June 18, 2015

CPC

Bob Dechert

Conservative

Mr. Bob Dechert

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Northumberland—Quinte West very much for his long service in the House of Commons. I had the privilege of serving with him on the justice committee in two sessions of Parliament. I know he served very capably on the defence committee, the public safety committee, and many other committees. His experience as a police officer gave him first-hand knowledge of the things we discussed in the justice committee. His knowledge was invaluable to the deliberations of the justice committee on all of the bills that the government passed. I will very much miss his wise counsel in this place and I wish him the very best in his future endeavours. I think he is going to see a little more of his fishing rod over the next few months and years than he has over the last nine.

Having said that, my response to his question is that many jurisdictions in the world have this kind of a clemency system. It is actually quite common. It puts this very important decision in the hands of the individuals who are directly accountable to the people.

He referred to the family of one of the victims of Clifford Olson. I believe he was referring to Sharon Rosenfeldt. I heard her very heart-wrenching and gut-wrenching testimony about how this sneering, heinous criminal would ask to be released at his parole hearing every two years and then take the families of his victims through the awful murders he committed of their children. They had to go there every two years and go through that process over and over again. This is what this bill is aimed at reducing. It would give the families of victims some peace knowing that such individuals will stay behind bars and never harm another Canadian.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Life Means Life Act
Permalink
NDP

Fin Donnelly

New Democratic Party

Mr. Fin Donnelly

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, there have been consultations among the parties and I hope you will find agreement on the following motion: That in the opinion of the House, the government should officially recognize October 10 as world mental health day in Canada.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Life Means Life Act
Permalink
CPC

Bruce Stanton

Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton)

Does the hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam have the unanimous consent of the House to propose the motion?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Life Means Life Act
Permalink
?

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Life Means Life Act
Permalink
?

An hon. member

No.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Life Means Life Act
Permalink
LIB

Kevin Lamoureux

Liberal

Mr. Kevin Lamoureux

Mr. Speaker, the member mentioned that there was consultation. I was not necessarily aware of the consultation and I was just going to ask if he could indicate how the House was consulted. I was not the one who said no, but I still think it would have been courteous—

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Life Means Life Act
Permalink
CPC

Bruce Stanton

Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton)

The hon. members might want to have a side conversation and we will get on with the debate.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Gatineau.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Life Means Life Act
Permalink
NDP

Françoise Boivin

New Democratic Party

Ms. Françoise Boivin (Gatineau, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I think this will really be my last speech in the 41st Parliament. I thought my speech this morning would be the last one but, finally, this one will be.

Like everyone else, I would like to take the opportunity to thank all the employees of the House. I am referring to the clerks, the pages, the security staff, the lobby service, the bus drivers, who enable us to be at the right place at the right time, and the cafeteria staff who allow us to eat so we do not wilt here in the House.

In my case, as I am starting to be known for what I call intelligent improvisation in my speeches, I have enormous respect for the interpreters, who have the thankless task of interpreting my words, even though they have absolutely no text in front of them. I congratulate them, because I also know that I am not someone who always speaks slowly. I have the greatest respect for them, and I thank them for what they do.

I would also like to thank the people at Hansard. Immediately after I have finished speaking, I receive the texts from them, and sometimes I find that they can convey my ideas even better than I express them myself. When I read over my speeches, I find that I have been really eloquent, but I know that I did not use those exact words. I thank them for improving the quality of my speeches. I appreciate it, and all the French speakers in Canada appreciate it, too.

I would like to thank my team, which does an extraordinary job: Roxane, Shirley, Aline, Alex, Yan and Elise. This year things have been really wild on the team for the member for Gatineau and official opposition justice critic, considering the number of bills we have had to handle and recommend, as the parliamentary secretary said. I received help from the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île, whom I would also like to thank.

This brings me to thank my leader, the leader of the official opposition and member for Outremont, who gave me his confidence to do this job, which has not been an easy ride.

Most of all, I thank my constituents in Gatineau. In 2011, they elected me with a real, strong and stable majority, the largest in Quebec. I am pleased to say that, because people who know me know that I have been in other elections with much closer results. Thus, to finish first in Quebec with 63% of the votes is what I call a strong and stable majority. We will try to do the same in 2015, in the next phase. I thank the people of Gatineau from the bottom of my heart; they have stood beside me in all I have done for the past four years, being active and sharing their comments with me.

When I was voting and some people asked me what that meant, I told them I was voting with my heart. I have never voted except out of a sense of conviction, listening to my heart and thinking of the people of Gatineau. That is why I have watched them. They are the people I think about every time. I may have missed one vote on an evening when we voted all night, but 99% of the time, I voted, thinking only of the people of Gatineau.

Now let me turn to Bill C-53.

The Ottawa criminal lawyer, Leo Russomano, said:

Let’s just call it what it is, it’s just an election year bill that makes no effort whatsoever to actually respond to a problem. This is a solution in search of a problem...

The fact of the matter is they are life sentences. Whether a person is released on parole or not, they are under sentence for the rest of their lives. It’s sowing the seeds of mistrust with the administration of justice.

Other people told us that the parliamentary secretary also talked to them about Clifford Olson.

—the worst murderers--serial killers like Clifford Olsen--already die behind bars. She predicts others who face no chance to serve the rest of their “life sentence” under strict conditions with supervision in the community will become angry and desperate, a danger to themselves or others.

I will have more to say on that point.

Bill C-53 targets tougher sentences for those guilty of high treason.

The parliamentary secretary did say that.

The last offender convicted in Canada was Louis Riel.

Eventually, people have to stop laughing at other people. The offences listed in the bill are horrible crimes. No one in the House, wherever they sit, will applaud them or feel any compassion at all. Our sympathy is definitively with the victims.

The things I have deplored about the Conservatives since they took office in 2006 are things I am passionate about. I have been a lawyer for a long time. Justice, particularly social justice, but really all justice with a capital J, is what stirs me and commands my interest. That is one reason I decided to get into politics. The Conservatives speak about the number of bills they have introduced, but quantity is never the same as quality. It is all very well to have 150 bills, but if those 150 bills—some of them now acts—are meaningless or will one day be tested in court and overthrown, there is a problem somewhere. That is not really the issue because sometimes we have differences of opinion. In those cases, I can respect the issue being debated.

Nevertheless, it is extremely arrogant, at the end of a mandate, to make surprise substitutions of bills, as the government did last night, in order to put this one on the order paper, to at least give the impression it is being discussed, even though the Conservatives have promised it and given press conferences about it for a long time. Not everyone may have seen it, but one national English-language media outlet said that, despite all the emphasis by the Conservatives on Bill C-53, there had not been even one hour of debate about it. What a surprise; after that article appeared, here is the hour of debate. I hope everyone who is watching knows, as you and I know Mr. Speaker, that what we are doing here and now is just saying some words. Those words signify absolutely nothing.

The parliamentary secretary talked about it; in committee we examined Bill C-587, which proposed possible parole, to be determined by the Parole Board of Canada, of up to 40 years for the same kind of crime as seen in Bill C-53. I asked questions during the committee's study of the bill. Even the Conservative member who introduced the bill asked to suspend our consideration for some time because there appeared to be a serious conflict with the more showy introduction of Bill C-53. I have often said one thing to the Conservatives and I am going to repeat it, although it is sad that these will be my last words in this Parliament: I think the Conservatives have unfortunately exploited victims to express outrageous principles, concepts or phrases at huge media events that really, in the end, are destined to disappoint. They will disappoint the victims because, as I said when we were debating the victims bill of rights, they are nothing but beautiful intentions and hollow promises. The official opposition, on the other hand, has suggested amendments to these rights and has insisted that the right to information is essential, but these amendments were defeated by the Conservatives.

I am not bitter, because I am a positive kind of girl. I fit right in to the NDP where we are optimistic and positive. Thus, I still have hope that this is not over and that one day we will be able to repair much of the damage that this government has done to the justice system.

That brings me to my main point about what I have lived through in the past two years, very personally, as the official opposition justice critic. That is the fact that, in all its bills, the government, with its outrageous short titles, is harming the concept of justice and giving the impression that the system acts poorly for most ordinary people in Canada, the ones who are watching us and who are interested in the issue. The government is giving people the impression that the system is broken because the Parole Board of Canada is not doing its job, because judges are too soft, because the opposition is pro-terrorist, and so on and so forth.

We are talking about justice, and we fundamentally believe in justice. We can mention the Olson case. He never got out of prison and he died there, or we can mention Bernardo, another case relevant to this discussion, someone who will never get out of prison. We can talk about the fact that families are forced to periodically go before the Parole Board of Canada. Bills have been introduced to ensure that hearings are not held before a certain period of time has passed so that families are not forced to attend them so often. There are even simpler solutions. When simple solutions are presented for an existing problem that everyone recognizes, it is not as exciting as holding a big press conference in front of a bunch of flags and saying shocking things that should never come out of the mouths of people who are supposed to be leaders in our society.

When we considered Bill C-587 introduced by the Conservative member, I said that the Parole Board of Canada was already using other approaches in a number of cases. It is not true that people are constantly being called to come before the board. Why? Because the authorities already tend not to let the individual out. People are not bothered, but rather informed. It probably makes some people relive certain things. As I said to one of the victims who appeared one time before the committee, even if someone is put away for 60 years, this is something that will never be erased from one’s heart.

My younger sister died during this Parliament. Does anyone think I will forget her in 5, 10 or 15 years? Her death was not even the result of a crime. These are things we never forget.

We could make it easier for families and tell them these people are dangerous criminals who will never get out of jail. There are all kinds of tools that exist. In introducing Bill C-53, the government is trying to make people believe that it is solving a huge problem. As I said earlier, we can forget about the crime of high treason. There are not many cases like that of Louis Riel in Canada. We can move on to something else. In terms of the other crimes mentioned, like those of Bernardo and Olson, the government is unable to give the names of people who might be wandering the streets and who have committed crimes like those mentioned in Bill C-53. It does not have any names, because this does not happen. However, if the government says it and repeats it often enough, it will make people believe that this happens. It is frightening people.

I remember an interview that I did with a wonderful Quebec City radio station, which could not wait for me to arrive, because the interview was about the dangerous sex offender registry. They were waiting for me, saying they were going to be interviewing some softies from the NDP. Before putting me on the air, they recounted the case of a guy who was walking around as free as a bird in Quebec City. They were anxious to have the registry set up. I stopped them after half a second, saying I was surprised that they were talking about a registry to solve the problem of the person who was in their city, when the real question was why he was out on the street.

We need to stop mixing everything up and creating situations that make people believe things that do not exist.

In this Parliament, in this democratic institution, it is the duty of everyone, both on the government side and on the opposition side, not to mislead the House, to work to support our pillars of democracy and not to impede the executive, legislative and judicial pillars.

Unfortunately, this government has done nothing but cast doubt on the quality and transparency of our Supreme Court justices, including the chief justice. When a decision is handed down, they say the court is like this and like that, and so on. If we do not say the same things the government representatives do, we are pro-criminals and pro-terrorists. It is very sad.

We may not have the same agendas, but I think that all the members of the House want as few crimes as possible to be committed, to protect the safety of our fellow Canadians. Let us do so properly.

The Conservatives have no statistics. They have never been able to present the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights with any statistics of any kind in support of the bills they put forward.

The minister introduced his bill on sexual predators, and yet he boasted that there have never been as many laws as the Conservative government has passed to make sentences even tougher. He presented us with an admission of failure by showing us that these offences had risen in the last two years, in spite of the tougher laws. There is a problem somewhere.

The real bottom line when it comes to crime and the justice system is that the Conservatives’ statements are not borne out by the statistics. The statistics show us that the number of crimes committed is going down. It is very possible that the numbers of certain types of crimes have risen, but let us focus on those problems instead of playing petty politics just to make a show for the media by parading victims about for their own purposes.

However, in numerous conversations I had with victims at various times during this Parliament, I was pleased to find that their eyes were increasingly open and they were starting to realize that they were puppets being manipulated by the government, and that makes me extremely sad.

I would like to talk about the provision that allows the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to act. Because it will not be the current minister, I will not even talk about the kind of expertise he has. Even if the most qualified person held the position of Minister of Public Safety, it would still be indecent. It is indecent to politicize the issue in a free and democratic society that is subject to a constitution, laws and a charter of rights. This is not how we do things.

Once again, this is a negative statement about the Parole Board of Canada, whose members are appointed by the government. There is a problem somewhere. Either they are good enough to do their job or they are not, and if not, then let us change things without delay.

However, let us not start giving this kind of power to a person who holds high political office and is going to wait to see what the person on the street has to say first. We know that we are all the same when a terrible crime is committed: we all have a tendency to want to do the worst. That is why an independent body that is capable of analyzing and examining the case is necessary.

Let us stop mixing apples and oranges and stop doing damage to the justice system as a whole. Let us repair it and fix the problems, but let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater, as if it were any old system at all.

The legal system, overall, serves Canadians well. Crown counsel, defence counsel, judges and all the other participants in the system are people who do what they have to do in circumstances that are not always easy, given government cutbacks.

This being the case, let us stop attacking the system from all sides and introducing bills that will not last beyond the end of the day or that may live to see another hour tomorrow.

It is absolutely insulting and indecent to introduce something that is as important as this, knowing full well that it will last no longer than the speeches that people are going to hear now.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Life Means Life Act
Permalink
CPC

Bob Dechert

Conservative

Mr. Bob Dechert (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, the member mentioned a number of things that she would do to change the justice legislation our government has passed.

She mentioned victims. I do not know what justice committee hearings she was at, but the ones I was at had victims rights organizations from every province of Canada saying that they needed the legislation the government had been passing over the last several, that they needed the victims bill of rights.

The member talked earlier about the government bill that would reduce the number of parole hearings, hearings that the families of victims would attend over and over again every two years and constantly relive the horror of the loss of their family member. Her party voted against it. What she is putting out there is a virtue, and I thank her for that, but when she had the opportunity to stand up for her constituents, she voted against it.

What is she going to tell her constituents the day that a heinous murderer of a child is released after 25 years? That day will happen and she will be held to account. What is she going to tell her constituents that day?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Life Means Life Act
Permalink
NDP

Françoise Boivin

New Democratic Party

Ms. Françoise Boivin

Mr. Speaker, first, when one votes against something, one is looking at the ensemble of the legislation. The member makes it look like this was a little piece, but, no, there were many dispositions in the bill. Every expert who testified made a point of saying that it would not do what it was supposed to, and that there were other ways to correct this.

What would I say to a victim?

I am not surprised that the parliamentary secretary still is unable to mention one person based on those crimes who is either in jail or out on the street. Where are these people actually walking down our streets? There is zero. There are none. That is my point.

If somebody lost a child because of that evil person, then, as I said, justice will follow its course. This person will be prosecuted to the fullest weight of the law. Usually people depend on that, and that is where they defer with us.

I trust the system. I trust the court. I trust the jury system, even in some of these cases, to do exactly what we expect of those people. I expect the system, once the sentence is imposed, to do what it is supposed to do.

However, if the point in the House is to say that people will stay in jail, all of them, for the rest of their lives with no rehabilitation, I would ask the parliamentary secretary if he remembers what Mr. Sapers, the Correctional Investigator of Canada, said about the danger of that. Those people will have no hope in hell to improve.

Therefore, we have to be a bit more thorough than to just throw that type of garbage out, like the member did, just to try to imply things that do not happen.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Life Means Life Act
Permalink
LIB

Sean Casey

Liberal

Mr. Sean Casey (Charlottetown, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, as always, my colleague from the justice committee, the member for Gatineau, gave us a very comprehensive review and critique of the legislation. Over here, we find ourselves in agreement with virtually all of the points she made, and that is indeed quite a common occurrence at committee, I am pleased to say.

There are two particular questions that I wish to pose.

The first is that one of the stated goals of this legislation is to minimize the trauma to victims of having to constantly go back to parole hearings when someone who has committed a terrible crime is eligible or is up for eligibility consideration. Surely the member would agree that this is a legitimate goal. I think we can concede that. However, are there other modes of minimizing the stress on the families of victims other than this one, that she could propose?

Also, unless I missed it, I do not think she spent much time talking about the constitutionality of the legislation. It is obviously constitutionally suspect, as we have seen over and over again, with millions of dollars wasted on legal fees trying to defend charter violations. Her comments with respect to the constitutional validity of the legislation would also be of some value.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Life Means Life Act
Permalink
NDP

Françoise Boivin

New Democratic Party

Ms. Françoise Boivin

Mr. Speaker, I did not speak at length about the bill’s constitutionality, because it will not go any further than the speeches that will be given in the House for a couple of hours. Thank God that this bill will not be passed as written. Otherwise, it is clear that, constitutionally speaking, the issue of cruel and unusual punishment under section 12 of the charter would have certainly been brought up during the first trial where sentencing would have fallen under Bill C-53.

I also did not have the opportunity to talk about the fact that one of the officials—I think it was Commissioner Head—told us in committee that this kind of case comes up perhaps no more than five or six times a year. Again, he does not include in his statistics the possibility that there were agreements between the Crown and the defence to avoid the impact and application of Bill C-53. Would we even see cases prosecuted on that basis? We need to remember the real question with respect to constitutionality.

It would be whether leaving prisoners without hope of release at least by a neutral decision-making body would meet Canadian standards of human treatment.

Again it comes back to leaving the matter in the hands of the public safety minister. I believe that the government would have preferred to not even include the 35-year provision. Let us remember the title of the bill.

Life means life, except if the minister thinks this or that, so on and so forth. The Conservatives just give themselves a little hope that the court will say it is constitutionally sound. There are so many ways to minimize this. I have always said that the families should go before the commission only and solely if the commission intends to release the criminal who has committed this type of crime. If they have, for some weird reason that I cannot foresee because I have not seen any case of the kind, then we remove the trauma because they will never even be asked to go. As the commission said to us, it knows those guys will not go out. Why bother bringing the victims to relive the trauma? That is all they have to do.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Life Means Life Act
Permalink
NDP

Raymond Côté

New Democratic Party

Mr. Raymond Côté (Beauport—Limoilou, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Gatineau for her remarks. I also thank her for kindly acting as my mentor during the months I spent on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. It was very enlightening and I learned a lot from her.

The Conservatives have mastered the art of breaking down open doors. We have said it repeatedly and furthermore, they heard many first-hand witnesses who said that the situation they were trying to address in this bill had never come up.

The other argument they are using to try to convince us—and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice referred to it—is to follow the example of other democracies that have fallen into the same ruts and made the same kind of mistake. We should point out that the United States, a country that has gone a long way down this road, condemning dangerous criminals to prison with no hope of parole, is now reviewing this practice, because it has a lot of awful consequences. They did not mention the three countries—France, Germany and Italy—where provisions of this kind were declared unconstitutional.

I would like my colleague to tell us about the lessons we can learn from other countries that have tried this unfortunate experiment, which our government wants to impose on us.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Life Means Life Act
Permalink
NDP

Françoise Boivin

New Democratic Party

Ms. Françoise Boivin

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. It gives me an opportunity to make some remarks I did not have a chance to make earlier.

While I was studying the bill in order to make my recommendations to the official opposition caucus, I had a letter from the Canadian Prison Law Association. These people wrote to me in March 2015. They thought the bill was on the fast track. That was the impression the government was giving. In the end, though, the Conservatives were asleep at the switch until nearly the last day of the parliamentary session.

The association recommended that I go talk to people who had worked in the prison system, the justice system, including the American justice system, and people from the other countries the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice is so fond of mentioning.

A distinction must be made, because their system is not exactly the same as ours. They do not necessarily have our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I know that some Conservatives would rather the charter not exist, but it does. As long as the Conservatives do not use the notwithstanding clause, they can try every trick in the book to undermine the charter, but the Supreme Court will always have to remind them that we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, because that is the role of the court. The Conservatives must therefore ensure that the bills they introduce are in line with the charter and the Constitution.

We need to be careful with comparisons before making such unequivocal statements, as the parliamentary secretary does, in light of the fact that others do not have the same laws as us.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Life Means Life Act
Permalink
LIB

Sean Casey

Liberal

Mr. Sean Casey (Charlottetown, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on Bill C-53, the lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key act. It is the life means life act. This bill would eliminate the possibility of parole for many of the most serious crimes, including many forms of first degree murder and high treason.

The stated purpose of the bill is to reduce trauma to victims' families by avoiding unnecessary and repeated parole hearings. That is a worthy objective, and the Liberals supported legislation to further that goal just a few weeks ago with Bill C-587, the respecting families of murdered and brutalized persons act. As members will recall, that bill would extend parole ineligibility to 40 years from 25 years for a limited class of particularly brutal crimes.

However, while we agree with the objective of reducing trauma to victims and the approach taken by Bill C-587, we will not support the life means life act. Liberals are open to exploring additional ways of reducing trauma to victims. For example, we would consider extending parole ineligibility to longer than 25 years for some of the crimes covered by Bill C-53, just as we supported consecutive periods of parole ineligibility for multiple murders. As members know, that change resulted in Travis Baumgartner receiving 40 years of parole ineligibility for murdering three of his coworkers at an armoured car company. It also resulted in Justin Bourque receiving 75 years of parole ineligibility for murdering three RCMP officers in Moncton.

The crimes covered by Bill C-53 are terrible. That is why they are punished harshly under Canadian law. However, the primary reason we will not support this bill is that it would replace the Parole Board with the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. Ministers are inherently concerned with making political decisions. That is a step backward and an affront to the rule of law. It is also probably unconstitutional. I will explain why that is the case later on.

First let us go over the contents of the life means life act.

Bill C-53 would amend the Criminal Code to require imprisonment for life without eligibility for parole for specific types of murder convictions, as well for high treason, provided that the offender is 18 or older. The types of murder convictions that require such a sentence must be planned and deliberate murders in which the victim is a law enforcement officer, a member of correctional staff, or a person working in a prison; the accused caused the death while committing or attempting to commit aircraft hijacking, various types of sexual assault, kidnapping, forcible confinement, or hostage taking; the accused caused the death while committing or attempting to commit a terrorist act; or the accused's behaviour associated with the offence was of such a brutal nature as to compel the conclusion that the accused's behaviour in the future is unlikely to be inhibited by normal standards of behavioural constraint.

Under Bill C-53, a conviction for high treason would also require the imposition of a life sentence without eligibility for parole. High treason comprises attacking the Queen, waging war against Canada, or assisting an enemy engaged in hostilities with the Canadian Forces.

Bill C-53 would also create a discretionary judicial power to order imprisonment for life without eligibility for parole for three types of offenders.

First are persons convicted of second degree murder who have previously been convicted of murder. Second are persons convicted of second degree murder who have previously been convicted of genocide, a crime against humanity, or a war crime. Third are any persons convicted of first degree murder.

The use of this discretionary judicial power would require a prosecutorial application and consideration of the offender's age and character, the nature of the offence and its circumstances, and the jury's recommendation on parole eligibility.

In addition, Bill C-53 would amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to allow offenders serving life without eligibility for parole to apply to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness for executive release by the Governor in Council after serving 35 years of their sentence. Offenders may reapply after five years if their application is unsuccessful. Offenders granted executive release would become subject to the Parole Board's authority, including termination or revocation of the release and the imposition of conditions.

As I said, Liberals are amenable to 35 or 40 years of ineligibility for the crimes covered in this bill, as we indicated in our support for Bill C-587. That increase could make a meaningful difference for victims' families. However, we take issue with who the government proposes should be making decisions after that time period.

In addition to the changes I have already noted, Bill C-53 would amend the National Defence Act to require imprisonment for life without eligibility for parole for the following offences: traitorous misconduct by a commanding officer in the presence of an enemy; traitorous misconduct by any person in the presence of an enemy; traitorous compromise of security; high treason; and murder of the same types captured in the Criminal Code amendments.

This bill would also create military judicial discretion to impose imprisonment without eligibility for parole in the same circumstances as in the civilian domain. As well, Bill C-53 would amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act to allow imprisonment for life without eligibility for parole when, in the opinion of the Minister of Public Safety, documents supplied by a foreign entity show that the offender would have been convicted of a murder offence listed in the first paragraph, with the exception of the brutal nature provision.

I want to flag this last change as being particularly problematic, since it would allow the Minister of Public Safety to impose life sentences without parole eligibility based on evidence supplied by foreign entities. That would allow potentially tainted or fabricated evidence to produce life sentences without parole eligibility in Canada. States with some of the worst justice systems in the world could provide admissible evidence.

It is important to understand how all of the changes in Bill C-53 would alter the status quo. Currently all murder convictions carry mandatory life sentences in Canada. All of the specific types of murder that require parole ineligibility for life under Bill C-53 support convictions for first degree murder, which carry 25 years of parole ineligibility. A conviction for high treason would also carry a mandatory life sentence with 25 years of parole ineligibility.

For an offender serving a life sentence, day parole would become a possibility after 22 years and full parole would become possible after 25 years. On application, the Parole Board must review unsuccessful day parole applications every year and unsuccessful full parole applications every two years.

Of relevance, under a 2011 law that Liberals supported, offenders can now receive consecutive periods of parole ineligibility for multiple murders. As I mentioned, two offenders have been sentenced under that law to 40 years and 75 years of parole ineligibility respectively.

Under the current law, offenders may also be designated as dangerous offenders, meaning they may receive indeterminate sentences, subject to periodic review.

I want to focus in on the fact that this bill would grant the Minister of Public Safety, an elected politician, the discretion to release prisoners, a function currently carried out by the Parole Board. Any minister of public safety would be subject to self-interest and political pressure from constituents, the party, and especially the Prime Minister. This conflict of interest could unduly affect decisions on prisoner release and act contrary to the interests of justice.

When Canadians reflect on the matter, I do not think they would support the idea of the Prime Minister personally deciding on which prisoners to release. That is rightly the job of the Parole Board. Political considerations should not enter into these sorts of decisions. That, of course, is the reason we do not elect judges in Canada.

I am not sure why the government views the Parole Board as not being up to doing its job. When evidence was given on Bill C-587, I had a chance to ask Ms. Suzanne Brisebois of the Parole Board about its functioning. I asked her, “To whom is the Parole Board of Canada accountable?” Her response was as follows:

Our board is an independent administrative tribunal. There's a very rigorous competitive process that prospective board members have to go through...

We're responsible to the Canadian public. Again, the protection of the public is our paramount consideration. It's part of our mandate.

I also asked Ms. Brisebois:

Is the board less well-equipped to deal with the most serious cases than the rest? Could you comment on whether they're particularly poorly equipped for the most serious cases?

Her response was:

Our board members undergo rigorous training as part of their induction, both at national office and in the regions. They're trained on various aspects of the legislation, our policies, our procedures, risk assessment, and the various actuarial tools, so they undergo a very rigorous training period.

The Parole Board should be allowed to do its job. Replacing the Parole Board with political decisions from the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness is a step backwards.

Liberals supported Bill C-587's increase to 40 years of parole ineligibility as well as the 2011 change for allowing consecutive periods of parole ineligibility. Crucially, both of these changes preserved judicial discretion in criminal sentencing under the charter. While allowing for more severe penalties, they safeguarded a judge's ability to tailor specific sentences to be proportional to specific crimes.

In contrast with Bill C-587, this bill would fetter judicial discretion in a way that would invite charter scrutiny. As I said, we are open to increasing the period of ineligibility, provided that it is the Parole Board that takes any decision once the years have passed. That approach would preserve judicial discretion, allowing sentences to pass constitutional muster.

On that note, I want to say a few words about the current government's disrespect for the Constitution, especially the charter.

This week Amy Minsky of Global News reported that the Conservatives have wasted almost $7 million of taxpayers' money in unsuccessfully trying to defend legislation and executive actions that violate Canadians' rights. That included over $1 million spent in trying to take away health care from refugees, almost $350,000 in trying to put a federal judge on Quebec's Supreme Court seat, and over $425,000 in trying to shut down a safe injection site.

Last week I learned from an order paper question that the Conservative government has spent $257,825.17 and counting in the Ishaq case, trying to ensure a woman cannot take the citizenship oath while wearing a niqab. I say “and counting” because that appeal is ongoing—not because it has a reasonable prospect for success, but because the current government wants to fearmonger and divide Canadians for political reasons. I am going to repeat the number in the Ishaq case: it spent over $257,000 to make sure a woman cannot wear a niqab in a citizenship oath. That is a stunning misuse of taxpayer money.

As Canadians know, the current government is one that has little respect for the courts and less for the charter. We all recall the disgraceful defaming of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice. As a lawyer, I was shocked. As a Canadian, I was deeply disappointed.

Members in this chamber will also recall the revelation that the current government disregards the constitutional advice of its own lawyers. As members are aware, Department of Justice lawyer Edgar Schmidt has revealed to Canadians that the current government proceeds with legislation even if it has a 5% or less chance of being charter-compliant.

As the Liberal justice critic, I have often criticized the current government for constantly amending the Criminal Code while failing to invest the necessary resources to prevent crimes from occurring. As a general rule, the government's approach is doomed to be ineffective because its policies are not responsive to evidence.

As I said when speaking to Bill C-587, I think in particular of the government's recent cuts to Circles of Support and Accountability, a community-based reintegration group that holds sex offenders accountable for the harm they have caused while assisting with their re-entry into society at the end of their sentences. COSA has been proven to reduce recidivism among sex offenders by 70% to 83%. That is an astonishing number.

According to the government's own study, it has saved $4.60 for society for every dollar invested. Over five years it has prevented 240 sexual crimes, yet the government cut that program, which was incredibly irresponsible. That cut poses a real and ongoing threat to public safety.

Returning to Bill C-53, the life means life act, I want to reiterate that Liberals strongly support the objective of reducing repeated and unnecessary trauma to victims' families. I recall from the Bill C-587 hearings the moving testimony of two family members of victims. That testimony was the reason we supported Bill C-587. However, the goal of reducing trauma to victims can and should be achieved with changes other than those contained in Bill C-53.

The primary reason we will not support this bill is that it would replace the Parole Board with politically driven decisions from the Minister of Public Safety. That is a step backward and an affront to the rule of law. Also, it is probably unconstitutional.

I wonder if these considerations explain why the government has brought this legislation forward so late in the calendar when it has no chance of becoming law.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Life Means Life Act
Permalink
CPC

Dan Albas

Conservative

Mr. Dan Albas (Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member. He is a newer member, like myself. We will be going back to our communities soon to seek a mandate. I wish him the best, but I wish our candidate better.

Getting back to the issue, I always appreciate the member and I work well with him. The member has raised concerns about whether, under the proposed legislation, the Minister of Public Safety is qualified enough to make an expert decision on whether or not to effectively give someone clemency in extraordinary circumstances. He has questioned whether that is something the minister is capable of. How does he square that with the current practice where the Minister of Public Safety receives a request under our international prisoner exchange to move a person from a particular country's prison system to a Canadian prison to serve the rest of his or her sentence?

The minister works very well on an ongoing basis with public safety officials to ensure one thing more than anything else, that public safety is looked after. How does the member square that in one area, the minister is perfectly qualified and does these transfers on a regular basis, or not, based on the expertise that he has acquired along with his officials? How does the member square the two positions?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Life Means Life Act
Permalink
LIB

Sean Casey

Liberal

Mr. Sean Casey

Mr. Speaker, first, my colleague from the Okanagan wished me well in the upcoming election, but the Conservative candidate better. If he could tell me who it is, that might help. That individual has not yet been identified.

With respect to the specific question, there is a real concern here with the politicization of prisoner release, the politicalization of the role that previously was reserved for the Parole Board.

While he makes a valid point that there are certain powers that reside with the Minister of Public Safety right now with respect to international prisoners and those types of transfers, any encroachment on the expert role that is presently played by the Parole Board is one that is unwise, unwarranted and potentially dangerous.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Life Means Life Act
Permalink
NDP

Raymond Côté

New Democratic Party

Mr. Raymond Côté (Beauport—Limoilou, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Charlottetown for his speech. It is a rather worrisome debate. My colleague, the member for Gatineau, pointed out how this is a very election-minded bill. I would like to get back to the facts and to the problems experienced in some countries. Obviously, our neighbours to the south, the Americans, are stuck managing a huge problem with violence in their prison system. I want to share a quote from the U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder. He said:

Statistics have shown—and all of us have seen—that high incarceration rates and longer-than-necessary prison terms have not played a significant role in materially improving public safety, reducing crime or strengthening communities.

It is quite clear that the United States is currently trying to backtrack on these exceptionally long and harsh sentences because they do not fix the problem and they create a lot of social problems. That is not to mention the high cost of the prison system and the American justice system.

Could my colleague give us other examples from around the world, or even more American examples, of bad measures that the Conservatives are trying to force on us?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Life Means Life Act
Permalink
LIB

Sean Casey

Liberal

Mr. Sean Casey

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

He is right. It is clear that this government has adopted many measures that are quite similar to those adopted in some U.S. states.

However, we are always 10 or 20 years behind. Many of the measures adopted in the United States no longer work. There is a movement around the world, not just in the United States, to change the mindset about crime and sentencing. In fact, the hon. member's statistics confirm that.

There is another aspect of this issue that I want to address, and that is the safety of those who work in prisons. There are measures in Bill C-53 that are going to cause real problems because those who are incarcerated and will be affected by these measures will lose hope and have no reason to behave in a civilized manner. When inmates lose hope, that can create a very dangerous situation in our prisons for those who work there. In my opinion, that is an important aspect of this debate.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Life Means Life Act
Permalink
LIB

Kevin Lamoureux

Liberal

Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to pick up on one of the comments my colleague made in regard to the timing of the legislation itself. Here we are in what are the dying days of the government as we anticipate at some point in the next day or two, we will see the session wind down. Yet we have this bill which no doubt has been given an interesting title, which likely came right from the Prime Minister's Office.

The concern I have is in regard to the number of issues related to crime and safety in the different communities across Canada. If I were to focus on my own constituency of Winnipeg North, there is a great deal of concern that the government is not doing enough to prevent young people from joining gangs, as an example, and that the federal government should be investing more into activities and programs that would assist as alternatives to youth participating in gangs. The idea is to prevent crimes from taking place.

I wonder if my colleague would provide some comments in terms of the government's priorities in the dying days of a session when it decided to debate this particular bill rather than other important issues.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Life Means Life Act
Permalink

June 18, 2015