Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of Bill C-350, which addresses crucial changes to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act as it relates to the accountability of offenders.
I would like to thank the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry for his hard work on behalf of victims of crime.
Before I begin, I would like to take a moment to briefly review what the bill is all about. Bill C-350 is about putting more focus on offender accountability and restitution. It will do this through two key changes.
First, the bill would amend the wording in the purpose section of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which currently refers only to custody and supervision, and rehabilitation and reintegration. The new wording will clarify that one of the purposes of the federal corrections system is the following:
encouraging the accountability and responsibility of offenders, with a view to ensuring that their obligations to society are addressed.
Second, the bill sets out the priorities for debt repayment in cases when an offender is owed a monetary award as a result of a legal action against the crown. What this means in essence is that an offender will first have to satisfy outstanding debts before collecting any award. The debt owed to the offender would be paid on a pro rata basis and in the following order of priority, to amounts owing, pursuant to the following: a spousal or child support order; a legal restitution order; any victim surcharge order; and any person with a civil judgment against the offender. It is only after all of these priorities have been addressed that any outstanding amount from the monetary award would be paid to the offender.
While our government supports the rights of offenders to be treated humanely, we also believe that offenders must be held accountable for the debts they owe. Learning how to do this is an important part of their rehabilitation.
This legislation would ensure that crown debts are distributed with these obligations in mind and ensure that priority is given to victims and the spouses and children of these offenders.
At its core, the bill is really about supporting victims and holding offenders accountable for their legal obligations. That is why our government is pleased to support this legislation, with some minor amendments. When the bill reaches committee stage, we recommend amending it to add clarity regarding the role of the Correctional Service of Canada in the administration and operation of these provisions.
Our government is wholly committed to supporting victims and ensuring that the justice system takes the consideration of victims to heart, and I am proud of our impressive track record. For example, we have committed $52 million to enhance the federal victims strategy to better meet the needs of victims. We have created and provided ongoing support to the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime as an independent resource for victims. We have provided support to the National Office for Victims at Public Safety Canada to give victims a greater voice in the corrections and conditional release process, and to help them access the services that they need.
These are only a few examples of how our government has dedicated itself to supporting victims of crime.
Just as important, we remain committed to making sure that offenders are held accountable. Because more needs to be done, our government included offender accountability measures as part of our safe streets and communities act that we introduced in September 2011. Bill C-10 contains measures that will help to enhance offender responsibility and accountability while strengthening the management of offenders during their incarceration and parole. It would also give victims access to more information about the offender who has harmed them and modernize disciplinary sanctions for offenders. Under that proposed legislation we would amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to emphasize the need for offenders to conduct themselves in a way that demonstrates respect for other people and property.
As well, the proposed changes would require all offenders to obey all penitentiary rules and conditions governing their release, while also actively participating in the setting and achieving of objectives in their correctional plan, including their behaviour, program participation and meeting their court-ordered obligations such as restitution to victims. This ties directly to the legislation that we are discussing today.
Another element of offender accountability found in our safe streets and communities act is amendments to modernize the system of discipline in federal penitentiaries by addressing disrespectful, intimidating and assaultive behaviour by inmates, including the throwing of bodily substances.
The safe streets and communities act also delivers on the issue of victim support. Victims have limited information about an offender's life in prison. They do not know whether offenders are taking part in rehabilitation programs, if they are absent from the institution temporarily or are being transferred to a minimum security facility. Yet victims deserve to have access to as much information as they reasonably can about the offender, and Bill C-10 would enshrine in law their ability to take part in parole hearings and to be kept better informed about the behaviour and management of offenders.
Clearly, the measures proposed in the safe streets and communities act will work in tandem with Bill C-350, the legislation we are discussing today.
Just as clear is the message we are hearing from victims and advocacy groups across this country. They are asking us to move swiftly to strengthen the rights of victims. They are asking us to make changes to our laws to improve the accountability of offenders, and they are asking us to create mechanisms that support victims of crime.
I spoke earlier of our ongoing financial support programs, like the National Office for Victims and the federal victims strategy. While we have made progress, much work still remains to be done.
In the 2011 Speech from the Throne, we reiterated our intention to move swiftly ahead with efforts that support victims, that give our law officers better tools and that support crime prevention programs. That is what we told Canadians we would do, and that is exactly what we intend to do.
Today I am very pleased to support the bill with our proposed amendments, and I call on all hon. members to ensure its speedy passage.