House of Commons Hansard #147 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.

Topics

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Wetaskiwin on a point of order.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order and I apologize to my colleague for interrupting him in the middle of his dissertation.

I want to express my regret to all members in the House. I was simply trying to express the concern that I had about how Parliament is running. If my comments were construed in any way as calling into disrepute the honourable way in which the Speaker of the House carries on his duties, I certainly did not mean to do so. If they were taken that way, I certainly do apologize to the fullest extent possible.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I am sure the House appreciates the clarification.

The hon. member for Joliette.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, on February 17, in the midst of a Liberal opposition day on this issue, the government tabled a series of very unsatisfactory documents, which nevertheless contained a certain amount of information. It was not the information requested by the committee, and that proves that the government's argument of cabinet secrecy was bogus.

That was also very clear in April 2010, when the Speaker handed down his ruling on the government's refusal to provide parliamentarians with the documents about allegations of torture in Afghanistan. The Speaker was very clear. He quoted Bourinot's Parliamentary Procedure and Practice in the Dominion of Canada, including a paragraph found on page 281:

But it must be remembered that under all circumstances it is for the house to consider whether the reasons given for refusing the information are sufficient. The right of Parliament to obtain every possible information on public questions is undoubted, and the circumstances must be exceptional, and the reasons very cogent, when it cannot be at once laid before the houses.

Even if these documents, according to the government, could not be made public, the government should have assumed its responsibilities and proposed—to the opposition and the entire House—a mechanism for providing access to the information. That was not done. It simply said that they were cabinet confidences. Initially, it hid behind this authoritarian argument without wanting to provide the documents requested; later, it provided information that was very incomplete. This contradicts the government's argument that all the information in all these documents is a matter of cabinet confidence.

The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons has just tabled the binders that were delivered to the committee on March 16. Once again, the pressure is on. The Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Justice are appearing before the committee. The government is trying to find a way to derail the debate and create a distraction, and so they table the documents in the House.

The Minister of Public Safety was very clear: these documents contain exactly the same information as the documents tabled in the House by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons on February 17.

I have had a chance to go over those documents. I would say that reproducing the legislation about which the Standing Committee on Finance and the House of Commons were asking for information took up about 90% of the huge binder. That is a lot of paper for almost nothing.

Furthermore, for each piece of legislation, instead of writing a paragraph, they wrote two pages that say basically the same thing, with the exception of one or two acts where the information is contradictory. As for the rest, there is no more information, and the Minister of Public Safety confirmed this.

This means that the binder tabled on March 16 before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs does not answer our questions any more than the documents tabled on February 17 at the request of the Standing Committee on Finance and the House of Commons.

I would remind the House that the Speaker issued his ruling on March 9. What was unacceptable on February 17 led to the Speaker's ruling to the effect that there were sufficient grounds for finding a question of privilege in relation to these documents. Thus, it is very clear that the documents tabled on March 16 do not correspond to what the Speaker had in mind when he gave his ruling.

The government disobeyed the rules of Parliament and did not comply with the order given by the Standing Committee on Finance and by the House of Commons. This amounts to contempt of Parliament. I will not conceal the fact that we were prepared to go much further at the time by withdrawing our confidence in the government because of this. We will likely have the opportunity to go ahead with this in the coming days, if not in the next few hours.

We in the opposition are not the only ones who think that the government failed to fulfill its obligations to parliamentarians. I would remind the House that the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, testified before the committee on March 16. He clearly stated that the Parliament of Canada owes a fiduciary duty to the Canadian people, and therefore a duty to administer public monies on their behalf, and that Canada's Constitution established and affirms this duty.

The Standing Committee on Finance simply fulfilled its obligations and fiduciary duties regarding the use of taxpayer dollars to the Quebec public by requesting information, particularly with regard to certain justice legislation, the cost of the F-35s, and the effects of the tax cuts that were announced in previous budgets and that are still found in the budget announced yesterday.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer's point of view is very clear. With regard to the justice legislation, he said that “the government has not provided an adequate response to the finance committee request.... Full compliance with the request requires....”

He then listed a series of elements that show the government did not comply with the Standing Committee on Finance's order.

With regard to the procurement of the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighters, the Parliamentary Budget Officer once again said that “the government has not provided an adequate response to the finance committee request.”

The Parliamentary Budget Officer thus clearly indicated that a mistake was made.

I would like to close by saying that the documents that we were given on February 17 and March 16 are clearly deceitful. The Conservatives want us to believe that estimates were not made because there were too many imponderables, particularly with regard to the justice legislation. However, that is not the case. Each time a minister presents a bill to cabinet, there is an appendix setting out the costs. The Conservatives are therefore hiding the truth from us. This government no longer has the confidence of the House or the public.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

It is my duty to interrupt the proceedings on the motion at this time.

Accordingly, the debate on the motion will be rescheduled for another sitting.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

moved that Bill C-620, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (parole review and victim impact statement), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it was a privilege to present Bill C-620, Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act, to the House in February. It is a privilege today, although with mixed emotions, to be the first to speak on its second reading.

I would like to use my time today to reinforce the reasons why this bill would help recalibrate the balance between the rights of violent offenders and the rights of their victims, but first, and most importantly, I would like to share with the House why I worked to bring this bill forward.

Like many hon. members, I have received calls from constituents over the years expressing concern that our system, in their opinion, seemed to give more weight to the rights of those convicted of very serious and heinous crimes rather than the victims of those crimes. I heard story after story regarding the emotional trauma of victims and their feelings of being re-victimized by a system they felt favoured the guilty more.

However, nothing could have made me realize their pain and trauma more than the experience I had last May when I visited a National Parole Board hearing. At the request of a constituent, I attended the National Parole Board to listen, learn and observe the process.

The case was one of direct relevance to my constituent as well as to myself because of the local nature of it. Her sister and her sister's two children had been killed years ago by a murderer who was once again up for parole. I do not think anything could have prepared me for what I was about to experience.

The violent offender and the family of the woman and children he killed shared the same hearing room for four hours. The raw emotion in the room was unspeakable. To this day it is hard to find the words to do justice to that experience.

Exacerbating the situation, the triple murderer still refused to take responsibility for his crime. No real remorse was shown and still, to this day he has not taken any responsibility. As a result, thankfully, his parole was denied again.

I would like to read something from a publication called The Record. It is a report on what the victim's family experienced. The witness at the hearing said that, “This horrible crime committed by Jon Rallo still affects me every single day. I know it will continue to do so in the future. The fact that Jon Rallo has never acknowledged his horrific deeds and has never revealed Jason's resting place only makes the burden more difficult to bear”.

He did not even have graciousness to say where he dumped one of the bodies. They still do not know where Jason's body is.

When I think of it now, it strengthens my resolve to bring this bill to fruition, despite the circumstances we find ourselves in the House today.

Throughout the process of considering this bill, I consulted with victims groups, prosecutors, defence attorneys, police officers and many groups to come up with a realistic and workable bill that would be supportable for all members in the House.

The Sampson report, named after former Ontario minister of Corrections, Rob Sampson, was entitled: A Roadmap to Strengthening Public Safety. It included 109 recommendations and improvements to corrections and public safety when it was released in December 2007 and it was a good resource in the development of this bill.

The report cited the changing offender profile. Here are a couple of points from the report.

Nearly 60% of inmates are now serving sentences of less than three years and have histories of violence. One in six now have known gang and/or organized crime affiliations.

Also in 2007, the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime was established. Its members have been advocates for victims across the country, raising awareness and making recommendations for change.

Let me give one small fact, but one with a big impact. When testifying before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on March 3, 2011, Sue O'Sullivan, the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, in quoting a Department of Justice report said the following, “Victims pay 67% of the cost of crime”. That is an alarming statistic and it illustrates very clearly another reason why fairness for victims needs to be addressed.

Let me clear up one misconception from the outset. The reforms we are talking about here, to give greater voice and choice to victims, cannot be quickly dismissed as simply following some kind of American model. Our Commonwealth colleagues like Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, have also enacted some of these very same changes.

While not everything can be accomplished in one bill, my hope is that the Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act builds on the work of our government's tough on crime agenda, these reports and of the advocates that have been championing victims' rights in Canada for decades.

What specifically would the bill do? In the simplest terms it would amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act in two important ways: One, it would give greater voice and choice to victims; and two, it would give the National Parole Board more discretion in how it reviews the cases of violent offenders, lengthening the time that the National parole Board has for mandatory review of sentences for offences involving violence.

What does this include? This includes ensuring the victim's right to present a victim impact statement is enshrined in law, so that the National Parole Board must consider it as part of its hearing. It is simply a matter of fairness. I have not heard of a case to date when a victim was deprived of the right by the National Parole Board to present an impact statement. Nevertheless, enshrining the right to present a victim impact statement in legislation clearly establishes its importance to all Canadians.

As I included each provision in my bill, I thought back to the Parole Board hearing I witnessed in the spring of 2010 and asked myself, would this make it fairer? Would this help ease the burden on victims and their families?

What is more, my bill also includes recognition that technology has advanced since the last time the Corrections and Conditional Release Act was reviewed. As a result, the bill amends the act to ensure that in the event a victim cannot, or chooses not to attend a parole hearing, they are allowed to use any commonly available form of audio or video format to make the statement.

This is entirely in addition to the written statement. It gives victims and families an option to not have to relive the pain at a hearing if a person so chooses. Given the proliferation of digital and video formats available today and the speed in which technology advances, this only makes common sense.

I thought back to that experience in May 2010 and asked myself, would this law make it more fair? Would it restore balance? Would it help ease the burden on victims and their families?

The bill, Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act, also increases the period within which the National Parole Board must provide a further review of parole in the case of offenders serving a sentence for an offence involving violence. It would increase the review period from “within four years” from the current “within two years”. Let me repeat that for clarification. It would increase the review period to four years rather than the current two years.

There is more. In the cases of statutory release, where offenders cause death or serious violent harm to another, it would increase double the review period to two years from the current one year. The net effect is to give more necessary latitude to the National Parole Board in dealing with cases of violent offenders.

At this point, I want to read another excerpt from a piece of media, which is another experience of victims but this time of Clifford Olson. This was printed in The Province in 2010 and it reads:

Olson, 70, who seems to take pleasure in revictimizing the families of those he killed, is automatically eligible for parole every two years until the day he dies.

Ray King, whose only son was 15 when Olson killed him, plans to be at the parole hearing but said it's difficult facing the prospect of a hearing every two years. "Of course it's hard," he said. "It's hard just hearing [Olson's] name."

King said he'd like to see the rules changed to prevent killers from having regular parole hearings. "I'd like to be able to fly, but that's not going to happen either. There's nothing that can be done until he's dead. I'd be glad if he died."

Sharon Rosenfeldt, whose 16-year-old son Daryn was murdered by Olson in April 1981, said from Montreal that she and her daughter will attend Olson's hearing. "I will be attending parole hearings until Clifford Olson dies or I die," said Rosenfeldt, who attended the last hearing with her daughter in a Montreal-area prison in July 2006. "But it's always been really unsettling to us.

"When Clifford Olson was first sentenced I thought it would be for life. Well, he's been part of our lives for coming up 30 years. It will be 30 years in April that Daryn went missing and was murdered.

"To have to relive this every two years, it's so inhumane. It really is...”.

Again, going back to my experience in May, I asked myself again whether this law will make it more fair, will restore balance and will help to ease the burden of victims.

Victims should have the assurance as well that those who have harmed them so severely have actually taken seriously their responsibility to endeavour to be rehabilitated and return to society as a law-abiding and contributing citizen.

Finally and additionally, this bill would allow victims increased access to offender documents related to the upcoming parole hearing.

I just want to read one more excerpt. I know these are a little long but they are very germane to the subject at hand. This is about Constable Michael Sweet, who is no relation to me. It reads:

In the early morning hours of March 14, 1980, brothers Craig and Jamie Munro entered what was then George’s Bourbon Street restaurant in downtown Toronto for the purpose of committing a robbery. Both men were high on drugs and armed with guns. At the time, Craig Munro was on mandatory supervision from a penitentiary....

The brothers gathered all the people inside into one place but one of the victims managed to successfully flee. Once out on the street he flagged down a passing police cruiser. Constable Sweet, 30, entered the restaurant and was immediately shot twice. There then began a 90 minute standoff between the Munro brothers with their hostages and police. The police later stormed the restaurant and both brothers were shot and captured.

During the standoff, Sweet was conscious and slowly bleeding to death. He begged his captors to let him go to a hospital and he told them about the three young daughters he had at home. While Sweet pleaded for his life he was laughed at and taunted. All three men were later transported to hospital.

The Munro brothers survived their injuries. Sweet did not survive.

Jamie Munro was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was granted full parole in 1992, married an Italian woman and is believed to be living in Italy under another name. Craig Munro, who was the one that shot Constable Sweet, was convicted of first degree murder. He was automatically sentenced to life imprisonment with no chance of parole for 25 years.

As Karen Fraser said at the press conference, ”the crime against her husband took place in a public place”. Craig Munro’s trial and sentencing were held in public. However, the prison records that were available to Munro and used by the Parole Board in deciding whether or not he should be granted parole were not available to her or the public because they were protected under the Privacy Act. Craig Munro could have authorized the release of those records to the Sweet family but exercised his right not to do so.

Again, this is a matter of fairness. Again I thought back to my experience of 2010 and asked myself whether this law would make it more fair and whether it would give the victims and their families more voice to help ease their burden?

The answer to all these questions that I have asked throughout my speech is yes. I believe this bill reaffirms what the Sampson report said, which is that parole from prison is a privilege not a right. It must be earned and that includes showing remorse for the crime and seeking rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is the key. The National Parole Board must be convinced that the violent offender will not recommit. It is the least we can do to offer dignity to victims.

Message from the Senate
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following bill: Bill C-59, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accelerated parole review) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-620, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (parole review and victim impact statement), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member on his presentation of Bill C-620. I think he has alerted the House to the importance of these matters. For those who may not have heard, the bill would increase the period within which the National Parole Board must provide a further review of parole and statutory release in the case of an offender serving a sentence for an offence involving violence. It is an important matter.

However, as it is with every bill, if it were that good the government would have already done it, which must mean that the member may have found a matter that does not in fact have clear support of all stakeholders and interested parties.

I wonder if the member could inform the House on whether he is aware of any group, organization or significant individuals who have disagreed with the actions proposed by the bill.

Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-39, which was introduced in the House by the government some time ago, does touch on some of the aspects of Bill C-620 but this bill would take the provisions in the government's bill a step further.

Am I aware of anybody who would be against this bill? Once the bill was made public, the only thing I have received has been support for this bill. So, I know of no one who would object to it.

Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act
Private Members' Business

March 23rd, 2011 / 5:45 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for all the work that he has put into Bill C-620 so far. As he has indicated, it is a bill that would provide more voice and choice to the victims. I think we can all agree that is a worthwhile cause. It would also give the Parole Board more discretion. I would think that we would want to send the bill to committee.

The only problem, as the member knows, is that we may only be here for another couple of days. However, I want to encourage him, when the election is over and he is back in the House maybe on this side of the House, who knows, to take the opportunity to reintroduce the bill as soon as we get back. I think we would be very pleased to support it to get it to the committee stage.

Has the member done any wide-ranging consultations and--

Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I will stop the hon. member there.

The hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale.

Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I had a number of lawyers work on the legal aspects of the bill. I have talked with many groups, as I mentioned in my speech, regarding victims rights groups and I have found, as I said, unanimous support for it.

I am very grateful for the member's vote of confidence that I will be back here.

However, in all seriousness, I did mention in my speech that despite the circumstances we have here, it is necessary to make known the pain that victims go through and the minimal amount of rights they have when it is time for a person who has been convicted to come up for parole and the limited access they have to information so that they can be assured that when the person comes out that person will not reoffend and, quite possibly, re-victimize their families.

Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for allowing me to second his private member's bill.

I want to mention a case that goes back about 25 years. I know the parents whose daughter was brutally murdered in London, Ontario. It happened, as some members might remember, during a time when a series of murders were being committed. I know the parents continue to go through the horror of some of the things that he mentioned he did to her. I know the parents very well and I knew their young daughter who was an absolutely beautiful girl. I want to be able to go back to those parents and tell them what this would mean for them and how it would change how they go to these parole hearings.

Perhaps the member could just quickly comment on that.

Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, the key thing in the bill is that the National Parole Board would have up to four years from two years. It would give the Parole Board the discretion when it makes decisions regarding the bill.

It would also give the families. who find that they are re-traumatized by going to the National Parole Board but who want to ensure they are there for the loved ones they have lost, the ability to send their victim impact statement on a DVD or some other transmission so they do not need to be physically in the room and have to go through that emotional trauma again.