An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders)
Guy Lauzon Conservative
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
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- 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.
The House resumed from September 19 consideration of Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders), as reported (with amendment) from the committee.
Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act
September 21st, 2012 / 1:05 p.m.
Sadia Groguhé Saint-Lambert, QC
Mr. Speaker, under section 737 of the Criminal Code, a judge may impose a victim surcharge on a person found guilty of a criminal offence. Specifically, this is an amount of money that accompanies any other punishment and is determined by the lower of the following amounts: 15% of any fine imposed, or, if no fine is imposed, $50 in the case of an offence punishable by summary conviction and $100 in the case of an offence punishable by indictment. Furthermore, the Criminal Code allows the judge the discretionary power not only to order an offender to pay an amount exceeding that amount “if the court...is satisfied that the offender is able to pay“, but also to make sure that the offender is able to pay the surcharge.
Our criminal legislation goes further in allowing the offender the opportunity to establish that the additional payment of the victim surcharge would cause undue hardship. The judge can then exempt the offender from the victim surcharge.
The victim surcharge is imposed in addition to any other punishment for an offender convicted or discharged of a Criminal Code offence or an offence under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. It is a sanction that is principally directed at the offender's assets. The money is paid to the provinces and territories so that they can fund assistance to victims of crime.
Given that the victim surcharge is a penalty, it must be effective and it must reflect the traditional objectives expected of penalties: to dissuade, to deter, to provide redress and reparation, and to rehabilitate. In other words, Canadian legislation has, in a way, assigned three classic functions to the penalties provided for in the Criminal Code: those functions are prevention, reparation and redress.
The NDP supports Bill C-37, the intent of which is to amend the provisions of the Criminal Code dealing with victim surcharges in order to double the amount that offenders will be required to pay when they are sentenced, and to make the surcharge mandatory for all offenders.
More specifically, under Bill C-37, the surcharge would increase to 30% of any fine imposed, or, if no fine is imposed, it would go from $50 to $100 for a summary conviction offence. It would also go from $100 to $200 in the case of an offence punishable by indictment.
Bill C-37 makes other amendments to the Criminal Code by repealing the provision that gives the court the flexibility to waive the victim surcharge if offenders establish that paying it would cause them or their dependents undue and unreasonable hardship.
The bill preserves the discretionary power that judges have under the current legislation to increase the amount of the victim surcharge if they believe that the circumstances warrant it and the offender has the ability to pay.
Bill C-37 takes into account the fact that some members of the community may not be able to pay the surcharge because of difficult social conditions, so it gives them an alternative: participating in a provincial fine option program, where such programs exist.
Fine option programs allow the offender to pay a fine by earning credits for work done in the province or territory where the crime was committed.
The purpose of the proposed increase set out in Bill C-37 is to have a more meaningful impact on the personal wealth of potential criminals by connecting their actions to the costs incurred by the government in helping victims cope with the consequences of the terrible acts they commit.
The NDP supported several of the recommendations made by the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, including this one, and is also in favour of enhanced funding for programs for victims of crime.
Indirectly, this bill will satisfy a number of the recommendations made by the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, who for years has been arguing in favour of an automatic surcharge and better funding for programs for victims of crime.
Crime puts a major strain on government resources. It also puts a strain on the limited resources of Canadian taxpayers.
In 2003, crime cost about $70 billion. Victims of crime bore $47 billion or 70% of that total cost.
In 2004, studies estimated the compensation paid to victims for pain and suffering at $36 billion. That amount does not include the compensation that a significant number of eligible victims do not claim because they are not familiar with the legislation.
On a number of occasions, the Elizabeth Fry Society has also expressed its deep concerns about the bill and about the impact of additional fines on disadvantaged people who cannot afford to pay.
The John Howard Society said that it does not necessarily have a problem with the fines, but that it is afraid that, under this system, fines might end up being disproportionate to the crimes.
The NDP is in favour of Bill C-37 as far as the benefits mentioned earlier go. However, they have some concerns about the bill and hope that the necessary improvements will be made once it is studied in committee.
In the meantime, I would like to talk about the proposal to remove judicial discretion under Bill C-37. That is unacceptable since the discretionary power is very much part of a judge's role. Removing it from judges means undermining the independent nature of the judiciary, which allows judges to hear all sides of the story and to take a stand based on what they know and according to their conscience.
Judges have sovereignty to weigh the facts before them and to make a ruling one way or another. We have a problem with removing judicial discretion when it comes to the surcharge.
The NDP recognizes the paramount importance of the autonomy of judges and will not be able to support the amendment that proposes to restrict judicial discretion. Judges must have that power to be able to perform their duties free from pressures of any kind.
We in the NDP also have some reservations about the proposal to remove the undue hardship clause, considering the negative impact this could have on low-income people. The same is true for the proposal to double the amount. For people who have low incomes, the bill should include a provision to allow judges to waive the surcharge. The law cannot blindly punish people. It must take into account the particular circumstances of the victim, otherwise it would be unfair.
The Conservatives and the NDP have different views of justice. This bill is based on one of the Conservatives' campaign promises in the last election, that they would double the amount paid to victims and make the surcharge mandatory in all cases, with no exceptions, in order to make offenders more accountable to victims of crime.
The NDP, which is appealing for a justice system that is more conscious of the specific needs of young offenders and the need to rehabilitate criminals, opposes any justice reforms that appear to be motivated by a law and order ideology and that do not take into account the specific circumstances of each offender.
I cannot conclude my speech without pointing out the overlap that exists between BIll C-37 and private member's Bill C-350, which also aims to make offenders more accountable to victims. How will these two bill affect one another?
The NDP supports victims of crime and their families and respects the recommendations of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. Although we support the principle of Bill C-37, the NDP would like it to be debated further in order to improve it overall.
Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act
September 21st, 2012 / 12:30 p.m.
Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member on her speech. She said it in a number of ways: the NDP will not stop doing its job just because we are up against a government that is not prepared to work co-operatively. We will continue to do the work we have to do.
Does every bill deserve second reading? Not in my view. But this one does deserve second reading, if only for the fact that the federal victims' ombudsman supports legislation of this kind. The hon. member has suggested some very appropriate avenues of study in terms of the concerns that the bill raises.
But I would like her to tell us about her experience of other bills and the opportunity—or lack of opportunity—she has had to study concerns with a bill. I am thinking, for example, about Bill C-350, for which, if I am not mistaken, a number of limitations were placed on the appearance of witnesses and on the opportunity to study concerns.
Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act
September 21st, 2012 / 10:05 a.m.
Djaouida Sellah Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate on a very important bill, Bill C-37, the Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act. This bill would amend section 737 of the Criminal Code to increase victim surcharges. Specifically, it would double the amount of victim surcharges imposed on offenders from 15% to 30%, and if no fine is imposed, the surcharge will increase to $100 for offences punishable by summary conviction and to $200 for offences punishable by indictment.
I forgot to mention that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Beaches—East York.
Back to BillC-37. It is important to note that, contrary to what the members opposite have said over and over again all over the place, the New Democratic Party cares about victims' interests. That said, let us talk specifically about Bill C-37.
First, what is a surcharge? It is an additional penalty imposed when a guilty offender is sentenced. The surcharge is collected and kept by the provincial and territorial governments to finance programs and services for victims of crime in the province or territory where the crime was committed.
This would be one way to increase funding for programs to assist victims of crime. The existing services cannot keep up with the demands of so many Canadians, and additional means would be most welcome.
According to the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, crime cost Canadians around $70 billion in 2003. Of this, $47 billion, or about 70%, was assumed by the victims themselves. Those numbers are huge.
What concerns me about this bill is the repeal of section 737.5 of the Criminal Code. This section allowed judges to waive the surcharge if they felt that imposing it would cause problems or undue hardship for the individual in question. I am deeply concerned about this. I am not convinced that we can anticipate every possible situation. I am very comfortable with the idea of giving judges the flexibility to determine if the surcharge will cause more harm than good to society. We have a strong criminal justice system and competent judges. We should let them do their jobs. They have been appointed because of their competence and their sound judgment, and we should let them use those skills.
I would like to take this opportunity to remind the House that the courts have already ruled on judicial independence. I recall one particular judgment of the Ontario Court of Appeal on minimum sentences that was handed down last February. The court ruled that some mandatory minimums could be considered cruel and unusual punishment and therefore were in violation of the Charter.
I am not suggesting that this is exactly the same thing, but it follows the same principle. We cannot possibly anticipate every situation, and we should give judges the flexibility they need to determine the best outcomes. I think it makes sense to maintain the discretionary power of the judiciary, especially since there are many extenuating circumstances in which forcing an offender to pay the surcharge would have an unnecessarily harsh effect.
I am particularly concerned about offenders who have a clear history of mental illness and who may be unable to pay that surcharge.
We must seriously examine the impact that this change will have on our justice system. I hope that, if the bill is passed at second reading, the Standing Committee on Justice will examine this issue seriously and thoroughly, and that the members of the committee will keep an open mind when listening to the witnesses.
Some organizations have already expressed their concern. I am thinking of the Elizabeth Fry Society, which is concerned about the impact that these additional fines will have on disadvantaged aboriginal people. The John Howard Society is worried that some fines will be disproportionate to the crimes committed, but does not have a problem with monetary penalties.
The idea of allowing people who cannot pay their surcharge to participate in a provincial fine option program strikes me as a worthwhile approach. However, the bill does not take into account whether such a program exists in the province or territory where the crime was committed. There is no other alternative if this type of program does not exist. I hope that the committee will take this into account and will find a solution for such cases.
Like many of my colleagues, I am also wondering about the link between this bill and the hon. member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry's Bill C-350, and the mutual impact they will have if they are passed. Time and time again in this chamber, we have seen the government use private members' business to pass more controversial measures.
In closing, I am very pleased to see that the government is concerned about the funding of victims programs. However, I have reservations about taking away from judges the power to choose not to impose the victim surcharge under certain specific circumstances that are currently set out in the act, particularly since they will have the flexibility to choose to impose a higher surcharge.
I hope that this will be seriously examined in committee if the bill is passed at second reading. We must not contribute to the vicious circle of poverty and crime but, rather, we must work to reduce crime in Canada in the short, medium and long term.
Motions in amendment
Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business
September 19th, 2012 / 7:40 p.m.
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.
Motions in amendment
Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business
September 19th, 2012 / 7:30 p.m.
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 / 6:55 p.m.
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.
Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business
September 19th, 2012 / 6:55 p.m.
The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders), as reported (with amendment) from the committee.
Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act
September 18th, 2012 / 3:45 p.m.
Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC
Mr. Speaker, let me first say that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou.
I would also like to congratulate you. I am very pleased to see you in the Speaker's chair. It must be a very interesting experience and a great challenge for you.
It is a pleasure to stand once again to support, in part, with some reservation, Bill C-37 on behalf of my constituents.
In any modern liberal democracy, the presence of a trustworthy legal system and judiciary is essential in maintaining the confidence of the population. It is the responsibility of all elected officials to respect the constitutional separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of good government. A fundamental respect must be had by members of the government and opposition alike for the legal system, its procedures, customs, practices and powers. This, of course, also includes respect for its magistrates and judges.
Recently, I had, in my functions as Treasury Board critic for the official opposition, a delegation from an African country that is just developing its democratic institutions, those institutions necessary to have good government for its citizens. Though we spoke primarily about how a government can be more accountable and transparent to its citizens with regard to the budgetary processes and presenting public accounts, our more general conversation underscored to me how fragile our democratic institutions can be and how much they depend on a just, equitable and fair legal system. It also underscored to me how fundamental culture dedicated to this respect is.
My hon. colleagues will no doubt agree a basic fundamental belief and respect for the rule of law is an essential characteristic of any democratic society, but at the same time this respect from the people must be earned. The reality is that it has taken several hundred years for us to develop our system. It was not perfect from the beginning and open to all sorts of machinations, corruption and elitism. No, respect of the population must be gained and it must be preserved.
Our legal system and those labouring in it must inspire confidence to be legitimate. Sadly, the reality is that many Canadians, particularly marginalized and racialized Canadians, do not view our legal system and its enforcement as legitimate. In fact, many communities across our country have a deep suspicion about the fairness of our legal system. There is no doubt if we were to ask a Jamaican in Toronto or an aboriginal person in Winnipeg or Vancouver how legitimate our legal system is, we would get a completely different opinion from that of someone on Bay Street or in Rockliffe Park. For too many Canadians, our legal system is simply there to protect the property of the most well-to-do in our society. It is up to us to prove that things can be different. This is our burden as legislators. It is also one of the reasons that I support this bill.
Though I doubt very much the government of high finance is motivated by such questions as fundamental equality before the law, we must take the good where we can find it. On one principle at least the government and I see eye to eye. At the core of the skepticism of many Canadians toward our judiciary system, the issue of appropriate punishment of criminals and just compensation for victims is at the core.
I will take a moment to tell Canadians who are watching now and who deeply care about this issue that this issue is by no means a monopoly of the Conservative Party of Canada. For decades, the New Democratic Party has been calling for greater respect and compensation for victims of crime. We have at every occasion possible supported well crafted legislation that helps the victims of crime and their families. We have respected and continue to respect the recommendations of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime.
The reality is that this is a non-partisan issue. It is not a left or right issue. Crime is wrong, from whatever political perspective we look at it, Conservative, Social Democrat or Liberal. We may disagree on the solutions in eliminating crime but the goal of reducing crime is shared by all of us. I will offer the hand of peace therefore and give credit where credit is due. I think of many of the bills on crime that the Conservative government has come forward with, this particular bill is well justified and constructed.
This bill is based on one of the Conservatives’ election promises in the last election, that they would double the amount paid to victims and make the surcharge mandatory in all cases, with no exceptions, in order to make offenders more accountable to victims of crime, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
The Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime has been fighting for better funding for victim services for a long time, and the facts support those recommendations. In 2003, for example, crime cost roughly $70 billion, $47 billion of which was the cost borne by victims. That represents 70%, which is far too much.
The effect of this is to create an image of our judicial system as not doing a good job of representing the interests of law-abiding citizens. As well, a 2004 study estimated the cost of the pain and suffering experienced by victims as being in the neighbourhood of $36 billion. In addition, many eligible victims do not even seek compensation, often because they do not know they are entitled to it, and that is completely unacceptable.
So the principle of better funding for victims is based on solid facts and a fundamental principle of justice. I recognize that, and I acknowledge it. But I still have a few reservations, so I cannot give this bill my unconditional support. We have a number of questions on this side, things that my colleagues on the government side may be able to reassure us about.
One has to do with respect for federal and provincial jurisdictions—a fundamental question in my province, Quebec. Technically, the surcharge money has to be used by the provinces to fund services for victims of crime. So will victims benefit directly from the increase in victim surcharges or not? Also, are the provincial fine option programs standardized? Not to my knowledge. So how will the government ensure that the money from this surcharge will really reach the victims’ groups that need it, particularly if their funding remains the same?
A second is that Bill C-37 overlaps with another private member’s bill, Bill C-350, which is also meant to make offenders accountable to victims. How are these bills going to affect each other? That is another question.
And third, and more fundamentally, is the reservation I have about the role of judges in our system. Judges are independent for excellent reasons. It is up to them to interpret the law justly and fairly. That is their burden to carry, not ours. This government seems to have trouble understanding that principle and respecting the important role that judges play in this country.
Is Bill C-37 an example of that lack of respect? Well, by taking away judges’ discretion to waive the surcharge, does this measure not fetter the good judgment of our judges? There are many situations in which punishment should be mitigated, and there are exceptional cases, in particular low-income offenders or offenders who have mental health problems.
Nonetheless, this bill has my conditional support, because, like my party, I support victims of crime and their families. I want to help build Canadians’ confidence in our judicial system.