House of Commons Hansard #82 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

February 16th, 2012 / 6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

moved that Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I am proud to rise today to speak on behalf of my private member's Bill C-350, which brings forward important offender accountability measures. This important legislation will encourage the accountability and responsibility of offenders with a goal of ensuring that their obligations to society are addressed.

It should come as no surprise to any hon. member of the House that our Conservative government firmly believes in holding offenders to account and providing victims of crime with better support.

We have said from day one that we are committed to supporting victims and to taking their concerns seriously. That is one of our highest priorities and we have delivered on that commitment in a number of ways, particularly through legislative changes relating to pardons and parole. We have passed legislation that repeals the faint hope clause, meaning that offenders who commit murder are no longer eligible to apply for full parole prior to the parole eligibility date fixed by law. We have passed legislation that allows judges to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods for individuals convicted of more than one first or second degree murder.

We have taken the concerns of victims of white collar crime into account by passing legislation that imposes tougher sentences for fraud, and we have passed legislation to end accelerated parole review that applies to those who commit white collar crimes.

This past September, we were proud to introduce the safe streets and communities act, which includes measures that hold offenders accountable and supports victims. Of note, we have proposed that offenders must play a larger role in their own rehabilitation and reintegration programs, that pardons be renamed by the more appropriate term “record suspensions” and that the right of victims to attend and make statements at parole hearings are enshrined in law.

We have made great progress over the past six years. We have listened to the concerns of victims and we have acted on them, but we are not done yet.

That is why I am proud to speak to Bill C-350, which would take another step in the right direction toward increasing offender accountability and improving restitution measures.

My goal is straightforward. In simple terms the bill would ensure that any monetary award owed to an offender as a result of a legal action or proceeding against Her Majesty in Right of Canada would first be put toward financial obligations, including child support and restitution orders. The reason for this is to teach these individuals, some of whom have never had a responsible day in their whole lives, that in society we have obligations, and we are meant to meet them.

Let me tell hon. members what that means in real terms.

First and foremost, the bill would add wording to the purpose section of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that refers to encouraging the accountability and responsibility of offenders and ensuring that their obligations to their fellow Canadians are addressed. The addition of these words will put an increased focus on offender accountability as a key purpose of a correctional system that actually corrects criminal behaviour. It will drive our correctional system to reform these criminals into responsible and accountable citizens.

Second, Bill C-350 proposes important changes to how debts owed to offenders are distributed. It is extremely difficult for victims and their families to understand why we would allow an offender to receive a monetary award when they themselves are struggling or are waiting for financial restitution from the offender as a result of a civil law suit. The proposed amendments will help rectify this issue when it involves a payment by the Crown. This is another measure to ensure that offenders will be held accountable for fulfilling legally owed debts.

The bill states that any award owed from a legal judgment against the Crown will be paid on a pro rata basis in the following order of priority: the first priority is that the debt must be put toward spousal or child support orders.

When we think of victims, we often think only of the individuals or families directly harmed by the offender's actions. The bill before us addresses the needs of an often overlooked group of people, those innocent individuals who are indirectly impacted by the offender's actions, such as the offender's spouse and children, the families of the offenders.

If an offender is a bread winner in the family, the line of income and financial stability is suddenly gone when the offender is sent to prison. The resulting financial hardship and instability can have immediate and detrimental effects, particularly on children. An unemployed mother whose spouse is convicted and incarcerated for a crime could suddenly struggle to provide the basic necessities for her children: a warm home, food, clothing and other essentials. It is only reasonable that debt owed to the offender by the Crown should first provide for these vulnerable individuals.

The next priority is to pay any restitution for damages or injuries caused by the offenders as a result of their offence. Just as importantly, and falling in line with our focus on supporting victims, the next two priorities include payment of any victim surcharge orders and any outstanding civil judgments against the offender.

Victims can face years of recovery as a result of physical injury or emotional distress. The bill would ensure that the recovery and financial stability of the victims of crime would be taken into account before issuing the balance of a financial award to an offender. It is only after these priorities are addressed that an outstanding amount would be paid to the offender.

This is a fair process. We have heard from victims of crime advocates who tells us that any step toward improving offender accountability and victim restitution is a step in the right direction.

Bill C-350 would go a long way toward increasing the accountability of offenders and ensuring that better restitution measures are in place for not only the victims but the spouses and children of those offenders.

I believe the bill is good legislation. Canadians want and deserve to feel safe in their homes and communities. That means offenders need to be off our streets. It also means that offenders must be held accountable for their actions. Canadians will not stand for a system that allows an offender to file spurious lawsuits or court actions and then be rewarded for this prior to them making their debts whole.

With this bill, our government continues to create a system of justice and public safety that meets the high expectations of Canadians, and that takes into consideration the concerns of victims of crime.

This legislation is simply common sense. What it says is that when an offender is incarcerated, there is a reason the person is incarcerated. Why should the offenders family suffer, why should the victims suffer and why should the offender, who is incarcerated, reap financial rewards when the victims, both spousal or children, or a direct victim of the offence are hurting? This tries to right that wrong.

I urge all hon. members to support this important legislation, with amendments. We will welcome amendments on this legislation.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, the mover of the bill talked about how the government was concerned about victims of crime. It is a mantra we hear from members opposite all the time. This is not really about the bill, although the member spoke about it, it is about the government's attitude. We do not have a problem with judgments being paid. They are paid anyway, so I do not know how necessary the bill is.

However, in the meantime, if the member and the government are so concerned about victims, why is he not bringing forward a resolution calling for the reinstatement of the criminal injuries compensation that the Government of Canada, for many years, provided funds for? Provinces had programs and the federal government assisted those. Most of them collapsed as a result of not having the funds. Why is he not calling on his government to do that? Victims are out there suffering from crimes and do not get the restitution they need because many of the offenders do not have the money.

Second, if you are so concerned about victims of crime, why did you not listen to the victims of gun crime when they appeared before our committee on Bill C-19, saying that they were fearful of the loss of the kind of gun control that was in place?

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

I would remind all members to direct their comments through the Chair and not directly to sitting members.

The hon. member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to direct my comments through you to the member.

I am glad to hear that the member and, I assume, his colleagues will support this wonderful legislation. Very often when an offender commits a crime, there is usually an innocent family standing by, an innocent spouse and children, who really are not involved at all, but are unfortunate enough to be associated with someone with criminal intent. An offender possibly breaks into a residence and does harm to innocent people or their property. It is only reasonable that we address this.

The legislation is critical. If someone is incarcerated, it must be for a serious reason and that person should accept the responsibility. That is why I encourage my colleagues to support the legislation.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, could the member provide some comment with regard to the whole concept of restorative justice in which victims and individuals who perpetrated the crime come together to see if in fact something can be done that would adequately compensate or even give victims comfort in terms of what the eventual outcome might be?

Does the member support the concept of restorative justice?

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Madam Speaker, the legislation deals directly with something that has for too long gone unattended. By that I mean that there are people who are not being looked after properly. Victims have been hurt and the families of the offender have been hurt just by being associated with the offender. The bottom line in all of this is they are the innocent victims.

If offenders are in jail, they committed serious offences. If they are serving time, they must have committed rather serious crimes and obviously need rehabilitation. They need to accept responsibility. The bill tries to encourage offenders to accept their responsibilities.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry introduced Bill C-350, which makes offenders accountable for their obligations to society, to their family and to victims.

This legislation was originally introduced on September 28, 2010, as Bill C-292. That bill also sought to make offenders accountable, so that they would fulfill their obligations to society. Therefore, that objective was added to section 3 of Corrections and Conditional Release Act . Under Bill C-292, if an inmate was awarded money following a legal action or proceeding, the government would seize that money and split it equally between the beneficiaries of a restitution order, a child or spousal support order, and a civil judgment against the offender.

If the offender had no obligation or debt to these people, he still could not get the monetary award, which was distributed to organizations that help victims or to other similar entities. This bill did not make any sense then, because if, for example, an inmate was abused in jail and then compensated following a civil proceeding, he still could not get the money, even though he had no obligation to his family or to the persons I mentioned.

Consequently, the bill was significantly improved. In the case of Bill C-350, the obligation to distribute the money that the inmate would receive has been removed and that money is now given to him. So in this sense it is an improvement.

We can think of other examples. This is not just about people who suffer abuse in jail. It could be a reckless driver who was responsible for an accident causing death and who received compensation through the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec. This bill would also have allowed the government to seize this compensation and redistribute in accordance with the priority list in Bill C-350.

The previous version of Bill C-350 was amended. The responsibility of offenders regarding their obligations remains the bill's primary objective. However, Bill C-350 seems more specific in certain respects than Bill C-292 was. First, it indicates in a more concise fashion who would get part of the compensation received by an inmate. An order of priorities is set: first, the money owed by the offender pursuant to a spousal or child support order will be given to his family, then the money owed by him pursuant to a restitution order, followed by civil judgments and fines.

The compensation will no longer be paid in equal parts, as stipulated in Bill C-292. It will instead be pro-rated in the manner described in Bill C-350. If there are any remaining funds, they will be paid to the inmate. I should think that the inmate would be entitled to the money. This provision is different from the one in Bill C-292 because of concerns about areas of jurisdiction. The remainder of the obligations set out in Bill C-350 are pre-existing legal obligations. By listing these rights, the bill seems to do a better job of addressing the priority of claims. However, the priority of claims also falls under provincial jurisdiction.

It is our belief, therefore, that this bill contains relevant provisions such as the protection of families and victims. All members of society must be held accountable for their obligations, and that obviously includes prisoners. Being incarcerated in no way removes the inmate's obligations and responsibilities. An inmate must still meet the needs of his family and, obviously, comply with child and spousal support orders.

Compensation is of equal importance for victims. According to the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, in the eyes of the law, a victim is a person who has suffered physical or psychological harm as a result of a crime. Family members, legal guardians and dependents are considered victims when the victim is deceased or when the victim is a child or a person who is unable to act on his own behalf by reason of an illness or disability.

The victims’ compensation scheme was established not only to make restitution to victims, but also to compensate for any financial losses resulting from the crime. Victims may require all manner of care in order to recover. For example, we can think of medical expenses and psychological support.

The purpose of the principle of restorative justice is also to ensure that the victim is not victimized a second time. Consequently, making restitution means that the victim will have no need to navigate the judicial process a second time in order to receive restitution. This process, therefore, forces the victim to demonstrate that the harm suffered by him resulted from the crime.

Victims and victims groups have been calling for some time for legislative provisions of this nature that would force inmates to comply with family support and restitution orders. This was referred to in a document written by the solicitor general dated 1987.

We are also pleased to see that the bill identifies priorities and that support payments will be at the top of the list. The Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime made the following recommendations in the report entitled “Toward a Greater Respect for Victims in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act”:

That the Government of Canada amend paragraph 133(3) of the CCRA to include a necessity for conditions to ensure offenders fulfill their court ordered sentences, including restitution and victim fine surcharges.

That the Government of Canada amend subsection 78(2) of the CCRA to authorize the CSC to deduct reasonable amounts from an offender's earnings to satisfy any outstanding restitution or victim fine surcharge orders.

Still, this legislation is not perfect. In my opinion, the problem with this bill is that it creates two civil law systems: one for prisoners and the other for the rest of society. The protection of the law applies to all citizens, including prisoners. In civil law, there are provisions that force individuals to repay their debts. For example, salaries may be garnished to force an individual to pay child support. However, there is a big difference between existing provisions and this bill.

Unfortunately, the government cannot intervene to enforce court orders, thereby circumventing the courts. The government cannot take over the courts' role in the justice system. For example, in the case of support payments, the family must take the case to a civil court and go through the normal justice process. Any loss of basic civil rights cannot be taken lightly lest the justice system revert to principles of punitive justice.

In my opinion, we cannot deny some individuals their rights in order to help others. We cannot rob Peter to pay Paul. That is why we must strike a balance between victims' rights and prisoners' rights.

This bill includes another important measure aimed at better integrating prisoners into rehabilitation programs. Such programs have been very successful. It is not enough to hold prisoners financially accountable. They also need to understand the reason for their actions and the consequences of their actions. Rehabilitation is an integral part of the rehabilitation process for prisoners. This kind of program should also be offered during the inmate's parole period.

To sum up, the spirit of Bill C-350 is entirely relevant. Offenders must be held accountable for the financial obligations issued in lawful orders.

Let us all support this bill and hear from experts regarding the bill's validity.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, the Liberal Party will be supporting the bill going to committee to study various aspects that have raised questions such those my colleague has just touched on.

As the member who is sponsoring the bill mentioned, it is very important that offenders be accountable. Therefore, the principle that underlies the bill is a good one. Liberals have always believed in personal accountability. It is a tenet of liberalism and, of course, that extends to offenders who are serving time for the crimes they have committed.

It would have been interesting if the sponsor of the bill had provided some concrete examples of situations where victims have suffered because of the absence of such legislation. It leaves us wondering whether the bill is responding to a real problem, or whether it is more of a theoretical exercise.

It is important for anyone watching at home to understand that this is not what has been referred to in the past as profits from crime legislation, introduced under a previous Liberal administration. The purpose of that legislation was to confiscate the proceeds earned by a criminal who, for example, wrote a book about his or her crime. That legislation, Bill C-205, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Copyright Act, was introduced in 1996 by the Liberal member from Scarborough. That bill would have prohibited a criminal from profiting by selling or authoring a story of their crime. However, this is not what we are dealing with here. It is important that the two ideas not be confused.

The reason I bring up Bill C-205 is that, despite its good intention and good principle upon which it was based, it did not complete the legislative process because of the election. However, even a similar bill did not complete the legislative process. It was deemed unconstitutional when it was debated in the House because it violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. More than that, the issue fell under provincial jurisdiction because it is a matter of property, which is generally dealt with under civil actions within provincial jurisdiction.

Bill C-350 does raise some comparable issues about jurisdiction. In fact, as my hon. colleague from the NDP mentioned in his speech, Bill C-350 had a predecessor, Bill C-292. Unfortunately, that bill did not make it to the stage of adoption precisely because of jurisdictional problems.

I will read a quote from the researcher of the committee, Michel Bédard, who presumably was looking at the bill, but this was before I was appointed to that portfolio. He said:

I have doubts as to the federal government's power to pass provisions of this kind. It's important to understand that, according to the division of powers in Canada, property and civil rights fall within provincial jurisdiction. Under that head of power, the provinces have jurisdiction over contracts and all private law, including debt priority ranking. That includes debts owed to creditors, in particular.... It's important to realize that federal jurisdiction regarding debt priority ranking is limited to certain well-defined areas, such as bankruptcy, tax collection and banks.

In other words, this new debt priority ranking cannot be connected back to bankruptcy law, to banks, to tax collection or other areas of federal jurisdiction. What he is saying is that Bill C-292 had nothing to do with these areas where there would be a federal role. That is something we are going to have to discuss at committee when the bill gets there.

I believe that the committee researcher expressed the same reservations about Bill C-350. Again, this is going to have to be discussed at committee, which does not take away from the hon. member's noble motives in wanting to protect victims and underscore the need for offender accountability.

There may be a way in which the bill is constitutional, but there are some doubts. Establishing a debt priority ranking is a power, as I said, usually given to the provincial government. Bill C-350 uses this concept and applies it to a criminal matter where the federal government does have jurisdiction under subsection 91(27) of the Constitution Act of 1867. However, the constitutionality of this manoeuvre is open to debate.

Section 2(a), on using crown funds to repay spousal and child support debt, deals with a tricky issue. While it is true that the government does have jurisdiction over marriage, it may depend on how a judge interprets this provision. For example, a court could interpret the provision to apply only to all legally married couples. Furthermore, as stated above, the federal government can legislate in the area of marriage and divorce. However, there are certain parts of marriage and divorce law that have been delegated to the provincial courts. The nuances of such a relationship require further study.

Sections 2(b) and 2(c) of Bill C-350 use the Criminal Code provisions of restitution orders to establish a debt priority for victims and third parties, as well as victims' surcharges. Restitution is defined as equity aimed at restoring a person to whom a duty was owed to the position in which he or she would have been had the duty not been breached. It does this through a variety of remedies, including compensation. It could be argued in regard to restitution orders requiring an offender to pay financial compensation to a victim or third party that the federal government is legislating in a provincial area.

The constitutionality of restitution orders, as a federal power, was upheld most recently in R v Zelensky in 1978. However, Bill C-350 goes much further than the Zelensky decision in that it elevates restitution orders in the debt priority ranking. Bill C-350 establishes that payment to parties outlined in the bill receive priority over any other debts or fees incurred as a result of the offence. Currently, restitution orders are placed on the same level of priority as other provincial fees levied during the criminal court process, like administrative fees and fines.

There is another interesting aspect. What happens if the offender is innocent and after doing his or her time in prison wins a court case whereby their innocence is proved? Are there measures to reverse the situation to take care of that eventuality?

This will all be studied at committee and I look forward to doing that.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Portage—Lisgar
Manitoba

Conservative

Candice Bergen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of Bill C-350, which addresses crucial changes to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act as it relates to the accountability of offenders.

I would like to thank the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry for his hard work on behalf of victims of crime.

Before I begin, I would like to take a moment to briefly review what the bill is all about. Bill C-350 is about putting more focus on offender accountability and restitution. It will do this through two key changes.

First, the bill would amend the wording in the purpose section of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which currently refers only to custody and supervision, and rehabilitation and reintegration. The new wording will clarify that one of the purposes of the federal corrections system is the following:

encouraging the accountability and responsibility of offenders, with a view to ensuring that their obligations to society are addressed.

Second, the bill sets out the priorities for debt repayment in cases when an offender is owed a monetary award as a result of a legal action against the crown. What this means in essence is that an offender will first have to satisfy outstanding debts before collecting any award. The debt owed to the offender would be paid on a pro rata basis and in the following order of priority, to amounts owing, pursuant to the following: a spousal or child support order; a legal restitution order; any victim surcharge order; and any person with a civil judgment against the offender. It is only after all of these priorities have been addressed that any outstanding amount from the monetary award would be paid to the offender.

While our government supports the rights of offenders to be treated humanely, we also believe that offenders must be held accountable for the debts they owe. Learning how to do this is an important part of their rehabilitation.

This legislation would ensure that crown debts are distributed with these obligations in mind and ensure that priority is given to victims and the spouses and children of these offenders.

At its core, the bill is really about supporting victims and holding offenders accountable for their legal obligations. That is why our government is pleased to support this legislation, with some minor amendments. When the bill reaches committee stage, we recommend amending it to add clarity regarding the role of the Correctional Service of Canada in the administration and operation of these provisions.

Our government is wholly committed to supporting victims and ensuring that the justice system takes the consideration of victims to heart, and I am proud of our impressive track record. For example, we have committed $52 million to enhance the federal victims strategy to better meet the needs of victims. We have created and provided ongoing support to the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime as an independent resource for victims. We have provided support to the National Office for Victims at Public Safety Canada to give victims a greater voice in the corrections and conditional release process, and to help them access the services that they need.

These are only a few examples of how our government has dedicated itself to supporting victims of crime.

Just as important, we remain committed to making sure that offenders are held accountable. Because more needs to be done, our government included offender accountability measures as part of our safe streets and communities act that we introduced in September 2011. Bill C-10 contains measures that will help to enhance offender responsibility and accountability while strengthening the management of offenders during their incarceration and parole. It would also give victims access to more information about the offender who has harmed them and modernize disciplinary sanctions for offenders. Under that proposed legislation we would amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to emphasize the need for offenders to conduct themselves in a way that demonstrates respect for other people and property.

As well, the proposed changes would require all offenders to obey all penitentiary rules and conditions governing their release, while also actively participating in the setting and achieving of objectives in their correctional plan, including their behaviour, program participation and meeting their court-ordered obligations such as restitution to victims. This ties directly to the legislation that we are discussing today.

Another element of offender accountability found in our safe streets and communities act is amendments to modernize the system of discipline in federal penitentiaries by addressing disrespectful, intimidating and assaultive behaviour by inmates, including the throwing of bodily substances.

The safe streets and communities act also delivers on the issue of victim support. Victims have limited information about an offender's life in prison. They do not know whether offenders are taking part in rehabilitation programs, if they are absent from the institution temporarily or are being transferred to a minimum security facility. Yet victims deserve to have access to as much information as they reasonably can about the offender, and Bill C-10 would enshrine in law their ability to take part in parole hearings and to be kept better informed about the behaviour and management of offenders.

Clearly, the measures proposed in the safe streets and communities act will work in tandem with Bill C-350, the legislation we are discussing today.

Just as clear is the message we are hearing from victims and advocacy groups across this country. They are asking us to move swiftly to strengthen the rights of victims. They are asking us to make changes to our laws to improve the accountability of offenders, and they are asking us to create mechanisms that support victims of crime.

I spoke earlier of our ongoing financial support programs, like the National Office for Victims and the federal victims strategy. While we have made progress, much work still remains to be done.

In the 2011 Speech from the Throne, we reiterated our intention to move swiftly ahead with efforts that support victims, that give our law officers better tools and that support crime prevention programs. That is what we told Canadians we would do, and that is exactly what we intend to do.

Today I am very pleased to support the bill with our proposed amendments, and I call on all hon. members to ensure its speedy passage.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to the bill moved by the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry.

However, I am rather ambivalent about it because, although we agree that prisoners ought to be accountable and we agree with the recommendations of the Ombudsman for Victims of Crime who talked about some of these issues and suggested that the Corrections and Conditional Release Act be amended to ensure that offenders who fill their court ordered sentences, including restitution, and victim fine surcharges and also the suggestion that there be authorization for the Correctional Service of Canada to deduct from an offender's earnings while in prison reasonable amounts for the restitution or victim fine surcharge orders, some of this can be done by regulation. In fact, there is no need to change the act to do that at all.

I am curious that the member did not address that. I want to talk about the government's talk about victims. Who are we talking about? We are talking about somebody who has successfully sued Her Majesty the Queen on the basis that there was something committed against them. It specifically refers to any debt owed to an offender as a result of a monetary award made by a court, tribunal or agency proceeding against Her Majesty the Queen or any agent employed by Her Majesty the Queen in the course of performance of his or her duties.

Who are we talking about? Are we talking about a prisoner who has been abused by some agent of Her Majesty the Queen who then successfully sues Her Majesty the Queen and is entitled to a monetary award? I do not know how many people there are like that. Perhaps the member can address that in his closing remarks. Are we talking about two? Are we talking about 10? Are we talking about hundreds of people? Is there really any purpose for the bill? Is there anything to be gained by this? It only deals with people who sue Her Majesty the Queen.

The member referred to spurious lawsuits. If it were a spurious lawsuit against Her Majesty the Queen, it would not be successful. It would be thrown out of court. I do not know what the evil is that is being corrected. However, I do agree with certain aspects of what the member said in that, yes, if an offender has obligations to his family, which is supported by a court order in the case of spousal support, child support or the other items listed, they would get the money before the offender would. However, I think that is already provided for by the law of the provinces referred to by the member for Lac-Saint-Louis and as noted by the parliamentary officers who advise on legislation.

I think there are some problems with this. The notion is not a bad one. I do not know whether it can be amended at committee to allow for deductions from offenders' pay to cover court restitution orders or to cover the other ones that are mentioned here, whether it be spousal support, the business dealing with victim fine surcharges, for example, or restitution orders. These are things that surely should be able to be handled by a different sort of amendment that authorizes deductions of those items from payments due to an offender.

The member is on the right track when it comes to trying to find a way to ensure that offenders who are receiving money while in prison can have deductions made to look after these matters, but we should not build it around what he has done in saying that this is for people who successfully sue the Crown for some action taken against them by an officer of the Crown in the performance of his or her duty. That obviously means somebody committed something against the prisoner who might be considered a victim of a civil tort.

The bill is a bit misguided in that sense but there may be something that can be done with it. New Democrats are not saying that the bill does not deserve further consideration in committee but we need listened carefully to what legal experts told us about jurisdiction. In my province, there is a judgment enforcement act that deals with the issue of priorities as to who gets what money from a court judgment. It may be that this legislation could override that and that is something that needs to be further examined.

There is a bit of a mix-up in terms of what the member has suggested. I would like to know, in terms of his own research, why he feels this bill is necessary. Are there hundreds and thousands of people incarcerated who are receiving monetary awards on claims against Her Majesty the Queen? How many are we talking about? Is this a problem that needs to be solved in this way or would we be better off looking at the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to ensure that the provisions in sections 76 to 78 ensure that payments may be deducted. Subsection 78(2) states:

Where an offender receives a payment [or income]...from a prescribed source, the Service may

(a) make deductions from that payment...in accordance with regulations made under paragraph 96(z.2) and any Commissioner’s Directive....

That seems to me to be the place where we ought to be looking because that is the provision of the act that allows for deductions to be made from any prisoner's income.

I have listened to the member and I do not agree with his statement that the government is concerned about victims because, if it were, it would have listened to the victims who testified before the public safety committee on Bill C-19. They were concerned about the wholesale lack of protection that would be left if the bill were to pass through the Senate because of all the other measures that were taken away, along with the so-called long gun registry. It did not listen to them. It did not listen to the victims and families of École Polytechnique who testified. It also does not seem to be interested in reinstating support for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Boards across Canada, some of which have shut down due to lack of federal support.

Victims are going without the compensation that was available previously during the 1990s. In fact, I represented a large number of victims of sexual abuse at a particular orphanage in St. John's. We went to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board on a regular basis to get support for counselling and what was available under the Criminal Injury Compensation Act. However, that act no longer exists. There are no criminal injury compensations in my province anymore because of lack of funding and federal support.

We do not hear anybody on the other side say that we should get back on track with criminal injuries compensation. Maybe I am putting something in their ears over there. Maybe they should ask the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Justice why they are not supporting criminal injury compensation in Canada, which used to be the case with previous governments. We do not talk about what we are doing for victims. We talk about what we are doing to offenders.

The biggest worry I have is that many of the things being done to offenders within Bill C-10, for example, would lead to more hardened criminals, less rehabilitation and more crime as a result. When people are not rehabilitated when they are in prison, when they are released they will be more likely to offend, which will lead to more victims. They have the wrong end of the stick when it comes to the approach the government is taking.

New Democrats will support this bill at second reading, allow it to go committee where we can see if something can be done with it that fits the jurisdiction and the Constitution and that can provide for deductions being made from prisoners' incomes to meet some of the objectives that the member suggests.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-350, a private member's bill introduced by the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry regarding the accountability of offenders.

This is an important topic. Canada has in the order of about 40,000 prisoners presently, which represents a very small share of our population. Although it sounds like a large number, it is less than 1% of our population. About 15,000 of these prisoners are in federal custody while the remainder are in provincial penal systems. Our incarceration rate is in line with, or slightly lower than actually, incarceration rates from many of Canada's peer countries, with an exception. It is far less than a third of the rate of incarceration in the United States.

In addition, the crime rate in Canada is actually decreasing, including the severity index for violent crimes. Even so, it seems that the government intends to greatly expand our prison system. Under the government's planned changes, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, last year, estimated that the cost of running of our prisons could grow to $9.5 billion annually in 2015-16. That is up from $4.4 billion in 2010, which is more than double. That could require the construction of up to a dozen new prisons. Mr. Page found that the numbers could be twice as high in the provincial system as well.

I can only see our prison population ballooning even higher than the Parliamentary Budget Officer's estimates with the legislation introduced recently by the government, such as Bill C-10. We could see any number of people convicted and sent to jail for five years for just circumventing digital locks to listen to their purchased CDs on their iPods or copying their DVDs onto their laptops, for example. Who knows how many people might be sent to jail when their cell phone locations are scanned by the authorities and they happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, going home from work through an area where a protest breaks out.

With these and other changes from the Conservative government, including mandatory minimum sentences, I expect to see our prison population in this country growing and growing under the government.

This raises questions. How are taxpayers expected to pay for so many Canadians in jail when the federal government is running a steep and rapidly growing deficit and our provinces are struggling financially as well? Surely the government is aware that we would have a hard time paying for megaprisons and megaprison populations while trying to balance the books.

Does the Prime Minister intend to burden we taxpayers, our taxpayers, our constituents and the provinces with so many prison costs that he will just throw up his hands in a few years and say that we cannot possibly afford it anymore and that the prison system needs to be privatized.

This would fit in lockstep with his overall philosophy of allegedly creating smaller governments and privatization. However, it could have catastrophic consequences for Canadian society. If incarceration itself becomes a profit centre when the Conservatives privatize the jails, it will be in many corporations' best interests to send more people to jail for longer and keep them there.

That means that our goals as a society will have changed from rehabilitation and good outcomes for citizens to one of maximizing the incarceration rate, a growth industry. A well-funded private prisons lobby could emerge to keep pressure up for ever-harsher laws. They could lobby to ensure that many more people cease to be productive members of society, no longer paying taxes but instead left rotting in prisons or being criminalized even further there.

To me, this is a disturbing picture of Canada's future if we continue down the government's path. We can see how badly that road has worked out for the United States of America. In the early 1980s, privatization of prisons took off in the U.S. with the war on drugs and harsher sentencing. States could no longer afford to run their prison systems and so companies starting taking over more and more prison services and eventually entire prisons. Incarceration skyrocketed, doubling every decade from less than half a million in 1980 to over two million by the year 2000.

Our neighbours to the south now have by far the highest incarceration rate in the entire world. They have the largest prison population on earth. With less than 5% of the world's overall population they have almost a quarter of the world's adult prison population. We have all heard about the extraordinary incarceration rates of African Americans and other visible minorities in the U.S.; entire generations thrown in jail. Are we going to replicate that failed system here in Canada?

I cannot begin to detail the tragic social costs that come when incarceration becomes a profit-making enterprise. Sadly, this was all for nothing. U.S. statistics show that cost savings promised to the taxpayers by privatized prisons simply have not materialized. It is no wonder that states such as California and Texas are now backpedaling on privatized prisons.

For Canada, this is a very real possibility given the crime agenda advanced by members on the other side of the House. Statistics Canada found that 93% of Canadians are satisfied with their personal safety, so most do not live in fear of crime or criminals. Perhaps they should start worrying about some politicians as being costly to their welfare.

This private member's bill takes on a new importance in light of all of this. If we are to have so many more people in prison, then we need to make sure that families and others surrounding them do not pay more of a price than they need to. The aim of this bill is to make sure incarcerated people are held to account for their actions financially with respect to victims and families. That is a laudable goal.

As my colleagues have discussed, it mandates that family members and victims to whom the offender owes money would be compensated first from any financial gains awarded to that offender by a court settlement. I support an underlying presumption in the bill that the principle of accountability and learning accountability is important in the rehabilitation process of all inmates.

My colleagues on this side of the House and I believe it is important to rehabilitate offenders, not harden them and offer criminal graduate degrees. Part of that rehabilitation involves meeting obligations to others. It is taking responsibility for debts owed.

I also see a welcomed item in this legislation, and that is child support. Children of offenders should not be punished for their parents' crimes. All too often they are. They often fall through the cracks. Children whose parents have been incarcerated face unique difficulties. Aside from the sudden separation from their caregiver, sometimes their only caregiver, these children have to deal with fear, depression, anger and guilt. They are often moved around from caregiver to caregiver. They are at higher risk of failure in school and delinquency. They are often left in poor circumstances financially as well. I am glad to see that Bill C-350 counts child support as a priority for repayment of debts.

I know that this version of the legislation has been tweaked from a previous iteration to take into account not just child support but also respect for the jurisdiction of the provinces as well. I am very happy this seems to signal an openness to improvements so that the bill may pass with broad support from all parties. It gives me hope that we can improve things for Canadians if and when the bill passes in the other place. I know from personal experience that all too few private members' bills actually end up becoming law. I wish the member luck with his legislation.

To sum up, the bill has merit in that it seeks to help victims and families. I support this private member's bill going to committee for further consideration.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

7:05 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, on January 30, 2012, and a number of other times since, I asked this government a specific question to find out what its contingency plan is for the F-35 program. Once again, the government is turning a deaf ear.

For months now, we have been learning every day that there are new problems and malfunctions with regard to the F-35s. These technical problems are not so surprising if we consider that the production and construction of these planes were authorized long before the technical trials and test flights were complete.

These test flights are essential for making a number of minor and other more significant adjustments to the plane. They are also essential to avoid having to send a plane back to the plant for adjustments because the test flights were poorly done. Imagine the public safety implications if all of NATO's F-35s were recalled.

The partner and purchaser countries are dropping out one by one: Australia, Italy, the United Kingdom, Turkey and even the United States are reducing their procurement goals. The Netherlands has suspended its decision, believing that purchasing the F-35s would be irresponsible given the unknown final costs, the inconclusive test flights and the unending delays.

Let us consider the budget forecasts. In the beginning, the Government of Canada estimated that the cost of the aircraft alone would be $75 million per jet. The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates that the cost will be between $128 million and $146 million per jet. The United States estimates the purchase price of each jet to be $156 million. Allow me to specify that these figures were calculated before the recent announcement that various countries were withdrawing from the program. As a result, we are talking about cost overruns of $3.5 billion to $5.25 billion just to purchase the F-35s.

Unfortunately, money does not grow on trees. Clearly, in order to pay for the F-35s, the government will have to either make cuts to other services or purchase fewer planes. We will not be able to afford them.

Either way, the problem is that our military will have operational problems. Representatives of the Canadian Forces have stated many times in committee that it would be very difficult to have a functional air fleet with fewer than 65 fighter jets. That leaves the option of making cuts to other services, but there comes a point when the government cannot just do whatever it wants. We are going around in circles trying to solve this problem.

It is important to note that every time another country withdraws from the program the price and the cost overruns go up.

Last week, a study showed to what extent the F-35 was not suitable for the needs of the Canadian Forces. Today, a defence expert stated in committee that the Canada first defence strategy is not sustainable or feasible in the long term. The consequences of the government's lack of judgment and chronic lowballing when it comes to military procurement will endanger the capacity of our troops in the near future.

We must review this government's strategy before it is too late, before we are backed into a corner and forced to make a quick decision that is not well thought out. When will we have our plan B?

7:10 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering
Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Madam Speaker, I wish to thank the hon. member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue. We have been dealing with this issue in committee. We are listening to various stakeholders and this remains an important defence issue for the Canadian Forces and for Canada. The missions in which our pilots are asked to climb into CF-18s and, eventually, into new fighter jets, continue to be very important for our country.

Protecting our sovereignty in the Arctic and having the ability to fly over the second largest land area in the world, and the largest land and water area in the world, are not abstract notions. For the general population and for Canada—which is a reliable NATO ally and which has an air force tradition—it is important to select the right aircraft and the proper equipment for its pilots, which are among the best in the world as we saw again last year during the Libyan campaign.

But let us talk about the real issues. Our CF-18s are nearing the end of their lifespan as safe aircraft for our pilots. Thirty years is a long time. They will get an extension of a few years, since their useful life has been extended. We fully realize that a new aircraft must be chosen pretty quickly. That is why a long time ago, that is, four elections ago—at the end of the nineties if I my memory serves me right—a Liberal government decided not to move forward unilaterally, but to join other partners, namely our NATO allies, to build a new generation aircraft equipped with the modern technology required to meet the challenges of the 21st century. We have been working on this for a decade.

We have accomplished something because the number of partners interested in this project and committed to it has not diminished but increased. Hon. members opposite always forget that countries like Japan not only continue to participate in the project, but have actually increased their order. It is true that some countries are going to spread their order for certain aircraft over a longer period of time, including the United States, but we still have a strong team with reliable partners—