House of Commons Hansard #69 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was consultants.

Topics

International Transfer of Offenders Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, let us state that it does work well; I totally agree, but it could be better. It could be better so that we can catch some of the most heinous people and give discretion and make reference to public safety, to the fact that the minister can have that discretion to ask whether a person truly has been rehabilitated, whether that person, in his or her circumstance has taken proper rehabilitation to integrate back into society.

As the member shakes his head, I suppose he would prefer that that not be taken into consideration. Instead he would rather just assume that all people who are released are rehabilitated. It is often not the case. People often reoffend. It is working but it could be better.

International Transfer of Offenders Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-5 is in its second incarnation in this House. It was first introduced as Bill C-59 in November 2009. Of course, it got killed as did so many other really important pieces of crime legislation that absolutely had to be passed immediately. Because of the Prime Minister's prorogation of Parliament in late December 2009, it went down the tubes as did all the other bills at that time. In spite of the protestations and advocacy we heard from the government side about the absolute need to pass these bills immediately, of course prorogation was more important. The bill was then reintroduced in April when it had three hours of debate. The government never did bring it back in the spring, but finally brought it back in the fall of this year.

This bill is quite offensive to a fundamental principle of our democracy, and western democracies in particular. That principle is the rule of law. This is not the only bill where the government has attempted to do this, and in some cases has done it, but it shifts significant power into the whimsical hands of ministers. When I see that, I sometimes think we are back at the point where we have the divine right of kings, that rule where the government of the day gets to make whatever decision it wants based on whatever reason it wants. That basically is what the bill would do.

We just heard from my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas that the system as it is right now, since 1993, has had four cases of recidivism out of 620. That is a rate of .6%.

I will come back to this point in more detail vis-à-vis the two cases that came down on Tuesday of this week from the Federal Court where the decision, again a whimsical decision, of the minister of public safety of the day was overturned. If we proceed with this bill and more prisoners in other countries are refused access to this program, what happens then is they will come out of prisons in other countries where there has been no rehabilitation program at all and will come back to Canada without any criminal record, which makes it difficult for our police forces to be able to pursue them. They will come back to Canada without any parole provisions or any supervision post-custody, because of course that is all done in the other country. They will come back here because they are Canadian citizens and we have no basis for not letting them back into the country. That may be something the current government will try taking a shot at, again. However, we cannot do that under international law. They will come back to Canada without a criminal record, having received no rehabilitation while they were incarcerated and with no supervision control over them when they are back in Canada.

I ask the government to stop and think for a minute about what that means vis-à-vis recidivism and the likelihood of more crimes being committed by those individuals who oftentimes have been convicted of fairly serious crimes in other countries.

We talk about safe streets and safe communities; they are speaking points, buzzwords. How safe are our streets, how safe are our communities going to be when we dump those people back into our communities with no supervision, no rehabilitation? Oftentimes they are coming out of prisons in other countries that just hardened them. Oftentimes they come back with serious mental health problems as well, if they did not have them before. That is what is going to happen if we reduce the number of cases that are allowed access to this program.

It has been an extremely successful program. There is no other program that anyone can point to with that low a recidivism rate. There is not one in Canada. I do not know if the government thinks that by doing this it will somehow reach perfection. The opposite is going to happen. Many more people will come back after many years of incarceration elsewhere and commit serious crimes in this country.

If we keep the program as it is now, it could use some fine tuning. If we keep it as it is now, we allow access to it. When people are incarcerated here, we see to it that they go through the rehabilitation programs in Canada. When they are released, it will be under parole supervision, oftentimes for extended periods of time. They will have a criminal record in Canada. All those mechanisms will exist to protect our communities. They absolutely disappear if people do not get access to this program.

There is another point I would like to make with regard to the actual provisions in the bill itself. The government has listed eight criteria, all discretionary on the part of the minister to consider. I listened to my colleague from the Conservative Party who spoke just before me. He said that these things do not have to be taken into account. Sure, it would be good to know whether an individual in a prison in another foreign jurisdiction had refused rehabilitation programs, but the minister does not have to take that into account. All eight of the criteria are met.

This brings me to the kind of exercise of discretion that we have seen. On Tuesday, two rulings came down from the Federal Court. I have to apologize that I was not able to get the actual rulings and I am working with some of the quotes that have been taken by media out of the rulings. There are two separate cases.

In one case the court clearly and bluntly said to the minister, “We don't understand how you could have drawn these conclusions. The facts in the case are this. You made your determination and said the facts of the case are exactly opposite”. That is the kind of whimsical discretion we are seeing exercised by government ministers in the face of legislation that requires them to exercise their discretion reasonably, which was another determination the court made in that case, that it was not exercised reasonably.

The reasons given were completely contradictory to the actual facts as found by the trial judge in that case, completely contradictory. It was not just the trial judge, by the way, it was also the prosecutor. The case was overturned and sent back for reconsideration by the minister. One can only guess what is going to happen if that case comes up under the legislation being proposed. The current legislation will not apply because it will not be retroactive.

The court very clearly told the minister that he did not know what he was doing, that he was doing it all wrong and completely backward. Now the government is proposing to give other ministers unlimited discretion. The wording in the last of the eight criteria reads this way, “any other factor that the minister considers relevant”. If the minister considers the colour of the prisoner's skin, the colour of his eyes, whether he has short hair or long hair as relevant, he or she can determine that. There is absolutely no limit to what is relevant because it is all at the whim of the minister.

We are hearing from the Conservatives that this is sub judice, but there is no realistic possibility for an appeal of this case. The Federal Court judge decided that case on the facts of these two cases. The second case is troublesome from one standpoint. I believe that the wording is accurate, but I am only quoting from the article in the newspaper.

What Justice O'Keefe said was that the courts “cannot condone nor accept completely unstructured discretion”. If they apply that, in the light of the charter, this law will not survive a charter challenge. It is quite clear in that wording.

What we will hear at the public safety committee, if it gets there because there is substantial opposition from all opposition parties, but if it does pass at second reading and gets to committee, is the minister saying that he has had his people look at this and that it is charter proof. We have heard that from the Conservatives a number of times with a number of cases on other bills they have passed, supported, oftentimes, by the Liberals, and then struck down because they are not charter proof.

We have heard reports in the last few weeks in the media about well qualified public servants within the Justice Department speaking anonymously that they are constantly under pressure to agree to let the courts decide. They hear from the minister and the minister's office, whether it is public safety or the justice minister, “Don't worry about it, don't worry about the charter. If we're wrong, let the judges fix it”. That is not only an abdication of responsibility but it is also a dishonest approach both in the House and to the public safety and the justice committee and to the public generally.

The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada has a responsibility to not present legislation to the House that clearly will not survive a charter challenge. It is not a maybe might survive, but we will let the judges decide. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of this country has a responsibility to only present legislation that he believes, based on firm opinion and on the law and the charter, that it will survive a charter challenge. That is not what has been happening since the Conservatives have taken power.

We are constantly seeing sections come through both the justice committee and the public safety committee, sections that will not survive a charter challenge, but we are hearing from the Minister of Justice and Attorney General that they will. Then cases come on and there are many more pending. We know there are all sorts of sections that will get struck down. This is almost certainly one of them based on the decision of the Federal Court on Tuesday.

We in the opposition parties are faced as a Parliament at this point of having to tell the government that based on this decision it should withdraw the bill, take it back and have another look at it. I will concede that there are some provisions with regard to the eight point criteria that we would be prepared to support. As I mentioned earlier, if we know from the other jurisdiction that a prisoner has refused to take rehabilitation programs in that jurisdiction while incarcerated, that should be taken into account, not may be taken into account, by the ministers as to whether they will allow the person into the program. We would accept that.

The bill should be sent back to the Department of Justice, redrafted to make those criteria that are acceptable mandatory, that the minister must take them into account in making a decision and, of course, removing the absolute discretion of the minister that the bill is proposing at this time.

I will now talk a bit more about some of the cases I have had to deal with in my office since the government came into effect. We are now on our third public safety minister but they have basically all acted the same way. There has been a significant increase in the number of rejections by the government minister of the day since the Conservatives came into power, cases that have cried out.

I remember one case a member from Edmonton raised and then got slapped down by the minister, and I assume by the Prime Minister's Office, involving a case of a person incarcerated in Cuba. I have had two of those myself in my office where they were denied access to the program.

In all three of those cases that I know quite intimately, under the old regime, prior to these minsters, all three of those people would have been admitted back into Canada. In all three cases, the fact that they were not, we are going to get people back in our country who are not going to be supervised, who will not have a criminal record because they did not have one when they left Canada and, as all three of those cases are in Cuba, none of them had access to any rehabilitation programs. One of the cases involves a severe health problem. I am not sure that person will ever make it back to Canada. He may very well die in a prison in Cuba. It was not a death sentence that he was sentenced to either.

Then we have that really notorious case in Florida of a young man out of Quebec suffering from bipolar or schizophrenia. This has all been in the paper and so I am not releasing any information that has not been made public by him and his family. On his way down to Florida he stops taking his medication. He gets into a fight just inside the Florida border and, in the course of the fight, the other combatant is killed. He is convicted to the equivalent of our second degree murder or manslaughter. He is receiving absolutely no treatment. He is not even getting most of his medications while incarcerated and sentenced to life. All of that information was put before the minister and he rejected him having access to the program. The state of Florida did allow him to have access to the program.

I do not know if I made this clear, but the jurisdiction where the person is incarcerated must agree first that the person will be released back to Canada and then our minister needs to go along with it. Florida officials said that they would release him back to Canada so he could serve the time in Canada but our minister rejected that.

We have those kinds of cases. Their conduct is inhumane. What we will be doing here with this bill, if it goes through, is augmenting extensively their ability to do it, if it survives the charter challenge. It is a very offensive bill from that vantage point. I go back to my opening comments when I said that we are a democracy, that we are based on the rule of law.

I happened to be flying during the summer break near the end of the summer and I watched the current Robin Hood movie. There we had it, 900 years ago. Our system began to curtail absolute discretion on the part of our rulers and replaced it with rule of law. This bill would take us back to a similar period of time where we do not have rules that ministers have to follow, exercising their discretion within those. Our charter says that we should and I hope, should this bill ever get into law, that the charter will be strong enough to reject this and say that it is unconstitutional and offensive to our rights in this country.

That is not the route we should go. We should not fall into the trap that the Conservatives have fallen into of saying, “Well, we are not sure, but this is what we want to do ideologically, this is what we want to do politically, we have to be seen to be tough on crime and so we will let the judges decide”.

This is a minority government and the opposition parties have a role to play. We will not fall into that trap. We are parliamentarians and we have a responsibility to protect all of our citizens from unjust laws. This is an unjust law and we should all vote against it and defeat it at second reading.

International Transfer of Offenders Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I commend the hon. member for his speech. I enjoy working with him on the justice committee as he is always well prepared and reasoned in his logic, although sometimes I disagree with him and I certainly disagree with him with respect to this bill.

He and I have argued from time to time over the value of minimum mandatory sentences and his argument against them is always that it takes the discretion out of the trial judge's hands. He criticizes this legislation because it would grant the minister, in his mind, too much discretion. I am curious how he reconciles that. Why not discretion to a minister who is elected and accountable to this House and the electorate as opposed to a judge who is accountable to no one after he is appointed?

International Transfer of Offenders Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, my first answer is that one just needs to look at the track record of the ministers who have exercised this discretion, more limited as it is under the current legislation.

The second point is that judges exercise their discretion by imposing mandatory minimums generally with one or two exceptions. Judges exercise their discretion within the principles that are set out in the Criminal Code. We have had sentencing principles for 30-plus years and we exercise, as judges, restrictions within that. Our courts of appeal, all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada, supervise that the judicial discretion they have is exercised properly within those guidelines that we as parliamentarians have given them having gone through the democratic process.

We also have judges who have been trained, both as lawyers and as judges, to understand how they are supposed to exercise that discretion. We obviously do not have that in the ministers in the government. Now my colleague is saying that we will give them even more discretion.

I would not give this discretion that is in the bill to a judge. I am not prepared to say that any judge in this country should be able to take into account any other factor that he or she considers relevant. I am not prepared to give that to anybody. We operate under a rule of law. We set the guidelines and we expect them to interpret those and apply them, not go off on some whim.

International Transfer of Offenders Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have two questions for the hon. member.

The premise, and I hope he will agree, is that the very clear history and convention of this House as a democratically elected House is to prevent the imposition of arbitrary measures on all of our citizens. The Conservatives should realize that that is our role.

First, does the member regard the unfettered discretion outlined by him and discussed earlier in this bill as being an arbitrary measure of that nature so that it should be rejected out of hand?

Second, could that unfettered discretion be constrained within the scope of the bill by, for example, describing that discretion to be linked and related only to measures involving the safety of the public?

International Transfer of Offenders Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, the simple answer to the first question is obviously yes, that this approach to the overall bill, but that clause that I keep repeating, giving the absolute discretion to the minister of anything that is relevant to be determined by the minister, is clearly an arbitrary measure way beyond the scope of what we normally pass as laws in this country and certainly in this legislature.

The second question is a bit more difficult. I do not think there is any way we can leave in that particular wording about the minister considering relevant any factor. I do not see any way we can put constraints on that.

With respect to the other seven criteria, some of which I do not agree with, the wording could be changed, although I think some of it would have to be removed.

We are, in effect, doing the same as we have with judges in the Criminal Code. Over the years, we have given them sentencing principles that guide them but constrain their discretion. We could be doing the same. I do not see this bill being amended. It needs to be redrafted and, in that redrafting, those constraints could be built in.

International Transfer of Offenders Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, in answer to the question of the hon. member from St. Albert as to whether we would want discretion in the hands of a court or a democratically elected person, the key difference is that with a discretionary judge there is an appellate procedure so wrong decisions can be appealed, whereas if the minister makes a decision without unfettered discretion there is no appeal with that.

I also want to point out and emphasize just how the bill will make our communities less safe. That must be emphasized, less safe.

When Canadians convicted abroad are denied readmission to serve their sentences in Canada, they will come back to this country 100% of the time. They will be deported. The only difference is that they will come across our border. They will have no rehabilitation. There will be no supervision. There will be no parole. We will not even know that they have a criminal record and these people will be released in our communities.

That is what the government has to answer to Canadians for, why it is pushing a bill that has that kind of effect.

I also want to talk about discretion and quickly put a question to my hon. colleague. The bill allows the minister absolute discretion to take into account whatever he or she wants or whatever he or she does not want. That is simply bad policy-making.

I want to quote from what federal Judge O'Keefe just said recently. He said that the courts “cannot condone nor accept completely unstructured discretion. In circumstances where a decision has such a dramatic effect on the citizen in question, the law requires a complete explanation--”.

We know right now that the courts are commenting critically on the way the legislation is right now where there are some criteria. This bill would remove any criteria.

I wonder if my hon. colleague could comment on whether he thinks the bill before us now already contravenes clear comments by our federal court judges, never mind an obvious potential charter challenge.

International Transfer of Offenders Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I think I said in my speech, I believe it obviously does contravene the charter. That wording, which my colleague has just quoted again, would seem to be a very clear confirmation of that position.

If I can advocate on the other side for a moment, our courts are obviously very careful about overturning legislation passed by the elected Parliament. It has the obligation to do that if it clearly offends the charter.

I cannot imagine in this case in this factual situation, with this type of a law, that they would be deferential to Parliament. I believe they would say that the charter is very clear as to due process, equality provisions, and would say this is not charter acceptable.

International Transfer of Offenders Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the hon. member's very learned comments and his obvious concerns by the charter side of this. I want to ask a very specific question dealing with the consular dimension.

One of the reasons transfer offender treaties were so successful is they allowed us to do diplomatically what was often impossible to do between two nations, where Canadian citizens might in fact find themselves at the whim of an arbitrary regime in which Canadian citizens may not be treated appropriately because they happen to be foreigners and where there may be questions as to whether or not justice itself was correct.

Giving the discretion of the minister to choose based on the evidence adduced from another country creates a number of other concerns that are extra-judicial to our own sense of due process in this country.

I wonder if the hon. member could comment on how serious this situation is. He mentioned the case of Sacha Bond who continues to be in Florida, languishing without medicines.

I am wondering if the member has given any consideration to the consular dimension which is extremely important and often seen as a safety valve to ensure that Canadians mistreated abroad are, in fact, brought home as soon as possible and the threat that this legislation creates for that.

International Transfer of Offenders Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I must agree that it poses a problem with how we deal with cases that are going on at that point.

One of the other provisions that I cannot accept is that if the offender continues to say, “I'm innocent”, and we saw the Martin case, a woman incarcerated on fraud charges. In that situation I think in the way this is worded, the way the government has approached this, she continued to protest her innocence. We have had any number of other cases where people are incarcerated in jurisdictions where they are protesting their innocence and yet the government is going to try to use this now to deny them the right to come back to Canada.

International Transfer of Offenders Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the debate this afternoon on Bill C-5, An Act to amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act.

I am very strongly opposed to this piece of legislation. I am opposed to it because I believe that it mucks around inappropriately with an incredibly successful program that is already in place. I see no need or no appropriateness to the government introducing these changes to a program that has served us so very well to this point.

I also very strong believe, as we have heard in debate today and recently from my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh and my colleague from Vancouver Kingsway, that these changes proposed by the government will make our communities less safe, not more safe. It has completely the opposite effect than the government is saying it will. There are very serious problems with this and I cannot be clearer in my opposition to this legislation.

What is Bill C-5 about? It is identical to a piece of legislation that was introduced earlier in this government's mandate, Bill C-59. That bill died due to prorogation before there was any debate in the House. Bill C-5 contains amendments to the International Transfer of Offenders Act. We have had legislation around the international transfer of offenders since 1978. The current legislation, the International Transfer of Offenders Act, was enacted in 2004.

The act provides a mechanism for foreign nationals imprisoned in Canada to apply for transfer to their home countries to serve out the remainder of their sentence. It also provides the mechanism for Canadian citizens imprisoned abroad to apply for a transfer back to Canada to serve out the remainder of their sentence.

This regime about the international transfer of offenders has been in force for over 30 years, and both Liberal and Conservative governments have overseen the administration of this legislation. They have also, both Conservative and Liberal governments, overseen the transfer of Canadian citizens back to Canada.

How many people have used this mechanism? Between 1978 and 2007, 124 foreign nationals were transferred out of Canadian jails and 1,351 Canadian citizens were transferred back to Canada.

In the current act, the purpose of the act is defined in section 3, and that section says:

The purpose of this Act is to enhance public safety and to contribute to the administration of justice and the rehabilitation of offenders and their reintegration into the community by enabling offenders to serve their sentences in the country of which they are citizens or nationals.

Correctional Service Canada, which obviously has a key interest in the legislation, has a website dedicated to this Transfer of Offenders Act, and it gives more detailed background about the principles underlying how this actually works. I will just quote from that website. It says:

Canadians incarcerated in foreign countries often find themselves facing serious problems coping with local conditions. The most common problems involve culture shock, isolation, language barriers, poor diets, inadequate medical care, disease and inability to contact friends and family...In some prison systems, the offender's family is expected to provide food and financial assistance.

It goes on to say:

The purpose of these agreements is humanitarian to enable offenders to serve their sentence in their country of citizenship, to alleviate undue hardships borne by offenders and their families and facilitate their eventual reintegration into society...Once transferred, the offender's sentence is administered in accordance with the laws of the receiving country.

Just as an aside, this agreement is very important to people in my own constituency. Recently I was visited by a constituent whose son is incarcerated in Japan. He is going through many of those issues that were mentioned on the Correctional Service Canada website, dealing with culture shock, isolation, language barriers in the Japanese correctional system, which is perhaps one of the better ones that a Canadian who is incarcerated overseas might have to deal with. The constituent was explaining to me the difficulties that she and her husband are having in terms of ensuring the safety, the well-being of their son, given the very serious trouble he got into, and everybody acknowledges that he did make some very serious errors.

They are also concerned about some of the changes in consular services that are available to people overseas from Canadian officials when they find themselves in these kinds of very difficult situations. There are very real purposes that affect Canadian families, given the kind of trouble that people have gotten into overseas.

The act explains the process for a transfer application. It says that for a transfer of a Canadian citizen to take place, the offender must consent to the transfer, the country where the offender is currently imprisoned must consent, and the Canadian government must consent. Therefore, the prisoner, the overseas government, and the Canadian government all have to agree to this process.

Currently, the minister of public safety is designated to review all applications for offender transfer and the act specifies that the minister has to consider certain things when evaluating an offender's application for transfer. There are four things that the minister is compelled to consider currently under the legislation.

The minister has to consider whether the offender's return to Canada would constitute a threat to the security of Canada. The minister has to consider whether the offender left or remained outside Canada with the intention of abandoning Canada as his or her place of permanent residence. The minister also needs to consider whether the offender has any social or family ties in Canada, and finally, whether the foreign entity or its prison system represents a serious threat to the offender's security or human rights. Those are all the current requirements that we see in the existing International Transfer of Offenders Act.

The bill before us, Bill C-5, proposes to change those requirements, and it changes the legislation in a number of ways.

First, it seeks to add the words “to enhance public safety” to the purpose of the act. Where the current act currently states that the minister “shall” consider certain factors, and actually requires the minister to consider certain factors, the new bill, Bill C-5, would change this to read that the minister “may” consider the following factors, thereby dramatically increasing ministerial discretion.

It takes away the requirement to do certain things and in a sense proposes that there are certain suggestions the minister must take into consideration. It is a dramatic change in the legislation.

The new proposal, Bill C-5, seeks to add the phrase “in the Minister's opinion” to the existing factors laid out in the act. What are those new factors that are laid out in the act that the minister may consider, again that the minister is not required to consider but might choose to consider, given these proposals from the government?

Those seven factors are whether, in the minister’s opinion, the offender’s return to Canada will endanger public safety, including the offender's victim, family or any child, in cases where the offender has committed a sexual offence involving a child, as well as whether, in the minister’s opinion, the offender is likely to continue to engage in criminal activity in Canada. The new bill also proposes that the minister may take into consideration the offender's health, whether the offender has refused to participate in rehabilitation programs, whether the offender has accepted responsibility for his or her crime, the manner in which the offender will be supervised after his or her transfer, and whether the offender has co-operated with police.

However, the most important change in this list of factors is the seventh factor, which would allow the minister to take into consideration any other factor that the minister considers relevant. Let me quote that again. The direct quote is “any other factor that the Minister considers relevant” while evaluating an application for transfer.

That is a huge opening to discretion that is utterly inappropriate in this process, that any minister could have the opening to whatever he or she wanted to think was a consideration. To add that into this process is completely inappropriate and irresponsible of the government to go down that road. If there is a reason for defeating and abandoning this legislation, it is right there in that phrase.

What have New Democrats been saying? We have heard a number of New Democrats participate in this debate today. Our justice critic and our public safety critic have participated in the debate.

We agree that enhancing public safety should be one of the purposes of the bill. The safety of the public should be given consideration when assessing an application for transfer. I believe it is already included in the factors that the minister is required to take into consideration. I am sure any minister evaluating an application for the transfer of an international prisoner would take that into consideration.

I do not think there is any indication, and there certainly has been no evidence presented by the government, that public safety has ever been compromised under the current act. It certainly does not seem to be a dramatic problem, and one wonders why the government dreamt up this idea in the first place. It is not an issue that I have ever been apprised of in the exercise of this legislation and this program.

It is important to remember that Canadians transferred back to Canada under the act are not being released immediately into the community. They are returning to serve out their prison sentence in a Canadian correctional facility, where they have access to rehabilitation programs and will be subject to the supervision that our correctional system provides.

We have to remember that whether or not these individuals are approved for a transfer they are eventually going to come back to Canada. When somebody is sentenced to a crime overseas, they serve their time, and at the end of that time, they come home. We cannot block their return to Canada. It is to our advantage to ensure that they have rehabilitation, that they have access to programs that will help them turn their lives around.

That is one of the reasons that a transfer in many cases enhances public safety. If we can get someone back, if we can get them into our rehabilitation programs, if we can ensure that their parole conditions allow for appropriate supervision once they are out of jail, our communities will actually be safer in the long run, safer than they would be if somebody came back who never had to engage in any of these programs and who cannot be supervised once back in Canada. There are lots of good reasons for wanting them to participate in these processes. Public safety is a significant consideration already, given the way these programs work.

We can offer anger management programs, rehabilitation programs, and substance abuse programs in our prison system. Often none of these things is available in programs outside Canada. It is to our advantage to make sure that a Canadian convicted of a crime overseas has access to these kinds of programs.

That is a crucial reason why this legislation is ill-conceived. It would not contribute to public safety. It would lessen public safety, because it would remove the possibility of people engaging in our criminal justice system.

We have to look at how this system has operated. What is the reality of what has happened over the years? How has it functioned? Why would we consider changing the program if there is no evidence that there has been a problem? This is crucial.

There are statistics and facts to bring to bear when we look at this matter. I will give the House one statistic. Of 620 Canadians who were transferred back to Canada under this program between 1993 and 2007, and who were reviewed for readmission to penitentiary in the two years after their sentence expired, only four were readmitted for a new offence. This is .6% of the 620, a .6% recidivism rate among people who were transferred back to Canada to serve out a sentence for a crime they committed overseas. That is an incredibly low recidivism rate.

There is probably nothing in our criminal justice system that could approach this rate of success in ensuring that people do not get into more trouble once they have done their time. The general recidivism rate in our corrections system is around 20% to 25%. This by any measure has been an incredibly significant and successful program.

Given that kind of success rate, a recidivism rate of only .6%, that is, only four people with serious problems out of 620 between 1993 to 2007, it is beyond me why the government would change this program, make it more difficult to participate in it, or even suggest that we ought to increase the ability of a minister to deny someone access to a transfer back to Canada to serve out his or her sentence.

This program has worked. This is a program that we have long-standing experience with. This is a program that allows someone who has gotten into trouble overseas to engage the criminal justice system and correction system in Canada and take advantage of rehabilitation, substance abuse, and anger management programs. We have built these programs into our criminal justice to make our communities safer and to ensure that people who get into trouble have a way out, a way of turning their lives around after making mistakes.

This program allows participation in those kinds of programs. Yet there is a suggestion from the government that we should turn our backs on that success. I think it is absolutely incredible, to put it mildly, that the government has cooked up some mysterious reason that this is an urgent issue demanding the immediate attention of Parliament. There is no reason for us to take up our time in reviewing this program. The program is working and it is necessary. It is an important program for Canadians.

We have heard other reasons in the debate this afternoon about how the program sometimes permits people who have been unfairly convicted overseas to find a way back to Canada. That is one situation that we also need to keep in mind. We have recognized problems with criminal justice systems in other countries, and this program has given us a way of ensuring that Canadians have some recourse when they have suffered unfair convictions overseas. That is something we also need to keep in mind when we look at this.

I believe this is ill-conceived legislation, and I hope it will go down to defeat very shortly in the House. I cannot tell the government to go back to the drawing board, because I do not know what the issue was that it was trying to address in the first place. I do not think it should be mucking around with this successful and important program.

There is little more to be said, except that this bill deserves to go down to defeat in the very near future.

International Transfer of Offenders Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission
B.C.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the thoughtful approach of the member for Burnaby—Douglas to this issue.

He raised the difficulty he has with the clause that gives discretion to the minister to take into account other factors as he deems relevant. He will know it is not an unusual thing for legislation to give discretion to immigration officials, for example, or fisheries officials. They are given discretion because of the difficult situations they confront.

Would he not agree that this does not constitute absolute discretion? Even government members, the minister in this case, are required to follow the principles of natural justice. The colour of one's hair or something like that would never be considered, and such a comparison really is a bit thoughtless. I wonder if he agrees with that.

International Transfer of Offenders Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question.

It is not just my opinion that we are opening this up to too much discretion on the part of the minister, or that the change of wording from “shall” to “may” is ill-advised. There are certain things the minister is required to take into consideration and changing that to a list of things that the minister “may” take into consideration is a dramatic and fateful change to this legislation.

It is not just my opinion. Even with the current legislation, there is a problem. We saw this with the court decision earlier this week, when Justice John O'Keefe of the Federal Court of Canada ruled in two cases where transfers had been denied. He did not question the idea that the minister should have some prerogative, but he did write that courts cannot condone completely unstructured discretion, and that in circumstances where a decision has such a dramatic effect on someone, the law requires a complete explanation, however short the decision.

In two cases before the court, it found that there was a serious problem with ministerial discretion as it currently exists in the law. The problem is even greater in Bill C-5. We have heard that Bill C-5 goes much farther down the road of ministerial discretion than is currently allowed.

I think there are serious problems. It is not just my opinion. It seems to be something that is coming out of the Federal Court of Canada in a decision earlier this week, on Tuesday, in which Justice O'Keefe seems to have been addressing this very issue.

There are serious problems with the whole question of ministerial discretion. The change in this legislation, with respect to the minister's power of discretion, from a list of prescribed criteria to a much broader, open-ended list is a serious matter. I suspect that, given what the court has already said, the present range of ministerial discretion will have difficulty standing up to legal challenges down the road.

International Transfer of Offenders Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

There will be about six and a half minutes left for questions and comments after question period.

Firearms Registry
Statements By Members

September 23rd, 2010 / 2 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Anders Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, it has been said that there is no greater fraud than a promise unkept, and that is why yesterday marked a sad day for our democracy.

Members of the opposition from rural and northern Canada had a chance to make good on their promises to vote against the long gun registry. However, they failed to do so.

Though we do not know whether the flip-flopping opposition MPs betrayed their own conscience, we can be certain that they have betrayed the will of the constituents who voted them into office.

It has now become clear that the Liberals and NDP will do anything to make their leaders in downtown Toronto happy, even if it means turning their backs on western and rural Canadians.

The only comfort we can take from this is knowing that Canadian voters will remember which MPs chose to listen to the people who elected them and which ones chose to represent the fears and prejudices of the caviar crowd.