House of Commons Hansard #15 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

Noon

Edmonton West
Alberta

Liberal

Anne McLellan Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I rise in relation to a question of privilege raised in the House yesterday by the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville.

Radio Canada claimed in a report aired last Friday, February 13, that costs of the firearms program had reached $2 billion. Costs of the centre to date are nowhere near that figure and we wanted Radio Canada's numbers and its calculations. The member alleged that I never called Radio Canada to ask for a clarification prior to my comments on Monday.

As I informed the House, we had asked Radio Canada for its calculations. I was informed that a call was made and a message left with Radio Canada last Sunday, prior to my comments Monday, by the official in my department who worked with the network on the story. I am informed that the message left asked for the calculations used. Radio Canada in fact confirmed receipt of that message. We received its calculations on Wednesday of this week.

For the record, I would add, that we continue to say that the cost of the program is nowhere near $2 billion. The cost of the Canada Firearms Centre to date is less than half that figure.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

Noon

Canadian Alliance

Lynne Yelich Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I want to make a correction to what the parliamentary secretary said when he quoted me as saying that agriculture was not the third but the second most important industry in Canada. My words were “It was the third largest employer and one of the top five industries of the nation”. I did not say as he indicated. I would like that corrected.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

Noon

The Deputy Speaker

The House will recognize that is not respectfully a point of order. The matter of clarification has been put on the record in the House.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

Noon

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the new chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the first report by the Standing Committee on Finance on Bill C-18, an act respecting equalization and authorizing the Minister of Finance to make certain payments related to health.

It was agreed on Thursday, February 19, 2004, to report it without amendment.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

Noon

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to present a petition today containing the names of thousands of residents of mostly Manitoba.

The petitioners wish to draw the attention of the House to the fact that trans fatty acids, or hydrogenated vegetable oils, are deadly manufactured fats which cause obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, all of which are on the rise in Canada. They point out that these trans fats not only raise the level of bad cholesterol, but they prevent the good cholesterol from clearing the circulatory system. Just one gram per day of trans fat can increase the risk of heart disease by 20%, although Canadians are eating 10 to 30 grams of this toxic poison per day. The petitioners also point out that the Liberal government's labelling program will not prevent Canadians from eating this toxic poison.

The petitioners call upon Parliament to eliminate trans fats from Canada's food supply.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions to present today on the same subject, and they come to me from citizens of mainly Kingston, Ontario, and Quebec.

The petitioners note that housing accommodation provided by the Canadian Forces Housing Authority on base serves a valuable purpose by allowing families to live in a military community and have access to services to address their specific needs. They also note that many of those housing units are substandard, and that they have seen dramatic increases in their rent.

The petitioners urge Parliament to immediately suspend any future rent increases for the accommodation provided by the Canadian Forces Housing Authority until such time as the Government of Canada makes substantive improvements to the living conditions of the housing provided for military families.

I expect over the coming weeks and months to present many more of these petitions.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

February 20th, 2004 / 12:05 p.m.

Yukon
Yukon

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on this important bill now before the House, which pertains to amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

As Conservatives, we have long held that there was need for reform in this area. The legal community, the justice community, members of the victims advocacy groups, police officers and Canadians generally have for years been expressing great concern, in particular, about the early release of offenders, the conditions which apply to those offenders who have been released into the community and the speed in many cases to which statutory release is granted.

The key word here is the word “statutory”. That is to say that individuals often convicted of violent offences, offences involving sexual assault, home invasion, brutal beatings are put back on the street regardless of their behaviour while incarcerated, and essentially have the judge's initial decision at trial abrogated. That is to say the sentence received at trial is cast aside and in many cases an arbitrary decision is based on time served, and the person is then released into the community.

The bill is one which in my view goes some distance toward addressing some of the concerns around early release. It touches upon such things as expanding the category of offenders who are ineligible for accelerated parole review and therefore increasing the period of ineligibility for accelerated day parole. In other words, the system is prevented from fast-tracking or speeding up the release of offenders.

It also requires the review of cases of every offender entitled to statutory release for the purposes of determining whether to impose additional conditions. This is important, and it touches upon another area of law where I believe there is need for reform; that is the conditions which can currently be put in place by a presiding judge or subsequent to that, a parole officer or individuals within the corrections service department.

In particular I am talking about protecting youth and children from sexual predators. I have put forward a private member's bill which would allow for a judge to bar the presence of a sexual offender, a convicted individual, from being in a dwelling house with a child when not accompanied by another adult.

The current provisions as they stand in the Criminal Code allow for the prohibition of an individual, a sexual offender, from attending a school yard, or a playground, or a place where children frequent. Sadly, it is a well known and well documented fact that the place in which sexual offences most frequently occur is in a dwelling house. Very often, equally tragic, the perpetrator is a person known to the child.

The amendment that I have put forward would allow for the judge to impose a prohibition on being in a dwelling house with a child unless there was another adult present. The inspiration came from a constituent of mine in Nova Scotia who brought this shortcoming, this anomaly in the Criminal Code to my attention some years ago.

Finally, Bill C-19 in its current form would also provide for the automatic suspension of the parole or statutory release of offenders who had received a custodial sentence with a requirement that the National Parole Board then review the case within a prescribed period of time.

In essence, the bill increases the scrutiny and the ability of our parole system to intervene at the appropriate time to review all the cases on their merit and on the facts. I believe there are still some shortcomings that I will touch upon in my remarks as they pertain to victims. I must commend individuals like Steve Sullivan, who works with the victims resource centre, for his diligence in monitoring and bringing forward information and amendments to bills such a Bill C-19.

This legislation is a response to another document, a long overdue response I would add, known as a work in progress, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. That report from the subcommittee in May 2000 was the product of a great deal of work and effort by members of the subcommittee and others.

Similarly, I have to point out that there were 53 recommendations for enhancing public safety, assisting victims of crime and improving and reducing the administrative complexities of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

In October of 2000 the Solicitor General at that time issued a report calling the subcommittee's report:

A welcome addition to the information, research and knowledge currently available regarding corrections and conditional release in Canada.

The Solicitor General recognized that that report:

--echoes the submissions and testimony of offenders, victims of crime, members of the bar, offender assisting agencies, police, Crown attorneys, academics and countless others...

Needless to say, the report was something that encompassed a broad, sweeping consultation of those on the ground working in the system. I would suggest again that this is the most subjective type of information that could be received from those with the working knowledge.

It took almost three years to get to the point where significant pressures brought to bear by members of the official opposition and others calling upon the Solicitor General's department, now defunct and rolled into the Public Security and Emergency Preparedness department, to meet the commitment and recommendations put forward in that earlier report.

In May 2002 the official opposition introduced a motion in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights requesting the appearance of the Solicitor General, Commissioner of Corrections Service, the Correctional Investigator and National Parole representatives to provide a status report on what if anything had been done in response. It called upon them to give an accounting as to where they were regarding these recommendations.

The information appeared to go into the nether land and we never really heard back, except to say that there was a letter which one week before the scheduled meeting of the parliamentary secretary to the solicitor general seemed to indicate that they were prepared to respond. I would suggest that because of those pressures we now have legislation before the House.

The Conservative Party and members of the opposition have, for a long time, been calling upon the government to bring about sentencing reform. In particular another shortcoming deals specifically with the use of conditional sentences. Conditional sentences, just for a point of reference, allow for the judge to mete out a punishment that does not require incarceration, but is given in lieu of incarceration, and very often involves stringent requirements obviously aimed at curtailing the mobility of an individual. It is tantamount to home arrest. It is subject to recall and putting a person in jail if they were to breach those conditions, such as things as non-association, abstinence from drugs and alcohol and reporting conditions.

However, the difficulty is the liberal use of these conditional sentences, in particular with sex offenders and those with a propensity toward violence. My suggestion is that there should be an enumerated list in the Criminal Code that prevents a sentencing judge from meting out or using conditional sentences for crimes of violence. That would do away with some of the public confidence that has been lost over the misuse of conditional sentences, the occasional atrocities that occur when individuals with often numerous convictions are granted conditional sentences and the inappropriate use of conditional sentences, which we have seen from time to time.

In particular there was one case in Montreal which involved a multiple rape of a young woman by offenders, two at least, where the judge imposed a conditional sentence. These sentences are intended, obviously, as a last, last resort, but are not appropriate for certain crimes that are enumerated in the Criminal Code.

There are also other issues pertaining to the rights of prisoners versus the rights of victims. It has always troubled me deeply that we have a correctional investigator in the country, with a budget, who is there, rightly, to ensure that prisoners do receive basic amenities, rights and information that should be made available to them. Yet there is not a similar office for victims. There is not a victim's ombudsman's office, for example, with a commensurate budget that would represent parity in the system in terms of the rights of victims versus those of the individual.

We have taken enormous strides toward helping victims in the last number of years and I would be the first to acknowledge that, but I would suggest there is a severe anomaly when we have an investigator's office for the purposes of aiding prisoners and no such similar office for victims.

I would suggest that Bill C-19 is certainly a step in the right direction. It did come about as a result of intense pressure from the opposition and from those stakeholder groups that are most interested and affected by these changes.

The legislation has moved through Parliament over an extended period of time because of the prorogation and early election calls by the Liberal government, but it is a compilation of many submissions and testimonies of those who are best enabled and best able to assess the current justice system.

The former solicitor general did praise those involved in the production of both the report and the legislation. Similarly, I would add my voice in praise of those efforts and also the efforts of those who work at the committee at the staffing level. They are tremendously helpful in compiling the information, the often very complex and overlapping legislation and information submissions, in bringing the legislation forward.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Yukon
Yukon

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak in support of Bill C-19 based on the fact that the subcommittee held hearings across the country to hear from Canadians, from interested parties and experts, and came up with this proposed act.

The Corrections and Conditional Release Act is the framework for federal corrections and the parole system and is highly regarded abroad. The CCRA is founded on evidence based knowledge and respect for the rule of law and human dignity.

The CCRA recognizes that public safety is best achieved by preparing offenders for their eventual return to society as law-abiding citizens and by controlling offenders who pose a risk to the safety of communities.

It is very important--and we have had this debate in society recently--to ensure that public safety is maintained against dangerous offenders, but at the same time we want to protect the public in the future. To protect the public in the future, we have to ensure that there are good rehabilitation programs so that there will be no reoffenders.

The statutory requirements to review CCRA were commenced early in 1999 by a parliamentary subcommittee. The findings were published in its report, “Towards a Just, Peaceful and Safe Society: The CCRA Five Years Later”. The conclusion was that the CCRA was fundamentally sound but there were opportunities for improvement.

Bill C-19 introduces legislation to respond to 46 of the 53 subcommittee recommendations accepted by the government. Introduction of Bill C-19 is evidence of this government's action to strengthen public safety.

A summary of the amendments includes provisions to tighten the accelerated parole review, which provides for the presumptive release of first time, non-violent federal offenders, and statutory release. As well, the victim's right to present statements at the parole board is enshrined in law.

As result of the cross-country hearings conducted by the subcommittee, there are some major amendments that the bill covers. First, it would tighten up the accelerated parole review process. We want to make sure that people are indeed safe in this process, but we also want to make sure it is effective.

Second, it would reinforce greater scrutiny of those eligible for statutory release. There have been cases of and fears about not enough review of those who become eligible for statutory release. To preserve the safety of Canadians, as has been brought up by a number of members of Parliament, we want to ensure greater scrutiny in that area.

Third, it would streamline the temporary absence process. There is no use having inefficient processes, and we wish to streamline this one.

Fourth, it would enshrine the right of victims to present a statement at National Parole Board hearings. This is only natural justice. Victims of course were involved in the whole situation and should at least be able to give their views at the National Parole Board hearings. They would feel that justice has been done. Various considerations that may have had an effect on the victims are brought forward in those statements and the whole system is transparent, open and accountable.

Fifth, the bill would permit the conditional release of terminally ill offenders on humanitarian grounds. If someone is terminally ill, temporary releases and conditional releases would make obvious sense so that they could live out their last days with their loved ones, at which time they would not be a threat to society.

These amendments of course will respond to the May 2000 report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, entitled, “A Work in Progress: The Corrections and Conditional Release Act”.

This act was originally proclaimed in 1992. For those watching who do not understand the background, it provides the legal framework for the correctional system. It sets out:

the purpose of the correctional system and principles that guide the Correctional Service of Canada and specific measures governing its operations...;

the purpose of the conditional release system and principles that guide the National Parole Board and specific measures governing its operations; and,

the establishment of the Office of the Correctional Investigator and specific measures governing its operation--

It is very important that we release people at the correct times into the correct environments so that they are not released too early without proper scrutiny for the safety of Canadians, but at the same time it is important that we do not keep them in physical incarceration long after it has any benefit for society and long after it provides any protection to society. In fact, that reduces their ability to become contributing members of society.

The CCRA contains a review clause regarding the parliamentary review of provisions and operations of the act. Accordingly, the committee went across the country and did its review in February 1999. It provided 53 recommendations. The government's action will deal with 46 of those recommendations. Some of the changes have been accomplished through policy and program issues within current resources, but fully meeting the commitments requires a number of legislative amendments, which led to the introduction of this bill.

I would like to go into detail now on the five amendments that I listed earlier as to the technical description of how those amendments would work, but because I do not have time to put them all in, maybe I will just pick one of the technical areas from each of the five provisions that we are proposing to amend.

On the first one, the tightening of provisions relating to accelerated parole review, APR, we are going to exclude from it offenders convicted of offences such as criminal organization offences, child pornography, high treason, sexual exploitation of a person with a disability, causing bodily harm with intent using an air gun or pistol, and torture. There are three more, which I hope subsequent speakers will cover.

Under streamlining of temporary absences, we are going to give the Correctional Service of Canada sole authority to grant escorted temporary absences to offenders serving a life sentence. There are three more points under that area as well.

Under the reviewing of all statutory release cases and adding to the grounds for detention, we are going to legislate the requirement that the Correctional Service of Canada review all statutory release cases to determine whether to refer the case to the National Parole Board for detention review and whether to recommend to the board the imposition of special conditions.

Under expanding victims' rights with respect to National Parole Board hearings, we are going to enshrine in law the right of victims to present a statement at National Parole Board hearings. There is another point under this amendment.

Finally, there are a few other amendments. We are going to increase the maximum number of full time parole board members from 45 to 60. We propose to ensure that the annual and special reports of the correctional investigator would include full responses of the Correctional Service of Canada. We are going to propose that Correctional Service allow for terminally ill offenders serving life or indeterminate sentences to be released on parole on humanitarian grounds before their regular parole updates. As well, we are going to resolve a number of other technical issues.

Madam Speaker, you are doing an excellent job in your role, might I say, as well as in your role as Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole.

I think the bill will be welcomed by all Canadians. It would provide greater scrutiny, but also allow the release of prisoners in a time slot that would make them positive contributors to society as soon as possible.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge
Ontario

Liberal

Dan McTeague Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Speaker, I wish to congratulate you in your new official title and role. It has been some time since a member of an opposition party has had an opportunity to sit in the Chair. Ian McClelland did a very good job and I am sure, Madam Speaker, you are certainly up to the very noble task. It is one that I could envy and perhaps some day down the road I might be able to join you.

The legislation that is before the House, Bill C-19, is extremely important. It comes from several years of concern that had been raised about the efficacy of our sentencing provisions. It would ensure that those who are incarcerated at some point down the road have a better chance at reintegration into society. The bill is extremely important for the reason that it is faithful to the requirements and to the work that was done by the justice and legal affairs subcommittee.

My concern of course is that the legislation itself is a very vaunted and important attempt at bringing together a number of concerns in a streamlined and timely fashion.

I want to thank the hon. member for Yukon, the parliamentary secretary, who spoke at great length about some of the more impressive parts of the legislation and what the amendments would include.

There are a number of things in this bill that interest me a great deal. The effectiveness of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which is the framework legislation for federal correctional services and the conditional release system, has been recognized in many countries. This act is based on knowledge gleaned from research as well as on respect for the rule of law and for human dignity.

We also know that the act recognizes that the best way to ensure public safety is to prepare offenders properly for their return to the community as law-abiding citizens, and to carefully monitor those offenders who present a risk to public safety.

We know of many incidences in the past where people who have done their mandatory time and for which appropriate effective correction had not taken place. This of course defeats the purpose, not only of the individual serving the time required, but at the same time minimizes the risk to individuals to ensure there is a proper reintegration.

The mandatory revision of the legislation was undertaken in early 1999, I believe, by a parliamentary subcommittee. I would like to point out that the findings of this study are contained in the document called, “Towards a Just, Peaceful and Safe Society: The Corrections and Conditional Release Act Five Years Later”. The subcommittee found that the legislation was fundamentally valid, but that there was room for improvement.

We can always see that there is room for improvement.

Bill C-19 includes provisions based on 46 out of 53 of the subcommittee's recommendations. It is interesting to see that so many recommendations were taken to heart. These recommendations accepted by the government are a true indication of the change in perception. I am pleased to say that the government and the minister have taken this seriously.

The introduction of this bill shows the government's desire to take the necessary measures for increasing public safety.

In sum, the changes include provisions to tighter up the process for accelerated parole review—which grants the release of offenders based on the presumption that they are non-violent and serving their first federal sentence—and statutory release.

We also feel that there should be a request for support from this House. This cannot go on without the necessary resources. At some point, the House should take a stand on the big issues of the day.

I think CCRA amendments would provide the foundation, as my hon. colleague suggested a little earlier, the cornerstone for Canada's correctional system. It would aim to protect public safety by both controlling offenders and assisting them to successfully reintegrate into society.

The proposed amendments respond to the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, following a statutory and mandatory review under the act.

One of the principle features of the bill would tighten the provisions for the accelerated parole review process and under the proposed terms fewer first time federal offenders would be eligible for release under the APR. That is an important point to understand.

The government has recognized what the committee has tried to do and that is to provide a balanced approach that would bring into account both the security needs of the public, which is in its right to demand, as well as ensuring that people who have done their time have an opportunity to integrate and reintegrate successfully.

The bill would legislate the requirement for Correctional Service of Canada to review all offenders who are entitled to statutory release for possible referral for detention or imposition of special conditions.

We have seen this from time to time, where a post-sentencing decision has been made by a judge, the person is given a particular recommendation for a sentence and that recommendation somehow in the transfer of the prisoner gets lost. It is best that we have a coordinated approach that is faithful to the requirements of our justices as they propose a sentence for an individual, particularly when it deals with the kind of crimes as enumerated quite ably by the hon. member for Yukon.

Temporary absences are an important and significant part of the gradual release process. The legislation clarifies the decision-making authority and adds the purposes for which temporary absences may be granted in order to assist with the socialization of offenders.

The legislation would enshrine the rights of victims to present a statement to the National Parole Board hearings. This is absolutely and fundamentally critical to the bill and it is long time overdue that it be recognized.

In line with humanitarian values, terminally ill offenders serving life or indeterminate sentences may be granted parole for the parole eligibility dates. In addition to these legislative proposals we have made significant progress in implementing the standing committee's recommendations through a number of policy program measures.

I have some familiarity with Canadians who are in prisons in other parts of the world and of course there are treaties between these various countries as to how to transfer these individuals. It is clear that around the world we have an understanding that if an individual is terminally ill, how the public perceives this is extremely important in extenuating circumstances.

Those kinds of considerations must be brought into consideration and latitude must be given to the Parole Board in order for it to make a decision under purely and strictly humanitarian grounds. This does not detract or diminish from the severity of the crime these individuals have perpetrated, particularly when it comes to child exploitation, a matter which many members in the House know that this member has led in a number of areas.

I believe the bill begins in a very important way to recognize what the public expects of our judicial and correctional system. Canadians want outcomes that will promote better, healthier, and safer neighbourhoods and communities at the end of the day.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Chicoutimi—Le Fjord
Québec

Liberal

André Harvey Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Madam Speaker, thank you for this opportunity to speak for the second time today on an important matter.

This morning, during members' statements, I spoke about a plant to be built in Varennes, and about the whole ethanol issue. The future is in the hands of governments who believe it is important to put forward solutions and initiatives with significant environmental impact.

We are proving this, despite the little ups and downs we are experiencing at present in connection with the sponsorship issue—

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.