An Act to amend the Criminal Code (means of communication for child luring)
Fin Donnelly NDP
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Introduction and First Reading
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Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business
September 20th, 2012 / 5:50 p.m.
Sylvain Chicoine Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC
Mr. Speaker, during the introduction of this bill at second reading, I spoke in the House to express my concern about the potential impact this bill could have on the proper operation and security of our penitentiaries.
During first reading of the bill, I was concerned about the fact that the commissioner was being granted the discretion to designate an offender as a vexatious complainant without placing limits on this power by establishing clear criteria. In my opinion, without such criteria, we cannot guarantee that decisions will be made in a fair and equitable manner.
Something else that concerned me at that time was that the bill did not take into account the reality of the inmates being designated as vexatious complainants. The agencies working in penitentiaries and the Office of the Correctional Investigator stated that many of the complainants who could be designated vexatious by the commissioner were actually people who have mental health problems or who are not well educated.
We have to remember that, when this complaint and grievance process was implemented in the early 1970s, the objective was to channel inmates' frustrations by using a constructive process that would allow inmates to participate in improving the living conditions in penitentiaries. So the objective was to improve safety by ensuring that inmates did not use violence to express their discontent and frustration.
It was also felt that this process was a tool that helped ensure transparency and accountability, allowing us to assess the effectiveness of correctional policies and identify problems in Canadian prisons.
Another benefit of this complaint process was that it made it possible to identify individuals with problems, whether mental health problems or low levels of education. Once identified, they could be directed to programs adapted to their circumstances.
The government should focus its efforts on increasing the correctional investigator's capacity to investigate so that he can quickly identify the problems in prisons.
Yes, the volume of complaints is a problem. However, we do not believe that reducing access to the complaint and grievance process is the answer.
In my view, this new bill is likely to cause more frustration for inmates who are unable to access the grievance process. This could in turn increase the level of violence and reduce the safety of inmates and prison workers.
We believe that the most effective way to guarantee open access to the complaint and grievance process, while reducing the volume of complaints, is to create mediator and grievance coordinator positions.
The Conservatives ignored all the recommendations of the experts and the external and internal review committees. Many of them said it was important to create those types of positions, which would allow prisons to maintain an open-access complaint and grievance process, while reducing the volume of formal complaints through informal resolution.
Our approach is also supported by many experts and stakeholders in the corrections field, including prison law and criminology experts.
Nevertheless, the member for Scarborough Centre seems to have ignored all this, as have the Conservative members of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. Not only did they ignore the experts who came to share their points of view, including the correctional investigator, but they also ignored the recommendations in David Mullan's report on the external review process, which was commissioned by the government itself.
In his report, Mr. Mullan made a number of recommendations regarding various aspects of the complaints and grievance process, including recommendations concerning staff and training. Mr. Mullan made recommendations to improve the informal complaints resolution process. Several recommendations touched on reducing the administrative burden of the complaints process, accountability and involving the offender in the process.
None of the 60-plus recommendations in the Mullan report were implemented or taken into consideration during the drafting of Bill C-213 or in the amendments that were made to the bill later.
Yet the recommendations made sense and the government itself commissioned the report. Why did the Conservatives not implement the recommendations in the Mullan report? Is it because the recommendations are not in line with their ideology even though the experts agree on this issue?
When I was a member of the committee, it became clear to me that the only approach that was acceptable to Conservative ideology was punishing criminals. That is what this is about.
I did not support the introduction of this bill at first reading. Unfortunately, the final version is even more disappointing because the only clause left states that, if the commissioner believes an offender has submitted vexatious complaints, he can prohibit that offender from submitting any further complaints.
I feel that the Conservatives did not listen to James Bonta, an expert witness who testified during the electronic surveillance study. Mr. Bonta is a clinical psychologist who presented a psychological explanation of punishment to the committee. I will read a portion of his testimony:
Punishment can deter or suppress behaviour, but only under certain conditions....It has to be immediate, it has to be the right intensity, it has to be predictable, and it has to be done with the right kind of person....
It works really well for people who think in the future, who have little history of being punished, and who think things through. Is this your typical offender? Offenders tend to be concrete thinkers who think in the here and now. They have a long history of punishment. They were raised in families in which most of them were physically abused. Some were sexually abused....
I'd strongly encourage you not to expect deterrence to have a great impact on the behaviour of your moderate- to [even] high-risk offender. You need to put your hope and your money into rehabilitation programs.
It is a clinical psychologist who made this statement to the committee. The first reading version of the bill had a provision to implement this type of corrective program or plan in order to break the complaints cycle. This was a worthwhile approach, but the provision in question is also one of the first ones that the Conservatives members of the committee removed from the bill.
The end result is that most of the provisions were removed from the first version of the bill, leaving only one provision that allows the commissioner to prohibit offenders that he designates as vexatious complainants from filing any new complaints, and another that allows the commissioner to review the complainant's status annually rather than every six months in order to reduce the administrative burden.
We are therefore not at all convinced that a review after one year would help the process, even if it does reduce the administrative burden. Leaving an offender in the system for one year can only increase the administrative burden while jeopardizing the safety of inmates. This will only make the situation worse. The parliamentary secretary on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security took most of the provisions in the first reading version of the bill and included them in the regulations.
She mentioned that this bill was a legislative burden that would make the administration of the grievance process more expensive. She therefore proposed an amendment, which was passed, to include the administration of the grievance process in the regulations rather than in the act. She wanted the commissioner's authority to prohibit a complainant from filing a new complaint to be included in the act but enforced by the regulations.
These regulations would be submitted to the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations. Our critic, the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, had also proposed an amendment to ensure that the commissioner, when making a decision, would take into account mental health issues and low levels of education. However, the parliamentary secretary would only include these factors in the regulations. Therefore, we believe that this is an empty promise because there are no guarantees that these provisions will be included in the bill.
I would like to remind my colleagues opposite that the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations examines the regulations after the fact. In my opinion, this will allow the government to avoid debating this bill, because the experts do not agree with its position.
In closing, I would like to emphasize that this bill only addresses a very minuscule part of the problem. Improving the efficiency of the process is the problem, not just dealing with vexatious complainants who only represent a handful of Canada's inmates.
The government has chosen to ignore the opinions of experts and the Mullan report, which they commissioned. They have decided to punish inmates—and we are only talking about a few inmates, as I mentioned—rather than introducing a bill that really tackles the problem by supporting the grievance procedure while enabling inmates to reform. This bill is not the answer, and it is obvious that we will not support it.
Private Members' Business
April 24th, 2012 / 5:55 p.m.
Dany Morin Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the Liberals' Bill C-273, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (cyberbullying). As I mentioned in the questions I asked my Liberal colleague, it is commendable to introduce a bill to move Canada forward and protect adult and youth victims of online cyberbullying. Still, many people believe that harsher punishment for cyberbullies may not be the best way to prevent cyberbullying. I will leave it up to each individual to consider that issue.
What I want to talk about today is the Conservative government's lack of leadership on the cyberbullying issue. Since coming to power, the Conservatives have done nothing to protect young people who are victims of bullying or cyberbullying. That is why my Liberal colleague felt the need to introduce a bill.
There are all kinds of things the Government of Canada could do. Even if the Conservative government does not agree with me, it has a role to play in fighting bullying and cyberbullying.
There is no magical solution to combat youth bullying. Nevertheless, every stakeholder has a role to play, whether it be the federal government, the provinces, the school boards, parents, the young people being bullied, or those that witness it. Everyone has a role to play in addressing this problem.
I am going to give the Conservative government some advice and offer good examples of what has been done by other countries that have decided to take a leadership role in the area of cyberbullying. I would advise my Conservative colleagues to take notes.
Finland has developed the KiVa program, generally considered one of the best national anti-bullying programs in the world. Education is at the heart of this program, and the objective is to encourage witnesses to take action and to put an end to bullying when they see it.
When bullying occurs, instead of removing the culprits from their environment, discussions are organized between the bully, his victim and other young witnesses. The focus is very much on including the community, broadly speaking, in efforts to combat bullying. Schools, for example, are subject to fines if they fail to deal with bullying. Bullies are also subject to fines, regardless of their age. I admit that in Canada, this is an area of provincial jurisdiction.
Here is another example that will perhaps better reflect the way things work in Canada. In United States, the U.S. government created the website www.stopbullying.gov, which provides information for the public on combatting bullying. Additionally, the government organized a White House conference on bullying prevention. I congratulate the American president, Barack Obama. In 2011, with a view to bringing together experts in the field, the government also organized an annual summit for federal partners who work in bullying prevention. The aim was to bring together key stakeholders in the fight against bullying. The stakeholders come from all levels of government and civil society, and they include parents and young advocates. The aim is to encourage co-operation and share best practices.
As a Canadian citizen and an NDP member, I would very much like my own Prime Minister to show as much leadership as the U.S. President. I live in hope, but I am still waiting.
Sweden is also a good example. This country really is a frontrunner in various social areas and has made a number of progressive breakthroughs. Since 1994, the federal government has required that every school develop a plan to fight bullying. It is the responsibility of school principals to ensure the plan is followed. This is something that concerns schools, but there are other things that the government can do. Unfortunately, over the last few years, cyberbullying has spread in society, particularly through social media. More and more young people are victims of cyberbullying.
There have been good initiatives at the provincial level, and I hope the federal government is doing everything it can to support them.
In Ontario, for instance, the Accepting Schools Act sets out potential consequences for bullying, which include expulsion. It also includes increased financial support for training on bullying prevention and encourages schools to create gay-straight alliances.
British Columbia is another leader in the fight against cyberbullying. In 2007, the provincial government gave school boards a mandate to establish policies to fight bullying.
That is a great pity, at the end of the day. It is now 2012, and the Conservative government has not yet put anything on the table. Besides, as far as I know, and I have discussed it with some Conservative MPs, nothing is expected to be put forward that will allow the Canadian government to finally take an active part against cyberbullying.
Coming back to British Columbia, not all of the school boards in the province took part in the initiative. The proposed codes of behaviour for students require that schools work closely with students and parents to fight bullying.
I could talk about many other things. Alberta’s Bill 206 contains some good initiatives. Nova Scotia, unfortunately because of the suicide of a student, Jenna Bowers-Bryanton, has also put forward a measure to respond to cyberbullying. Manitoba has been active on this issue since 2004. Quebec has also passed legislation that requires school boards to develop a plan to fight bullying.
There are many things that different levels of government and society are doing to take action and help young people who are victims of cyberbullying, because the ones who are victims of cyberbullying are primarily—we must admit—young people.
Several economic, government and social players have a role in this. Currently, the Government of Canada is still absent from the equation. We have no national plan to combat cyberbullying, or bullying in general, and no concrete government plan. It is quite deplorable.
I am going to tell my Conservative government what I want. What I want is for the federal government to clearly adopt a leadership role and work alongside the provinces, anti-bullying groups and other key stakeholders in order to address the issue of bullying, particularly, as I mentioned, among youth.
This means more than simply making changes to the Criminal Code; it also means developing a national strategy to fight bullying. Our communities need resources and programs to help them deal with the root causes of bullying.
This is why I will vote in favour of my Liberal colleague's bill. It is a step in the right direction, because currently, the federal government is doing nothing. I thank my colleague for her bill.
The notion of cyberbullying may be abstract to some people. I will try and define it by using the definition of Bill Belsey, who a decade ago created www.cyberbullying.org, an information-packed resource that for years has been providing support and assistance to the young victims of bullying. I would invite my colleagues to visit this website to see the good work that he does.
Cyberbullying involves the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated and hostile behaviour by an individual or group that is intended to harm others. I agree entirely with this definition of cyberbullying because, at the end of the day, it involves aggressive behaviour that has very serious ramifications for our youth.
To establish a link with Bill C-213, I should point out that the public also agrees with criminalizing cyberbullying and including it in the Criminal Code. Indeed, an Angus Reid poll has revealed that 65% of Canadians believe that bullying should be considered a crime, even when it does not involve physical violence, while only 19% of Canadians think that bullying should be considered a crime only when it involves violence. Just 6% of Canadians believe that bullying should not be considered a crime. It is quite evident that the vast majority of Canadians support this type of initiative, because people realize that not enough is being done.
Clearly, it is not easy to know why our children are victims of bullying. There may be a number of clues: the child may lose interest in going to school, might be irritable, or may have trouble concentrating.
I will conclude with a sobering observation. People do not realize the extent to which young people are affected by bullying. An analysis of schools in the Toronto area showed that a child is a victim of bullying every seven seconds. It truly is an epidemic. We must at all costs mobilize and fight cyberbullying.
I conclude by saying that the NDP will be pleased to vote in favour of this bill. However, the federal government must do more.
Safe Streets and Communities Act
September 27th, 2011 / 1:25 p.m.
Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the omnibus crime bill, Bill C-10, Safe Streets and Communities Act. I support the sections of the bill that aim to protect children from dangerous sexual predators.
In fact, I have introduced legislation myself, Bill C-213, that makes it an offence for an adult to communicate with a minor by any electronic means. This bill would close a loophole in the Criminal Code that allows sexual predators to communicate with children by any electronic devices such as cellular phones or even the social media. This legislation would give more tools to the courts to address the issues of child luring and abuse.
These changes to the Criminal Code are long overdue. This legislation was first introduced in 2008 by my predecessor Dawn Black. I brought forward this legislation when I was first elected and I recently reintroduced it in this session. The government has not addressed this loophole in the Criminal Code for years now. The Conservatives want to use it as window dressing for building mega prisons.
The world has changed in three and a half years, with cellphone and Internet use exploding. During these years, the government has left children unprotected. The government should have taken swift action and moved on this bill but has instead included it in a highly controversial omnibus bill which has many problems associated with it.
The people of New Westminster, Coquitlam and Port Moody want effective public safety policies from the government. Coquitlam has one of the lowest police-to-population ratios in British Columbia. The police are constantly being asked to do more with less and this crime omnibus bill will only exacerbate the problem.
If the government were serious about protecting neighbourhoods, then it would ensure that communities like Coquitlam have adequate funding for the RCMP. The federal government has yet to deliver on its 2006 commitment to fund 2,500 new RCMP officers and to sit down with municipalities to review their community policing needs.
I believe we need to focus on crime prevention. My riding has experienced gang violence, a prevalent issue in the lower mainland. We need to increase funding for youth gang prevention programs as well as the number of police officers on the street. We need to prevent kids from getting involved with gangs to begin with.
In my riding we have a very successful youth restorative justice program. One organization, Communities Embracing Restorative Action, has been working in my riding since 1999. It aims to provide a just and meaningful response to crime, rehabilitate people who commit crime and to engage the community. The organization also offers preventive programs, running an empowering youth program in local schools. The program is aimed at crime prevention to give young people tools and information before crime emerges, and to build strong and inclusive relationships at an early age. The program has grown to be successful and is an excellent alternative for working with our youth.
We also need to increase support to those suffering from drug addiction and mental health problems. This legislation would increase the overrepresentation of offenders with mental health and addiction problems in our prison system. Our prison system is already strained for resources and resource programs. Currently, only one in five inmates has access to programs for anger management and substance abuse. How will the prison system cope with an influx of inmates needing this treatment?
This is one of the key problems with this crime omnibus bill. It downloads an extra cost and burden to provincial and territorial governments. To date, there has been no analysis nor consultation related to the increased costs for enforcement and prosecution which will be downloaded onto the provinces and territories.
Paula Mallea from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives states:
The cost of the [government's] crime agenda will be colossal, and a large part of it (some say most) will be borne by the provinces, who are responsible for implementing whatever the feds pass. So provinces and territories (many of them in elections as we speak) will be expected to pay for additional courts, clerks, prisons, Crown Attorneys, judges, sheriffs, court reporters and so on.
In British Columbia, our court system is already strained. Our prisons are already overcrowded. According to the B.C. government employees' union that represents prison guards in British Columbia, says jails in the province are at 150% to 200% in overcrowded conditions. Also, understaffing and overcrowding is responsible for an increase in attacks on prison guards. The province of British Columbia closed nine prisons in 2003 and made cutbacks to the corrections system.
How are the provinces and territories to deal with an influx of prisoners who are sent to jail on mandatory minimums?
Growing even six marijuana plants would trigger an automatic six month sentence with an extra three months if it is done in a rental unit, or is deemed a public safety hazard. According to Neil Boyd, a criminologist at the Simon Fraser University, this legislation could increase the proportion of marijuana criminals in B.C. jails from less than 5% to around 30%.
Has the government taken this into account? Is this the best use of our resources? Has this been fully costed? Unfortunately, I think the answer is no.
One of the key concerns with this bill is the cost. When the Conservative government came to power in 2006, the federal corrections system cost nearly $1.6 billion a year. By 2013-14, according to the department's own projections, the cost of our federal penitentiary system will have increased to $3.147 billion. In 2010-11, more than $517 million will be spent on prison construction. According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the total annual cost per prison cell is about $260,000, while a new high security cell amounts to about $600,000.
Aside from the cost associated with actually building prisons, the cost to incarcerate inmates is high. The average cost for a female inmate is about $343,000 per year. For a male inmate in maximum security the cost is $223,000 while medium security is $141,000 year. Even while out on parole the average cost per inmate is $39,084 per year.
The crime rate continues to decline. The crime severity index, which measures the seriousness of crime, also dropped to its lowest point since the measure became available in 1998. So why is the government putting forward such costly legislation when crime rates continue to drop? Why is the government pursuing tough on crime policies that have failed so miserably in other jurisdictions such as the United States?
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Much of this is the result of mandatory minimums and the so-called war on drugs. It has not made the United States a safer place. In fact, most evidence indicates that it has not deterred crime and could even lead to less safe conditions in prisons and in communities.
Just as the costs are expected to be a large burden on our provinces and territories, the costs have proven to be crippling for the states. For example, Texas has recently moved away from using mandatory minimums because the costs to the state were too high.
The bill is not based on evidence. The government has failed to produce information that its legislation to impose mandatory minimums and lengthen sentences would have any deterrence on crime. The Minister of Justice the other day is quoted as saying, “We're not governing on the basis of the latest statistics”.
It has been shown time and again that the government fails to understand the importance of statistics, facts and science. To put forward such costly legislation without having statistics to back it up is inappropriate. To put forward legislation based on failed U.S. policies is shortsighted. We need to be moving forward not backward.
Mandatory minimums remove judicial discretion and this is highly problematic. In some cases, it could lead to judges giving lesser sentences then they otherwise would because they need to rely solely on legislation for sentencing.
According to the Canadian Bar Association, there are concerns with several aspects of the government's proposed omnibus crime bill, including mandatory minimum sentences, an overreliance on incarceration, constraints on judicial discretion to ensure a fair result in each case, and the bill's impact on specific already disadvantaged groups.
While the bill has some parts that I am in favour of, it is only on a case-by-case basis.
My concern is that the government has mixed good legislation in with bad and plans to ram it through all at once. It is ineffective and expensive. I cannot support the bill as it stands.
June 14th, 2011 / 10:10 a.m.
Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-213, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (means of communication for child luring).
Mr. Speaker, I rise again to reintroduce legislation to strengthen laws to protect children against child luring and abuse. The legislation would expand the definition of “child luring” to include all forms of electronic communication, be it a cellular telephone or any other communication device. The legislation would provide law enforcement and the courts with additional tools to protect children from predators and would, again, close a loophole in the Criminal Code.
I encourage all members of this House to adopt the bill.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)