Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act

An Act to amend the Criminal Code

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2013.

Sponsor

Rob Nicholson  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

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

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to change the rules concerning victim surcharges.

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

Dec. 12, 2012 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
Oct. 16, 2012 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
Oct. 16, 2012 Passed That this question be now put.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 17th, 2012 / 6:05 p.m.
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NDP

Marie-Claude Morin NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill, which we support at second reading. Obviously, we cannot be against virtue or against the victims, even though the members opposite claim that we are. We care about communities, Canadians and victims. We also care about the families of victims, and the families of criminals, which are sometimes blameless.

We will support this bill at second reading so that it can be studied in committee and because we still have questions about it. Some changes are required in order for it to be acceptable.

I will provide some context. First, Bill C-37 would amend provisions of the Criminal Code and double the amount of the surcharge. The surcharge would total 30% of any fine that is imposed on the offender, or $100 if no fine is imposed. The fine would be $100 for offences punishable by summary conviction and $200 for offences punishable by indictment.

Is that really a solution for the victims? I am not absolutely sure about that. Instead of taxing people even more, other things could be done. In addition, this bill eliminates the court's ability to waive the surcharge if the offender proves that it would create hardship for himself or his family. It is worrisome because the power of judges is being eroded. Judges are there to judge; what more can I say.

Rulings will always be given on a case-by-case basis, and that is why we have judges. As my colleague from Laurier—Sainte-Marie stated, judges are the elite of our lawyers. They are brilliant and capable of making appropriate rulings, and we can trust them. If all their powers are taken away, as the government seems to enjoy doing, then it is difficult for them to do good work in specific situations. I am especially worried about this. We are taking away judges' powers and we are not proceeding on a case-by-case basis.

I would like to list a few stakeholders that share our position. The Elizabeth Fry Societies are concerned about the impact of additional fines on the disadvantaged aboriginals who do not have the means to pay. Once again, it will be the criminal's family that will become a victim. I side with society and do not think that we want to make the children, brothers and sisters, and parents of the criminals pay. This is no way to do things. It is something that can happen, but it is not what we want. The government should not aggravate things.

The John Howard Society does not necessarily have a problem with the fines, but it is afraid that, under this system, the fines will sometimes be disproportionate to the crimes. We are dealing here with a wide range of crimes. It would be worthwhile to move ahead more gradually.

The Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime has long fought for better funding of services for victims of crime. Is this how we are going to do it? I am not convinced.

I have a few interesting statistics. In 2003, crime cost about $70 billion. That is a big number. Victims took about $47 billion of that, or 70%.

That is another major problem. A 2004 study estimated the pain and suffering of victims at $36 billion—another major problem.

A significant number of eligible victims do not claim compensation, often because they do not even know that they are entitled to it. We are talking about costs and amounts, but victims are not necessarily well compensated. Is it really by going after small amounts here and there that we will be able to adequately compensate those individuals?

I have a hard time putting myself in the shoes of a victim, because I have never been a victim of crime or anything else. I am really lucky, knock on wood. I hope that this does not happen to me or my family. I do not think that an amount of money would fix things. It is more about getting help. Money can sometimes help in seeking assistance, but it would be better if we came up with a more helpful measure for victims.

I have a few quick questions for the government. Perhaps I might get an answer. Bill C-37 overlaps with another private member's bill, Bill C-350, which also seeks to increase offenders' accountability. How will those bills overlap? Will they complement each other? I do not know. I am just wondering.

With the removal of the discretionary power of judges to waive the surcharge, does this measure not become excessively punitive in some cases? I am referring to low-income offenders or people with mental health problems. We know those people exist. I am not saying this to minimize the suffering of victims, but we have to think about offenders with mental health problems.

I am wondering once again how we will ensure that the money really goes to victims' groups that really need it. I also feel that the government should consult with organizations working with victims on the ground. I think that would be very useful. In my riding, for instance, we have the sexual assault centre CAVAS that does an outstanding job with little money. The hon. members opposite must surely have similar organizations in their ridings. It might be worthwhile to go talk to those groups that work on the ground in our communities to see how we can fix all this.

In conclusion, I would like to come back to what my colleague from Laurier—Sainte-Marie was saying earlier. When we talk about crime, we need to think about prevention, first and foremost, which comes before punishment. Education and fighting poverty are also important. Wealthier societies have less crime. Wealth does not solve all problems, but it can help considerably. I would be remiss if I did not mention affordable housing, since that is an important issue for me. When people have suitable housing and can eat three meals a day, that helps reduce crime rates significantly. So why not make that our first priority?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 17th, 2012 / 6:15 p.m.
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Conservative

David Wilks Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was with the RCMP for just over 20 years. Part of the member's statement was that paying the surcharge may cause undue harm to the accused or the family of the accused. I am a little taken aback by that. The way I look at it is that if offenders do not want to pay the victim surcharge, maybe they should not commit crimes. That might be a fairly simple way of dealing with this.

Is the member saying that those convicted of crimes should not be accountable to the victims of crime with a victim surcharge?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 17th, 2012 / 6:20 p.m.
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NDP

Marie-Claude Morin NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to answer this question, because I really do not appreciate it when people try to put words in my mouth.

No, I do not believe that criminals have absolutely no accountability to victims. That is not at all what I said. I simply said that perhaps there are other solutions to consider before imposing a surcharge on offenders and taking away judges' discretionary powers. That is what I said. I want to make this clear to the member.

I simply cannot agree with a philosophy that tends to adversely affect offenders' families, as the gentleman mentioned, or with a philosophy that makes someone else pay for their parents', their brother's or sister's mistakes. This only makes victims out of the family members of people who commit crimes or break the law. They are the ones who end up paying, not the criminals themselves.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 17th, 2012 / 6:20 p.m.
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NDP

Denis Blanchette NDP Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her speech.

All afternoon, I have listened to debates and questions. I am asking myself a question about this bill. Does this bill really help victims? Does it not, rather, seek to take a little more revenge on those who have committed crimes?

My question for my colleague is this. Will this bill really help victims or is there not a better way to help them?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 17th, 2012 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is a very interesting question. If this bill helps victims, then that is a good thing. However, in my opinion, this is not the ultimate solution. This bill might create a small budgetary surplus for some victims organizations, but I do not think that anything special can be done for victims with $100.

In my opinion, the government is using victims to seek revenge on offenders and criminals. Yet, in the end, victims do not have much to gain.

I cannot emphasize this enough: we need to fight poverty; we need to focus on prevention; we need to provide housing for the homeless; we need to make sure that people have enough to eat. I believe that these types of solutions are the ones that will really help to combat crime.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 17th, 2012 / 6:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative member made a comment giving the impression that this victim surcharge could prevent crimes from happening.

Is the member as convinced as I am that having a victim surcharge will not actually prevent crimes from happening? I do not think we will have criminals worrying that they will need to pay an extra surcharge if they commit a crime.

With very little imagination we could come up with a lot of programs that would be effective in preventing crimes from taking place but this is not one of them. Is that a fair assessment?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 17th, 2012 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am not in the shoes of an offender, but I think that someone who commits mischief is not even thinking about the likelihood of being fined in the future. I do not think that a $100 fine is going to dissuade anyone from committing any type of crime.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 17th, 2012 / 6:25 p.m.
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NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to speak to this bill. I will share my time with the member for Laval—Les Îles tomorrow, unfortunately.

Over the course of the debates, I have had some questions about some of the answers I have received. The first question has to do with victim fine surcharges. I asked whether there were any adjustments in relation to income. For the same crime, does someone with a much higher income pay a much higher surcharge? The answer was that it was possible, but not mandatory. That is a general question I have about the surcharge.

Take, for example, someone who caused an accident while driving drunk. Say that he injured someone; therefore, there would be victims of this crime. If the driver earns a seven-figure income, compared to someone who struggles to earn an income of more than four figures, we would have to explore the possibilities in committee. We must be logical. If we want to hold offenders accountable, then we must ensure that the punishments are consistent. The surcharge that someone with a lower income pays must not be the equivalent of the cost of a pack of gum for someone with a higher income. The committee must examine that, and I hope that people will be able to delve into that aspect a little deeper.

I also have questions about discretionary powers for judges. As I explained, I am a little concerned about that. For example, a judge could use his discretionary power to say that it would cause harm, that it is obvious that the person does not have money and that if he has to pay a surcharge, it would cause harm. The judge could say that. That it would not cause harm to the individual in question, but to his children. The judge knows that if he imposes this surcharge, the person would not be able to pay it or would be forced to go without, and in the end, it might be the children who would not eat that week. Judges have the ability to reflect and to question. I do not think they do it as a rule. They can do so in situations where it is very much appropriate. I am concerned about this discretionary power being eliminated.

We need to be logical about this. If the court imposes a $100 surcharge and it costs $350 to have the bailiff or someone else collect that money, that is a $250 loss. Could that $250 not be given directly to victims? That would be much simpler. More money would go to victims instead of having the court pay $350 to collect $100. In the end, victims could end up with nothing.

That is another aspect the committee will have to take a very close look at to ensure that the system is efficient. It would not make sense to remove judges' discretionary power while leaving victims empty-handed.

I would like to raise one final point about this bill. The Elizabeth Fry Society has expressed concerns about the impact of surcharges on poor aboriginals who cannot pay. I am a nurse, and I often work with these people. I spend a lot of time in my communities. In many cases, the children of adults offenders will bear the brunt of these surcharges. They may not eat that week. I would like the committee members to take some time to think about that.

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to express these concerns. I hope that the committee will discuss them.