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 21st, 2012 / 12:25 p.m.
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NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her very good question. I am not an expert in criminal justice, but I have done research into fine option programs. They seem to be really quite interesting and a good thing for people who cannot afford to pay the victim surcharge. In provinces where this is done, such as New Brunswick, or in the Northwest Territories, the program seems to work very well.

If it were possible, it would be good to do in all provinces. The people involved would be providing their time to the community and to people in need, especially when organizations are having difficulty finding volunteers.

My riding has three federal penitentiaries. There is the Leclerc Institution, a medium-security facility that is unfortunately scheduled to close in September 2013. There are also two minimum-security facilities whose inmates can leave and work in the community. They work in community organizations in and around Laval. This is greatly appreciated, not only by the people who work in those community organizations and by those who benefit from their work, but also by the inmates who give their time. They appreciate it because they do not feel judged. They are providing their time to the community. It is a way for them to feel valued; it helps them to properly reintegrate into society. If it were possible, a fine option program should be established all across Canada.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 12:30 p.m.
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NDP

Tyrone Benskin NDP Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, a few times today we have heard from our Liberal colleagues that we should basically throw our hands up in the air and accept that this is the way things work.

That may be true. Because of the Conservative majority we are hard-pressed to get things passed. I would ask my hon. colleague if it makes sense basically to throw our hands up in the air and say that if that is the way it is going to go, why even bother?

On our other side we are showing that even though we have issues with this, we are willing to sit down at the committee table to see how we can work through them. I think this is what our constituents want from us. They want us to work for them, even if we are running into a brick wall at times.

What would my hon. colleague have to say to that?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 12:30 p.m.
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NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Jeanne-Le Ber for his question. It is a very important one, especially in this Parliament where the Conservatives have a majority and we form the official opposition. That is the way things are. But I do not think that throwing in the towel is the right thing to do. We must not just say that, because it is not going to be passed the way we want, we are going to oppose it.

We are going to vote for the bill so that we can study it at second reading in committee. That is all we are doing at the moment. We feel there are problems with this bill. There are gaps in it and it should be improved. But there are good points that we should study and that experts will be able to discuss. We have the opportunity to do that.

Perhaps the time will come when we will throw in the towel. But I believe that, with frank discussion and by trying to work together, we can find solutions. The people who introduced this bill perhaps did not realize that there are gaps for some provinces and territories. That happened previously with a bill that was studied in our committee and everyone agreed to amend it. I do not see why we would not take the time to take a more in-depth look at Bill C-37 rather than saying that nothing will change anyway. At that point, we might as well vote against every bill if we are not going to study them in more depth. I feel that is grandstanding a little.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 12:30 p.m.
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NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member on her speech. She said it in a number of ways: the NDP will not stop doing its job just because we are up against a government that is not prepared to work co-operatively. We will continue to do the work we have to do.

Does every bill deserve second reading? Not in my view. But this one does deserve second reading, if only for the fact that the federal victims' ombudsman supports legislation of this kind. The hon. member has suggested some very appropriate avenues of study in terms of the concerns that the bill raises.

But I would like her to tell us about her experience of other bills and the opportunity—or lack of opportunity—she has had to study concerns with a bill. I am thinking, for example, about Bill C-350, for which, if I am not mistaken, a number of limitations were placed on the appearance of witnesses and on the opportunity to study concerns.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 12:30 p.m.
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NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will try to give a quick answer but this is a question on which I would have liked to spend more time. My thanks to the hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard for opening the door. I hope that more hon. members will follow suit and will take this opportunity to discuss this in the House.

When we study bills in committee, hon. members work in good faith, although at times, a little less so. However, I believe sincerely in our parliamentary system and in the fact that we can go far if everyone works together. I know that that is difficult at times and that it is not possible to do so. We do not always agree, but there are times when we do. Why should we not try to work in the interests of all Canadians?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 12:35 p.m.
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NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, this has been said before but I have to say it again: the NDP will support Bill C-37 at second reading.

Let me start by telling those who perhaps may not be aware that supporting a bill at second reading means referring it to committee so that it can be studied, so that its weaknesses can be identified and so that improvements can be made. It also allows us to hear from experts, from stakeholders and from partners in the field so that the dialogue on the matter is open. We all agree that assistance to victims is a subject that should be examined from every possible angle.

A door has opened here allowing us to come to grips with the current deficiencies in victim assistance. I agree that the door is only open a little. The bill does not have sufficient potential. If the bill is amended, improved and passed, it will not solve all the problems that victims face. But the door is still open a little and we would be acting in very bad faith if we did not jump on this opportunity to study victim assistance.

The NDP wants to study this bill in committee after second reading. The NDP will not stop doing its job on the pretext that it is dealing with a Conservative government that is not open to dialogue and to teamwork. We have seen a record number of time allocations and closure motions, as well as an amazing number of in camera sessions forced on committees. There are plenty of other examples of the things I am talking about. In spite of that, we are moving forward, we are continuing to work in good faith and we welcome open dialogue and sincere teamwork. There are already a number of avenues of study for this bill and we live in hope that the committee will be open to hearing them and taking them into consideration. The Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime says that this bill warrants special attention. We take seriously the opinion of experts and of partners in the field, and that is enough for us to turn our attention to it.

I would now like to stress an important point: the NDP is not prepared to pass a bill that would significantly reduce the discretionary power of judges. In our justice system, that power is significant. Judges must be able to match the penalty to the case before them. This is an aspect of Bill C-37 that concerns us.

This bill imposes amounts and a procedure, and we cannot pass it as is without asking more questions about how it limits judges' discretionary power. That is very important to us, and it must be taken seriously. We have to ask serious questions about this bill and about all bills that threaten to curtail judges' discretionary power.

I have another concern about this bill, and during the debate, I surmised that it is also a concern for several of my colleagues. I wonder if this bill takes into account all of the possibilities concerning surcharges imposed on offenders. This bill proposes a fine option. If the offender cannot pay the surcharge that is the subject of this bill, he has the option of participating in a provincial fine option program. Of course, this fine option program is administered at the provincial level.

It is important to ensure that anyone in any province or territory, in any region of the country who cannot pay a surcharge can choose the fine option program. We really have to make sure the option is available. At this point, the bill does not make that clear, and it is something that merits further study. Is this bill fair? Will all judges be in a position to offer a fine option program to offenders who cannot pay the surcharge? It is very important that we review this issue.

I would also like to talk about prevention. This is a subject that we care deeply about. We cannot have a conversation about fighting crime without talking about prevention. Failing to discuss eliminating the need to help victims in the first place shows a lack of vision and pure hypocrisy.

We have all seen Spider-Man and Batman. Some members of the House seem to think that they are living in that kind of fictional world. In the movies, superheroes prevent crime before it even happens. They prevent theft, murder and all kinds of terrible things, and then they turn the criminals over to the justice system, which decides how the criminals should be punished.

But I would like to make sure that everyone here knows that, unfortunately, we are not in a movie. There are no superheroes to stop the bullet before it hits its target and to make sure no one gets hurt. No, that is not how things work. If we truly want to prevent crime, we need to think about preventative solutions.

Money is not a cure-all. I am certain that everyone will agree with me on that. Even if an offender gives more money to the victims, that will not compensate them for the injuries and psychological trauma they have experienced. We cannot bring back someone who died as a result of crime. Money is not going to fix everything when crime is concerned, which is why crime needs to be prevented. If we really want to help victims, we will do something before they become victims. We will decrease the number of victims and not just increase victim compensation.

I would like this to be clear for everyone: I am not saying that we do not need to help victims, not at all. I just want to say that the two things go hand in hand. We need to help victims, but we also need to ensure that we have done everything we can to prevent people from becoming victims at all. This is vital and, unfortunately, I have not heard my Conservative colleagues speak much about it during this debate. I would really like to see an openness to these concerns for victims and for crime prevention.

I would like to give an example from my riding. The second-largest co-operative housing complex in Canada is in Pierrefonds—Dollard. The complex has a number of buildings that house a lot of people from all different cultures, but often they are people with low incomes. The crime rate in that area of my riding was alarming 10 or 15 years ago.

How did we manage to overcome the problem? By getting people involved. The area was turned into a co-operative to give people a sense of belonging to where they live. Awareness program were created in co-operation with the police. Police officers started going into the schools, not only to punish, but to engage in dialogue. They created programs, committees and assistance for families. And now women and children can walk through the streets in the evening and feel safe. Based on what I have heard from people who have lived there for years, this has not always been the case.

The evidence is there. Prevention programs are effective and can improve people's quality of life everywhere. These programs do not fall under federal jurisdiction, but nevertheless, the federal government must be prepared to support them to ensure their survival and their continued development, thereby making our streets safer and preventing crime, and in turn, preventing people from becoming victims.

In closing, I hope that constructive work can be done on this bill in order to improve assistance to victims and give them every little bit of support we can. I also hope everyone will bear in mind that a bill to help victims and a bill to support crime prevention programs go hand in hand.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 12:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, one of the things I appreciate about Bill C-37 is that it does show the difference between the Liberal Party and the joint attitude or approach of the Conservatives and the NDP.

Within the Liberal Party we do see how important it is for us to focus attention on the prevention of crime. We do see the value of judicial discretion as an important part of the whole crime file. As such, the primary principle of the bill is to take away the ability of a judge to use his or her discretion in applying a fine. We see that as a negative thing.

I am wondering if the member who just spoke for the New Democratic Party could explain why her party feels it is okay on that principle to allow it to ultimately pass through the House, because she will be voting in favour of it.

I heard the argument made that in committee they would make amendments and so forth. Surely to goodness she would acknowledge that as an opposition party, there are times that we vote in principle for a bill to go to committee, as all opposition parties have done in the past—

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 12:45 p.m.
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NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has been raising the same issue since the beginning of this debate and I get the impression that we simply do not have the same idea of the work that must be done in committee. It is possible that we do not agree in this regard and I respect that.

However, if the hon. member truly believes that the NDP is against allowing judges to use their discretion, I would like him to give me a good example of a bill that the NDP voted in favour of and that, in its final stages, destroyed the discretionary power of judges. I cannot remember any such bills that were supported by the NDP in their final stages. What the NDP is saying right now is that this bill should be examined because the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime said that there is something worthwhile about it and that it should be given some attention.

The NDP does not just do at it pleases. It works with its partners and with experts, and that is why it remains open to dialogue. However, I have many examples to show that the Liberals have undermined the discretionary power of judges on a number of occasions, and I would be happy to speak to the hon. member about them at another time.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 12:45 p.m.
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NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on her wonderful speech.

I have a short question to ask her. We know that the Conservatives are not used to co-operating with the other parties, but all we have heard this morning from the Liberal Party is that it has given up on the majority of the Conservatives and that it has adopted an underdog attitude.

I would like my colleague to comment on the Liberal's attitude compared to ours given that we want to work in committee to improve this bill.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 12:45 p.m.
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NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, in my opinion not every bill should be passed at second reading in order to be studied in committee. I believe that we agree on that. However—and here we may not all agree—the purpose of this bill is to provide additional assistance for victims. Exactly how we are going to do that requires serious debate, and it is worth listening to what the experts have to say in that regard.

The NDP is not going to stand on ideology with this issue. We believe we will continue to have discussions and do the work to the end. If this bill is not amended and improved, the NDP will not support it, especially if it undermines judicial discretion. That much is clear. In spite of everything, we will continue to do our job in Parliament.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 12:50 p.m.
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NDP

Élaine Michaud NDP Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House for the first time since Parliament resumed, and I am also happy to see all my colleagues again after a very busy summer in my beautiful constituency of Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a few moments to congratulate you on your appointment to this new position, something I have not yet had the opportunity to do. I see that you already seem at ease in the chair and I feel that you are going to fulfill your mandate with serene professionalism. Good luck throughout your tenure.

This afternoon, I would like to talk about Bill C-37, which seeks to amend the provisions of the Criminal Code dealing with victim surcharges. A victim surcharge is an additional sanction imposed by a judge when an accused is found guilty of a criminal act.

These surcharges are collected and kept by the provincial and territorial governments in order to fund programs and services provided to victims in the province or territory in which the offence was committed. Among other things, the bill proposes to double the amount that offenders have to pay when they are sentenced and to make the surcharge mandatory for all offenders without exception.

Bill C-37 is presently at second reading, as the hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard and other hon. members before her rightly pointed out. If it is passed at this stage, it will be referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for an in-depth study of each of its clauses. In a word, we are a long way from the final passage and implementation of the bill, which could be passed as is.

Today, I would like to state my position in favour of Bill C-37 at this stage of the legislative process, because I believe that the bill deserves serious and detailed study before it obtains royal assent and becomes part of the overall justice system.

A good number of hon. members before me have expressed the same desire to study the bill in depth in committee, because we are concerned about the lot of victims of crime across the country.

The NDP supports crime victims and their families and is in favour of better funding for programs and services that help those who have become victims of crime.

The Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime and a number of victims' organizations have already clearly stated that there is a huge need for more funding for victims' assistance programs. That is one of the reasons why the NDP is not prepared to dismiss this bill without even taking a look at it. We want to work with the other parties. If the Liberals decide to work with us, all the better. Otherwise, we are still opening the door to the Conservatives to develop a bill that will be able to satisfy the most people and address the specific needs of crime victims.

We want to ensure that everyone who works with crime victims has all the resources they need to provide the necessary services to victims. Although I support the spirit of Bill C-37, I still have a number of concerns. The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights must examine this bill carefully and answer our questions before members of Parliament give their approval.

As I mentioned earlier, this bill proposes to double the amount of the surcharges imposed on offenders. The surcharge would be raised to 30% of the amount of the fine determined by the judge during sentencing—up from 15%. If no fine is imposed on the offender, the amount would be $100 in the case of an offence punishable by summary conviction and $200 in the case of an offence punishable by indictment.

Although this is an interesting proposal, we must consider that this provision in Bill C-37, which would double the amount of the surcharge, could quickly become a problem for low-income offenders. I am not saying that these individuals should not pay their debt to society. On the contrary, I completely agree with the principle of holding offenders accountable and making them contribute to compensation for victims.

However, I think that one of the primary goals of our prison system is to rehabilitate prisoners who will eventually be released into society so that they no longer represent a threat to public safety. We cannot simply lock people up and make them pay some money to try to make them accountable for their crimes.

This is not what is going to help rehabilitate criminals. They need to be given favourable conditions to do so. That inmates can accumulate a debt of up to several thousands of dollars before even getting out of prison is perhaps not the best way to facilitate their rehabilitation.

As for offenders who would not be able to pay the surcharge, Bill C-37 still provides the possibility of taking part in a provincial or territorial fine option program in the provinces and territories where this type of program exists. The fine option program lets offenders pay their debt by earning credits for work done in the province or territory where the offence was committed.

The problem here is that this type of program does not exist in all provinces and territories. So not all offenders would have the opportunity to participate in a fine option program and take care of their debt through some form of work. What happens in that case? What solution would enable these individuals to take care of their debt? This question needs an adequate answer before we can even think about making Bill C-37 a proper bill that applies across Canada.

We also need to ensure that the money for victims of crime is put to good use in all provinces and territories where there is no fine option program. The victims who live in those areas of the country also deserve to receive services, and this government has a responsibility to ensure that they get their fair share.

Another aspect of Bill C-37 that deserves to be studied in depth by the committee is the substantial loss of judges' discretion to determine whether paying the victim surcharge would cause undue hardship for the offender. At the moment, judges are not required to automatically impose this type of surcharge on all offenders if the offenders are able to demonstrate that paying the fine would cause undue hardship to them or to their dependants, be they spouses or children.

If Bill C-37 is passed in its present form, courts will no longer be able to waive the victim surcharge in specific cases. However, judges will still retain the discretionary power to impose a higher victim surcharge if circumstances warrant and if the offender has the means to pay it.

I heard a number of Liberal members, and one in particular, suggesting that the NDP is in favour of restricting the autonomy of judges to impose a victim surcharge on offenders at the time of sentencing, as currently proposed under Bill C-37. Let me just say that it is simply not true. The NDP believes that restricting the autonomy of judges poses a problem and should be reconsidered. We have to have confidence in our judiciary, not tie the hands of our judges the way the Conservative government has done by imposing minimum sentences for certain crimes. The NDP firmly believes that the autonomy of judges is essential to the proper functioning of our justice system and that it should be maintained. We have to let courts do their job.

There are and always will be specific cases and judges must be free to treat each case in its own right. They need to have the freedom to impose the appropriate sentence based on the individual circumstances of each offender. I hope that I have been clear enough so that I will not have to answer the typical question from the hon. member for Winnipeg North as to where the NDP stands on restricting the power of judges.

As members can see from what I have said, Bill C-37 to change the Criminal Code provisions on victim surcharges does have some problems, and warrants further debate and consideration. The NDP supports the recommendations of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime and believes that more funding is needed to provide adequate services to victims of crime. There are a few problems with Bill C-37 and a thorough examination at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is needed in order to come up with real solutions to those problems.

I believe that all members of all political stripes work in good faith. They come to the House with the best interests of Canadians at heart, and they work accordingly. This is the kind of attitude that will allow us to create a bill that is more equitable for everyone, that meets the needs of victims, that provides them with the programs and services they need, and that will make offenders more accountable.

It is for that reason, and that reason alone, that I will support Bill C-37 at second reading and vote to send it to committee. If it is not suitable after that, we can always change our minds.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 1 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am starting to get it. The NDP members are saying that they believe they can change the principle of this legislation once it goes to committee, therefore it is okay if we pass the bill on to committee, and that is the reason they will vote for it going to committee.

I do not know how that would have worked for back-to-work legislation, the killing of the Canadian Wheat Board or many of the other pieces of legislation, such as the gun registry and so forth.

Having said that, if that principle does not change, based on what the previous speaker said, then I take it that the NDP will be joining the Liberals and voting against it at third reading.

Is that a fair assessment, that if the member cannot get the government to change that principle that you will in fact oppose it at third reading?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 1 p.m.
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NDP

Élaine Michaud NDP Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to hear the question put a little differently. Finally a breath of fresh air in this House. I said that we are prepared to consider continuing to support this bill if we get what we need. We are here to work with others.

I cannot predict what will result from the committee's work. Consequently, it is very ill-advised to reply at this time and to say what our exact position will be. However, we will be there and we are open to working with others. Perhaps it is this defeatist attitude tinged with cynicism that led voters to relegate the Liberals to the rank of third party. They saw that the Liberal Party was not prepared to work with others, to find new solutions and to change things.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 1 p.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier who gave an excellent speech on the issue and also gave a good answer to my colleague from Winnipeg North, who truly surprised me. I may perhaps ask my colleague for further clarification.

I have had many discussions with our colleague from Westmount—Ville-Marie at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. We tried, always in good faith to consider the government's objective from the government's viewpoint. And that has always been the approach of my colleague from Westmount—Ville-Marie and of the NDP. We try to be better informed after listening to the experts. It is the government that introduces these bills. We spend our time chastising the government for not listening to the experts. We will have an opportunity to do so.

The Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime has told us that we need to do something for the victims, and we would just simply close the door, as the member for Winnipeg North is implying? I must say, perhaps because I was not present during the debates at the beginning of the week, that it seems to me that the Liberal tone has changed. The Liberals' approach was slightly more pro victim at the beginning of the week. I do not know why they have hardened their stance.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 1 p.m.
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NDP

Élaine Michaud NDP Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Gatineau for her question and for all the work she does in the area of justice. I think that she represents us and the NDP's positions on various files, including this one, very well. I hope that we will have the chance to hear more from the hon. member for Winnipeg North about this closed-minded attitude and about not wanting to help victims.

We are prepared to set aside certain ideological differences to work with the Conservatives and come up with a bill that will really satisfy everyone and meet the needs that have been clearly expressed by victims of crime, the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, and victims organizations.

It is completely illogical and even ridiculous to me to simply close the door on any opportunity to change things here. I believe that this is why Canadians across the country chose members of the NDP to represent them. They know that we are open-minded and that we want to make changes.