House of Commons Hansard #98 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was refugees.

Topics

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate that intervention.

As I was saying, I believe that my colleague, the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, proposes this measure in good faith and attempts to tackle an important issue.

The bill's intention appears to be to improve support and fairness for victims of crime and their families and to ensure offenders meet their obligations to society. That is something I know all members of this House support.

Victims of crime must, of course, be treated with compassion, dignity and respect. They need and deserve the support of their community and the support of their government. The government has an obligation to listen to and respond to the needs of victims, but the Conservative government's record on that score leaves a great deal to be desired.

My colleagues opposite spin a good yarn about defending and supporting victims, but when it comes to concrete action, they obstinately, and flying in the face of all evidence, pursue policies that will increase crime levels, increase recidivism and make our streets less safe than they are today.

From its omnibus crime legislation, which experts expect will actually create many more victims of crime, to the shameful decision to end the gun registry and destroy the attendant records, the Conservative government continues to promote policies that victims of crime oppose.

In fact, it is pretty clear that the government has about as much respect for the views of crime victims as it has respect for facts and evidence in public policy-making, that is, none.

The government fails to provide adequate supports for victims of crime and fails utterly to understand and address the root causes of crime. That is a fundamental difference between our approach and the approach of members opposite.

We want to help victims recover and to offer them every support we possibly can. We want to provide the necessary resources to help them heal and to put their lives back together after enduring experiences that, in some cases, are more terrible than any of us here can imagine.

I think any victim would tell us that among the best things we can do as legislators is to work towards a more effective criminal justice system and do everything in our power to prevent criminal behaviour in the first place.

The economically and socially responsible approach is to invest in crime prevention by investing in Canadians and in our communities. We can begin by committing to develop a coherent and robust national housing strategy and put in place a sensible plan to address homelessness. This country has as many as 300,000 homeless people on our streets, yet we remain the only country in the G8 that lacks a national housing strategy.

We must ensure that all Canadians have access to primary health care, including mental health treatment facilities and addiction programs.

We must ensure that aboriginal Canadians have access to the housing, health care and education resources necessary to build strong and vibrant communities.

We must ensure that young Canadians have opportunities through early learning, post-secondary education and apprenticeship programs to participate fully in our economy and become engaged, contributing members of society.

We must build and support a functional corrections system that offers effective rehabilitation programming that reduces the risk of reoffending when prisoners leave the criminal justice system.

What we have seen instead from the government is an abdication of responsibility for providing the kinds of social supports, that is, housing, health care, education and jobs, that are the foundations of an effective crime prevention strategy. We have also seen a complete failure on the part of the Conservative government to live up to its promise to put more police on the streets.

In fact, the government has failed crime victims. It has failed the criminal justice system. It has failed communities. But that is what happens when governments pursue public policy on the basis of ideology rather than evidence.

During the Senate committee hearings on Bill C-10, the Conservatives' omnibus crime bill, the Minister of Public Safety told senators to ignore the facts when it comes to public safety. He said, “I don't know if the statistics demonstrate that crime is down. I'm focused on danger.”

This is not the first time we have been told to ignore the facts by the Conservatives. In response to questions about Bill C-10, the Minister of Justice said, “We're not governing on the basis of the latest statistics.”

Indeed, the blind pursuit of ideology, and a dogged determination to dismiss facts and evidence as inconveniences, is a deeply troubling hallmark of the Conservative government. It is unacceptable, and frankly, Canadians have had enough. Canadians deserve better and victims deserve better.

I regret that the legislation before us today is not part of the comprehensive, evidence-based, long-term view of Canada's criminal justice system that we need. However, I can broadly support the intended purpose of the bill, and it raises some issues that deserve closer examination. Victims deserve to be better supported and this bill may be one way to take a step in that direction.

I also support recommendations 12 and 13 of the Ombudsman for Victims report “Toward a Greater Respect for Victims of Crime in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act“, which calls for an amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to ensure offenders will fulfill their court ordered sentences, including restitution and victim fine surcharges, and authorizing Correctional Services Canada to deduct from an offender's earnings reasonable amounts for restitution or victim fine surcharges orders.

I do have some concerns with the bill. It would seem there are jurisdictional issues that may prove difficult to overcome. As my colleague, the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, pointed out, the bill appears to be designed to create two civil law systems, one for prisoners and another for the rest of society. However, the protection of the law applies to all citizens, including prisoners.

As well, I am unaware of any existing problems with judgments being paid. I wonder if the bill really represents a solution to a problem, or whether it is in fact an exercise in wedge politics.

If the government is genuinely interested in providing effective and meaningful support for victims of crime, why does it not reinstate federal funding for criminal injuries compensation programs? These programs have largely collapsed because of a lack of funding. There are countless victims of crime who are suffering today, with no support, with no restitution, because the offenders have no money. Why does the government continue to ignore those crime victims?

Despite these significant shortcomings, I am willing to take a closer look at the bill to see where and how the broader objectives, the better intentions, can be supported.

I want to take this opportunity to encourage the members across the way to help make all conversations that we have in this place about victims more productive. I would encourage the members across to put aside ideology and to instead pay attention to facts, to evidence, to expertise and experience when it comes to developing policies on public safety. This means supporting and promoting proven and effective crime prevention strategies, which make both financial and practical sense, so we can work together toward reducing the number of victims of crime in our country.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to speak in the House. My hon. colleague from Hamilton Mountain gave a great and eloquent speech on the subject.

I, too, am very happy to rise today to give my thoughts on this private member's bill, Bill C-350, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders). Having given much consideration to it, I believe the legislation warrants enough consideration to be sent to committee for further study.

Using recent statistics, the cost of crime in 2003 was about $70 billion. What is even more shocking is that $47 billion of the costs were borne by the victims of crime. That statistic means that fully two-thirds of all costs of crime are paid by the victims. It is clear that we need to reduce these costs. The most obvious way for us to reduce them is to reduce the number and severity of crimes taking place in Canada. The problem is that the government's approach to reducing crime, in my opinion, is inherently flawed. If increased prison populations lead to decreased crime rates, then the U.S. would have a far lower crime rate than Canada, which is clearly not the case.

The government's omnibus crime bill contained a number of measures that New Democrats supported and were willing to fast track if they were separated from the more odious aspects of that bill. However, as is so often the case, the government was more interested in playing politics than in passing good public policy. The government rammed through the entire bill, which will massively increase the Canadian prison population without having any effect on crime rates, with limited debate and scrutiny.

While the government likes to talk about protecting victims, the bill did nothing in regard to the most important aspect of victim support, and that was ensuring that there were less victims of crime in Canada. It is good, however, to see that some members on the government benches are willing to take a more nuanced approach to dealing with crime and, more specific, with looking to help the victims of crime.

This bill would mandate that any compensation that would be awarded to an individual who committed a crime through a court settlement would not be immediately paid to the offender. Instead, any money owing in terms of child support, restitution to the victim of the crime, civil judgments or fines would be paid out of this award. Only once these outstanding debts had been paid would the court release the remaining funds to the offender.

New Democrats are committed to ensuring that the rights of victims are properly considered in all aspects of the criminal justice system. The victims ombudsman, which is supported on this side of the House, has had a lot to say on these aspects of the justice system. In a recent report, the ombudsman called on the government to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to include conditions ensuring that offenders complied with sentences imposed by the court, including restitution and compensatory payment of increased fines, and to authorize the Correctional Service of Canada to deduct reasonable amounts of income held to cover outstanding amounts corresponding to the specified compensation or increased fines.

In that sense, the bill seems to attempt to address those concerns. It is important to realize that the primary purpose of this compensation is to not punish them by taking away their money, but, instead, it seeks to acknowledge that crimes have an effect both on the victims of crime and on the offender's family and that, as such, offenders should be accountable to those groups. It is a shame, however, that the government did not include any of these provisions in its crime bill. It is very telling that it was excluded.

This bill, with its focus on victims and the families of offenders, is a step in the right direction from the party opposite. It is just a shame that it has to be pushed by a private member's bill and not by the government. Additionally, I believe we should ensure that the criminal justice system continues to focus on rehabilitating people who have committed criminal acts to ensure they are not trapped in the cycle of criminality.

By ensuring that offenders are required to honour these types of debts, the criminal justice system could go some way in fostering a sense of responsibility in offenders to meet their obligations toward the families, victims and the communities. Combined with adequate retraining and education programs, that could be a good way to ensure that rehabilitation would be given a central place in the criminal justice system.

However, some critics of the bill have argued that by forcing offenders to honour their debts before being paid compensation, we are treating offenders differently than we treat average Canadians. However, there is some precedence for forcing people to honour their debts to civil society. For example, courts can garnish the paycheques of individuals in order to ensure they make their child support payments. As a result of this, I do not think that it is unreasonable for parliamentarians to further study the possibility of the bill.

Critics have also argued that the bill may infringe on provincial jurisdiction. However, as I understand it, the bill would replace the previous private member's bill introduced by the same member on the same topic and then he changed some of the provisions in the bill to recognize the right of provinces to set priority of claims regardless of settlement. I look forward to hearing testimony at committee stage from legal experts to ensure that the changes made by the member are sufficient to overcome any worries regarding provincial jurisdiction.

Bills like these, which seek to ensure that offenders are accountable for their actions and that go some way to ensure the rehabilitation of offenders, are definitely a step in the right direction.

I truly look forward to further study of the bill at committee to ensure its viability and to further analyze its consequences.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

March 16th, 2012 / 2 p.m.

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sincerely honoured to rise today to respond to the debate on my private member's Bill C-350.

I would like to begin by extending my appreciation for my colleagues opposite who took the time to participate in this debate, and I listened to their comments with great interest.

It is heartening to see that this bill has received a good deal of support during these debates from hon. members across the way, from all parties. This speaks to the bill's clarity and to its necessity. During these debates, hon. members have recognized that this legislation contains important improvements from the previous version introduced last year.

I would like to take the opportunity to stress the importance of passing this legislation. The changes which I am proposing to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act are crucial to holding criminals accountable for their actions and to supporting victims of crime. Our government's commitment to increasing offender accountability in the criminal justice system is well documented. Just as well known is our commitment to supporting victims and rebalancing the justice system to bring their interests to the forefront. This is one area where most parliamentarians and law-abiding citizens agree.

This legislation would teach these offenders, some whom have never been responsible one day in their life, that in society we do have obligations and we do meet them. Putting an emphasis on offender accountability helps to correct negative offender behaviour and is a key aspect of our correctional system. Hopefully, this would ultimately help offenders take more responsibility for their actions in their rehabilitation by reforming them into responsible members of society.

I am proud to report that this bill supports victims of crime. If an offender is the breadwinner in the family and commits a crime that leads to jail time, the offender's family members is left struggling to fend for themselves. In many cases, the offender's family members are victims. Those families are left struggling, many times beyond belief, when the offenders go to jail. It is only right that any monetary award be directed to the offender's family before any goes to the offender.

Bill C-350 would ensure that offenders live up to their family support obligations and that is a critical part of this bill. When an offender breaks into a residence, doing harm to an innocent family and the family's property, it is only right that any monetary award paid to the offender be paid first as restitution to the victim. That is just common sense. It is only fair when an offender files a spurious lawsuit or court action and receives a monetary reward, the offender's debts be paid prior to being able to benefit from that reward.

For Canadians whose lives have never been touched by crime, it might seem that once an offender has been tried, convicted and incarcerated in federal prison the story is over. It is far from over for the victims of these crimes. For some victims, it may take months, years or even a lifetime of rebuilding their lives following physical injury and emotional distress. Some may never get to the point of closure, particularly those who have lost a loved one due to an act of violence. We have seen too much of that in the press recently.

In the 2011 Speech from the Throne, our Conservative government committed once again to providing support for victims. We have listened to victims of crime and as a result have introduced many measures that support the rights of victims as opposed to the rights of criminals. The passage of this legislation would be another step in supporting the victims of crime. That is why I urge all hon. members to stand up for the victims of crime and support this legislation.

I also wish all my colleagues a very happy St. Patrick's Day. I hope they enjoy their week in their ridings.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

All those in favour of the motion. will please say yea.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, March 28 immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

It being 2:10 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday, March 26, at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:10 p.m.)