Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act

An Act to amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

Sponsor

Vic Toews  Conservative

Status

Report stage (House), as of Feb. 7, 2011
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the International Transfer of Offenders Act to provide that one of the purposes of that Act is to enhance public safety and to modify the list of factors that the Minister shall consider in deciding whether to consent to the transfer of a Canadian offender.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

Sept. 27, 2010 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:05 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I commend my friend for his eloquent and passionate speech however misguided it might have been.

I have a couple of specific questions.

The current legislation talks about “threat to the security of Canada”. I am sure my friend knows, because of his research, that this phrase has been interpreted to apply only to terrorists. Is he not concerned that this is too narrow a definition? Should public safety also apply to offences that happen domestically in breach of our own domestic laws?

Would he also not agree with me that the absence of victims, the safety of any person in Canada who is a victim as identified in section 2(1), or the family of a victim, or the safety of any child in the case of an offender who has been convicted of a sexual offence involving a child are glaring omissions from the current legislation, all of which would be remedied by Bill C-5?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, the short answer is absolutely not. I will say this again. Bill C-5 would add this factor to the act, “whether, in the minister's opinion the transfer will endanger public safety, including the offender's victim, family or any child in cases where the offender has committed a sexual offence involving a child.

Once again, I do not know if my hon. friend listened to what I said. The offender in the foreign prison is coming back to society anyway. This amendment does not change that fact. The only question is whether anybody in the House wants that person to come back to our country treated, have any programming, or subject to any conditions. Under my hon. colleague's premise, the offender would be granted the transfer, would stay in the foreign prison, would come back to this country to go right after the victim and we would not even know it.

I know my friend is a learned counsel. I would think he would stand and tell the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety that this is a bad law. That will endanger victims in this country.

Again, this is what the 2006-07 report from the government said:

An analysis of the information contained in this report doesn’t only demonstrate that the purpose and the principles of the International Transfer of Offenders Act have been fulfilled; it supports that the International Transfer of Offenders program is consistent with the Mandate of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) and its Mission Statement in that the program contributes to public safety by actively encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens, while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control [is being met].

Those are the facts.

The definition of national security has not been restricted to terrorists. I quoted from a case earlier where a member of a criminal organization was barred entry under that by the minister and that was upheld by the courts.

I believe the protection is in the act.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, I listened intently to the hon. member's speech and to the question from the hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert.

I gather the member supports sending the legislation to committee for an Extreme Makeover, as the television folks would say. I do not think he had time to flesh out what he might think this over-discretionary “any other reason the minister may take into account” means.

It seems to me that with the existing protocol, with the additional reasons, which we may or may not agree with, it is the catchphrase “may any other factor” that troubles us on this side of the House. We cannot imagine any other factors. Is it not the point that all of the presumed, existing and potential factors be put in the legislation so lawmakers can understand what discretion the minister may use? Discretion to be used has to be carefully guarded and defined.

I ask him to blue sky, or black sky, or whatever that might be about what those other reasons may be. I also want him to answer clearly whether his party will vote to send the legislation to committee.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, again, the question strikes at one of the major flaws with this bill, which adds a section to a bill that says to a minister that he or she may consider any other factor that he or she considers is advisable. That is simply bad law. It is a bad statute. It is a bad way to implement any kind of public regime. We may as well just say that the people who can apply for transfers back to this country are Canadians whom the minister thinks should. I would ask any of the lawyers in the House how we would challenge such a decision if that were made.

The government has a history of not protecting Canadians abroad, and the prime example is young Omar Khadr. He has sat in a foreign prison when every other country has repatriated their foreign nationals who have sat in that illegal dungeon on Guantanamo Bay. However, the Conservative government will not return Mr. Khadr back to our country to be tried or dealt with in some fashion here. This person has not been tried yet, has not been convicted, yet for years and years has sat in a jail cell, probably tortured, in fact undoubtedly tortured.

This is the kind of discretion that the government wants to give the minister. Frankly, not only should this government absolutely not have that kind of discretion, no responsible government in Canada should have that kind of discretion.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the critic has done a terrific analysis of the bill. I question the government's commitment to victims. It talks a lot about victims' rights and about how it supports those, but even its own victim's advocate, whom it appointed three years ago and whose contract will not be renewed, indicated last night that he thought the government was not doing what it could for victims, that it was more concerned with sentencing than it was with the rights of the victims. I wonder whether the government even consulted with victims and their groups with regard to the legislation.

How is the government helping victims by leaving criminals untreated in a foreign country? When they come back on their own, which they will eventually, how does that help the victims?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, Mr. Sullivan, the outgoing ombudsman for victims, said quite clearly yesterday that victims were very interested in the rehabilitation of the offender. In fact, they want to be informed of it. They want to be alerted to it. It is key to their healing that the offender, in their eyes, will not reoffend. This legislation is counter to that.

Mr. Sullivan also pointed out that longer sentences, which is what the government seems to be pursuing as a plank in its criminal justice program, did very little for victims. Those are not my words. Those are the words of its appointed ombudsman for victims, who has done a great job speaking up for victims in our country.

The New Democrats, and I cannot say it more clearly, are a party that supports the rights of victims more than anybody. Our party, more than any, has championed the rights of the most vulnerable, the most marginalized of every type in our country for a long time.

Let the nonsense end here. For any party to stand in the House and say that we do not care about victims is just false and not true.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise in this House today to speak in favour of Bill C-5, An Act to amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act.

This legislation would further strengthen our government's track record of keeping our streets and communities safe for everyone and to ensure that those who do commit crimes are held responsible for their actions.

Since coming into office in 2006, our government has made the safety and security of Canadians one of its top priorities. That is why we have pushed forward with a series of measures to get tough on crime, especially violent gun crime. For example, members will recall that in the last session of this Parliament any killing linked to organized crime would automatically lead to a charge for first-degree murder.

To further combat the reach of organized crime, this government has also introduced legislation that imposes mandatory jail time for those involved in serious drug offences. In addition, we have passed laws that address drive-by shootings and other intentional shootings that brazenly disregard both our laws and the right of all Canadians to their safety.

We have passed legislation that gives added protection to the police and peace officers who put their lives on the line every day that they go to work. I would like to pay tribute to the members of the Canadian Police Association who have been visiting us on Parliament Hill the last few days.

Offenders have always done their best to go undetected and the rapid pace of technological change has made this easier than ever. Hidden in the dark alleys of the information highway, offenders are attempting, and often succeeding, at stealing the very identity of their fellow Canadians.

I am proud to remind all members of the House that this government has passed tough new laws that help the police and the courts fight the scourge of identity theft.

However, the wheels of justice often turn more slowly than we would like. As a result, there may be considerable time spent by an individual in pre-sentence custody. I am very proud that the government has passed laws that limit the amount of credit offenders will receive while in pre-sentence custody. In this way, the guilty will serve a sentence that truly reflects the severity of their crimes.

These are but a few examples of the government's efforts and accomplishments to keep our communities safer, to ensure that offenders receive appropriate sentences and to ensure that the rights of victims are heard and respected.

However, as the Speech from the Throne notes, our work is far from over, and I am pleased that this government has already taking further action.

Members will recall that the Minister of Public Safety recently reintroduced legislation to strengthen the national sex offender registry. This measure would provide additional protection for our children from abuse and exploitation.

With that background, I am pleased that our Conservative government has reintroduced amendments that would strengthen the International Transfer of Offenders Act.

As members will recall, and as the last speaker correctly identified, Canada has been a party to international treaties relating to the transfer of offenders since 1978. Since that time, 1,531 Canadian offenders have been transferred back to Canada, while Canada has returned 127 foreign national offenders in our prisons back to their countries of citizenship. The initial legislation, which was modernized in 2004, now, in the interest of public safety, has to be amended once again.

Currently, the Minister of Public Safety is required by law to take several factors into account when considering a request for a transfer. These include: first, if the offenders returned to Canada would constitute a threat to the security of Canada; second, consideration of whether the offender left or remained outside Canada with the intention of abandoning Canada as their place of permanent residence; third, the offender's social or family ties to Canada; and, fourth, whether the foreign entity or prison system presents a serious threat to the offender's security or human rights. No doubt, these are important considerations which ought to be taken into account. However, there are deficiencies.

Nowhere in the current law is there any specific mention of protecting the safety and security of law-abiding Canadians. Nowhere in the current law is there any specific mention of victims, family members or children. I would submit to the House that these are serious omissions that the bill before us would certainly correct.

Moreover, Bill C-5, when passed by the House, will allow the minister to consider a number of other factors when considering offender requests for a transfer. Specifically, the Minister of Public Safety will be able to consider situations where an offender who requests a transfer to Canada has refused to participate in career, vocational or educational programs while incarcerated in another country. The minister will also be able to take into account the circumstances in which the offender, if transferred to Canada, will be monitored and supervised after his or her release. This is especially important, given that one of the purposes of the act under consideration will continue to be contributing to the administration of justice and the rehabilitation of offenders and their reintegration into the community.

Bill C-5 would also allow the minister to take into account several other very important considerations when assessing an offender's request for a transfer. These are as follows: If the offender has accepted responsibility for the offence for which he or she has been convicted, including acknowledging the harm done to victims and also to the community; and, if the offender is likely to continue to engage in criminal activity if the transfer is successful. These considerations should surely help to guide decisions about whether to grant a request for a transfer from an offender serving a sentence outside of Canada.

Currently, there is no clear legislative authority for the minister to take those matters into account. Bill C-5 would surely remedy these deficiencies, while providing the minister more flexibility in the decision-making process itself.

I will now highlight how the proposed amendments would help keep Canadians safer, because I believe all members of the House are interested in keeping Canadians safe. The amendments before the House would add public safety as one of the purposes of this legislation. These are two simple words but these simple words will clearly reinforce the government's commitment to ensuring that Canadians, their families and their children are safe and secure in their communities. At the same time, the amended legislation would ensure that offenders remain accountable for their actions, both in Canada and abroad, and continue to be treated fairly and equitably when they are making a request to be transferred.

The legislation as it stands would empower the Minister of Public Safety to assess an offender's potential security risk when considering a request to transfer back to Canada. However, as I indicated in my intervention with the previous speaker, the notion of a threat to the security of Canada has been linked solely to terrorism threats to Canadian people as a whole. We believe that is too narrow and must be expanded to include public safety risks to Canadians domestically and locally in their own communities. The bill would add to this by including as a factor whether, in the minister's opinion, the offender's return to Canada will endanger public safety. The Minister of Public Safety will consider, among other things, the safety of victims, the safety of any child and the safety of members of the offender's family.

To further guide the minister's decision-making on these matters, the amendments propose other factors that would add greater flexibility in considering transfer applications. An example as to how this might work in practice is that if the offender is likely to commit criminal activity in Canada, the minister may take this factor into consideration when entertaining the transfer request.

Conversely, this legislation also has factors that would actually assist offenders in making applications successfully. For example, if an offender is in poor health, has co-operated with law enforcement officials or has acknowledged the harm he or she has done to victims in the community, the minister may take these factors into account when considering the transfer request.

I would submit to all members of the House that these are sensible changes and, moreover, much needed. When the minister assesses the potential risk of transferring an offender back to Canada, it is not enough to examine the likely threat to national security. Public safety must also be a principal consideration in that decision, and public safety must include more than threats of terrorism.

This legislation is timely considering that it is National Victims of Crime Awareness Week. It also ensures that helping victims of crime remains at the heart of the government's public safety and justice agendas.

On this side of the House, we have always believed that every victim matters. We are committed to ensuring that victims' voices are heard and their concerns are taken seriously. That is among our highest priorities and why we have taken action on so many victims' rights issues.

The legislation before us is proposing to help further strengthen this track record by ensuring that the safety of victims can be taken into account when assessing a request for transfer. The changes our government is proposing stipulate that the safety of family members and children will be taken into account. This is an important change and a clear deficiency in the act as it currently reads.

The minister would be able to consider the issue of the transfer of an offender with assault convictions against family members and if it would endanger their safety. The minister would also be able to consider an offender incarcerated for a sexual offence against a child in a foreign state and if he or she is likely to commit a sexual offence against a child if transferred to Canada. Surely, these changes are sensible and all members ought to support them.

Bill C-5 would ensure that the Minister of Public Safety may consider public safety as part of the decision-making process for the transfer of offenders. As such, this bill reflects this government's commitment to strengthening the rights of victims, increasing the responsibility of offenders and making our communities safer.

While the amendments before the House today are simple and straightforward, they would have a significant impact on the lives of Canadians who are concerned about the transfer of offenders back to Canada. Accordingly, I urge all members to join with me in ensuring the speedy passage of Bill C-5.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to the member's comments and I will ask him some very serious and succinct questions emanating from his speech concerning public safety.

Yes, it is a goal of legislation and, yes, the words would mean something for sure. However, if a person is incarcerated for a specified term in the United States for a heinous crime or is transferred and put in a Canadian prison for the same term, for that amount of time how does it affect public safety?

The follow up to that is, If that person is in one of the sardine can jails in a state in the United States receiving no treatment, no rehabilitation, nothing, as opposed to being in one of our corrections facilities where corrections means what it means and there is programming—presumably the member still believes in that—how would it not be better for public safety if someone who has committed a heinous crime has treatment if he or she is going to be away from the public for the same period of time anyway?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, surely the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe does not believe that people do not commit crimes while they are incarcerated and that they are not a threat to public safety. They commit crimes against other prisoners, prison guards and prison officials and occasionally they leave the institutions to which they have been assigned and, therefore, become a serious public risk to members at large.

In a more general generic sense, to answer the member's question, this bill and the amendments to it strike a balance. He talked about tin can prisons abroad. They do exist and this legislation strikes a balance with respect to humanitarian consideration for the prisoner. If the prisoner is in fact in a situation where his or her human rights are under severe jeopardy, consideration ought to be given to his or her transfer. However, that concern for his or her human rights needs to be measured against the risk to public safety.

We believe that the legislation before being amended was too concerned with the rights of prisoners and little, if any, concern for public safety. The amendments, which emphasize victims' rights and the rights of the public at large, create the appropriate balance when entertaining these transfers.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I must agree with the comments of the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe in his last question. This bill is largely a PR exercise on the part of the government. The fact that it was introduced before the Prime Minister prorogued the House, setting the whole process back, is once again further proof that the government is not as tough on crime as it suggests it is.

Just last night we had Mr. Sullivan, who for the past three years has been the government's own appointee to look after the rights of victims, criticizing the government and saying that the government was more concerned about punishment than it was with the rights of victims.

We have an act right now that has been working just fine for 30 years. The government now decides, on the basis of one or two cases, that it wants to make these changes and put all of the discretion in the hands of the minister when we in fact have a very good process that works right now and has worked for 30 years. It is politicizing the process so that people like Mr. Radler can get quick entry back into the country, but somebody else who the minister does not like can be quashed. That is not the way to run a justice system.

My question for the member gets back to the whole issue of having these people under treatment when they are in a Canadian prison. He says that they might be attacking other prisoners and guards so we should leave them in the Unites States. The fact is that they will get out of prison in the United States some day without treatment and they will come back to Canada. I would submit to him that they are a bigger danger to public safety when they come back after 10 or 15 years untreated than they would be if we brought them back now and got them treated now.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:35 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I am confused by the hon. member's question. He talks about how he believes the current system is appropriate and how the current legislation as it reads is effective and then he goes on to cite a high profile example of a Mr. Radler who was transferred under the existing process. If he believes, as he seems to believe, that the current process is deficient, certainly he would support the government's attempt to amend the legislation.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:35 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, I am not sure whether the hon. member's speech was his speech or whether it was the propagandists on the other side of the wall. However, I will assume that he understands the bill fully and not just what has been prepared for him here. I know he sits on one of the committees that deals with these things.

He mentioned some sections that he agreed with here in the amendments. There are two things he did not mention and I am wondering what he thinks. First, the criterion under subparagraph (g) simply says, “the offender's health”. Does that mean good health, bad health or indeterminate health? What kind of health does it mean? What kind of a consideration is that when it does not really have any meaning?

Second, in subparagraph (l), at the very end of all of the considerations, the minister has “any other factor that the Minister considers relevant”. Why bother having any factors at all if at the end of it the minister can take into consideration any factor the minister considers relevant? How is that even charter compliant when there are no boundaries put on these considerations?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:35 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his good questions. They are technical but I think I can add my interpretation as a lawyer as to what these provisions mean.

When I read subparagraph (g), “the offender's health”, I believe that if the offender is in a state of poor health or requires some imminent treatment for his or her health, that is a factor that will be weighed positively in the offender's application. That is my interpretation of that provision.

With respect to the discretionary provision in subparagraph (l), “any other factor that the Minister considers relevant”, as the member knows, as all members who study these issues ought to know, different countries have different prison systems. It is impossible to predict with any sort of clarity or certainty exactly what type of situation or what kind of conditions a prisoner might be facing abroad or the prisoner's personal circumstances that led him or her to run afoul of the law in whatever foreign country he or she finds himself.

I think the discretionary provision contained in subparagraph (l) is most appropriate because there may be a situation where there is a very relevant factor that ought to be considered but does not fit neatly into subparagraphs (a) through (k). Subparagraph (l) allows the minister to consider a specific and unique issue or consideration under a unique circumstance when it might be appropriate.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 4:40 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-5. As we know, this is not the first time the House has seen the bill. As it has with much of its legislation on crime, the government has accused the opposition of stalling when its measures are not adopted immediately. However in the end, it is the Conservatives, the Conservative Party, the Conservative Prime Minister, the Conservative Minister of Justice and, in this case, the Minister of Public Safety who terminate their own bills and then reintroduce them with an apparent urgency that they have contradicted. Can you say prorogation, Madam Speaker?

If the House is to properly examine Bill C-5, we ought to be talking about the purposes of, and any existing problems with, the international transfer program as it exists. In other words, in broken English, if it ain't broke, why fix it? If the House is to amend the act, we must do so with an understanding of the objectives of the transfer program. I certainly want to make it clear from the outset that we on this side are recommending that we send the bill to committee and that some things can be done to the bill at committee to improve it.

As the current International Transfer of Offenders Act reads:

The purpose of this Act is to contribute to the administration of justice and the rehabilitation of offenders and their reintegration into the community by enabling offenders to serve their sentences in the country of which they are citizens or nationals.

The House is well aware that the purpose of this program is to facilitate the administration of justice and the rehabilitation of offenders.

Correctional Service Canada clearly puts forward the reasons that brought Canada to adopt the international transfer of offenders, as follows:

If offenders are not transferred, they may ultimately be deported to Canada at the end of their sentence, without correctional supervision/jurisdiction and without the benefit of programing.

Whatever amendments we make to the bill, this has to be the overall objective with respect to public safety and reintegration.

It seems to be a flaw in the whole Conservative justice agenda to pretend that no one ever gets out of prison. Well, people do serve their sentences and they get out of prison. They get out of detention facilities. They get out of federal prisons. Many people get out of prison. In fact the overwhelming majority, up to 90% of people, are back on the streets, and what have we done with those people in terms of rehabilitation?

It may be a generalization to say, but I am guessing people serving 10-year sentences in a correctional facility in Texas probably do not get the amount of rehabilitative programing that they do at Dorchester Penitentiary in the county of Westmorland in the province of New Brunswick. I do not have the evidence on that. I am standing on a limb with a wild guess on that, but that is why we have committees and that is why we have the test of evidence at committees, which helps us mould a bill.

Not only does the possibility exist that we may have no idea of a citizen's criminal record in a foreign country, but the act as it stands serves a clear rehabilitative purpose. In other words, people who serve their entire sentence in a foreign jurisdiction are deported at the end of that sentence back to Canada, often and in many cases by administrative fact, without a permanent transfer of the record of what that person has done. So if a person is a dangerous offender and for some reason serves his or her sentence in an American or other jail, he or she could be brought back to Canada without public safety authorities knowing that there is a dangerous offender candidate in the community. That cannot be in the interests of public safety.

Every day, some 2,000 Canadian citizens are incarcerated somewhere in the world. According to the Correctional Service of Canada, authorities here may never hear about it even if the offender has a criminal record, because there is no record of the sentence in Canada. There can be no doubt that Canadians serving prison sentences abroad face serious difficulties. According to the Correctional Service of Canada:

Canadians incarcerated in foreign countries often find themselves facing serious problems coping with local conditions. The most common problems involve culture shock, isolation, language barriers, poor diets, inadequate medical care, disease and inability to contact friends and family.

The Canadian consular personnel in foreign countries provide all the assistance to the incarcerated that they can, but it cannot be a substitute for serving time in Canadian institutions, especially when these people are going to be back on the streets of Canada. The act, as it exists, is well warranted in its intentions and the services it provides in ensuring appropriate justice is afforded to Canadian offenders.

To summarize, the purpose of these agreements is humanitarian in enabling offenders to serve their sentences in their country of citizenship, to alleviate undue hardships borne by offenders and their families and, I would suggest, to marry the objectives that my friend from Edmonton—St. Albert indicated. That is, the dual concerns of humanitarianism and public safety.

The existing act takes into consideration the fact of their eventual reintegration into society. Under the existing formula, once transferred, the offender's sentence is administered in accordance with the laws of Canada, in this case. Quite simply, transfers enable offenders the opportunity of becoming productive members of society, particularly through managing justice and rehabilitation of the offender.

Bill C-5 seems to go against many of the principles that shaped the international transfer of offenders program. The Conservatives have attacked the fact that individuals, Canadian citizens, are being transferred from foreign countries to Canadian prisons to serve out their sentences. The government has, however, approved many of those transfers. While it purports to support strong and effective justice legislation, it enables potentially dangerous consequences through this bill. It is important to underline that the minister and the government, for four years, have used the existing legislation to allow people to serve out their sentences in Canada, when the act already contains a ministerial discretion.

The International Transfer of Offenders Act does not permit a program out of some sense of feeling sorry for the offenders. We ought not to think that everyone on this side is more concerned about the offenders than public safety. In fact the theme of the speeches I am hearing on this side is all about public safety married with the concern for humanitarian and Charter of Rights protections.

If an individual commits a crime in a foreign country, is tried, convicted and ultimately imprisoned, that citizen cannot be guaranteed our sense of Canadian justice, which includes restorative justice and rehabilitation. These are central to the concept of our Criminal Code.

I have often said and I will say again that a Canadian Conservative created the Criminal Code, Sir John Thompson. It is one of the best accomplishments of a Conservative politician in Canadian history, so let us not say I am unfair and overly partisan. I am complimenting a Conservative justice minister and prime minister.

In section 718, there is laid out our principles of sentencing. If we listen to the Conservative news network, we might think that the only consideration for sentencing ought to be punishment, deterrence and locking people away, but that is not our system. That is not what we all believe in. We believe in many principles of sentencing as set out, which in section 718, briefly, are to denounce the conduct, to deter the offender and people generally from doing the same thing, to separate offenders from society, to assist in rehabilitation, to provide reparations and restitution for those wronged and to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders.

That says it all. That is our system of justice. The question is: Does this new act strike a balance, or does it go more to the side of making sure people are far away from society and not a threat to public safety until they are not? Then, coming from some crazed asylum known as the American correction facility of the day, they are let out on the streets in Canada, because I have heard nothing from the other side that they will invoke the Galloway measure, that they will say that an offender, having served his or her time in an American prison, will be barred entry to Canada from, say, the United States.

I do not think the United States would accept that. It would want to deport criminals who have served their time. Make no mistake, these offenders are going to be on our streets at the end of their sentences, whether they serve them here or there. The real question is: Should they serve those sentences, in the best cases possible, and in the majority of cases they are transferred, in a Canadian facility or an American one or a foreign one?

I am dwelling on American facilities because the statistics are fairly clear that an overwhelming number of Canadian citizens serving sentences abroad are in American prisons.

When the individual is released, which will happen, he or she will be deported back to Canada without the effect of our rehabilitative programs.

The degree to which offenders may require help is extensive. Currently one in ten individuals imprisoned is suffering from mental illness. We only have to read the comments of Senator Michael Kirby in the newspapers today to know how important it is on a non-partisan level and something which should unite all Canadian elected and non-elected officials, and how important and grave mental illness challenges are in Canada. This number, one in ten individuals in prison suffering from mental illness, only goes up among female offenders, and the plausibility that citizens imprisoned overseas will not receive appropriate help is real.

I was very involved in wanting to have a resolution to the tragic consequences of Ashley Smith's death. She was from Moncton. She was not treated appropriately by our correction system. I am hoping that the public safety minister will take the recommendations of Howard Sapers and others, including Bernard Richard in the province of New Brunswick, and better our system with respect to incarcerated females, incarcerated youth and those incarcerated who have mental health issues.

As it stands, Canada is party to treaties that allow offenders to serve their sentences in their country of citizenship. The Minister of Public Safety currently decides whether a transfer into Canada of a Canadian citizen or out of Canada of a foreign offender is allowed. The minister already has some discretion.

However, this bill proposes to modify the International Transfer of Offenders Act by changing the words “the minister shall” to “the minister may”. On top of this, it also adds new factors that the minister may take into account.

These are certainly questions that will be launched at the minister, officials of the public safety department and other witnesses at the committee, which is why this bill must go to committee to be studied.

We want to know what these other reasons might be. A law which has wide discretion that does not define the parameters of that discretion is a dangerous law. I would think that would be a very salient factor to consider for us as lawmakers who may be passing, if we pass this part with the open-ended discretion, a law that knows no bounds. It is against our parliamentary tradition.

These amendments are greatly concerning. Considering that this bill will see the transformation of a rules-bound structure into a flexible and absolutely discretionary ministerial duty, this is hardly an improvement on the existing program.

The most recent statistics from Corrections Canada, as has been revealed in previous debates, reveal that there were only 53 transfers to Canada in 2006-07. As far as is known, there are no considerable problems with the application of the program which was amended in 2004.

It does beg the question, and I think in the presentation of the government there might have been an exposition of the problems, what were the problems with those 53 transfers to Canada between 2006-07? Were those people threats to public safety?

From the government's bringing these amendments to this protocol, it is inferred by us that the terrorist protection provisions do work. There were exclusions of those who were incarcerated and who were let out from foreign institutions from Canada based on those reasons, and that is working.

Somehow the public safety issue had not been taken into account. There are 53 cases. Of the 53 cases there must have been something in the government's mind in passing this. There must have been instances where people who were allowed to serve their sentence in Canada should not have been allowed to. They presumably would have served the sentence elsewhere and come back to Canada anyway, so are they not still a public safety risk? It is a question that must be asked at committee.

As it stands, applications for an offender's return to Canada can be refused for a number of reasons. This is the existing regime.

In the past, if the offender left Canada with the intention of abandoning the country, for example, somebody like Conrad Black who actually gave up his citizenship, that was clear evidence he was abandoning the country as his place of residence and in this case citizenship. One reason would be if the offender's return to Canada would constitute a threat to the security of Canada, or if the offender has no social or family ties in Canada or is linked to terrorist organizations.

The Minister of Public Safety is also required to consider whether the conditions of incarceration pose a serious threat to the offender's safety or human rights. As such, the transfer acts as a means to enhance basic human rights.

Bill C-5, however, would amend the existing legislation so that the minister is not necessarily bound by those fairly sensible criteria. The bill would add a list of factors that empower the minister to use his or her complete discretion as to whether to consider the current and binding standards in the protocol.

Bill C-5 would now see new factors, and they have been canvassed in previous speeches, about whether the offender has sufficiently accepted responsibility for the crime.

Well, the offender is serving the time. I guess what is wanted is a guilty plea from the incarcerated person after the person has been found guilty. I wonder what the importance of that is other than to get satisfaction that a person who has already served his or her time will have to enunciate that he or she did the crime. Maybe there is a question about the foreign systems of law, but we take it in our system that if the person has served the time for the crime, the person probably did the crime. At least in law we find that is the case.

The other factor that is new is the minister is left to determine whether in his or her opinion the offender has co-operated with foreign authorities.

In some cases, the foreign authorities, which is the whole purpose of this legislation in the first place, might not be easy to co-operate with. There might be foreign countries which we do not co-operate with fairly well. Increasingly, the government seems to have a problem with a number of countries and it would seem odd that should be a factor in letting someone back.

Finally, we can see that under the proposed changes there is that basket of “any other factor”. Clearly, at committee that has to be tightened up.

If we look at those reasons, they do not all point to enhanced public safety, as one of the previous speakers, in fact the member for Edmonton—St. Albert, suggested. We are looking for sensibility in this bill. I hope that it will be explained at committee exactly how this would enhance public safety.

What is greatly concerning is that in some jurisdictions there are cases of innocent Canadians accused and convicted who would now have to renounce their innocent or not guilty plea and accept responsibility for an act they did not commit to avoid incarceration in a foreign prison.

I would for once say something very positive about the American justice system. It is similar to ours. It may be even more protective of an accused's rights in that if a person is found guilty in the United States, barring all the John Grisham novels, the person is probably guilty. However, in many jurisdictions there are innocent people who have been convicted.

The person would have to renounce that plea to get back into the country to serve the sentence.

Does this House feel that Canadian citizens should have the right and the opportunity to be transferred if their conviction and imprisonment should result in harsh imprisonment?

Think of the family members who have a son or a daughter who committed a crime in a country where its conditions of imprisonment are very different from ours.

In closing, it would seem to me that this bill is eminently ripe to be sent to committee. Questions that should be asked are: What exactly is going on here? Why is it that the system is not working? Is it that bad? How does it enhance public safety to send back to Canada criminals who have served their time in a foreign jail, with no treatment and are now on our streets?

We support sending this bill to committee. I am looking forward to any questions there may be.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) ActGovernment Orders

April 21st, 2010 / 5 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my friend from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe for his observations and comments with respect to this important legislation.

He opened and closed his speech on the same topic. The system, according to him, seems to be working and he is confused as to why we need to amend a piece of legislation if it is in fact working. That is how I understood it.

My specific question is, does he not agree that the absence of any mention of victims, families of victims, or children in the case of an offender who has been convicted of a sexual assault involving a child, in the current legislation is a glaring deficiency and ought to be corrected by a legislative amendment?