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NDP MP for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca (B.C.)
Won his last election, in 2011, with 40.90% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act June 12th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this debate today because this is a topic in which I have been involved for many years, stretching back to before I became a member of the House.
I became involved in this issue because of the work of a group in my riding called PEERS, the Prostitution Empowerment Education and Resource Society, which runs a drop-in centre and an office in the municipality where I was a councillor. Everything that allows me to speak with some grounding today comes from my experience working with this group. I want to thank PEERS at the beginning of this speech for the time it has shared with me in helping me understand the realities of sex work in Canada.
This group is a peer-led drop-in centre and outreach program, meaning the sex workers themselves run these programs. Who better to try to work with people involved in the sex trade than those who have credibility with their colleagues to talk about those kinds of realities?
We have heard many things in the media discussion of this bill that clearly do not reflect the reality that sex workers face every day.
The PEERS outreach programs run both day and night. The night programs are extremely important for the safety of sex workers. They do everything from involving sex workers in safe sex education to providing things like condoms. They also keep a check on where sex workers are, and if they are not seen, they are checked on to find out if they are safe.
The group helps to compile a bad date list, which it disseminates, bad date list meaning those men who have used violence against sex workers. This list is compiled so sex workers can identify them and avoid becoming victims of violence.
The day program does a lot of other things.
PEERS still continues to operate these programs despite a severe funding crunch, which has reduced the amount of money available to it and the number of hours it can run its outreach day and night programs. Its day program has been reduced to one day a week.
These services operate on a shoestring. The drop-in centre is not a glamorous place with a large screen TV or many other things people might associate with a drop-in centre. It is a basic operation and really runs on the volunteer services of people who are either sex workers themselves or are allies who are trying to make sure that those involved in sex work are as safe as they can possibly be.
For its efforts, PEERS was recognized by the provincial Ministry of Justice with an award for leadership in crime prevention and community safety, a recognition by the provincial government of the extremely important role it plays in helping to reduce crime and keep everybody in the community safer.
PEERS is the result of an initiative of sex workers themselves assisted by a woman who had been a long-time columnist with the Victoria Times Colonist. Jody, who worked with PEERS for many years, really became involved because of some of the work she was doing as a journalist. She met sex workers and found out about the difficulties they were having. She played a large role in helping to get the centre together.
I first went to the PEERS centre in my riding more than five years ago. I saw first hand the wide range of services if offers. It plays an important role in getting access to health and social services in the community for primarily women but also transgender women and some gay men. Quite often these people lack ID because it might have been stolen or they lack a fixed address. As a result, they face obstacles to getting the services that all of us take for granted. PEERS plays an important role in helping them find housing. Victoria is an expensive community with very limited housing options. One of its important roles is to locate safe housing.
A lot of people are not aware of the fact that many of the sex workers in my community are mothers with kids to support. Whatever we think about people involved in sex work, those mothers I met were just trying to put a roof over their heads and food on the table. One of them told me that she has three kids and a minimum wage, part-time job. She cannot put a roof over their heads. She cannot clothe her kids or feed them. That is how she ended up in sex work. She continues in sex work for the future of her kids. This lady is a volunteer at the centre, who helps other people make the best of the life they find themselves in at the time. That is important because of the stigma that is placed generally on sex workers.
The drop-in centre became a place that offers support for those involved in sex work. It is a safe place they can go. There is someone they can talk to and a connection to the community to help end the isolation that many sex workers find themselves in. The centre also offers support for those who desire to leave the sex trade. A very important part of what it does is identify those who want out, who may have gotten there through circumstances that are not so pleasant. However, they end up at the centre. The centre helps them access job training programs, access education and even to the point of helping them to prepare resumés to find a different kind of employment.
All of these things go on because of the generosity of volunteers and the solidarity that sex workers in my community have shown for each other to help themselves out and to keep themselves safe.
A key part of everything that PEERS does is harm reduction, such as education on safer sex, access to addiction counselling and, as I mentioned, collecting and disseminating bad date information about violent clients in my community.
When the Bedford decision was clearly approaching last fall, I decided I needed to get better informed about the issue. I had been involved with PEERS since I was a city councillor. It had come to us to ask for a property tax exemption for its drop-in centre. I am proud to say that the community of Esquimalt unanimously voted a property tax exemption for the centre, as we would any other community service organization that was putting in these huge volunteer hours. It was not even controversial. The community agreed it was performing this very valuable role in our community.
I had been on walks with PEERS people. They do an annual walk, for which the theme is sex workers rights equal human rights. They were very surprised that I continued to go on that walk after I became a municipal councillor, and then after when I became a member of Parliament. It is not a large walk and it does not always attract the right kind of attention. However, what they are trying to do is what we in the House are trying to do: to get people to recognize that sex workers come from all kinds of backgrounds. They come from all kinds of life circumstances. They are Canadian citizens with the right to be treated with dignity and the right to live their lives free from violence.
I expected the Bedford decision would go the way it did. Having taught criminal justice for many years it seemed likely the Supreme Court would throw out these laws around prostitution, which actually made life more dangerous for those involved, As part of trying to inform myself, I met with Stella. I met with other national organizations. I met with social science researchers at the University of Victoria in my community. I learned a lot from all of those. However, where I learned the most was I asked PEERS if a group of sex workers would be willing to sit down with me and talk for an afternoon about what they thought should happen if the Supreme Court threw out the laws on prostitution.
I spent an afternoon sitting with a group of 12 women actively involved in sex work in my community. People have asked do people know sex workers, or have they talked to sex workers. I got to know these people very well and I have nothing but respect for them for the way they are trying to do their best in the circumstances in which they find themselves.Some have chosen to be there, and I do accept when they say they have chosen to be there. Some, like the single mom, have made bad choices and have made the best choice they can for their kids.
None of the women I met with were trafficked, although all of them knew of cases where that had happened in the community. However, one thing they had in common was they had all experienced violence at some point as a sex worker. Therefore, at the end of that discussion, when I asked them what the goal for legislation should be, their answer was harm reduction and safety for those involved in sex work.
When this government bill was tabled, I got a call from the people at PEERS. Like most MPs, I was not able to take it immediately because I was in the House, but when I went back and talked to them, it was a very emotional conversation. They were very, very upset with the legislation they saw tabled. Many of them felt there were some very good intentions from many people on the other side of the House, but that the bill had missed the mark for them. They felt very strongly that it would make their lives more difficult and more dangerous.
When we talk about what some people like to call the Nordic model, they were very clear that criminalizing one half of a transaction inevitably makes the other half dangerous. It will drive it underground and make it more difficult to identify the clients in advance, because the clients will become more secretive. All of the various objections we can imagine that involve safety were raised with me in that phone call.
Subsequently, the executive director, Marion Little, made a public statement. I want to read her public statement, because it reflects the conversation that I had with members of the board of directors of PEERS when this legislation was introduced. Marion Little said:
This is devastating. People’s lives will be affected, and we barely have the resources to help them now....
I don’t have any confidence those funds will go to experienced organizations providing unconditional care for sex workers.
That is what PEERS does. PEERS does not judge the people who come through the door. It does not judge why they are there and it does not insist that they are doing anything that needs to be changed. What PEERS says is, “How can we help with unconditional care for sex workers?” It is opposed to the legislation and worried about the $20 million of funding that the government is talking about. It is worried that it will go to organizations that have no experience in working with sex workers, or organizations not run by sex workers themselves, as PEERS is, or organizations that apply a moral stigma at the beginning of their approach to sex workers. It is very concerned about that.
I would like the government to develop an approach that better protects women and offers increased support to women who are involved in sex work. In addition, on this side we want to address all the related issues about vulnerable people who have been ignored, issues like education, addiction treatment, affordable housing, all the things that will enable people who may have ended up in the sex trade and do not want to be there to make better choices for their future. We have to address those issues that surround the sex trade and the limited opportunities that many women have to take care of themselves, which is what they want to do.
The bill before us would amend the Criminal Code to create an offence that prohibits purchasing sexual services or communicating in any place for that purpose. That is a big concern that the PEERS director who I spoke with had. The bill says “any public place”. Therefore, where is it that sex workers are going to be forced to practise their trade where there are no other people? If they practise their trade where there are no other people, they are inherently placed in danger.
The bill would create an offence that would prohibit the advertisement of sexual services and authorize the courts to seize materials containing such advertisements and their removal from the Internet. Many of the sex workers I talked to use ads and the Internet to help screen clients and share information about who is dangerous and who is not.
The government is again doing what it quite often does, which is addressing a problem that really does not exist when talking about sex work around schools. I know one commentator who said he had taken his kids to school thousands of times and had never seen sex workers working, first of all, at those hours and, second, around schools. Somehow it casts this aspersion on sex workers that there are some kind of predators after our children. In fact, what I have found in my community is many of them have children of their own they are really trying to provide for.
I do not believe that this bill is consistent with the Supreme Court decision on the charter. I was very pleased to hear the member for Gatineau expressing our position that we would like to see this referred to the Supreme Court now. Let us send it to the Supreme Court. The government has the ability to do this. Instead of wasting many years of battles in court, we could get advice from the Supreme Court at this point, which would say whether this meets the test that it set in the Bedford decision. I personally do not believe it does, but the government must believe it meets those tests or it would not have introduced the legislation in the House. There should be no risk for the government in referring this to the Supreme Court if it genuinely believes that it meets the tests of the Bedford decision.
The other thing that, again, was expressed directly to me by sex workers from PEERS in my riding is that they wonder who is going to look after sex workers while this bill that would make their lives more dangerous and more difficult goes through. We would have many more years before this would get to the Supreme Court, perhaps four, five, or six years. In the meantime they feel that this would make their lives more dangerous in ways that were absolutely prohibited by the Supreme Court decision. They would be forced to undergo that violence and be subjected to those negative conditions for an additional four to five years, when all the Supreme Court really authorized was one year for Parliament to get a new bill together that respects the Bedford decision.
Again I would echo the member for Gatineau in her call that this be referred to the Supreme Court now, before it is enacted into law and before it has those damaging impacts. If the government members do not believe that, then I do not understand their reluctance to refer it to the Supreme Court. The Conservatives have certainly referred other decisions to the Supreme Court, and I know this did not always go well for them, but obviously they have more confidence in this bill.
Others have said to me that I certainly must support the $20 million that the government is devoting to assisting sex workers. I would say to that, “Yes, absolutely; I think that is a great idea.” I would like to see where that is in the budget. I would also like to see that it does not have strings attached. Again, it was the director of PEERS who said to me that she is afraid this money will go to an organization that stigmatizes the sex trade and therefore will not be able to reach the women who most need the help.
I do not sense a great appetite for the government to listen on this bill and make changes to the bill. That would be my second choice after referring it to the Supreme Court. I guess what we will be forced to do on this side as it proceeds is try to make the arguments and attract the government members' attention and have them listen to the people who would be placed most at risk by this bill, and that is the sex workers.
I want to close by thanking the sex workers in my community for helping me understand the situation of their daily lives and how this bill would actually be a threat to them. I want to conclude my remarks by saying I look forward to the day when we have a truly inclusive society in Canada that does not stigmatize any of our members and put them at risk of violence.
Justice June 11th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, the fact remains that at the last minute, Conservative votes were swapped or changed in order to block an amendment to Bill C-13 that would have protected those most subject to hate crimes in Canada. This was an amendment that the Minister of Justice said in committee that he supported in principle.
Instead, Conservatives voted to deny equal protection against hate crimes to transgendered and gender-variant Canadians, even though this very same protection has already passed the House of Commons twice, only to be blocked in the Senate. What do Conservatives have against standing up for vulnerable Canadians?
Public Safety June 10th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, that is just what we are asking about.
Last year, the Quebec minister of public safety requested a no-fly zone over Quebec prisons. Right now, federal prisons are no-fly zones, but provincial facilities are not. Apparently, he has never even had a response to his request and now, once again, there has been a dangerous prison break using a helicopter from a Quebec institution.
Instead of blaming the provinces for not carrying out their duties, why will the minister not take the initiative, contact the counterpart in Quebec, and implement a no-fly zone over Quebec penitentiaries?
Business of Supply June 10th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Compton—Stanstead. I would answer him in French, but my grammar and accent are not up to the task.
Therefore, I will unfortunately have to respond in English.
I do agree with the member. The question here is how to make the economy grow. Do we make it grow by helping the people who have already succeeded, the people at the top? Do we make it grow by redistributing some of this money that the Conservatives obviously regard as excess, this $5 billion they want to give back to the richest families, or do we spend it at the other end on a national child care program, a national pharmacare program, job training programs and apprenticeships, things that would help the people who work hard every day? These are the people who go to work every day and are still not earning enough to support their families in dignity.
As the member for Compton—Stanstead said, I support putting our efforts at the other end, toward those hard-working families that could use a little support.
Business of Supply June 10th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. friend from Saanich—Gulf Islands for that explanation, even if I cannot understand it. What she seems to be saying is that she supports income splitting, and the only problem is where we would find the money to do it.
I am saying that the concept is fundamentally wrong because it benefits those who are at the top of the income scale. It does not make any difference at all where we find the money to offset it. The member has talked about a carbon tax or carbon fees or other ways to offset it; that does not make any difference to me. It still takes $5 billion away from the public treasury and gives it to those who need it the least in our society.
Business of Supply June 10th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to this motion. I think it is one that clarifies the differences here in this House.
We have had the Liberal Leader saying that he thinks it is a decent idea. We have the Green Party, which has it in its party platform, and we have the Conservatives going on about everything else except the topic of this motion today.
I think there is a reason for that. If someone in this House said they had a great proposal, to write an average cheque of $7,128 to 147,000 of the richest families in the country, we would all think they were crazy. An average benefit of $7,000 to 147,000 of the richest; that is what this policy would do. That is why, on this side of the House, we are fundamentally against it.
When we look at the total expenditure of $5 billion, which is $3 billion federal and $1.9 billion provincial, we think about how we could spend $5 billion. How about a universal child care program that would actually help families who cannot find a place to put their kid in quality care? How about a national pharmacare program that would help seniors living in poverty and struggling with choices between keeping a roof over their heads or buying pharmaceutical drugs. There are lots of things we could do with $5 billion.
Instead, the Conservatives are saying let us write a cheque for $7,128 to 147,000 of the richest families. It is beyond belief that they would say that this is a policy about fairness and tax relief for families. This is about aiding their richest friends.
I am amazed that some of the Liberals have gone against what the federal Liberal leader said at the beginning. We do not often see that in the Liberal Party. However, I would like to hear from the federal Liberal leader about whether he still thinks it is a decent idea. It seems like an indecent proposal to me.
I will be sharing my time with the member for York South—Weston, though I do have a lot to say on this.
Who actually benefits from this? We talk about the 14% of families who will benefit. For people in my riding making under $44,000 a year, there is no benefit. For a couple who make above $44,000 a year but are both in the same tax bracket, there is no benefit. For single parents, there is no benefit. For couples with no kids, there is no benefit. For couples with kids who have grown up, there is no benefit. For parents who are divorced, my favourite in terms of irony, there is no benefit.
In my riding, we have a pretty high percentage. I think 86% might actually underestimate the people who would be excluded. When we go through that list, it is just about everybody who I talk to on a daily basis who would get nothing out of this federal income splitting program.
What we have seen is growing income inequality, and this measure would simply fuel that inequality. The incomes of the top 1% or 5% have been skyrocketing, while the average family struggles to make ends meet at the end of the month. The gap between the ultra-rich and the rest of us in Canada continues to grow. Liberal and Conservative governments have done nothing to attack this problem.
I would rather that we were discussing a proposal like a living wage. When I was on city council in Esquimalt, before I came here, we had a long debate about the failure of the minimum wage to provide an income that people could actually live on, that could support a family in dignity. Instead of talking about income splitting that benefits the rich, I wish the Conservatives were proposing to talk about a living wage.
It was the Liberals who eliminated the separate federal minimum wage, in 1996. Now we have a situation where minimum wages continue to erode. In real dollars, we are probably still somewhere below where we were in 1976 when it comes to the minimum wage.
Who earns that minimum wage? The people who would not be benefiting from income splitting for sure, 41% of whom are women and young people. In British Columbia, 32% of minimum wage earners are between the ages of 25 and 54, and 9% of them are aged 55 and over. We are not just talking about teenagers going to school and living in their parents' basement. We are talking about people trying to build a family for themselves, support themselves in dignity, and even support themselves when their retirement income fails. Remember, almost 10% of those aged 55 and over are still working at a minimum wage, and most of them are women.
What would a living wage do? A living wage is the idea that we would pay an amount that two parents, both working full time, with two children, could provide the basic necessities. It does not include paying back debt, savings, trips to Hawaii, which is what I suspect many of the people who would benefit from this income splitting would use this extra income for. Instead, let us pay them a wage that allows them to live in dignity.
In April 2014 in greater Victoria, which I represent, that required a wage of $18.93 an hour. The minimum wage is $10.25, so people who are on the minimum wage are living well below what it takes to live a life of dignity.
Whenever we talk about raising the minimum wage, there are those on the other side who talk about it as a job-killing proposal. If there is any job-killing proposal, it is the income-splitting proposal. That is because it would take money out of the economy in Canada and give it to people who will spend it abroad, either investing or travelling, whereas if we put money toward raising the minimum wage up to a living wage level, those people just might have enough to buy a pizza for their kids at the end of the month. They just might have enough money to make repairs on their house. They just might have enough money to do things that stimulate the local economy.
When we are talking about income splitting, I cannot for the life of me see how any of that is going to put money back into job creation and small business in my riding. It is actually going to take money out of circulation, most probably money that will end up being invested abroad or spent abroad on things like travel, or else money that will be spent on luxuries. Most of those luxuries are not produced in my riding of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.
There was a statement in 2006 that I found very interesting. It was cited by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. This statement was signed by 650 economists, including five Nobel laureates. Let me quote a sentence from it:
...a modest increase in the minimum wage would improve the well-being of low-wage workers and would not have the adverse effects that critics have claimed.
It would not have adverse effects, so if we are talking about spending $5 billion of tax money, let us put it into something that alleviates poverty rather than something that aids those who are already doing well in our society. Let us put it toward incentives to create jobs at the entry or basic level. Let us put it toward training programs. Let us put it toward child care, and then let us put our efforts in the House toward making sure that people actually get paid a living wage in this country.
Earlier one of the Liberal members talked about making this a non-partisan issue. I guess what he means is that the Greens, Liberals, and Conservatives agreeing would somehow make it a non-partisan issue.
At the fundamental nature of politics is what kind of Canada we believe in. I find this proposal for income splitting not the kind of Canada that I believe in, not the kind of Canada I want to live in.
Some of the residents of my riding might benefit from such a proposal, but when they actually see its huge cost and the vast majority of its benefit going only to the wealthiest and most successful, even those people who might benefit in my riding would have cause to think about it again.
Why am I so sure of that? Because even the former federal minister of finance, Jim Flaherty, said he had serious concerns about this proposal. If the Conservatives were not prepared to listen to Jim Flaherty at that time, I am not sure who they will listen to, but hopefully they will get a chance to listen to Canadians. When it comes time for the next election, I hope they put forward policies like this one, policies that clearly state their agenda, which is a devotion to trickle-down economics. Their idea is that if we give money to those who are doing the best, somehow they will invest it or spend it in such a way that the other 86% of Canadians can eventually benefit from it. We all know that this kind of economics simply does not work.
It is interesting to look at the people who have talked about income splitting and expressed their doubts. They range from the C.D. Howe Institute on the right to the Broadbent Institute on the left. Both found that the proposal would, as we have argued on this side, cost the federal treasury $3 billion. Both found it would cost the provinces, yet the provinces have nothing to say about it, because Conservatives never talk to the provinces. It would cost them $1.9 billion out of their tax revenues. Where are they supposed to find that?
Very interestingly, in terms of the percentage of people who would not benefit from this measure, both the C.D. Howe Institute and the Broadbent Institute found that between 86%, in the case of the C.D. Howe Institute, and 90%, in the case of the Broadbent Institute, of the population would not benefit from this income-splitting proposal.
I wish we were talking about a living wage for Canadians who go to work every day, work hard to put a roof over their heads and support their families, and maybe put a little away for their kids' education or for their retirement. This policy of income splitting does nothing to favour those people. It benefits only the 147,000 richest Canadian families, and it would give them, as I said, a cheque for an average of $7,128. I do not think anyone would really want to go back and talk to their constituents about what a great idea that is.
Privacy June 5th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, no defence from the parliamentary secretary can justify this warrantless spying on Canadians. The government is clearly misusing the Government Operations Centre. This was a department set up to coordinate national responses to things like fires, floods, and other natural disasters. A few folks gathering to protest fracking or a pipeline or to demand a public inquiry are clearly not threats to national security.
Why is the government so afraid of people who do not agree with it, so afraid that it feels the need to break the law and to spy on Canadians?
Privacy June 5th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, Wesley Wark, an intelligence specialist with the University of Ottawa, has called the latest spying ordered by the Conservatives “....a clear breach of our Charter rights”.
The Conservatives have repeatedly gone out of their way and beyond their mandate to collect data on Canadians. First nations and any Canadian exercising basic rights to freedom of assembly and protest will now become the most recent targets.
Why has the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ordered all government departments to spy on Canadian demonstrators?
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in favour of Bill C-479 at third reading. As I said just a few minutes ago, we believe Bill C-479, as amended, contains important improvements in victims' rights.
Once again, I would like to thank the member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale for his efforts to bring this improvement to victims rights before the House and to third reading, where it now seems assured to pass.
There are many provisions in the bill which would be of clear benefit to victims. Indeed, some of these have already become a normal part of the practice in the corrections and parole system. However, we agree that it is a good idea to entrench these rights for victims by placing them in legislation.
These rights include: the right of victims or members of their family to be present at parole hearings; the right of victims to have their statements considered by the Parole Board of Canada in its decisions regarding offender release; expanding the manner in which victims' statements can be presented at parole hearings through the use of technology, among other things; and requiring that the communication of victims' information be considered by the board. In other words, the victims would have a right to see what the board has looked at, so they can understand how that decision has been made.
Also, they include making it obligatory to provide transcripts of parole hearings to victims and their families, and making it mandatory to inform victims when an offender is granted a temporary absence, or parole or is released at the end of their sentence.
These are all good things, but there is one area in which we remain disappointed. That is the unwillingness of the government to go further in a very important area. We were surprised to see the government reject an amendment from our side, which would have expanded victims' rights in a proposal that would have allowed victims to choose other means of observing parole hearings than appearing in person.
We believe victims have the right to observe parole hearings by video or teleconferencing if they so choose. Strangely, with the way things work right now, victims only have the right to observe those hearings by video or teleconference if Correctional Service Canada has banned them from appearing in person.
It is a strange quirk in the rules. If victims have made threats or been disruptive and Correctional Service Canada says that they cannot attend the parole hearings, they are then allowed to attend by videoconference or teleconference. We believe this right should be extended to all victims.
There are many good reasons why any victim might not want to make use of the right to observe in person. Some victims would prefer not to be in the same room as the offender, whether out of fear or revulsion.
It would also allow those victims who would otherwise have to travel to attend a hearing. Perhaps an offender has been transferred across the country and a hearing is in British Columbia and the victims live in Ontario. If they could attend by video or teleconference, they would not incur travel costs and they would not have to take time off from work.
Hearings far from home have become a problem for many victims. Again, we believe that if we extended them the right to choose to attend by videoconference or teleconference, it would be an important improvement.
We remain concerned about one aspect of the bill, which is the provision that was just mentioned by the member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale in his answer to the question from the parliamentary secretary. This is the provision that would give the Parole Board the discretion to extend the interval between parole hearings for those convicted of very serious crimes.
We have no problem with this provision when it is applied to those serving life sentences. In fact, we proposed to amend the bill to do just that. However, there is a risk that lengthening the discretionary period between reviews for those serving shorter sentences may inadvertently remove incentives for offenders to participate in rehabilitation programs.
In other words, if offenders are told that their hearings have been put off for four years, what would their incentive be, when they are in the corrections institute, to enter into those rehabilitation programs?
Again, for those serving shorter sentences, it may inadvertently increase the number of people who leave custody without supervision upon their warrant expiry. In other words, if they are told that their hearings have been put off for three years and their warrants expire in three years and six months, they would have no incentive. They would not participate and they would get out without any of that very necessary rehabilitation.
How do we avoid that happening? Obviously, we support the bill, because we believe we could avoid that if there were a well-funded Parole Board. The Parole Board would be able to avoid these unintended consequences.
However, we have a Parole Board which is now suffering from restricted funding and so there will be the tendency for the Parole Board to be forced to extend the interval between paroles simply as a question of resources. It will have other things it has to do by law and therefore if the interval allowed, and we call it discretion, is longer, then it will inevitably become longer if it does not have adequate funding. As we have seen with the Conservatives in power, quite often we have underfunding of very important public services, and the Parole Board is one of those.
Finally, we remain concerned with process, and that is the process of making extensive changes to the Criminal Code of Canada and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act through multiple bills proceeding through different paths through Parliament on different timetables. The sheer volume of the changes that have been made by different bills often considered in different committees risk legal errors and omissions as well as unintended consequences. Some bills go to the justice committee, some go to the public safety committee where I sit.
For instance, in the case of Bill C-479, the public safety committee did not have the advantage of seeing the text of the government's victims bill of rights, Bill C-32, and now it will go to the justice committee where the members of the justice committee will not have the benefit of having heard the witnesses and the testimony that we had in the public safety committee on very closely related issues. Again, we think there is a potential problem by having multiple private members' bills as well as a government bill on victims' rights all going through the House of Commons with different paths and different timetables.
This piecemeal approach also means that sometimes important issues never end up in front of the House. What readily comes to mind is the question of how we address other needs of victims other than their needs in conjunction with the legal system.
Therefore, improving victims' rights with regard to the legal system is important. As I said, for that reason we have supported bills like Bill C-42 and the bill in front of us now. However, victims have other important needs like compensation for losses they may have suffered, financial help with time off work, counselling or help with other expenses necessary to get their lives back on track. Neither Bill C-479 nor Bill C-482 have tackled this question and Bill C-32, the victims bill of rights, suggests the answer can be found in simply expanding the rights of victims to restitution.
The problem that we on this side of the House see is that unfortunately very few victims will ever be able to recover anything through the restitution process because of the obvious fact that most offenders have few resources. This was a point that I tried to raise last night in the late night debate on the victims bill of rights. When I tried to put forward the need to discuss a better alternative, which has the potential to treat all victims fairly and equally, I was nearly shouted down in the House. It may have been the late hour that caused some of the rambunctious responses on the other side of the House, but it again illustrates the problem of doing these things piecemeal through the House of Commons.
What I wanted to put forward briefly was the idea that what we really needed was federal leadership on an adequate compensation plan for victims through criminal injuries compensation funds. The Conservatives try to slough this off, saying that it is a matter of provincial jurisdiction. Yet one province, Newfoundland and Labrador, and all three territories, have no such program and in the other nine provinces the criminal injury compensation funds have very low caps on the amount of compensation available to individual victims. In some cases, this is as low as $5,000. If we think about it, $5,000 will not go very far in trying to cover things even like lost wages.
As I said before, no party in the House has a monopoly on a concern for victims, but we sometimes have different approaches to the problem. We have been supportive of these attempts to expand victims' rights through the legal system, but we believe there are other needs of victims that also need equal consideration. As well, we have argued all along that one of the most important things we in the House can do is adopt programs and ensure that corrections programs do not contribute to further victims in the future. A well-funded corrections system is an important part of not having further victims in the future.
Therefore, we are looking for a balance in our approach to public safety, where we can build safer communities through having punishment in place but also having adequate rehabilitation.
As my time draws to a close, let me conclude, once again, by stating the support of the New Democrats for strengthening victims' rights in the legal system. However, I would urge all members to consider the other important issue, the thing that victims also need, which is well-supported programs in order to help them put their lives back in order.
Mr. Speaker, I want to start by expressing my thanks to the member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale for the work he has done in bringing this bill in front of us.
He has certainly been very dedicated to this issue, very dedicated to his constituents, and has gotten this bill to this stage in the House of Commons to make some significant improvements in the rights of victims in our system. I congratulate him for that.
I also congratulate the member for being willing to listen in committee, willing to listen and make improvements to the bill. The bill we have has been slightly amended to the point where we on this side of the House are very comfortable in supporting the bill.
My question for the member is around how we let victims know about the rights they now have in the system and the changes we are making. That is one of the things I have heard, that lots of victims do not realize the rights they have now, and now we are making some changes.
I wonder if the member has given any thought to how we can make sure victims realize they have some new rights and new possibilities within the legal system.