Mr. Michel Bellehumeur (Berthier-Montcalm, BQ)
Mr. Speaker, although I am sorely tempted to deal with certain of the Reform concerns about this bill, I shall restrain myself because I feel we are straying rather far from the clause.
There could be a debate on everything that has been done, everything that is being done, about parole, the pros, the cons and so on. Right from the start, I think, it has been said that this bill before us may contain things we would have liked to have seen changed but that, overall, it is a bill that merits careful examination.
For those listening to us, who are hearing all of the philosophical debates but are not too clear about what the hon. members are to vote on, Bill C-45, an act to modify the Criminal Code (judicial review of parole ineligibility), it might perhaps be worthwhile to understand the context, how it operates, and particularly why we in the Bloc Quebecois have some reservations about it.
Section 745 of the Criminal Code already covered parole, and this is the part the Minister of Justice wants to change with his bill. Looking at the summary of this bill, one can see there are three major points. It is not a revolutionary change to the entire Criminal Code, only to section 745. Three key points are affected by the changes.
The first removes the right of multiple murderers to apply for judicial review. The second introduces judicial screening of applications, and the third requires that decisions of juries to reduce parole ineligibility periods be unanimous. These are the three key points affected by the bill.
People need to understand how the system works. First of all, the individual "behind bars", as they say, who has fulfilled the conditions of section 745, applies in writing, according to the proposed changes. In the past, this could be a verbal request, but now, under subclause 745(1), the person applying for parole under section 745 must do so in writing to the appropriate chief justice of the province or a judge designated for the purposes of this section. That is the first step.
The second step is new, and the Bloc Quebecois has reservations about it as well, because it is an initial evaluation. The judge, on the basis of the written material in his possession, including the application, the report provided by the Correctional Service of Canada, or any other document submitted by the attorney general or the applicant to the judge, will decide whether the applicant has shown, on a balance of probabilities, that there is a reasonable prospect that the application will succeed.
There has already been an evaluation by an appropriate judge, a judge familiar with the field, to determine whether there is a reasonable prospect that the application will succeed. Our first reservation about this is that the judge is not given specific guidelines. As far as his evaluation goes, there is no problem. I understand that judges have experience in the field, that they will evaluate the case, that they will weigh the facts and make an informed decision, but I would have liked to have seen something clearer, or this part dropped altogether.
That is the second stage of the process. After written application is made, a judge evaluates it and decides whether or not to designate another judge to empanel a jury. Naturally, if the judge who examines the application concludes that, on the face of it, there is not a reasonable prospect that a properly instructed jury would approve the application, he will obviously reject it.
There are two possibilities, according to the amendment: either that the inmate will come before a judge in two years, or that the inmate will not be entitled to present himself for a specified number of years, because his record is not appropriate for parole, or no information is given. Then the law calls for the inmate to be allowed to make another application in two years.
Under 745 (5), if the judge says yes, deciding that the applicant has shown that there is a reasonable prospect that the application will succeed, the chief justice instructs a judge of the superior court of criminal jurisdiction to empanel a jury to hear the application.
The third step is another evaluation, this time before a twelve member jury. The jury has a whole series of criteria to apply. I have absolutely nothing to say on the criteria set by the minister; they are in keeping with jurisprudence and with what is being done at present. I have absolutely no comments to make on this.
Where I do have something to add, where we in the Bloc see an obstacle, is where it is stated in 745.3, subsection 3: "The jury hearing an application under subsection (1) may determine that the applicant's number of years of imprisonment without eligibility for parole ought to be reduced. The determination to reduce the number of years must be by unanimous vote". This is what bothers the Bloc Quebecois, the unanimity of 12 persons. Twelve people will have the file that has already been examined by a judge. The judge has said "Yes, there is a reasonable possibility of the applicant's being able to convince a jury, so we will move it to a jury". The jury of 12 examines all this and has to reach a unanimous conclusion. That will be very hard.
Finally, if the government had decided that section 745 ought to be abolished, that ought to have been done, but without imposing excessive criteria, because it is excessive to require unanimity on a case of this kind.
Mr. Speaker, you are telling me I have only two minutes left, but I thought I was entitled to 20 minutes.
Subtopic: Criminal Code