Criminal Code

Bill to Amend--Second Reading--Debate Adjourned

March 16, 2021

Hon. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu

Moved second reading of Bill S-224, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (increasing parole ineligibility).

He said: Honourable senators, the main objective of this bill is to ensure greater respect for the families of people who have been brutally murdered. It incorporates the essential elements of Bill C-266, which was sponsored by MP James Bezan in the previous Parliament. I would like to thank him for his very useful work, and I am pleased to be able to sponsor his bill in the Senate.

I also hope to convince the members of this chamber of the importance of this bill for the families of people who have been brutally murdered.

Esteemed colleagues, most of you are aware of the horrific circumstances surrounding the death of my eldest daughter, Julie. As you know, my mission in this chamber is to honour her memory and the memories of all those who suffered a similar fate.

I have made it my mission to ensure that sentences are fairer, more proportionate and more appropriate to show respect for the suffering of victims’ families when a violent crime is perpetrated against an innocent person.

I am speaking to you about my dear daughter Julie because she is unfortunately one of the victims covered by this bill and so is my family. You will appreciate how important this bill is to me and to thousands of victims’ families who have to sit through one or more appearances at parole hearings every year.

My daughter Julie was 27 years old. She was a happy and vibrant young woman who was making great progress in her professional life. Eighteen years ago, on the evening of June 22, 2002, Julie was attending a party in her honour. She had just been promoted to manager of a store in Sherbrooke and she was celebrating that new promotion with her friends. She was looking forward to starting this new position. Sadly, that night of June 22, fate had other plans. As Julie walked to her car, she was kidnapped by a repeat offender who had just received two 18‑month prison sentences for the forcible confinement and rape of a young woman in Gaspé three years earlier.

This repeat offender had no business being there, as he was violating his probation by being in Sherbrooke. He lived in Montreal. Julie was found 10 days later by a cyclist. She had been killed and thrown into a ditch near a farm field.

This murderer showed no respect for my daughter’s life and no remorse for what he did to her. He was found three months later and charged with kidnapping, forcible confinement, rape and first-degree murder. Thirty months later, he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. However, after serving 15 years, he was entitled to judicial review of his sentence.

To my great surprise, when the guilty verdict was handed down, the sentence never mentioned the kidnapping, forcible confinement or rape. In the eyes of the court, Julie was simply murdered. All the sentences set out in the Criminal Code were cancelled out by the charge of murder.

I have always asked myself the following question: Why doesn’t our justice system show more respect for the victims’ families in such circumstances? Why doesn’t our justice system give the judge the responsibility for considering the crimes that preceded the murder of an innocent victim as aggravating factors? I have wondered endlessly about this vile murder, about the pain and fear my daughter may have felt while being subjected to such a gross violation of her dignity as being raped and discarded like garbage, with no respect for her life.

I have always been struck by the reporting in the media. Far too often, they blame the victim, saying things like, “The victim was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

I always correct people who use that expression and say, “No, the criminal was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” The criminal who killed Julie never should have been there that night in downtown Sherbrooke, looking for prey.

I would not wish this on anyone. I feel privileged to be able to tell my story in this chamber because outside these walls, there are thousands of families who have gone through what I went through, but who have to suffer in silence every day, grappling with their pain and grief, as well as with the fear that this type of murderer could be released back into society one day and create another victim like my daughter.

Believe me, a minimum sentence of 15 years or 25 years for my daughter’s murderer is not enough, and I hope no other woman ever crosses his path.

Honourable colleagues, this bill seeks to give judges the necessary discretion to consider the aggravating circumstances of the crime when passing sentence.

I believe offenders should be sentenced for all the crimes they commit. No exceptions. They should be sentenced to imprisonment in keeping with the sentences set out in the Criminal Code for every crime they have committed.

Under the Criminal Code, abduction, aggravated sexual assault and murder are all crimes for which offenders are liable to life in prison.

Paragraph 718.2(d) of the Criminal Code requires judges to consider the least restrictive sanctions possible when it comes to imprisonment. That does a grave injustice to the families of victims, because a murderer convicted of first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances is sentenced solely for the murder itself.

One of the objectives of this bill is to repair this injustice by giving judges the option, as set out in the Criminal Code, to hand down a sentence of more than 25 years without parole to a person convicted of abducting, raping and killing an innocent victim.

This legislative proposal would amend only section 745 of the Criminal Code, which deals with sentences of life imprisonment.

The text of the bill states that ineligibility for parole can last for a minimum of 25 years and a maximum of 40 years. This bill would ensure a proportional balance between the crimes committed and the sentences passed.

We are also adding section 745.22 to the Criminal Code, which has to do with recommendations by juries. When the sentence is handed down, the judge will take into account the jury’s recommendation and its opinion on the sentence. That means that the murderer may not be eligible for parole until they have served 40 years in prison.

It is up to the judge and the jury to determine the appropriate sentence. It is important to point out that this bill pertains only to criminals who have been convicted of the abduction, sexual assault and murder of the same victim.

I would like to remind senators that these are some of the most serious offences in the Criminal Code. I think that anyone who is responsible for abducting, forcibly confining, raping and murdering another person deserves a sentence that reflects the severity of their crimes.

As I said before, no one can bring a murder victim back to their family.

Honourable senators, the purpose of this bill is not just to give judges the power to hand down sentences that are more proportional and appropriate for the crimes that have been committed, but also to delay the ordeal of parole hearings for victims’ families.

It is important to remember that it is very rare for the offenders affected by this bill to be rehabilitated. It is therefore of no use to ask victims’ families to regularly attend hearing after hearing before the Parole Board of Canada.

Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to go through this experience alongside some families. It is a painful process, especially when they know that the hearing will happen soon, often in the same year.

Please understand that I’m not trying to increase current sentences, because most of these criminals are not released after serving the 25 years provided for under the law. After first becoming eligible, the murderer can apply for parole on a regular basis, even if the first request was denied, and there is simply no need to put victims’ families through repeated hearings that only add to their suffering and anxiety.

I would also like to point out that this bill will have very little impact on the prison population.

When Bill C-266 was being studied by the House of Commons, it was the subject of a report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer. I would like to quote from that report:

Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) informed the PBO that every five years approximately three people are sentenced for all three of these offences with respect to the same victim and same event of series of events. CSC inferred that offences were committed with respect to the same victim and event or series of events based on the offender being sentenced for all three offences on the same date. This represents about 0.3% of the approximately 180 offenders admitted to federal correctional facilities with life or indeterminate sentences each year and a similarly small portion of the approximately 960 offenders serving sentences in federal custody for first-degree murder at the end of the 2016-17 fiscal year.

This bill concerns only 0.3% of the prison population. Even though it will have a very small impact on the prison system, it will ease the suffering of many victims’ families. Imposing pointless hearings on families that have already been victimized forces them to relive the tragedy they experienced. Confronting once again the person responsible for their grief is torture that no one can truly imagine.

When I introduced my previous bill, Bill S-219, Brigitte Serre’s family testified before us and spoke of how difficult it can be to attend a hearing. She stated the following:

With every notice and every hearing, we relive all the emotions that we bury deep within ourselves to be able to move forward in life. Every hearing is emotional torture.

I refer to testimonies gathered by MP Bezan, like the one that deals with the tragic Prioriello case:

Darlene Prioriello was abducted, raped, mutilated and murdered by David . . . Dobson in 1982. . . . Darlene’s sister Terri has said this about having to go through these painful, repetitive and unnecessary Parole Board hearings: “Families have already been victimized once. They shouldn’t have to be victimized every two years. Having to face a loved one’s killer and to read what he did to her and how her death has affected our lives is something nobody should ever have to do once, never mind twice.”

Colleagues, the pain of losing a loved one stays with you for the rest of your life. As I often say, you move from light to darkness. It is very hard to survive the unspeakable. It is therefore necessary that justice, the judge and jury can impose longer sentences to give victims’ families a longer period of peace. The simple fact that this type of criminal can be released some day is a constant risk to the safety of Canadians.

The bill is intended for infamous murderers like Paul Bernardo or Luka Magnotta. I want to share a quote from Joseph Wamback, founder and chair of the Canadian Crime Victim Foundation, who said the following before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in 2019:

Grief is a never-ending journey, and parole hearings extend and reignite that grieving process. Many victims, survivors, friends and family members are unable to work for months before a hearing. After the hearing, they are terribly affected by having to relive those experiences. Some lose their jobs. They can’t participate. They can’t continue to become participating members in Canadian society.

I would also like to share a personal story I received this week from Madeleine Hébert, the mother of Maurice Marcil, who, along with Chantal Dupont, was murdered in 1979 on the Jacques-Cartier Bridge in Montreal:

For more than 20 years, I was closed in on myself. I buried my pain deep inside. I couldn’t think about those crimes. Roadside demonstrations made me break down in tears. I couldn’t hold a baby in my arms. Those are some examples of how I suffered.

Then, in the early 2000s, the criminals were given the right to apply for parole. I wrote letters to explain my perspective and to make sure people didn’t forget Maurice.

But I and those around me paid an extremely high price.

I had to resurrect pain that the passing years had buried deep inside me. Every time, it was like reopening a wound that had been so hard to heal.

The criminals, so they claimed, had paid their debt to society and didn’t want to die in prison. But as for me, they gave me a life sentence, and I don’t understand how they have the gall to believe they have served their time.

They killed people. There’s no fixing that.

I would add that one of the criminals responsible for the death of Ms. Hébert’s son chose to postpone his hearing by a few days. Ms. Hébert lives in France and had travelled to Canada to attend. There was nothing she could do about the constraint her son’s murderer chose to impose.

The acts committed by these criminals do not just destroy the life of the people they harm. They destroy the life of the victims’ families forever.

Honourable senators, the initial bill, Bill C-266, passed the various stages of the parliamentary process and was widely supported by the various political parties. At the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, no amendments were made to the bill and the committee passed it. All parties at the other place agreed that this bill was necessary and just for the families and the victims.

We have to talk about some of these families, like the family of Linda Bright, who was only 16 when she was abducted by Donald Armstrong in Kingston, in 1978. He applied for parole on numerous occasions. Susan Ashley, Linda’s sister, made the following statement about past Parole Board of Canada hearings:

My heart breaks having to live through this again. My heart breaks having to watch my mom and dad drag up their thoughts and pain from that deep place inside them where they tuck their hurt away.

We therefore need to ensure that the bill targets the most depraved members of society, the sadistic killers who often go after women and children, the criminals who often kidnap, sexually assault and murder people in horrendous ways. I am talking about people like Robert Pickton, Russell Williams, Michael Rafferty, Clifford Olson and Paul Bernardo.

Let’s ensure that families don’t have to relive the murder unnecessarily by attending all of the hearings that the Parole Board of Canada has to hold in response to the requests of psychopathic criminals and prisoners, which require families to recall all of the grim details of the circumstances surrounding the murder of their loved one.

As Yvonne Harvey of the Canadian Parents of Murdered Children said, “Although I have not personally faced the ordeal of a parole hearing, I have spoken to many individuals who have. I am certain that the primary intent of this bill, to spare the families of victims from having to attend unnecessary parole hearings, would be most welcomed.”

Honourable senators, my fight for victims’ rights in this chamber has never changed. On March 3, 2020, I celebrated the 10th anniversary of my swearing-in as a senator. During those 10 years, I tried to speak on behalf of victims. I think that we have made progress. However, the battle is not over.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore

I’m sorry, Senator Boisvenu, but I have to interrupt you.

Senator Boisvenu

I had nearly finished.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore

You still have 26 minutes left.

Senator Boisvenu

Thank you.

Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition)

I’m not sure whether Senator Boisvenu is just a few minutes away from finishing, but he lost five minutes again because of technical issues, which are being a real problem here. I would ask the Senate’s indulgence that, if he is less than five minutes away from completing his speech, he be allowed to finish it this evening. If he is more than that away then I would, obviously, accept that that wouldn’t be possible.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore

Honourable senators, do we agree? Senator Boisvenu, please proceed.

Senator Boisvenu

I only need two more minutes. Thank you very much, Senator Plett. Thanks to all honourable senators.

A lot of work remains to be done. When my daughter Julie disappeared in 2002, I vowed to dedicate the rest of my life to this fight. I can’t do it alone, but with you, honourable colleagues, anything is possible.

Honourable senators, I call on this chamber to give second reading to this bill so it can be referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs as soon as possible.

Thank you.