House of Commons Hansard #29 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was victims.

Topics

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Liberal

Raymond Bonin Nickel Belt, ON

moved that Bill C-243, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (establishment of the Office of Victims Ombudsman of Canada)be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

The Speaker

The Chair has examined Bill C-243, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (establishment of the Office of the Victims Ombudsman of Canada) to determine whether its provisions would require a royal recommendation and thus prevent the Chair from putting the question at third reading.

As its title suggests, this bill would create the position of victims ombudsman of Canada, with remuneration for such officers and employees as are necessary to perform the functions and duties. It is abundantly clear that this legislative initiative would authorize the spending of public funds. In accordance with Standing Order 79(2), such a bill must be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

Therefore, in its present form, I will decline to put the question on third reading unless a royal recommendation is received for this bill.

Today, the debate is on the motion for second reading which will continue as scheduled.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Raymond Bonin Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to speak today in the debate on private member's Bill C-243, which I have proposed and which creates the office of Victims Ombudsman of Canada.

The prime objective of this office, which will be completely independent from the Correctional Service of Canada and the National Parole Board, is to act as a voice and an advocate for the victims of crime. It will conduct investigations, reviews of Correctional Service or Parole Board policies and studies into the problems of victims related to decisions, recommendations, policies, acts or omissions of the service or the board.

Moreover, this bill will require the Victims Ombudsman to maintain a program for communicating information to victims concerning the function of the Victims Ombudsman and the circumstances under which an investigation, a review of Correctional Service or Parole Board policies or a study may be commenced by the Victims Ombudsman. Thus, the bill concerns the rights of victims and the way these rights are respected.

The purpose behind establishing the Victims Ombudsman is the same as for all other organizations sharing the principles of justice, fairness and administrative responsibility for victims, by requiring that the public servants in the Correctional Service and Parole Board be accountable to the Victims Ombudsman when one of their decisions is directly linked to an act that harms an individual.

I stand in the House today to offer legislation that would give victims of crimes a voice and an advocate in our correctional system. The bill is founded on four guiding principles.

First, the correctional system belongs to Canadians, to our society. It is run by officials for the people of Canada. It does not belong to those officials, no matter what their professional credentials.

Second, for justice to be done it must be seen to be done. Under the current system, once an accused is convicted, custody is transferred to a correctional system that offers very little information on how sentences are served.

Corrections officials would have us believe that this process is best, that they know best, to trust them, and that they have an obligation to protect the privacy of inmates.

Others see it in another way. It is a convenient way to make decisions that cannot be justified to the public and certainly a more convenient forum in which to hide mistakes. And by way of leaks and reports provided to reporters, we know that there are mistakes.

All we have to do is look at the case of Michael Hector, who was released from penitentiary and then murdered three people. What of the case of Constable Joe MacDonald, who was executed by two individuals, Suzack and Pennett? A few short years after his conviction, Suzack was transferred from maximum to medium security. Joe MacDonald's family and the community were hurt, offended and outraged, but that did not matter to corrections officials who believed they knew better, so nothing was done.

Third, Canadians are reasonable, intelligent and wise. They understand fair play. They understand the importance of rehabilitation and can distinguish between a proper and improper way of administering a sentence.

The air of secrecy surrounding how sentences are served and administered only fuels distrust of our corrections system. Open the doors and windows into the system and it will be found that Canadians will support reasoned approaches to corrections and some of that distrust will fade away. In the end, a better system will emerge.

Finally, and most important, victims want and need a voice and advocate in the corrections system. When a crime is committed, public policy dictates that it is to be prosecuted and treated as a crime against society. That is a fair way to proceed to ensure a fair and just penal system as long as we stop to consider the individual who has actually suffered the loss and hurt. That individual and that individual's family carry the physical and emotional burden of the crime. Any fair and just system must take those views into consideration, notably in the administration of a court ordered sentence.

In my life, I have met victims and their families. Those meetings are not easy and can be very emotional. However, it has always struck me that their requests are so very simple: explain the process to me; keep me informed; who can I talk to when I have a question; and, how and when are my needs and views taken into account?

For whatever reason, the federal corrections system has failed to adequately respond to victims on all those matters. How do I know? Victims have had to contact me, their member of Parliament, to get basic information that should be provided in an automatic fashion.

In one case, a unilingual anglophone victim was given a contact number in which the voice mail was in unilingual French. Despite attempts to correct the situation, the victim had to contact my office to get results. That is simply not acceptable and is the result of a system that is insensitive and not responsive to the needs of victims and their families. It is neither equipped nor eager to serve the legitimate needs of victims.

I firmly believe that this must change. A victim needs to know that justice is being done and how it is being done. This information does not always heal the wounds, but it can help bring closure to a hurtful situation. One thing is certain: a corrections system that does not respond to the needs of victims does add to the hurt and unnecessarily prolongs the healing process. That is simply no longer acceptable.

How would this bill help? Simply put, this bill would establish an independent ombudsman for victims within the corrections system. This ombudsman would be the bridge between the corrections system and victims. He or she would be independent, educate victims, investigate their complaints and ensure that corrections officials properly respond to their needs.

The ombudsman would also work to ensure that the system becomes more sensitive and responsive to the needs of victims. This would include reports to Parliament on how the system is doing and what changes are required.

All in all, the ombudsman would make sure that those victims and their families will be able to understand the process, be kept informed, ensure that a qualified and competent official is available to answer their questions, and make sure that their needs are responded to and their voices are heard.

Having an advocate for victims in the corrections system is a reasonable and logical measure. There are three sides to every crime: the offender; society as represented by the state; and the victim who suffers the hurt and loss. In our corrections system, the offender is represented by the correctional investigator, who acts like an ombudsman for prisoners, and the state is represented by corrections officials, but the victim has no representative. It is time to change this unacceptable and unfortunate situation.

It is my hope that this Parliament will see the wisdom in establishing an ombudsman for victims. I trust that members of Parliament will reach the consensus that providing victims with a voice and an advocate will improve our corrections system and that by providing a mechanism by which victims can have their complaints investigated we will advance the transparency and accountability of the system.

Victims need and want to be heard. I trust that the House is listening. While something has been accomplished for victims over the years, much remains to be done. With the goodwill and effort of everyone in the House, I know we will get there, but there are specific improvements that I am calling on the government to make.

First, we should change the law to make it clearer that victims have the right to make a statement at National Parole Board hearings. The board does this in practice now and I applaud it for making this change, but the law needs to make it clearer that we can never backtrack on this.

Second, we should expand the definition of who is a victim so that the people taking care of injured victims or young victims can have the same access to information as any other victim. Where the victims are not able to speak for themselves, there has to be respect for those around them who can speak for them.

Third, when victims are unable to attend the hearing or do not want to attend but still want to know exactly what went on, arrangements should be made for them to listen to a tape recording of the parole hearing.

Fourth, we should authorize the National Parole Board and the Correctional Service to provide victims with the gist of information about an offender's participation in treatment and programs. Victims are not interested in revenge. They want to know that the offender who has harmed them is getting treatment, hopefully, and will not again harm anyone. Years can go by with victims having no idea if the offender is doing anything productive or is just doing time.

Fifth, we should provide financial assistance to victims who wish to attend parole hearings. This is something we hear from victims constantly. They would like to attend the parole hearing and they have the right to attend the parole hearing, but they cannot afford the cost.

Sixth, we should create a dedicated independent position that would have the authority to receive questions and complaints from victims, follow up on those matters and report to the minister through the deputy minister. This is what I have been trying to do with my bill. It is absolutely essential that this office be independent and separate from the parole board and the Correctional Service and that it have the ear of the minister. Victims need to know who to call. They need to know that they will not be passed from pillar to post.

These are all measures under the authority of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. Let me also say a few words about what I am calling upon the Minister of Justice to do.

I would like to see greater coordination and leadership of all federal government victim programs so that we are sure every department is playing the full role it should in responding to victims' needs. It may be, for example, that a victim is a war veteran and we would need to be sure that Veterans Affairs is coordinated with other partners.

I would like to see more comprehensive policy and legislative development so that we can be proactive and not always play catch-up in meeting victims needs. We also need more research to identify the effectiveness of our victim programs and to identify new trends or issues.

We should not forget that sometimes Canadians are victims abroad. For example, Canadians were injured in the tragic bombing in Bali last year. We need to be able to support them when they need help. We need to be sure that our embassies have the right training to do so.

I am also calling on the government to do more to help victims in the three northern territories, where the Attorney General of Canada is responsible for criminal prosecutions. Not only are there challenges in the north due to the remoteness of some communities, there are particular cultural issues that must be addressed in meeting the needs of victims.

I would also like to see better information about existing victims' services and how to assess them. This should also encompass making sure that there is consistency in victims' services across the country. I have just referred to gaps in the north, but this applies in other areas as well.

Last, I call on the government to expand the resources it has to develop new programs and services. Many of these can be done by community organizations if they have the money. I know that the Minister of Justice is a firm believer in restorative justice, and that approach is centred on helping communities help themselves.

If the government would take action on all these fronts, then maybe there would be fewer complaints from victims, less frustration and more chances for victims to heal and to move forward with their lives. We all want that. and victims deserve nothing less.

It is time for action. Victims of crime need our support and expect that their elected representatives in this noble institution will act as quickly as possible to give them a voice and an advocate who can protect their rights from a system that seems, increasingly, to care nothing for the safety of ordinary citizens.

I look forward to a fruitful debate on the bill and I invite members who support a stronger voice for victims of crime to lend their support and speak in favour of Bill C-243.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Etobicoke North
Ontario

Liberal

Roy Cullen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Nickel Belt for his keen interest in the rights and the needs of victims. Certainly we have taken note of the challenges he poses in terms of what he is looking at for the government to act upon.

Before I get into my formal remarks, I want to ask the member a specific question. He talked about the fact that victims are invited to go to parole board hearings but often cannot afford the cost. If their expenses were reimbursable from the government, does the hon. member think there would be a big take-up by victims to attend parole board hearings? Would that be a beneficial thing to do?

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Raymond Bonin Nickel Belt, ON

Yes, Mr. Speaker, I definitely do think so. This is a big country, the hearings are not always held close to victims' residences, and victims are not always able to afford a journey. I have cases in my riding in which it would be almost impossible for those victims to pay to attend these hearings and they have a right to be there.

In addition, I should mention that it is the practice that the Correctional Service of Canada and the parole board have started to allow impact statements, but that is not in law. I have another private member's bill that would make that law.

This initiative started about seven years ago when we developed a comprehensive bill on the Correctional Service, but a comprehensive bill of 35 pages made it easy for the minister of the time and the department to work against the bill. I have split that bill into four different bills, so they are very clear.

The question on this issue is very clear. Prisoners in jail have the equivalent to an ombudsman. Is it not reasonable to ask that the victims have at least the same privilege?

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the bill brought forward by the hon. member for Nickel Belt. I congratulate him for the effort he has expended. He gave a very comprehensive speech outlining what Bill C-243 would do which, in essence, is the creation of a victims' ombudsman's office. This has been an issue that I have personally supported for a great deal of time, having worked with victims as a crown prosecutor and a defence lawyer prior to that, and having worked on a number of cases involving horrible victimization where for practical reasons there was not the necessary support there at the time.

We have come a long way in providing the type of support that is more than just financial and, as the hon. member referred to in his remarks, that is there within the community to provide support and information that allows victims to feel that their voices are being heard within the criminal justice system.

Steve Sullivan and those who work with the victims' resource centre have advocated the creation of this position for some time. I moved a private member's motion in 1998 calling for similar provisions on behalf of the government to properly fund a victims' office that would have at least the equivalent budget of the correctional investigator.

There is a terrible anomaly, which I would describe as perverse, that within our justice system we would have, for lack of a better phrase, a one stop shopping office for prisoners where they have complaints but not a similar commensurate budget and office for victims. The bill would address that anomaly. It would establish the office, provide a voice and an active place where victims and members of the family can go.

I also support the expansion of the definition of victims and streamlining a process that allows victims to access the resource to travel. With the very nature of this country and the fact that families move, in many cases they live thousands of kilometres from their loved ones. When instances occur where people have been victimized, where they have had their dignity stripped away, where they have had a personal invasion upon their being, the first people they should be able to turn to are their families. Being able to provide the necessary resources and support to get them there during a trial, during a parole hearing, in the aftermath of these horrible instances that occur is a very laudable goal.

I would suggest as well that within the context of this discussion we should talk about the ability for victims to be compensated when they are off work for considerable periods of time, which is often the result of being victimized or having a family member caught, through no fault of his or her own, in the cycle that then follows a crime when the justice system kicks in. Sadly it is a matter of delay in many instances.

Having a support network of people and resources to insulate in some cases the victims and their families from the normal stresses and trials and tribulations that come along is something we should be doing, and through this victims' ombudsman's office, we would be putting in place concrete and very real support networks.

Having said that, it has to be properly funded. The hon. member would know that the lack of funding has been a serious problem. In fact there have been recent reports, even in today's paper, regarding the discussion around the necessary support. Just to do with parole hearings, there was an estimate that it would cost roughly $1.7 million a year.

The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime received information under access to information with respect to travel that produced these figures and that the federal government has shied away from making that commitment. Hopefully this private member's bill will address that, will turn the government's mind to the importance of this. We need to keep this increased pressure coming. We need to see that the bill not only passes through Parliament but receives the adequate funding.

I would strongly urge the government to institute a royal recommendation to see that the bill does become law in the life of this Parliament. We need to give it priority and put it forward with the cooperation of all members, and I think we will see that. This is clearly a bill where there is unanimous support coming from both government and opposition benches.

This type of office, as I said, is a responsive, responsible and respectful approach that will provide victims with the ability to access the information they need to get the actual support required when these things occur. I would suggest as well that, as outlined by the hon. member, the research that goes into providing the type of background that victims require in many cases is very much caught up in the overall picture, the overall purpose.

In regard to information sharing, victims do not want to be revictimized by the terrible aggravation and frustration when they cannot find out when parole hearings are taking place or when they have been cancelled, sometimes at the last minute. When they have to travel to be there for court hearings they simply want to know what is happening.

It is an extremely impersonal system and victims are often left feeling out of the loop with the crown prosecutor, police, judges, lawyers and even the victims office that currently exists. We have many of those offices and many individuals working very diligently on behalf of people who have found themselves unwittingly into the justice system, people like Coreen Popowich in New Glasgow and Judy Whitman, who do wonderful work daily to support those who have found themselves in the unfortunate circumstance of being victims.

I know that at the provincial level as well there is a great receptiveness to this initiative and a great willingness to work cooperatively at all levels of government to see that this office is put in place. It is truly a measure of this country's humanity, the way in which we treat victims, the way in which we respond in a personal way reaching out, giving them a sense that somebody cares and that there is compassion in the aftermath of what could be a life-altering occurrence when people find themselves victimized. The feeling that they have had their dignity taken away is something that has to be addressed.

This system and office will have to be extremely sensitive in assuring that this is not done in a callous way and is not depersonalized further. I suggest it will require and of the system to have good people working in the office, which will require the financial commitment to which the hon. member has also referred.

The financial assistance for people to travel to national parole briefings is a big part of any success. Many terrible occurrences and many shortcomings have been outlined in recent days of parole hearings that went awry and resulted in individuals being released too early, those who were in halfway houses on mandatory release, or statutory release as it is referred to, cause a great deal of mistrust and a great deal of cynicism within the justice system itself.

I am encouraged to see this legislation coming forward from the hon. member for Nickel Belt. I am encouraged by the initial response and the initial support that it will receive I am sure today through the debate but, more important, as I said earlier, the government will have to get behind the legislation. The preference would be that the bill itself came from the government and not through a private member. To that end again, a royal recommendation is what will be necessary for this to become law.

The legislation is comprehensive. It can be added to, as the hon. member said. It is one that at least provides some parity with victims and recognizes that their rights are implicit within the justice system as well, and that they are playing an important role in some of the decisions that occur around their own lives after they have found themselves victimized.

The legislation, as it appears before the House is something the Conservative Party supports very strongly. I know my colleague from St. John's also supports this, as do members in the House. We look forward to the bill moving forward quickly. I think if it passes through the House in an expeditious way and receives the royal recommendation and the support from the minister, we could have it in law as soon as Christmas. What a wonderful Christmas gift that would be for victims in Canada to see this new victim's ombudsman office opened and providing them with the critical support and information that they so badly need and deserve.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I must say that I share the enthusiasm of the member for Central Nova concerning this bill and I would like to tell the member who introduced it that it is certainly worthwhile. I believe that he deserves congratulations for having promoted this bill for seven years, as he told us.

Essentially, we will agree with this bill. We hope, as does the representative from Central Nova, that it will come into force quickly.

However, there are still some difficulties that I would like to raise and that might be solved, I hope, before it is studied in committee. I hope that its mover will appreciate that this is a criticism to improve his bill and not to discourage him from proceeding.

I would say that my first reaction, when I was told about the establishment of the office of victims ombudsman, was, “Gosh, is the federal Liberal Party still obsessed with interfering in provincial jurisdictions?” Because, as far as I know, compensation for victims of criminal acts is a provincial jurisdiction. I thought that this was the member's objective. As soon as I started reading the bill, I understood that it was instead the Parole Board ombudsman. The member is thus clearly within federal jurisdictions.

Let us consider the word “ombudsman”. When used in the context of any organization—I think there is even one at the CBC—it is clear that it means that the public can contact this person to ask something of the organization for which he or she acts as the ombudsman. Perhaps, to prevent confusion in people who may have thought like me at the beginning, this ombudsman could be called the parole board ombudsman, since this is clearly what the hon. member is seeking.

In section 198.12, the hon. member asks that the governor in council be allowed to appoint a person to be known as the victims ombudsman of Canada. As we know, we have in our statutes a considerable number of laws that have never come into effect even if they have been enacted. It seems to me that, to achieve the result we are all looking for in terms of improving the parole board, the provision should read that the governor in council “shall” appoint a person.

I might add, before I go any further, that I remain a staunch believer in the need for a parole board. I think that, in difficult circumstances, the members of the board carry out their functions very well. I would not want the creation of this ombudsman position to be viewed as criticism, at least not on my part, of the overall work they do.

Let me remind the hon. members of this House that we often forget that to deal with the prisoners is to deal with failure, all failures. Those who are in prison represent a failure of society, school, family and, in many cases, personal failure. So, to ask a correctional service or a parole board to be 100% successful in managing the failures of everyone else in society is to ask them to do the impossible. It is difficult the work in these conditions.

My second reaction in reading this bill was that it was again creating administrative difficulties. The government has loads of good ideas. That is how deficits are created, by its developing structure upon structure. Indeed, here we have yet another structure being proposed.

However, I do believe that, in this case, given the complaints filed in the past by victims, as well as the misunderstanding of victims and their helplessness in dealing with the system, this is an excellent idea and that it is right to establish the office in question.

Now we would like to see an obligation created to appoint an ombudsman, and we would also like that position to be independent. I am sure that is also the intent of the member who introduced this bill. A five-year period is relatively short when the mandate is renewable. Let us not forget that this ombudsman would often be criticizing government policies. We think there would be greater independence if he were appointed for a longer period, say a 10-year, but non-renewable mandate. There would therefore be objectivity on both sides.

There is one section , however, that really causes me a problem, the major problem I have with this bill. It is 198.27 (3), which creates an exemption from the application of the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act.

My first comment is that it is going a bit too far to state that such exemptions would be necessary in the interests of the minister. That is going a bit far. I feel that this needs a lot of rethinking, even here, and it is my hope that we will be able to do that together, before the discussions in committee begin on the reason for this exemption and from what the exemption will be.

The Privacy Act sets out some values of importance to today's society, particularly since invasion of privacy has become so much easier with modern technology. This means there is a general conflict of values that must resolved in some better way than merely creating an exemption that can be used in a highly discretionary way. I very much want to see us reach agreement on that point.

I want to point out one last problem with section 198.37 so that it can be corrected at committee. This section would make it an offence if someone “without lawful justification or excuse, refuses or wilfully fails to comply with any lawful requirement of the Victims Ombudsman”. I have looked in this bill for the ombudsman's requirements, but I cannot find them. The closest thing I see to ombudsman's requirements is in section 198.21 where it says, “in the course of conducting an investigation, a review of Service or Board policies or a study, the Victims Ombudsman may require any person” and then it lists a number of things. In French it says “peut demander à toute personne”.

As far as I know this particular wording does not create a requirement. When I am asked to do something I have the right to say no, unless I am being given an order. I do not think this is a bad idea. We might want to give the ombudsman the authority to call witnesses and require them to give information or produce documents. I think this is worth considering in order to improve this aspect of the bill. Do we want to give the ombudsman the powers of a judge or could these powers be exercised by reference to the Federal Court, which does not take its orders from the ombudsman?

I think if we tell a person, through legislation, that they may be required to do something, then we are telling them they may refuse to do what we are asking.

However, section 198.27 seeks to create an offence. We think—and rightfully so—that if this is mandatory, the legislation should clearly say so and the procedure be set out.

All in all, having learned this morning that this bill was first initiated seven years ago, I cannot help but join my colleague from Central Nova in warmly congratulating its originators. If this ombudsman ever comes into being—which I hope happens—they can proudly take credit for making this improvement during their time in Parliament and know that we are able to put politics aside when it comes to improving our system.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate on this private member's bill and to again acknowledge, as I think this happened last week as well, that we have representatives of all the parties supporting a piece of legislation. It happens very rarely so I think we should celebrate it to some extent.

It is understandable that it is supported. There is a feeling out there among our constituents, certainly among mine, that there needs to be more done to protect victims, to give them the opportunity to be part of parole hearings, and to know what is happening to the perpetrators of crimes. This bill is very much a good start in that direction.

I want to acknowledge the ruling of the Speaker prior to the debate and query whether or not the process has been established as far as the government putting in place a royal recommendation in this bill. I know right now that we have a situation where there is a surplus in place. It seems like a very opportune time to proceed with a new office. The dollars are obviously there. The dollars are there to ensure that victims get some representation. It is important that the government put the steps in place for a royal recommendation. I would urge all party members to encourage the government to do so. I am sure my colleague will inform us as to whether there is any process happening.

I also want to take this opportunity to comment on the importance of adequate funding for this ombudsman. If we proceed with the ombudsman, which I believe we should, it is important that there be adequate funding. We have just had a situation with the policing agency of the government. That is how I like to refer to the Auditor General right now. She seems to be keeping it in control a bit by saying this is what the government should be doing because it is not doing it well. She is left in a bit of a precarious position of having to go to that same government and get funding for her department.

There seems to be some push from the government to not necessarily proceed that way. I think it is important that there is adequate funding, certainly in the Auditor General's department. If we go along with this position, we must also ensure that the funding is there so we do address the issue of victims and families are able to attend hearings to find out what is going on.

I have gone through the bill and it addresses a lot of the areas of concern I have heard about. I am not going to get into all of them. I want to reflect a bit on what my colleague from the Bloc was mentioning in regard to whether or not the ombudsman may do something or should do something. My understanding for the reason we use the terminology of “may” is that is the legalese term that gives the office of the ombudsman the opportunity to do what it wants to do. If this were to proceed to committee, we would clear up that indication. It would be up to the office of the ombudsman to make the decision as to whether it requires that type of information.

I also want to comment on the fact that there are penalties in the bill to ensure that if someone does not follow-through or impedes the process of the ombudsman, there are some penalties in place to address that.

I also think that having an ombudsman in place will give victims an opportunity, and quite frankly maybe an opportunity for the perpetrators, to be part of something more along the lines of restorative justice or a healing circle where perpetrators have to see and address the victims and families of the crime. In a roundabout way, we are getting to a type of process that is used in a number of communities right now throughout Canada, mostly aboriginal communities, as they are trying to address a different way of proceeding with justice.

I am referring a lot to what my colleague from the Bloc had to say because it was extremely interesting and brought some different perspectives. He mentioned that often the perpetrators of crime are not highly educated, there are problems in their backgrounds, and they have low incomes. What often happens is that the victims of the crime also fall into that category. All the more reason why we need this type of process in place in order to give victims the opportunity to have a say and to know what is happening.

I hope we are able to see the royal recommendation put in place and the bill proceed further. As was mentioned, it would be great to see this happen before Christmas. It would certainly be something that would be applauded throughout Canada.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Etobicoke North
Ontario

Liberal

Roy Cullen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Nickel Belt for his hard work for victims. The points he made earlier about what he would like the government to do have been duly noted. We will work with him on those items.

I am pleased to join in the discussion of private member's Bill C-243, proposing the establishment of an ombudsman for victims of crime.

I think that this debate would be well founded by setting the context for this proposed alternative.

To this end, I will briefly set out the current state of victims in our criminal justice system with reference to recent history. In particular, I shall refer to the area of corrections where victims can participate in the administration of the sentences of those offenders who are of interest to them.

I must emphasize that the majority of victims do not seek intimate involvement in the circumstances surrounding a trial, conviction, sentencing and eventual release of the offenders who have wronged them. Many choose, instead, to leave justice to the justice system. They do not request additional information or ask that they be allowed to participate by giving information about an offender. That does not mean that those who do wish this type of approach should not be considered and considered very seriously.

The movement to provide more inclusive processes for victims of crime who do maintain an interest in the outcome of cases has gained momentum in Canada over the past decade.

In 1992, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act recognized the interests of victims and introduced entitlements relating to corrections and conditional release.

Victims could, on request, receive certain information about the offender who had harmed them. They could attend National Parole Board hearings as observers and they could receive copies of board decisions, including the reasons for the decision. The act also recognized the value of information that victims could provide to decision makers for risk assessment and conditional release consideration. Subsequently, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights issued two reports dealing with victims' issues.

In October 1998, the first, entitled “Victims' Rights: A Voice, Not a Veto”, addressed the significance of the interests of victims and supported their greater involvement with the corrections and conditional release. It recommended a number of changes to the Criminal Code of Canada and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

The government enacted a number of amendments to the Criminal Code in June 1999 in what hon. members will remember as Bill C-79. However, changes to the corrections legislation were left in abeyance pending the report of a parliamentary standing committee then conducting the five-year review of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

The standing committee report on its review of the correctional legislation was tabled in May 2000. Entitled “A Work in Progress”, the report found the Canadian federal correctional system to be basically sound. Where the need for improvement was noted, victims' issues were addressed as a priority.

Six recommendations were made to enhance the involvement of victims in corrections and conditional release: advise victims of inmate transfers; provide victims with information on offender program participation, institutional conduct and new offences; prevent unwanted communications from federal inmates to victims; allow victims to read a prepared statement at National Parole Board hearings; allow access for victims to the audio tapes of National Parole Board hearings; and establish a national office to provide information, investigate complaints and report findings.

In November 2000, in response to the standing committee, the Ministry of the Solicitor General, now Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, set out a comprehensive strategy based on consultation and involvement of all relevant stakeholders, with particular emphasis on victims and their advocates. This strategy provided balance, addressing the respective needs, concerns and privacy rights of both victims and offenders.

The response acknowledged that the portfolio, through its correctional agencies, was not the sole or primary service provider to victims. Rather, Correctional Service of Canada and the National Parole Board are key partners with other orders of government and community based groups that must work collaboratively to coordinate and provide improved information and services for victims.

In building the strategy, the government recognized the input of victims collected in 39 consultation sessions across the country, which indicated that victims wanted more access to information earlier in the process and more opportunities to be heard and to provide information. It recognized that these things could best be achieved with an approach that sought to understand and address the underlying needs that created victims' requests and interest. In this context the response was founded on an open, citizen-centred approach that emphasized timely information and assistance for victims.

The Victims Policy Centre at the Department of Justice was consulted in the preparation of an integrated model for service delivery. The response was therefore consistent and complementary with the ongoing endeavours of the Department of Justice.

In March 2001, the Department of the Solicitor General, as it then was, in collaboration with the National Parole Board and the Correctional Service of Canada, conducted national consultations with victims of crime and victim service providers. Eight meetings were held in major cities across Canada. The report of these consultations, “National Consultation with Victims of Crime: Highlights and Key Messages”, was released in August 2001.

The National Parole Board also held 31 sessions in smaller communities to seek input on how best to implement the proposed changes to the corrections and conditional release processes so they would be of greatest benefit to victims.

During the consultation process, victims told the government that they wanted a voice, a real say, in the justice process, not to be vengeful but rather to create fairness and to have their concerns considered in decisions that would have an impact on their safety, their families and their community.

In addition, they expressed a wish to be treated with respect in all dealings with the criminal justice system and its individual representatives. Victims reinforced the need for comprehensive victim centred information, information on their specific case, information regarding how the criminal justice system worked generally and information about where to obtain help and counselling.

I again congratulate the member for Nickel Belt. Our government has responded in the past to the needs of victims. There is more to be done. We look forward to working with the member in his initiative. We all share the same objective, that victims deserve our attention, they deserve the right to information and they deserve the right to participate in the justice system. As a government, we will strive to do that.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

November 22nd, 2004 / noon

Liberal

Russ Powers Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased and honoured to rise today to address Bill C-243, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act which proposes the establishment of what is referred to as the office of victims ombudsman of Canada.

I was indeed honoured to second them motion by the hon. member for Nickel Belt. I know the member has given a great deal of thought to the bill, and I recognize his efforts to address an issue that is of concern to members of the House.

The government could not be more serious about addressing the concerns and needs of victims, improving the services available to them and enhancing the crucial role victims play throughout each stage of Canada's criminal justice system. In recognition of these responsibilities and the more general responsibility for improving public safety in all Canadian communities, all aspects of the criminal justice and corrections systems are under constant and rigorous review by the government.

Whereas many aspects of the criminal justice deal in objective determinations of fact, dry debates concerning the interpretation of statutes or logical considerations related to policing and corrections, the situation of victims is a unique element which touches the heart in a very profound way. Whether one has been a victim of a serious crime, is acquainted or related to a victim or is merely exposed to their stories by way of the media, their stories are often deeply poignant.

At some point, I am certain that most members of this hon. House have communicated with constituents on this issue, be they victims of crime or third parties who seek to further the cause of victims, and have personal experience regarding how heart-rendering the plight of victims can indeed be.

However, I am pleased to state that there has been in the last 15 years or so a growing awareness of victims' issues. A lot of it is by the onus of the victims themselves and their collective efforts. A good deal of progress in this area has been made at the federal level as well as the provincial and territorial levels as a result of cross jurisdictional cooperation.

In this regard, I would like to take this opportunity to commend those outside of government who tirelessly dedicate themselves to advancing the interests of the victims. They have proved themselves to be invaluable partners in developing the initiatives that have been introduced thus far and in the important work that continues on this issue, which I would like to address before turning to the merits of the bill before us today.

A major step forward was taken in 1989, when amendments were made to the Criminal Code to allow for victim impact statements, for victim fine surcharges and to improve restitution in compensation measures. Three years later, in 1992, another important milestone was the recognition of the role of victims, when Parliament enacted the Corrections and Conditional Release Act or CCRA. This act replaced the Penitentiary Act and the Parole Act and became the primary legal framework governing the federal corrections system, guiding the operations of the Correctional Service of Canada and the National Parole Board. The enactment of the CCRA marked the introduction of legislatively mandated victim participation in the corrections and conditional release processes.

Since the CCRA came into force in 1992, a number of initiatives have been adopted to respond to the calls of victims and their advocates for case specific and general information. For example, the National Parole Board has appointed community liaison officers and the Correctional Service of Canada has appointed victim liaison coordinators at their respective regional offices, community parole offices and correctional institutions. These officials provide victims with excellent services, such as information about offenders of interest and about the correctional system in general.

Moreover, to address recommendations as set out by the report of the all party Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, entitled “Victims Rights: A Voice, Not a Veto”, Bill C-79, which was brought into force on December 1, 1999, amended the Criminal Code: to ensure that victims are informed about the opportunities to prepare and read a victim impact statement if they should choose to do so; to require police and judges to consider the safety of the victims in all bail decisions; to expand protections for young victims and witnesses testifying at trial; and to require all offenders to automatically pay a victim surcharge, that is an additional monetary penalty, intended to increase revenue for provinces and territories to expand and improve victim services.

When the Corrections and Conditional Release Act was enacted on November 1, 1992, it contained a stipulation that a comprehensive review of the act be undertaken after five years. To address this obligation, the solicitor general of the time released the consultation paper entitled--

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. The member still has four minutes left. The order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Vancouver Quadra
B.C.

Liberal

Stephen Owen for the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

moved that Bill C-23, an act to establish the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development and to amend and repeal certain related Acts be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, thank you for allowing me to speak on this bill to create a Department of Human Resources and Skills Development.

This is particularly gratifying to me as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, since it allows me to speak about such topics as the importance of helping Canadians access the skills development and lifelong learning opportunities they need to make their own special contribution to our country, and also how this new department will make this goal a reality.

On December 12, 2003, the government announced the reorganization of the old Department of Human Resources Development into two new departments: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, HRSDC; and Social Development Canada. The Department of HRSDC was created by a series of orders in council approved on that date. This was done within the statutory framework of the Public Service Rearrangement and Transfer of Duties Act, a statute which allows the governor in council to reorganize the institutions of government to address priorities and public needs.

Since then, HRSDC has been subject to the Financial Administration Act, the Public Service Employment Act, the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act. Parliament is now being asked to consider legislation that formally establishes the department and sets out the powers, duties and functions of the Minister of HRSDC and his mandate. The legislation also sets out the powers and duties of the Minister of Labour, as well as his mandate.

Let me inform the House that we are proposing as part of the legislation to include a uniform set of privacy provisions governing the disclosure of personal information. These provisions would apply to all programs and activities of the new department.

Since December 2003, HRSDC and Social Development Canada have been working together to ensure uninterrupted services to Canadians. That working relationship will continue as the departments jointly provide services to Canadians on behalf of each other, a fact which will be duly reflected in the draft legislation.

With this legislation we are confirming our improvements to date and building on them by giving the minister and the new department the legal means to fulfill their mandate. The mandate as we have set it out in the proposed Department of Human Resources and Skills Development act is to improve the standard of living and quality of life of all Canadians by promoting a highly skilled and mobile workforce and an efficient and inclusive labour market.

In my opinion, having a department focused primarily on skills development and learning tells Canadians that we are ready to address the profound changes that face our economy and society in coming years, including skills shortages due to the aging of our workforce and an increasingly global and knowledge based competitive environment where having good skills and access to lifelong learning opportunities are key to finding a job and having enough skilled workers are the difference between business success and failure. They are also sound bases for a high quality, fulfilling life.

These profound changes make it vitally important that we have a department in place that can focus on enhancing Canadians' access to skills development and lifelong learning so they can fully benefit from the many opportunities being created by our economy every day and working closely with its partners to share ideas and resources and develop common approaches to preparing our citizens for this very challenging future.

That is where the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development comes in. With a mandate to foster a culture of lifelong learning, where people at every stage in life can pursue lifelong learning opportunities and acquire the skills they need for career success, as well as personal fulfillment, and organizations can find and access the highly skilled workers they need to take on the world.

Access to learning and skills development involves making sure students with the ability and desire to pursue some sort of post-secondary education can get the financial help they need to make their dreams come true. Statistics point clearly to the changes demanded by an increasingly knowledge based economy. Some 70% of all new jobs in Canada will require some form of post-secondary education and 25% will require a university degree.

With that in mind, the Government of Canada already provides considerable assistance. The Canada student loan program helps 360,000 students every year and last year provided $1.6 billion in loans. Some 90,000 students in financial need have been awarded $285 million per year in the Canada millennium scholarship program.

Canada study grants worth over $70 million annually have been awarded to approximately 50,000 students. The Canada education saving grant program has provided almost $2 billion in grants since its inception, leveraging over $13 billion in private savings. To date, some two million children between one year old and 17 years old have benefited from that particular program.

We all know that access to post-secondary education is a work in progress, so the new department will have to find innovative and better ways of improving service and responding to emerging needs. For example, we will need to work with our provincial and territorial government partners to find new ways of enhancing the access and affordability of post-secondary education so Canadians can pursue learning opportunities throughout their lives. This cooperation will be vital in implementing the enhancements to the Canada student loans program contained in the 2004 federal budget.

We will also need to work with our partners to improve assistance to high need students, such as those living with disabilities and those from low income families, to help them overcome the barriers they face.

The 2004 budget announced a new grant and improvements to an existing grant that will help these students as they pursue a post-secondary education. For disabled students that involves a grant of $3,000 each year in college or university.

Finally, the department will need to improve the uptake of RESPs and the Canada education savings grants by low income families to enable more families to start saving early for their children's post-secondary education. This will involve introducing the new Canada learning bond and enhancements to the Canada education savings grant to kick-start savings by low income and middle income parents. The legislation includes informing low and middle income families of the importance of saving early for their children's education and providing assistance to help them access these benefits.

For those reasons I would encourage all members of the House to join me in supporting Bill C-5, the Canada education savings act, which is currently at committee stage, which would enact the provisions that I mentioned in the 2004 budget. Among other things, interestingly enough, Bill C-5 has built into it cooperation with one of our key sets of partners, the provinces and the territories, in the RESP program and the RESP grants program, which is proposed in the act.

Many or these initiatives will involve areas of provincial and territorial responsibility and will have an impact on key stakeholder groups. Therefore the department will continue to work closely with all its partners, including other levels of government, the private sector, educational and training institutions, financial institutions and other stakeholders, to ensure their needs are represented and addressed.

This is exactly what this new department has already been doing from the beginning, through its participation and support of a number of working groups. For example, the intergovernmental consultative committee on student financial assistance brings together federal, provincial and territorial officials at the director general and director level to develop common approaches to post-secondary education and student financial assistance.

Again, the national advisory group on student financial assistance allows colleges and universities, student groups and representatives of the full spectrum of post-secondary institutions to make their views known to the Government of Canada on federal assistance to post-secondary students.

Another example, the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada helps provincial and territorial ministers of education to develop common approaches and cooperate with national educational organizations and the federal government on educational issues.

It is my personal view that the new department should become, as it were, the federal government's designated hitter to the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada. This does not mean that HRSDC should be the only federal department involved in lifelong learning, far from it. Departments like Justice, Corrections Canada, Defence and Indian and Northern Affairs will, for example, continue to deliver literacy programs which are part of lifelong learning. However the Minister of HRSDC, fully briefed, can become a consistent link between the federal government and the provincial and territorial ministers of education in the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada. This will strengthen the partnerships that must exist between us and the provinces and territories in the area of lifelong learning.

I chaired the standing committee that unanimously recommended that the former Department of Human Resources Development Canada be split. This bill is, in a very real sense, the enactment of the clearly expressed will of the House of Commons at the time that HRDC be split. The committee recommended the division of that department, not only because it was a very large department but also because it was too diverse to be manageable.

When HRDC was formed by an earlier government, several former federal departments were simply rolled into one. They never really reconciled their different cultures. The bill addresses this directly. It brings together different but related regimes under one set of rules and procedures. As chair of the standing committee that considered these matters, it gives me special pride to speak to the bill today.

Also, speaking personally, I believe strongly that in addition to its formal duties within the federal system, the new Department of HRSDC can become a valuable point of first contact for all federal departments in matters related to lifelong learning and training.

Those are some of the challenges facing the new department to be created by the bill. While addressing these issues may be challenging, the rewards Canada reaps will be enormous. By improving access to post-secondary education and lifelong learning for all Canadians, we will go a long way toward ensuring that no Canadian gets left behind and that businesses and organizations will be able to find the skilled workers they need to compete and thrive in the global economy. This represents a win-win situation for all Canadians.

For most of my time in this House, I have worked with the government caucus on post-secondary education and research. This is a group of MPs and senators who have followed, all the way through from the middle nineties, the various roles of the federal government in higher education and research. It is a group that has a very active interest in those matter, but which has made it clear from the very beginning that we have no interest in the federal government encroaching on the roles of the provinces and territories. Quite rightly, in our Confederation the operation of the elementary schools, high schools, colleges and universities are provincial and territorial matters, which is the way it should be. It produces across our country a network of related but different educational systems that are extremely productive.

This is not to say that the federal government and other governments do not have responsibilities in those areas. I can give very direct examples where, very badly in many cases, the federal government organizes elementary schools on the first nations. Some of them should be changed very quickly. We have a used computer program where we give the high schools used computers, and it has worked very effectively. When they get to the end of high school, the millennium scholarship program is a federal program that helps high school students.

We work with the community colleges of Canada. They are, in many ways, a rapid response system that helps Canada keep its economy current.

For example, it was this government that first flowed research moneys to community colleges, recognizing their role in applied research and their role in the commercialization of research. We still work with the community colleges in all sorts of ways. Aboriginal education is a really good example. English and French as second languages are other examples. The federal government has important links with them, as it does with the universities, and has moved the public funding of research, largely in the universities, from being 14th or 15th in the world to perhaps 5th or 6th.

These are all examples of the ways in which the federal government, and not just one department of the federal government, is involved in higher education. Let me say that the Department of National Defence runs a university, the Royal Military College, where one can get degrees in engineering and so on.

The federal government has these roles. One of its roles is to capture the best practices. If in Quebec, Nova Scotia or Nunavut there is something going on which the whole country should know about, it is the federal government that can capture it in higher education.

My enthusiasm for the legislation is that the federal government is going to have a new department, a very large and powerful department, which will be focused on these matters of lifelong learning. It is my hope that, first, it will perform very important functions itself, but second, that it will become a point of contact for all federal departments that work in the area of lifelong learning and that it will also become a key point of contact with the provinces and territories.

I believe the new department represents a win-win situation for all Canadians.

For this reason, I intend to support this bill and urge all members to do likewise.

Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Yukon
Yukon

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, I have three quick questions. I congratulate the member for his excellent work as the chair on the work that we do in post-secondary education. It is an excellent initiative of the government. He has done a fine job over the years. He gets a tremendous number of people from Canadian society involved in that initiative.

First, why do we have to split two departments and send people to two different departments for those issues?

Second, this is rightfully a machinery of government question. Where the Prime Minister and governor in council can decide structures of government, why do we have to come back to Parliament and have a debate about this?

Third, in view of his vast experience related to community colleges, if this department is going to be the spokesperson or the key or champion government department for education, I have an issue related to the research councils. They have been doing a good job in the last year of getting more research money into community colleges, but the way they are structured now is that the research money has to go to universities. There is no university north of 60° in the northern half of our nation, which limits the amount of research money that is going there. Would the new department as the focus of education help us in championing that task, which I have to say the granting councils are moving on right now?

Human Resources and Skills Development Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have made a note of my colleague's questions.

His first question was about why these two departments are being split. We should know that the previous department of HRDC was by far the largest department in the federal government. In the very early 1990s, in fact before I was elected, that department was created. I might be exaggerating if I said six, but somewhere between four and six old federal departments were put together in one. In some cases those old departments continued to work well and in some cases they cooperated, but in other cases that was just not the case.

Really what we had was a very large department. Its budget, as I recall, was $60 billion, which is a great deal of money even in this place. That was one dimension. It was one department answerable to one standing committee and responsible for $60 billion.

Much more significant was the point I tried to make in my speech. It was this question of cultures. In that department were public servants who were very keen on their individual mandates. There were people involved with employment insurance, for example, and people involved with the Canada pension plan, all in the same department, but if people moved between parts of the department, the culture was very different. The culture in EI was very different from that of the Canada pension plan.

An interesting example, which I also mentioned in passing but which is dealt with very carefully in the new legislation, is that there were four or five different privacy regimes. My colleague will understand this. This is the question of protecting information provided to the department by Canadians. The department needs information. One can well imagine that Canada pensions cannot simply be given out; personal information has to be gathered in order to be sure the money is going to be well spent.

There were four or five different regimes, each of them good, each of them secure as far as the privacy commissioner was concerned, but the fact was that they were different within the same department. I think that is just one example of the need to take this large department and divide it carefully, so that, for example, Canada pensions are now with Social Development Canada and EI is with HRSD, the legislation which we are considering.

I would also add, though, that they are not completely divided. For efficiency's sake, for example, the human resources management of the two departments is going to be conducted jointly. Another example is with respect to services to Canadians. Canadians going into HRSD offices in ridings, for example, will not see a difference at the public counter. They will go to the window and they will be dealt with sometimes by social development staff and sometimes by HRSD staff, but that side of it will not be divided.

“Why Parliament?”, my colleague asked. First of all, I know he believes that Parliament is very important and so do I. I think it is often necessary for the governor in council, that is, the cabinet, to do things and often to do them quickly. They are done well and they are done legally. That has certainly been the case here. There is very rapid movement.

In the end I would say to my colleague that the House should seize itself of what is going on. We can do this when we debate this legislation. We are now at second reading.

The other thing is that we are, and again I would use the example of privacy, changing regimes which are enacted. There is legislation dealing with these different privacy issues. In order to change these four or five different privacy regimes, we need to come back to the House of Commons.

I appreciate his point about having a federal champion for the community colleges. There are roughly 1,000 community college campuses, which are very important for education and lifelong learning of all sorts across the country. They are very important for apprenticeships, for aboriginal people and so on. We do need a champion.

I made the point as an example that the federal government has started funding research in colleges. The granting councils are very conservative institutions, and that is not a word that I use lightly. They are only coming around to the idea that in particular cases community colleges should be funded for research. The Canada Foundation for Innovation, which was established by the government and provides money for research infrastructure, has consistently provided money to the colleges, as I think my colleague knows, and does so very explicitly.

When I asked the question of the granting councils that my colleague has asked of me, they said they do give money to the colleges but the qualifications of the people who apply are not high enough. That is a very chicken and egg argument. They say if the proposal is good they will receive it.

I do believe that the case of the northern colleges, the territorial colleges, should be special. As my colleague said, in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Yukon there are no universities except the University of the Arctic, which is an international organization. All the granting councils and all federal departments should treat those three colleges in a very special way.