Mr. Speaker, I wish to participate in the debate today because it deals with an issue of concern to some of my constituents, thankfully, a small portion of them. I am pleased today to participate in the third reading debate of the government's initiative to update the Transfer of Offenders Act. It has been quite some time since it has been updated.
The parliamentary Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights gave detailed consideration of the measures, and has returned Bill C-15 to the House for final consideration. I see nothing in the legislation that might delay its passage.
Before proceeding to the specifics of amending the Transfer of Offenders Act, I believe members of the House would indulge me for a brief reflection on the progress of the bill since its introduction.
It is gratifying to see and observe the spirit of cooperation that has brought us to third reading of Bill C-15. I am aware that some hon. colleagues opposite do not feel the same strength about humane treatment where offenders are concerned, but I think the vast majority in the House agree that this is not only right but necessary. However, the broad support of most of my colleagues in this place reflects several factors in relationship to the proposals contained in this legislation. First, there is recognition that the legislation is necessary. Second, the confidence of hon. members in the proposals put forward by the legislation is a fair indicator of the thoroughness of the consultative process that preceded the introduction of Bill C-15.
There is no doubt that all parties, with a stake in this area of criminal justice, were carefully canvassed. The bill reflects a broad range of inputs in numerous sensitive areas in such a way that the approbation of the House and the committee were forthcoming with neither delay nor, I am glad to say, rancorous debate.
I would like to thank the members and the chair of the standing committee for their timely review of the legislation and approval of the bill. This committee has had much business before it. It always has a busy schedule and all of that schedule is important.
There are those who would ask why we should concern ourselves with the circumstances in which offenders serve their sentences in lands foreign to them. I must point out that Canadians who offend abroad and those from foreign lands who are sentenced by Canadian courts are as worthy of humane treatment as are Canadian inmates punished in Canada.
We have laws, policies and practices applicable both at home and abroad that recognize that the deprivation of liberty should be the only penalty for an offence against society. Capital and corporal punishments are things of the past in most democratic countries and we, as Canadians, would support efforts to eliminate physically onerous penalties anywhere in the world.
Offenders come from communities and are our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters and our extended family. In Canada, almost one in ten citizens has some sort of criminal record. No right thinking individual would maintain that one in ten of his fellow citizens in Canada presents a continuing, serious threat to the community.
I have had parents come to my constituency office, trying to get a child back to Canada to complete a sentence that has been doled out in a foreign jurisdiction. It is a difficult situation, as my hon. colleague pointed out, not just for the offender but also for the extended family who are trying to support that member of their either immediate or extended family.
By the same token, it is not up to us to determine that a Canadian teenager convicted of drug abuse abroad, that might result in a fine in Canada, should serve a sentence of a number of years in an over-crowded jail with adults serving sentences for much more serious offences, and this does happen. Even if it were true that the offender apparently deserved the extent of the foreign sentence, is it up to us to decide that he or she should always serve time in an environment foreign to the individual in all ways, where nutrition, health care and attention to human rights may all be compromised in comparison to the Canadian correctional milieu?
I am not saying that our correctional milieu is without fault. There are some jurisdictions that have quite difficult positions, and I think I am being generous when I say that.
Do the families of our Canadians incarcerated abroad deserve to be deprived of their loved ones and kept in uncertainty as to their condition and whereabouts for the duration of their sentences? It is well known to practitioners in the areas of corrections and conditional release that offenders do far better upon release if they have the support within the community, both during and after their incarceration.
If we leave Canadians abroad for the full term of their sentences, we will welcome them back, untreated and not rehabilitated, as offenders to our own shores inside Canada. It is far better if they are returned to Canadian custody, to the support of their families and communities and eventually to supervised release. I think it is apparent to us that this latter course is a preferable course for our jurisdiction.
I agree that the community at large should be protected from the reoccurrence of criminal activities to the extent possible. The legislation before us contributes to that goal. It will provide the framework by which Canada can continue to treat its citizens humanely while ensuring that they are gradually and safely reintegrated into Canadian society. It is because of initiatives such as the one before us that Canada is a respected leader in criminal justice and corrections in the international community.
As pointed out by others in the House and in deference to those who promote “the law and order approach” above all others, it is recognized that the legislation contains principles that ensure that due deference is shown to the sentences handed down by any of the courts that may be involved. Each country receiving one of its nationals from a foreign correctional system is bound to respect foreign sentence as rendered to the extent that it is compatible with our own legislation. As with all other international agreements, any variance of this practice would soon lead to the disuse of the very mechanisms established by the bill before us.
Some hon. members opposite have asked if the bill is more concerned about offenders than victims. I heard that again this morning. As my colleagues have pointed out, we are considering a bill that is not only designed to implement transfer of offenders treaties, but also to assist in carrying out the correction principles and practices that are known to work.
Some hon. members find these measures unpalatable and that is most unfortunate. What is preferable? Transferring Canadian offenders back to Canada while under sentence so that they can be gradually reintegrated into our society under the supervision of correctional authorities or having a foreign state deport them at the end of sentence to arrive here without any controls? Our research has shown that the control on the offender is helpful to the safer reintegration into society.
I put that this option is by far the most sensible. Once offenders are transferred to Canada, correctional authorities carefully assess their needs and the risk to the public. Those who are eligible and can be safely managed in the community are released under supervision. Offenders, on the other hand, who pose a risk and cannot be managed in the community remain in incarcerated in Canada. This is not coddling offenders. It is realistic, it is appropriate and it is the responsible management of offenders in keeping with sound correctional principles and practices.
It does not make sense to incarcerate offenders beyond the point in the sentence that they can be safely reintegrated into society. In fact research indicates that the extension of imprisonment by itself does not contribute to public safety. Members opposite who favour penalties that would extend incarceration for reasons of deterrence should take heed.
Victims are not excluded from the process. An offender who wishes to leave Canada will have been convicted in open court and held at a penal institution. In both instances it is common for victims to make statements that will henceforth follow the offender as part of his or her record. A victim impact statement may influence sentencing or it may be germane to the administration of an offender's sentence in determining the security level of an offender's custody, for example. Those with an interest in the circumstances of how a foreign offender might be serving his or her sentence can make their view known for the record.
In the case of a Canadian offender wishing to leave a foreign penal system, local laws would prevail. Before the application is processed, we know that the foreign state has consented to the transfer. Presumably, if a mechanism exists for hearing victims' views, the state would factor that input into its decision.
There is nothing in Bill C-15 that would prevent victim participation at either end of the process. It seems to me that victim participation should be considered entirely relevant to the international transfer process, but by the time a transfer to or from Canada could be considered, victim input would have already been on the record. Therefore it is outside the process in this particular bill. I do not want to say that victims are not important in the system. That is not the case.
Although not directly related to the bill before us, it has come to my attention that an hon. member opposite has recently stated in the House that Bill C-16, the sex offender information registration act, does not have a retroactive application. Let me set the record straight. Bill C-16 is retroactive. It provides for inclusion in the federal registry all offenders previously convicted of a prescribed offence who were under sentence as of the date of coming into force of the legislation, as well as offenders registered under the provincial Ontario sex offender registry act. This is what all provinces and territories agreed to and that is what is provided for in Bill C-16. I just wanted to take a moment to clarify that.
In the case of the proposals we have before us today in Bill C-15, the government of the day, in recognizing the importance of implementing change in the area, and quite frankly for modernization since it has been since approximately 1978, proceeded to study options for reform and to present a government bill to the House. This bill proposes simple but comprehensive reform and results from a consensus of those with knowledge in the subject.
The justice committee was fully informed of the balancing of the various interests and alternatives considered before the objectives of the legislation crystallized. They were cognizant of the need to create an act and have acted accordingly. Bill C-15 in my opinion, and I hope in the opinion of many hon. members in the House, clearly promotes public safety by allowing offenders to resume productive lives in their home countries.
Therefore I do urge all hon. members of the House to help with the passage of this necessary and sensible legislation.