Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Bloc support helps Conservatives get parole bill through House of Commons Add to ...

The Bloc Québécois have helped the Conservatives pass a contentious crime bill that would eliminate early parole eligibility for non-violent offenders.

The Bloc voted Wednesday in favour of the Harper government's Bill C-59, which easily passed the House of Commons by a 184-105 margin.

The Liberals and NDP opposed the bill, but the Bloc support moves the legislation to the Tory-controlled Senate.

The bill eliminates a convict's right to apply for parole after serving one-sixth of their sentence for non-violent crimes such as fraud.

The Bloc says it has long favoured such legislation, and supported the Conservative change because of high-profile fraud cases in Quebec, including the conviction of disgraced financier Earl Jones.

Under the bill, convicted fraudsters and other non-violent criminals must now serve one-third of their sentences before seeking parole.

The bill was fast-tracked through the Commons after the Conservatives and Bloc voted earlier this week to curtail debate.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said his party couldn't back the bill because it does nothing to help defrauded victims get their money back.

"We think this Bloc-Conservative coalition ... is the worst abuse of Parliament I've seen in a very long time," Mr. Ignatieff said.

Mr. Ignatieff said the bill would affect only 1,500 prisoners but would add $130-million to Canada's prison tab.

The Quebec bar has advised the Liberals that the bill is unconstitutional, he said.

The Liberals blasted the Conservatives for cuts that have affected the RCMP's ability to fight white collar crime.

New Democrat MP Joe Comartin said the bill needed further study by a Commons committee. He has argued that the bill could have been amended to target specific offenders.

"We're still dramatically opposed to being pushed this way to try and deal with a bill that needs more attention," Mr. Comartin said earlier this week.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe said the Bloc proposed similar legislation twice in 2007, so it was only natural that the party support it now.

"The Tories refused twice to proceed and at that time, both times, the NDP and the Liberals give their unanimous consent to have the three readings the same day. Now they're changing their mind. Don't ask me why they change their mind," Mr. Duceppe said.

In all, 43 Bloc MPs voted with the government. The support comes after the early release from prison of disgraced Quebec financier Vincent Lacroix three weeks ago.

Lacroix spent 18 months of a 13-year sentence behind bars for defrauding investors of more than $100-million before he was transferred to a halfway house late last month. His victims were outraged by that development.

Mr. Jones, a Montreal financier, was sentenced last year to 11 years in prison for defrauding more than 150 investors of $50-million. Under the current law, Mr. Jones could apply for early parole as early as next year after serving less than two years of his prison term.

Liberal public safety critic Mark Holland accused the Conservatives of playing politics with their law-and-order agenda in an attempt to unfairly paint the opposition as soft on crime.

Mr. Holland said the Liberals have pushed for a revision of the early parole law, but have been rebuffed by the Conservatives.

The Tories were caught with their "pants down" by Mr. Lacroix's recent release, Mr. Holland charged, which has forced them to ram through legislation without proper debate.

"This sudden flurry of activity that came from the government could have been easily avoided if it had listened over the last number of years when Liberal members said that we should make sure we fix this, that we should shut down the provisions that allow someone like Earl Jones or Mr. Lacroix to be able to get out early," Mr. Holland said.

Like other contentious crime bills, Mr. Holland accused the government of hiding the true cost of the bill to taxpayers.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said the issue has "vexed" him for a long time. As a former Crown prosecutor, Mr. Toews said he regularly saw criminals cut plea bargain deals that would see them plead guilty to lesser, non-violent offences.

"The game that was being played, of course, was that by removing all of the reference to so-called violent crime they would then be eligible at one-sixth or one-third, at a much more rapid pace. That, quite frankly, was unacceptable," Mr. Toews said.

Last week, the House of Commons passed another Tory bill that abolished the so-called faint-hope clause, which had allowed convicted first-degree murderers to be apply for early parole after 15 years instead of 25.

The Liberals and Conservatives have drawn battle lines over another crime bill, one that would impose mandatory sentences for drug crimes. Mr. Ignatieff has branded that bill "dumb on crime" because it would require a judge to impose a mandatory six-month sentence for possessing as few a six marijuana plants.

All of the Conservative crime bills remain uncosted by the government, which says the information is a secret cabinet confidence that can't be revealed to Canadians.

 

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories