Hon. Larry Bagnell (Yukon, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure again to rise on this very important bill, a bill that is important for my riding and, indeed, the justice system and all Canadians.
To briefly summarize what I was talking about in the first 13 minutes, I made the point that many Conservative MPs do not have an appropriate understanding of the effectiveness of conditional sentencing and of the success rates of conditional sentencing. As all studies have shown, it makes victims and Canadians much safer because it has a higher rate of reducing future crime. There is a lower rate of recidivism when someone is on a conditional sentence than when they go through incarceration.
People say that incarceration for a number of criminals is just a university of crime. They are with people who are not helping them get on in life or develop good methods and morals. They are teaching them ways to continue in crime, whereas conditional sentences have all sorts of conditions which many people do not understand that help rehabilitate someone and get them prepared for a meaningful life. Everyone, of course, goes back into society after their sentence is finished.
It is hard to believe that the government actually takes this whole crime agenda seriously. It talks about it all the time but it keeps shutting down Parliament and delaying its own crime bills every time it gets close to being in trouble. At the last prorogation there were 19 crime bills. A lot of those bills could have been through already. If the government were really serious about protecting Canadians it would not keep delaying its own bills on crime.
I sat on the justice committee for a number of the bills and virtually all the experts and all the witnesses we saw on a vast majority of the bills showed that a number of the provisions being put forward did not make any sense when they were tested against the reality of what worked, of what the stats showed, of what actually reduced crime and of what protected victims. Therefore, the justice committee had to make a number of modifications. The precursor to this bill, Bill C-9, we had to drastically change because it was so out of whack with reality and with what witnesses and experts said would actually protect Canadians and reduce victims.
I would agree that some violent crimes should not be eligible for conditional sentences, which is why I am willing to let the bill go to committee. However, for a number of crimes that should still be allowed, where judges should have discretion. The government has made no indication and cannot answer the question about the cost of this. There have been disastrous results from the Conservatives' other bills when someone else analyzed the costs. There is no analysis here, especially considering the provinces will have to pay for some of it and they have no idea what would need to be transferred to the provinces.
When we are in this huge deficit, the biggest in history, the Conservatives need to keep raising taxes. They raised the income trusts for elderly people in this country. EI premiums are going up. We are all paying airline taxes and huge interest rates on our income tax. Now they want to put in another bill that will cost a lot of money with no costing whatsoever and no telling the provinces what they will have to pay.
The second point I want to make relates to the appellate courts. If the lower court has a problem with a sentence that does not provide an appropriate conditional sentence, then it is appealed. The appeal courts do not have a problem interpreting the conditional sentencing. Both Ontario and Alberta Courts of Appeal agree that conditional sentences are not interpreted the same way for dangerous offenders purposes, which have totally different consequences and purposes.
Another problem with the bill is that it totally avoids the principles of sentencing and the circumstances of the crime. If the government thinks the bill will get away without a constitutional challenge, it has another think coming. If we defy major principles in our justice system, looking at the principles of sentencing, the circumstances of a particular crime by eliminating one of the options for the judge, then that certainly will be challenged at some time in the future.
The last point relates to policy development. Policy development in the federal system normally starts with experts in a department, such as the Department of Justice, who have years of experience. They find a need in society, work it up, study it around the world, talk about the problems and then they bring forward legislation.
It has been made quite clear to us in committee that on a number of justice cases the government has been working the other way around. The government just tells the bureaucrats what to do. In those cases, Department of Justice officials have not even been able to defend the legislation because they did not develop it. It is indefensible, as the experts explained to us in the justice committee.
I would like to ask Conservative members if they could give me three examples of cases where the courts gave an inappropriate sentence for a violent crime, a conditional sentence, and those sentences were not appealed. Conditional sentences have worked in thousands of cases. I would just like to have three examples of where a conditional sentence was given for a violent crime and the sentence was not appealed.
As one of my colleagues said, a lot of this bill appears to be a solution looking for a problem. I was a bit more enthusiastic about this bill at the start but when the government cannot answer any of these questions about it, it really puts the whole effort into question.
Mr. Marc Lemay (Abitibi—Témiscamingue, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak again about Bill C-16, which was known as Bill C-42 barely a few months ago. Two years ago it was Bill C-9.
There are always questions about the administration of justice. How can justice be better administered? How can we ensure that dangerous criminals stay behind bars as long as possible? We will not find positive answers to these questions in Bill C-16.
For those who are watching, I should explain what we are talking about. When an individual is brought before a court for having committed an offence, a break and enter for example, the judge has a myriad of options, ranging from a simple fine to jail time. Somewhere between those two options is parole and absolute discharge.
When it comes to detention, the Conservatives need to stop kidding us. I am sure that the translators, who are wonderful, will put this correctly in English: a conditional sentence is still a sentence. And that brings us to the final types of sentences a judge can impose—a fixed term sentence or a conditional sentence. Since the Conservatives are not familiar with this, I will explain it to them.
In 1996, a number of attorneys general and ministers of justice—including the current Minister of Justice, who was in Manitoba at the time—determined that this was expensive and that some people were jailed too long for nothing.
We must understand one extremely important thing, which I will repeat because the members opposite do not understand: a conditional sentence is a sentence of imprisonment. The Conservatives are saying that offenders serve their sentence at home with their feet up doing nothing. I will come back to that. They are bending the truth, if not totally lying to the public when they say such things. It is absolutely not true.
I practised law in 1985, 1990 and 1995, and from 1996 to 2003. I argued many cases and learned a lot about the system. For example, an individual is brought before a judge, who hands down a conditional sentence. It might be a good idea for certain Conservative MPs to read and consult section 718 of the Criminal Code, which is not being amended by this bill. This section is the basis of conditional sentencing. It reads:
|| The fundamental purpose of sentencing is to contribute, along with crime prevention initiatives, to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society...
These words are important and our favourite Conservatives need to understand them:
||...by imposing just sanctions that have one or more of the following objectives:
||(a) to denounce unlawful conduct;
||(b) to deter the offender...
||(c) to separate offenders from society, where necessary;
We see that the third objective does not come first.
The fourth objective is, “to assist in rehabilitating offenders”. Those are not my words. That is what it says in section 718 of the Criminal Code. Do the Conservatives want to abolish section 718 while they are at it?
Then there is the fifth objective, “to provide reparations for harm done to victims or the community”. An intelligent judge—and God knows, judges are intelligent—who has read and understood section 718 knows how to apply it. Let us be clear about something once and for all. It is a shame my Conservative friends are not listening to what I am saying.
A conditional sentence can only apply to sentences of less than two years.
Less than two years. Is that clear enough?
The very title of the bill is reprehensible. It is absurd. It does not apply to hardened criminals or those who commit dozens of break and enters. It applies to sentences of less than two years given for offences such as petty theft, auto theft and joy-rides. These sentences are usually given to young people who do not understand. They are not hardened criminals. Judges want them to consider their actions. We are not talking about thieves who commit armed robbery. That kind of crime buys a minimum of four years in jail because a weapon was involved. Anyone who uses a weapon to commit theft gets a minimum of four years in jail. Is that clear enough?
This bill is worse than backward; it drags us back nearly 30 years. The Conservatives' mentality is dangerous because it would move us backward.
That is not the worst of it though. When the Minister of Justice told the committee that this was what attorneys general wanted, committee members asked him if every attorney general in Canada agreed with him. He had the nerve to say that the majority agreed. The problem is that he did not study the issue. The Minister of Justice just came up with this bill. Initially, it was Bill C-42. Now it is Bill C-16, but it is the same bill. Only its number changed. The Conservatives did not study the issue. God knows that I can say so because I was a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights when we studied Bill C-42. We asked them if they had done any studies suggesting that this kind of bill is useful and necessary and that attorneys general and crown prosecutors want it. The answer was no.
So why are they introducing this type of bill? For one reason and one reason only—to respond to the Conservatives supposed target population, which is asking them to be tough on crime. The problem is that when you are tough on crime, you also need to be smart on crime. You have to understand these sentences and these demands. When the bill is studied again, they will trot out the same numbers again. Numbers can speak for themselves. Hold on tight, you are in for quite a surprise.
I will give the real numbers for those who are listening. I did not make these up; they come from the Department of Justice. Actually, they are from the Department of Public Safety, which is practically the same thing. They work hand in hand. This needs to be heard. The average annual inmate cost—I am going to take my time, Mr. Speaker; you can add this to the time I have been allotted—for persons in provincial or territorial custody—the provinces, Quebec, Yukon, Ontario—including remand or other forms of temporary detention was, listen carefully now, $52,205 in 2005-2006. I will repeat that in case the Conservatives did not understand. It cost $52,205 per year to keep someone in a provincial prison. But the best is yet to come. The cost of monitoring an offender within the community, including conditional sentences, probation, supervision, fines and release was $2,398.05 in 2006-2007. I will translate that into plain language since they did not understand. I will repeat it.
It costs $52,205 per year to keep someone in prison, while a conditional sentence costs $2,398.05 per year. The government's figures show that the recidivism rates for individuals who receive conditional sentences have significantly decreased. I am repeating that because they do not understand. The Bloc is not the one saying this.
However, if we were to adopt this bill as is tomorrow morning, we would have 13,000 to 15,000 more prisoners in our provincial detention facilities. That is many hundreds. I hope they know how to count on the other side. Let us take the lower number, 13,000, and multiply it by $52,000. I hope they know how to count. That money could be invested in rehabilitation programs and we could offer appropriate services to the people who need them.
The worst is that regions like Yukon and the Northwest Territories will pay the price because, unfortunately, those regions have a lot of crimes committed by aboriginals. There is a high rate of imprisonment among aboriginals.
In 1996, the government was smart. This government was not in power in 1996. The government implemented conditional sentences because it had thought it through and had conducted studies. It said this was about actual prison sentences. The offender must be found guilty of an offence not punishable by a minimum sentence.
It is clear that if someone commits murder, we will not waste our time. That is what the Conservatives do not understand. Conditional sentencing applies only to sentences of less than two years for which there is no mandatory minimum term of imprisonment. Possession of a firearm for dangerous purposes carries a minimum sentence of three years. That is not an eligible offence and conditional sentencing would not apply. Let us take, for example, multiple charges of impaired driving. If the court imposes a sentence of more than two years, this does not apply. It applies only to people who are imprisoned for less than two years.
Whether our Conservative friends like it or not, when we see the real figures, we can see that judges have taken their role so seriously that, since 2000, they have tightened up monitoring and imposed stricter conditions for an individual to be eligible for conditional sentencing.
When conditional sentences were first being developed, around 1996 or 1997, people were very concerned about whether an individual would respect all the conditions that were set. It was out of respect for the victims—the Conservatives like it when we tell them these things—that the criteria to qualify for a conditional sentence were tightened to include custody. It is a form of imprisonment. It might be at home or at a detention centre or reception centre. The individual's schedule is monitored. The monitoring system is very important in such cases. The individual is regularly and continuously monitored.
To demonstrate this, for days on end, many of my clients were woken up at 3 a.m. by the monitoring service that called to ensure they were at home in bed. Once that was confirmed, the service wished them a good day and hung up.
They are prohibited from having anything other than a land line phone. When cell phones came on the scene, someone could gallivant all over the place and answer as though he was at home. Now conditional sentences prohibit cell phones, because the individual must be reachable at home. So what happens when someone breaches one of the conditions of his conditional sentence? This is very important.
What the Conservatives fail to grasp is that the person is sentenced, for example, to an 18-month conditional sentence, with certain conditions that are set, approved and signed by the court. The individual who breaches the conditions is arrested and serves the rest of the sentence without being eligible for parole. What does that mean? I will explain it for my Conservative friends. Take the example of an individual who is arrested and is given an 18-month conditional sentence. If he does not respect the conditions on the first week-end, he is arrested and jailed, and has to serve the rest of his sentence without possibility of parole. I can assure you, as I have represented a number of these clients, that the court will be very reluctant and hard pressed to release them under other conditions.
I would like to end by telling my Conservative colleagues that eliminating conditional sentences for 39 offences is not the way to reduce crime. This propaganda must stop. This means one thing and we must realize it. If individuals, if the Conservatives, if the Minister of Justice wish to impose jail sentences rather than conditional sentences, it is because they do not trust the judges. That is extremely dangerous. In fact, we need to realize something: if we are unhappy with a judge's sentence, we can appeal. That is what the appeal courts are there for. The government should stop beating around the bush and just say that they do not trust them. We believe that we must trust our courts and, above all, that we must keep conditional sentencing, which is a good measure, one that works well and reduces crime.
Mr. Sukh Dhaliwal (Newton—North Delta, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-16 regarding the use of conditional sentencing in our judicial system.
First I want to point out that this is a bill that has changed names, has changed labels and has changed as the government changes its priorities, because the government places a higher priority on political tactics and advantage than on making the House work productively.
Prorogation has been used as a way for the Prime Minister to protect his job and avoid accountability, and as a result many bills that the government allegedly considered important have died on the order paper.
Bill C-16 is yet another example of a piece of legislation that has been delayed because of these kinds of cynical political ploys by the government.
The Conservative government always presents itself as having a monopoly on being concerned about crime and punishment in this country. On the contrary, here I stand, proud of my voting record, my speeches, my remarks in the House and my work within Newton—North Delta to keep citizens safe against the dangers of criminal activity.
Bill C-16 represents an example of how the Conservatives' inability to incorporate other points of view and expertise into their thinking makes their crime agenda full of smoke and mirrors.
Let me provide an example of what I mean. When conditional sentencing was first introduced in September of 1996, four criteria were required before a conditional sentence could be considered by the sentencing judge. One of them states that the sentencing judge has to determine that the offence should be subject to a term of imprisonment of less than two years before conditional sentencing can ever be considered. Thus when the bill calls for a ban on conditional sentencing for offences that prescribe a maximum sentence of 14 years to life, it is redundant because the option never existed to begin with.
Shortsightedness by the government with regard to the bill does not stop there however. The fact is that our prisons are overflowing. Prisons are now applying in overwhelming numbers to allow for double-bunking of prisoners. This is to prepare for the expected influx of prisoners over the next few years due to new legislation that will put more people in prisons for longer periods.
This flies in the face of the concept of rehabilitation. A 2001 prison service directive stated, “Single occupancy accommodation is the most desirable and correctionally appropriate method of housing offenders”.
Whereas budgets across all departments have been frozen until the year 2013, look down south to see that throwing people in prison is a blanket approach that is just not working.
A study released last year by the Pew Center on the States delivers a staggering statistic. It states that 7.3 million Americans, or 1 in every 31 adults, are in the nation's prison system. This is staggering and the burden of costs on taxpayers is astronomical.
This why we have seen at least 26 U.S. states reverse the trend of recent decades by cutting funding for corrections. California, as an example, has changed parole violation rules, and as a result, reduced the number of convicts returning to incarceration.
Conditional sentencing is a means to assign the proper sentence that fits a particular crime, making the distinction between those who are a danger to society and those who can be rehabilitated without costing taxpayers.
We, as a party, recognize that conditional sentences, when used as a part of plea bargains, have begun to cause concern within the Canadian public, which is uncomfortable with house arrest for a range of more serious offences. Conditional sentences need to be used appropriately. Therefore, while the intent behind the bill does not have merit, there are far too many unknowns before we can proceed on this legislation.
As an example, we do not have any kind of statistics or indepth data in front of us to determine how judges are implementing these sentences across the country. Conditional sentences were created with the intention of strengthening public safety, not weakening it, and we want to ensure that remains the case.
At this point, we have to be strategic on a number of levels in order to introduce the most logical, efficient and effective piece of legislation possible. We must ensure that the punishment fits the crime and that we are assess criminals with the lens of rehabilitation, rather than strictly in terms of incarceration. We must consider the cost to taxpayers and how this kind of legislation will burden the provinces, which have jurisdiction of the country's correctional facilities. Most important, we have to remove blind ideology from these debates in the name of the common good, rather than achieving political advantage.
For all those reasons, I am comfortable in voting in favour of sending the bill to committee stage so we, as parliamentarians, can get better information on the subject matter. When it comes to crime, punishment and the safety of our citizens, politics should never come above the facts.
Mr. Don Davies (Vancouver Kingsway, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am going to begin my speech by picking up where the hon. member left over because I think this is the kind of problem in this Parliament and in this country right now in terms of making policy and crime bills when we do not have the facts in front of us.
The facts are that under the current law, no one can get a conditional sentence unless they have been sentenced to two years less a day. That means nobody who has been sentenced by a judge and who has been given a sentence of over two years qualifies for a conditional sentence. So the kinds of examples that are being brought up, of luring children and sexual offences, are not the kinds of offences that are being considered for conditional sentences because those are people who would get sentences of more than two years.
It is a good place for me to begin. Where New Democrats want to take the public debate in this country in terms of crime bills is back to a fact-based, intelligence-based, smart on crime perspective. Unfortunately, that is not something we have seen a lot of from this particular government.
New Democrats begin from the point of view that public safety is best served when offenders do not reoffend, when people who have breached the Criminal Code come back into our communities and do not commit another criminal offence. That is the best way to keep Canadians safe in this country.
Over 95% of the people who end up in prison in this country, whether provincial or federal, are coming back into our communities. Not only should we be approaching our carceral and our justice policy in this country based on facts and intelligence, but we should be basing it on self-interest. Canadians are only safe when those people come out of prison and do not reoffend.
Conversely, locking people in jail only to have them come out and commit more crimes does nothing to make our communities safer.
Bill C-16 seeks to curtail and restrict the number of conditional sentences, and the number of conditional sentence circumstances that judges are permitted to hand out in this country.
Let us look at the facts. Conditional sentences are proven to help with offender rehabilitation. Conditional sentences are an important crime prevention tool because they decrease the recidivism rate.
No policy maker who understands that point would stand in this House and say that we should be restricting the number of conditional sentences given by judges in this country if they truly believe that we want offenders to stop reoffending.
Most rehabilitation programs can be more effectively implemented when the offender is in the community rather than in custody.
Members on all sides of this House on the public safety committee have heard evidence time and time again, and we all agree, that up to 80% of offenders in our federal institutions suffer from a mental health or an addictions issue. Now if that is the case, a very important tool available to the judges of this country, when they determine that an offender does have a mental illness or an addiction, is to ensure that those offenders get access to treatment. Where are those treatment facilities located? Predominantly in the community.
What judges will often do, when they determine that the root cause of a person's brush with the law, an offence, is related to that individual's addiction or mental health issue, then often the most intelligent, smartest and safest thing to do is to give that individual a conditional sentence, where he or she is serving time in the community with the condition that he or she obtain treatment, the breach of which means going back to prison.
Or, we can do as the government suggests and get rid of that option and put that person in jail. Every single person who studied this issue in the public safety committee will say that there is a total lack of appropriate mental health services and an absolutely terribly long waiting list for anybody to get effective treatment for alcoholism or a drug addiction.
Also, we would be putting those people into prisons where there is almost a total absence of 12-step programs and a total absence of access to healthy, sober and clean peers who can actually assist the addicts and alcoholics with their recovery because we do not find those people in prison too often.
Statistics Canada said in a 2006 study that 11% of offenders who spent their sentences under supervision in the community committed a further offence within 12 months of the conclusion of their sentences. This compares with 30% of those who do jail time.
The fact is that there is a recidivism rate of one-third of the people given conditional sentences. That is right, the recidivism rate for those who get conditional sentences is three times less than those who go to jail. How, then, can a government credibly say that it is sound public policy for those people not to get conditional sentences?
Let us talk further about the facts. Let us look at the current process for conditional sentences. The process for giving conditional sentences in this country is already strict. This is the present situation for someone to be eligible for a conditional sentence. The offence committed must not be a serious personal injury offence involving the use or attempted use of violence or conduct endangering the life or safety of another person, and with a maximum sentence of 10 years or more.
Right off the bat, conditional sentences are not available to people who are involved in a serious personal injury offence or even the attempted use of violence. Any of these hysterical examples of violent people serving time in the community in front of their big screen TVs is simply false.
There must not be a terrorism or criminal organization offence with a maximum of 10 years or more. We are not talking about gang members or anybody involved in any kind of serious terrorist, criminal organization or gang offence.
It must not be an offence with a mandatory minimum sentence. They are excluded from conditional sentences as well.
As I have said before, a conditional sentence may only be awarded by a judge when the sentence that is considered appropriate in the case was two years less a day. People who lure children are not getting sentences of two years less a day. They are getting longer sentences than that.
I am going to pause and talk about cost for a moment. The government wants to get tough on crime on someone else's dime. When it restricts conditional sentences in this manner to sentences of two years less a day, it means that offenders are doing their time in provincial jails, not federal ones.
When the government gets tough on crime, it is dumping 100% of the cost of that policy on the provinces. Not only is that not right, I wonder how the provinces in this country feel. We are starting to tally up the cost of the government's tough on crime policies and we are finding out that we can measure that in the tens of billions of dollars.
Last and most important, a condition sentence today may only be granted when the judge is satisfied that serving the sentence in the community would not endanger the safety of the community. That is the current law. The question I asked earlier and would ask any member of the House is to give me an example where a person is serving a conditional sentence in the community and there is a problem. Nobody can point to it.
The government wants to change the law, but it has no facts. It does not surprise me because one of the members of the government famously went on television a few weeks ago and said she did not care if the statistics showed that crime was going down, she just feels it. It is about time that we restored some facts, intelligence, and logic in developing criminal policy in this country.
Once a conditional sentence is granted, what happens? Offenders must keep the peace and be of good behaviour, they must not miss court appearances, they must report to a supervisor, and they must remain within the jurisdiction of the court. Optional conditions include mandatory community service, prohibition on drug and alcohol consumption, prohibition on owning a weapon, attending treatment programs, and any other condition that the court considers desirable.
When we stop and think about that, what we have is a system where a judge can craft an appropriate sentence in an appropriate circumstance that will help offenders correct their behaviour. That is why we called it Correctional Services Canada, not the punishment services of Canada. The point is that anybody who truly cares about making our communities safe wants to ensure that we do everything we can to have offenders correct their behaviour.
How is that served by restricting the very tools that a judge needs to correct the actual behaviour?
I want to talk a bit about costs. Again, the current government has asked us to support legislation which will see a significant increase in the prison population. That is not debatable. When the government says it does not want people serving their time in the community, it wants them serving it in prison, one does do not have to be a logician to know that means that is going to swell the number of people in our prisons.
Last week, the government's own estimate for its two for one sentencing bill ballooned by 2000% overnight. The minister stood last Tuesday and said that the cost of that bill would be $90 million. When faced with the Parliamentary Budget Officer's study about to come out, he amended that figure the next day and said, sorry, that it would cost $2 billion. For one bill, the federal cost will be $2 billion. That is out of the minister's own mouth. And there are another 12 bills coming.
Now, the $2 billion of course is only the federal component of that bill. For the provinces, which are going see their prisons swell by ending the two for one provision, the cost is estimated at between $5 billion and $8 billion.
So, one bill alone, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates, is going to cost Canadians $10 billion. This bill will do the same thing. It will add more people to our prisons.
I also want to talk about the absolute poor drafting of this bill. This bill would, and this government wants this, eliminate conditional sentence options for all offences in the Criminal Code, which have a maximum sentence of 14 years or life.
Do members know what offences would caught by that? There are some offences in there that are caught, which I think we can agree, that are not appropriate for conditional sentences. However, how about forging a testamentary instrument? Perjury? Fraud over $5,000? Being in possession of counterfeit money? These are the kinds of offences that the current government wants to say to a judge that absolutely do not qualify for conditional sentences.
Those are exactly the kinds of sentences that may be entirely appropriate. We may have people who have a drug addiction. We may have people who are desperate for money. And so, what do they do? They counterfeit money. Or they commit fraud over $5,000. That is not very much in today's economy. So, they commit fraud of $6,000 or $7,000. It may be totally appropriate to sentence these people to stay in the community, and attend drug and alcohol treatment as a means of getting at the root cause of the problem. This bill would do away with that.
I want to turn for a bit to victims and the idea of restitution. The federal victims ombudsperson, who was just let go by the current government just two weeks ago, has said that one of the most important things to victims is that they know that the person who perpetrated the crime against them is receiving rehabilitation. They have a direct interest in the rehabilitation of the offender. It is important to the victims' healing. They want to know, at the very least, after they have suffered, that the person who committed the act against them will not do it again, that nobody else has to suffer the pain, the profound pain that those victims have suffered.
So, when we have a conditional sentence, and let us say we have offenders who have a job in the community, and they receive a fine ordered against them or they are ordered to make restitution against the victim, do we not as Canadians want these people to comply with that? How are we served by saying, “No, we are going to take these people out of the community, they will lose their job, and we are going to put them in prison for 18 months. There. That's better.”? Of course it is not. It is ridiculous.
We want these offenders, in that case, to be working in the community and taking responsibility for their actions and making good to the victims. That often requires these people to continue working and maintaining their employment so that they have the means to pay their fine or to pay the victims the restitution that is owed to them, or to obtain the services and treatment that is required in order to make the victim satisfied that they will not commit an offence again.
We know that the cost of keeping an inmate in a federal jail is approximately $100,000 a year for a male offender and about $140,000 a year for a female offender. Keeping an inmate in provincial custody costs about $52,000 a year. The estimated cost of keeping someone in the community, under community supervision, and a conditional sentence is $2,398 per inmate per year.
Let us look at the tally so far. Nobody can point to any problems with conditional sentences now. They give judges a wide array of tools to fashion an appropriate sentence. Conditional sentences are better for victims. Conditional sentences are better for rehabilitation. Conditional sentences are better for restitution. They cost approximately 3% of what it costs to incarcerate someone federally. They cost about 5% of what it costs to incarcerate someone provincially.
When the government talks about victims, the only victims I see in its current suite of criminal bills are the Canadian taxpayers. That is who the real victims are in this, and here is the kicker. All of these bills that are coming forward for purely ideological reasons have been tried before in the United States. We are not guessing what the effects of these bills will be. We know what they will be. The fact is that not only will these bills cost tens of billions of dollars to Canadian taxpayers, but they will not even make our communities safer.
I am going to repeat that. After spending that money, after all the rhetoric, we cannot even say that crime rates will come down as a result of these policies. How do we know that? Because 30 of the United States during the 1980s and 1990s tried these very methods. We know what the crime rates are in those states. We know what happened when states built bigger prisons, cracked down on crime and locked up more people in harsher conditions for longer. We know. Canada does not have to make that mistake again.
It may be arguable that we could spend $20 billion or $30 billion over the next five years in this country and we could have a good debate if at least it arguably made crime rates go down, but we know they do not. It is bad public policy. It is bad economics. It is a bad criminal justice approach.
I want to say something about the previous minister, because some of these words are not my words; some of these words are the government's own members' words. The previous minister of public safety, about six months ago, said that the mentally ill should not be in our federal prisons, that it is not an appropriate place for mentally ill people to be. Where should they be then? They should be in the community getting access to the services they require to deal with their mental illness issues. How do we do that? We do that by giving conditional sentences. How does this bill square with what the previous minister of public safety said? It does not.
In the case of R. v. Proulx, the Supreme Court of Canada examined the issue of conditional sentences, and this is what the court found:
||[W]hen the objectives of rehabilitation, reparation and promotion of a sense of responsibility may realistically be achieved...a conditional sentence will likely be the appropriate sanction....
The Supreme Court found that a conditional sentence can provide a significant amount of denunciation, particularly when onerous conditions are imposed. It found that a conditional sentence can also provide significant deterrence if sufficiently punitive conditions are imposed.
The highest court in our land, the best legal minds have examined conditional sentences and said that they do deter criminals. They do denounce criminal activity and they are most often the best sanctions to promote rehabilitation, reparation and a sense of responsibility.
I am going to conclude by talking about victims, because the New Democrats care about victims in this country. This is what victims want. They want us to denounce crime and deter criminals. They want to know that offenders are being rehabilitated. They want to know that when those people come back to the community, they will not be hurt by them again. That is why we need to pursue policies in this country that are smart, not tough, but smart. Conditional sentences achieve all of these goals.
I encourage every member of this House to look at the facts carefully, put ideology aside and fashion criminal policy in this country that is effective, intelligent and what Canadians really want.
Mr. Mario Laframboise (Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-16, especially since at our caucus meeting this morning, our colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin gave an excellent presentation on this important bill.
I am the chief organizer for the Bloc Québécois. I therefore have a political role as well. Before I go on any further about Bill C-16, I will try to explain how this bill shows that the Conservatives are in political disarray.
When the Conservatives came to power in 2006 and 2008, transparency was one of the main planks in their election platform. But the Speaker of the House was forced to take the Conservatives to task on the issue of Afghan detainees. So the Conservatives can no longer use transparency to score political points.
Then there was probity. The Liberal regime had just come to an end with the sponsorship scandal, and the Conservatives were keen to show that they were whiter than snow. It was their way of positioning themselves as the alternative to the Liberals, who were facing corruption charges.
In recent weeks, with the affair involving Rahim Jaffer and the former status of women minister, we have seen that the Conservatives do what the Liberals did as soon as they get the chance, so the Conservatives should forget about probity.
They also talked about the economy. They styled themselves as the great defenders of the economy, and they said they were going to help the economy turn around. But they made some very unfortunate decisions, such as reducing the GST. That was in their election platform twice, and it cost them $14 billion. Today, we have a deficit of close to $50 billion, and the Conservatives are trying to blame the global economy. It is true that there was a crisis, but the Conservatives did themselves out of substantial revenue with their political ideology. I remember that they even wanted to put things right in the employment insurance fund. The Liberals had taken $54 billion from that fund to reinvest in the consolidated revenue fund and pay other expenses instead of putting the money toward EI.
In recent weeks, government ministers have been saying that there is no more surplus in the EI fund. There will be an annual deficit. The $50 billion is gone. The Liberals spent it, but the Conservatives neglected to say that they ran up a $50 billion deficit this year.
What is left of their political agenda? They can be tough on crime. That is what they have left. That is why I said that the Conservatives are in disarray.
Look at the title of Bill C-16. It is quite something. Bill C-16 contains the exact same provisions as Bill C-42, which died on the order paper due to prorogation. Once again, they used Parliament for partisan purposes. Bill C-16 is now known as the Ending House Arrest for Property and Other Serious Crimes by Serious and Violent Offenders Act. Bill C-42, which is in fact the same bill, was known as the Ending Conditional Sentences for Property and Other Serious Crimes Act.
The Conservatives are grasping at straws. They are trying to use any means to prove that they are tough on crime and that they are trying to defend the public. However, this bill deals with something other than crime.
The title, Ending House Arrest for Property and Other Serious Crimes by Serious and Violent Offenders Act, suggests that it will solve the problem of extremely violent offenders, even though the bill really deals with conditional sentences. It has very little to do with the extreme violence suggested by the title.
Before 1996, persons found guilty of a criminal offence and sentenced to less than two years' imprisonment had to serve the sentence in jail. They no longer participated in their regular activities, such as work or school, and lost the ability to fulfill their family, professional and social responsibilities.
Conditional sentencing for adults has only been in place for 13 years. The bill before us amends a law that has only existed for 13 years. Conditional sentencing became law in 1996 with a bill that received the support of the Bloc Québécois. Our party felt it was important to create an alternative to incarceration because judges need as many tools as possible in order to hand down the most appropriate sentence, the one likely to result in the reintegration of the offender, while guaranteeing public safety and the appearance of justice.
Once again, this takes public safety into account. It is the first condition that must be taken into account, and that is why my colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin mentioned it in his excellent speech this morning.
Before handing down a conditional sentence, the judge must first respect an initial condition, that public safety not be jeopardized. If the individual is a danger to the community, the judge will not release him into the community or will not issue a sentence that allows him to be in the community. The judge will simply send him to jail.
When an individual receives a conditional sentence, this means that he will serve his sentence within the community. He therefore stays out of jail as long as he respects the mandatory and optional conditions imposed by the court.
The main condition is house arrest. The courts have decided that someone who has received a conditional sentence must, in principle, be on house arrest for the duration of the sentence.
Prior to 1996, people found guilty of a criminal offence and sentenced to terms of just a few days were required in all cases to serve their time in prison. The primary objective of conditional sentences was to reduce incarceration and give the courts an alternative.
This is where we see the Conservative demagogy. It reminds me of the Quebec film À soir on fait peur au monde. The Conservatives believe that there are many criminals roaming the streets and that they are very violent and extremely dangerous. They are talking about sentences of less than two years for serious crimes—a crime is a crime—but for which we have been trying, since 1996, to focus on reintegration: young people go to school, fathers have jobs, and so on.
When the judge has determined that there is no danger to society, it is explained to the offender that he will be monitored, but that he can keep his job and support his family, as opposed to how it was prior to 1996, when he would have been sent to prison, would have lost his job, and would not have been able to support his family.
Prior to 1996, people found guilty of a criminal offence and sentenced to terms of just a few days were required in all cases to serve their time. Since the adoption of conditional sentencing, judges can give a person who poses no danger to public safety a sentence that is less than two years to be served in the community.
The Criminal Code requires that a number of conditions be met before the judge can hand down a conditional sentence. That is important to understand. Since the Conservatives have decided to evoke images from the horror film À soir on fait peur au monde, we have to determine if this bill will really put extremely dangerous criminals in jail. The Criminal Code has requirements for conditional sentences. For one, the person must be found guilty of an offence not punishable by a minimum sentence.
There are minimum sentences and, to be eligible for a conditional sentence, the person must not be charged with a offence punishable by a minimum sentence.
The judge has to find that the offence merits a jail term of less than two years. I will say it again, a crime is a crime and it is always serious. However, when the crime is punishable by two years less a day, it is understood that this sentence obviously does not apply to the most serious crimes in society.
The judge must be convinced that serving the sentence in the community would not pose a threat to public safety. I spoke earlier about the title of the bill: Ending House Arrest for Property and Other Serious Crimes by Serious and Violent Offenders Act. The Conservatives want to be tough on crime. Every week they try to change public opinion because things are not going well with all their other political endeavours. Being tough on crime is all they have left. Of course, once again, they are trying to mislead us. Indeed, judges must be convinced that serving the sentence in the community would not pose a threat to public safety. So the first condition is that the offender must not be someone who poses a threat to society.
The judge must be convinced that the conditional sentence meets the criteria of the principles of sentencing set out in sections 718 and 718.2 of the Criminal Code. Of course I am not a criminal lawyer. If I have time later, I will talk more about those sections.
The following offences are ineligible: offences prosecuted by way of indictment; offences punishable by a maximum of 10 years or more; offences related to organized crime; terrorism offences; and serious personal injury offences, pursuant to section 752. I repeat, those offences are not eligible for conditional sentencing. Those are people who are convicted for being a member of organized crime, for a terrorism offence or for a serious personal injury offence, in which the victim was seriously injured or there was an attempt to cause serious personal injury or attempted murder, all very serious offences.
Bill C-16 adds to the list of offences that preclude conditional sentencing. Once again, the Conservatives' goal is to make that list longer. Let us continue with our original theory that the Conservatives are having political problems with the rest of their election promises. Being tough on crime is all they have left. They did not dare abolish conditional sentencing. They probably have another bill ready to go in a few years in which they will add more crimes to the list of offences that preclude conditional sentencing. That will allow them to continue their partisan politics, play their horror film again and scare everyone. That is the Conservative reality.
And that, by the way, is what the Republicans did. The crime rate in the United States is much higher than in Canada and higher still than in Quebec. The U.S. administration has had to release 30,000 prisoners over the past few months, primarily because it ran out of money, it ran out of room in the prisons and it was felt that the crimes and the sentences would be better managed through monitoring on the outside than by keeping those people on the inside.
For partisan and political purposes, the Conservatives probably want to score political points for trying to reassure people who have suffered serious harm from serious crimes. Indeed, this happens. There are street gangs. Crimes are committed, but I have never heard the government extending millions and billions of dollars to fight organized crime or to fight street gangs or very serious crimes. For that matter, I have not heard the government announce any funding for rehabilitation either.
As the hon. member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin so very intelligently made us realize, people who have committed crimes and been rehabilitated do not brag about it. We must take the time to look around us. There are people who have committed crimes, had the good fortune to be rehabilitated and today are good and honest citizens. The problem with such people is that they do not brag about it, while we are more aware of violent crimes and those who commit them because that is what we see so often on television and in other media.
As I said, our colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin intelligently—brilliantly even—told us that at this point in time, we can only imagine how many sentences are handed down in every court in Quebec and the rest of Canada every day.
Errors may occur, but should we scrap the whole system because one judge makes some kind of mistake? I think that is easy for the Conservatives to do. Television cameras are typically set up near courthouses to keep an eye on what is going on. That is something we see every day, something we live with. We rarely see good news stories on television. The media like to sensationalize bad news stories. However, the thousands of rulings handed down are generally excellent considering how justice is administered in Quebec and Canada. We have inherited a very good justice system from our forebears.
We inherited our justice system from our parents and grandparents. It is a choice. I am looking at how the Conservatives want to change it. There was a big debate on abortion in the House. Our predecessors resolved that issue.
For purely partisan reasons, some people are doing everything in their power to reopen debates that have been put aside. It is the sound and fury of partisan politics once again. I often say to those who will listen that power can make people crazy. Some of the people in power in this House are well on their way there. Once again, the only thing the Conservatives have left is their tough on crime agenda, and they are going to milk it for all it is worth. That is what is going on today with Bill C-16.
We have to take a respectful approach to this bill because the cases that will be exempt from the legislation involve conditional sentencing, which was brought in in 1996. As I said, Bill C-16 adds more crimes to the list of those not eligible for conditional sentencing.
Parts of the proposed new section 742.1 read as follows:
||(c) the offence is not an offence, prosecuted by way of indictment, for which the maximum term of imprisonment is 14 years or life;...
||(e) the offence is not an offence, prosecuted by way of indictment, for which the maximum term of imprisonment is 10 years, that
||(i) resulted in bodily harm,
||(ii) involved the import, export, trafficking or production of drugs, or
||(iii) involved the use of a weapon; and
||(f) the offence is not an offence, prosecuted by way of indictment, under any of the following provisions:
||(i) section 144 (prison breach),
||(ii) section 172.1 (luring a child),
||(iii) section 264 (criminal harassment),...
||(v) section 279 (kidnapping),...
||(viii) paragraph 334(a) (theft over $5000),
||(ix) paragraph 348(1)(e) (breaking and entering...),
||(x) section 349 (being unlawfully in a dwelling-house), and
||(xi) section 435 (arson for fraudulent purpose).
It can be any kind of arson, even setting fire to a moped. That is why members have to understand that adding to the list of offences for which a judge can no longer hand down a conditional sentence restricts the power of the law passed in 1996.
Once again, the government is restricting judges' power and, I repeat, we are talking about sentences of two years or less, so two years less a day. That is the reality.
The list is so long now that it is almost like turning the clock back 10 years to a time when conditional sentences did not exist as an alternative for adults.
Criminologists have long agreed that tougher sentences do not reduce crime. Recent studies confirm that there is little correlation between the severity of a sentence and the number of offences. But publicizing arrest rates and increasing the likelihood of being arrested do really have an impact on crime.
A conditional sentence not only involves a penalty, but also rehabilitation and restorative justice. This combination is more likely than incarceration in a correctional facility to prevent an offender from continuing to endanger the public after serving his sentence.
In addition, certain conditional sentences require the offender to make restitution to the victim and society and comply with very strict rules. Since 2000—