House of Commons Hansard #30 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was veterans.

Topics

Business of the House
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Madam Speaker, I believe if you were to seek it, you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, at 3 p.m. on Thursday, April, 22, 2010, the House resolve itself into committee of the whole in order to welcome Olympic and Paralympic Athletes; that the Speaker be permitted to preside over the committee of the whole and make welcoming remarks on behalf of the House; and, when the proceedings of the committee have concluded or at approximately 3:15 p.m. the committee shall rise and the House shall resume its business as though it were 3 p.m.

Business of the House
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to propose the motion?

Business of the House
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business of the House
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-5, An Act to amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise in this House today to speak in favour of Bill C-5, An Act to amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act.

This legislation would further strengthen our government's track record of keeping our streets and communities safe for everyone and to ensure that those who do commit crimes are held responsible for their actions.

Since coming into office in 2006, our government has made the safety and security of Canadians one of its top priorities. That is why we have pushed forward with a series of measures to get tough on crime, especially violent gun crime. For example, members will recall that in the last session of this Parliament any killing linked to organized crime would automatically lead to a charge for first-degree murder.

To further combat the reach of organized crime, this government has also introduced legislation that imposes mandatory jail time for those involved in serious drug offences. In addition, we have passed laws that address drive-by shootings and other intentional shootings that brazenly disregard both our laws and the right of all Canadians to their safety.

We have passed legislation that gives added protection to the police and peace officers who put their lives on the line every day that they go to work. I would like to pay tribute to the members of the Canadian Police Association who have been visiting us on Parliament Hill the last few days.

Offenders have always done their best to go undetected and the rapid pace of technological change has made this easier than ever. Hidden in the dark alleys of the information highway, offenders are attempting, and often succeeding, at stealing the very identity of their fellow Canadians.

I am proud to remind all members of the House that this government has passed tough new laws that help the police and the courts fight the scourge of identity theft.

However, the wheels of justice often turn more slowly than we would like. As a result, there may be considerable time spent by an individual in pre-sentence custody. I am very proud that the government has passed laws that limit the amount of credit offenders will receive while in pre-sentence custody. In this way, the guilty will serve a sentence that truly reflects the severity of their crimes.

These are but a few examples of the government's efforts and accomplishments to keep our communities safer, to ensure that offenders receive appropriate sentences and to ensure that the rights of victims are heard and respected.

However, as the Speech from the Throne notes, our work is far from over, and I am pleased that this government has already taking further action.

Members will recall that the Minister of Public Safety recently reintroduced legislation to strengthen the national sex offender registry. This measure would provide additional protection for our children from abuse and exploitation.

With that background, I am pleased that our Conservative government has reintroduced amendments that would strengthen the International Transfer of Offenders Act.

As members will recall, and as the last speaker correctly identified, Canada has been a party to international treaties relating to the transfer of offenders since 1978. Since that time, 1,531 Canadian offenders have been transferred back to Canada, while Canada has returned 127 foreign national offenders in our prisons back to their countries of citizenship. The initial legislation, which was modernized in 2004, now, in the interest of public safety, has to be amended once again.

Currently, the Minister of Public Safety is required by law to take several factors into account when considering a request for a transfer. These include: first, if the offenders returned to Canada would constitute a threat to the security of Canada; second, consideration of whether the offender left or remained outside Canada with the intention of abandoning Canada as their place of permanent residence; third, the offender's social or family ties to Canada; and, fourth, whether the foreign entity or prison system presents a serious threat to the offender's security or human rights. No doubt, these are important considerations which ought to be taken into account. However, there are deficiencies.

Nowhere in the current law is there any specific mention of protecting the safety and security of law-abiding Canadians. Nowhere in the current law is there any specific mention of victims, family members or children. I would submit to the House that these are serious omissions that the bill before us would certainly correct.

Moreover, Bill C-5, when passed by the House, will allow the minister to consider a number of other factors when considering offender requests for a transfer. Specifically, the Minister of Public Safety will be able to consider situations where an offender who requests a transfer to Canada has refused to participate in career, vocational or educational programs while incarcerated in another country. The minister will also be able to take into account the circumstances in which the offender, if transferred to Canada, will be monitored and supervised after his or her release. This is especially important, given that one of the purposes of the act under consideration will continue to be contributing to the administration of justice and the rehabilitation of offenders and their reintegration into the community.

Bill C-5 would also allow the minister to take into account several other very important considerations when assessing an offender's request for a transfer. These are as follows: If the offender has accepted responsibility for the offence for which he or she has been convicted, including acknowledging the harm done to victims and also to the community; and, if the offender is likely to continue to engage in criminal activity if the transfer is successful. These considerations should surely help to guide decisions about whether to grant a request for a transfer from an offender serving a sentence outside of Canada.

Currently, there is no clear legislative authority for the minister to take those matters into account. Bill C-5 would surely remedy these deficiencies, while providing the minister more flexibility in the decision-making process itself.

I will now highlight how the proposed amendments would help keep Canadians safer, because I believe all members of the House are interested in keeping Canadians safe. The amendments before the House would add public safety as one of the purposes of this legislation. These are two simple words but these simple words will clearly reinforce the government's commitment to ensuring that Canadians, their families and their children are safe and secure in their communities. At the same time, the amended legislation would ensure that offenders remain accountable for their actions, both in Canada and abroad, and continue to be treated fairly and equitably when they are making a request to be transferred.

The legislation as it stands would empower the Minister of Public Safety to assess an offender's potential security risk when considering a request to transfer back to Canada. However, as I indicated in my intervention with the previous speaker, the notion of a threat to the security of Canada has been linked solely to terrorism threats to Canadian people as a whole. We believe that is too narrow and must be expanded to include public safety risks to Canadians domestically and locally in their own communities. The bill would add to this by including as a factor whether, in the minister's opinion, the offender's return to Canada will endanger public safety. The Minister of Public Safety will consider, among other things, the safety of victims, the safety of any child and the safety of members of the offender's family.

To further guide the minister's decision-making on these matters, the amendments propose other factors that would add greater flexibility in considering transfer applications. An example as to how this might work in practice is that if the offender is likely to commit criminal activity in Canada, the minister may take this factor into consideration when entertaining the transfer request.

Conversely, this legislation also has factors that would actually assist offenders in making applications successfully. For example, if an offender is in poor health, has co-operated with law enforcement officials or has acknowledged the harm he or she has done to victims in the community, the minister may take these factors into account when considering the transfer request.

I would submit to all members of the House that these are sensible changes and, moreover, much needed. When the minister assesses the potential risk of transferring an offender back to Canada, it is not enough to examine the likely threat to national security. Public safety must also be a principal consideration in that decision, and public safety must include more than threats of terrorism.

This legislation is timely considering that it is National Victims of Crime Awareness Week. It also ensures that helping victims of crime remains at the heart of the government's public safety and justice agendas.

On this side of the House, we have always believed that every victim matters. We are committed to ensuring that victims' voices are heard and their concerns are taken seriously. That is among our highest priorities and why we have taken action on so many victims' rights issues.

The legislation before us is proposing to help further strengthen this track record by ensuring that the safety of victims can be taken into account when assessing a request for transfer. The changes our government is proposing stipulate that the safety of family members and children will be taken into account. This is an important change and a clear deficiency in the act as it currently reads.

The minister would be able to consider the issue of the transfer of an offender with assault convictions against family members and if it would endanger their safety. The minister would also be able to consider an offender incarcerated for a sexual offence against a child in a foreign state and if he or she is likely to commit a sexual offence against a child if transferred to Canada. Surely, these changes are sensible and all members ought to support them.

Bill C-5 would ensure that the Minister of Public Safety may consider public safety as part of the decision-making process for the transfer of offenders. As such, this bill reflects this government's commitment to strengthening the rights of victims, increasing the responsibility of offenders and making our communities safer.

While the amendments before the House today are simple and straightforward, they would have a significant impact on the lives of Canadians who are concerned about the transfer of offenders back to Canada. Accordingly, I urge all members to join with me in ensuring the speedy passage of Bill C-5.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to the member's comments and I will ask him some very serious and succinct questions emanating from his speech concerning public safety.

Yes, it is a goal of legislation and, yes, the words would mean something for sure. However, if a person is incarcerated for a specified term in the United States for a heinous crime or is transferred and put in a Canadian prison for the same term, for that amount of time how does it affect public safety?

The follow up to that is, If that person is in one of the sardine can jails in a state in the United States receiving no treatment, no rehabilitation, nothing, as opposed to being in one of our corrections facilities where corrections means what it means and there is programming—presumably the member still believes in that—how would it not be better for public safety if someone who has committed a heinous crime has treatment if he or she is going to be away from the public for the same period of time anyway?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, surely the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe does not believe that people do not commit crimes while they are incarcerated and that they are not a threat to public safety. They commit crimes against other prisoners, prison guards and prison officials and occasionally they leave the institutions to which they have been assigned and, therefore, become a serious public risk to members at large.

In a more general generic sense, to answer the member's question, this bill and the amendments to it strike a balance. He talked about tin can prisons abroad. They do exist and this legislation strikes a balance with respect to humanitarian consideration for the prisoner. If the prisoner is in fact in a situation where his or her human rights are under severe jeopardy, consideration ought to be given to his or her transfer. However, that concern for his or her human rights needs to be measured against the risk to public safety.

We believe that the legislation before being amended was too concerned with the rights of prisoners and little, if any, concern for public safety. The amendments, which emphasize victims' rights and the rights of the public at large, create the appropriate balance when entertaining these transfers.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I must agree with the comments of the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe in his last question. This bill is largely a PR exercise on the part of the government. The fact that it was introduced before the Prime Minister prorogued the House, setting the whole process back, is once again further proof that the government is not as tough on crime as it suggests it is.

Just last night we had Mr. Sullivan, who for the past three years has been the government's own appointee to look after the rights of victims, criticizing the government and saying that the government was more concerned about punishment than it was with the rights of victims.

We have an act right now that has been working just fine for 30 years. The government now decides, on the basis of one or two cases, that it wants to make these changes and put all of the discretion in the hands of the minister when we in fact have a very good process that works right now and has worked for 30 years. It is politicizing the process so that people like Mr. Radler can get quick entry back into the country, but somebody else who the minister does not like can be quashed. That is not the way to run a justice system.

My question for the member gets back to the whole issue of having these people under treatment when they are in a Canadian prison. He says that they might be attacking other prisoners and guards so we should leave them in the Unites States. The fact is that they will get out of prison in the United States some day without treatment and they will come back to Canada. I would submit to him that they are a bigger danger to public safety when they come back after 10 or 15 years untreated than they would be if we brought them back now and got them treated now.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I am confused by the hon. member's question. He talks about how he believes the current system is appropriate and how the current legislation as it reads is effective and then he goes on to cite a high profile example of a Mr. Radler who was transferred under the existing process. If he believes, as he seems to believe, that the current process is deficient, certainly he would support the government's attempt to amend the legislation.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, I am not sure whether the hon. member's speech was his speech or whether it was the propagandists on the other side of the wall. However, I will assume that he understands the bill fully and not just what has been prepared for him here. I know he sits on one of the committees that deals with these things.

He mentioned some sections that he agreed with here in the amendments. There are two things he did not mention and I am wondering what he thinks. First, the criterion under subparagraph (g) simply says, “the offender's health”. Does that mean good health, bad health or indeterminate health? What kind of health does it mean? What kind of a consideration is that when it does not really have any meaning?

Second, in subparagraph (l), at the very end of all of the considerations, the minister has “any other factor that the Minister considers relevant”. Why bother having any factors at all if at the end of it the minister can take into consideration any factor the minister considers relevant? How is that even charter compliant when there are no boundaries put on these considerations?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his good questions. They are technical but I think I can add my interpretation as a lawyer as to what these provisions mean.

When I read subparagraph (g), “the offender's health”, I believe that if the offender is in a state of poor health or requires some imminent treatment for his or her health, that is a factor that will be weighed positively in the offender's application. That is my interpretation of that provision.

With respect to the discretionary provision in subparagraph (l), “any other factor that the Minister considers relevant”, as the member knows, as all members who study these issues ought to know, different countries have different prison systems. It is impossible to predict with any sort of clarity or certainty exactly what type of situation or what kind of conditions a prisoner might be facing abroad or the prisoner's personal circumstances that led him or her to run afoul of the law in whatever foreign country he or she finds himself.

I think the discretionary provision contained in subparagraph (l) is most appropriate because there may be a situation where there is a very relevant factor that ought to be considered but does not fit neatly into subparagraphs (a) through (k). Subparagraph (l) allows the minister to consider a specific and unique issue or consideration under a unique circumstance when it might be appropriate.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Before resuming debate, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, Aboriginal Affairs; the hon. member for Madawaska—Restigouche, Rural Regions; the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, Employment.