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.