Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to continue today on the debate on what is now Bill C-39.
The bill is designed to improve public safety and notably by stating explicitly that the active participation of offenders in attaining the objectives of the correction plan is an essential requirement for their condition of release or any other privilege. It is also designed to deal with expanding the categories of offenders who are ineligible for an accelerated parole review and the categories of offenders subject to continue detention after their statutory release date when they have served two-thirds of their sentence. For example, offenders convicted of child pornography, luring a child or breaking and entering to steal a firearm are examples.
In addition, the bill would extend the length of time that offenders convicted of a subsequent offence must serve before being eligible for parole. Also, it would increase from six months to a year the waiting period for a hearing after the National Parole Board has turned down a parole application.
The bill would also authorize a peace officer to arrest, without a warrant, an offender who is on conditional release for a breach of conditions. It would grant the Correctional Service of Canada permission to oblige an offender to wear a monitoring device as a condition of release when a release is subject to special conditions regarding restrictions on access to a victim of geographical areas. It would increase the number of reasons for the search of vehicles at a penitentiary to prevent the entry of contraband or the commission of an offence.
The bill also focuses specifically on the interests of victims by expanding the definition of “victim” to anyone who has custody of or is responsible for a dependant of the main victim if the main victim is dead, ill or otherwise incapacitated. It would disclose to a victim of the program in which an offender has participated for the purposes of reintegration into society, the location of an institution to which an offender is transferred and the reason for the transfer. It also would entrench in the act the right of victims to make a statement at parole hearings, which is a new element.
The whole development of victims' rights over the years did not start with the Conservative government. It was not an idea that somehow the Conservative government developed in its policy rooms. The fact is that this is a long-term process. In fact, I recall in Manitoba, as far back as, I believe, 1970, when Premier Ed Schreyer, the first NDP premier in Canada, was elected on June 25, 1969. Within his first four-year mandate, he brought in substantial changes to the province of Manitoba and to the country of Canada. One of the initiatives that he brought in was a criminal injuries compensation fund, which may have been the first of its kind in Canada at the time.
Nevertheless, the criminal injuries compensation fund has been around in Manitoba now since 1970. Therefore, the Conservatives have absolutely no monopoly on victims' rights and victims' services in this country. As a matter of fact, the Conservative government, the champion of victims' rights, hired Steve Sullivan as the victims' ombudsman. When he started doing the job of advocating on the part of victims, the government, which appointed him, got rid of him by not renewing his term. That has some reflection on the government's real commitment to victims' rights.
However, over the years, beginning with the criminal injuries compensation fund and initiatives such as that, we have seen a gradual progression toward more rights for the victims. There was a time not so long ago, maybe 20 years ago, when it was almost impossible for a person to find out the resolution and the developments of their break-and-enters, for example. Many people have come to me over the years and told me how their house had been broken into and that they were told by the police to go home and forget about it and that they would deal with it. However, no information came their way as to what stage the case was at and the disposition of it.
That was changed not only under NDP governments but I am sure under Liberal governments in other provinces and, of course, Conservative governments in Manitoba. The Filmon government made some moves, as well as the Gary Doer government. Now there is an array of victim services available. After a break-in of a property, the victim gets a call from the police and a kit is dropped off indicating phone numbers that people can call for counselling, if required.
At more and more stages, people are being kept updated and informed of the processes, and we in the NDP support that. The member for Burnaby—Douglas and others in the NDP are on record as being very strongly supportive of victims' rights and services. So it is somewhat surprising; well, maybe it is not so surprising but it is unfair for the Conservatives to keep riding this horse. The Liberal critic yesterday spoke on this bill and I listened carefully to his speech, which was very good. He kept referring to the Conservatives' calling him a hug-a-thug.
The fact of the matter is that it is peculiar to the current Conservative government. I do not recall the Conservative government of Joe Clark, which of course was not around that long, or of Brian Mulroney taking this kind of approach. This seems to be something that is peculiar to the group that is in power right now, and I really do not think it has had a lot of results to show for its efforts in this area.
The government may think that somehow it is making progress by coming up with boutique-type bills that are not 100% necessary. For example, a lot of the measures that it is introducing in these bills are already covered under the Criminal Code. What it should be doing, as has been mentioned by many people in the House, is taking the time to revamp the entire Criminal Code, something that is long overdue. It is a very old piece of legislation that is hundreds of pages long. If the government were showing vision in this area, it would make an announcement that it is going to revamp the entire Criminal Code and invite the parties onside.
I remind government members that it was one of their own colleagues, Gary Filmon who they appointed to a federal board, who developed the approach, in a minority parliament, that he would involve all opposition parties on controversial issues. It was not only Meech Lake. That was a very good example of how a very smart leader operating in a minority situation confronted a very important decision in this country.
He did not make an arbitrary decision like the Prime Minister does and drive ahead at all costs. He involved the party leaders. He got Senator Carstairs, who was a leader of the Liberal Party, involved in the committee. He got Gary Doer, who was opposition leader at the time, involved in the committee. That is how they dealt with the issue of Meech Lake.
Even when it came to something as simple as a smoking ban that was controversial in those days, Premier Filmon reached out to opposition leaders and got them on board. He found that system actually worked. The government actually did that on Afghanistan just last year and it worked reasonably well. Why it continues to refuse to learn from history and previous good practices that would help the government, Parliament and the country is really beyond me.
We can allow the Conservatives to continue their beating of the drums, their calling the member for Ajax—Pickering a hug-a-thug and their cheap shots, but the reality is that the public is not buying it. I think the member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor agrees with me.
The Conservatives have been doing this now for almost five years, but where are the results to show? They have gone through a couple of elections. They showcase them, but they are all the same bills. They brought them in two, three and four years ago. Then they prorogued the House, then brought them all back; then they had an election, then prorogued the House again and then brought them all back.
Where are those great polling numbers that this policy is supposed to produce? It is just not there. The Conservatives are no more popular today than they were then. They should be looking at how they are running the government right now.
Let us look at the long form census, the debacle of this summer. The Conservatives cannot seem to get their agenda on track.
I had wanted to talk about the “Roadmap to Strengthening Public Safety”, which is one of the reasons why the government is bringing in the legislation, but I know our public safety critic will be speaking on this bill later, and there are other members in the House who will deal adequately with that particular issue.
I understand the bill will be going to committee, because the Bloc has indicated its support for the bill. Hopefully at committee we will be able to make the adjustments and amendments needed to make this a better piece of legislation for the benefit of all Canadians.