us, and it is one of the first things that we are going to do if we take office.
The Conservative government also introduced Bill C-51, which undermines our fundamental freedoms and violates our right to privacy. I received a number of letters on this subject from my constituents, who spoke out against the approach the government took with Bill C-51.
The NDP took a stand based on conviction and principles. Of the three main parties in the House, we are the only one that opposed this bill, which seriously infringes on the freedom of Canadians.
We can say that the Conservatives have fallen short when it comes to street gangs, whether it be in Montreal or Surrey, British Columbia. I talked with my colleagues from British Columbia about how a big a problem street gangs are. This is a serious and urgent problem that the government continues to ignore.
Bill C-53 is broadly based on misinformation and electioneering. What is more, we know that the Conservatives used this bill to stir up fear in order to raise more funds for their party. Right after this bill was introduced, the Conservative member for Scarborough Centre sent a fundraising email on behalf of the Conservative Party. The subject line was “Murderers in your neighbourhood”. That is obviously a campaign to spread fear and then capitalize on that fear to generate more support for the Conservative Party. That is the desperate act of a tired and ineffective government that is jeopardizing Canadians' safety.
The Conservatives should tell Canadians the truth. In the current system, the most dangerous criminals who pose a threat to public safety never get out of prison.
That is the current reality. We in the NDP want to protect victims and create an approach that puts victims first. We also believe in evidence-based policy. Any reforms made to the sentencing regime should focus on improving public safety, not playing political games. That is what the Conservatives are doing right now.
Decisions regarding people being released from custody must be based on an assessment of the risk each individual poses to the community and to public safety. The Conservatives introduced this bill, which, in fact, gives the minister control over these decisions. The Conservatives want to politicize the release process. We believe that this is a step backward for Canada.
The Attorney General has a duty to ensure that all of the bills put forward by the government are constitutional. As we know, since the Conservative Party has been in power, it has introduced a number of bills that could be considered unconstitutional. Once again, Bill C-53 will probably wind up being challenged in the courts. In other words, the Conservatives have introduced yet another problematic bill that is really much more about playing politics, instead of working to find solutions to the real problems.
Currently, if an offender gets parole, he will live the rest of his life under the conditions of his parole and the supervision of a CSC parole officer. Offenders who are sentenced to life never enjoy total freedom, since they have committed an offence resulting in a life sentence. Not all offenders who are given a life sentence get parole and some never will because of the high risk of recidivism they continue to present. We know that in the current system, there is legislation already in place to protect public safety and keep our neighbourhoods safe.
We know that the Conservatives are playing politics with this bill. The fact that they have been talking about this bill since 2013 further proves that point. They waited until just a few months before the election was called to introduce a real bill in the House. We know that this is an election bill. It has been criticized by eminent lawyers and experts because it is a complete botch-up.
In the past few days, we have had to discuss other bills that the Conservatives introduced in the House at the last minute. That is very undemocratic because we do not have enough time to debate these bills before the House rises at the end of the parliamentary session.
We also know that this same government invoked closure for the 100th time a few weeks ago in order to limit debate in the House. That move was strongly condemned by this side of the House, because Canadians want their MPs to do their homework, do their job and carefully study these bills. However, the Conservatives want to ram their platform down Canadians' throats without discussion and clear debate.
At present, it is the Parole Board of Canada, the PBC, an independent administrative tribunal free from political interference, that decides whether to grant or not grant parole. Taking this power away from independent experts and putting it in the hands of government is tantamount to turning back the clock 50 years. With this Conservative government we are going backwards.
The Parole Board of Canada was established in 1959, and Canadians rejected the politicization of the administration of justice a long time ago.
Canadians deserve better. They deserve a government that will take public safety seriously rather than using it for political purposes.
View Stella Ambler Profile
View Stella Ambler Profile
2015-06-19 10:34 [p.15337]
Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the speech by the member opposite. She talked about missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls, as well as street gangs, and then went on to say that this bill is based on misinformation and does not provide true solutions to real problems. I would argue that it is a real problem when victims in this country are not treated with the respect they deserve, and part of that respect includes receiving justice for those who have committed crimes against their loved ones.
My question is perhaps a more personal one for the member. I would like to know if she has heard any concerns from victims themselves, if people have told her it is fair that when criminals are given life sentences that they should indeed serve those life sentences.
View Laurin Liu Profile
View Laurin Liu Profile
2015-06-19 10:35 [p.15337]
Mr. Speaker, that is a good question.
When I go door to door in my riding, my constituents speak out about the cuts the Conservatives have made to the RCMP and border services, which are preventing officers from doing their jobs to protect us.
This Conservative government has done nothing but make cuts. It claims to stand up for victims, but we know that is not true. Furthermore, the comments by the member opposite do not reflect our public safety realities.
Last year, 99% of offenders released on day parole did not reoffend and 97% of offenders released on full parole did not reoffend either.
Instead of introducing a bill that could politicize the current situation, the Conservatives would be better off investing more in the public safety services that Canadians depend on.
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2015-06-19 10:36 [p.15337]
Mr. Speaker, I would like to pick up on two of the member's points.
We see that in the dying days of Parliament this legislation is being brought in. The member made reference, and she is not the only one, to the fact that for all intents and purposes this legislation has more to do with the Conservative Party raising money than it does with the bill actually passing in the House of Commons. The bill is more about trying to give the impression that the government wants to get tough on crime than trying to prevent crimes from taking place. I would ask the member to reflect on that.
I was also intrigued by her comment about Canada's murdered and missing aboriginal women and girls and what a travesty it is that the government has failed to recognize the need for a public inquiry.
View Laurin Liu Profile
View Laurin Liu Profile
2015-06-19 10:37 [p.15337]
Mr. Speaker, I completely agree.
I would like to share the opinion of many Canadian experts who have spoken out against this Conservative bill. One such expert is Allan Manson, a law professor at Queen's University. With respect to the current situation he said, and I quote:
The most heinous cases do not get out so this is not an issue of whether the Clifford Olsens will be released.
With an election looming this fall, this is political opportunism of the crassest sort. This is surely the worst approach to public policy-making, and to criminal justice policy-making in particular.
With respect to the changes in the bill he said, and I quote:
This change will not achieve a single penological objective.
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2015-06-19 10:38 [p.15337]
Mr. Speaker, since this is one of the last times I will rise in the House, I would like to thank the people of Pontiac for placing their trust in me. I humbly hope that they will do so again in the next election.
With respect to the question I would like to ask my colleague, it seems to me that this is not the first time public safety issues have been politicized. I would still like to know where to find the facts and the statistics that this bill is based on.
Did my hon. colleague find any?
View Laurin Liu Profile
View Laurin Liu Profile
2015-06-19 10:39 [p.15337]
Mr. Speaker, there are no facts, and the Conservatives are fearmongering. They want to use this bill to win political points for their campaign over the summer. This bill is flawed and very problematic.
Not only does the current system protect Canadians from the possibility of the most dangerous criminals returning to our communities, but studies also show beyond a shadow of a doubt that extreme penalties are not deterrents.
We would sure like to know why the government introduced a bill that has no basis in fact.
View Robert Aubin Profile
View Robert Aubin Profile
2015-06-19 10:40 [p.15338]
Mr. Speaker, what a sensitive subject this is, and we are debating it in the context of a bill that was introduced at the very last minute. If there is one thing I find absolutely fascinating about my work here, which I feel very fortunate to do, thanks to the support and trust of the people of Trois-Rivières, it is the opportunity I have to learn so much about a whole range of subjects that are not necessarily in my area of expertise.
The subject we are dealing with this morning is a good example. I am not a lawyer or a criminal law expert, but in Ottawa, thank goodness, all members are lucky enough to have access to expertise, experience and relevant information. These things allow us not only to form an opinion, but also educate people who may be watching regarding the ins and outs of a bill like the one before us now.
If I were an ordinary citizen and a government said that its bill would enhance public safety, I imagine that I would probably start listening and I would likely believe that there must be some truth in there somewhere. Based entirely on facts, however, what we have before us is a bill that is designed purely to win votes and promote an ideology that is clearly the polar opposite of the NDP's ideology. The entire population, all Quebeckers and Canadians, will have to make their decision on October 19.
The Conservative government is proposing a vision of a society based on fear. I hope I will have time later to give some clear examples that directly relate to some election fundraising campaigns, for example, which have nothing to do with the substantive issue or the NDP's vision, which proposes developing a society based on public safety.
The Conservatives just introduced Bill C-53, which—to remind those who may not have been following this debate from the beginning—will make life imprisonment without parole mandatory for the crimes of first degree murder and high treason. However, life imprisonment without eligibility for parole is widely regarded as unconstitutional.
To plug the holes in their bill, the Conservatives included a clause that gives offenders a chance for parole after 35 years in prison. Parole will not be granted on the merits of the case or after a thorough review by the Parole Board, but after an application is made to the minister, because the minister is some sort of expert on this. I do not want to make any assumptions about the next Minister of Public Safety, but the current minister does not inspire a lot of confidence in me when it comes to making these types of decisions and leaving partisanship out of it.
Instead of spreading misinformation and electoral propaganda, the Conservatives should tell Canadians the truth. Under the current system, the most dangerous offenders who pose a risk to public safety never get out of prison. This bill is partisan to say the least, if not full-blown propaganda. The government's goal here is to give the impression that it is tough on crime, when it knows that these measures will have little to no real effect on the situation.
What is the current state of the situation in this area? For the benefit of those watching us I will briefly describe our system as it pertains to people convicted of first degree murder. An offender convicted of first degree murder is not eligible for parole for 25 years. I want to emphasize that “eligible” does not mean he will get parole, but that he can apply for it. It is up to the Parole Board to grant parole or not. We will come back to the conditions.
Protecting society is the primary criterion on which the Parole Board bases its decision to grant parole. Even if the offender is granted parole, he will spend his whole life reporting to a Correctional Service Canada officer. In other words, the current system already includes mechanisms for making public safety the priority.
The Criminal Code already includes special provisions to ensure that dangerous offenders do not threaten our safety.
If they are deemed to pose a serious risk to society, these inmates can be sentenced to an indeterminate prison term. That seems to be quite clear and strict. Public safety is the goal for this side of the House.
As we are on the eve of an election campaign, the Conservatives will use any means to fundraise and score political points, and there are still people who believe in that approach. I will just mention one example. On the day this bill was announced, the member for Scarborough Centre sent her constituents an email with the very moderate subject line: “Murderers in your neighbourhood?” That is their approach. Once again, the Conservatives' cynicism is in full view, and they are resorting to propaganda and fear-mongering. Instead, the NDP is focusing on safety.
Instead of engaging in blind partisanship, the government should instead listen to the findings of experts. I would like to elaborate on the expertise I mentioned earlier. A number of studies indicate that extreme sentences are not the solution to crime. That is backed up by statistics. After the death sentence was abolished, the murder rate dropped by 50%. That is rather curious. Here is what the Correctional Investigator of Canada had to say about that:
When you take all hope away from somebody, you don't give them any incentive to follow rules or to be at all productive and to contribute in any way.
A criminal can be released on parole and reintegrate into society. As I already mentioned, our current system has several provisions that protect society from the actions of these dangerous criminals.
In this case, there is no confusion. Everyone in the House agrees that it is important to protect society.
How will this bill protect us any better than the existing provisions of the Criminal Code? That is an interesting question. Did the government introduce this bill to do a better job of that? That is a question that the government has completely failed to answer.
According to Allan Manson, a law professor at Queen's University, there is a good chance that this bill is unconstitutional. Why? First, many studies have shown the negative effects of long-term incarceration. Prisons are becoming more dangerous for the people who work there. Second, this bill lacks a penal objective. The bill may in fact violate the very principle of fundamental justice.
If the Conservatives start breaking the backbone of our justice system, then they are doing exactly the opposite of what other democracies are doing in their legislation. It is often a good idea to compare ourselves to other countries to see whether we are heading in the right direction. However, is seems that the Conservatives are once again going against the tide.
Bill C-53 shows that public safety is not the Conservatives' primary concern. They would rather raise money through fearmongering and cobble together bills that are not based on evidence. The NDP is strongly opposed to that way of doing things. We want all criminal measures to be based on facts. We will ensure that our criminal measures seek only to enhance public safety.
We are deeply committed to the independence of justice. That is why only the appropriate authorities should decide whether an individual is eligible for parole. On the contrary, as they do in almost all of their bills, the Conservatives are once again placing more and more power in the hands of ministers, when those ministers are not necessarily qualified to exercise those powers.
I will stop there because time is flying by. That is too bad because I still had a ton of things to say. I will likely have a chance to talk more about this as I answer my colleagues' questions.
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2015-06-19 10:49 [p.15339]
Mr. Speaker, I want to pick up on a point that I had asked the Conservative member. That is in regard to the fact that here we have legislation that comes across as being really tough on crime, but in reality it is marginal at very best. It is well criticized. I believe that all opposition parties are in opposition to the legislation.
We are in the dying days of the session. Yet, we have very serious issues in our communities in the different regions of the country. I, for example, talk a great deal about what sort of programming we should be doing, and what sort of leadership Ottawa could be playing in terms of coming up with ideas and programs that would get youth out of gangs and into our communities in a more positive way. This is where I believe the government has fallen short.
I wonder if the member might want to take a side step from the bill and provide some comment in terms of the whole idea of preventing crimes from happening in the first place.
View Robert Aubin Profile
View Robert Aubin Profile
2015-06-19 10:50 [p.15339]
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question, and I have to tell him that he seems to have inadvertently fallen for the trap.
In the preamble to his question he mentioned that the Conservative government comes across as being really tough on crime, but they are not. They would love to have us believe that they are tough on crime and that they are stronger than all the other parties. However, it is Canada's own system that is strong, and the measures proposed in Bill C-53 contribute absolutely nothing to our existing public safety regime.
The Conservatives have launched a branding campaign and are trying to make the public believe that they are tougher on crime than the other parties, when that is not the case. The truth is that they are more partisan on crime issues than the other parties.
We will continue to protect public safety, as the existing measures already do. Bill C-53 adds nothing. Moreover, as members of Parliament from Quebec, I think we have made it quite clear that we must focus on real solutions such as prevention, support and rehabilitation measures in order to lower crime rates across the country and to ensure that our communities feel safe instead of afraid.
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