House of Commons Hansard #233 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was victims.

Topics

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member asked if that question was to be answered before a possible adjournment in June. The answer to that is yes.

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Shall the remaining questions stand?

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-79, an act to amend the Criminal Code (victims of crime) and another act in consequence, be read the third time and passed.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Halton
Ontario

Liberal

Julian Reed Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to once again reinforce some of the aspects of these amendments that we believe will enhance the justice system in the country.

Bill C-79 amendments will enhance and expand the opportunities for victims of crime to make a victim impact statement and will address the manner in which the statement can be made.

When determining the appropriate sentence to impose on an offender, the judge takes into account a range of considerations related to both the particular offender and to the offence, and is guided by the purposes and principles of sentencing set out in the code and the penalties set out in the code, including any applicable mandatory minimum.

The victim impact statement must be considered by the sentencing judge along with all other relevant information. The statement is a description of the harm done or the loss suffered by the victim. In other words, the impact from their personal point of view.

Bill C-79 makes several important changes to the impact statement provisions. For example, the amendments will make it clear that it is the victim's choice whether to read his or her victim impact statement. Note that the current code provisions require the judge to consider the written victim impact statement which has been prepared and filed.

This will continue to be the case. In other words, when a victim does not choose to present the statement orally, the judge will still be required to consider the written statement. It is always the victim's choice whether to prepare a victim impact statement and some may not wish to do so.

There may be situations where the victim seeks to present his or her statement in another manner, for example by video or audio tape or through a third person. In these situations the judge will determine if that type of presentation is appropriate.

The amendments will also require that a judge make inquiries after a determination of guilt and before sentencing as to whether a victim has been informed of the opportunity to prepare a victim impact statement. In most cases the judge will direct the inquiry to the crown attorney, who should be aware of the prevailing policy in the jurisdiction for advising victims about victim impact statements. For example, in some jurisdictions the police may provide a card to all victims they come into contact with which refers victims to victim witness services and/or which refers to the victim impact statement program, or the crown may have a notation in the file that the victim has indeed been advised.

The amendment is intended to provide one last check on the information a victim should have received. The ability to prepare and submit a victim impact statement is of little benefit to a victim if the victim is not aware of these provisions. We note that it is always the victim's choice whether to prepare an impact statement. Some victims will be advised of the opportunity and may choose not to prepare such a statement. However, the choice cannot be made without adequate information. In some cases an adjournment may be necessary to permit the victim to be notified and a statement prepared. The amendments will specifically authorize such adjournments.

Victim impact statements will also be available to victims where the offender is found not criminally responsible for the offence committed. Currently, when an accused person is found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder, there is no opportunity for the victim to describe the impact of the offence. This is because a mentally disordered accused is not sentenced because they are not criminally responsible.

The current victim impact provisions only apply at sentencing proceedings. The reality, though, is that victims of mentally disordered offenders are victims of crime and should have a similar opportunity to describe the impact. The amendments will therefore provide that, following a verdict of not criminally responsible on account of a mental disorder, a victim may prepare and file a statement. The statement will be considered by the court or by the Criminal Code Review Board when making the initial disposition regarding the mentally disordered accused.

The Criminal Code includes a complete part dealing with mentally disordered offenders and sets out criteria for making dispositions. The victim impact statement shall be considered in the context of those criteria and, in the case where a conditional discharge is appropriate, the statement shall be considered in determining the appropriate conditions.

Another significant development that has emerged from the growing acceptance of the principle that offenders should acknowledge the harm done to victims and the community is the emergence of community impact statements. Community impact statements, although not legislated, are gaining acceptance as a means by which the community has a voice in the criminal justice system. This concept grew out of the increasing acceptance of victim impact statements as a valid and worthwhile role for victims to play at sentencing proceedings.

The amendments to enhance victim involvement at sentencing through the victim impact statement recognize that crime has an impact on real people. Community involvement in crime prevention, victim advocacy and, as mentioned, community impact statements demonstrate that the people of Canada are committed to improving the justice system. Bill C-79 demonstrates that the government shares that commitment.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Cadman Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure for me to speak to this bill today. After years of frustration on the part of victims of crime all across Canada, after years of promises, after years of pressure from the Reform Party and after repeated failure of the government to properly address its supposed priority of the issue of victims rights, we appear to be on the home stretch.

We are now at third reading and hopefully we will be voting on Bill C-79 before the government decides to break for the summer recess. Hopefully this legislation will pass from this place to the other place, which hopefully again will give it a high priority and pass it in relatively short order.

As I have stated, victims have been waiting for years for the formalization of legislated rights for their interests. As I have also stated, we are almost there, but each and every day that Canadians are deprived of the effect of this legislation means that victims are continuing to be deprived of specified rights. Each and every day victims are continuing to be disregarded and abused by our justice system. It is a travesty that victims of crime are further victimized by the very system supposedly designed to bring and maintain justice in this country. Until effective rights are provided we will continue to witness instances of further injustice.

I will not be critical of the entire process. I acknowledge and I appreciate the work of my colleagues on the justice committee. While we do not always see eye to eye, we did recognize and accept the necessity to expeditiously prepare the committee report entitled “Victims Rights'—A Voice, Not a Veto” which formed the basis of this legislation.

The report and the subsequent legislation are a tribute to Shaughnessy Cohen who chaired the committee and created the spirit of co-operation to achieve this objective. I must add that I first met Shaughnessy long before I was elected to this place, at a time not long after my family became unwilling participants in the criminal justice system. Although we differed on some things, I hold nothing but the deepest respect for Shaughnessy's compassion and her commitment toward this issue. The committee expedited the process once Bill C-79 was passed at second reading and referred for review.

I would also be remiss if I did not thank all witnesses who appeared before the committee and the individuals and organizations that provided written submissions.

I would also like to thank all those individuals who participated in the national forum on victims' roles in the criminal justice system held in Ottawa in June 1998. All of those individuals and organizations were invaluable in helping the committee to form a consensus on many of the shortcomings which exist in our justice process with respect to victims of crime.

So that the Liberal government does not get too complacent, I will move back to the area of criticism on the shortcomings of this legislation.

First, as stated previously, it is unfortunate that the government did not see fit to address the recommendations of the justice committee concerning amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. A number of important rights for victims need to be addressed in the area of corrections and parole. This has not been done and there is little indication that the issue is on the government's immediate agenda. It is difficult to understand why it has to be continually pressured and pushed into amending our laws to provide for the interests and rights of victims of crime.

The government has used the excuse that the justice committee is currently undertaking a review of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. That is just a red herring. There is absolutely nothing to deter the government from incorporating changes to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act within Bill C-79.

As a result, one must ask whether victims rights are really a priority to the government. The government only did what it had to do. The government had to respond to the committee report, but it did so no more than it had to. For some unfathomable reason it has decided to put off victims rights in the corrections and parole fields until another day, another year, or possibly even another decade. Hopefully it will at least be a millennium project. This delay is most unfortunate.

Second, this legislation fails to apply the victim fine surcharge to the Young Offenders Act. Why? I certainly do not know. The justice committee report recommended that young offenders be included within the victim fine surcharge scheme. The federal-provincial-territorial working group recommended permitting surcharge orders against young offenders. Alberta, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island and Ontario are on written record as supporting victim fine surcharges for young offenders. However, the government chooses to ignore all of this strong support.

During fiscal year 1994-95 there were a total of 4,472 cases across Canada where a fine was the most significant disposition by our youth courts. Some 87% of these fines were between $50 and $500. Surely, if these young offenders can pay these fines, they can pay the minimal surcharge as laid out in Bill C-79.

Young offenders create victims in the same way as adults. It is indeed puzzling why the government seems to feel that young offenders should not be held to the same level of responsibility toward providing assistance to the victims of their crimes as anybody else. It is no wonder that Canadians are losing faith in our justice system.

A third aspect that I wish to discuss happens to involve the highly inflammatory issue of subsection 745.6, the faint hope clause. Once again the government is amending section 745. Instead of scrapping it entirely, it continues to tinker with the provision of our law that appears to be only acceptable to murderers and members of the Liberal Party.

I will admit that the provisions in Bill C-79 improve this situation somewhat. Clause 21 finally forces the justice process to be a little more honest or upfront with victims and the Canadian public. Judges will be required to pronounce at the time of sentencing that a sentence of imprisonment for life may not necessarily be just that. Now everybody in the courtroom at sentencing will know that, in the case of first degree murder, the supposedly mandatory 25 years before parole eligibility could be significantly reduced at a time in the future when everybody but the family members have forgotten about the crime.

Why does this government continue to try to make essentially a silk purse out of a sow's ear? Subsection 745.6 is bad law, plain and simple, but instead of scrapping it altogether, every year or two the government tinkers with it some more in an attempt to make it more palatable to Canadians.

Just a couple of years ago, with Bill C-45, the government changed this section in an attempt to limit and restrict multiple murderers from benefiting from this faint hope provision. Now, in Bill C-79, after some 20-odd years, it has decided that the practice of telling Canadians that murderers are sentenced to life imprisonment with no chance of parole for 25 years has not been entirely upfront. Victims will now at least be informed of subsection 745.6 which permits early parole for our most serious offenders. However, anyway we cut it, it is still bad law.

I will now take a few moments to sum up this legislation. It is a good start, but it is just that, a good start. Our justice system falls over backward to ensure and protect all the rights of all our criminals and that is fine. It sets Canada apart from most other countries of the world and reflects the fairness and equity of our society. Having said that, we can also say that we have been woefully negligent in ensuring and protecting the rights of the victims of crime. We have been too quick to use the excuse of the division of powers between the federal government and the provinces to rationalize these deficiencies. Hopefully Bill C-79 will see the beginning of co-operation between the two levels of government so that victims of crime do not continue to fall through the cracks.

As I have indicated, I am disappointed with the government for its failure to address the justice committee's recommendations concerning the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. With a little intestinal fortitude the government could have easily incorporated those recommendations within this legislation. As a member of the official opposition I will continue to pressure the government to fulfil its promises in this regard.

The government's failure to include young offenders within the victim fine surcharge scheme makes absolutely no sense. The government appears to view victims of young offender crime as being somewhat less significant than other victims.

The faint hope clause still lives. The tinkering continues but the primary problem still remains. Hopefully one of these days the government will get tired of skating around the issue and will instead send it off to the scrap heap where it belongs.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in this debate at third reading on Bill C-79, an act to amend the Criminal Code respecting victims of crime.

There is no question that the loss and financial hardship suffered by victims of violent crime can be crushing. Often insurance, unemployment, pension or welfare plans, or court ordered restitution or damages are unavailable.

I want to mention that in 1970 Manitoba's New Democrats introduced one of Canada's first victim compensation programs and it has been considered one of Canada's fairest. However, victims of crime have looked to the federal government to further ensure that their rights be recognized.

This bill and the amendments are without question supported and have been requested for some time by victims of crime as well as the large majority of Canadians. It is my hope as well as that of my caucus colleagues that the Minister of Justice along with her government do not delay in implementing this bill as they have done with so many others.

The justice committee has recommended credible changes on this bill. With regard to the delays by the justice department I want to note that the joint Senate and House of Commons committee on custody and access has made important and credible recommendations and it is unconscionable that the Minister of Justice has made the statement outright that it will take three years before there is any kind of implementation of those recommendations.

It is time the Minister of Justice recognized that Canadians no longer have faith in our justice system. The defence of provocation that came up in the discussions earlier today is another issue that is on the block for the Minister of Justice to look at. We can only wonder how long it is going to take for action in that area.

I want to summarize the amendments to ensure that Canadians really know what this bill entails. They provide that all offenders must pay a victim surcharge of a fixed minimum amount except where the offender establishes undue hardship and provide for increased amounts to be imposed in appropriate circumstances. This will increase provincial and territorial revenues to allow them to improve services currently provided to victims.

It is absolutely important that the provinces follow along in this light. What has happened since the Conservative government in the province of Manitoba took office some years back, it has literally gutted the dollars that have gone into the program. As well its failure to follow through on collecting the fines has left that program terribly short of the funds it needs to provide victims with the services that should be there.

The amendments ensure that victims are informed of their opportunity to prepare a victim impact statement at the time of sentencing. This seems pretty straightforward but it is one of those things that so often is failed to be followed through on, a simple statement of letting the victim know.

Amendments also ensure the victims have the choice to read the victim impact statement aloud. They require the impact statements to be considered by courts and review boards following a verdict of not criminally responsible on account of a mental disorder. They extend to victims of sexual or violent crime up to age 18 protections that restrict personal cross-examinations by self-represented accused persons. There is no question that this is a very important amendment. We have seen numerous instances where the victim is once again victimized by their perpetrator and they have to go through the anguish all over again.

Police officers and judges will be required to consider the victim's safety in all bail orders. That is extremely important. The amendments clarify that at court proceedings to determine whether an offender who is sentenced to life should have his or her parole eligibility reduced, the information provided by the victim may be oral or written at the option of the victim. This allows them the opportunity not to be victimized again.

Another amendment would allow victims and witnesses with a mental or physical disability to have a support person while giving testimony. This is something a lot of Canadians thought automatically happened but that has not been the case.

The amendments will make it easier for victims and witnesses to participate in trials by permitting the judge to ban publication of their identity where it is necessary for the administration of justice.

My party supports the overall intention of this legislation as it will give victims and witnesses of crime a much greater role in the criminal justice system and will increase safeguards of protection. While that is very important, it is also important for us that it will not infringe on the rights of the accused to have a fair trial. We are convinced that these amendments in the legislation will not infringe on those rights.

With that in mind and with the number of comments that have been made here today, I think it is extremely important that we follow through on this legislation. We must also be vigilant in ensuring that the Minister of Justice, her department and this government as a whole do not continually shirk their duty to the people of Canada and put in place laws that truly reflect and represent all Canadians.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in this debate and to follow the remarks of the hon. member. She obviously has a great deal of insight into this issue.

It is fair to say it is a very significant and timely issue when we are speaking of victims rights. Sadly our news is often filled with tragedies involving victims. I speak of most recently the Kosovars who find themselves displaced because of an extremely cruel and malicious government. I speak of the victims in the Littleton, Colorado tragedy and those in Taber, Alberta. I speak of victims like Sheldon Kennedy. I speak of victims like those in the Toronto Maple Leaf Gardens scandal.

Our news is often filled with heart-wrenching tragedies that surround victims and their lives. There is certainly a highlighted need for legislative initiatives that address these types of issues.

As is stated in the report itself and in its title which is quite appropriately “A Voice, Not a Veto”, victims are not looking to upset the balance that has to exist and the implicit degree of fairness that the scales of justice represent. The victims are not looking for an ability to overturn the rights of presumption of innocence or in any way to offset the entire justice system in terms of how they deal with an accused person in the first instance.

There is a need however that victims have to seek recognition and at times retribution from those who prey upon them. I feel this legislation moves forward but does not go as far as it possibly could or should. However it takes a significant step forward and there is that recognition that is ever present and ever important in our justice system.

We have seen in many instances the prosecution of cases that take a tremendous amount of time. Delay is often described as the deadliest form of denial. Victims need to have an assurance that justice will be done in a timely fashion and in such a way that they feel the state has intervened appropriately and in a way that is compassionate and understanding not only of the strict, sanitized, sterile legal necessities, but of those humane aspects that are involved in criminal activity and victimization. There is a need to give that assurance and the legislation makes strides in that direction.

The Progressive Conservative Party wholeheartedly supports this legislation. We were active in the round table that took place last summer. We were active at the committee with respect to the study of this legislation. Numerous witnesses gave their testimony in a very forthright and succinct way. They cried out for change and cried out for a law that will perhaps streamline our justice system.

There is the ever present need to get away from lengthy bureaucratic and sometimes cumbersome language that pollutes our Criminal Code and much of the legislation we deal with particularly when it comes to matters of criminal justice. Because of the lengthy delays that are often involved, justice in the end is denied if it is not brought forward.

That is what members of the opposition and members of the Progressive Conservative Party were trying to do when amendments were moved this morning. I resent in some way the suggestion that it was anything other than a sincere attempt to improve this legislation. There was no disingenuous intent whatsoever in trying to define the language that will eventually be in the hands of the courts and the prosecution and the defence. It was simply an attempt to simplify and to put a more succinct definition forward when it comes to the implementation of some of the changes we will see as a result of Bill C-79.

There is one other glaring omission that I have to point out with respect to Bill C-79. It is the refusal of the Minister of Justice and the government itself to acknowledge the need for a victims ombudsman office. The office would be modelled on that of the correctional investigator.

I find it more than perverse that we have an office budgeted for the sole needs and protection and furtherance of criminals who are currently paying their debt to society incarcerated behind bars. I am not saying they do not need that protection at times, but we do not have a similar office set up for those who are victimized by those same individuals who are currently incarcerated. I find that an affront to everything that is true about our justice system.

There has been some discussion about the need for this and although I believe the Minister of Justice does have some sensitivity and fairness to this and although I believe the late Shaughnessy Cohen also supported the government's moving in this direction, we have not reached that point. I believe it was a missed opportunity under this legislation.

Politicians sometimes get bogged down with the legalities and politics of an issue and forget the human side. As an overall statement it is fair to say that the debates surrounding this legislation both in committee and here on the floor of the House of Commons have been fairly non-partisan in nature.

Bill C-79 is an attempt to give recognition to and to change and enhance some of the current laws, particularly when it comes to issues such as victim impact statements. As has been previously enunciated by other members, these statements are a very important part of the healing process and a part of the codified recognition victims play in a courtroom. It is an opportunity for them to speak directly to the judge, to all present, and equally important, to the accused. At the end of the day when a conviction has been rendered on the perpetrator in the matter, it is an attempt for the victim in some small way to put into words what the victim's ordeal has been. I suspect that for many this is a very important part of the healing process.

With all of that said, there are other problems in the justice system we are currently aware of that impact directly on victims. Some of those problems stem from areas outside of this particular legislative scheme.

I am speaking now of the difficulty within Correctional Service Canada. We know a very dangerous and insidious plan has been put forward and perpetrated on an unsuspecting public. I am talking about the 50% release plan that was dreamed up by some genius to see that 50% of the current inmate population is released back into society by next year.

It is a very dangerous thing when quotas are put in place and targets are put forward. One would suspect this to override the existing legislative safeguards, the existing criteria to be met in the decision on whether a person will be released from incarceration, particularly when one looks at the degree of violence and often the lengthy accumulation of a violent record that it takes for a person to eventually be found incarcerated in a federal institution.

I realize that is somewhat outside the gamut or the scope of what we are discussing today but it is something I find to be extremely alarming. It impacts on victims. We know the victim's plight does not end after a conviction has been rendered. It does not end after the person who has preyed upon the victim has been incarcerated. It continues.

Unfortunately there is an unbreakable link between a victim and the person who has perpetrated violence or some form of an injustice upon them. That link remains. It is not one the victim asked for or certainly desired but it is there and it is often lifelong and life altering.

Victims are spouses, children, parents, siblings and those not only affected in a direct physical way by the violence but the members of a family who are often left suffering in the wake of a direct attack on a loved one. They can also benefit from victims services and improvements in legislation that can impact directly on the delivery of victims services.

I refer to my comments about the need for a victims ombudsman office where direct information could be disseminated to victims, to those persons in need of information. It has been pointed out time and time again that one of the real downfalls of our justice system is our inability to get this information into the hands of those who need it most and those who wish to be informed and those who wish to be forewarned of the release of a person from incarceration.

With proper amendments, improvements could be made to this bill. However because of the need to bring it forward with the steps that have been taken, the Conservative Party will be supporting this bill when it comes to a vote in the House.

Our party certainly supports the entrenching of the victim surcharge that will be brought about as a result of this legislation. The fact that there will be financial compensation will never fully compensate a person for a crime that has been perpetrated, but it will at least be some recognition that a crime has been committed which has impacted upon a person. Although it does not compensate for the emotional and sometimes physical harm, it is a recognition that there is a loss. Sometimes a dollar figure will not be adequate but at least it is a recognition.

It is the hope of the Conservative Party, in fact I suggest the hope of all members, that this money will not be eaten up or misdirected in terms of cumbersome administration, but that the legislation will ensure that the money is in the hands and the pockets of those directly affected by criminal activity.

There is much to talk about in the area of victims and victims rights and the ability to bring victims into a system that is often very insensitive and sometimes very sterile when it comes to the approach taken to those who are most directly affected. However, in the interest of balance and the interest of protecting the integrity of the system, one has to be very leery of putting too much in motion. I am sometimes reticent to say that because this is a very emotional issue.

We heard testimony time and time again before the committee from victims themselves, from parents, and from those affected by the perpetration of crime. There is no denying that it is a very emotional issue. However, in the courtroom there is an attempt to sometimes remove or ignore the emotion in the interest of getting to the truth of the matter and moving a case through the court in perhaps a more timely fashion.

I would not say the bill was the brain child of any one particular person or any one party, but Shaughnessy Cohen's name is very closely associated with this government initiative, and rightly so. She worked as a crown prosecutor in the city of Windsor and was obviously an advocate of victims. It is very important that her name be inextricably attached to this legislative initiative.

The position of my party with respect to victims has been unwavering. In 1997 the election platform of the Conservative Party proposed the creation of a victims charter of rights. This is again not a new initiative, not something that one party can claim ownership of, but it is a recognition that certain inalienable rights have to be entrenched in our law to ensure that victims are protected.

There are very positive aspects of the bill with respect to the publication of the name of a victim or witness. Those initiatives are there for the protection of identity. They make very clear that victims oftentimes are in great jeopardy if their names are known publicly or published through some form of media. Protection and the ability to put into the hands of the court the tools to protect those whose names if published would be vulnerable is a very important initiative.

There is a great deal of jargon associated with the practice of law. Victims need information, particularly in matters such as parole ineligibility or eligibility and court proceedings. There is a significant effort now to ensure that the victim is given basic information on where they sit in a courtroom, what the proceedings mean, and what certain references and legal terms mean.

Victims services throughout the provinces will be enhanced by some of the initiatives in Bill C-79. In the constituency of Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough in my home province of Nova Scotia there are those who are currently involved in victims services. There are working very diligently and will be very thankful for this legislation. I am speaking of individuals like Judy Whitman, Coreen Popowich and many others involved in the furthering of victims rights.

This evening in Nova Scotia I am attending a fundraising event for the Tearmann society located in New Glasgow. It is a home for battered women. Once again I will be very pleased to bring word on the bill moving forward through the House in the fashion we have seen.

I do not have any further negative comments to make other than the fact that the legislation before us today is long overdue. The provinces have some concerns with respect to the consultation process, but we understand like others and like those who have spoken previously that any step forward is seen as a positive step. It is something that we do not intend in any way to hinder. We are trying to move it forward as quickly as possible.

Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario have increased the funding to victims services. If there is any other shortcoming it would be that the government has not necessarily provided the significant resources required for the implementation of some of the programs that will stem from the legislation. As well, the federal government should now be perhaps looking specifically at funding some of these programs and avoiding duplication with the provinces, which is again something that all of us would be very reticent if we did not point it out.

The Young Offenders Act has been revised and the new youth criminal justice act will be coming into effect at some point, I suspect in the fall of the coming year. It is very important that there be an attempt made to ensure that these two pieces of legislation work in unison. I am speaking now of the areas of victims services and their administration and the costs associated with victims who are preyed upon by violent youth.

Sadly, without getting into a long diatribe about the new youth criminal justice system, I am reticent to say that much of the need that has been identified time and time again in the shortcomings of the old youth justice act will not be met by the new legislation.

With respect to victim surcharges and with respect to the identification and protection of victims, these legislative initiatives will attach to the new youth criminal justice system and must be viewed in a positive light.

We have heard a number of graphic examples not only in the House but through the media. At committee level we have heard horror stories about individuals who were crying out for the attention and protection of this place through legislation: the courts that inevitably interpret and decide much of the law and our law enforcement agencies and our frontline workers like children's aid and social services, those tasked with the very weighty and sometimes extremely difficult task of delivering services. It is somewhat sad that we do not see a greater emphasis and a greater amount of priority placed on individuals on the frontline and in the trenches of the administration of laws such as Bill C-79.

To its credit the government has brought forward the legislation through the co-operation of members of the House and members of the committee. There are very positive initiatives that come from it. I know that victims advocates and victims themselves will be benefiting from the legislation when it becomes incorporated.

The Conservative Party of Canada continues in its commitment to furthering the rights of victims, to furthering the rights of those who are downtrodden in our justice system generally and are looking for positive change, in a non-partisan fashion.

I congratulate all those who have been involved in moving the legislation forward. We look forward to continued attempts to bring forward these types of positive initiatives. I caution the government that if this is not happening, through the diligence of this party we will try to bring these matters forward to ensure that Canadians get the protection they need, deserve and should expect from their government.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Reform

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central and in fact all Canadians to speak to Bill C-79, the government's proposal to change the Criminal Code to accommodate the rights of victims of crime.

I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca who is also equally keen to speak to the bill.

The victims bill of rights only came about because of the pressure and input of all members of the Reform Party. In the last parliament the hon. member for Langley—Abbotsford pursued a victims bill of rights. A Reform supply day motion was successfully passed in 1996 to cause the government to review and introduce legislation to improve federal laws to consider and recognize the rights of victims of crime. The hon. member for Surrey North was also responsible for many of the committee recommendations.

The bill does not go far enough. It is not what Canadians wanted. Obviously victims were not a priority to the Liberal government of the 36th parliament. The justice minister listed victims rights as one of her three top priorities, but despite that she has been stalling any action under the pretext of timely fashion.

Any time we ask her to take any action, or she is supposed to take any action, she has been using the excuse that she will be doing it in a timely fashion. I do not know how long the victims can wait for her timely fashion while the minister is sitting on her hands doing nothing.

Even though the bill does not go far enough we will take it. It is not what Canadians wanted but still we will take it. At least it is a start. The bill has not been changed since it was introduced by the government. Up until now it has yet to accept any amendments to the bill.

The government has dug in its heels and said the bill includes all the rights it is prepared to grant the victims of crime. That is not enough. We will continue to talk to the government until it places the rights of victims above the rights of the criminals in our criminal justice system.

The government has not done enough. Let us see what the government has not done in the bill. It has not incorporated changes to the corrections and parole systems which are quite important. Victims will still not have the right to participate in release hearings, be advised of escapes from custody, temporary absences and other important information that a victim of crime, particularly violent crime, would want to know in order to remain safe.

What about the people who have had to appear as a witness in a prosecution that resulted in a jail term for the guilty party? Let us say that an elderly person testifies that a certain person was the one who robbed him or her at knifepoint. Would that Canadian not be very concerned about when the aggressor is out of jail? Maybe the accuser would be afraid and would appreciate being alerted to the fact that the person who assaulted him or her was now out of jail.

Let us imagine that. Maybe the accused even threatened the accuser at the trail. We should protect the victim. It is not so difficult, as the amendments proposed by my colleague from Surrey North have demonstrated. Let us see some of the initiatives included in Bill C-79.

Victims are to be informed of their right to prepare a victim impact statement at the time of sentencing. That is good. Victims will have the choice to read the victim impact statement in court. Victims of sexual assault or violent crime up to the age of 18 years are to be protected from personal cross-examination by self-represented accused persons.

Another initiative included in Bill C-79 is that police officers and judges are to consider the safety of victims in all bail decisions.

These are some of the initiatives in the bill. There are some more that I will not elaborate on but probably I could mention one or two. Judges are required to inform the public of the possibility of section 745 applications for early parole for those who receive life sentences. I understand in private members' hour today we will be talking about consecutive sentencing. I will elaborate more then.

Victims and witnesses will have protection through banning publication of their identity where it is necessary for the proper administration of justice.

Some of the concerns have been taken care of in this bill. However, we are concerned about the definition of victims within the Criminal Code. We intend to pursue broadening the definition.

There is room for improvement. There is room for amendment. At least this is a step forward by the government in recognizing the rights of victims.

In conclusion, the government has done only half the job in looking out for the victims of crime. However, I will support this bill in the end and I will limit my comments so that I do not delay its passing one more minute.

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1 p.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, what initiatives does my colleague feel can be taken to ensure that victims have a greater say within our justice system? Does he feel the federal government should move away from focusing on the rehabilitation of criminals to protecting innocent civilians?

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1 p.m.

Reform

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question. There is a broad outlook of issues which are not included in this bill.

Particularly, the government has not incorporated changes to the corrections and parole system, as I mentioned. Also the victims will not have the right to participate in the release hearings. That is very important because there is information on temporary absences and other important information that a victim of crime, particularly violent crime, would want to know in order to remain safe.

There are a whole host of issues which I believe this bill should have included, but I am glad that it is a step forward. We will take the view that at least we are stepping ahead and this is a step forward toward achieving what we want to achieve.

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1 p.m.

Reform

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my hon. colleague allowing me to share his time.

Again I would like to compliment the hon. member for Surrey North on all the hard work that he and my colleagues have done in trying to change the justice system to make it a more realistic, pragmatic and effective justice system to ensure that there will be a balance: those people who are a danger to society will be dealt with strongly and forcefully so they will not be able to victimize innocent civilians again and new initiatives can be utilized to prevent crime from occurring. That is something in which my colleagues and members of other political parties have been taking a leadership role. I hope that one day the government will listen.

Bill C-79 has some very important points in it in terms of ensuring that victims have rights. It ensures that we will be able to make a change to reverse what a Liberal government did some years ago. I want to bring to the attention of members that in the early 1980s the justice minister of the then Liberal government said “From now on we are going to change our justice system from one of protecting society to one of rehabilitating the criminal”. As a result, we have seen the faith of the public and the police forces in the system substantially eroded. It is our job to change that; not to do it in a grossly punitive and blind fashion, but to do it in a manner which strikes the balance that I spoke of earlier.

We have to ensure that victims have a greater role within the justice system than the convicted. In many cases we have seen convicted criminals who have greater access to social programs, rehabilitation and care than the people they victimized. I can tell members of some tragic cases of families, adults and children who have been victimized and left out in the cold alone with little or no help, while the person who victimized them receives the lion's share of the help.

We believe that should change. The first priority of the justice system should be the protection of innocent civilians. The second priority should be to ensure that those who have been victimized are taken care of and get the help which they require. The third priority should be to ensure that rehabilitation takes place so that we can break the cycle of crime, punishment and incarceration that we have been unsuccessful in accomplishing in so many unfortunate cases.

The other side of the coin is how we deal with people who are in the justice system now and what we can do to prevent these situations from occurring. I draw the attention of the House to the National Crime Prevention Council. This council was enacted by edict from the justice department. It has done excellent work in looking at ways in which we can prevent crime. I want to outline a pragmatic way of doing it, which is to implement a national headstart program.

This program was in a motion that was passed in the House last year. The motion was based upon existing programs that work, such as the Hawaii healthy start program, the Ypsilanti Perry preschool program and the Moncton headstart program which the Minister of Labour and her husband took a leadership role in constructing in 1974.

These programs are modelled under the premise that if we can ensure that children have in the first eight years of life their basic needs met, then those children have a greater chance of developing a normal psyche than those who are subjected to child abuse, violence or more subtle negative factors such as improper parenting.

If we ensure that children have their basic needs met, if we also ensure that parents have the parenting skills to be able to do the job, to raise their children in a well defined system with boundaries and good discipline, where their children are in a caring, loving and secure environment and where they have proper nutrition, then those children have the greatest opportunity of being well adjusted, productive, integrated members of society.

That is the model and the basis of the three programs that I mentioned. Do they work? Let us take a look.

In the Hawaii healthy start program the child abuse rate dropped 99%. What they did was very innovative, which I think we can do in our country. They brought mentors, women who had children and good parenting skills, and they linked them up with parents who had children at risk. By engaging in this mentoring program, by developing a trusting and secure relationship with these families, we saw a 99% reduction in child abuse, massive drops in drug abuse rates and an improvement in the socioeconomic welfare of these families. It was a huge saving for the taxpayer.

In the Perry preschool program, which has been in existence for some 30 years, there has been a $6 saving for every $1 invested. There has been a 50% reduction in youth crime. There has been a 40% reduction in teen pregnancy, which, as we know, unfortunately is usually a one-way route to poverty for both the mom and the baby. We have seen children stay in school longer, with less dependence on welfare, which again results in savings to the taxpayer of $6 for every $1 invested.

The Moncton headstart program, which the Minister of Labour championed with her husband, has shown similar effects. All three of these programs are based on the premise that if we work with parents and families, if we ensure that their basic needs are met and if we encourage them and teach them how to do this for their children, we have a better, more integrated, safer and productive society because individuals are able to develop their psyches in a normal fashion.

It is not a guarantee that this is going to happen by any stretch of the imagination, but the cold, hard facts prove that headstart works. If this government is serious about preventing crime, it can do this.

I am calling for over 70 groups in the country to put pressure on the federal government to enact a national headstart program using existing resources. We can use the medical community at time zero, because every pregnant woman goes to the doctor to have prenatal exams, and then we can address issues such as drug abuse. Hopefully by doing that we can prevent the devastating effects that fetal alcohol syndrome have on our society.

Secondly, we could use the mentoring programs in the middle years, from the time the child is born until about age four, and then use the school system between the ages of four and eight.

The Moncton program was ideal in that it brought parents into the school system. Parents came to the classroom once a week to learn basic essentials, such as proper discipline, setting boundaries and proper nutrition. They would learn that a bag of chips and Coca Cola is not dinner and is bad for the child.

That is what we are asking the federal government to do. That is what we are pushing for. We started a massive campaign last week to push the government to pursue this. It is a win-win situation for everybody.

I will digress a little on the issue of victims. As we said before, victims need rights. Victims need to be appropriately represented within the justice system. They do not at the present time have official status. My colleague from British Columbia, our House leader, has put forth a victims bill of rights that would entrench the rights of the victim. I hope the government pursues this because it is an act of fairness.

I also want to ensure that the government listens very clearly to us to ensure that victims get the care which they require because they are not getting it now. They are being excluded from the social services that they need to patch up the sometimes extraordinary damage that has been inflicted upon them through assault, rape, battery, abuse and so on.

We have an opportunity to truly put balance into the justice system. I hope the government takes it. I also hope that it listens to our judiciary. I hope it listens to the police departments who are saying very clearly, as the police chief from Vancouver said as a parting shot before he left, that we have a revolving door justice system. Criminals come into the justice system who have made some serious errors. Some of the hardest criminals go into the system and are tossed out the other end as quickly as they came in. Justice is not being served.

If we separate those high risk criminals who are dangerous to society and put the full force of the law against them, we will be saving people's lives. If we take the rest who are low risk people and try diversionary tactics, diversionary methods through the justice system, if we try alternative methods to ensure that they pay back and engage in restitution with their victims and society, we will have a chance of building a safer, fairer society for all.

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1:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is the House ready for the question?

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1:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

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1:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?