House of Commons Hansard #21 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crime.

Topics

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague well knows, aboriginals, women and children are overrepresented in our jails. In fact, I have some numbers here. Aboriginal women are overrepresented in maximum security prisons specifically. They make up 46% of federally sentenced women. I wonder if my colleague could speak to the fact that they lack services and rarely get proper legal representation. The government is giving few resources to combat all these things and, in fact, Correctional Services' own statistics say that there has been no significant progress in this in the past 20 years.

I wonder if my colleague could speak to how this bill would not actually targeting the problem.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question from my colleague. What is not addressed in this bill is a focus on prevention, a focus resources to those who need it most. That is where there are huge shortcomings in the bill and that is why I cannot support it.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-10, legislation that would further strengthens our government's already impressive track record of keeping our streets and communities safe.

The people of Mississauga South tell me every day, in letters, phone calls, as well as visits to my office, that they want this government to crack down on crime.

I am pleased to speak today in support of Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act.

The legislation before us today builds on this work which Canadians have given us a strong mandate to continue, the work of that impressive track record.

One very important component of our government's efforts to build safer streets and communities involves ongoing reforms to help ensure the system of corrections in this country actually works to correct offenders. I would therefore like to focus my remarks on this very important area.

I will begin with the victims of crime because, when it comes to our corrections system, they deserve to have their interests and concerns heard and know that their government is listening.

The current act clearly recognizes that victims of crime have an interest in the correctional process and yet victims and their advocates have expressed dissatisfaction with the current law. They have consistently called for improvements that would ensure a stronger voice in the process. This government has heard their concerns. We have listened and now we are acting on those concerns.

As it stands now, victims sometimes travel long distances to attend parole hearings, but if offenders withdraw their participation, the hearing could be cancelled at the last minute. This creates both a financial and emotional burden for victims.

The bill would remove the ability of offenders to cancel their parole hearings less than two weeks in advance, and victims would have the right to ask why the offender has waived that parole hearing. These measures would go a long way to preserving peace of mind for victims.

Bill C-10 would also enshrine in law a victim's right to attend and make statements at parole hearings. In addition, it would enable victims to request relevant information about an offender's time in custody, including reasons for transfer between institutions, or why they have been granted temporary absence and participation in their correctional plan.

Additionally, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act would be amended to expand the information that may be disclosed to victims by CSC and the Parole Board of Canada. This includes providing information on the reason or reasons for offender transfers with, whenever possible, advance notice of transfers to minimum security institutions; disclosing information on offender program participation and any convictions for serious disciplinary offences; and providing guardians and caregivers of dependants of victims who are deceased, ill or otherwise incapacitated with the same information that victims themselves can receive. Such changes would help to ensure that the interests of victims are front and centre.

The second major area of reform relates to the responsibility and accountability of offenders. Additionally, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act would be amended to allow for the establishment of incentive measures designed to promote offender participation in their correctional plan.

A successful transition to the community does not happen by accident or through wishful thinking. It demands that offenders play an active role in their rehabilitation. That is why the bill before the House stresses that rehabilitation is a shared responsibility between offenders and Correctional Service Canada.

Offenders would be expected to respect others, obey the rules and actively participate in fulfilling the goals of their correctional plans. To that end, each correctional plan would set out expectations for behaviour, participation in any programs and fulfilment of any court ordered financial obligations.

The third area of reform relates to the management of offenders and their re-integration into the community. In short, we need to do better so that we better protect law-abiding Canadians in all conditional release decisions. To that end, this legislation proposes to give police the power to arrest without warrant any offender who appears to be in breach of his or her release conditions.

Finally, the bill would automatically suspend the parole or statutory release of offenders who receive a new custodial sentence.

In the final area of reform, Bill C-10 would modernize the system of discipline in federal penitentiaries. Specifically, it would create in law new penalties for breaking rules, such as disrespectful, intimidating or assaultive behaviour, including throwing bodily substances. It would also restrict visits for inmates who have been segregated for serious disciplinary offences.

As we have heard, Bill C-10 proposes several fundamental reforms to the corrections and conditional release system to help ensure that our correctional system is actually correcting offenders.

The amendments that our Conservative government is proposing would enhance offender responsibility and accountability and strengthen the management of offenders during their incarceration and conditional release. These amendments would also modernize the system of disciplinary sanctions in federal correctional facilities and give victims the opportunity to request more information about the offender who has harmed them. All in all, the amendments would reinforce and build on the work already under way to strengthen the corrections and conditional release system.

Today we know that many of the offenders arriving in Canada's correctional system also arrive with histories of violent offences. More offenders than ever have gang or organized crime affiliations, and nearly four out of five now arrive at a federal institution with a serious abuse problem. In addition, an increasing number of offenders have serious mental health issues. Such changes in the offender population require a new approach to corrections and conditional release. That is why the government is moving forward with the proposals in Bill C-10.

The reforms being proposed would better serve victims by increasing the information that may be shared with them and guaranteeing their right to be heard at parole hearings. The proposed reforms would also help ensure that offenders are more accountable for their actions and so that their rehabilitation will be more effective.

These measures would also modernize the disciplinary system for inmates.

Further controls for offenders under community supervision are also being introduced.

I urge all members of the House to give their unconditional support for the bill for the sake of offenders who must take more responsibility for a successful transition into the community. I urge all hon. members to support Bill C-10 for the sake of crime victims who deserve a greater voice in the correctional system. I urge them to support the legislation before us today for the sake of corrections officers who have a right to a safe work environment.

I urge all hon. members to support this legislation for the sake of all Canadians. The protection of society is our top priority. Canadians deserve to feel safe in their homes and in their communities. Victims deserve to be treated with respect, as do the guards in our institutions. Offenders must be prepared to take more responsibility for their conduct and pay the price if they break the rules.

Press Release
Points of Order
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Yesterday, I put out a non-partisan press release encouraging every eligible voter to vote, while emphasizing that their vote matters in the provincial election in Ontario. There was certainly no intent on my part to have an impact on the outcome of the provincial election or, for that matter, to be anything other than an appropriate use of parliamentary resources. I realize it could be interpreted otherwise.

As parliamentarians, it is our responsibility to ensure that we follow the letter and the spirit of the rules, and that is something I take very seriously in my job. To that end, I apologize for that to you, Mr. Speaker.

Press Release
Points of Order
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The House notes the parliamentary secretary's intervention.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the hon. member would like to respond to a quote from the Canadian Bar Association with respect to the legislation:

The Bill’s approach is contrary to what is known to lead to a safer society.

The CBA believes that the Bill will make already serious criminal justice system problems much worse, with huge resource implications.

Perhaps the hon. member could comment on why that is so wrong.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government fundamentally disagrees that being tough on crime will not work to deter criminals. This is a very basic step in the process. I wonder whether the member opposite truly believes that allowing offenders to take more responsibility for their incarceration and for their conditional release is a good idea.

These laws are meant to improve on what currently exists, but more importantly, we are talking about protecting victims of crime. That is what Bill C-10 really wants to do. We are protecting victims of crime by putting in place tougher sentences.

I am wondering which part of this he does not agree with. Does he not want to protect the guards in the prisons? Does he not want to make their working conditions safer? These are the kinds of things that amending the Corrections and Conditional Release Act will do. I urge him to support these changes.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, perhaps my colleague from Mississauga South would agree that if longer prison sentences in and of themselves meant safer streets, the United States would have the safest streets in the world. The Americans lock up people at a higher rate than any other country. Even they have seen the folly in their ways. Would she not concede that the United States has now confessed that it was wrong and changed its practices and is dedicating more of the money it is saving by not building more prisons to prevention and substance abuse programs and treatment and rehabilitation? The U.S. is now enjoying a reduction.

Why are we borrowing billions and billions of dollars to build more prisons when we know full well it will not make our streets any safer? Is this not just a cheap pandering to the Conservatives' voting base?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, in fact, these measures address specific deterrents. When a criminal is in jail, the victim can no longer be victimized. That is whom we care about. We care about the victims. That is whom Canadians care about. That is why we are preventing sexual exploitation of foreign nationals. That is why we are eliminating pardons for serious criminal acts. That is why we are ensuring that young offenders are given the opportunity to properly be rehabilitated. If they have done the crime they should also serve the time as adults if necessary. We are giving the courts the options to deal with the crime without having to worry about how many spots there are in jail.

We are doing the right thing because--

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order, please. Questions and comments. We have time for one quick question and a brief response. The hon. member for Winnipeg South.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have run in various elections going back to 2004. When I was on the campaign trail, with all the parties that are represented here in the House, I remember their referring to our crime measures in general as being needed. Whenever I was at a debate with candidates, they would talk about how we needed to get tough on criminals. Yet when they return to this place they revert to their leftist philosophy on crime, which unfortunately does not work. Canadians have spoken on it, and I am sure the member heard the same thing on the campaign trail.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do hear the same thing from my constituents in Mississauga South. They are concerned about crime. They are concerned about their children. They want safe streets and safe communities. That is what we are doing here. We are making sure that offenders serve the time and that when they are released, they are given the proper opportunities for rehabilitation.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on Bill C-10.

As hon. members know, Bill C-10 contains provisions from various bills that were introduced in the previous Parliament, but unfortunately were blocked by the opposition.

The focus of my remarks today will be on the amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The proposed changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act reflect what we as parliamentarians have been hearing from our constituents. They are concerned about the threat posed by violent young offenders as well as by youth who may commit non-violent offences but who appear to be spiralling out of control towards more and more dangerous and harmful behaviour. In talking to fellow Canadians, we have found that they can lose faith in the youth criminal justice system when sentences given to violent and repeat young offenders do not make these youth accountable for their actions.

The package of Youth Criminal Justice Act amendments also responds to issues raised during cross-country consultations, to key decisions of the courts, to concerns raised by the provinces and territories, and to the positions put forward by the many witnesses who appeared before the justice committee during its study of former Bill C-4.

The reforms reflect the widely held view that while the Youth Criminal Justice Act is working fairly well in dealing with the majority of youth who commit crimes, there are concerns about the small number of youth who commit serious repeat or violent offences.

The proposed amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act are found in part 4, clauses 167 through 204, of the comprehensive Safe Streets and Communities Act. With a few exceptions, the proposed changes are the same as the changes that were proposed in former Bill C-4, also known as Sébastien's law.

Bill C-4 was introduced in the House of Commons on March 16, 2010 and was before the House of Commons justice and human rights committee, of which I am a member, when Parliament was dissolved prior to the May 2011 election.

As I have indicated, most of the Youth Criminal Justice Act provisions in the bill now before us were included in former Bill C-4. However, after Bill C-4 was introduced in Parliament, a number of provincial attorneys general expressed concerns about the proposed amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act provisions dealing specifically with pretrial detention, deferred custody and supervision orders, and adult sentencing.

These concerns were raised directly with the Minister of Justice and were brought before the justice committee. The government has listened carefully to these and other concerns, and has responded by making the appropriate changes to the previous legislation.

As my colleague, the hon. member for Kitchener Centre, has already given the House a thoughtful and thorough description of the provisions that were found in former Bill C-4, I will specifically discuss the minor changes that are included in this version of the bill.

With respect to pretrial detention, the government recognizes that the current Youth Criminal Justice Act provisions are complex, leading to a varied application of the provisions by the courts.

Bill C-4 proposes a much more straightforward approach to pretrial detention that would have allowed courts to detain a youth awaiting trial if the youth was charged with a serious offence and the court found a substantial likelihood that, if released, the youth would either not appear in court when required to do so or would commit a serious offence while awaiting trial.

The provinces' primary concern with the approach of Bill C-4 was that pretrial detention would be available for youth charged with an offence that was not deemed to be a serious offence. They felt that this could prevent detention of a youth who, although currently charged with a non-serious offence, had a prior history of charges or offending and appeared to be spiralling out of control and thus was posing a risk to public safety.

I will be happy to—

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

2 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order. The member will have six minutes remaining for his speech when the House next considers this bill.