Debates of April 29th, 1996
House of Commons Hansard #35 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was victims.
- Energy Price Commission Act
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- Premier Of Quebec
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- Somalia Inquiry
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- Somalia Inquiry
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- Canadian National
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- Questions On The Order Paper
- Budget Implementation Act, 1996
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Questions On The Order Paper
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)
Is that agreed?
Questions On The Order Paper
Some hon. members
The House resumed consideration of the motion.
April 29th, 1996 / 3:05 p.m.
Val Meredith Surrey—White Rock—South Langley, BC
Mr. Speaker, I begin speaking on the supply motion by congratulating my colleague from Fraser Valley West for introducing the victim's bill of rights. It is certainly a pleasure to see something concrete happening in the House regarding victims' rights.
Not all victims are the result of murder. Many victims we find in Canadian society are people who have found themselves victimized through assault, attacks or other offences. Sometimes these victims go unnoticed and unheard.
What we are concerned about with this victims' bill of rights is that there is a process and a procedure to make sure people who find themselves victimized by offenders have some recourse, some vehicle for having their story heard and their concerns addressed.
Not that I have ever wanted to but simply because of the position I found myself in I have ended up speaking to over 20 parents of murdered children. Their stories vary from occasion and from location. For the most part what I hear from the parents of children who have been murdered is they feel when they enter the court system they are being revictimized. I also hear that from parents or from assault victims who find themselves getting entangled in a misunderstanding between the federal jurisdiction over creating the law and the provincial jurisdiction over administering the law.
Caught in this conflict, these victims really feel they are being victimized for a second or third time when they enter the court process.
Two aspects of this victim's bill of rights try to deal with a couple of problems that arise. One is section 4, which asks that victims be informed in a timely fashion of the details of the crown's intention to offer a plea bargain before it is presented to the defence.
That is a fair request. Anybody who has been victimized whether from a sexual assault, assault or in the worst cases a murder has a right to be part of the process. They have a right to know when there is an intention to downgrade a charge.
A good number of the people who find themselves victimized go to court anticipating or expecting a first degree murder conviction for the criminal if that is what the criminal is charged with. They come away feeling very distraught when that has been downgraded either to second degree or to manslaughter.
When people go to court, having been victimized from a sexual assault, and find out that charge can be downgraded through a plea bargain to make sure the offender does get convicted, they may downgrade the seriousness of the assault.
Oftentimes because the victims or the families of the victims do not understand the process they feel cheated. If they were brought into the process, if they were brought into the discussions on why plea bargaining was being considered, why the need to look at downgrading the charge to get a conviction, perhaps they would feel less victimized the second or third time.
Another concern of mine is that victims should be looked after, that there should be some vehicle in our system that when there are people who are victimized through no fault of their own, there is some compensation or some accounting that they, too, need to be cared for.
The case that comes to mind is the case of a young 14-year old girl who was kidnapped out of a schoolyard after school by an older man and taken in his truck. The intent was considered when she escaped partially dressed. The offender's truck got stuck in the mud. While he was trying to deal with getting his truck unstuck she was able to get out of the vehicle and escape partially dressed. His intentions, therefore, were quite clear.
The parents of that child realized that in order to heal completely this child needed to have counselling. They went to various agencies to see what kind of counselling she could receive. They were told they had to make an application to victim's aid and that perhaps the money for the counselling would be available in three to four months.
Those parents realized that the counselling and healing had to start immediately. This 14-year old girl could not wait three or four months before dealing with what had happened to her. However, they were not a family of wealth and it took everything they had to find the financial resources to make sure that their daughter did not suffer long term consequences from this event.
We then look at the offenders who have all of the counselling and treatment provided for them, and the victims are left trying to deal with their problems on their own. That concerns me.
Another part of this victims' bill of rights which has to be looked at is the issue of the crown and the police notifying the victims why charges were not laid if that is the decision of the crown or the police.
One case more than any other brings that to my mind. Clifford Olson on New Year's Day in 1981 picked up a 16-year old girl, Kim Werbecky, and raped her repeatedly over a 12-hour period. She eventually escaped and reported the crime to the police, who arrested and charged Clifford Olson. However, the crown did not proceed with charges because she was a prostitute. It felt she would be viewed as a liar and a tramp and was not to be believed. Thus Olson was released.
At the time of his release Olson had already murdered one child and he would go on to murder another 10 children. It was not until two years ago that Kim Werbecky finally found out why charges did not proceed. She never had a chance to state her position or give her side of the story.
It is extremely important that the crown and the police bring victims into the discussions. I know one individual living in my community who is very good about dealing with not only the victims but the victim's family, of talking to them of what the possibilities are, of where this case might go, of what would be expected of them and of the pain, suffering and stress they would feel.
He takes it upon himself to deal with the realities of victims having to go through the legal system. He helps to reduce the trauma for these victims by including them in discussions before the trial and before the court case is heard. He includes them in plea bargaining, what it is all about and where it will take them.
It is unfortunate that is left to the discretion of the crown. Not all crowns are as good as this individual at bringing the victims into the process. It should not be left to the individual. It should be the rule and not the exception. Unfortunately we find that it is the exception. Most crowns are busy, have large caseloads and literally cannot be bothered to look at the whole aspect of victims when they are going through the court system.
I do not think most Canadians realize the crown is there to assume the responsibility of the victim. Society does not believe it is only the victim who has been victimized but society as a whole. Therefore the crown, on behalf of the individual, appears before the courts to get some justice and restitution.
I do not think most Canadians realize the crown is really there on their behalf. They need to be brought more into the system with the crown so they appreciate and understand that they are working together on this, that the crown is actually working on their behalf.
Victims and their families must have a statutory right to be informed about what is happening. It should not be left to the discretion of the crown or to the discretion of the attorney general. Ministers of justice and attorneys general change often. They are not standard established positions. The individuals change with the will of the people and sometimes reflect how the Criminal Code is applied.
It is very important that victims rights be written into statute so changes in government do not affect how they are dealt with.
I congratulate my colleague for his efforts on behalf of the victims in society.
Dianne Brushett Cumberland—Colchester, NS
Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the hon. member and her party, as did the Minister of Justice today, for using their opposition day correctly and positively toward the service of all Canadians with this important topic of victims rights. In the red book we promised Canada safer streets, safer communities, a better and fairer society.
The hon. members of the Reform Party spoke of two aspects of victims rights. One aspect is to have tougher legislation. The other aspect refers to counselling, the benefits criminals have through legal aid, mental health services or what other institutions there might be available. Reformers would make these services available to the victim as well, including counselling, support services, financial assistance if required, the opportunity to prepare impact statements and so on.
How far would the hon. member take that suggestion in this legislation? Who would pay for such services?
I am pleased to support the efforts they are putting forward today.
Val Meredith Surrey—White Rock—South Langley, BC
Mr. Speaker, there is an organization in our government, the correctional investigator, which listens to the complaints of convicted individuals in the penitentiaries. It hears complaints about the kind of food they get, the kind of cells they are in, whether they get to smoke.
I would suggest that is a very good start. Take the resources for that agency and redefine it to provide services for victims. I do not feel that people who have been charged, convicted and sentenced to incarceration have any right to criticize or complain about the kind of food or the kind of health care they get. They get 24-hour health services which no other Canadian in the country gets, yet some of them complain about it. They complain about the way they are shuttled from cell to cell or where they are moved.
The resources that go into that agency, I believe it is a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year, would provide a very good start to funding the cause of victims rights.
Andy Mitchell Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to debate the motion on the issue of victims rights.
Although as a society we have an obligation to protect the rights of the accused and the rights of the convicted, we also need to establish and safeguard the rights of all victims and their families.
If an occasion should arise where the rights of the victim and the rights of the perpetrator are in conflict, the resolution of that conflict should be very easy: it should be in favour of the victim. I sincerely believe this can be done without compromising our fine tradition of rights and freedoms.
The call for better victims rights is not a new one. In 1981 a federal-provincial task force was struck to examine the role of victims in the criminal justice system. The task force reported in 1983 with suggestions to provide information to victims, develop victims rights, develop victim services, introduce victim impact statements and compensate losses where appropriate. I agree with all of these proposals. However, I do not agree with its conclusion that many proposed victims rights "were not appropriate to be included in the criminal law". Since that time some progress has been made.
In 1988, Bill C-89 amended the Criminal Code to allow courts to consider victim impact statements during sentencing. Recent amendments which will soon come into force will require courts to consider any properly prepared impact statement. Similar changes have been made to the Young Offenders Act and to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
Provisions have been placed in the Criminal Code regarding restitution. In section 727.9 of the Criminal Code a victim fine surcharge has been introduced, not to exceed 15 per cent of any fine levied. Unfortunately, proceeds go to the crown and not directly to the victim. Under section 725 of the Criminal Code a court can order compensation to a victim. However, application must be made by the victim who would need to seek a civil judgment to enforce the order and the accused would not pay the amount ordered.
It is progress, but it is not enough. It is not sufficient for the federal government to point to the provinces and suggest that the administration of justice is a provincial matter. It is not good enough that changes on these matters are done haphazardly and at a snail's pace. It is certainly not good enough to suggest further patience by those whose lives have been shattered as victims of crime.
The federal government has a clear responsibility to set the protection of victims as a national priority. I believe this motion can achieve that objective.
We can accomplish our objectives by including the rights of victims in a preamble to the Criminal Code. On matters which
traditionally fall within the scope of the provinces, this preamble should state that the administration of the law, as established in the Criminal Code, specifies the rights of victims.
There are five principles which should be included in a statement of victims rights. First, victims should be kept informed of the criminal investigations, court proceedings and parole applications being undertaken in respect of criminal action perpetrated against them or their families. These people need to know the process. They need to be informed of what is going on. Victims of crime are not an impediment to court proceedings, the lawyers and others who administer the law. They are the reason for it and should benefit from it.
Second, victims should be financially compensated for personal injury or financial and all other forms of loss which result from criminal actions against them or their families. They should not have to make a separate application to the court, nor be required to obtain a civil enforcement order. The thought that a victim must in essence sue an individual convicted of a crime against them to obtain restitution is beyond comprehension.
Third, an individual convicted of committing a property crime should have a portion of their fine or labour in prison go to providing restitution to the victim. Innocent bystanders should not have to absorb the cost of another's deviant behaviour.
Fourth, victims should have the unconditional right to have their impact statements heard by the courts and parole boards. The rules and processes surrounding this procedure should be simple and should facilitate, not impede such action.
Fifth, the statement of principle should call for the administration of justice under the Criminal Code by the provinces in a manner which obliges them to inform victims of the services available to them, including possible legal recourse.
The intent of the motion before us is to further protect the rights of victims who are all too often forgotten by the justice system, which is why I will support the motion today. I will carefully watch the progress of the minister and the committee. I hope they find merit in my suggestion to include the bill of rights in a preamble to the Criminal Code.
I am not a lawyer, a judge or a learned legal scholar. I do not know the intricacies of the law. But I am a father, a husband and a concerned citizen. As parliamentarians we have an obligation to continue the progress of the last few years, to set a national standard and an example to protect and assist all victims of crime.
Randy White Fraser Valley West, BC
Mr. Speaker, it is encouraging to hear members opposite support this kind of endeavour. I have always said that to get a national victims bill of rights it must transcend party lines. Individual members of Parliament must support the initiative.
I have several questions. The first is related to the legal industry in Canada. I have quote upon quote of what the legal industry, in particular lawyers and judges, thinks of victims in this country. I will cite a couple of examples.
Recently in the Bedford provincial court in Nova Scotia Judge Patrick Curran stated: "I am not entirely happy with them". He was referring to victim impact statements. "For the most part I do not think they make an awful lot of difference". That is the indifference I find in the legal system.
This morning I quoted Russ Chamberlain which I will do again for my colleague opposite. Mr. Chamberlain is a criminal defence lawyer in Vancouver who said that crime victims want an eye for an eye, that they want someone else to fix their "petty problems", and that their pitch for personal vengeance can "improperly" affect a jury's verdict. He said: "Victim impact statements are just venting the spleen and do not serve justice and should be outlawed, banned completely".
We could go through a litany of quotes from lawyers and judges in this country on victims who seem to be secondary in the process. They seem to be a royal pain to most of these people.
Would the member comment on how the House could pass a national victims bill of rights when much of the problem lies with the legal industry whose members are intent on going their own way without the legislators, without the input from victims and certainly without the guidance from the national House of Commons.
Andy Mitchell Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON
Mr. Speaker, I would agree with the hon. member for Fraser Valley West which may be a first and perhaps a last. I do not agree with the opinions of the legal people he quoted.
Many of the lawyers and judges I have talked to who operate in my riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka share the feelings I have just expressed about the concern toward victims and their rights.
The member asked how we should go about this. The House of Commons has to set the national standard. My suggestion is that it be placed in the preamble of the Criminal Code. However, I suspect the justice committee will look at many options. The preamble should clearly state the national will. That is what this Parliament is all about, stating the national will through its elected representatives.
The preamble should state that we believe the rights of victims are important, that they are of primary concern to us as a country, that they are of primary concern to us as parliamentarians. We want to ensure that when people look to the Criminal Code for guidance, they will find the rights of victims in the code.
Prince Albert—Churchill River
Gordon Kirkby Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to address this motion on victims rights.
We have heard the expression of support for the motion which has been put forward by the Minister of Justice. It is his personal intention to support the motion. Other members of the House will no doubt do likewise. It is the stated position of the minister to bring forward in a meeting of the federal and provincial ministers a proposal for the reaffirmation of the principles either as have been previously enunciated or as can be improved upon by the suggestions made by a number of the members of the House.
The original principles governing the principles of justice for victims of crime were originally set forward in 1988. They were as follows.
Victims should be treated with courtesy, compassion and with respect for their dignity and privacy and should suffer the minimum of necessary inconvenience from their involvement with the criminal justice system.
Victims should receive through formal and informal procedures prompt and fair redress for the harm which they have suffered. Information regarding the remedies and mechanisms to obtain them should be made available to the victims. Information should be made available to the victims about their participation in criminal proceedings and the scheduling, progress and ultimate disposition of the proceedings.
Where appropriate the views and concerns of victims should be ascertained and assistance provided throughout the criminal process. Where the personal interests of the victim are affected, the views or concerns of the victim should be brought to the attention of the court where appropriate and consistent with criminal law and procedure.
Measures should also be taken when necessary to ensure the safety of victims and their families and protect them from intimidation and retaliation. Enhanced training should be made available to sensitize criminal justice personnel to the needs and concerns of victims and guidelines developed where appropriate for this purpose.
Victims should be informed of the availability of health and social services and other relevant assistance so that they might continue to receive the necessary medical, psychological and social assistance through existing programs and services.
Victims should report the crime and co-operate with law enforcement authorities.
These are the principles that were agreed upon by the federal and provincial ministers responsible for criminal justice.
Since 1988 and in an effort to bring these principles into reality, the federal government has enacted a number of pieces of legislation to enhance the role of the victims within the criminal procedure of the land and throughout the process so that they will indeed not be victimized twice but rather will feel as much as possible a part of the process.
In addition to federal action, provincial governments across the land which have the constitutional authority for the administration of justice and the constitutional duty to administer justice have introduced in a number of cases provincial statutes dealing specifically with victims of crime and how they are dealt with throughout the process of the administration of justice. In addition to that, a number of programs have been put forward by provincial governments across this land in conjunction with communities to better enhance and protect victims throughout the criminal justice procedure.
In my own community of Prince Albert, funding from the provincial level is made available to the community. The community working in conjunction with the police and the justice system has developed a program to better assist victims of crime through the court procedure and subsequent to it.
All across the country steps like this are being taken. More public awareness is being focused on the needs of the victims by victims groups and communities. Certainly this field is evolving. We all want to do our part at the federal level, at the provincial level, at the municipal level, at the community level and at the individual level to assist this evolution. In these times of very tight resources for all levels of government while it is difficult to do immediately all we would like to do, the process which is in place to enhance the role of victims, to protect victims of crime and to ensure their healing as much as possible in a timely fashion will continue.
In addition to assisting victims of crime, perhaps some of the best ways to ensure a reduction in victimization is with the co-operation of all levels of government to look more seriously at the prevention of crime.
First would be looking at and eradicating the social conditions which lead to crime. More and more people and communities are turning to early intervention in the lives of young people to work with them before they end up in conflict with the law and start down the path to a life of crime. This is a very productive form of prevention which in the long run will reduce the number of victims within our society.
In addition, it is important to introduce and pass appropriate pieces of criminal justice legislation which will make it very clear to the population what types of behaviour are not to be tolerated. The types of behaviour which are not to be tolerated must be given appropriate negative sanctions so that crime can be deterred.
But sadly, crimes are committed. We need to deal with victims of crime to ensure their involvement with the justice system, while it can never be painless or easy, is made as easy as possible in some sense. The government has enacted a number of very specific provisions which deal with victims of crime and their involvement with the justice system.
For instance, amendments have been put forward to section 745 of the Criminal Code. When there is a section 745 application, victim impact statements will be considered. This is a positive step in the right direction. Both the Criminal Code and the Young Offenders Act now require that victim impact statements where available be heard by the courts. This is yet another positive development. In some cases it is appropriate to have the identity of victims of crime protected throughout a criminal proceeding. Those amendments have been brought forward.
Power has been given to police for instance in the gun control legislation, under appropriate circumstances to remove firearms from the house of an individual who has shown violent behaviour or who has threatened individuals. Thus, the likelihood of harm from firearms would be reduced. This also assists the victims of crime.
The department is also reviewing a number of other areas in which to assist victims of crime such as when the therapeutic records of victims of crime would be released to the courts.
All of these areas have been looked at, introduced or are under active review by the department. It is important that we cannot pick and choose remedies we want to bring forward to assist victims of crime. We need to support provisions such as gun control which victims groups across the country want and applaud.
Although it may be tough, we cannot back away from assisting the victims of crime. Whether it is introducing the appropriate criminal justice statutes, whether it is establishing the proper prevention programs or whether it is establishing a victims bill of rights which would more clearly delineate how victims are dealt with in the justice system, all these issues need to be dealt with.
Certainly the minister will be supporting this motion. It is imperative that all levels work together, the federal and provincial governments, and the communities through whatever means, volunteerism, et cetera to each do our part to assist victims of crime. I thank the hon. member for putting forward the motion.
Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC
Mr. Speaker, the reality in this country is very different from what the Liberal Party has been putting forth. The reality is that violent crime, particularly among youth, is increasing faster than any other aspect of crime.
The Liberals promised to deal with the Young Offenders Act in a substantive and effective fashion before it became the government. Have we seen anything? Absolutely not. We have seen pabulum come through the justice department when it comes to dealing with young offenders.
I ask my hon. friend from the Liberal government to name some substantive and effective legislation the government has put forth to decrease youth and violent crime. If this is being put forth, I would like him to explain to the House why it has not decreased violent crime one iota.
Gordon Kirkby Prince Albert—Churchill River, SK
Mr. Speaker, contrary to the statements put forward by the hon. member that nothing has been done by the government with respect to the Young Offenders Act, I can assure the House and the people of Canada this government has taken steps to deal with the most serious of young offenders crimes.
First of all, for the most serious crimes, the penalties under the Young Offenders Act have been toughened. There is no doubt about that. It has happened.
With respect to whether or not 16 or 17 year olds will appear in adult court, the onus that used to be in place has been reversed. Now the situation is that young offenders 16 and 17 years of age will be in adult court unless they can prove they should be tried in youth court. The situation used to be the opposite. The presumption had been that 16 and 17 year olds would be tried in youth court.
In addition to that, a review of the Young Offenders Act by the justice and legal affairs committee continues. Hon. members of the Reform Party are involved in that. The committee will be visiting five regions of the country. Last week the committee completed the first leg of its journey when it visited the maritimes to hear what people thought about the Young Offenders Act with a view to making further changes.
This government is committed to hearing input from people across the country which is not the style of the members opposite. They like to do things and forget about what the people think. This government likes to listen to the people and the justice and legal affairs committee will be doing that over the next little while. It will be recommending further changes to the Young Offenders Act for consideration by the justice minister. In addition, the federal-provincial task force on young offenders, the officials and ministers, will also be making recommendations to the federal minister.
A number of very succinct and proper measures have been taken by this government. Every single time we bring forward something to assist the victims, whether it is Bill C-41, whether it is changes to section 745 or whether it is changes to the Young Offenders Act, the Reform Party votes against it.
Paul Forseth New Westminster—Burnaby, BC
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak on the motion concerning victims' rights tendered by the member for Fraser Valley West. I urge the Minister of Justice to create a national standard for victims of crime.
We are calling for a fundamental change in the operation of the Criminal Code. It is a natural evolution of the movement for justice system accountability and a re-examination of the primary operational goals of the criminal justice system in Canada. Victims have a right to be informed of their rights at every stage of the justice process, including those rights involving compensation from the offender. They must also be made aware of any victim services available.
On February 29 of this year, my colleague organized a victims' rights rally in Abbotsford, British Columbia. As I surveyed the faces in the crowd, I felt a visceral response from them, an urgent dissatisfaction with Canada's institutional response to crime and how we as society handle offenders in comparison with those innocents who are left in the offender's wake. It is clear to me that the way the criminal justice operations work does not represent mainstream Canadian values.
Constituents of mine from New Westminster-Burnaby have written to the Minister of Justice. They have submitted petitions which I have dutifully presented to the government in the House. Sadly, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice do not seem to feel the same deep sense of wrong and urgency, to make the order of fundamental change that is required to assuage the community and respond to Canada's sense of what is right.
What is required is a basic rebuilding of the justice system from its fundamental pillars. Central to that change must be that the system must no longer be so offender focused. That is the old agenda of the system defenders, the Liberals and Conservatives who gave us the justice system we have today. The community is demanding that system changers come forward who have an openness to rethink and remake our response to crime.
This past while I have had the privilege of introducing several private member's bills in the House. They arise from my longstanding sensitivity to victims' issues. The message of victims has not been self-centred or full of retribution or revenge. Their concern is a search for meaning of their circumstance and a hope that changes will arise to prevent others from needlessly going through what they have experienced, that mostly came from the justice system itself, while they were in the midst of their pain and loss.
As a former officer of the court, I have heard many stories from victims. I have observed firsthand how the labyrinthine system operates and how the disconnected parts work in their compartments without a unifying mission or a mandate.
I made a promise to my constituents that I would try, among other things, to make a difference in the way victims of crime are treated, the way they are regarded and how they are positioned in law. It is time to move beyond community volunteer programs, as important as they may be, and write into the law the position of the victim from the beginning to the end.
On March 27 of this year I introduced private member's Bill C-247. I had received complaints that some persons were causing public disturbances and destroying an important part of community living, the places enjoyed by families. The victims in this case are the local communities across the country, especially for the liveability for young children. What is frustrating is that those causing the public disturbance, causing mothers to hang on to their children tightly as they pass them by and having merchants experience the social life of commerce turned into a danger zone, that these perpetrators are not controlled.
We are well aware that our local shopping malls, community centres, sports arenas and libraries are popular hangouts for youths who want to be rather negative. In particular, the most popular spot to hang out in a mall is in the food court where the action is of people traffic.
If the problem ensues and the mall security guard is forced to remove a person, a little known fact is that the person being removed is permitted by law to re-enter immediately, provided there is no resistance in the removal and no charge develops. There is nothing that the security guard can do but to continue to ask the person to leave.
Why do we have such a loophole in the Criminal Code? It is because the community as victim in this situation is not regarded as highly as the nuisance-maker and show off, the destroyer of community peace and order.
The property owner is being victimized because the Criminal Code is full of holes, the same holes that the Minister of Justice says do not exist.
In my riding, the New Westminster police have a storefront office in the Westminster Mall as part of their community policing program. Members of the force have told me that their hands are tied in such a situation. They cannot do a thing unless the Criminal Code is changed.
Every town in this country daily struggles with public order and millions are spent for security guards and monitoring systems
because the local community, as a victim, is not important to the government. My small bill on this matter will solve the problem for communities in that situation.
When Reform members bring forward private members' bills they are serious attempts, not media stunts. We want to make Canada a safer place in which to live. We want people to have the ability to walk the streets in safety. We want Canadians to know that their rights are being respected. Most importantly, we want to ensure that victims of crime do not become pushed to the sidelines and receive little help while the perpetrator receives most of the resources of government help.
In the previous session of this Parliament, I introduced Bill C-323, an act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (order of discharge). The way the act currently stands, an offender can be released from having to pay any damages arising from assault, awarded in a civil lawsuit, if the offender claims bankruptcy.
When my Bill C-323 was before the House for second reading debate on December 8, 1996, government members were very supportive of my amendments to the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and indicated so in their speeches.
The member for Lambtom-Middlesex stated: "This is an excellent amendment. I commend the hon. member for New Westminster-Burnaby for it. I would like to see the same principle applied to all categories listed in section 178, not just the assault cases".
The member for Nickel Belt stated: "This legislation is a clear example of a good idea whose time has come. We all know that the hon. member for New Westminster-Burnaby has hit upon an excellent idea and a worthy amendment and we all want to see it incorporated in the law as soon as possible".
Finally, the member for Durham stated: "The bill presented by the member is a good one and deserves the support of the House. I would be happy to support the member in that initiative".
The words of these members are encouraging and I hope I will be able to count on their votes when my amendment is raised in the industry committee.
Today's motion is to implement a victims' bill of rights. That is really no different in principle from moving an amendment to the bankruptcy act. Both would assist victims and both would make Canada a safer place to live.
If Liberal members chose to vote against today's motion or work to dilute it, they will be telling their constituents that victims' rights are not paramount. For I assert that the notion of equal balance between victim and offender is a mistaken one and is not supported by Canadians.
A victims' bill of rights is a good way to begin the process of the hundreds of adjustments to the system that need to be made at all levels of government so there develops a unifying theme around which the justice system can operate. Peace and community order, protecting it and restoring it on behalf of victims can be a unifying theme.
Those who are in conflict with society and affected by sanctions of the Criminal Code can be offered paths to community restoration by fulfilling the obligations of punishment in all its complexity.
I recommend a thoughtful reflection of the deeper philosophical implications of what is being brought to the House by this motion. Let there be light. Let there be some insight. The light shines in the darkness and darkness comprehends it not. May light overcome the darkness and may we become more positive system changers instead of remaining mere system defenders.
Canadians deserve better than our current justice system and today's motion is the place to start.
Prince Albert—Churchill River
Gordon Kirkby Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for putting his points forward.
As is currently the case, a number of provinces have put forward victims' rights legislation and have through the use of various mechanisms raised money for the provision of services to victims within provincial jurisdictions. They have utilized the victims of crime surcharge which can be placed on fines which are collected for Criminal Code offences and have raised money in that respect. They have put in place services for victims.
I believe there is room for the federal government to work with the provinces in this regard.
I am curious why Reform Party members, who are usually so "let the provinces do everything and the federal government do nothing" are suggesting that the federal government do everything. What would they do with the work that is already done by the provinces? Have they consulted with the provinces on what action the federal government would take? Have they agreement among the provinces on what action the federal government should take so that it is not imposing costs on them?
In addition, how would the Reform Party handle the costs to the system that could be imposed?
Paul Forseth New Westminster—Burnaby, BC
Mr. Speaker, it is a matter of cost, it is a matter of priority and a social philosophy of what you see as particularly important.
We are looking beyond the volunteer status of victims' services. I have three victims' services programs running in my riding. One operates out of the RCMP detachment with a retired staff sergeant in charge. He has about 40 volunteers on his list.
In New Westminster a volunteer victim services program is attached to the police. One also operates out of the crown counsel's office. They get some grant money from time to time but basically they are run on a volunteer basis at the discretion of a justice system that goes from the top to the bottom.
We are talking about moving beyond that. It is something like the movement we had years ago when the Mothers of Drunk Drivers program became popular and reported in the news media. Those mothers began to sit in the back of courtrooms on a volunteer basis to provide pressure. Eventually the justice system ever so slowly responded and it is a different situation that we have now than 25 years ago.
What we are suggesting is that it is time to move beyond volunteer services, perhaps even look at the Constitution. Victims need status in the law and in the overall operation of the justice system. We say that as far as the responsibility of the federal government is concerned, build the law and the victims' services will come.