House of Commons Hansard #147 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was commissioner.

Topics

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, the record needs to be really clear. We have heard this rhetoric now a dozen times today, that members of the Conservative Party, the government side, are not standing up and commenting in debate.

If my hon. colleague, who I have tremendous respect for, would check Hansard, she will see that I spoke for 20 minutes yesterday and have been up multiple times today, as have other members of the party. Their rhetoric just needs to end. We are tired of hearing it. It does not serve any purpose.

What we have heard from members on the opposition side every time they lead debate is 5 to 10 minutes of discussion about lack of debate, and parliamentary process discussions and lessons on how to debate properly. They attacked a Liberal government of years past for its inaction. They have completely dodged the issue. We have had members of the opposition not even answer questions that have been asked.

I would urge the opposition members when they engage in debate to actually use good, common sense and debate the topic at hand and not spin this into some kind of parliamentary lesson or refuse to answer the questions. It is no wonder we are not engaging in fruitful debate; it is because they are not answering the questions. They have not done so at all today.

The opposition members are the ones pretending they have the high ground here and being holier than thou every time they get up to speak. Quite frankly, on behalf of all Conservatives, we are tired of it and I think most Canadians are tired of it too. I thank the opposition members for wasting everyone's time. We appreciate it.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will repeat what I said because some people did not hear me. I would like to tell my colleague that I have plenty of respect for him and that he is an excellent soccer player. I enjoy playing soccer with him.

However, I have to point out that the member did not ask me a question. How can he claim that members of my party do not want to answer questions when the government has not asked us any actual questions?

The ball is in his court: if the member is absolutely certain the government has information, we would sure like to see it. To date, the government has provided no facts, no studies, no research that would give us reason to support this legislation.

Is there a proven connection between imposing a surcharge on someone who is probably already living in poverty and lower crime rates?

If the government has information, please, do share. To date, no government member has provided any information that would answer the questions.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île on her speech. I agree that the government is often uninterested in parliamentary debates. However, it may be interested in the question I have for my colleague or my suggestion for her.

In her speech she referred to some of the failures of the Republican policy on criminal justice. I share her concerns about the fact that the government is basing programs, policies and bills on ones that have proven to be failures in certain U.S. states, such as California and Texas.

Could my colleague elaborate, for the benefit of everyone, on her concerns that the government seems to be inspired by policies that have failed in certain U.S. states?

What are her concerns for the future of the Canadian justice system in light of the Conservative government's blind faith in its American idols?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Beauséjour for the question.

I remember passing an article on to him regarding some Republican governors and senators who had shared their opinions with criminal law journals.

I would go even further and say that, for the Conservatives, national defence is a secret, criminal justice is an ideology, and poverty is an invention of the opposition. In fact, for the Conservatives, everything they believe is real, but they never want to share the facts with us. The Conservatives were found in contempt of Parliament, because they refused to hand over budgetary information in relation to their criminal justice policy.

They are worse than the Republicans, because at least the Republicans will co-operate with the Democrats. Since the Conservatives have a majority, they do not care what the opposition thinks or what Canadians think. The Conservatives seem to think that criminals, victims, women, families, children and aboriginal people are not Canadians and are second-class citizens. The Conservatives have chosen their cause: to defend their cronies. I can assure this House that their choice is not in the best interest of Canada or Canadians.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say that I will be sharing my time with the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan. Before I begin, I also want to congratulate you. I am very glad that you are there. Your wisdom and experience in the House will serve you well as you guide all us members from all parties.

As you know, the NDP supports this bill at second reading so that it can be sent to committee. Bill C-37 amends provisions of the Criminal Code to double the amount of victim surcharges. The government is trying to take an existing surcharge and double it, to increase what victims will receive. We support the principle of this bill, and as I just said, we want it to be sent to committee.

In light of what my colleague just said about what goes on in committee, I hope that once this bill makes it to committee, the members from each party will listen to the witnesses and will consider their concerns and everything they have to say and use what they hear in order to amend the bill. I say that because, with this majority government, the Conservatives sometimes do not want to listen to what witnesses have to say and it becomes an exercise in futility. So I hope, since everyone more or less agrees on what this bill entails, that we will truly be able to study it and find the best solutions for victims.

I would like to give a little context. What does this mean? A victim surcharge is an additional sanction imposed during sentencing on an offender who is found guilty. It is collected and retained by provincial and territorial governments, and helps fund programs and services for victims of crime in the province or territory where the crime was committed. We are asking those responsible to financially support victims. That is fair and good. This bill seeks to increase how much money is raised.

First, Bill C-37 would amend Criminal Code provisions governing the amount of the victim surcharge, doubling it from 15% to 30% of any fine imposed on the offender. If no fine is imposed, the victim surcharge will be $100 instead of $50.

This bill also removes the court's ability to waive the victim surcharge if the offender demonstrates that it would cause him or his dependents undue hardship. Judges will still have the freedom to order a higher victim surcharge if they believe that doing so is justified under the circumstances and if the offender is able to pay. Also, Bill C-37 would make it possible for offenders who are unable to pay the surcharge to participate in a provincial fine option program.

All of the pieces are in place. For example, we supported several recommendations from the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, such as this one, and we are in favour of enhanced funding for programs for victims of crime. That being said, we have some concerns about this bill that should be reviewed in committee—the committee's study is very important—particularly with respect to removing judges' discretionary power to decide whether paying the surcharge would cause undue hardship.

The NDP believes that this bill restricts judicial discretionary power and independence.

Even though this does not have anything to do with the bill, I want to emphasize the fact that this Conservative bill would limit judges' power. That means that any decisions made would be political decisions instead of practical decisions made by judges every day of the week. That is one of our concerns. When the committee begins its study of this bill, I hope that it will give judges that discretionary power because they should have it.

That is something we want to talk about. We also want to talk about repealing the undue hardship clause and about the clause to double the amount of the surcharge, which could be a problem for low-income offenders.

For example, members have already pointed out that some offenders have no or low income. How will we solve that problem?

However, this is offset by the fact that the bill gives people the option of paying off their fine by working through the various fine option programs offered by several provinces. The balance provided in this bill needs to be examined further in committee hearings in order to ensure that the bill is indeed appropriate, particularly for the provinces and territories that do not yet have such programs in place.

The provinces' and territories' requirements must be taken into account. Even though this legislation is federal, given that it is administered in the provinces and territories, the wishes and requirements of provincial and territorial governments must be taken into account. I hope this aspect will be examined carefully at committee.

Some of the organizations that support our position include the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Elizabeth Fry Societies and the John Howard Society.

It is perhaps worth mentioning that the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime has been fighting for quite some time for better funding of services for victims of crime.

In 2003, crime cost about $70 billion. Victims paid for about $47 billion of that, or 70%. A 2004 study estimated the pain and suffering of victims at $36 billion. In addition, a significant number of eligible victims do not claim compensation, often because they do not even know that they are entitled to it.

Once the bill is enacted, it is essential that victims know that they are entitled to compensation. I will stop here. I am ready for questions.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to get the member's thoughts about taking away judges' discretion as to whether an individual is able to pay the type of fine that would be applied through this particular bill. Does the member believe that it is best to leave that discretion with the judicial system? In his opinion, is that in the best interests of our communities?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, yes it is very important that we leave that discretion to judges. I also mentioned earlier in my speech that lately, with all this legislation, we have been slowly taking away this discretion.

It is interesting, Mr. Speaker, that you are in the chair now, that in your former capacity as justice critic how many times over the past years I have talked to you about this, and the message I got from you, an experienced lawyer and critic, is that it is very important that judges retain this discretion. If I retain anything from you in all our years of contact, it is that judges need to have this discretion.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, we have heard a bit of discussion around the discretion being taken away from the judges. To be accurate, what is being presented is the victim fine surcharge being levied at 30% of the fine but the fine amount would still be determined by the judge and at the discretion of the judge. Is that the member's understanding of this legislation?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I wish the member for Yukon well over in that corner. He used to sit over here and now he cannot follow my lead on standing up for votes anymore.

Yes, that is how I understand it. However, the point I am trying to make is that it is important that we allow judges to retain that discretion and this should be discussed in committee. It is my hope that when the bill is polished and it becomes law, there will be this discretion for judges to ensure they have that final say in what happens to these folks.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, a big thank you to my colleague for his very thoughtful speech. My comments are for him. He pointed out some problems with this bill. We will vote in favour of the bill to send it to committee.

The member for Yukon repeated a few times that judges still had discretionary power. I would like to bring him back to that topic. With Bill C-37, judges will no longer have any discretion regarding the surcharge, as it was set out in subsection 737(5). This provision enabled a judge to not impose a surcharge if the offender had shown, for very specific reasons, that he would be unable to pay it.

Unless they have a completely different bill, that is what this bill will do. That is one of the fundamental questions we will ask in committee. I encourage the members opposite to reread their own bill. I would like to hear from the member who just spoke about this issue.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, first, I thank my colleague for all of the work she has done on the justice file. It is not an easy file and I respect what she has to say about the nuances of these bills. I thank her for her comments. I have not carefully studied this bill. I am very happy that she had the opportunity to clarify this bill. I thank her very much.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to add my congratulations to you for assuming the chair. I have been fortunate enough to work with you over the past eight years and I always appreciated the even-handedness and fairness you brought to the work we have done in the House.

I want to thank the member for British Columbia Southern Interior for splitting his time with me. He is a tough act to follow, but I have a couple of points I would like to make in addition to what he raised.

I also want to acknowledge the very good work that the member for Gatineau has done in providing us with the analysis on the bill.

As other members in the House have pointed out, Bill C-37 proposes to amend the provisions of the Criminal Code on victim surcharge, article 737, in order to double the amount that offenders must pay when they receive their sentence, and make that surcharge mandatory for all offenders.

As a number of other speakers in the House have pointed out, the bill also proposes to limit some of the discretion that judges have by removing the ability of a court to weigh the victim surcharge if the offender can show that paying the surcharge would result in undue hardship to either himself or herself or his or her dependants, which is the repeal of article 737(5). However, as others have pointed out, the judges would retain the discretionary power to increase the victim surcharge if they believed that circumstances so warranted and that the offender were able to pay. This is article 737(3).

I will focus on the particular aspect of limiting judicial discretion. Our critic from Gatineau has recommended that we send the bill to committee for further review and possible amendment. It is this section of the legislation that is troubling.

I am the aboriginal affairs critic for the NDP and I will focus on the impact on aboriginal offenders. I will be quoting from a report called “Good Intentions, Disappointing Results: A Progress Report on Federal. Aboriginal Corrections”. The reason I quote from that report is not only that it comes from the Office of the Correctional Investigator, but it has very good statistics about why we should be concerned about limiting judicial discretion in imposing this surcharge.

Most of us in the House recognize that First Nations, Métis and Inuit are some of the poorest of the poor in our country and they are seriously overrepresented in the correctional system at the federal level and also at the provincial and territorial level. Of course, my focus is on the federal level.

In the executive summary of this report it outlines some of the challenges for aboriginal offenders. It indicates:

A young and rapidly growing aboriginal population presents important challenges and opportunities for Canada. Should they not be taken up however, the impacts will be felt throughout the youth and criminal justice system, including corrections.

With the Aboriginal population much younger than the overall Canadian population and experiencing a higher growth rate, the problem of aboriginal over-representation in corrections continues to worsen rather than improve.

The offending circumstances of Aboriginal offenders are often related to substance abuse, intergenerational abuse and residential schools, low levels of education, employment and income, substandard housing and health care, among other factors. Aboriginal offenders tend to be younger; to be more likely to have served previous youth and/or adult sentences; to be incarcerated more often for a violent offence; to have higher risk ratings, to have higher need ratings, to be more inclined to have gang affiliations, and to have more health problems, including fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and mental health issues.

The last part is particularly important in the context of the bill, because we have a population that first has had a history, and I have some other statistics, of reoffending. We would have First Nations, Métis and Inuit coming into the system and constantly being reassessed a surcharge.

We often have people coming into the system from severely disadvantaged backgrounds, so their ability to even pay this surcharge comes into question. The point around judicial discretion was that in the past, a judge could take into account some of these circumstances I just outlined.

The report goes on to talk about some of the statistics. It says that the aboriginal population is growing quickly, representing a greater percentage of the Canadian populace, increasing by 20.1% from 2001 to 2006. The aboriginal population is also much younger than the overall Canadian population. It says that in 2006, the median age of the total aboriginal population was 27 years, which was 13 years lower than the median age of non-aboriginals.

It says that Statistics Canada predicts that the aboriginal population aged zero to 14 will grow from 6% of all children in Canada, in 2001, to over 7.4%, in 2017. Similarly, by 2017, the population of aboriginal youth adults aged 20 to 29 years will have increased from 4.1% to 5.3%.

It goes on to say that with the aboriginal population much younger than the overall Canadian population and experiencing a higher growth rate, the problem of aboriginal overrepresentation in corrections continues to worsen rather than improve and that aboriginal overrepresentation has grown in recent years. Between 1998 and 2008, the federal aboriginal population increased by 19.7%. Moreover, the number of federally-incarcerated aboriginal women increased by a staggering 131% over this period.

In 2007 to 2008, it says that 17.3% of the total federal offender population was aboriginal, compared with being 4% of the Canadian adult population.

We can see from those numbers about this very serious overrepresentation of first nations, Métis and Inuit in the federal correctional system. It says that they represented 19.6% of those incarcerated and 13.6% of those on conditional release, or parole and for women, this overrepresentation is even more dramatic. Thirty-three per cent, that is one-third, of women in federal penitentiaries were aboriginal.

I have some other statistics if I can get to them and talk about the fact that many times aboriginal women are imprisoned because of domestic violence. They end up reacting to a situation where they are in very unsafe homes and then they end up in prison. By removing judicial discretion, we are penalizing these women further who often are the sole providers of their young children and so on.

It says that of those offenders admitted to federal jurisdiction in 2007-8, 49.4% of aboriginal offenders were under the age of 30, compared with 38.6% of non-aboriginal offenders and that the median age of aboriginal offenders in prison was 30 compared with the median of 33 for non-aboriginal offenders and so on.

Part of the reason that these statistics are important is not only do we have an overrepresentation in the correctional system, but we also have young offenders who often have not had an opportunity to establish themselves in their community. Therefore, they often have not got a strong track record of employment.

I heard a member say it was only $50.00. In many cases, for young aboriginal offenders, $50.00 is an enormous amount of money. Often times they are supporting young children at home as well because the birth rate is very high for our young aboriginal people.

I just want to reiterate the fact that I have been talking numbers and data, but we have to continue to look at the context.

I mentioned earlier the intergenerational trauma, residential school abuse, the ongoing poverty, lack of housing, lack of education, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and so on. These are all really important issues to consider.

I had mentioned earlier that there were some interesting statistics, in terms of aboriginal people who were incarcerated and whether they were serving their first sentence in federal correctional system. In fact, the percentage of aboriginal people with no previous convictions between 2001 and 2006 ranged between 3% and 5%. Therefore, only 3% to 5% of the people admitted to the federal correctional system had no previous offences.

I talked about that revolving door and about the fact that people would continue to have to pay every time they were readmitted to a federal correctional system.

The final point I want to make is this. Were first nations, Métis and Inuit consulted in the development of this bill?

The Teslin Tlingit is one example of a first nation that has a self-governing agreement. It has a justice agreement in place. It has the authority under its self-government agreement around administrative of justice. Therefore, what would be the impact of limiting judicial discretion on some of the first nations that have these self-governing agreements? This has been answered anywhere. That is important when we continue to negotiate these self-government agreements and encourage first nations to take the authority, to take the ground on administering their own justice agreements.

I look forward to further conversations on this bill when it gets referred to committee and, hopefully, some of these issues will be remedied.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's speech was very informative. What I think it underlines is the difference in visions between that side of the House and ours with regard to the importance of social determinants of crime. The other side of the House has a simplistic idea about choice and context in crime. Members on that side think somehow bigger sentences will solve crime. There has been long-standing literature that points to the opposite and that socio-economic determinants of crime need to be addressed.

My question is with regard to the discretionary power of judges and the link between that power and social determinants.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, we need an approach that looks at victims' rights, ensuring that victims are protected and have compensation and why people commit crimes in the first place.

There was a meeting earlier today in which someone was talking about fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. A question I posed to people in the correctional service was what kind of testing actually took place on people in prison who may have FASD, and there was no testing. We talk about social determinants of health. We talk about a significant percentage of the population that people suspect are in the federal penitentiary system. What programs and services are we offering in order to prevent people from getting into a life of crime? What are we doing to work with people and their families who may have FASD?

On this whole issue around social determinants and health, one would expect we would have a comprehensive approach that looks at preventing people from going to prison to begin with, dealing with them while they are in prison so they are rehabilitated when they come out the other end and also working with victims and their families to ensure they are adequately supported when a crime is committed.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act
Government Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the words of my colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan, who spoke very eloquently about the limiting of judicial discretion not being a principle that she supported and that aboriginal overrepresentation was something about which she was concerned. There is no evidence the bill would deter crime or reduce aboriginal overrepresentation. We heard her colleague make the point that this represented a different vision than the NDP Party's vision with respect to prevention and the social determinants of crime.

Given that the NDP is planning to send the bill to committee, which essentially means agreement to the principle of the bill, though some changes are being asked for, I would like to know from the member what the basic foundational principles are of the bill that she is in agreement with to allow her to vote for sending it to committee.