House of Commons Hansard #103 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was offenders.

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The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-43, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Criminal Code, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Strengthening Canada’s Corrections System Act
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3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When this matter was last before the House, the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona had the floor. There are two minutes remaining in the time allotted for questions and comments consequent upon his remarks. I therefore call for questions and comments.

Resuming debate, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture.

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3:15 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to sponsor Bill C-43, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Criminal Code.

As the father of five children, public safety is a matter of great importance to me, and that is why I am proud to rise today to show that the government is honouring its promises to improve safety on our streets and in our communities, for all Canadians, and to ensure that victims have a voice in the justice system.

When the people of Glengarry—Prescott—Russell elected me for the first time, I told my constituents that our Conservative Party would do things differently in government, and that the appalling complacency of the former Liberal government would be coming to an end.

We said we were going to be tough on crime; we have kept our promise. We said we were going to make sure that people convicted of using firearms to commit serious crimes would get a sentence that reflected the heinousness of their actions; we have kept our promise. Unlike the opposition parties, which would like to keep claiming to protect Canadians with a useless and expensive firearms registry, we have taken concrete action against criminals who use firearms. We said we were going to give police the tools they need to do their jobs; once again, we have kept our promise.

Over the last three years, the government has honoured the commitments it made to protecting the safety of Canadians in their homes and their communities. We have fulfilled our commitment to help victims.

That is why I am very happy to have the opportunity to support this bill today. In addition to demonstrating our commitment, this initiative is supported by law enforcement representatives, victims’ rights groups and honourable members.

Bill C-43 proposes several fundamental reforms to corrections and conditional release to help ensure they continue to work the way they should in light of the changing nature of the offender population and the needs of victims.

Today, we know that many offenders entering Canada's corrections system arrive with histories of committing violent offences. Many offenders have gang or organized crime affiliations. An increasing number of offenders have serious mental health illnesses and nearly four out of five now arrive at a federal institution with a serious substance abuse problem. Many as well need to learn how to live as law-abiding citizens and might face the need to address their behaviours for the first time ever.

All of this requires a new approach to corrections and conditional release, one that will ensure that offenders get the help they need to rejoin society as law-abiding citizens, so that both our streets and our federal corrections facilities are safer places for everyone.

The amendments proposed in Bill C-43 will achieve this by enhancing offender responsibility and accountability, and by strengthening the management of offenders during their incarceration and parole. It will also achieve this by giving victims access to more information and by modernizing disciplinary actions.

All in all they reinforce and build on the work already underway to strengthen corrections and conditional release while also laying the foundation for a move toward a system of earned parole. They are also long overdue.

Some members of this House may know that as far back as 1998, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights created a subcommittee to review the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and recommend ways of improving it.

In its report, the subcommittee made 53 recommendations; one of the things it suggested was that the protection of society be the fundamental principle in all decision-making processes relating to the corrections and conditional release system, and that all efforts be made to ensure that offenders participate actively in their rehabilitation and reintegration. These were wise recommendations, that called for immediate action to be taken, and that is what our government is doing.

In 2007, our Conservative government established an independent committee to review the operational priorities, strategies and business plans of the Correctional Service of Canada, as part of our commitment to protecting Canadian families and communities.

The committee made 109 recommendations. Many of them are now being implemented, thanks to the $478 million that the government allocated in its 2008 budget. But we can do more, and that is what we are doing. The government is determined to achieve its objective, and that is why we are moving forward today.

Bill C-43 will allow us to implement a key recommendation in the 1998 report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and in the 2007 report of the independent review panel. This recommendation proposes to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to clarify that the protection of Canadians is the paramount consideration in the corrections and conditional release process.

Pursuant to the recommendations made in the two reports, Bill C-43 also proposes to ensure that the rehabilitation of offenders is a shared responsibility.

The amendments before us will require offenders to conduct themselves in a way that demonstrates respect for other people and property. As well, they will require all offenders to obey all penitentiary rules and conditions governing their release, while also actively participating in the setting and achieving of objectives in their correctional plans.

Since rehabilitation is a two-way commitment, Bill C-43 proposes amendments to ensure that a correctional plan is completed for each offender that sets out objectives for behaviour, program participation, and the meeting of their court-ordered obligations such as restitution to victims.

Amendments will also introduce new incentive measures to help promote offender participation in their correctional plan. As the 2007 independent panel report notes: “--if rehabilitation is to occur and truly be sustained, it must be shared between CSC and the offender”. That is what the amendments before us today will do.

As well, Bill C-43 will modernize the system of discipline in federal penitentiaries by, for example, addressing disrespectful, intimidating and assaultive behaviour by inmates, including the throwing of bodily substances. Anyone who has been a prison guard will say that the job is not easy. Prison guards will be pleased to learn that our Conservative government is standing up for them.

Bill C-43 also proposes to strengthen the management of offenders and their reintegration into society by allowing police officers to arrest offenders who appears to be in violation of their parole without a warrant and by excluding from accelerated parole offenders who are convicted of crimes such as street racing or luring a child over the Internet.

Police and other criminal justice partners have asked for these changes and our Conservative government is delivering on them. As a husband and father, I cannot emphasize enough how important this is to me and to families all across Canada.

Of course, the victims have been asking for a long time to have better access to information about offenders, and to play a more active role in the Canadian justice system.

Bill C-43 meets the victims' requests in a number of ways. For example, it allows them to obtain information on the reasons for a temporary absence or transfer, and on the offender's participation in programs and convictions for serious disciplinary offences. Families want to feel safe at home. It is unacceptable that they should live in constant fear that their victimizer could come back.

The right of victims to participate in National Parole Board hearings and to make statements will be put into law.

Moreover, in most cases, offenders will not be allowed to withdraw their parole application in the 14 days preceding the hearing date. The government is also setting up a national advisory committee to better inform victims of the policies and procedures that affect them, so that they can have better access to information and services that are of interest to them.

The amendments proposed by Bill C-43 are balanced and fair. They respond to the needs of victims as well as those of offenders who want to rejoin society as law-abiding citizens to lead useful and productive lives. They respond to the needs of staff in correctional facilities, all of whom have a right to expect a safe and secure work environment. They also respond to the needs of all Canadians who have a fundamental right to expect that the corrections system will work the way that it should work and that their safety and security is paramount.

I therefore urge all hon. members to give speedy passage to the bill before us today, so that all of us can continue to transform the corrections system into one that truly meets the needs of the 21st century.

Strengthening Canada’s Corrections System Act
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3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell and I found his remarks somewhat contradictory.

He said that he has five children and wants to protect them. He said that the Minister of Justice has introduced legislation in keeping with the commitments made by the Conservative Party. Something is also in the works to give police the tools they need to do their job and maintain law and order on our streets to keep people safe.

He used very often and repeatedly the word safety in his speech. Is it not somewhat contradictory for the Conservatives to be introducing this kind of bill, which not only does not abolish parole after one-sixth of sentence, but also takes away from police a trump card that allowed them to act? On top of that, they want to abolish the gun registry. Will it not just thrill criminals to bits to be able to carry and use as they please hunting guns or handguns without having to register them?

I would like the member to tell me this: Can we protect people while at the same time allowing criminals to carry unregistered firearms?

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3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member who just asked the question is confused about firearm registration. It is important to understand that the current registry is completely useless. There are far too many errors in the gun registry; the police does not trust the information it contains.

Also, it cost $2 billion. The fact of the matter is that firearm registration applies to law-abiding Canadian citizens, such as farmers, hunters and the likes. I hope that the member who asked the question does not represent a rural riding. Personally, speaking as the member of Parliament for a rural riding, I can say that most people in my riding are dead against firearm registration.

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3:30 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, mine is more of a comment than a question and deals with the heckler during my speech on Bill C-43. The member for Edmonton—St. Albert was asking me about some statistics I used in the speech on Bill C-43 that we are dealing with right now. By the way, I saw him last night on a show on CPAC, and he did a great job.

My information came from Statistics Canada, as I said to him and his heckling partners.

The Statistics Canada study found that adult offenders who spend their sentence under supervision in the community are far less likely to become reinvolved with correctional authorities within 12 months of their release than those who are in a correctional institution.

The study found that in four provinces, 11% of the people who were under community supervision became reinvolved with correctional authorities within 12 months of their release in 2003-04. Among the study where people were in the community only 30% were involved in crime.

The fact of the matter is that people who were in the correctional institutions and came out were twice as likely to reoffend as people who were under community supervision.

I can certainly provide the member with a copy of this study if he would like.

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3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would ask the member to table his documentation. It is hard to follow numbers and statistics when they are presented verbally.

One thing I do want to say is that the changes we are proposing in Bill C-43 are the types of changes that Canadians have asked for. Canadians feel unsafe. They feel victimized by criminals. The measures we are proposing in Bill C-43 address some of the very fundamental concerns they have expressed.

One of the measures is the presence of the victims at parole hearings. Victims have asked to be present at parole hearings and to have a say. They want to be able to tell their story and express their concerns about a decision that is about to be made regarding parole. Bill C-43 would put that into law so that victims would have the right to participate in the parole hearings. This is fundamental.

There are many other excellent changes that we are bringing about. I encourage members from the opposition parties to support Bill C-43.

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3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, hunters on the north shore are well aware that in order to hunt, they have to register their ATV, their boat, their trailer, their truck and also their hunting camp. At the time, they decided to take part in the system, which was not necessarily comprehensive. But in order to use a hunting rifle, a hunter had to register it.

The Conservatives are living in the past. This has been resolved. This is the system in place now. Anyone who wants to use equipment has to register it. The police in Quebec and in Canada support the firearms registry, which has led to a decrease in the crime rate.

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3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, clearly, the member does not understand the firearms registry or what its implications are on Canadians. He is speaking from a position of ignorance.

When a Canadian buys a firearm, of course he registers it. The problem with the firearms registry is that the firearm must be registered year after year, and if it is not registered in time, then the law-abiding gun owner is treated as a criminal. He has just broken a criminal law and he is treated as such.

The member should also know that criminals do not register their weapons. They say that the whole intent of the firearms registry is to better enforce weapons and their use within society, particularly to fight crime. We know that criminals do not line up to register their weapons and they do not maintain the registry.

As I mentioned before, the registry is riddled with errors and there are all sorts of privacy issues. We learned of one where the RCMP released private information concerning gun owners to a consulting firm. That was wrong, and the gun registry facilitates that.

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3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in favour of Bill C-43 and in honour of victims of violent crime across Canada. My riding has felt the full force of such crimes over the past year. Much of what I will share in my remarks today comes from the input I have received from the families of these victims.

I have spoken several times in this House about the terrible events that occurred on October 19, 2007 in the city of Surrey. That fateful evening was marked by the most brutal gangland slaying in British Columbia's history.

Sometime that day, between 3 and 4:30 p.m., members of a criminal gang executed six people with gunshots to their heads. Four were young men with established links to the drug trade, but two of them, 55-year-old Ed Schellenberg, and 22-year-old Chris Mohan, were uninvolved victims. They were innocent bystanders who were at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Although the perpetrators of this terrible crime have been apprehended and are now in the justice system, for the families of the victims, there is little consolation to be had. That is why I believe that any measure that would provide family members with some measure of peace of mind is entirely appropriate.

Bill C-43 makes improvements to the healing process and strengthens the rights of victims and of society in our parole process.

As recognized by a Correctional Services of Canada independent review panel, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act leaves a substantial amount of room to better include victims and their families in the process.

Under the revised act, a victim's right to attend and make statements at National Parole Board hearings will be enshrined in law. This is a sensible idea.

There must be no discretion residing with board members to prevent victims' statements. The only determining factor should be the will of the victims and their families to be heard either in person or by statement.

The movement of convicted criminals by transfers is something which, in the past, has happened in virtual isolation, with little or no notice of such decisions passed on to victims or their families in advance. This isolation is unacceptable as the residual effects of crime never fully disappear.

Therefore, correctional services has an obligation to mitigate the stress caused by such prisoner transfers by providing as much information as possible to prepare those impacted by the crime.

The name and location of the institution to which the offender is transferred, the reason for the transfer, information about the offender's participation in programs, and convictions for serious disciplinary offences should be freely shared.

While I keep referring to victims and their families, everyone in these types of situations are victims. The pain caused to individuals who have had a family member pass away as a result of violent crime is immeasurable. Thus I am very pleased to see that guardians, caregivers or victims who are deceased, ill or otherwise incapacitated are being given an equal level of rights with regard to receiving information.

Perhaps the most significant part of Bill C-43, however, will be the creation of a national advisory committee on victims issues co-chaired by the Department of Justice and the Department of Public Safety. With the intention of giving victims the opportunity to provide input into policies and procedures that impact victims and victims' services, this is a revolution in the way victims' rights are considered.

For many years groups such as Canadian Crime Victims Foundation have advocated from outside the system. They have fought to educate service providers like police officers, justice system personnel, victim service providers and front-line staff on victims' needs, both immediate and long term.

They have tried to provide a clear understanding of protections needed and services required at public and private hearings by those victimized by violent crime. They have created broad public awareness in support of proactive, positive changes for victims of violent crime.

They have conducted research to provide reliable competent data on the status of crime victims, their needs, and the long-term viability of government programs.

While the contributions of such groups will continue to be vital with the creation of the national advisory committee, this newly established body must be considered a huge success and a grand endorsement of their efforts over many years.

Consideration for victims hopefully never again will take the form of tokenism. The changes that I have just described within Bill C-43 represent a new paradigm for our justice system.

Never again do I want to have to face victims or their families and hear about how they have been systematically and institutionally cut out of the process of justice, and as a result have had their healing replaced by anger, frustration, and complete and utter hopelessness.

Every member in this House has constituents and neighbours who have been impacted by violent crime. Regardless of party affiliation or personal viewpoints, this is a bill that we should support in unified confidence in honour of victims.

I encourage all members of the House to step forward, do the right thing and support this important and long-overdue piece of legislation.

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3:45 p.m.

Oxford
Ontario

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I would like to publicly recognize the member for Newton—North Delta for his passionate plea for victims.

It is fair to say that his passionate personal plea is certainly genuine. We certainly welcome his support. We hope that he will work with some of the colleagues on the other side who are perhaps not as interested as he is in passing this legislation.

I know from what he had to say that he has given a great deal of thought to the legislation and research on it. One of the important parts, I think, for all of us is the automatic one-sixth reduction in sentences. I am wondering if he has ever found anyone, a victim or a citizen in his community, who thought that a six-year sentence for a first-time offender meant one year.

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3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety for his kind remarks toward me. It is not about me. It is all about the victims, Canadians and society. We want to create a safe society for all.

When I look at members on this side, I know they carry the hurt. The situations they are going through are similar to those that theparliamentary secretary or I or any other member in the House is going through. This is why we, collectively, have a duty to society to make sure we are living in and our kids are growing up in a safe society.

I am certain members on this side, particularly the Liberal members, are committed to ensuring that we work along with the government to pass legislation that gives victims and Canadians peace of mind.

When it comes to the question that the parliamentary secretary asked, certainly every day we talk to people, and that is their feeling. The only way we can deal with it is by bringing in tougher and minimum mandatory sentences that will address the question that he posed.

Strengthening Canada’s Corrections System Act
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3:45 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have spent the better part of the last four years in the House listening to the Conservatives shout and holler about getting tough on crime. It seems to me most of it is dumbing down the issue of crime and trying to oversimplify it.

We talk about a balance in making our streets safe. One of the ways to deal with recidivism is to ensure that people do not go back to prison. To do that, they need to have supports within the community.

It is all fine and well for the government to legislate what it is going to do to people in prisons. There seems to be no plan for these people for when they come out of prison.

There are issues, such as a national housing strategy. I have dealt with men coming out of prison. If they have no secure lodging or safe environments to start to rehabilitate, they reoffend. There is the same issue with drug addictions. We know how many people are in jail for crimes because of their addictions. Unless we have measures in place, they will reoffend. We see it again and again.

People can talk to police who will say that. People can talk to social workers. Yet we see that the government has no plan or vision in terms of, as we would say, draining the swamps of criminal behaviour by ensuring that the people who are most likely to be a threat are dealt with when they are released so that they can actually begin to become constructive members of society.

I would ask the hon. member what his views are in terms of having a long-term, larger vision with regard to getting smart on crime.

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3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I could not agree more with him. In fact, if the hon. member goes back to speeches I have made on crime, he will see that I have always supported every piece of tough on crime legislation that has come before the House, whether it has come from the NDP, the Conservatives, the Bloc or the Liberals.

I have always stood for being tough on crime, but at the same time we have to ensure the factors the member mentioned, which are education, prevention and rehabilitation, are part and parcel of society, to make sure that criminals who come out of prison do not come out as bigger criminals.

We can make them productive members of society only by making sure they are given the proper rehabilitation and tools when they are released from prison so that they come out as productive citizens of this great nation.

Strengthening Canada’s Corrections System Act
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3:50 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague as he was speaking and while I appreciate his support for Bill C-43, I hope of course that he is speaking also for his Liberal colleagues.

I am wondering what assurance my colleague can give me that when this passes through the House, it will not be delayed, obstructed or gutted by Liberal senators in the other place. This is a very real concern I have because of what we saw, for example, on Bill C-25, which passed through the House, but which, when it reached the Liberal senators in the other place, was gutted. Actually, they defied their leader in doing so, and they did so without any repercussions.

Fortunately, Bill C-25, due to public pressure, passed ungutted, let us say, in its original form and Canadians were well served, but when the President of the Treasury Board today brought up Bill C-26 on auto theft, we saw it too being obstructed and delayed by the Liberal senators in the other place.

I hear my colleague speaking, but I would like to know what assurance he can give, not just to me and my colleagues in the House, but to all Canadians that this will make it through the Liberal senator blockade in the other place.