private member's bill inspired by the murder of a young Brockville man
was debated for the first time in the House of Commons on Friday, while
the victim's parents looked on.
After a lengthy process that began during the previous
Parliament, Bill C-393, Leeds-Grenville MPP Gord Brown's crime bill,
had its first hour of debate in the House yesterday afternoon.
"I'm optimistic that we can get this through," the Tory MP told The Recorder and Times shortly after the debate.
The bill calls for mandatory minimum sentences for manslaughters committed with a concealed weapon.
In addition to imposing a minimum five-year sentence for
manslaughter in the stabbing death of an unarmed person, it proposes to
give victims' families a greater voice in the parole hearing process
and in determining presentence custody.
The private member's bill stems from the stabbing death in
Ottawa, two days before Christmas 1998, of 23-year-old Andrew Moffitt,
Moffitt's killer, Henry Danninger, was sentenced to five years
for manslaughter in connection with the crime. He was released from
prison early, despite the pleas, at his parole hearing, of Moffitt's
parents, Brockville residents Rodney and Paulette Moffitt.
Brown's bill got first reading in 2005, when he was in
Opposition, but died on the order paper when the former Liberal
government fell in a non-confidence vote.
Yesterday's debate was the first time the bill, which is now in second reading, made it to the Commons floor.
It is now up for a second hour of debate, which Brown expects will happen in the next three weeks or so.
After that, members will vote on the bill - either immediately
after that second hour or at a later date - and it will be referred to
the Commons justice committee if it passes.
Criminologists and other practitioners say "certainty of
consequence" is a better deterrent to criminals than "potential
severity of consequence," Brown told the House in his opening speech
"This bill sends a message that there will be clear and certain
negative consequences for persons criminally concealing and using
The MP noted his bill would also require a delay in parole eligibility from one-third of the imposed sentence to one-half.
Brown told the House that Danninger was let out on bail less
than three months after his arrest and was re-arrested for breaching
his bail and for committing new crimes.
At sentencing, noted Brown, the killer was given credit for the
time he spent in pretrial custody, including for time spent after
breaching bail and committing new crimes.
"The killer was given extra credit for being on bail - bail which he breached," added Brown.
Sentencing courts are not required to give repeat offenders, or
people who breach bail conditions, credit for pretrial custody, said
"Reward for bad behaviour is unacceptable."
MPs from all three Opposition parties responded to Brown's speech.
The local MP said it is hard to "get a handle" on how much support the proposed legislation will get in the minority Parliament.
Brown said he is happy to see the bill even get on the floor
amid the continuing talk in recent months of whether or not the
Liberals would force an election.
Rodney and Paulette Moffitt were on hand to watch the debate, as were their children Rod Jr. and Mike.
"It was exciting that it's got to second reading. It's been a
long, long time in the making," Paulette Moffitt said last night after
getting home from Ottawa.
Although Opposition members criticized the bill, she remains hopeful it will find enough supporters in the House.
Getting tough on knife crimes has become an important cause for the Moffitt family since the tragedy.
"The knife has taken over first place as the weapon of choice for offenders across the country," said Paulette Moffitt.
"People have to realize that what happened to Andy can happen to anybody's son or daughter."
Moffitt is already thinking ahead to the 10-year anniversary of
the terrible event later this year, and says it would help provide the
family with closure if the bill should pass before then.
"(It's) time for Andy to rest in peace," she said.
Published in the Saturday, April 12, 2008 edition of the Brockville Recorder & Times.