An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders)

This bill was previously introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

Guy Lauzon  Conservative

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

Status

In committee (Senate), as of Feb. 5, 2014

Subscribe to a feed of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-350.

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 to provide that any monetary amount awarded to an offender pursuant to a legal action or proceeding against Her Majesty in right of Canada be paid to victims and other designated beneficiaries.

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.

Votes

  • Oct. 31, 2012 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
  • Sept. 26, 2012 Passed That Bill C-350, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing line 6 on page 2 with the following: “result of an order for maintenance, alimony or family financial support”
  • March 28, 2012 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.

Business of the House
Opening Of The Second Session Of The 41St Parliament

October 16th, 2013 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I would like to make a statement concerning private members' business.

As hon. members know, our Standing Orders provide for the continuance of private members’ business from session to session within a Parliament.

In practical terms, this means that notwithstanding prorogation, the list for the consideration of private members' business established at the beginning of the 41st Parliament shall continue for the duration of this Parliament.

As such, pursuant to Standing Order 86.1, all items of private members' business originating in the House of Commons that were listed on the order paper at the conclusion of the previous session are automatically reinstated to the order paper and shall be deemed to have been considered and approved at all stages completed at the time of prorogation.

All items will keep the same number as in the first session of the 41st Parliament. More specifically, all bills and motions standing on the list of items outside the order of precedence shall continue to stand. Bills that had met the notice requirement and were printed in the order paper but had not yet been introduced will be republished on the order paper under the heading “Introduction of Private Members' Bills”. Bills that had not yet been published on the order paper need to be recertified by the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel and be resubmitted for publication on the notice paper.

Of course all items in the order of precedence remain on the order of precedence or, as the case may be, are referred to the appropriate committee or sent to the Senate.

Specifically, at prorogation there were three private members' bills originating in the House of Commons adopted at second reading and referred to committee.

Therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 86.1, Bill C-458, an act respecting a national charities week and to amend the Income Tax Act (charitable and other gifts) is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Finance.

Bill C-478, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (increasing parole ineligibility), is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Bill C-489, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (restrictions on offenders) is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Accordingly, pursuant to Standing Order 97.1, committees will be required to report on each of these reinstated private members’ bills within 60 sitting days of this statement.

In addition, prior to prorogation, nine private members' bills originating in the House of Commons had been read the third time and passed. Therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 86.1, the following bills are deemed adopted at all stages and passed by the House: Bill C-217, an act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief relating to war memorials); Bill C-266, an act to establish Pope John Paul II day; Bill C-279, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity); Bill C-290, an act to amend the Criminal Code (sports betting); Bill C-314, an act respecting the awareness of screening among women with dense breast tissue; Bill C-350, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders); Bill C-377, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations); Bill C-394, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (criminal organization recruitment); and Bill C-444, an act to amend the Criminal Code (personating peace officer or public officer).

Accordingly, a message will be sent to the Senate to inform it that this House has adopted these nine bills.

Consideration of private members’ business will start on Thursday, October 17, 2013.

As members may be aware, among the items in the order of precedence or deemed referred to committee, there are four bills standing in the name of members recently appointed as parliamentary secretaries who, by virtue of their office, are not eligible to propose items during the consideration of private members' business.

Bill C-511, an act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act (period of residence) and Bill C-517, an act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons) were awaiting debate at second reading in the order of precedence at the time of prorogation.

Bill C-458, An Act respecting a National Charities Week and to amend the Income Tax Act (charitable and other gifts), and Bill C-478, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (increasing parole ineligibility), were in committee at the time of prorogation and, as stated earlier, have been returned there.

This is in keeping with the principle expressed at pages 550-551 and 1125 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, which provides that bills remain on the order of precedence since they are in the possession of the House and only the House can take further decision on them.

These items are therefore without eligible sponsors but remain in the possession of the House or its committees. If no action is taken, at the appropriate time these items will eventually be dropped from the order paper, pursuant to Standing Order 94(2)(c).

Hon. members will find at their desks a detailed explanatory note about private members’ business. I trust that these measures will assist the House in understanding how private members' business will be conducted in this session. The table officers are available to answer any questions members may have.

I thank all members for their attention.

Correctional and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

October 26th, 2012 / 1:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Guy Lauzon Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

moved that Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders), be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, finally we are at third reading of Bill C-350. My private member's bill would encourage accountability and responsibility in our federal offenders. The bill would help ensure that offenders are held accountable for the monetary debts they owe. I think we can all agree this should be done.

As we have heard in committee, Bill C-350 raises important issues about the way in which offenders are held accountable for outstanding debts.

The evidence is clear. The cost of crime is immense in our society, to the tune of $99.6 billion a year in both tangible and intangible costs. That is not $99.6 million, but $99.6 billion in tangible and intangible costs.

We have heard, loud and clear, from victims of crime, victims' families and victims advocacy groups that offenders must be held accountable. We have heard these calls and are responding to them with several legislative measures.

We have supported legislation to address vexatious complaints by offenders have overburdened the complaints and grievance system with frivolous complaints.

We have also introduced legislation to double the victim surcharge owed by offenders and to make the payment mandatory in every case and without exception. While making the victim surcharge mandatory fulfills another of our commitments, we have the proper structure in place to ensure that it is paid.

This is where Bill C-350 comes into play. It would ensure that in cases where an offender is awarded money by a final decision by a court or tribunal, it must first be distributed in priority order to fulfill outstanding debts to child and spousal support, restitution orders and victim surcharges and any other amount owed as a result of a court judgment before the remainder goes to the offender.

We have seen strong support for this legislation from committee witnesses, including the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. The ombudsman clearly illustrated what this legislation would mean for victims of crime. She said:

For victims of crime who have already experienced loss and trauma, the additional legal and financial burden of having to track down moneys owed to them as a result of a crime committed against them can simply be overwhelming. This cannot and should not be the reality. Victims do not deserve to be revictimized. It is for this reason that measures that encourage the enforcement of the payment of restitution by offenders to victims are a necessary and welcome step forward.

This then is really the aim of Bill C-350, to reduce the financial burden on victims of crime. Bill C-350 puts in place a structure that would ensure that a monetary award from the Crown is first directed toward the offender's financial obligations outside the penitentiary walls. In particular, it would ensure that offenders are fulfilling their family responsibilities by continuing to pay court-ordered spousal or child support, or by paying restitution orders and victim surcharges.

I would like to take a moment to recognize the great work done in committee. Its members carried out a thoughtful and thorough study of the legislation in a non-partisan way, and I am grateful for that. The amendments put forward and subsequently passed in committee have served to strengthen and clarify the original bill. The amendment made at report stage further strengthened the bill's mandate, as it adjusted the wording to ensure that common law spouses will be eligible to receive payments under the legislation.

The proposed bill addresses a very specific section of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, section 78, which addresses payments to offenders. We are proposing changes to the law to ensure that money owed to the offender is distributed to meet his or her financial obligations. Here it is important to clarify that we are not talking about all moneys. This legislation deals only with those specific cases in which an offender has successfully won a monetary award as a result of a final decision by a court or tribunal.

This could include a case against the Correctional Service of Canada or another federal department. When this happens today, the CSC or other federal department would pay out the reward directly to the offender.

Of course, offenders are already obligated to pay their debts while in prison. Under the recently passed Safe Streets and Communities Act, they must participate fully in a comprehensive correctional plan, which among things includes addressing their court-ordered obligations.

However, there is no law specifically ensuring that they honour these obligations. This legislation does just that and prioritizes child and spousal support. Sometimes the offenders' families are also victims. In many cases the children or spouses of the offender face the strain of having lost the income of their partner and perhaps even lack the basic necessities.

To promote accountability among the offender population and ensure that victims and families of offenders are not further burdened, Bill C-350 will set out in law a means of ensuring that offenders honour their obligations according to the set priorities for repayment.

In this case the award must be paid out in the following order of priority: first, any amount the offender owes as a result of a spousal or child support order; second, any amount the offender owes as a result of a restitution order; third, any amount owed as a result of a victim surcharge; and fourth, any other amount owed by the offender as a result of a court judgment.

At committee concerns were raised regarding how this system of repayment might work in practice. These were realistic concerns. Amended wording now clarifies and addresses these concerns.

First, as I mentioned earlier, it is now clear that this bill only applies to awards made as a result of a final decision of a court or a tribunal. It is also specifically noted that legal costs should be respected before the award is distributed. Next, the bill now specifically ensures that any moneys owing to the offender under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement is exempt from repayment under Bill C-350.

We have also addressed concerns that the debt repayment priorities under Bill C-350 would override debts owed to the offender under the Income Tax Act or the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. A provision now exists in the bill that will ensure that it will not conflict with these or other similar federal statutes.

Another key concern brought forward by witnesses at committee was that the bill was not entirely clear with respect to the role of the Correctional Service of Canada in the administration of this scheme. In other words, what is the CSC's role in collecting, maintaining and sharing information on offenders and their debt obligations?

Furthermore, the bill was silent on issues of privacy and the sharing of the offenders' information among other departments as needed. As now stated, the CSC will act as a repository of this information. In other words, the onus is on the creditor to provide the CSC with written notice of any debts owed by the offender as a result of judgments or orders, such as on child support payments.

In the event the offender successfully sues and wins a monetary award from another federal department or agency, the latter would need to consult with CSC to determine if the person were a federal offender. The CSC can then provide that department with information on any outstanding obligations of the offender.

Bill C-350 represents an important step forward in our progress to make offenders accountable and responsible to society. Is that not what going to jail is all about? It is about rehabilitating the offender. This Bill C-350 sends an important message to families, children and, most importantly, victims of crime that we have not forgotten about them.

I hope that all members of this House can see the value of and give me their support for my private member's bill, Bill C-350.

Correctional and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

October 26th, 2012 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question, and I appreciate the input he had into the drafting and improvement of the bill. I want to thank members on the other side of the aisle for doing the same.

The member is right. Our government's priority in the justice system is victims, and we want to maintain that as a priority. However, just as important is the hope of eliminating victims. The way we can eliminate victims is by rehabilitating offenders. By having offenders accept their responsibility, that is part of the rehabilitation. Everyone in the public has to meet their obligations. Too often when people go to prison, they are obligation free. Bill C-350 would ensure that the offender, while he is incarcerated, will accept his responsibilities.

Correctional and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

October 26th, 2012 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am so pleased with my Bill C-350. I get a chance to not only speak to it for 15 minutes but to reply to questions for 5 minutes. The previous question talked about victims but also about rehabilitation. I had more to say about rehabilitation, and this question allows me the chance to do that.

Every offender is subject to rehabilitation. Every offender can be rehabilitated. We have to give them every opportunity to become rehabilitated. Part of the way we do that is to get them to accept their responsibility. Having people live up to their financial obligations, if they get an award, is of course part of living up to their responsibilities. I thank my hon. colleague for the opportunity to reiterate that.

Correctional and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

October 26th, 2012 / 1:40 p.m.
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NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak on third reading of Bill C-350, and I am pleased to reaffirm that the NDP will be supporting this bill in the final vote.

This is a bill which has the worthy objective of supporting offenders and taking responsibility for the consequences of their actions. However, before I give the wrong impression to the public, let me stress that this is a very narrow bill, which will affect only a very small group of offenders. It applies only to that small group who receive funds as a result of a court-ordered settlement against the Crown. During the course of the debate on this bill, no one has been able to provide an accurate number of those offenders who receive such settlements. However, the sponsor of the bill, the witnesses before committee and the parliamentary secretary have all assured us that this number is very low.

From the beginning, on this side of the House we have said the bill sets out an order of priorities for disbursing such funds. Limited as they might be, it is an order that we can support. The first priority is spousal and child support. I was very pleased to hear the hon. member acknowledge that there are, in addition to the direct victims of crime, often other indirect victims, who are the families and children of those who commit criminal acts. They often lose their main source of income and then end up losing their homes and all kinds of other things, through no fault of their own. The second is payments to victims as a result of restitution orders. Of course, on this side of the House we have always supported offenders having to fulfill their duties under restitution orders. The third is the payment of any victim surcharges that are owing. Finally, fourth is the payment of any civil judgments against offenders. New Democrats can support this order of priorities, and for that reason we can support this bill.

Obviously, getting additional resources to victims and families of offenders, who both often find themselves in dire straits as a result of criminal acts, is a good thing to do. Yet, we still have some doubts about the constitutionality of this bill with respect to federal-provincial jurisdiction. We are supporting the bill based on the assurances from the government as to the legal advice it has received on this point, but we expect to hear further from the provinces, perhaps in debate in the Senate.

We in the NDP would not be supporting this bill had the government not agreed to bring forth one very important amendment. That amendment, which we originally proposed in committee, was to exempt payments from the Crown made under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. We felt it was very important to recognize that aboriginal people who might receive payments as a result of abuse suffered in residential schools would be revictimized, if such payments were taken from one victim and transferred to another. We must recognize that the experience of physical, psychological and sexual abuse in the residential schools was very often the source of the involvement of those offenders with the legal system in the first place.

We are supporting this bill, recognizing its good intentions. We are cognizant of its very limited scope in providing assistance to victims, and while we appreciate the government's support for this private member's bill, we would call on the government to turn its attention now to the full recommendations of the victims ombudsman from last February. That is, not just the increase to the victim surcharge before the House now, and not just this bill, but the full range of recommendations from the victims ombudsman.

Let me conclude today by saying that we will be voting for this bill with the full knowledge that, at best, it will make only a small contribution to repairing the damage resulting from criminal acts. We do so while continuing to look forward to seeing further initiatives from the government to provide more extensive and effective assistance to victims of crime.

Correctional and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

October 26th, 2012 / 1:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on the debate on Bill C-350, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders).

This is a particularly timely debate, as the justice and human rights committee, upon which I sit, continues its deliberation on the matter of Bill C-37, increasing offenders' accountability for victims act.

I will organize my remarks today around two themes. First, I will address where the bill fits within the government's overall approach to crime and justice. Second, I will address the specific critiques I have on this legislation, particularly from a law and poverty perspective.

May I state, parenthetically, that I began my law teaching career some 42 years ago in the area of law and poverty. One of the first books I co-edited was one that was precisely entitled Law and poverty.

The common thread of both Bill C-37 and Bill C-350, legislation proposed by government members, is that they both seek to address the accountability of offenders through financial obligations on or after sentencing.

Bill C-37 proposes to double the victim surcharge and make it mandatory. Bill C-350 proposes to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to provide that any monetary amount awarded to an offender pursuant to a legal action or proceeding against the Crown must be paid to victims and other designated beneficiaries.

It bears repeating that all parties agree on the objectives of these two pieces of legislation, namely that offenders must be held accountable for their acts and that restitution must be made. It is an objective of the sentencing process outlined in the Criminal Code itself.

However, the Criminal Code provides other purposes in sentencing. I believe section 718 of the code bears repeating, for the benefit of colleagues and those hearing these debates. It states:

The fundamental purpose of sentencing is to contribute, along with crime prevention initiatives, to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society by imposing just sanctions....

I pause here in my reading of this section to note that the Criminal Code places sentencing efforts alongside crime prevention initiatives. Indeed, the two are given equal footing.

Regrettably, while we have a steady stream of legislation from the government with respect to increasing and enhancing sentencing, particularly in regard to imposing mandatory minimum penalties and the like, we have seen very little with respect to crime prevention. Indeed, both Bill C-37 and Bill C-350 can hardly be said to be preventative measures, an issue that I will address shortly.

I will excerpt further from the Criminal Code, which speaks of the purpose of sanctions, and I quote:

...just sanctions that have one or more of the following objectives: (a) to denounce unlawful conduct; (b) to deter the offender and other persons from committing offences; (c) to separate offenders from society, where necessary; (d) to assist in rehabilitating offenders; (e) to provide reparations for harm done to victims or to the community; and (f) to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders and acknowledgment of the harm done to victims and to the community.

I realize that it is not the preferred practice for members to read excerpts from statutory text. However, it may well be necessary in this case to illustrate that the objective here, in the bill's own words, “increasing accountability of offenders”, or in the language of the Criminal Code, “promoting a sense of responsibility in offenders and acknowledgment of the harm done”, is the sixth and final objective in sentencing.

This is not to say that this objective is not worthwhile or that it ought not to be pursued. Rather, it is simply to note that it ought to be pursued alongside or together with the other objectives expressly mentioned in the code.

Again, while we have seen many pieces of government legislation that address accountability, we do not see any, for example, with respect to the objective of the rehabilitation of offenders. Despite the fact that the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry characterizes the legislation as dealing with rehabilitation, in fact it ignores the whole issue of rehabilitation.

This is where I believe the government's approach to criminal policy is particularly problematic. Conservatives propose, often in a piecemeal fashion, provisions pertaining solely to one objective, thereby missing an opportunity to develop a holistic and integrated approach to criminal law policy. That is, one that addresses not only what to do after the fact, after the offences occur, but no less important, why people commit crimes, and particularly how they can be prevented from committing those crimes—the whole with a view to protecting public safety and preventing the victimization to begin with.

We are all in favour of concern for and protecting the rights of victims but our objective must be to prevent the victimization and the crime to begin with.

In debates over Bill C-37 and Bill C-350, government speakers spoke of the deterrent objectives of these pieces of legislation. As I have noted in the House before, it is difficult to imagine that an offender who would otherwise commit an offence would somehow desist from doing so upon being informed of either a victim surcharge or a priority system of extinguishing debts once incarcerated. Addressing offenders after the fact ignores crime prevention as a necessary element of any criminal law policy. Moreover, doing so by financial measures alone does not assist with rehabilitation, an essential element of any criminal justice agenda.

Turning now to the specifics of the bill before us, Bill C-350 establishes that before an inmate can make use of any financial compensation gained as a result of a court proceeding against the Crown, certain groups must receive payment first. It thereby establishes a priority of debt repayment program. The first is paid to outstanding spousal or child support, followed by outstanding debt or restitution owed to the victim, such as for therapy or medical bills. Third is the debt owed to third parties who acted in good faith, followed by any victim surcharge imposed during sentencing. Subsequently, the priority is to debts owed by the offender as a result of any other court case, whether civil or criminal, and only after these conditions are satisfied may the offender receive the monetary award for use at his or her discretion.

The government has framed this legislation in terms of supporting victims, noting the need to fund restitution orders that courts may impose to address, for example, damage to, or loss or destruction of, a person's property or bodily or physiological harm to any person. Again, it must be reaffirmed that this is something that all parties support and stand behind, and was a central theme of my own tenure as minister of justice.

The problem here is that when it comes to the impecunious offender, courts have noted this concern in relation to restitution, such as the Ontario Court of Appeal in R. v. Scherer wherein the court found that:

It may be that in some cases it would be inappropriate and undesirable to make a compensation order in an amount that it is unrealistic to think the accused could ever discharge.

The reason for this is in part what the Manitoba Court of Appeal found in R. v. Siemens and again I quote:

The impact of a restitution order upon the chances of rehabilitation of the accused, either pro or con, is a factor to be considered....

A compensation order which would ruin the accused financially, thus impairing his chances of rehabilitation, should not be imposed....

As such, I am particularly concerned about the impact of the legislation on those who may be of limited financial means. Directing funds from an award may impact upon the rehabilitation of an offender. In this regard, discretion should have been built into the legislation before us. Moreover, in the cases of those with no means, it is unclear how this legislation would serve the purposes of offender accountability. Simply put, if someone cannot afford any of the fines levied, the legislation would not achieve its objectives.

Here and also in respect of Bill C-37, it is important to recall the words of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Wu:

[I]t is irrational to imprison an offender who does not have the capacity to pay on the basis that imprisonment will force him or her to pay....

For the impecunious offenders...imprisonment in default of payment of a fine is not an alternative punishment—he or she does not have any real choice in the matter.

Again, as I noted in my generic critique of the government's justice agenda, not enough focus is being placed on prevention and tackling the underlying causes of crimes, chief among them being poverty.

In my limited time remaining I will briefly outline additional concerns with the legislation, many of which were raised in committee and might be raised in the other place. First is whether or not the bill is constitutional from a federalism perspective, and reference has been made to this by my NDP colleagues so I will refrain from enlarging on this point. Second, the bill does not address what happens to these payments in cases of wrongful conviction, an issue with which I was preoccupied as minister of justice and appreciate this concern. Third and finally, there is a concern that this legislation may deter inmates from taking action against the Crown when there are legitimate grounds to do so, such as in cases of prisoner abuse, because they would not be able to use the award as they see fit.

While the Liberal Party supports the intent of the bill, we feel that the bill and these concerns must be addressed further so as to achieve the objectives of the bill.

Correctional and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

October 26th, 2012 / 1:55 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to summarize our debate on Bill C-350.

When I first introduced Bill C-350, I said it was common sense. I still maintain that the more we study it, as it has gone to committee, et cetera, the more I believe that it is just good, honest, old-fashioned common sense.

My NDP colleague mentioned something about the good intentions in the bill. It is a bill of good intentions because we on this side have the intention to look after victims.

I was once a victim of a crime. I understand the pain and anguish people and their families go through when they become victims of crime.

In some cases, the victim is also the offender for a variety of reasons. Maybe the offender ended up being an offender to start with. Many offenders have gone through their whole lives without ever having to face responsibility. If that is the case, under Bill C-350, when they are incarcerated and they do happen to come into a few dollars, they will finally have the opportunity to live up to their responsibility and be able to accept it.

I sense that we have the support of the House for Bill C-350. I am encouraged by this because I think it is a win-win for the victims, the offenders and for society.

Motions in amendment
Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

September 19th, 2012 / 6:55 p.m.
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NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to speak to Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

The purpose of this bill is to make offenders accountable so that they fulfill their obligations to society by establishing an order of priority for the disbursement of any amounts received as a result of a court decision.

According to the bill introduced by my colleague opposite, the order of priority of disbursement of amounts will be received by an offender following a court decision. That order will be established as follows: any amount owing as a result of a spousal or child support order; any amount owing to a victim as a result of a restitution order; any victim surcharge; and any other amount owing as a result of a judgment awarded by a court. Any amount remaining after all payments have been made is paid to the offender.

The NDP supports this bill. We recognize the fact that it is important to enhance the accountability of offenders and that the idea of ensuring that offenders use the amounts received as a result of a court decision to fulfill their outstanding obligations is very good in principle.

However, we do not believe that this bill is the best approach for ensuring the accountability of offenders. In order to develop a sense of accountability, an offender must participate directly in decisions related to the payment of restitution to victims and other monetary decisions. The offender should therefore be involved in the process.

In meetings of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, we heard the testimony of experts who share our opinion. We therefore wonder whether this bill will really enhance the accountability of offenders and the rehabilitation process since it will affect very few offenders.

The accountability of offenders is an extremely important step in an offender's reintegration into the community. By imposing accountability on offenders, we could weaken their chances of reintegrating into society, which is why it is important to let the offender participate in monetary decisions.

The NDP advocates comprehensive rehabilitation programs that reduce recidivism. This will make our communities safer.

We have some concerns about this bill, which could have a negative effect on such rehabilitation and reintegration measures, given the limited resources available to offenders, particularly those who are serving short sentences.

Another concern we have about this bill relates to the lack of clarity regarding federal and provincial jurisdictions. In fact, the focus of the bill comes under provincial jurisdiction. In reality, the provinces have jurisdiction over contracts and related private law matters, including the order of priority of debts.

Unfortunately, we did not manage to get testimony in committee about the matters of constitutionality that could have helped us shed some light on the subject. I think that the help of constitutional experts would have been useful, in order to ensure that this bill is really something that falls under federal jurisdiction.

Despite these important questions that unfortunately went unanswered, the Conservatives refused to study this bill further, limiting the number of meetings to just four.

So we can understand that there are still a lot of questions and concerns about this bill.

We understand the good intentions behind Bill C-350, and we also understand the importance of offender accountability and rehabilitation.

Fortunately, we managed to get two major amendments by working with our colleagues from all the parties: one exempted from the bill funds received through the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and the other slightly reduced the responsibility of Correctional Service Canada for administering this bill by putting more emphasis on the measures taken by the creditors.

With this last measure, we can anticipate a decrease in red tape and move on to the implementation of Bill C-350.

So that the bill is consistent with the reality of a number of Quebec families, I would like to put forward an amendment, which reads as follows:

That Bill C-350, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing lines 6 and 7 on page 2 with the following: “result of an order made by a court of competent jurisdiction requiring the payment of support in respect of a child, spouse or person who cohabited with the offender in a conjugal relationship for a period of at least one year;”

At present, Quebec's Civil Code does not allow common-law partners to request support payments for themselves, which is not the case in the rest of the country. This does not apply to the responsibility for child support, which is the same across the country, but only to spouses and common-law partners.

The issue was raised in the highly publicized case in Quebec of Lola versus Éric, which is pending. In November 2010, the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled in favour of Lola stating that the Quebec rules were discriminatory as they did not allow common-law partners to ask for support payments. The justices of the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled that this section is unconstitutional and contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The issue of common-law partners affects 1.2 million Quebeckers.

According to the Quebec justice department, in the Quebec Civil Code, the legislator voluntarily decided to not give common-law partners the same rights and responsibilities as married couples or couples in a civil union, no matter how long they have lived together, in order to respect the decisions of those people who have chosen this form of cohabitation.

The Conservatives are clearly showing that they do not respect the differences that exist in Quebec concerning the rights of couples in a civil union or marriage and couples in a common-law relationship. In Quebec, 34.6% of couples are in a common-law relationship, which is a significant portion of the Quebec population. Yet, the Conservatives refuse to take this into account.

Fortunately, the NDP is here to ensure that Quebeckers are properly represented in the House of Commons. It is all too easy for the members opposite to forget that the Quebec Civil Code contains certain provisions that do not exist in other provinces.

Clause 2 of this bill, as it is currently written, prevents Quebeckers who have been living in a conjugal relationship for at least a year from receiving this money. Although the aim here is to make offenders accountable and ensure that they pay support payments for any children or spouse they have, this ignores a good portion of Quebec households and favours couples that are married or have civil unions, even though common-law partners in the rest of Canada would be entitled to this money.

In conclusion, I believe that this bill has good intentions regarding restitution for victims and holding offenders accountable. However, I still have a number of concerns regarding federal and provincial jurisdictions in relation to this bill, as well as its feasibility and effectiveness.

As the correctional investigator, Howard Sapers, pointed out to the committee, the issue raised by Bill C-350 is very important. Part of an offender's reintegration should include the repayment of debts to the best of his ability. However, Mr. Sapers expressed concern that the proposed approach would be both impractical and, unfortunately, ineffective.

It would have been good to examine this bill more carefully in committee, and to not have had just four meetings about this important bill, in order to eliminate concerns about jurisdiction and to address the issue even more directly, to ensure the offender directly participates in his reintegration process into society and to ensure that victims and families benefit.

It is very important to adopt my amendment so that this bill reflects the differences in Quebec that affect many Quebec families. I noticed that my colleague who introduced this bill also introduced a similar amendment. However, if we compare the two amendments, we can see that there are some differences. I would like each of my colleagues in this House to take the time to look carefully at the differences between the two amendments and to see that we must absolutely protect common-law spouses in Quebec.

As I mentioned, 1.2 million Quebeckers could unfortunately suffer. As I was saying, the amendment proposed by the Conservatives needs some clarification. Simply removing the reference to child or spouse causes a problem, since support orders can apply to people other than children and spouses. For example, in Ontario, they can apply to parents. Therefore, if the text is amended as such, the French version would not at all be the same as the English version.

Motions in amendment
Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

September 19th, 2012 / 7:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House and speak to this bill. Many hon. members have already talked about the summary of the bill, so I will not dwell on it. It has already been done. I will instead focus on some of the points in Bill C-350.

First, I would like to applaud the intent behind this bill, which is to provide support to the families of the accused and to victims by ensuring that offenders are required to fulfill their responsibilities toward them. That is a very noble intention. I am glad that we have the opportunity today to discuss this issue and that the bill will be referred to committee for study.

I would also like to point out that we have just witnessed something exceptional and remarkable: a Conservative member and an NDP member have introduced two very similar amendments, two amendments that go along the same lines. We often talk about disagreements between parties and about how impossible it is for them to work together. Today's event is a fine example that, despite disagreements, the various parties also have some common interests. All hon. members of the House are thinking people, knowledgeable and well informed about the issues they are working on.

The proposed amendments are very interesting and are heading in more or less the same direction. It will be interesting to see how they will be received in committee and how the members will work together.

The government wants to put the protection of families and victims first. However, this bill should not replace measures designed to better inform and advise victims and provide them with better financial support.

This bill currently states that offenders who are awarded monies will compensate victims. However, many cannot be accountable to the victims and families. We have to take these people into consideration. We must also ensure that this bill is not one we can use to say that we did everything we could. We can do more for the good of the victims and the offenders' families, for the children of offenders. That is my concern with this bill concerning victims.

Bill C-350 seeks to make offenders accountable, as indicated by the title of the bill. We must consider what will result in true accountability of offenders. Once again, a very specific approach is being taken to a problem, which is fair, because that is what we have to do in our work. But we must not lose sight of the broader issue of interest in Bill C-350.

The NDP believes that this bill is not the best way to make offenders accountable. Based on the testimony of many experts, among others, who appeared before the committee, an offender must be directly involved in decisions about paying compensation to victims and other financial decisions in order to develop his sense of responsibility. If such decisions are made for him and he is not asked for his input, he will not necessarily develop that sense of responsibility. He does not have a say, he does not even have to think about his situation. Will that really make him more accountable? The NDP believes that this question must be posed. Many experts are also wondering about this.

I spoke about the victims and accountability. I would now like to talk about rehabilitation and prevention. These issues are not addressed in this bill, and the Conservative Party has not talked about them much in connection with this bill. I continue to find this unfortunate and worrisome.

Accountability, yes. But what about rehabilitation? We support comprehensive rehabilitation programs that will reduce recidivism and make our cities safer. When we were debating mandatory minimum sentences, there was a lot of talk about safety in our streets and communities. However, the two concepts do not necessarily go hand in hand. If we want to make our cities and communities safer, we have to talk about rehabilitation and prevention.

In a 2007 report, Public Safety Canada recognized that former inmates face a number of challenges, such as limited access to jobs, that compromise their ability to become law-abiding citizens.

If we really want to help offenders fulfill their financial responsibilities toward their communities and their families, we have to think about what we can do to improve their access to jobs. The two go hand in hand, and that issue has to be part of a debate like this one. If the Conservative Party really cares about offender accountability, what is it prepared to do to ensure that offenders who are released from prison can find work and shoulder their responsibilities toward their communities?

Quebec's Centre de ressources pour délinquants comes to mind. The centre works to enhance the skills and employability of its clientele in order to facilitate integration or reintegration into the job market. These things exist and have already been implemented in several departments and provinces in different ways. The Centre de ressources pour délinquants is an example of that. Experts are available to offenders to ensure they have the legal, social and educational support they need to give them the best possible opportunity to reintegrate into the job market. The centre is part of the Association des services de réhabilitation sociale du Québec. Yes, Quebec. So we have to think about just how involved we can get in this issue, but it is worth mentioning.

Now let us talk about prevention. Once again, we do not hear this word enough when talking about safety and the role of inmates or offenders in our society. It is important to prevent crime, and not simply punish people. This point cannot be over-emphasized, especially when working with a Conservative government like this one. Why not invest in prevention? A report entitled “Cost and Effectiveness of Federal Correctional Policy” stated the following:

The skyrocketing costs associated with new bills [like Bill C-10 and Bill C-25] will put a great deal of pressure on rehabilitation programs, which could suffer if the new influx of prisoners is not accompanied by the additional resources needed to handle them.

We could learn from the mistakes of other countries that also favour punishment, but did not put enough additional resources into the system and whose rehabilitation programs are suffering a great deal as a result.

I think it is now time to discuss Bill C-36. I can make an interesting link here. This bill deals with elder abuse. This bill contains measures that give judges another tool for punishing crimes committed against seniors. If we really want to tackle the problem of elder abuse, then we also need to ask ourselves how we can prevent it and how we can support seniors to make it easier for them to report cases of abuse.

In fact, a number of bills claim to be fighting a problem, but they do not really get to the heart of that problem and do not take into account the factors of vulnerability and prevention that go along with all that.

Lastly, I would like to talk about the work that the committee did on Bill C-350. I am pleased to see that amendments were made to the bill after the work in committee with all the parties. However, from what I heard from my colleagues on that committee, a number of questions have yet to be answered. I do not understand why members who know their stuff cannot manage to get some answers. For example, does this bill encroach on provincial jurisdictions? Is there not a risk of limiting a judge's discretionary power?

How is it that we have not yet gotten answers to these questions, and how is that we are seeing limited debate and testimony in this type of committee?

In conclusion, the NDP will support this bill at second reading, but it is important that prevention and rehabilitation be included in these discussions and these debates. Restitution is possible for a theft or items broken by an offender, but the psychological or physical damage done during a crime cannot all be repaired, and someone who dies as a result of a crime cannot be brought back.

That is why punishment is not enough; we need to take action beforehand to prevent the crime.

Motions in amendment
Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

September 19th, 2012 / 7:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment.

Since this is my first speech in the House this fall, I would like to share with you my intention to adopt a new approach to make my comments more accessible to all my colleagues and the general public. Even if the Conservative government continues to evoke in me—and I will say it—a certain sense of disgust when it comes to its understanding of democracy, I intend to take measures to keep my vocal chords intact for the remainder of my mandate. This will make many of my colleagues, both on this side of the House and the other, quite happy. I just want to make sure that I still have a voice when the time comes for the NDP to take power in 2015.

That being said, let us come back to the subject at hand, which is Bill C-350, which amends the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, particularly with regard to the accountability of offenders.

The principle of accountability was introduced into the Criminal Code in order to make offenders aware of the harm they caused another person, the victim. Thus, it seems that, in an effort to make restitution for harm done, in the case before us today, the legislator wanted to give itself a way to recover amounts that should normally have been given to recipients that I would say are much more deserving, for lack of a better word.

This bill does not conflict with the Criminal Code because, here, the idea of compensation is not to further punish offenders by taking away amounts that are due to them but, rather, to develop in them a sense of accountability, which is already found in section 718 of the Criminal Code. This section talks about reparations for harm done to victims in order to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders—that great virtue of acknowledging the harm that they have done to victims.

In committee, the NDP asked whether this bill would really enhance the accountability of offenders and improve the rehabilitation process. The NDP also asked whether this bill is really necessary, given the small number of offenders who would be affected by it. We said that we would support comprehensive rehabilitation programs that reduce recidivism and make our communities safer. In that sense, the meaning of the word “victim” must be expanded because there are often collateral victims, entire communities that are affected and that have their histories marked by crime

Although the role of the legislator is not to replace the court, we note that we must address the measures put in place to recover the amounts that the Crown owes to the imprisoned offender and to define the concept of victim that I just mentioned.

We are supporting Bill C-350 at this stage, and we will continue to support it, even though we find it limited in scope, despite the proposed amendment. We are wondering and have some reservations about the mechanics, about the actual application of the bill. Unfortunately, this is not the first time the Conservatives have given us a recipe without knowing how to cook.

The ombudsman for victims of crime has made some recommendations. Among other things, he suggested authorizing Correctional Services Canada to deduct reasonable amounts from offenders' income so that they cover their unresolved responsibilities relating to fines or specific compensation. In fact, in addition to responsibilities to the victims, a number of offenders also have responsibilities to their own families, which are often negatively affected by the offences committed by their loved ones.

The NDP acknowledges that it is important for offenders to be more accountable and that the idea of ensuring that the money they receive following a court judgment to pay their unresolved responsibilities is very good, unquestionably.

We also support the order of precedence set out in Bill C-350 regarding any monetary amount awarded pursuant to a court ruling. More specifically, we are in favour of priority being given to the child or spouse support order. That is fundamental.

But have I understood correctly? Why is there no mention of common-law spouses or partners, as proposed in the amendment? Are they not part of today's family landscape, especially since statistics are increasingly taking them into account because there are so many blended families and families that live under the same roof? That is a fact, and the concept of a common-law spouse is really part of the demographic landscape of the 21st century. Or is some ideology being subtly incorporated into this bill?

I was talking about disgust earlier in my speech. Well, it is unfortunate that this Conservative government is not often inclusive in its actions and deliberately forgets people for whom some administrative measures would be useful.

We are also concerned about the fact that this bill will probably just fall under federal jurisdiction and that it might unintentionally work against the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders. These people will be put off and some will even go before the various courts. Some offenders actually have ways to challenge a decision.

Mr. Fineberg from the Canadian Prison Law Association had this to say about the bill:

Bill C-350 pits itself not only against provincial legislative and administrative efforts, it seeks to undermine Correctional Service Canada's own operations.

It is important to mention it.

According to the NDP, this bill is not the best way to make offenders accountable. According to the testimony of experts, an offender must be directly involved in determining the payment of compensation to victims and other financial decisions in order to develop his sense of responsibility. That is rehabilitation. With this bill, some decisions will be made for and imposed on offenders. In many cases, this repressive approach will only make them more angry and rebellious.

With this bill, section three of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act will be replaced by:

(c) encouraging the accountability and responsibility of offenders, with a view to ensuring that their obligations to society are addressed.

It is a lovely thought, but by only having a very small number of victims benefit from this bill, the very intent of this statement is lost.

The same act is amended by adding, after section 78, the following:

78.1 (1) In furtherance of the purpose referred to in paragraph 3(c), any amount owed to an offender as a result of a monetary award made to the offender by a final decision of a court or tribunal pursuant to a legal action or proceeding against Her Majesty in right of Canada, or an agent or employee of Her Majesty for any act or omission in the performance of his or her duties...

Only amounts owed by the Crown would be subject to the “obligations to society” rule. Once again, the legislator is quite shy about including the indecent amounts of money offenders sometimes collect while they are still incarcerated.

I would have liked to see the government present figures on the offenders who receive settlements as a result of a court ruling. But we do not have any, and we have no idea of the real effect this would have.

Instead of getting caught up in less important issues, the NDP thinks that the federal government should focus its efforts on crime prevention, as we said earlier, and rehabilitation, two key factors in reducing the number of offenders and reoffenders.

In conclusion, I repeat that I support Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act , albeit with reservations. However, like my colleagues, I urge the Conservatives to be fair and I invite them to work with my colleagues and me in the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security in order to find a satisfactory and constructive compromise.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

March 16th, 2012 / 1:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to speak in the House. My hon. colleague from Hamilton Mountain gave a great and eloquent speech on the subject.

I, too, am very happy to rise today to give my thoughts on this private member's bill, Bill C-350, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders). Having given much consideration to it, I believe the legislation warrants enough consideration to be sent to committee for further study.

Using recent statistics, the cost of crime in 2003 was about $70 billion. What is even more shocking is that $47 billion of the costs were borne by the victims of crime. That statistic means that fully two-thirds of all costs of crime are paid by the victims. It is clear that we need to reduce these costs. The most obvious way for us to reduce them is to reduce the number and severity of crimes taking place in Canada. The problem is that the government's approach to reducing crime, in my opinion, is inherently flawed. If increased prison populations lead to decreased crime rates, then the U.S. would have a far lower crime rate than Canada, which is clearly not the case.

The government's omnibus crime bill contained a number of measures that New Democrats supported and were willing to fast track if they were separated from the more odious aspects of that bill. However, as is so often the case, the government was more interested in playing politics than in passing good public policy. The government rammed through the entire bill, which will massively increase the Canadian prison population without having any effect on crime rates, with limited debate and scrutiny.

While the government likes to talk about protecting victims, the bill did nothing in regard to the most important aspect of victim support, and that was ensuring that there were less victims of crime in Canada. It is good, however, to see that some members on the government benches are willing to take a more nuanced approach to dealing with crime and, more specific, with looking to help the victims of crime.

This bill would mandate that any compensation that would be awarded to an individual who committed a crime through a court settlement would not be immediately paid to the offender. Instead, any money owing in terms of child support, restitution to the victim of the crime, civil judgments or fines would be paid out of this award. Only once these outstanding debts had been paid would the court release the remaining funds to the offender.

New Democrats are committed to ensuring that the rights of victims are properly considered in all aspects of the criminal justice system. The victims ombudsman, which is supported on this side of the House, has had a lot to say on these aspects of the justice system. In a recent report, the ombudsman called on the government to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to include conditions ensuring that offenders complied with sentences imposed by the court, including restitution and compensatory payment of increased fines, and to authorize the Correctional Service of Canada to deduct reasonable amounts of income held to cover outstanding amounts corresponding to the specified compensation or increased fines.

In that sense, the bill seems to attempt to address those concerns. It is important to realize that the primary purpose of this compensation is to not punish them by taking away their money, but, instead, it seeks to acknowledge that crimes have an effect both on the victims of crime and on the offender's family and that, as such, offenders should be accountable to those groups. It is a shame, however, that the government did not include any of these provisions in its crime bill. It is very telling that it was excluded.

This bill, with its focus on victims and the families of offenders, is a step in the right direction from the party opposite. It is just a shame that it has to be pushed by a private member's bill and not by the government. Additionally, I believe we should ensure that the criminal justice system continues to focus on rehabilitating people who have committed criminal acts to ensure they are not trapped in the cycle of criminality.

By ensuring that offenders are required to honour these types of debts, the criminal justice system could go some way in fostering a sense of responsibility in offenders to meet their obligations toward the families, victims and the communities. Combined with adequate retraining and education programs, that could be a good way to ensure that rehabilitation would be given a central place in the criminal justice system.

However, some critics of the bill have argued that by forcing offenders to honour their debts before being paid compensation, we are treating offenders differently than we treat average Canadians. However, there is some precedence for forcing people to honour their debts to civil society. For example, courts can garnish the paycheques of individuals in order to ensure they make their child support payments. As a result of this, I do not think that it is unreasonable for parliamentarians to further study the possibility of the bill.

Critics have also argued that the bill may infringe on provincial jurisdiction. However, as I understand it, the bill would replace the previous private member's bill introduced by the same member on the same topic and then he changed some of the provisions in the bill to recognize the right of provinces to set priority of claims regardless of settlement. I look forward to hearing testimony at committee stage from legal experts to ensure that the changes made by the member are sufficient to overcome any worries regarding provincial jurisdiction.

Bills like these, which seek to ensure that offenders are accountable for their actions and that go some way to ensure the rehabilitation of offenders, are definitely a step in the right direction.

I truly look forward to further study of the bill at committee to ensure its viability and to further analyze its consequences.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

March 16th, 2012 / 2 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sincerely honoured to rise today to respond to the debate on my private member's Bill C-350.

I would like to begin by extending my appreciation for my colleagues opposite who took the time to participate in this debate, and I listened to their comments with great interest.

It is heartening to see that this bill has received a good deal of support during these debates from hon. members across the way, from all parties. This speaks to the bill's clarity and to its necessity. During these debates, hon. members have recognized that this legislation contains important improvements from the previous version introduced last year.

I would like to take the opportunity to stress the importance of passing this legislation. The changes which I am proposing to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act are crucial to holding criminals accountable for their actions and to supporting victims of crime. Our government's commitment to increasing offender accountability in the criminal justice system is well documented. Just as well known is our commitment to supporting victims and rebalancing the justice system to bring their interests to the forefront. This is one area where most parliamentarians and law-abiding citizens agree.

This legislation would teach these offenders, some whom have never been responsible one day in their life, that in society we do have obligations and we do meet them. Putting an emphasis on offender accountability helps to correct negative offender behaviour and is a key aspect of our correctional system. Hopefully, this would ultimately help offenders take more responsibility for their actions in their rehabilitation by reforming them into responsible members of society.

I am proud to report that this bill supports victims of crime. If an offender is the breadwinner in the family and commits a crime that leads to jail time, the offender's family members is left struggling to fend for themselves. In many cases, the offender's family members are victims. Those families are left struggling, many times beyond belief, when the offenders go to jail. It is only right that any monetary award be directed to the offender's family before any goes to the offender.

Bill C-350 would ensure that offenders live up to their family support obligations and that is a critical part of this bill. When an offender breaks into a residence, doing harm to an innocent family and the family's property, it is only right that any monetary award paid to the offender be paid first as restitution to the victim. That is just common sense. It is only fair when an offender files a spurious lawsuit or court action and receives a monetary reward, the offender's debts be paid prior to being able to benefit from that reward.

For Canadians whose lives have never been touched by crime, it might seem that once an offender has been tried, convicted and incarcerated in federal prison the story is over. It is far from over for the victims of these crimes. For some victims, it may take months, years or even a lifetime of rebuilding their lives following physical injury and emotional distress. Some may never get to the point of closure, particularly those who have lost a loved one due to an act of violence. We have seen too much of that in the press recently.

In the 2011 Speech from the Throne, our Conservative government committed once again to providing support for victims. We have listened to victims of crime and as a result have introduced many measures that support the rights of victims as opposed to the rights of criminals. The passage of this legislation would be another step in supporting the victims of crime. That is why I urge all hon. members to stand up for the victims of crime and support this legislation.

I also wish all my colleagues a very happy St. Patrick's Day. I hope they enjoy their week in their ridings.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

February 16th, 2012 / 6:05 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

moved that Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I am proud to rise today to speak on behalf of my private member's Bill C-350, which brings forward important offender accountability measures. This important legislation will encourage the accountability and responsibility of offenders with a goal of ensuring that their obligations to society are addressed.

It should come as no surprise to any hon. member of the House that our Conservative government firmly believes in holding offenders to account and providing victims of crime with better support.

We have said from day one that we are committed to supporting victims and to taking their concerns seriously. That is one of our highest priorities and we have delivered on that commitment in a number of ways, particularly through legislative changes relating to pardons and parole. We have passed legislation that repeals the faint hope clause, meaning that offenders who commit murder are no longer eligible to apply for full parole prior to the parole eligibility date fixed by law. We have passed legislation that allows judges to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods for individuals convicted of more than one first or second degree murder.

We have taken the concerns of victims of white collar crime into account by passing legislation that imposes tougher sentences for fraud, and we have passed legislation to end accelerated parole review that applies to those who commit white collar crimes.

This past September, we were proud to introduce the safe streets and communities act, which includes measures that hold offenders accountable and supports victims. Of note, we have proposed that offenders must play a larger role in their own rehabilitation and reintegration programs, that pardons be renamed by the more appropriate term “record suspensions” and that the right of victims to attend and make statements at parole hearings are enshrined in law.

We have made great progress over the past six years. We have listened to the concerns of victims and we have acted on them, but we are not done yet.

That is why I am proud to speak to Bill C-350, which would take another step in the right direction toward increasing offender accountability and improving restitution measures.

My goal is straightforward. In simple terms the bill would ensure that any monetary award owed to an offender as a result of a legal action or proceeding against Her Majesty in Right of Canada would first be put toward financial obligations, including child support and restitution orders. The reason for this is to teach these individuals, some of whom have never had a responsible day in their whole lives, that in society we have obligations, and we are meant to meet them.

Let me tell hon. members what that means in real terms.

First and foremost, the bill would add wording to the purpose section of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that refers to encouraging the accountability and responsibility of offenders and ensuring that their obligations to their fellow Canadians are addressed. The addition of these words will put an increased focus on offender accountability as a key purpose of a correctional system that actually corrects criminal behaviour. It will drive our correctional system to reform these criminals into responsible and accountable citizens.

Second, Bill C-350 proposes important changes to how debts owed to offenders are distributed. It is extremely difficult for victims and their families to understand why we would allow an offender to receive a monetary award when they themselves are struggling or are waiting for financial restitution from the offender as a result of a civil law suit. The proposed amendments will help rectify this issue when it involves a payment by the Crown. This is another measure to ensure that offenders will be held accountable for fulfilling legally owed debts.

The bill states that any award owed from a legal judgment against the Crown will be paid on a pro rata basis in the following order of priority: the first priority is that the debt must be put toward spousal or child support orders.

When we think of victims, we often think only of the individuals or families directly harmed by the offender's actions. The bill before us addresses the needs of an often overlooked group of people, those innocent individuals who are indirectly impacted by the offender's actions, such as the offender's spouse and children, the families of the offenders.

If an offender is a bread winner in the family, the line of income and financial stability is suddenly gone when the offender is sent to prison. The resulting financial hardship and instability can have immediate and detrimental effects, particularly on children. An unemployed mother whose spouse is convicted and incarcerated for a crime could suddenly struggle to provide the basic necessities for her children: a warm home, food, clothing and other essentials. It is only reasonable that debt owed to the offender by the Crown should first provide for these vulnerable individuals.

The next priority is to pay any restitution for damages or injuries caused by the offenders as a result of their offence. Just as importantly, and falling in line with our focus on supporting victims, the next two priorities include payment of any victim surcharge orders and any outstanding civil judgments against the offender.

Victims can face years of recovery as a result of physical injury or emotional distress. The bill would ensure that the recovery and financial stability of the victims of crime would be taken into account before issuing the balance of a financial award to an offender. It is only after these priorities are addressed that an outstanding amount would be paid to the offender.

This is a fair process. We have heard from victims of crime advocates who tells us that any step toward improving offender accountability and victim restitution is a step in the right direction.

Bill C-350 would go a long way toward increasing the accountability of offenders and ensuring that better restitution measures are in place for not only the victims but the spouses and children of those offenders.

I believe the bill is good legislation. Canadians want and deserve to feel safe in their homes and communities. That means offenders need to be off our streets. It also means that offenders must be held accountable for their actions. Canadians will not stand for a system that allows an offender to file spurious lawsuits or court actions and then be rewarded for this prior to them making their debts whole.

With this bill, our government continues to create a system of justice and public safety that meets the high expectations of Canadians, and that takes into consideration the concerns of victims of crime.

This legislation is simply common sense. What it says is that when an offender is incarcerated, there is a reason the person is incarcerated. Why should the offenders family suffer, why should the victims suffer and why should the offender, who is incarcerated, reap financial rewards when the victims, both spousal or children, or a direct victim of the offence are hurting? This tries to right that wrong.

I urge all hon. members to support this important legislation, with amendments. We will welcome amendments on this legislation.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

February 16th, 2012 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry introduced Bill C-350, which makes offenders accountable for their obligations to society, to their family and to victims.

This legislation was originally introduced on September 28, 2010, as Bill C-292. That bill also sought to make offenders accountable, so that they would fulfill their obligations to society. Therefore, that objective was added to section 3 of Corrections and Conditional Release Act . Under Bill C-292, if an inmate was awarded money following a legal action or proceeding, the government would seize that money and split it equally between the beneficiaries of a restitution order, a child or spousal support order, and a civil judgment against the offender.

If the offender had no obligation or debt to these people, he still could not get the monetary award, which was distributed to organizations that help victims or to other similar entities. This bill did not make any sense then, because if, for example, an inmate was abused in jail and then compensated following a civil proceeding, he still could not get the money, even though he had no obligation to his family or to the persons I mentioned.

Consequently, the bill was significantly improved. In the case of Bill C-350, the obligation to distribute the money that the inmate would receive has been removed and that money is now given to him. So in this sense it is an improvement.

We can think of other examples. This is not just about people who suffer abuse in jail. It could be a reckless driver who was responsible for an accident causing death and who received compensation through the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec. This bill would also have allowed the government to seize this compensation and redistribute in accordance with the priority list in Bill C-350.

The previous version of Bill C-350 was amended. The responsibility of offenders regarding their obligations remains the bill's primary objective. However, Bill C-350 seems more specific in certain respects than Bill C-292 was. First, it indicates in a more concise fashion who would get part of the compensation received by an inmate. An order of priorities is set: first, the money owed by the offender pursuant to a spousal or child support order will be given to his family, then the money owed by him pursuant to a restitution order, followed by civil judgments and fines.

The compensation will no longer be paid in equal parts, as stipulated in Bill C-292. It will instead be pro-rated in the manner described in Bill C-350. If there are any remaining funds, they will be paid to the inmate. I should think that the inmate would be entitled to the money. This provision is different from the one in Bill C-292 because of concerns about areas of jurisdiction. The remainder of the obligations set out in Bill C-350 are pre-existing legal obligations. By listing these rights, the bill seems to do a better job of addressing the priority of claims. However, the priority of claims also falls under provincial jurisdiction.

It is our belief, therefore, that this bill contains relevant provisions such as the protection of families and victims. All members of society must be held accountable for their obligations, and that obviously includes prisoners. Being incarcerated in no way removes the inmate's obligations and responsibilities. An inmate must still meet the needs of his family and, obviously, comply with child and spousal support orders.

Compensation is of equal importance for victims. According to the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, in the eyes of the law, a victim is a person who has suffered physical or psychological harm as a result of a crime. Family members, legal guardians and dependents are considered victims when the victim is deceased or when the victim is a child or a person who is unable to act on his own behalf by reason of an illness or disability.

The victims’ compensation scheme was established not only to make restitution to victims, but also to compensate for any financial losses resulting from the crime. Victims may require all manner of care in order to recover. For example, we can think of medical expenses and psychological support.

The purpose of the principle of restorative justice is also to ensure that the victim is not victimized a second time. Consequently, making restitution means that the victim will have no need to navigate the judicial process a second time in order to receive restitution. This process, therefore, forces the victim to demonstrate that the harm suffered by him resulted from the crime.

Victims and victims groups have been calling for some time for legislative provisions of this nature that would force inmates to comply with family support and restitution orders. This was referred to in a document written by the solicitor general dated 1987.

We are also pleased to see that the bill identifies priorities and that support payments will be at the top of the list. The Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime made the following recommendations in the report entitled “Toward a Greater Respect for Victims in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act”:

That the Government of Canada amend paragraph 133(3) of the CCRA to include a necessity for conditions to ensure offenders fulfill their court ordered sentences, including restitution and victim fine surcharges.

That the Government of Canada amend subsection 78(2) of the CCRA to authorize the CSC to deduct reasonable amounts from an offender's earnings to satisfy any outstanding restitution or victim fine surcharge orders.

Still, this legislation is not perfect. In my opinion, the problem with this bill is that it creates two civil law systems: one for prisoners and the other for the rest of society. The protection of the law applies to all citizens, including prisoners. In civil law, there are provisions that force individuals to repay their debts. For example, salaries may be garnished to force an individual to pay child support. However, there is a big difference between existing provisions and this bill.

Unfortunately, the government cannot intervene to enforce court orders, thereby circumventing the courts. The government cannot take over the courts' role in the justice system. For example, in the case of support payments, the family must take the case to a civil court and go through the normal justice process. Any loss of basic civil rights cannot be taken lightly lest the justice system revert to principles of punitive justice.

In my opinion, we cannot deny some individuals their rights in order to help others. We cannot rob Peter to pay Paul. That is why we must strike a balance between victims' rights and prisoners' rights.

This bill includes another important measure aimed at better integrating prisoners into rehabilitation programs. Such programs have been very successful. It is not enough to hold prisoners financially accountable. They also need to understand the reason for their actions and the consequences of their actions. Rehabilitation is an integral part of the rehabilitation process for prisoners. This kind of program should also be offered during the inmate's parole period.

To sum up, the spirit of Bill C-350 is entirely relevant. Offenders must be held accountable for the financial obligations issued in lawful orders.

Let us all support this bill and hear from experts regarding the bill's validity.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

February 16th, 2012 / 6:25 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, the Liberal Party will be supporting the bill going to committee to study various aspects that have raised questions such those my colleague has just touched on.

As the member who is sponsoring the bill mentioned, it is very important that offenders be accountable. Therefore, the principle that underlies the bill is a good one. Liberals have always believed in personal accountability. It is a tenet of liberalism and, of course, that extends to offenders who are serving time for the crimes they have committed.

It would have been interesting if the sponsor of the bill had provided some concrete examples of situations where victims have suffered because of the absence of such legislation. It leaves us wondering whether the bill is responding to a real problem, or whether it is more of a theoretical exercise.

It is important for anyone watching at home to understand that this is not what has been referred to in the past as profits from crime legislation, introduced under a previous Liberal administration. The purpose of that legislation was to confiscate the proceeds earned by a criminal who, for example, wrote a book about his or her crime. That legislation, Bill C-205, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Copyright Act, was introduced in 1996 by the Liberal member from Scarborough. That bill would have prohibited a criminal from profiting by selling or authoring a story of their crime. However, this is not what we are dealing with here. It is important that the two ideas not be confused.

The reason I bring up Bill C-205 is that, despite its good intention and good principle upon which it was based, it did not complete the legislative process because of the election. However, even a similar bill did not complete the legislative process. It was deemed unconstitutional when it was debated in the House because it violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. More than that, the issue fell under provincial jurisdiction because it is a matter of property, which is generally dealt with under civil actions within provincial jurisdiction.

Bill C-350 does raise some comparable issues about jurisdiction. In fact, as my hon. colleague from the NDP mentioned in his speech, Bill C-350 had a predecessor, Bill C-292. Unfortunately, that bill did not make it to the stage of adoption precisely because of jurisdictional problems.

I will read a quote from the researcher of the committee, Michel Bédard, who presumably was looking at the bill, but this was before I was appointed to that portfolio. He said:

I have doubts as to the federal government's power to pass provisions of this kind. It's important to understand that, according to the division of powers in Canada, property and civil rights fall within provincial jurisdiction. Under that head of power, the provinces have jurisdiction over contracts and all private law, including debt priority ranking. That includes debts owed to creditors, in particular.... It's important to realize that federal jurisdiction regarding debt priority ranking is limited to certain well-defined areas, such as bankruptcy, tax collection and banks.

In other words, this new debt priority ranking cannot be connected back to bankruptcy law, to banks, to tax collection or other areas of federal jurisdiction. What he is saying is that Bill C-292 had nothing to do with these areas where there would be a federal role. That is something we are going to have to discuss at committee when the bill gets there.

I believe that the committee researcher expressed the same reservations about Bill C-350. Again, this is going to have to be discussed at committee, which does not take away from the hon. member's noble motives in wanting to protect victims and underscore the need for offender accountability.

There may be a way in which the bill is constitutional, but there are some doubts. Establishing a debt priority ranking is a power, as I said, usually given to the provincial government. Bill C-350 uses this concept and applies it to a criminal matter where the federal government does have jurisdiction under subsection 91(27) of the Constitution Act of 1867. However, the constitutionality of this manoeuvre is open to debate.

Section 2(a), on using crown funds to repay spousal and child support debt, deals with a tricky issue. While it is true that the government does have jurisdiction over marriage, it may depend on how a judge interprets this provision. For example, a court could interpret the provision to apply only to all legally married couples. Furthermore, as stated above, the federal government can legislate in the area of marriage and divorce. However, there are certain parts of marriage and divorce law that have been delegated to the provincial courts. The nuances of such a relationship require further study.

Sections 2(b) and 2(c) of Bill C-350 use the Criminal Code provisions of restitution orders to establish a debt priority for victims and third parties, as well as victims' surcharges. Restitution is defined as equity aimed at restoring a person to whom a duty was owed to the position in which he or she would have been had the duty not been breached. It does this through a variety of remedies, including compensation. It could be argued in regard to restitution orders requiring an offender to pay financial compensation to a victim or third party that the federal government is legislating in a provincial area.

The constitutionality of restitution orders, as a federal power, was upheld most recently in R v Zelensky in 1978. However, Bill C-350 goes much further than the Zelensky decision in that it elevates restitution orders in the debt priority ranking. Bill C-350 establishes that payment to parties outlined in the bill receive priority over any other debts or fees incurred as a result of the offence. Currently, restitution orders are placed on the same level of priority as other provincial fees levied during the criminal court process, like administrative fees and fines.

There is another interesting aspect. What happens if the offender is innocent and after doing his or her time in prison wins a court case whereby their innocence is proved? Are there measures to reverse the situation to take care of that eventuality?

This will all be studied at committee and I look forward to doing that.