Mr. Speaker, New Democrats support progressive crime and justice legislation that seeks to reduce instances of violent crime and offer chances to increase rehabilitation for those convicted, all the while upholding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In our 2018 policy paper, adopted by democratic convention, New Democrats clearly stated absolute support for the following: investment in crime prevention, with a focus on at-risk youth and gangs; support for community and not-for-profit organizations active in crime prevention; emphasis on rehabilitation and reintegration wherever possible, particularly for treating addictions; maintenance of a youth criminal justice system that is distinct from adult courts; support for restorative justice initiatives, including redress and restitution whenever possible; safeguards for the rights, health and dignity of prisoners; adaptation of sentencing rules to allow, under judicial discretion, more severe sentences for violent crimes; strengthening the rules for sentencing dangerous offenders; and the prohibition of reinstatement of the death penalty.
Legislation like Bill C-266 tries to create the appearance of a tough-on-crime stance without addressing the issues at the heart of the matter, and that is the reason we will not be supporting this bill. How could we, when it misses the entire point of protecting the public and does nothing to prevent recidivism?
In contrast to Conservatives, who believe in tough-on-crime policies that please their base and do little to reduce crime, and in fact cost so much more, New Democrats believe that our criminal justice system should be structured around the principles of restorative justice. Canada's justice department defines restorative justice as a strategy that “focuses on repairing the harm caused by crime, while holding offenders responsible for their actions. A restorative approach is being used in different criminal justice cases across Canada. When effectively used [and supported by governments], restorative justice can lead to better outcomes for victims and offenders and reduce the number of cases that go to trial.”
The Conservatives may be able to fundraise by claiming that progressives are soft on crime, but restorative justice is not soft on crime. It is effective, both in terms of costs and in terms of reducing the potential for traumatizing victims. We know, for instance, that there is empirical evidence to prove that when a restorative justice framework is applied in a conviction, the victims are more satisfied with the outcome than when restorative justice is not employed. Restorative justice substantially reduces repeat offending for many, many offenders. It helps reduce post-traumatic stress symptoms in victims and the related public and private costs. It often results in a reduced desire for revenge on the part of victims against their offenders, and it helps reduce the cost of administering the criminal justice system.
Bill C-266 is not based on the principles of restorative justice. It proposes to increase the period of parole ineligibility from 25 years to up to 40 years for those who are convicted of abduction, sexual assault and murder of an individual in a single event or a series of events. While we absolutely understand that this bill is designed to protect the victim's loved ones from appearing at parole sentencing, it removes any foreseeable chance of release and therefore reduces the potential for rehabilitation. It is an approach that stubbornly refuses to take into account any and all circumstances regarding the offending individual.
There is also the question of whether this bill would stand up to a charter challenge. As life sentences are currently viable only with parole to 25 years, and with the abolishment of the faint hope clause, any longer sentence may fall under inhumane and degrading punishment. The Harper government fulfilled its 2011 election promise to abolish the faint hope clause, which allowed prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment with a parole eligibility period greater than 15 years to apply for early parole once they had served 15 years.
To compound this situation, the legislation before us serves to remove good behaviour as an incentive in correctional facilities, which of course increases the potential of violence toward other inmates and correctional workers. We should absolutely be concerned about the safety of correctional workers.
In Canada, the constitutionality of indefinite detention imposed by life sentences is based on the potential for eventual release on parole. This has resulted in the 25-year maximum before eligibility for parole. In the past, courts have allowed, on a case-by-case basis, sentences where eligibility exceeded 25 years. This gave the courts the needed discretion in the most serious crimes involving dangerous offenders and in situations where the full 25-year sentence was not appropriate. However, this was prior to the abolishment of the faint hope clause. Now that the faint hope clause is no longer in effect to mitigate increases in eligibility periods beyond the 25 years, any increase beyond that would likely be deemed unconstitutional and cruel and unusual punishment.
Harper's Bill C-48 passed in 2011 and was used only four times to issue 75-year parole ineligibility. All four of these cases are currently under appeal. One has been challenged in Alberta's court of appeal because of constitutional concerns. Legal experts expect to see the case appear at the Supreme Court of Canada in the coming years due to the length of sentences that could be unconstitutional.
As I am sure members will recall, the rationale for the faint hope clause was to incentivize offenders to participate in programming and work towards rehabilitation. This, in turn, leads to reduced violence and better behaviour towards other inmates and our correctional workers. Inmates with nothing left to lose are more likely to resort to violence and to be more difficult to manage in the prison population. In 2010, internal studies by the justice department found that this was precisely the case, with lower recidivism rates among faint hope offenders and better behaviour in the community.
The faint hope clause was not a free pass to parole. Canada is very selective in who is granted parole. It is very rare for those who are convicted of the most serious crimes to ever be granted parole. Those who are granted parole have shown good behaviour and are less likely to offend than the general population of Canada. It is fascinating that the rates of offence are below those in the general population.
It is more humane and much cheaper to release those who qualify for parole than to keep them behind bars. Those who were given life sentences who are paroled are still supervised until their deaths, with regular reporting to parole officers.
It is also worth pointing out that despite opposition from Canada's defence lawyers, the repeal of the faint hope was supported unanimously by Conservatives and Liberals alike. The NDP and the Bloc opposed it, of course.
Much like the abolishment of the faint hope clause and the introduction of consecutive periods of parole ineligibility, Bill C-266 would remove the incentive for good behaviour in correctional facilities and thwart any possibility of rehabilitation. It would create tension in Canada's prisons, and prisoners and correctional officers would be endangered.
The Canadian Bar Association
does not believe that Canadians would benefit from a system where individuals are condemned to spend their entire lives behind bars, with no hope of ever being released. Even those convicted of homicide, the most serious of all crimes, should know there is some slim possibility, after serving lengthy periods of their sentences...of being released into the community and contributing to society, provided that their behaviour while incarcerated makes them deserving of such a privilege.
We understand the trauma that victims' loved ones face when an offender is eligible for parole, but we cannot support legislation that will do more harm than good. We must take into consideration the fact that this legislation proposes a solution that is likely to be deemed unconstitutional.
We believe that our justice system should be structured for the best possible outcomes, and this particular bill would not achieve that.