Mr. Jim Maloway (Elmwood—Transcona, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-42.
At the outset, I want to thank the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore for a fantastic speech. He does that all of the time; almost every speech I have heard him make in the House has been excellent. He certainly caught the minister unaware. The member for Sackville—Eastern Shore signed on to the even earlier gun bill. He was one of the MPs who endorsed the bill by signature. The member for Sackville—Eastern Shore has certainly been on the record for a long time on this issue. The Minister of State for Democratic Reform should rest easy and sleep well knowing where the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore stands on this issue.
BillC-42, an act to amend the Criminal Code to end conditional sentences for property and other serious crimes, was given first reading in the House of Commons on June 15, 2009. The bill amends section 742.1 of the Criminal Code, which deals with conditional sentencing, to eliminate the reference to serious personal injury offences. It also restricts the availability of conditional sentences for all offences for which the maximum term of imprisonment is 14 years or life, and for specified offences prosecuted by way of indictment for which the maximum term of imprisonment is 10 years.
Conditional sentencing was introduced in September 1996. It allows for sentences of imprisonment to be served in the community rather than in a correctional facility. It is a midway point between incarceration and sanctions such as probation or fines. The conditional sentence was not introduced in isolation but as part of a renewal of the sentencing provisions in the Criminal Code. These provisions included the fundamental purpose and principle of sentencing. The fundamental principle of sentencing is that a sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender. The renewed sentencing provision set out further sentencing principles, including a list of aggravating and mitigating circumstances that should guide sentences imposed.
The primary goal of conditional sentencing is to reduce the reliance upon incarceration by providing the courts with alternative sentencing mechanisms. 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. 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.
The provisions governing conditional sentences are set out in sections 742 to 742.7 of the Criminal Code. Several criteria must be met before the sentencing judge may impose a conditional sentence. There are at least seven provisions, and rather than read all seven of them, I will simply deal with two of the provisions.
One is that the sentencing judge must have determined that the offence should be subject to a term of imprisonment of less than two years, where we are dealing with offences where the normal term of imprisonment would be two years or less. The other is that the sentencing judge must be satisfied that serving the sentence in the community would not endanger the safety of the community. That is fairly self-explanatory. If there is a determination that the offender might cause problems in the community and endanger the safety, the offender would not be eligible for this type of sentence. The sentencing judge must be satisfied that the conditional sentence would be consistent with the fundamental purpose and principles of sentencing, which are set out in sections 718 to 718.2 of the Criminal Code.
Insofar as the final criteria is concerned, among the objectives of sentencing are the following: the denunciation of unlawful conduct; the deterrence of the offender and others from committing offences; separation of the offender from the community when necessary; the rehabilitation of the offender; the provision of reparation to victims in the community; and the promotion of a sense of responsibility in the offender.
In addition to meeting the criteria, conditional sentences involve a number of compulsory conditions set out in section 742.3 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 as required, remain within the jurisdiction of the court unless written permission to go outside of the jurisdiction is obtained from the court or the supervisor, and notify the court or the supervisor in advance of any change of name or address and promptly notify the court or the supervisor of any change of employment or occupation.
There have been examples where, in fact, people have chosen to go to jail rather than take this option because they felt that jail was less onerous on them than this route.
Depending on the circumstances, the offender must abstain from the consumption of alcohol or drugs, abstain from owning, possessing or carrying a weapon, perform up to 240 hours of community service, attend a treatment program approved by the province, or any other reasonable condition that the court considers desirable for securing the good conduct of the offender and for preventing the offender repeating the same offence or committing another offence.
The court must ensure that the offender is given a copy of the order and an explanation as to the procedure for changing the original conditions and the consequences of breaching any of those conditions that were agreed to.
Members can see that this is not a simple process. It is very involved. We know that conditional sentencing was enacted both to reduce reliance on incarceration as a sanction and to increase the principles of restorative justice in sentencing. All of this was happening in 1996, at a time when there was a lot of previous experience with minimum sentencing in the United States. I will get to that in a few minutes.
In the 1980s, the United States built lots of private prisons, which I am sure made a lot of private entrepreneurs rich, but at the end of the day, the crime rate did not go down, it went up. I have statistics on that which, as I said, I will get to in a couple of minutes.
Statistics Canada reports that conditional sentences still represent a small proportion of all sentences. In addition, the tendency in recent years has been to use conditional sentences less frequently. In 2003-04 conditional sentences accounted for only 5.3% of all admissions to adult correctional services. By 2007-08 the figure had actually declined to 4.7%. In 2007-08, of the 107,790 offenders being supervised in the community, the vast majority of them, 75%, were on probation, and only 16% were on conditional sentences, with another 5% on parole or statutory release.
Canada's incarceration rate in 2007-08 rose by 2% from the previous year, which was the third consecutive annual increase. By the way, the reason was that there were a growing number of adults being held in remand in provincial and territorial jails while awaiting trial or sentencing.
We know that on any given day in 2007-08 an average of 36,330 adults and 2,018 youths age 12 to 17 were in custody in Canada, for a total of about 38,348 inmates, which, by the way, is a rate of 117 people in custody for every 100,000 in population.
Let us look at some other countries. Canada is higher than western European countries and lower than the United States. For example, in 2007 Sweden had a rate of 74 people in custody per 100,000. The Canadian rate was 117 people per 100,000.
Guess what the rate is in the United States? The members of the government are experts on crime; they are tough on crime but not so smart on crime. They should know this figure. However, if they know the figure, they are not going to want to tell us what the figure is because it is an astronomical figure. It is 762 per 100,000.
So, here we have the United States right at the top, at 762 people per 100,000. In Canada, it drops way down, or seven times lower, to 117. Then in Sweden, it drops even lower, to 74. So, I think the government should be looking at what works.
Maybe the Conservatives should be looking to Sweden. They should focus their eyes over to Sweden and see what Sweden is doing there to see why its rate is 74 per 100,000. But, no, they do not that. They concentrate on the United States, which has seven times the number of people per 100,000. So, they are adopting a model that does not work.
I would never suggest that we adopt it because it comes from the United States or that we do not adopt it because it comes from the United States. We should be looking at what works.
I have said time and time again in this House that in the Manitoba environment, and the Minister of democratic reform knows this very well, we had a severe problem with, and we still have a severe problem with, auto theft. Although, one day a few months ago, we actually had zero auto thefts in Manitoba. Why did that happen? The government came to terms with the issue. It mandated immobilizers in cars. It also set up a task force within the police force to target the most serious 50 offenders, monitor them, chase them, get them off the streets and keep them off the streets, and that has shown a huge turnaround. That is what worked. And so, other jurisdictions are looking at that.
I think we should be looking at different jurisdictions. I am sure there are programs in the United States that do work. If anyone can find me one that works, in the United States, then I would applaud the government if it would look at the United States example and follow that example. However, it should not just blindly go in and say, “We are going to go on this program of mandatory minimums because it shows good in our polling results. We did some polling the other day and it showed that when we talk about mandatory minimums, our numbers went up 5%. So, we are going to do that”. And then we look at what the results were in the United States and we see it has seven times the number of people in jails. There is obviously a disconnect here.
I would admonish the government and suggest to the government that it look to Sweden, that it look to other countries that have lower rates and show success in certain areas, that it should adopt a program that is comprehensive but borrows the best, that it look at best practices in other jurisdictions and follows that, rather than just simply blindly following the opinion polls.
The imposition of conditional sentences should not only reduce the rate of incarceration, it should also reduce expenditures on the correctional system.
I always thought Conservatives were interested in sound financial management--
Mr. Pat Martin: So they say.
Mr. Jim Maloway: The member for Winnipeg Centre says, “So they say”.
--and we found this over and over again. I remember the Liberals driving up the deficit year after year, in the seventies. Then the Mulroney government came in and said it was going to be fiscally conservative and it was going to take care of this deficit. In fact, it just kept driving it up and up.
Why the Conservatives have a good fiscal image with the public is just beyond me because every government that I ever look at, the Grant Devine government in Saskatchewan, any of these Conservative governments, preach a great line in opposition about how they are going to balance the books, how they are going to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, how they are going to always give a hand up rather than a handout and all this right wing ideology. Then they get into power and do everything but what they said they were going to do in opposition and that whole fiscal conservatism just goes right out the window and they run huge deficits.
We do not want to get into what the Conservatives are doing right now because, in actual fact, they had to do something to deal with the issue. However, Preston Manning and his group would just be in shock right now. If we were able to look back 10 years ago and predict in the future that a Conservative government would own General Motors, it would be laughable. The Conservatives would be rolling in the aisles at their conventions over this issue.
Mr. Pat Martin: A bunch of pinkos.
Mr. Jim Maloway: Yes, Madam Speaker, there would certainly be a revolution in the ranks. They would be trying to root out those pinkos for sure who would even suggest that something like that could ever happen in a Conservative government, and yet it has all come to pass.
There is always room for some reform, some change of thought. We are in a minority government and there is a possibility that the government can be trained. The member from Thunder Bay mentioned that governments need training, especially minority governments, so maybe we could do some work on this one and try to get it to redirect some of its crime initiatives into a more reasonable and more workable form. The Conservatives are certainly unable to do it on their own.
The cost of the system is simply a function of having huge amounts of people incarcerated. The annual cost for persons in provincial or territorial custody, including remand and other temporary detention, in 2005 was $52,000. I have read other figures up as high as $70,000.
The average annual cost of supervising an offender in the community, including conditional sentences, probation, bail supervision, fine options and conditional release in 2006-07 was only $2,398. Juxtapose that figure against $52,000 to $70,000 for incarcerating these people in what are nothing more than crime schools. They are just trained to be better criminals.
Why would we try to eliminate a system that actually works, that saves on cost, that gets results?
I want to deal with recidivism rates and not knowing how much time I have left I will have to deal with that rather quickly.
A 2004 study found that conditional sentencing has had a significant impact on the rates of admission to custody, which have declined by 13% since its introduction. This represents a reduction of approximately 55,000 offenders who would otherwise be in custody.
Another Statistics Canada study found that adult offenders who spent their sentence under supervision in the community were far less likely to become reinvolved with correctional authorities within 12 months. Is that not what we want to happen to the released and those who were in a correctional institution? This is a win-win situation.
The study found that in four provinces, 11% of people who were under community supervision became reinvolved with correctional authorities within 12 months of their release in 2003-04. Among those in custody, only 30% were reinvolved. In other words, people who were put in jail were twice as much, 30%, double the proportion of those who were under community service, likely to reoffend. If that is not proof that the system is cost effective and actually gets results with only half the people reoffending, I would say is an argument for keeping it.
In a study that concentrated on victims of crime and their attitude toward conditional sentencing, the benefits of conditional sentencing were said to be:
||--that most rehabilitation programs can be more effectively implemented when the offender is in the community rather than custody...that prison is no more effective a general or specific deterrent than the more severe intermediate punishments...keeping an offender in custody is significantly more expensive than supervising him or her in the community...the public has become more supportive of community-based sentencing, except when applied to serious crimes of violence...widespread interest in restorative justice...has also revitalized interest in community-based sanctions. Restorative justice promotes the use of victim compensation, and service to the community...The virtues of community sanctions have thus become increasingly apparent in recent years. When offenders are punished in the community, the state saves valuable correctional resources, the offender is able to continue (or seek) employment, and maintain ties with his or her family.
It is very important to not lose contact with family and with any employment possibilities. We have to get people back to a better place than they were when we found them.