Mr. Réal Ménard (Hochelaga, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in connection with Bill C-9, introduced by the Minister of Justice in April as part of the government's so-called reform of criminal justice. Let me speak frankly; this bill has a very clearly avowed objective, which is to shift our justice system to the right.
What is even more worrying—and this will definitely not be the last time I have occasion to say so in this House—is that the government has an ideological approach to justice that can in no way be supported by statistics, rigour or documented analysis.
Furthermore, when the Minister of Justice, a former attorney general in his province, Manitoba, appeared before our committee to defend his interim supply, I had an opportunity to ask him a few questions about conditional sentences and sentencing in general. I have to say I did not get my intellectual fill. In fact, I was left hungry for answers.
What is it about? Bill C-9 wants to limit the use of conditional sentences. It would mean that all crimes—the crimes, not the people being sentenced—punishable by 10 years in prison... Since I have the privilege of addressing this House for 20 minutes—and this will go by very quickly as the member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher knows—I will have a chance to say more about the details of offences punishable by more than 10 years.
Let us begin with some background. I do not wish to revive bad memories for the House, but it was the former Minister of Justice, Allan Rock, today a diplomat and spokesperson for Canada at the United Nations, who introduced a bill in 1996. At that time, I had been in this House for three years, since I was elected in 1993.
Actually, in 1996, the government and various organizations responsible for law enforcement realized that Canada was one of the countries that had most recourse to imprisonment. Of course, the U.S. was also among these countries. We know that the prison population in the U.S. is about 700 per 100,000 inhabitants. Canada’s prison population at that time was about 133 or 134, and then dropped to 123 or 122, depending on the year. As we know, the U.S. does not hesitate to resort to imprisonment.
In 1996 therefore, Allan Rock, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, tabled a bill to allow an alternative to imprisonment. It provided for the possibility of conditional sentences in certain circumstances: for crimes punishable by less than two years in prison, for individuals who did not pose any danger to society, and in cases in which there was no minimum sentence.
I repeat this because I have often heard analysts and journalists say that conditional sentences were always totally discretionary. That is not true. Our fellow citizens and parliamentary colleagues must know that when a judge wants to impose a sentence to be served in the community, certain criteria must be met. I remind the House because it is important to be aware of them: the offender must be guilty of an offence for which there is no minimum sentence, it is a crime punishable by less than two years in prison, and of course, there cannot be any threat to public safety. It is a question of secure communities. The judge must be convinced that accused who serve their sentences in the community do not pose any danger.
Finally—and this is important—according to section 718 of the Criminal Code, the judge must be convinced that a conditional sentence is consistent with the principle that sentences must be proportionate.
I say again and hope I do not have to repeat it: everything pertaining to sentencing is related to section 718 of the Criminal Code. There is still the proportionality principle. Obviously, if there is a petty thief and a first-degree murderer, it is expected that they will be sentenced accordingly. This is the very basis of our criminal justice system.
Conditional sentences of imprisonment are not discretionary. They were first proposed by the justice minister at the time, Mr. Allan Rock. They appeared at a time when too many people were being jailed. According to the statistics for 1996 and previous years, 50% of these people were imprisoned because they did not pay their fines. The social question that arises is: how much does it cost society to send someone to jail? I have a few statistics here that I will discuss a little later, although I will not keep members waiting long because I know how interested everyone is in these matters.
In 2002-03, what was the average annual cost of incarcerating an inmate in a provincial institution? We must remember that a sentence of two years or less is served in a provincial institution, while a sentence of two years or more is served in a federal institution. What was the average annual cost to incarcerate an inmate in a provincial institution? Do my colleagues have an idea?
An hon. member: $75,000.
Mr. Réal Ménard: The hon. member for Trois-Rivières says $75,000. She is not very far off. The cost is $51,450.
Conversely, what is the cost to society when an offender or accused person is on mandatory supervision in the community? That costs the government $1,792.
In debating these matters, it is important to keep safety imperatives in mind. No one wants people released into our communities who might pose a threat. There is a consensus on this. However, we realize that there is a very big difference here.
In 1996, the following question was asked: how can we adopt and implement custodial alternatives which help relieve the congestion in our prisons while curtailing the offender's freedom? Canada was one of the western countries that made the most use of incarceration, particularly for unpaid fines.
Still, one can acknowledge that there was a degree of defensible rationality to this alternative to imprisonment. I repeat—it is not easy to be constantly repeating the same thing, but it is necessary for educational purposes—that conditional sentences of imprisonment apply to terms of under two years.
The problem with the minister’s bill, which in any case is a very bad bill, is that the minister is still under the illusion that this bill is going to be passed in committee in speedy and expeditious fashion. I must regretfully inform you that, in committee, all the necessary questions will be asked and all the necessary witnesses will be called. There will be no question of acting in haste, which would be alien to our duty of thorough investigation and analysis, a duty which the Bloc has never shirked.
The bill is being proposed by the Minister of Justice, a man with an ideological bent and a friend whom I respect because he is motivated to serve. However, we shall not let the Minister of Justice don the garb and shoes of George W. Bush, as if there were no difference between Canadian society, Quebec society and the United States.
This idea that the principle of conditional sentencing has to be restricted was imported from the United States. The minister seems to want to follow the same line as the Americans, and he thinks that what is good for them is good for Canadians or for Quebeckers. I think he is wrong.
Let us not get off topic and get away from what the bill proposes. Clearly, just because an offence carries a 10-year prison term under the Criminal Code, that does not mean that the sentencing judge—or the jury in the case of a jury trial—will sentence the offender to 10 years. This is obvious. But the minister's bill will mean that a conditional sentence cannot be imposed for any Criminal Code offence that carries a 10-year prison term.
Clearly, this does not pose a problem for the worst crimes, the most horrible or heinous offences. I am the last person who would be soft on someone who committed criminal negligence causing bodily harm. We understand that that is an act that carries a very serious consequence, although we believe in the principle of rehabilitation, of course.
What does pose a problem is that, without making any distinction, the minister took or had his officials take the list of offences punishable by more than 10 years in prison and, in every single case, without any sort of qualification, said that there would be no more conditional sentences. I have some examples. Theft of $5,000 is deplorable, of course. People should not steal from their neighbours. Nonetheless, we cannot say that someone who has committed theft is, by definition, a threat to people's safety and that a conditional sentence is never warranted.
We understand that cattle rustling is problematic too, especially for ranchers, whose livelihood is affected. But can we equate this with an offence causing bodily harm or this type of crime? I do not think so. We could also talk about unauthorized computer use, mail theft or things like that.
What bothers me about this bill is its lack of nuance. This is probably its most dreadful flaw, and it is consistent with the government's ideology. It is as if the government did not trust the judiciary, those elevated to the rank of judge. The golden rule in administering justice should always be to individualize the sentence. Who better than the judges, or juries in trials by jury, can appreciate the evidence and sequence of events and determine what took place?
Are studies available? In the amicable tone I am known for, when the minister was in front of me at the Standing Committee on Justice, I asked him whether his department had any studies suggesting that judges were not handing down appropriate sentences or that they abused conditional sentencing. I asked where this attitude of suspicion toward the judiciary came from. I must say that the minister was not particularly eloquent; in fact, he did very poorly. I mean no disrespect, but he was incredibly boring. All in all, he said nothing. I cannot understand that a bill as essential to the administration of justice as this one has been put forward without some well-documented and scientifically sound studies to support it.
Should it be demonstrated to us when the bill is considered—and I am sure that the hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant will work with me with a similar mindset, because we in the Bloc are not dogmatic—that the use of conditional sentences has become excessively widespread, we will be prepared to reconsider. This does not appear to be the case, however.
In fact, when I met with senior public servants, I was rather surprised to hear some of the things they had to say. As for as sentencing goes, conditional sentences—where time is served in the community—come with conditions, as their name suggests.
Quite often one of the conditions is to be at home. This was established by the Supreme Court.
This is punishment and loss of liberty we are talking about.
Again, it seems easy to understand why this is not an option for the most heinous crimes. Nonetheless, it is this generalization of the 10-year rule that scares us.
In the administration of justice, the use of conditional sentencing is quite limited. During the years being considered, it seems that 5% to 10% of the people who ended up in court had to serve their sentence in the community.
I will give you some statistics that I got from the deputy ministers when I spoke with them at the briefing session we attended when the bill was tabled. The deputy ministers said, “The most recent statistics estimate that roughly a third of the 15,493 conditional sentences in 2003-04 could not have been handed down could not have been handed down if there were 10-year maximum terms of imprisonment”.
I understand that more recent data was not available.
We see that it is limited, but the bill is still quite worrisome, especially since Quebec's public safety minister, Mr. Dupuis, member for Saint-Laurent and deputy premier of Quebec was worried about the bill. If we do not allow the use of conditional sentences for people who are sentenced to at least two years, where will they end up? They will end up in Quebec's penitentiaries and prisons.
Has anyone asked the minister about this? Does his department have enough money to transfer to the provinces to fulfill this new obligation? Of course not.
We are quite worried. Allow me to say they will be long in getting this bill. We will call in witnesses, we will ask questions and we will do a thorough job of it because there is a limit to accepting ideological debates. We all have ideologies in this House, but when ideologies supersede responsibility and bills are tabled that are not backed by studies, we have to wonder.
In short, I will have the opportunity to talk about Bill C-10 when it arrives. I spent my summer reading up on sentencing. I would like to thank my leader for making me responsible for justice issues. I have read the literature on sentencing; there are no Canadian studies showing a correlation between sentencing and deterrence.
We know quite well that the sentence is not as great a deterrent as the fear of being caught.
The member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin is an individual whom I consult on a regular basis as a former justice minister. I have discussed this matter with him and he has confirmed my convictions: we were of like minds on this issue. It is always reassuring to know that I share the beliefs of the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin in matters of justice.
In the minute remaining, I would like to conclude with the following four statements: this is a bad bill; it is a bill that is not well thought out; the minister cannot don the garb and shoes of George W. Bush without being accountable to this House for the consequences of Bill C-9; the Government of Quebec is not in agreement with this bill nor are those who believe in social rehabilitation.
I invite all colleagues in this House to reject this bill. I believe that we must continue to advocate, when warranted, for placing our trust in the judiciary, in the judges who are in the best position to decide the sentence. Nothing would make me happier than to have this bill defeated.
Hon. Wayne Easter (Malpeque, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe.
The previous speaker, the member for Hochelaga, hit the nail on the head when he said that the bill was based more on ideology than on facts. I think that is to be expected from the government with the orders coming out of the PMO, from one individual, and, as we have seen, the facts do not get in the way of a good story.
It is pretty dangerous to play politics with the criminal justice system and the impact that can have on society, which is what we are seeing from across the way, exaggerating or even talking about facts that really are not facts at all.
The bill seeks to amend the Criminal Code of Canada by mandating that a conditional sentence no longer will be an option for anyone convicted of an offence prosecuted by indictment that carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years or more.
We in the Liberal Party take the safety and security of Canadian communities very seriously, which is why we introduced Bill C-70 in the last Parliament to address their concerns. Our bill focused on preventing those who were convicted of crimes causing serious personal injury from receiving conditional sentences.
We do not believe this Parliament should play politics with the Criminal Code. We want to see a balanced approach that does not create unnecessary hardship or expense where it is not warranted. Our critics will certainly be proposing constructive amendments at committee when that opportunity comes forward.
Conditional sentencing does have a role and an important role. Society must have a balance. Individuals who commit crimes must pay the full penalty for the crime but we must also give the best opportunity for rehabilitation while redressing the consequences of those crimes and the cost to Canadian society. However, Bill C-9, in my opinion, casts that net far too wide.
As a former solicitor general, I have had the opportunity to visit a lot of prisons and halfway houses. I have looked fairly constructively at conditional sentencing. When we compare our system to the American system, I sincerely believe our system is better because it has moved more toward reducing crime than the American system. Bill C-9 would move us in a direction of Americanizing our system.
Barb Hill, the director of policy with the John Howard Society, said that the bill would restrict the use of conditional sentencing. I am sure no one in this House would disagree with that. She also said:
|| The 10-year maximum cutoff includes “the vast majority” of all crimes in the Criminal Code.
She goes on to say:
|| (Conditional sentencing) has been working. It is an alternative. It does work. It is targeted at relatively low-risk people.
|| Incarceration does not work. We have to get Canadians off that mindset that the only way we can manage offenders is to put them in jail. That may be the worse thing we can do for many offenders. You're going to make them worse. It is really going to increase the likelihood of reoffending.
She went on to say:
|| We are supportive of those things that are alternatives to incarceration and allow people who can be safely managed in the community to remain in the community.
|| Conditional sentences permit offenders to continue with their jobs and provide for their families.
She concludes by saying:
|| Jail is not effective. In some cases it is the opposite of being effective.
The government's strategy, though, is to put forward a position that is not evidence based. The previous speaker said that when the minister was before the committee no analysis and no facts were brought forward to justify the government's position. When the Minister of Justice was in opposition, we heard some of his outrageous statements relating to crime. Let me say to the government and the Minister of Justice that they are in government now, and in a democracy, government is called responsible government for a reason.
In terms of the decisions and proposals being put forward by the minister, they need to be put forward in a responsible way. It is part of the conditions of being in government. Good policies must be based on fact and on evidence. They should not be based on a perception that is out in the general community. Good policy, then, has to be based on good facts.
As we saw during the election, government members tend to try to scare people on the crime issue and exploit the latest headlines. Yes, crime is a very serious matter and, especially for those people who are affected personally, it is an emotional issue, but on issues like this when we are dealing with the justice system, it must be based on good analysis. What is needed is good analysis. What we need are decisions that are based on facts. The government has not brought that analysis forward.
As I said a moment ago, I believe Bills C-9 and C-10 are somewhat of an Americanization of the Canadian justice system. I do not believe that is appropriate. Let us look at Canada and the United States. Which do members think has a higher rate of crime? I do not think there is anyone who would not say that it is the United States. That is where the crime rate is higher.
Let us look at the incarceration rate in Canada under our criminal justice system. Two years ago, it was about 107 per 100,000, whereas in the U.S. it is around 600. What it clearly shows is that building more jails, throwing people in jail and forgetting about the rehabilitation of those individuals so that they can contribute to society in a positive way, is not the answer, but this is the approach that the government opposite is taking.
Conditional sentencing is not easy time. I would like to refer to what our justice critic said earlier, and I think these points need to be reinforced:
|| In almost all the cases, the conditional sentence orders contain restrictive conditions of a house arrest and/or curfew, often both; often community service; mandatory treatment and counselling; and often other conditions are tailored into the sentence and can be very effective in preventing repeat offences while still having the person exist safely inside the community with the deterrence of having the house arrest, et cetera. It is not about being hard or soft on crime. It is about a sense of effective, just sentencing in Canada for those who go outside our law.
This is the approach that I think we have to take overall.
It will be really important at committee to have witnesses come forward. We certainly will be supporting the bill going to committee. It will be very important for witnesses to come forward to talk about the analysis that has been done and the facts that are out there. The bottom line is that building more prisons is not going to lessen the crimes, and this bill places the net very much too wide.
It would be far better to spend money on policing and on crime prevention. That is the best way to prevent crime. The best way is to have the police forces out there, have the crime prevention policies in place and deal with rehabilitation in terms of individuals who have gone astray. That way, we build a social and economic base in our society in order to continue to prosper as a nation. I believe this bill does not cut it in terms of us getting there. It will have to be changed at committee.
Mr. Brian Murphy (Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, first of all, let me say that Canada’s judiciary is under attack.
The new sheriff and his deputy, the Minister of Justice, rode into town and in a few short months have insulted, or have allowed their posse to insult, the Chief Justice of Canada. They infer that she felt her direction came from God, when everyone knows that it is the Conservative Party that takes its advice from God, or so those members would see it.
They publicly and privately accuse judges and justice officials of being liberal and unworthy.
They have just rejected an arm's length committee report on long overdue judicial remuneration.
Finally, they have introduced legislation like this, which is aimed at taking away judicial discretion and making judges readers of meat chart sentencing tables, disregarding the time-honoured legal principle that cases do not stand for grand propositions, but turn neatly on their facts.
Each case is different and our judges have the tools required for dealing with each one of them.
As a rule, judges are nominated following a rigorous process, involving committees comprising presidents of bar associations, chief justices and attorneys general of the provinces.
Before that, there is a rigorous peer review process. Most members of the House will agree this was the case with respect to Justice Rothstein. If so for him, why this attack on the integrity, humility, remuneration and, above all, discretion of our federal judges? It is a question I cannot answer.
I can say that the assault on conditional sentencing is a piece of that puzzle. I can agree with parts of the bill but not others. Coupled with reforms to mandatory minimums, street racing minimums and amnesty for illegal gun owners, this is a general attitude of contempt for justice shown by the Conservative Party.
The point is that law reform and the Criminal Code itself, which I admit was written by a very good Conservative Prime Minister, Sir John Thompson, who has since passed away, are organic processes adapting to times changing and the different instruments that work to keep our society safe. They are always however under the guiding hand in the trenches of our judges, prosecutors, probation officers, defence lawyers and the whole legal team.
It is important to underline that we have a safe society. From 1994 to 2004 the crime rate fell by 12%. It is the perception that has changed. The media sensationalizes crime and, following an American trend, politicians pander to the fear that crime brings in the community.
The problem is, as the Liberal leader said the other day in the House, that Conservative legislation lately seems like it is written on the back of napkins and railroaded through the House. Bill C-9 is one such case. Let me illustrate how.
The current system of conditional sentencing was adopted in response to criticisms that Canada was imprisoning too many of its citizens.
It was thought that too large a share of taxpayers’ money was going to prisons, when the funds could have been spent on constructive crime prevention programs.
Conditional sentencing is one important aspect of sentencing. This type of sentence plays a major role in the rehabilitation and social reintegration of offenders. Unfortunately, the money saved by reducing the number of prison sentences was not reallocated to enough programs. For example, there is a clear need for additional money to increase the number of officers who supervise conditional sentences.
Conditional sentences obviously require supervision. People serving conditional sentences are in our communities. So, supervision is required. The sad reality is that the resources of the people who supervise this type of sentence are strained to the limit.
The program was good; the delivery was not. In the Moncton area, for example, there is one full time supervisor for all conditional sentences. He is unable to ensure that everyone who is on a conditional sentence is in fact at the house when they are supposed to be. He cannot do it. It is a matter of resources and federal-provincial relations.
Many of the breaches of conditional sentences actually happen because the people are out doing other crimes and the supervisor is informed that the crime happened. The supervisor in the Moncton area does have assistance. The provincial jail helps out and calls for compliance. Unfortunately, after one contact is made, the offender will often breach knowing that his number came up and that he is free to go that night.
The largest pitfall, however, with conditional sentences has been the perception from the general public that offenders are not being punished for their criminal actions. This is particularly true of offenders who have committed offences of violence or serious breaches of trust.
When the Criminal Code was amended to include conditional sentences, no offences were excluded.
What had to be determined was whether a person found guilty of an offence was liable to a minimum prison term. If not, the person could receive a conditional sentence as long as the sentence was less than two years.
Prior to these amendments, a person in New Brunswick convicted of dangerous driving causing death or impaired driving causing death would likely receive 6 to 18 months. Since the amendments, a person in New Brunswick is likely to receive a conditional sentence. That does not seem right.
Initially, public prosecutions opposed such granting of conditional sentences. However, following the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Proulx, it became clear that unless specifically exempted, a conditional sentence was available for any offence.
The public is losing confidence in the administration of justice in the area of sexual assaults. Offenders are receiving jail time for offences against children and for violent sexual assaults, but many are receiving conditional sentences as well.
The question now is how to achieve the legitimate goals of the sentencing process while preserving the integrity of the judicial system in the eyes of Canadians.
Bill C-9 is one of the attempts to answer the question. In response to the criticisms of the conditional sentencing system and in view of the fact that the public is demanding more restrictive use of this sort of sentence, the solution seems to be to get rid of conditional sentences for all offences punishable by indictment that incur a sentence of ten years or more.
Including all such offences will not work. This will not bring back the public's confidence. First and foremost the amendment is overreaching. The purpose of conditional sentences was to deal more effectively with non-violent offenders.
Take the case of financial crime offenders. If they were going to jail before, they were not able to make restitution to their victims. A conditional sentence regime works well and is not against the public interest.
Under the regime of Bill C-9, in the haste to get it passed, this will not be the case. There will not be a chance for restitution to widows, orphans and pensioner funds.
The amendment causes hardship for other victims and such is the case with sex offences. At present, a sex offender may receive a conditional sentence. This is not well received by the public. Bill C-9 does not respond to this. The perfect example is the case of summary sexual assault. For those members who are not lawyers and do not know lawyers, the victim of a sexual assault does not like to go through the process of a preliminary inquiry which is entailed in the indictment process.
That is what these victims are put through if there is no redress for it at committee. One factor is the expected sentence. We cannot fault prosecutors for choosing their venue to get a conviction if they have a victim of a sexual assault who is afraid to go both to the preliminary inquiry and to the trial. Nonetheless, if the offender should receive a jail term the Crown could proceed by indictment therefore taxing the resources and again putting the victim through the double peril. Historical sexual offences will also fall outside the scope of Bill C-9.
In conclusion, the only method to ensure the integrity of the conditional sentence regime would be to amend it, to take the time to examine it and amend it. In such a manner public confidence would be maintained and would allow for a greater flexibility in the laying of accusations. The bill is hasty and will not fix the problems. It misses some problems and creates new ones. We will be revisiting the bill at committee and in the future. The sheriff, the deputy and the posse did not hit the bull's eye this time.
Mrs. Carole Freeman (Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join my colleagues in the debate on second reading of Bill C-9, which amends the conditional sentence provisions of the Criminal Code.
The Minister of Justice presented his bill in this House on May 4. Since this legislation was introduced, we have heard an impressive number of negative comments directed to the minister and the Conservative government. In fact, there is every indication that the government is going it alone, in what can only be described as a crusade whose true roots can be found in the Conservative Party’s populist approach.
The Conservative ideology is based on the law and order mindset that characterizes a particular fringe element of Canadian society, especially out west. The Conservative Party is pushing a tough and extremely harsh approach to crime and punishment, and along that way it has rejected the principles of rehabilitation of offenders and alternatives to imprisonment.
Let us be clear: the Bloc does not advocate emptying the prisons or using imprisonment only for dangerous criminals; far from it. But a balance must be struck between the harshness of the sentence imposed and the seriousness of the offence, the risk of recidivism and public safety. This is where the impact of enacting the Conservative bill would be felt the most.
To be as clear as possible, I would note that the objective of the current version of Bill C-9 is to amend section 742.1 of the Criminal Code to provide that conditional sentences may not be imposed for offences prosecuted by way of indictment for which the maximum term of imprisonment is ten years or more. At least, that is what the minister claims.
There are major flaws in this bill that nothing has been said about, and whose consequences go beyond sentencing alone. They will directly affect not only the justice system in its entirety, but also, and most importantly, the prison system as a whole.
At present, section 742.1 of the Criminal Code provides:
|| Where a person is convicted of an offence, except an offence that is punishable by a minimum term of imprisonment, and the court (a) imposes a sentence of imprisonment of less than two years, and (b) is satisfied that serving the sentence in the community would not endanger the safety of the community...the court may
In fact, however, that alternative to conventional imprisonment must comply with the purpose and principles set out in sections 718 to 718.2, including denouncing unlawful conduct and deterring the offender and other persons from committing offences. Consideration must be given to separating offenders from society, where necessary, keeping in mind the guiding principle of rehabilitating offenders and providing reparation for harm done to victims or to the community.
For example, expressions of remorse by offenders, or at least a genuine understanding of their responsibility, as expressed, for example, through recognition of the harm they have done to victims and to the community, are other factors that must also be taken into consideration in sentencing.
The court may then order that offenders serve their sentences in the community so that their behaviour may be supervised, provided that they comply with the strict conditions imposed.
The Conservative government wants to make the Criminal Code unnecessarily tough by eliminating the court’s option of imposing a conditional sentence of imprisonment. The consequences of that approach are enormous.
We need to realize that the bill sponsored by the justice minister will greatly increase the number of crimes for which judges can no longer impose a conditional sentence. It is ironic that in getting tough on criminals, they are tying the hands of judges who might have decided, in light of all the facts, that this would have been the most appropriate sentence.
With its populist approach for clearly electoral purposes, the Conservative government is taking a dangerous backward step of ten years in our legal system. Conditional sentences were adopted in 1996 as an alternative method of incarceration for adult offenders.
Now, as at that time, the Bloc Québécois believes that it is extremely important for judges to have as broad an array of choices as possible at their disposal in determining appropriate sentences. The Bloc also believes that this approach is most conducive to the successful rehabilitation of offenders while ensuring public safety and the appearance of justice.
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.
Since the adoption of conditional sentencing, judges can condemn a person who poses no danger to public safety to serve a sentence that is less than two years in the community.
When imposing a prison sentence, judges must consider the offender’s degree of responsibility and the seriousness of the crime. Sentencing is therefore not a simple equation between a certain crime and a certain sentence. A multitude of factors have to be factored in, such as those I just mentioned.
The Bloc Québécois strongly advocates a justice system based on a personalized approach specific to each case in which conditional sentences are an essential option.
To do otherwise by eliminating the ability of judges to pass sentences that involve serving time in the community will impose a gigantic additional financial burden on Quebec and the provinces. If we consider the difficult financial situation that the provinces face and the astronomical cost of detaining offenders, it becomes self-evident that the money spent in this way would be much better used for the purposes of rehabilitation and prevention.
There are at present 15,000 individuals serving a conditional sentence. Those are 15,000 convicted criminals serving their sentence in society because they are considered very low risk, both to re-offend but also and above all for society itself. In other words, these individuals do not have to live, if I can put it that way, in a prison, and so the resulting financial burden is that much less.
In the opinion of Department of Justice officials one third of the 15,000 criminals on a conditional sentence will no longer be eligible for it if the government carries through with Bill C-9.
Imagine for a moment the need to incarcerate 5,000 persons all at once, all over Canada, for variable terms, certainly, but all the same at a time when the prison system is filled to capacity. I dare not even think of the colossal sum that this insane bill of the Conservatives is going to cost.
To satisfy a specific electoral clientele and firm up the support of the militant right-wing rank and file, the Conservative Party is prepared to embark on a legislative and social cul-de-sac, a veritable ideological dead end. The Conservatives’ logic is baseless, and even contrary to their general vision of law and justice.
They argue for a toughening of the penal system on the one hand, and on the other they limit the powers of judges to formulate and determine the sentences to be imposed on offenders.
Conditional sentencing is a very attractive alternative for the courts, in that judges can impose a harsh sentence on someone, for example by ordering strict conditions to limit mobility and activities, without filling and overfilling prisons which are already overflowing. And I have not even raised here the issue of deterrence for the bulk of offenders, out of simple fear of possibly ending up in prison amidst a clientele that is rather intimidating, for lack of a better term.
With regard to the conditions that accompany conditional sentences of imprisonment, it is helpful to note that they vary from one person to the next, but are defined according to a mandatory legislative classification, and are discretionary since they are determined by the court. For example, when an offender breaches one of his conditions, he has to appear before the judge again, and if the judge is convinced that the offender has breached a condition with no reasonable excuse, he or she will issue an order for the rest of the sentence to be served behind bars.
Mandatory conditions are those which a judge does not need to record in the conditional sentence order, as they apply in all cases without exception. The other conditions are called “discretionary” since the judge has discretion to include them in the conditional sentence order and to amend them according to the particular situation.
These mandatory conditions include keeping the peace and being of good behaviour, going to court when required, and reporting to a criminal justice system supervisor regularly. The court must also ensure that the offender stays in a specified area by requiring the person to get written permission to travel outside this area. The offender must also tell the criminal justice system supervisor before moving or when changing jobs.
With respect to discretionary conditions, there are, in theory, an infinite number of them because a judge can apply any condition he or she deems reasonable.
However, house arrest and curfews have practically become a given. Courts have ruled that a person receiving a conditional sentence must, in principle, be under house arrest for the duration of the sentence. The judge may allow some exceptions to allow the individual to go to work or to school.
This last element seems to me to be quite sensible, and I am surprised that members of the Conservative Party do not consider it to be more important. It seems that their basic objective is to fill up the prisons with all kinds of criminals, to just put them away regardless of the seriousness of their crimes or even their risk to reoffend.
In closing, I urge my colleagues to reject Bill C-9, which would not only cost a fortune in correctional infrastructure, but would bring take our penal justice system one big step backward.
Mr. Ken Boshcoff (Thunder Bay—Rainy River, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, a long time ago, I started my 22 year career in municipal government, working extensively on task forces. That was one of the first things on which they put me.
We worked on things like vandalism, property crime and crime prevention. As a community, we designed and implemented many anti-crime programs, again at a local or neighbourhood level. These included such things as community policing, neighbourhood watch, Child Find, block parents, Crime Stoppers, and implementing the 911 system. These efforts over the years allowed me to receive the honours of federal and provincial crime prevention awards.
In addition to being mayor, I served six years on the police commission so I believe I have some degree of understanding of this topic as it applies to those who now work in the field. I am not a lawyer so my points will reflect those of a community advocate and not those of a professional barrister.
The initial feedback on the proposed legislation comes from our citizens' intuitive responses. They hear of crime as top news items and consequently conclude logically that crime must be increasing. The strides made by community groups and programs such as I have mentioned, Crime Stoppers, neighbourhood watch, block parents, Child Find and community policing, have worked.
Each of us in the House are keenly aware of the success of all these in the field, or at the neighbourhood or community levels. The numbers, the facts and the evidence are clear. There are decreasing rates in most categories of crimes. Nonetheless, our society's culture of fear makes people feel less safe.
As elected representatives, we dutifully respond to address these concerns of the public. As parliamentarians, we must respect their tangible worries. The Liberal Party and its members represented here have long been notable champions of safe homes and safe streets. We have a long history of finding solutions to effectively deal with crime in its ever evolving creativity.
Bill C-9 seeks to amend the Criminal Code of Canada by mandating that a conditional sentence will no longer be an option for anyone convicted of an offence prosecuted by indictment that carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years or more.
Are there miracle cures or silver bullets out there? After so many years of governments tackling this issue, federal Conservatives from 1984 to 1993, Liberals from 1993 to 2004 in majority situations and recently with minority governments, one would think there would be some glaringly obvious cure-all. As well, all types of community and professional advocates, whether it be in social work, the criminal justice system, rehabilitation, prison systems, legal professions or the judiciary, have been involved. Bill C-9 is presented as such a cure-all.
The bill's good intentions are regrettably flawed and need review and polishing in committee. This is the logical and reasonable approach to take. This would help take the strident politics out and replace it with improved wordings and effective legislative paragraphs. The question is whether it will actually reduce crime and act as a deterrent. The empirical evidence seems to say no.
We have heard many colleagues from all parties debate this issue and try to come up with numbers that effectively endorse their positions. After it has all been said and done, the thought that we can actually do something with a hammer, rather than improving on the existing and proposed legislation, I believe puts us in a situation where we will end up with something far worse than what we wanted to do in the first place.
Are we being deliberately confused by a law and order agenda that makes splashy headlines but poor public policy? We all want laws that protect the innocent, punish the guilty and compensate the victims. This is a volatile topic and engages people emotionally, which places even more duty upon us to act calmly and responsibly.
The Liberal Party takes the safety and security of Canadian communities very seriously. That is why we introduced Bill C-70 in the last Parliament to address these concerns. The bill was focused on preventing those who are convicted of crimes that cause serious personal injury from receiving conditional sentences.
We do not believe this Parliament should play politics with the Criminal Code. I believe we all want to see a balanced approach and should work together in committee to ensure that the bill does not create unnecessary hardship or expense where it is not warranted.
Bill C-70 would have created a presumption preventing court from using conditional sentences in at least four situations: first, serious personal injury offences as defined in the Criminal Code, such as all forms of sexual assault; second, terrorist activities; third, organized crime related offences; and, fourth, any other offence where the individual case is so serious that the need to condemn the act and not use the conditional sentence takes precedence over any other sentencing objective.
By comparison, Bill C-9 would simply restrict the use of conditional sentencing any time someone would be convicted of an offence prosecuted by indictment that carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years or more. The implications of this are numerous.
Since the government has chosen to set the bar at 10 years, and only when prosecuted by indictment, there remains a possibility that Crown prosecutors will simply use summary convictions in place of indictment in an attempt to continue the use of conditional sentences. I believe many share the concern that the bill could result in an uneven application of justice.
There is also a difference in prosecution in each of the provinces. Some members already have heard the example that certain provinces charges are laid by arresting officers, whereas in other jurisdictions Crown prosecutors decide on which charges are to be laid.
Sentencing of an offender could sometimes create controversy in our wider communities, especially if the main source of information is through media reports. Conditional sentencing became available in the mid-nineties. Now we have had roughly 10 years' experience to analyze and draw some assessments.
A conditional sentence need not be of the same length as the sentence of incarceration. When someone receives a conditional sentence, it invariably is for a longer period. This is real punishment served outside of a costly prison system.
Again by way of comparison, Bill C-70 was drafted to create a presumption that the courts should not make a conditional sentence order when sentencing offenders convicted of serious personal injury as defined by section 752 of the Criminal Code. Again, I mention terrorism, organized crime and similar types of offences in terms of their severity.
As legislators, we are all aware now that our provincial and territorial counterparts have been expressing their concerns about additional costs that would be incurred if the bill goes through as presented. They would have to hire additional prosecutors, certainly additional court and correctional staff and build new prisons.
The government has not yet effectively or properly outlined its plans on what assistance would be provided to those jurisdictions. It is time to do evidence-based law. We should not play politics with the Criminal Code. We all know that it is simply too vital.
I believe the desire for safe communities is something that we all share. I had mentioned that we all want justice to be fair, but we also need it to be effective.
We should revisit this in committee, rethink it and come up with good legislation.
Mr. Dennis Bevington (Western Arctic, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill. I have a great deal of concern with the Conservatives' plan for getting rid of conditional sentencing for so many criminal offences, many of them not violent in nature. Many of them are of a kind that could be open to interpretation in the court as to their severity of impact on the general public.
Bill C-9 is what I call retail politics. The bill is a knee-jerk reaction. It will do nothing to rehabilitate criminals and it will not reduce crime. As far as we can see, it is based on not that much information. Not much information has been provided to the House to examine. In fact, due to the relatively recent introduction of conditional sentencing, there are few academic studies that have been completed on its impact on the criminal justice system. Furthermore, there is a dearth of sentencing statistics in Canada. Even Statistic Canada's adult criminal court survey lacks certain data. Therefore, we are not able to assess very correctly the nature of the impact of conditional sentencing on criminal justice.
In 2003 of the 104,000 sentences of custody imposed across Canada, 13,000 were conditional sentences of imprisonment. Of the people who were incarcerated or under supervision in 2003-04, four out of five were being supervised in communities. Many of them were on probation; 11% were on conditional sentences.
It has not been demonstrated to me nor to my caucus that this bill is going to work effectively to reduce crime or to improve the rehabilitation of criminals.
I come from the north. I have lived and worked in small northern aboriginal communities all my life. I worked in the municipal field as a mayor. For many years I had regular correspondence with the police on the types of offences that were present in our communities. As a member of a small aboriginal community, I was able to see the impact of sentencing on individuals over a long period of time and the types of results that came from incarceration versus sentencing that allowed the criminal to stay in the community.
Canada's aboriginal population will be particularly hard hit by this amendment. We see the statistic in Saskatchewan where 60% of the conditional sentences that were handed down in one year were handed down to aboriginal people. Jails in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are already at peak capacity or overflowing and there is a very large percentage of aboriginal population in those jails.
Last year in Nunavut 200 offenders received conditional sentences and 275 were incarcerated. This is in a population base of about 28,000. One can see the impact that conditional sentencing will have on that small government and its ability to provide justice services to its people.
This month there were 73 prisoners packed into the Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit, a jail designed to hold 40. At the start of this month, Yellowknife's North Slave Correctional Facility for adults, a new jail opened only two years ago, was full. Overflowing jails create environments which are dangerous to guards and inmates.
Also, because these jails are full, northern inmates, many of whom are aboriginal, are being forced into jails in the south, where they do not have access to appropriate cultural rehabilitation programs. They are separated from their families which increases the likelihood that they will not be rehabilitated and will reoffend.
When we look at what is happening right now in the north, we see that in many cases judges and the correctional system want the inmates to remain in the north and not go to the southern institutions, even though they may have received sentences greater than two years. They know that the result of sending these inmates into the higher grade of correction services is they more likely will reoffend.
Is creating situations where offenders are not rehabilitated and continue to commit crimes after release what the Conservatives want? It seems to be, because simply putting more people in jail will only create environments which breed repeat offenders.
Justice is not about throwing people into jail for the purposes of revenge. It is about getting people to return to society and no longer commit crimes.
Canada's north has been at the forefront of developing alternative sentencing arrangements. Many of the communities in my riding have community justice committees that deal with many offences which would normally go before a judge. These committees know the offender and the community and craft sentences to meet the needs of both. Sometimes the committees hand out what would be considered to be light sentences for serious crimes, but the effect is that many of those sentenced through this process do not reoffend.
The committees, also known as sentencing circles, have been copied across the country as an effective means of reducing the level of aboriginal incarceration and reducing the incidence of reoffending.
Eliminating conditional sentences will have a major impact on aboriginal communities across Canada and the north in particular. Already aboriginal people make up a disproportionate percentage of prisoners in our jails. The bill will do nothing but add to that sorry figure.
For aboriginal people, conditional sentences sometimes work better than jail sentences. Recently a Nunavut crown prosecutor said that the reality is that for some people it is more difficult to serve a sentence in their own community than it is to be flown to a jail in Iqaluit, as the community gets to see the punishment.
In many small northern communities there are celebrations when people return from jail, but when they stay in the community, they are seen every day and are forced to deal with their actions with their peers.
In the north, conditional sentences also allow offenders to attend culturally appropriate treatment for problems such as addictions, anger management, mental problems, et cetera. Many of the people in our correctional institutions for very many crimes, and very many violent crimes, likely suffer from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. In some situations people are being incarcerated where in a more tolerant society we would recognize the actual mental condition that leads to the result that we see.
Every person involved in the justice system will agree that each case before the courts is different and must be tried and sentenced on its own merit. The bill flies in the face of this well-known fact. In order to deal with this fact, judges must be allowed the tools necessary to craft sentences that are most likely to result in rehabilitation.
From their words, it is clear that the Conservatives do not trust the judges in this country. Unlike the United States where anybody who gets enough votes can be a judge, this country chooses its judges from the most respected and knowledgeable members of the legal profession. These people do not operate in a vacuum. They see the reality of the criminal justice system. We should allow those who know best to craft sentences that work best.
We should not deny people the tools that are required to do the job effectively. Why would we deny judges the tools that could make their work correct? Why would we want to do that? Is it just a sense of punishing individuals? Is it a sense of revenge, that the only way we can deal with justice is an eye for an eye?
Sometimes judges get it wrong, but there are mechanisms in place to deal with these mistakes. Crowns can appeal sentences when they feel the sentences are too light. Or if a person commits another crime while serving a conditional sentence, the punishment for that crime will be even more severe.
Mr. John Maloney (Welland, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-9 this evening.
Conditional sentencing allows for sentences of imprisonment to be served in the community, rather than in a correctional facility. It falls at a point between imprisonment and sanctions such as probation or fines. The conditional sentence was not introduced in isolation, but as part of a review of the sentencing provisions in the Criminal Code.
These provisions included the fundamental purpose and the principles of sentencing, namely, that a sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender. The principles apply to conditional sentences as well.
The primary goal of conditional sentencing is to reduce the reliance upon incarceration by providing an alternative sentencing mechanism to the courts. In addition, the conditional sentence provides an opportunity to further incorporate restorative justice concepts into the sentencing process by encouraging those who have caused harm to acknowledge this fact and to make reparation. Achieving these objectives is beneficial to society.
At the time of their introduction, conditional sentences were generally seen as an appropriate mechanism to divert minor offences and offenders away from the prison system. Overuse of incarceration was recognized by many as problematic while restorative justice concepts were seen as beneficial. In practice, however, conditional sentences are sometimes viewed in a negative light when they are used in cases of very serious crimes.
Concern has been raised that some offenders are receiving conditional sentences of imprisonment for crimes of serious violence, sexual assault and related offences, driving offences involving death or serious bodily harm, and theft committed in the context of a breach of trust.
While most people would agree that allowing persons not dangerous to the community, who would otherwise be incarcerated and who have not committed a serious or violent crime, to serve their sentence in the community is beneficial, some consider that in certain cases the very nature of the offence and the offender require actual incarceration.
The fear is that to refuse to incarcerate an offender can bring the entire conditional sentence regime and hence the criminal justice system into disrepute. In other words, it is not the existence of conditional sentences that is problematic, but rather their use in cases that seem clearly to call for incarceration.
Often it is an inciting headline and media reports that raise calls of outrage. However, had one sat through the criminal trial, heard submissions on sentence and the reasons for judgment, it is not unusual that a reasonable individual would support the decision.
The provisions of governing conditional sentences are set out in sections 742 to 742.7 of the Criminal Code. They set out four criteria that must be met before a conditional sentence can be considered by the sentencing judge. First, the offence for which the person has been convicted must not be punishable by a minimum term of imprisonment. Second, the sentencing judge must have determined that the offence should be subject to a term of imprisonment of less than two years. Third, the sentencing judge must be satisfied that serving the sentence in the community would not endanger the safety of the community. Fourth, the sentencing judge must be satisfied that the conditional sentence would be consistent with the fundamental purpose and principles of sentencing as set out in section 718 of the Criminal Code.
Insofar as the fourth criterion is concerned, among the objectives of sentencing are the denunciation of unlawful conduct, the deterrence of the offender and others from committing offences, the separation of the offender from the community when necessary, the rehabilitation of the offender, the provision of reparation to victims or the community, and the promotion of a sense of responsibility in the offender.
The foregoing criteria were designed to ensure that the most severe cases would not be dealt with by a conditional sentence. In addition to meeting the criteria set out, conditional sentences involve a number of compulsory conditions as set out in section 742 of the Criminal Code.
These conditions compel the offender to keep the peace and be of good behaviour, appear before the court when required to do so, report to a supervisor when required, remain within the jurisdiction of the court unless written permission to go outside the jurisdiction is obtained from the court, and notifying the court and a supervisor in advance of any change of name or address and promptly notify the court or the supervisor of any change in employment or occupation.
Optional conditions are designed to respond to the circumstances of the individual offender. Such conditions may include an order that the offender abstain from the consumption of alcohol or drugs, abstain from owning, possessing or carrying a weapon, perform up to 240 hours of community service, or any other reasonable condition that the court considers desirable for securing the good conduct of the offender and for preventing a repetition by the offender of the same offence or the commission of another offence.
As an alternative to the possibility of imposing a conditional sentence, a court may suspend sentence and impose a probation order. Section 731 of the Criminal Code indicates that, where a person is convicted of an offence, a court may, having regard to the age and character of the offender, the nature of the offence, and the circumstances surrounding its commission, suspend the passing of sentence and direct that the offender be released on the conditions prescribed in a probation order.
This possibility is open to the court only if no minimum punishment is prescribed by law. In many cases, conditional sentences are preferential alternatives to a suspended sentence or probation order, as I have just elaborated.
In a Queen's University study that concentrated upon the victims of crime and their attitudes toward conditional sentencing, the following benefits of conditional sentencing were cited and I find these most interesting: most rehabilitation programs can be more effectively implemented when the offender is in the community rather than in custody; prison is no more effective a deterrent than more severe intermediate punishments, such as enhanced probation or home confinement; keeping offenders in custody is significantly more expensive than supervising them in the community; the public has become more supportive of community-based sentencing, except for serious crimes of violence; widespread interest in restorative justice has sparked interest in community-based sanctions. Restorative justice initiatives seek to promote the interests of the victim at all stages of the criminal justice process, but particularly at the sentencing stage; and the virtues of community-based sanctions include the saving of valuable correctional resources and the ability of the offender to continue or seek employment and maintain ties with his or her family.
The most important case to consider conditional sentencing is the decision of the Supreme Court in Regina v. Proulx. Here, the Supreme Court examined the issue of conditional sentences in a case that concerned a charge of dangerous driving causing death and bodily harm. Prior to this decision, judges had little guidance on when it was appropriate to impose a conditional sentence, outside of the criteria set out in the Criminal Code. The Supreme Court made it clear that a number of changes needed to be made to the way in which the sanction was used. But the judgment also consists of a strong endorsement of conditional sentencing.
The key result of the Proulx decision was that there is no presumption against the use of a conditional sentence if the crime does not have a mandatory period of incarceration.
Objections have been raised to the use of conditional sentences for certain crimes. One example is that of impaired driving. The organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving, MADD, Canada has circulated a petition asking Parliament to eliminate the availability of conditional sentences for those convicted of impaired driving causing death or impaired driving causing bodily harm.
MADD believes that for violent crimes in which persons have been killed and/or injured, a conditional sentence does not adequately address the severity of the crime. There is a perception that the justice system is tilted towards concern for the offender and not enough is said about the value of the human life that has been taken away. These are positions that must be considered as well.
The previous Liberal government introduced Bill C-70, an act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to conditional sentences, to further clarify the appropriate limit to the use of conditional sentences. We took the safety and security of Canadian communities very seriously.
Mr. Speaker, you are indicating to me that my time is over, and I--
Some hon. members: More.
Mr. John Maloney: Maybe we could have unanimous consent for me to continue, Mr. Speaker.