Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act

An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (parole review and victim impact statement)

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

Sponsor

David Sweet  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Second reading (House), as of March 23, 2011
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Corrections and Conditional Release Act in order to increase the period within which the National Parole Board must provide a further review of parole and statutory release in the case of offenders serving a sentence for an offence involving violence. This enactment also amends the Act to permit the victim of an offence to present a victim impact statement at a parole review hearing.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act
Private Members' Business

March 23rd, 2011 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

moved that Bill C-620, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (parole review and victim impact statement), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it was a privilege to present Bill C-620, Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act, to the House in February. It is a privilege today, although with mixed emotions, to be the first to speak on its second reading.

I would like to use my time today to reinforce the reasons why this bill would help recalibrate the balance between the rights of violent offenders and the rights of their victims, but first, and most importantly, I would like to share with the House why I worked to bring this bill forward.

Like many hon. members, I have received calls from constituents over the years expressing concern that our system, in their opinion, seemed to give more weight to the rights of those convicted of very serious and heinous crimes rather than the victims of those crimes. I heard story after story regarding the emotional trauma of victims and their feelings of being re-victimized by a system they felt favoured the guilty more.

However, nothing could have made me realize their pain and trauma more than the experience I had last May when I visited a National Parole Board hearing. At the request of a constituent, I attended the National Parole Board to listen, learn and observe the process.

The case was one of direct relevance to my constituent as well as to myself because of the local nature of it. Her sister and her sister's two children had been killed years ago by a murderer who was once again up for parole. I do not think anything could have prepared me for what I was about to experience.

The violent offender and the family of the woman and children he killed shared the same hearing room for four hours. The raw emotion in the room was unspeakable. To this day it is hard to find the words to do justice to that experience.

Exacerbating the situation, the triple murderer still refused to take responsibility for his crime. No real remorse was shown and still, to this day he has not taken any responsibility. As a result, thankfully, his parole was denied again.

I would like to read something from a publication called The Record. It is a report on what the victim's family experienced. The witness at the hearing said that, “This horrible crime committed by Jon Rallo still affects me every single day. I know it will continue to do so in the future. The fact that Jon Rallo has never acknowledged his horrific deeds and has never revealed Jason's resting place only makes the burden more difficult to bear”.

He did not even have graciousness to say where he dumped one of the bodies. They still do not know where Jason's body is.

When I think of it now, it strengthens my resolve to bring this bill to fruition, despite the circumstances we find ourselves in the House today.

Throughout the process of considering this bill, I consulted with victims groups, prosecutors, defence attorneys, police officers and many groups to come up with a realistic and workable bill that would be supportable for all members in the House.

The Sampson report, named after former Ontario minister of Corrections, Rob Sampson, was entitled: A Roadmap to Strengthening Public Safety. It included 109 recommendations and improvements to corrections and public safety when it was released in December 2007 and it was a good resource in the development of this bill.

The report cited the changing offender profile. Here are a couple of points from the report.

Nearly 60% of inmates are now serving sentences of less than three years and have histories of violence. One in six now have known gang and/or organized crime affiliations.

Also in 2007, the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime was established. Its members have been advocates for victims across the country, raising awareness and making recommendations for change.

Let me give one small fact, but one with a big impact. When testifying before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on March 3, 2011, Sue O'Sullivan, the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, in quoting a Department of Justice report said the following, “Victims pay 67% of the cost of crime”. That is an alarming statistic and it illustrates very clearly another reason why fairness for victims needs to be addressed.

Let me clear up one misconception from the outset. The reforms we are talking about here, to give greater voice and choice to victims, cannot be quickly dismissed as simply following some kind of American model. Our Commonwealth colleagues like Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, have also enacted some of these very same changes.

While not everything can be accomplished in one bill, my hope is that the Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act builds on the work of our government's tough on crime agenda, these reports and of the advocates that have been championing victims' rights in Canada for decades.

What specifically would the bill do? In the simplest terms it would amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act in two important ways: One, it would give greater voice and choice to victims; and two, it would give the National Parole Board more discretion in how it reviews the cases of violent offenders, lengthening the time that the National parole Board has for mandatory review of sentences for offences involving violence.

What does this include? This includes ensuring the victim's right to present a victim impact statement is enshrined in law, so that the National Parole Board must consider it as part of its hearing. It is simply a matter of fairness. I have not heard of a case to date when a victim was deprived of the right by the National Parole Board to present an impact statement. Nevertheless, enshrining the right to present a victim impact statement in legislation clearly establishes its importance to all Canadians.

As I included each provision in my bill, I thought back to the Parole Board hearing I witnessed in the spring of 2010 and asked myself, would this make it fairer? Would this help ease the burden on victims and their families?

What is more, my bill also includes recognition that technology has advanced since the last time the Corrections and Conditional Release Act was reviewed. As a result, the bill amends the act to ensure that in the event a victim cannot, or chooses not to attend a parole hearing, they are allowed to use any commonly available form of audio or video format to make the statement.

This is entirely in addition to the written statement. It gives victims and families an option to not have to relive the pain at a hearing if a person so chooses. Given the proliferation of digital and video formats available today and the speed in which technology advances, this only makes common sense.

I thought back to that experience in May 2010 and asked myself, would this law make it more fair? Would it restore balance? Would it help ease the burden on victims and their families?

The bill, Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act, also increases the period within which the National Parole Board must provide a further review of parole in the case of offenders serving a sentence for an offence involving violence. It would increase the review period from “within four years” from the current “within two years”. Let me repeat that for clarification. It would increase the review period to four years rather than the current two years.

There is more. In the cases of statutory release, where offenders cause death or serious violent harm to another, it would increase double the review period to two years from the current one year. The net effect is to give more necessary latitude to the National Parole Board in dealing with cases of violent offenders.

At this point, I want to read another excerpt from a piece of media, which is another experience of victims but this time of Clifford Olson. This was printed in The Province in 2010 and it reads:

Olson, 70, who seems to take pleasure in revictimizing the families of those he killed, is automatically eligible for parole every two years until the day he dies.

Ray King, whose only son was 15 when Olson killed him, plans to be at the parole hearing but said it's difficult facing the prospect of a hearing every two years. "Of course it's hard," he said. "It's hard just hearing [Olson's] name."

King said he'd like to see the rules changed to prevent killers from having regular parole hearings. "I'd like to be able to fly, but that's not going to happen either. There's nothing that can be done until he's dead. I'd be glad if he died."

Sharon Rosenfeldt, whose 16-year-old son Daryn was murdered by Olson in April 1981, said from Montreal that she and her daughter will attend Olson's hearing. "I will be attending parole hearings until Clifford Olson dies or I die," said Rosenfeldt, who attended the last hearing with her daughter in a Montreal-area prison in July 2006. "But it's always been really unsettling to us.

"When Clifford Olson was first sentenced I thought it would be for life. Well, he's been part of our lives for coming up 30 years. It will be 30 years in April that Daryn went missing and was murdered.

"To have to relive this every two years, it's so inhumane. It really is...”.

Again, going back to my experience in May, I asked myself again whether this law will make it more fair, will restore balance and will help to ease the burden of victims.

Victims should have the assurance as well that those who have harmed them so severely have actually taken seriously their responsibility to endeavour to be rehabilitated and return to society as a law-abiding and contributing citizen.

Finally and additionally, this bill would allow victims increased access to offender documents related to the upcoming parole hearing.

I just want to read one more excerpt. I know these are a little long but they are very germane to the subject at hand. This is about Constable Michael Sweet, who is no relation to me. It reads:

In the early morning hours of March 14, 1980, brothers Craig and Jamie Munro entered what was then George’s Bourbon Street restaurant in downtown Toronto for the purpose of committing a robbery. Both men were high on drugs and armed with guns. At the time, Craig Munro was on mandatory supervision from a penitentiary....

The brothers gathered all the people inside into one place but one of the victims managed to successfully flee. Once out on the street he flagged down a passing police cruiser. Constable Sweet, 30, entered the restaurant and was immediately shot twice. There then began a 90 minute standoff between the Munro brothers with their hostages and police. The police later stormed the restaurant and both brothers were shot and captured.

During the standoff, Sweet was conscious and slowly bleeding to death. He begged his captors to let him go to a hospital and he told them about the three young daughters he had at home. While Sweet pleaded for his life he was laughed at and taunted. All three men were later transported to hospital.

The Munro brothers survived their injuries. Sweet did not survive.

Jamie Munro was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was granted full parole in 1992, married an Italian woman and is believed to be living in Italy under another name. Craig Munro, who was the one that shot Constable Sweet, was convicted of first degree murder. He was automatically sentenced to life imprisonment with no chance of parole for 25 years.

As Karen Fraser said at the press conference, ”the crime against her husband took place in a public place”. Craig Munro’s trial and sentencing were held in public. However, the prison records that were available to Munro and used by the Parole Board in deciding whether or not he should be granted parole were not available to her or the public because they were protected under the Privacy Act. Craig Munro could have authorized the release of those records to the Sweet family but exercised his right not to do so.

Again, this is a matter of fairness. Again I thought back to my experience of 2010 and asked myself whether this law would make it more fair and whether it would give the victims and their families more voice to help ease their burden?

The answer to all these questions that I have asked throughout my speech is yes. I believe this bill reaffirms what the Sampson report said, which is that parole from prison is a privilege not a right. It must be earned and that includes showing remorse for the crime and seeking rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is the key. The National Parole Board must be convinced that the violent offender will not recommit. It is the least we can do to offer dignity to victims.

Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act
Private Members' Business

March 23rd, 2011 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member on his presentation of Bill C-620. I think he has alerted the House to the importance of these matters. For those who may not have heard, the bill would increase the period within which the National Parole Board must provide a further review of parole and statutory release in the case of an offender serving a sentence for an offence involving violence. It is an important matter.

However, as it is with every bill, if it were that good the government would have already done it, which must mean that the member may have found a matter that does not in fact have clear support of all stakeholders and interested parties.

I wonder if the member could inform the House on whether he is aware of any group, organization or significant individuals who have disagreed with the actions proposed by the bill.

Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act
Private Members' Business

March 23rd, 2011 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-39, which was introduced in the House by the government some time ago, does touch on some of the aspects of Bill C-620 but this bill would take the provisions in the government's bill a step further.

Am I aware of anybody who would be against this bill? Once the bill was made public, the only thing I have received has been support for this bill. So, I know of no one who would object to it.

Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act
Private Members' Business

March 23rd, 2011 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for all the work that he has put into Bill C-620 so far. As he has indicated, it is a bill that would provide more voice and choice to the victims. I think we can all agree that is a worthwhile cause. It would also give the Parole Board more discretion. I would think that we would want to send the bill to committee.

The only problem, as the member knows, is that we may only be here for another couple of days. However, I want to encourage him, when the election is over and he is back in the House maybe on this side of the House, who knows, to take the opportunity to reintroduce the bill as soon as we get back. I think we would be very pleased to support it to get it to the committee stage.

Has the member done any wide-ranging consultations and--

Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act
Private Members' Business

March 23rd, 2011 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I had a number of lawyers work on the legal aspects of the bill. I have talked with many groups, as I mentioned in my speech, regarding victims rights groups and I have found, as I said, unanimous support for it.

I am very grateful for the member's vote of confidence that I will be back here.

However, in all seriousness, I did mention in my speech that despite the circumstances we have here, it is necessary to make known the pain that victims go through and the minimal amount of rights they have when it is time for a person who has been convicted to come up for parole and the limited access they have to information so that they can be assured that when the person comes out that person will not reoffend and, quite possibly, re-victimize their families.

Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act
Private Members' Business

March 23rd, 2011 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for allowing me to second his private member's bill.

I want to mention a case that goes back about 25 years. I know the parents whose daughter was brutally murdered in London, Ontario. It happened, as some members might remember, during a time when a series of murders were being committed. I know the parents continue to go through the horror of some of the things that he mentioned he did to her. I know the parents very well and I knew their young daughter who was an absolutely beautiful girl. I want to be able to go back to those parents and tell them what this would mean for them and how it would change how they go to these parole hearings.

Perhaps the member could just quickly comment on that.

Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act
Private Members' Business

March 23rd, 2011 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, the key thing in the bill is that the National Parole Board would have up to four years from two years. It would give the Parole Board the discretion when it makes decisions regarding the bill.

It would also give the families. who find that they are re-traumatized by going to the National Parole Board but who want to ensure they are there for the loved ones they have lost, the ability to send their victim impact statement on a DVD or some other transmission so they do not need to be physically in the room and have to go through that emotional trauma again.

Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act
Private Members' Business

March 23rd, 2011 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, every one of us in this House is deeply concerned when a serious violent crime occurs. All of us are seized with the questions of how we ensure it never happens again, how we ensure there is justice for the people who suffered as a result of that crime and how we provide comfort to victims to ensure they are able to endure and get over the process of victimization.

The bill is something we should look at and debate to ensure that in the overall spectrum it makes sense. The bill is very targeted. It only deals with violent offences that are schedule 1 offences and would increase the time from two years to four years that somebody would wait while having their pardon eligibility reviewed.

However, I think we need to look at our criminal justice issues in a more fulsome way. If we are to do true service to victims, to community safety and public safety generally, then we cannot just piecemeal these things. We cannot just throw one little bit on top of one little bit with no information.

One of the things we do not have, yet again, for this bill, which I think it is important, is how much it will cost. We have 18 government bills that are before this House right now that relate to having impacts on incarceration and prisons and yet we do not know the true cost.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer said that there remains significant gaps between the information requested from parliamentarians and the documents that were provided by the government which will limit the ability of parliamentarians to fulfill their fiduciary obligations. He went on to point out that more than 55% of the documents relating to the cost of these bills are not there. They are missing.

When we are considering legislation, whether it this bill or any bill, my constituents will ask me how much it will cost and what the trade-offs will be, which are fair questions.

In this case, the bill is clearly limited in scope but we want to ensure it is getting the best result and actually is increasing community safety.

One of the things we need to keep in mind is that if we are truly interested in stopping crime, ensuring communities are safe and reducing victimization, then we need to go after the root causes of crime and stop it before it happens.

In Canada, it may surprise some to know that we actually have a rate of violent recidivism, which is the rate at which violent offenders commit a new violent offence, of less than 1%. That means that somebody convicted of committing a violent crime will commit another violent crime less than 1% of the time. That means the vast majority of crimes that are committed are offences we never saw coming. It means that investments need to be made in things like prevention, community capacity and diversion in terms of dealing with addictions and drugs. Investing in fixing issues surrounding mental health is absolutely critical.

Of course stiff sentencing must be an important part of any package of actions taken to make communities safe. However, places that have tried incarceration and only incarceration have ended in ruin. In fact, I point to recent testimony before committee of the former head of the U.S. drug enforcement agency under President George Bush who talked about what happened in his country. He said:

...we made some mistakes, and I hope that you can learn from those mistakes.

I'm here because I signed on to a “right on crime” initiative, which is an initiative led by a group of conservatives in the United States who support a re-evaluation of our nation's incarceration policies.

In short, he was saying that states like California embarked on a path of dramatically increasing incarceration and did little else. It left the state nearly bankrupt, with no money for health or education and no money for prevention. As they stopped investing in prevention and as the crimes mounted up and the prisons got more full, their rate of violent recidivism was driven north of 20%.

Imagine, today in Canada we have a violent recidivism rate less than 1% and yet we are emulating a model that has driven its rate over 20%. Its overall rate of recidivism is 70%. That means for every 10 people who walk out of a jail, 7 will recommit a crime in California.

I can give the House another example. Newt Gingrich, the founder of the whole movement of incarceration for all problems, points to the example in his most recent letter, comparing the states of New York and Florida, which took two very different paths.

New York invested heavily in prevention, in community capacity, in dealing with drugs and mental health, which are at the root of so many crimes. Florida took the conservative approach. Florida ended up spending an enormous amount of money ramping up incarceration, driving its incarceration rates higher and higher at the cost of billions of dollars. For both states, the net result was a difference of 16%. Florida had 16% rise in violent crime. New York decreased 16%. The difference is New York saved literally billions of dollars and wound up with a safer system.

This is the problem. If we are speaking honestly and sincerely to victims, we cannot just talk about incarceration. We have to talk about the fact the government has cut more than 43% from the victims of crime initiative. We need to talk about the fact that the government's hand-picked victims ombudsman, Steve Sullivan, who stood up and said that the government's plan for victims was unbalanced and would not work, was fired.

The reality is the plan that is put before us today would lead to more crime, more costs, more victims, less safety and would steal money from education and health, while dumping billions of dollars into debt.

I note that some money was put into prevention. We will have to see if it was actually spent. One of the strategies on the crime prevention budget was for the government to keep the budget the same but not spend it. The government would keep the budget at about $50 million, but would only spend $19 million.

I have gone across the country and talked with organizations that are on the front lines of keeping our communities safe, groups like the Boys and Girls Clubs and church organizations. These organizations ensure that when somebody starts to head down a dark path, that individual is pulled back before a crime is committed, before there is a victim.

Groups like that are seeing their funding cut and slashed. It is being replaced by funding that they have to twist themselves into a pretzel to go after some weird objective the government has set nationally, but makes no sense for their local communities. They are begging for a government they can partner with, that would help them drive the changes they need to keep their communities safe, to help build community capacity. They need to ensure that when this happens, the federal government will give them money not to fit something that has been created in Ottawa, but to fit something that works for their communities.

We see community safety councils in places like Summerside, P.E.I., or in Kitchener—Waterloo, which has a fantastic crime prevention council, or in Ottawa, develop those plans. They desperately need partners if we are serious about breaking the back of this.

I also hear from police chiefs across the country. They say that the cuts being made with respect to services for the mentally ill are totally unacceptable. They say that if we are honestly interested in reducing crime, then we have to take on the problem of mental health in our country. So many prisons are replete with people who have mental health conditions because police have no where else to put them. The police chiefs say that they wait for somebody who is mentally ill to commit a crime so they can put that individual in jail and at least get him or her out of harm's way. When these individuals are in that jail cell, they are left in segregation with no services. Then they are released on to the streets worse than they ever were before.

Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom has turned away from these polices. Australia has turned away from these policies. The United States has turned away from these policies. It is imperative, as a nation, that we get balanced and intelligent policies when it comes to crime, that when we take action to stop victimization, we do not just talk but we actually do and what we do is based on evidence and fact and not just on drama.

Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act
Private Members' Business

March 23rd, 2011 / 6 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you and my colleagues that we will support Bill C-620 in principle, so that it can be studied in committee. It is highly unlikely that the Standing Committee on Public Safety will study this bill, but we will pretend it is business as usual. We want to study this bill in committee, although we do have some reservations about some of the proposed clauses. However, we are open to studying these clauses and hearing from some expert witnesses to determine how relevant they are.

This bill contains four components, which I will discuss. The first has to do with violent crimes. This bill would allow a direct or indirect victim to make an oral, written or recorded statement at a parole hearing and would require the board to take this statement into account. We believe that that would strengthen the fundamental principle of ensuring that victims are represented. This step can not only help the victim heal, but can also help the board conduct a detailed and fair analysis of the situation.

Before discussing the second component of this bill, I would like to say that I had experience with this law when I was a parole officer. I was often faced with the famous provision that is presented in Bill C-620.

Now for the second component. Under the current law, parole is automatic after two-thirds of a sentence has been served. However, in certain cases, the National Parole Board may decide to deny parole after two-thirds of the sentence, based on a recommendation from a multidisciplinary team. This is known as the detention provision. At present, the board can issue an order denying the statutory release of an offender if it believes the offender cannot be integrated into the community and will, if released before sentence expiry, commit an offence causing death or serious harm to another person, commit a sexual offence involving a child, or commit a drug offence.

This order is reviewed every year, and the board is required to meet with the inmate almost every year. A detention order is an exceptional measure. In my entire career, the only place I had to implement a detention order was at the Regional Mental Health Centre, where inmates who are not serving a life sentence, but a determinate sentence, pose an obvious risk because of their multiple mental health or deviance problems. I saw all kinds of cases.

Some individuals unfortunately cannot be released because of the severity of their problems and because an analysis of the risk and of their conduct in detention and outside shows that they would likely commit a very serious offence, putting in danger the lives of children or causing serious harm to people.

Keeping someone in detention is a measure that is carefully considered and applied to the most dangerous offenders.

Quite often, they are inmates who will not have worked very much on their risk factors, for all sorts of reasons and not necessarily because they do not want to, but quite simply because they are too consumed by their criminality.

A good example of this is pedophiles who have traits of sadism. Yes, that exists. I have seen it. This type of pedophile is extremely dangerous and unfortunately cannot be rehabilitated. They nonetheless get fixed sentences whether we like it or not. It would not be an issue if the person were serving a life sentence. Nonetheless, when it comes to fixed sentences, this needs to be managed.

Holding a detention review hearing for these people after just one year is rather optimistic. When the assessment is made, the risk of danger to the public is so high that it is unlikely to decrease after a year. Therefore, going from one year to two seems reasonable to me. That allows the offender to work on or keep working on his risk factors and it also gives the board some time to see whether the offender has made any improvements.

I think that when people are kept in prison it is generally because they cannot be rehabilitated. The current legislation requires sometimes very dangerous offenders to be released after two-thirds of their sentence. When the risk of danger to the public is assessed, it is not possible to say whether that man or woman will reoffend within the first 24 hours, 48 hours or seven days. We know there is a risk of recidivism, but with the information available, we are unable to say whether the offender will reoffend as soon as he is released or a few days after his release. In that case, we cannot detain the offender.

If risk can be assessed in this way, then the offender can be detained. The ridiculous thing about the current legislation is that parole after two-thirds of the sentence is automatic when it should be conditional, as the Bloc Québécois has been calling for and as is the case for full parole after one-third of the sentence.

Detention is a procedure that helps keep automatic parole in check when the board establishes, through recommendations from a multidisciplinary team, that the offender would commit a very dangerous offence very soon after being released.

In fact, this provision of the bill would not even be needed if, under the current law, statutory release were conditional, not automatic, after two-thirds of the sentence. Given the current law, I think that it is reasonable to go from one to two years.

The third component of this law would allow the board to pass relevant information about the offender on to victims. The Bloc is not opposed to this measure, which, I believe, could be crucial to the victim's safety. For example, the victim should know when the offender is released from prison and if they could bump into one another at the convenience store. This needs to be examined closely because it would be inappropriate to share certain information. I think it is important that this be studied in committee to determine, in collaboration with experts, what information could and could not be passed on.

Our party feels that the fourth component is rather disturbing. We are neither for nor against it. We simply feel it needs to be studied. I am talking about the provision that would increase the wait time from two to four years between hearings when parole is denied. This is not a question of statutory release, but of other types of parole, be it complete freedom or day parole.

We agree with the provisions on violent crime, but this particular provision really needs to be studied further.

Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act
Private Members' Business

March 23rd, 2011 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of Bill C-620, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (parole review and victim impact statement).

I want to congratulate my hon. colleague from Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale for his initiative and hard work in drafting a piece of legislation that is well-founded, important, and sound.

Essentially, the New Democratic Party's position will be to support this bill at second reading. We look forward to examining it in more detail in committee. New Democrats support expanding the rights of victims. We will examine this bill to ensure that the proposals are, in fact, crafted in such a way that the goal can be achieved. Reading the bill at face value as it is currently written is well on its way to achieving that goal.

This bill would do three things. First, it would increase the period within which the National Parole Board must provide a further review of parole in the case of offenders serving sentences for offences involving violence. This would increase to four years the length of time that the National Parole Board must provide a further review of parole from the current two years.

Second, it would increase the period within which the National Parole Board must provide a further review of statutory release for offenders who cause death or serious harm to others. This bill would increase the review to two years from the current one year.

Third, this bill would create a right for victims to present victim impact statements at National Parole Board hearings and would amend the act to ensure that in the event a victim cannot or chooses not to attend a parole hearing, the victim may use any commonly available form of audio or video format to make a statement, in addition to a written statement. It would also allow victims increased access to offender documents related to an upcoming parole hearing.

In short, the latter provision in particular would give victims a greater role in the criminal justice system. It would allow them to know what progress their offender have made. To be informed of exactly what is going on with that offender is a long overdue and important provision.

The fact that this bill recognizes that victims want to play a role in the parole process, want information about what is going on with their offender, and want to participate and have their voices heard if they so choose, is thoughtful and sensitive. The fact that this bill would provide for victims to send victim impact statements to parole hearings if they are uncomfortable being in the presence of their offender or because it is economically prohibitive for them to attend is sensitive, and a wise and thoughtful improvement to the law.

I want to talk a bit about the importance in our justice system of making sure that the voices of victims are heard. Steve Sullivan, the former victims ombudsman, testified in the public safety committee in which I participated. We heard some very important information from Mr. Sullivan about what victims really want. They want information, they want to participate, and they want to know that their voices are heard in the process. It is crucial to the healing of victims and for justice that the impacts on victims are actually part of the process in the beginning, the middle, and the end.

Hearing the voices of victims is a crucial part of preventing recidivism. Offenders must know the impacts of their actions and the harm they cause. In order for offenders to have a better chance of not reoffending, having to accept responsibility for their actions is an important part of offenders healing and not reoffending.

We all know that restorative justice provisions give closure to victims knowing that the offenders have heard them and, when it is successful, that offenders take responsibility for the harm they have caused. It can actually work to heal the damage caused in many circumstances.

I also want to talk about what else we heard Mr. Sullivan say because he spoke on behalf of victims who have given him a lot of input. He told us as parliamentarians that victims also want better programs in prison, not because they are trying to coddle offenders but because it is important for them to know that while in prison, the offender is getting the kind of programming that will make him or her less likely to reoffend. Victims are afraid. Once victimized, they are afraid it will happen to them again. So victims have a stake in the criminal justice system in a way that many people do not.

According to Mr. Sullivan, victims want to know that the offender in prison has received programming. They want to know that the offender is receiving rehabilitation measures. They want to know that others will not be victimized by the same offender, and that they themselves will not be victimized again. Victims want to know about an offender's progress in prison and about the offender's attitude in prison. They want to know whether or not offenders have accepted responsibility for their behaviour.

Victims care that offenders get treatment for addictions and mental illness. Up to now the government has refused to acknowledge that aspect of what victims want. I want to encourage the government to pay attention to victims' expressions in that regard and start putting resources into those areas because that is what victims want in this country.

I want to give the House a couple of quotes from Mr. Sullivan. He said:

By focusing solely on sending people to prison longer, we're not serving the majority of victims of crime out there. We have to broaden our perspective of meeting victims’ needs and sentencing might be part of that, but it’s a very small part for most victims.

Mr. Sullivan was saying that a government that pursues a narrow policy of simply elongating sentences is not actually listening to victims and providing the comprehensive services that victims need. Victims need healing services. They need counselling services. They want information. They want input. They want their voices to be heard and they want to know that the government puts resources into making offenders accountable for their actions and helping offenders actually recover and not reoffend.

Mr. Sullivan said:

I'm sure the committee has had debates about the value of the government's bills and their approach. I'm not here to speak about that...That's a debate you'll have in Parliament.

He also said:

It should not be considered as a way to meet the needs of victims. I spent the entire day today with victims groups and with victim service providers yesterday, and that didn't come up at all as a way to meet the real needs. Every day we hear from victims, asking how we get those issues solved. That's just not part of the equation in most cases.

I want to talk about a couple of constituents in my riding of Vancouver Kingsway, whom I met with recently, Norm Au and Iliaz Ali. These two Canadians live near the Nanaimo sky train station. They are community block watch participants and are routinely victims of crime. Near the Nanaimo sky train station is a neighbourhood that is victimized regularly by drug dealing, prostitution, vandalism, and theft.

These brave constituents come out of their neighbourhoods, watch their neighbourhoods, and try to protect and support each other. They phone the police when they see crimes being committed. What these people need and have asked for is better community policing at sky train stations. They want to see more community policing generally and better signage. They want to know that when they call the police and are observing a crime in progress, there will be an immediate response.

These are the kind of provisions that victims in this country really want to see.

Once those people have committed a crime and they have gone to jail, it is after the horse has been let out of the barn. These people want crime prevention and community policing. That is what the government needs to be doing.

The New Democrats are calling on the government for more community policing, more crime prevention resources, and more programs to deal with mental illness and addictions in our communities, which we all know are some of the major root causes of criminal behaviour. We will not make progress in our efforts to reduce crime in this country if we do not start addressing mental illness and addictions.

Even the previous minister of public safety acknowledged there are people in prison who ought not to be there because it is not appropriate as they are sick individuals. Yes, they have committed crimes and should pay for those crimes.

However, we are fooling ourselves if we think that simply locking people up for longer will do anything to reduce crime in this country.

I applaud the hon. member for his bill. The New Democrats will support it.

Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act
Private Members' Business

March 23rd, 2011 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Dean Allison Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have come to learn in this place that we always need to beware of a member of Parliament who says, “I support this bill in principle, but--”.

I just want to make a couple of quick comments to my colleague, the member for Ajax—Pickering, who tried to somehow liken this bill to having something to do with California or Florida or Newt Gingrich. This has nothing to do with that whatsoever.

This bill has to do with fairness for victims. That is what this bill is all about. I take some offence that my colleague from across the way could suggest that this has something to do with U.S.-style justice in any way. This is really about fairness for victims of violent offenders. It does not get any simpler than that.

Let me just talk about the four things that this bill proposes to do to amend the CCRA.

First, it would amend section 123 to increase the period within which the National Parole Board must provide a further review of parole in the case of offenders serving a sentence for an offence involving violence. This would increase “within four years” from the current “within two years”.

Second, it would amend section 131 to increase the period within which the National Parole Board must provide a further review of statutory release for offenders who cause death or serious harm to another. For example, for an offence involving violence, it would increase “within two years” from the current “within one year”.

Third, it would amend section 140 to ensure the victim's right to present a victim impact statement is enshrined in law, so the National Parole Board must consider it as part of its hearings. It would also amend section 140 to ensure that in the event victims cannot or chooses not to attend a parole hearing, to allow the victims to use any commonly available form of audio or video format to make their statement. As a result, the act would be modernized to account for the proliferation of digital and video formats available today. Having a choice will help ease the parole process on victims and their families.

Fourth, it would amend section 142 to allow victims increased access to offender documents related to an upcoming parole hearing.

Just to be very clear, that is what this bill proposes to do.

I am pleased to rise today to talk to this bill put forward by the member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, whom I am proud to call not just a colleague but a friend. The hon. member has always done a great job representing his constituents and he should be commended now for bringing forward a private member's bill that gives a voice to victims of crime.

The short title for Bill C-620 is fairness for victims of violent offenders act. I believe he has struck the right balance in doing just that. In reading over this bill, I am impressed with the positive steps it proposes ensuring that victims of crime have their interests taken into consideration during the process of parole hearings.

What a concept. Let us think about that, that we would actually take into consideration victims of crime. I think this is a very good idea.

This is not to say that the possibility of parole will be infringed upon for those who the system deems to have been rehabilitated. Indeed, one of the cornerstones of our justice system is the belief that criminals can and should be rehabilitated, so that they can re-enter society as productive citizens.

However, to force victims of a violent crime to relive the dramatic effects of the act by requiring them to face the perpetrator of that crime time and time again during parole proceedings is not, I think, what our justice system is about. Our system should not seek to put victims through a process that at the end of the day only causes them further pain and suffering.

For this reason, I applaud Bill C-620 as put forward since it seeks to provide different avenues for victims to participate in the parole process that are less difficult for them on an emotional level. It also seeks to give the National Parole Board greater latitude through lengthening the time in which a mandatory parole review must occur. Of course, this bill is given ever greater credibility since it derives from a sincere desire to have the greater share of the burden shifted from the victim to the perpetrator.

Indeed, as the member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale noted in his remarks, the office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime has provided the disturbing statistic that under our current system, victims pay 67% of the costs of a crime. Simply put, this is not acceptable.

I do not see how justice is being properly served through our current system that places an inordinate amount of pressure upon the victims of violent crime. Changes need to be made to take into account the traumatic circumstances that the current system demands that victims relive, time and time again.

That is why I feel that one of the most rational aspects of the bill before the House is the part that provides victims the opportunity to supply their remarks in any commonly available media format. This avenue should, without a doubt, be made available to victims should they choose not to attend a parole hearing of the individual already responsible for so much of their physical and mental anguish. This would be in addition to the written statement that the victim, under the bill, would be able to provide and be able to have the National Parole Board legally obliged to consider during the course of the hearing. Most importantly, this option gives victims and their families the choice of avoiding having to relive their experiences by not having to attend the hearing in person.

This in and of itself speaks volumes to the bill's intent of reducing the trauma that victims of violent crimes are forced to go through with each parole hearing. Indeed, the bill goes beyond simply providing new venues for victims and putting new regulations in place for the parole board, but ensures that victims of crime are accorded the dignity they deserve.

I see the bill as an attempt to protect the families who have had their children taken from them by violent and malicious killers. The bill is for the survivors of those violent crimes, for those haunted by memories of assault and those having to live with the knowledge of their families' tormentors remaining unrepentant of their cowardly acts.

In speaking to the bill I tried to imagine what it must have been like for those individuals to have their family members brutally murdered by an unapologetic murderer like David Shearing, to have to face the person who caused so much pain and suffering to their loved ones, to have to relive that experience every two years, with the threat of that person being released into society once again a very serious possibility. That is not fair to victims. That is not what I envision when I hear the talk about balance in our justice system.

The particular individual I just mentioned, David Shearing, was found guilty of the murder of a British Columbia couple who was camping with their daughter and their son-in-law as well as the children in 1982. Shearing shot everyone, save for the two pre-teen girls, whom he kept alive for nearly a week to sexually assault the older daughter before killing them both and burning the bodies of the whole family in an attempt to cover his tracks.

I can barely fathom the pain the family of these victims had to go through during the process that followed, the police reports, the trial hearings--

Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act
Routine Proceedings

February 10th, 2011 / 10 a.m.
See context

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-620, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (parole review and victim impact statement).

Mr. Speaker, over the years I have had many calls from constituents regarding their concern with the imbalance between victims' rights and those who are convicted of very serious and heinous crimes. However, all of that was eclipsed last summer when I sat for hours in a parole board hearing. A multiple murderer was there. The victim was there. Her sister and her two children had been killed years ago. The murderer had never taken responsibility for his act.

In consequence, my concern has grown into a great personal conviction, and I produce the bill today regarding the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that would give more freedom to victims, more access to information, as well as more discretion to the Parole Board. I would ask all of the members here to support the bill.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)