moved that Bill C-620, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (parole review and victim impact statement), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it was a privilege to present Bill C-620, Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act, to the House in February. It is a privilege today, although with mixed emotions, to be the first to speak on its second reading.
I would like to use my time today to reinforce the reasons why this bill would help recalibrate the balance between the rights of violent offenders and the rights of their victims, but first, and most importantly, I would like to share with the House why I worked to bring this bill forward.
Like many hon. members, I have received calls from constituents over the years expressing concern that our system, in their opinion, seemed to give more weight to the rights of those convicted of very serious and heinous crimes rather than the victims of those crimes. I heard story after story regarding the emotional trauma of victims and their feelings of being re-victimized by a system they felt favoured the guilty more.
However, nothing could have made me realize their pain and trauma more than the experience I had last May when I visited a National Parole Board hearing. At the request of a constituent, I attended the National Parole Board to listen, learn and observe the process.
The case was one of direct relevance to my constituent as well as to myself because of the local nature of it. Her sister and her sister's two children had been killed years ago by a murderer who was once again up for parole. I do not think anything could have prepared me for what I was about to experience.
The violent offender and the family of the woman and children he killed shared the same hearing room for four hours. The raw emotion in the room was unspeakable. To this day it is hard to find the words to do justice to that experience.
Exacerbating the situation, the triple murderer still refused to take responsibility for his crime. No real remorse was shown and still, to this day he has not taken any responsibility. As a result, thankfully, his parole was denied again.
I would like to read something from a publication called The Record. It is a report on what the victim's family experienced. The witness at the hearing said that, “This horrible crime committed by Jon Rallo still affects me every single day. I know it will continue to do so in the future. The fact that Jon Rallo has never acknowledged his horrific deeds and has never revealed Jason's resting place only makes the burden more difficult to bear”.
He did not even have graciousness to say where he dumped one of the bodies. They still do not know where Jason's body is.
When I think of it now, it strengthens my resolve to bring this bill to fruition, despite the circumstances we find ourselves in the House today.
Throughout the process of considering this bill, I consulted with victims groups, prosecutors, defence attorneys, police officers and many groups to come up with a realistic and workable bill that would be supportable for all members in the House.
The Sampson report, named after former Ontario minister of Corrections, Rob Sampson, was entitled: A Roadmap to Strengthening Public Safety. It included 109 recommendations and improvements to corrections and public safety when it was released in December 2007 and it was a good resource in the development of this bill.
The report cited the changing offender profile. Here are a couple of points from the report.
Nearly 60% of inmates are now serving sentences of less than three years and have histories of violence. One in six now have known gang and/or organized crime affiliations.
Also in 2007, the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime was established. Its members have been advocates for victims across the country, raising awareness and making recommendations for change.
Let me give one small fact, but one with a big impact. When testifying before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on March 3, 2011, Sue O'Sullivan, the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, in quoting a Department of Justice report said the following, “Victims pay 67% of the cost of crime”. That is an alarming statistic and it illustrates very clearly another reason why fairness for victims needs to be addressed.
Let me clear up one misconception from the outset. The reforms we are talking about here, to give greater voice and choice to victims, cannot be quickly dismissed as simply following some kind of American model. Our Commonwealth colleagues like Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, have also enacted some of these very same changes.
While not everything can be accomplished in one bill, my hope is that the Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act builds on the work of our government's tough on crime agenda, these reports and of the advocates that have been championing victims' rights in Canada for decades.
What specifically would the bill do? In the simplest terms it would amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act in two important ways: One, it would give greater voice and choice to victims; and two, it would give the National Parole Board more discretion in how it reviews the cases of violent offenders, lengthening the time that the National parole Board has for mandatory review of sentences for offences involving violence.
What does this include? This includes ensuring the victim's right to present a victim impact statement is enshrined in law, so that the National Parole Board must consider it as part of its hearing. It is simply a matter of fairness. I have not heard of a case to date when a victim was deprived of the right by the National Parole Board to present an impact statement. Nevertheless, enshrining the right to present a victim impact statement in legislation clearly establishes its importance to all Canadians.
As I included each provision in my bill, I thought back to the Parole Board hearing I witnessed in the spring of 2010 and asked myself, would this make it fairer? Would this help ease the burden on victims and their families?
What is more, my bill also includes recognition that technology has advanced since the last time the Corrections and Conditional Release Act was reviewed. As a result, the bill amends the act to ensure that in the event a victim cannot, or chooses not to attend a parole hearing, they are allowed to use any commonly available form of audio or video format to make the statement.
This is entirely in addition to the written statement. It gives victims and families an option to not have to relive the pain at a hearing if a person so chooses. Given the proliferation of digital and video formats available today and the speed in which technology advances, this only makes common sense.
I thought back to that experience in May 2010 and asked myself, would this law make it more fair? Would it restore balance? Would it help ease the burden on victims and their families?
The bill, Fairness for Victims of Violent Offenders Act, also increases the period within which the National Parole Board must provide a further review of parole in the case of offenders serving a sentence for an offence involving violence. It would increase the review period from “within four years” from the current “within two years”. Let me repeat that for clarification. It would increase the review period to four years rather than the current two years.
There is more. In the cases of statutory release, where offenders cause death or serious violent harm to another, it would increase double the review period to two years from the current one year. The net effect is to give more necessary latitude to the National Parole Board in dealing with cases of violent offenders.
At this point, I want to read another excerpt from a piece of media, which is another experience of victims but this time of Clifford Olson. This was printed in The Province in 2010 and it reads:
Olson, 70, who seems to take pleasure in revictimizing the families of those he killed, is automatically eligible for parole every two years until the day he dies.
Ray King, whose only son was 15 when Olson killed him, plans to be at the parole hearing but said it's difficult facing the prospect of a hearing every two years. "Of course it's hard," he said. "It's hard just hearing [Olson's] name."
King said he'd like to see the rules changed to prevent killers from having regular parole hearings. "I'd like to be able to fly, but that's not going to happen either. There's nothing that can be done until he's dead. I'd be glad if he died."
Sharon Rosenfeldt, whose 16-year-old son Daryn was murdered by Olson in April 1981, said from Montreal that she and her daughter will attend Olson's hearing. "I will be attending parole hearings until Clifford Olson dies or I die," said Rosenfeldt, who attended the last hearing with her daughter in a Montreal-area prison in July 2006. "But it's always been really unsettling to us.
"When Clifford Olson was first sentenced I thought it would be for life. Well, he's been part of our lives for coming up 30 years. It will be 30 years in April that Daryn went missing and was murdered.
"To have to relive this every two years, it's so inhumane. It really is...”.
Again, going back to my experience in May, I asked myself again whether this law will make it more fair, will restore balance and will help to ease the burden of victims.
Victims should have the assurance as well that those who have harmed them so severely have actually taken seriously their responsibility to endeavour to be rehabilitated and return to society as a law-abiding and contributing citizen.
Finally and additionally, this bill would allow victims increased access to offender documents related to the upcoming parole hearing.
I just want to read one more excerpt. I know these are a little long but they are very germane to the subject at hand. This is about Constable Michael Sweet, who is no relation to me. It reads:
In the early morning hours of March 14, 1980, brothers Craig and Jamie Munro entered what was then George’s Bourbon Street restaurant in downtown Toronto for the purpose of committing a robbery. Both men were high on drugs and armed with guns. At the time, Craig Munro was on mandatory supervision from a penitentiary....
The brothers gathered all the people inside into one place but one of the victims managed to successfully flee. Once out on the street he flagged down a passing police cruiser. Constable Sweet, 30, entered the restaurant and was immediately shot twice. There then began a 90 minute standoff between the Munro brothers with their hostages and police. The police later stormed the restaurant and both brothers were shot and captured.
During the standoff, Sweet was conscious and slowly bleeding to death. He begged his captors to let him go to a hospital and he told them about the three young daughters he had at home. While Sweet pleaded for his life he was laughed at and taunted. All three men were later transported to hospital.
The Munro brothers survived their injuries. Sweet did not survive.
Jamie Munro was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was granted full parole in 1992, married an Italian woman and is believed to be living in Italy under another name. Craig Munro, who was the one that shot Constable Sweet, was convicted of first degree murder. He was automatically sentenced to life imprisonment with no chance of parole for 25 years.
As Karen Fraser said at the press conference, ”the crime against her husband took place in a public place”. Craig Munro’s trial and sentencing were held in public. However, the prison records that were available to Munro and used by the Parole Board in deciding whether or not he should be granted parole were not available to her or the public because they were protected under the Privacy Act. Craig Munro could have authorized the release of those records to the Sweet family but exercised his right not to do so.
Again, this is a matter of fairness. Again I thought back to my experience of 2010 and asked myself whether this law would make it more fair and whether it would give the victims and their families more voice to help ease their burden?
The answer to all these questions that I have asked throughout my speech is yes. I believe this bill reaffirms what the Sampson report said, which is that parole from prison is a privilege not a right. It must be earned and that includes showing remorse for the crime and seeking rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is the key. The National Parole Board must be convinced that the violent offender will not recommit. It is the least we can do to offer dignity to victims.