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.

Motions in amendmentIncreasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 1:55 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, in speaking to Bill C-37 at report stage, I propose to speak to the portions and the importance of providing support for victims in my first three minutes and then return in my second period, of seven minutes, to the problems I have with this bill.

Overall, I think all of us will agree that victim services provided by provinces and territories need to be expanded and improved. The title of this bill, increasing offenders' accountability for victims' act, may gild the lily somewhat. This is of course a victim surcharge, which is applied at the time of sentencing. However, I completely concur with the words of Sue O'Sullivan, the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, in her most recent report in February of this year, “Shifting the Conversation”, that we do need to substantially improve services to victims in this country. It was her recommendation that led to much of this bill.

One of the areas where we particularly need to help victims is not one that comes up in this legislation, but it is a move that is supported by the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, and it is one that I want to highlight in my brief opening statement.

I want to highlight it because members on all sides of this House should get behind a measure that we desperately need, and that was encapsulated in something called Lindsey's law, which has not been brought forward yet. It actually relates to a tragic circumstance that happened to one of my constituents. The daughter of my constituent, Judy Peterson, went missing 20 years ago this year. My constituent has never been able to find out what happened to Lindsey, but it has led her on a crusade to find a way to create a database for the DNA of missing persons that could be cross-referenced to crime scenes. Everybody involved in victim services, whom I can find, thinks this is a worthy effort.

In fact, we can go back into the records of anytime the House of Commons has dealt with it. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, in 2009, looked at this issue of a DNA identification act and supported it. It was also supported in the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. Unfortunately, to this point it has not been brought into law. I should mention as well that even more recently the police chiefs of this country, when they were meeting in Nova Scotia in August of this year, confirmed that they believe we need to create a database for the DNA of missing persons to be cross-referenced to crime scenes. This would be of enormous value to victims, and yet it is missing in this bill.

I will return to the subject of Bill C-37 after question period.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 3:05 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, just before question period I was speaking to the reasons why I have grave concerns about Bill C-37. I earlier explained that this legislation is titled the increasing offenders' accountability for victims act. It is not a separate act at all. The bill would amend the Criminal Code and these amendments deal with the issue of surcharges and fines that would be paid.

These amendments to the Criminal Code would deal with only one thing, and that is the fine, a surcharge put on someone who has been convicted of a criminal offence. The current surcharge is 15% of the amount of any fine that is assessed against someone at the point of sentencing. This act would double that to 30%. That is, in and of itself, not a concern of mine. It is important that we have adequate funds for victim services.

Just to clarify for anyone who is watching, these fines do not actually go to the victims but to provinces and territories, which are supposed to use those funds for victim services. This is different from the category of restitution, where convicted individuals actually provide funds directly to the victim of their crime. This is a general pot of money that is supposed to go to victim services. I note that some of the witnesses before committee had concerns that we did not know how tightly a province or territory tracks those funds and applies them to victim services, but that is not the thrust of most of what I want to talk about today.

On top of doubling the fines from 15% to 30%, these amendments to the Criminal Code would also create an automatic $100 fine in the cases where no particular fine has been levied. Anyone guilty on summary conviction would have $100 levied, and anyone guilty of an offence punishable by indictment would have an additional fine of $200 if no fine had been levied by the judge.

This would get to a very difficult area. I am very supportive of victims of crime, as the Green Party, and I think every member in this House is supportive. We know that even a relatively small criminal event is traumatic in a victim's life, and the more severe events can be catastrophic in one's life, so it is not for lack of concern. However, one looks at the question of who is victimized in society and where all the victims are. Not all the victims are outside of our prisons; some of them are inside our prisons. This is the point I raise, based on testimony that was heard before committee on November 1 from Kim Pate, who is the executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies.

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will read into the record some of what she said. She said, in part:

...the majority of the women—91% of the indigenous women in prison, 82% of women overall—have histories of physical and/or sexual abuse, talking about a victim surcharge to assist victims, when these women end up in custody largely because of the lack of resources in such other parts of the community as social services and health care, particularly mental health....

She goes on to say:

The Parliamentary Budget Officer has estimated that it costs $343,000 per year to keep one woman in federal custody, and provinces range, depending on the range of services and what is costed in, from a minimum of $30,000 of cost up to in excess of $200,000. When we're talking about those kinds of costs, to jail someone for non-payment of either a fine or a victim surcharge seems counterproductive at best.

The essence of this is to suggest that when we remove judicial discretion, which is the essence of this bill, Bill C-37 would do two things. It would double the percentage that would be paid as a victim surcharge fine, from 15% to 30%; and it would impose an automatic $100 on summary conviction and $200 at indictable offence. The other most important ingredient that this bill would do would be to completely remove judicial discretion to waive these charges if it is, in the opinion of the judge, a situation where undue hardship would be occasioned due to the circumstances of the accused.

Our current Criminal Code includes these words under subsection 737.(5):

When the offender establishes to the satisfaction of the court that undue hardship to the offender or the dependants of the offender would result from payment of the victim surcharge, the court may, on application of the offender, make an order exempting the offender from the [surcharge].....

This judicial discretion would be completely removed under this act. The only judicial discretion that would be allowed is judicial discretion to increase the fine.

However, we need the ability to look at the accused and wonder if they, in the circumstances of their lives, have been victims of crime themselves. I think of the case of Ashley Smith, for example. All of us who watched what happened to that young woman recognized that she was less the actor in a criminal act and more, through a series of horrific errors, a victim of incarceration and the impact from incarceration that ultimately led to her death. Had someone in her circumstances—and it would have been a much better circumstance—been released from prison and then at the same time been told she still had to pay that fine, where would she find the resources? How would she go on? Would she then end up having a counterproductive result, as the Elizabeth Fry Society says to us?

I want to close with the advice of the Canadian Bar Association. It says:

In our view, the proposed changes to increase victim fine surcharges beyond the reach of a greater number of people will lead to more defaults and more incarceration of the poor, and prevent judges from using their discretion to ensure a just result.

This legislation does not meet its objectives. Those who are victims of crimes should have access to adequate resources, but this is not the way to go about it.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 3:15 p.m.
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Independent

Bruce Hyer Independent Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, as is often the case, the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands has an unusual ability to integrate details that many of us miss within a much broader context of social and legal implications. I learned a lot from what she just said. It concerns me as well.

I would like her to take this a bit broader and talk not about the impact of victims within prison walls but about their families and what implications there might be for actually increasing the cost to society in a variety of ways.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 3:15 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, that has been a concern of a number of the witnesses who testified before the committee. If a fine is levied against individuals for a relatively minor offence and they lack the ability to pay, it essentially could recriminalize them and prevent them from being able to care for their dependents. That was one of the grounds we would now repeal, that a judge could have concern for whether there was undue hardship on the perpetrators of the crime, or on their families.

I remember this well. I was thinking of it earlier when the member for Cape Breton—Canso spoke of the progress that has been made by the Mi’kmaq people of Waycobah. Years ago, I remember reading the story in the paper of the criminal conviction of a young man from Whycocomagh, nearby, for the theft of a pizza from the local store. It was “theft under”. It was punishable by summary conviction. He had jail time, and under this new law he would also be immediately fined $100, for which there would be absolutely no recourse. That is a mistake. It would do damage to families, it would do damage to the individuals involved and it would add nothing to the overall health and wellbeing of our society.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 3:15 p.m.
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Independent

Bruce Hyer Independent Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been concerned for quite a while that even when there is legislation that most of us agree with, like this—all of us want to see adequate protection and, if necessary, compensation for victims—the members of the government virtually never vote for any amendments to any of their legislation. They apparently feel that they have it perfect. The hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands may want to add to my comment that I hope this is one time that they will consider a small amendment to an important piece of legislation to prevent a big error and to improve the legislation.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 3:15 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to urge that we could, at report stage, make amendments. In this case, as in most cases, we have seen efforts made at committee. I want to particularly note that the former minister of justice, with whom I have worked on this file, who is currently the Liberal member for Mount Royal, has worked very hard on this as well and sees some of the same issues that I see.

Victim services are not advanced if we create more people in prisons. I completely support increasing the fine. I completely support that we track the funds and make sure they are going from provinces to victim services. However, it certainly is wrong to remove judicial discretion. Only a judge, having watched an accused in a proceeding, having tested the evidence, and at the point of sentencing, has the ability to look at the accused person and decide whether applying the fine would be in the interests of public security and safety, or counterproductive.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 3:15 p.m.
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Delta—Richmond East B.C.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member's comments with interest. However, there are many aspects of this program that she failed to mention, such as the fine option program that is available in virtually every province and territory of the country. There are other systems in place where it is not available. Someone tasked with paying a victim surcharge can pay it off with community service or the like.

These surcharges that we are talking about are $100 for a summary conviction and $200 for an indictable offence. We are not talking about onerous fines, nor will people go to jail for non-payment unless they refuse and are in contempt of court.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 3:20 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Supreme Court of Canada has held that an offender should not be imprisoned for non-payment. However, to someone who has no money, $100 might as well be $1,000 or $10,000.

In the class of those people most likely to be imprisoned, there are people for whom the application of these fines represents the kind of challenge that will prevent them from getting back on the road. That is why the Canadian Bar Association has urged that changes be made to this legislation. The Green Party joins them in that quest. I hope we will find a way to reintroduce judicial discretion at many more points throughout our criminal law system.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 3:20 p.m.
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Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe New Brunswick

Conservative

Robert Goguen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today for the third reading of Bill C-37, the increasing offenders' accountability act. The bill proposes amendments to the victim surcharge provisions of the Criminal Code, which would address longstanding issues with the operation of the victim surcharge.

I am also pleased to say that Bill C-37 was reported back to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights without any amendments.

All members of the House who believe that responsibility for crime begins with the offenders who commit those crimes should applaud the reforms included in the bill. Bill C-37 is not a long bill, nor are the amendments it proposes overly technical or complicated. However, we must not be misled into thinking that the proposed amendments are not of vital importance. Indeed, Bill C-37 is a small bill that will have a big impact. It will have an impact on offenders, who will be held accountable for their actions, and it will have an impact on victims of crime who need services to help them recover from their victimization.

The current victim surcharge provisions in the Criminal Code have not met their intended goals. The requirement for an offender to pay a victim surcharge dates back to amendments made to the Criminal Code in 1988. Ten years later, amendments to those original provisions were proposed in the report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights entitled, “Victims' Rights—A Voice, Not a Veto”.

The government response to that report described the original victim surcharge provisions as having two goals. First was to make each offender accountable in a small way to victims of crime as a group. Second was to generate revenue for victim services. The government response to the committee's report also noted that the original victim surcharge provisions had fallen far short of expectations. The amendments to the victim surcharge provisions that followed in 2000 also failed to address problems with the operation of the victim surcharge. How do we know this? The victim surcharge is still not being applied in all appropriate cases and it is not generating the revenue that it should for victim services.

There are two very important consequences that flow from the problems with the victim surcharge provisions. The first is that offenders are not being held accountable for their actions. Currently, a sentencing court may exempt an offender from paying the victim surcharge if it will cause undue hardship to the offender or the offender's dependants. However, overly high waiver rates have revealed that the victim surcharge is not being imposed as it should. The victim surcharge is being routinely waived without the required supporting evidence showing that it would cause undue hardship to the offender or the offender's dependants.

The money from the victim surcharge is used by the province or territory where the offender is sentenced to fund services for victims of crime. This is how the first goal of holding offenders accountable to victims of crime as a group is intended to be met, by having each offender contribute a small amount to victim services in their province or territory. As many offenders are inappropriately exempted from paying the victim surcharge, it is clear that this goal is not being met.

The second consequence flowing from the problems with the current surcharge provisions is that revenues from the victim surcharge have never realized their potential. The provinces and territories have reported this problem since the victim surcharge provisions were first created. Therefore, we also know that the second goal of the victim surcharge, that of generating revenue for victim services, has not been met either.

This is why we introduced Bill C-37, to ensure that for the first time the victim surcharge would meet its goals. Bill C-37 would address the problems with the victim surcharge provisions in the Criminal Code in three ways. First, it would ensure that the victim surcharge is applied to all offenders by removing the ability of the sentencing court to waive the victim surcharge for undue hardship. This is a crucial step in reforming these provisions.

During the committee hearings for Bill C-37, a number of witnesses testified that they considered this to be the most important element of the bill. Why? If offenders are not required to pay the victim surcharge, then no amount of reform in this area will be able to effectively address the problems with these provisions. Therefore, the first step in ensuring that the victim surcharge makes offenders accountable and generates revenue for victim services is to make it mandatory in all cases without exception.

The second step taken by Bill C-37 is to provide alternatives for those offenders who are truly unable to pay the amount owing. The victim surcharge amounts are not high, however, we recognize that there will be cases where offenders simply will not be able to make the payment.

Currently, an offender may not discharge the victim surcharge through a fine option program. Bill C-37 would address this by allowing offenders who cannot pay the victim surcharge to discharge the amount owing by participating in provincial or territorial fine option programs. Providing this option for offenders is a reasonable alternative that would ensure the victim surcharge is applied in all cases while allowing offenders who are not able to pay the amount owing to demonstrate their accountability for the harm they have caused to victims by performing community services associated with fine option programs. This is a fitting compromise that meets the first goal of the victim surcharge.

These two proposed amendments of removing the court's ability to waive the victim surcharge and allowing offenders to discharge the victim surcharge through the fine option programs are companion amendments. They work together to make offenders accountable.

Victims' advocates who appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on Bill C-37 gave their views on offenders participating in fine option programs in cases where the offender is unable to make contributions to victim services. All agree that this is a reasonable alternative for these offenders.

The third area of reform proposed by Bill C-37 is to double the amount of the victim surcharge. Currently, the victim surcharge is 15% of any fine imposed. Under Bill C-37, this amount would be raised to 30% of any fine imposed. In cases where an offender is not sentenced to pay a fine, Bill C-37 would double the victim surcharge from $50 to $100 for summary conviction offences and from $100 to $200 for indictable offences.

At first glance, it might appear that these elements of the bill serve only the second goal of the victim surcharge: to generate revenue for victim services. However, this is not the case. In fact, this reform would serve both the goals of the victim surcharge as it would make offenders accountable to victims as a group by ensuring that the offenders contribute meaningful amounts to victim services.

As I noted earlier, the victim surcharge has not been increased since 2000. Twelve years have passed since the last increase. Twelve years have passed with victim services not receiving the revenue they expected and needed. Twelve years have passed with victims not being able to access the range of services that they require because the funding simply was not available to expand those services to meet victims' needs.

Once again, I will refer to the testimony presented by the victims and the victims' advocates at the committee hearings for Bill C-37 because they said it best. They shared their first-hand experiences about the need for victim services and how unrealized victim surcharge revenues have affected the availability of those services.

We heard about victims who had gone into debt and remortgaged their homes in order to pay the cost of their victimization. We also heard about victims who hired specialized counselling to help them deal with the aftermath of crime, but who had to pay for those services themselves because these services were either unavailable or only available on a short-term basis under provincial-territorial victim service programs.

This testimony was not offered to lay blame on provincial-territorial victim service programs. We know that those programs are staffed with dedicated individuals who are committed to helping victims and who accomplish great things with the limited resources they have. This testimony was offered to illustrate the need for more resources so that victims would be able to access the help they need without going into debt.

The increases proposed by Bill C-37 are not extreme. These are not huge sums of money. For most offenders, they would be manageable amounts. However, for those offenders who cannot pay the victim surcharge, the fine option programs would be available to discharge the amount owing.

Despite the documented need for reforms to the victim surcharge provisions and the many benefits of the approach proposed by Bill C-37, questions have been raised about the potential impact of these amendments on impecunious offenders. In fact, it has been suggested that we did not consider this issue when developing Bill C-37.

As I noted earlier, Bill C-37 proposes to amend the Criminal Code to allow the victim surcharge to be satisfied through an offender's participation in a fine option program. Despite this, it has been suggested that removing the option of waiving the victim surcharge in cases where payment could cause undue hardship to the offender or the offender's dependants would result in the imprisonment of offenders who are unable to pay the victim surcharge. Some have gone so far as to suggest that the reforms in Bill C-37 would result in a return to the debtors' prisons of Dickensian times. This is simply not true.

Fine option programs exist in all but three provinces. Therefore, in the majority of cases, offenders who are unable to pay the victim surcharge would be able to avail themselves of a fine option program to discharge the amount owing. Fine option programs are not offered in Ontario, British Columbia or Newfoundland and Labrador. However, all three of these provinces offer alternative mechanisms for offenders who are unable to pay a fine in full at the time of its imposition. All of these mechanisms would be available to offenders who are unable to pay the victim surcharge.

For example, British Columbia offers an offender who is unable to pay a victim surcharge the ability to make an application to a judge to have it converted to a community service. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the fines administration division provides financial counselling to debtors. The division may either enter into a final payment agreement with the offender or the court may grant an extension of time to pay fines ordered if the offender is unable to pay immediately.

Other mechanisms, such as licence suspension or revocation, are available in all three provinces to encourage offenders to pay. I should also note that any sentencing court in Canada may order a payment plan or an extension of time to pay for an offender who is ordered to pay the victim surcharge. This has always been the case and it would not be changed by Bill C-37.

Bill C-37, therefore, would ensure that there are alternatives for offenders who cannot pay the victim surcharge and this would satisfy the first goal of the victim surcharge, which is to make offenders accountable in a small way to victims.

Finally, I will mention one last point made so eloquently by victims and victim advocates at the committee hearings for Bill C-37. They noted that, over the past 25 years, the potential undue harm to offenders who must pay the victim surcharge has received a great deal of consideration. However, no one has considered the undue harm to victims from the waiver and non-payment of the victim surcharge. Their point is significant and deserves our attention.

Victims need help in dealing with the aftermath of crime. Its effects are far-reaching and may last a lifetime. Victims, through no fault of their own, find themselves in a situation where they require services to put their lives back together. Those services are essential and they require appropriate funding. The victim surcharge is one way of adding to the funding provided by the provinces, the territories and the federal government.

Through the federal victims strategy, we provide $11.6 million annually through the victims fund for grants and contributions to create and enhance services for victims of crime. This government remains committed to holding offenders accountable for their actions and to assisting victims of crime.

Ensuring that offenders pay the victim surcharge as a way of demonstrating their accountability through contributions to victim services is one way to achieve this goal. It is a goal that is supported in Bill C-37 and which deserves the support of all members of this House.

I trust that all members agree that these reforms would further our collective goal of ensuring that the victim surcharge provisions finally reach their potential.

We have waited 25 years. Victims have waited 25 years. Let us not wait any longer. The time to hold offenders accountable is now. I hope we can count on the support of all members to ensure swift passage of this very important crime bill.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 3:35 p.m.
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NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I failed to hear any logical rationale for this proposed change, except for the fact that it is another example of the Conservatives trying to remove judicial discretion. We have seen that time after time in all fields.

If the rationale is that perhaps a woman who is raped would seek to have psychological counselling, $200 would be probably one appointment. There does not seem to be any logical reason for this except for some kind of heavy-handed punishment of those who disobey the law.

Why can there not be some degree of judicial discretion, particularly when we hear that there are so many incarcerated people who are suffering from mental troubles? Surely the logical place for this compensation is: first, for the government to finally put in enough money for victim compensation; second, to assist the court in ordering restorative justice, actual work in the community or whatever is appropriate; and third, providing assistance for victims to go to civil courts.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 3:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Robert Goguen Conservative Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure if there was a question there but, as to the logic of the bill, it is very simple. It is to provide funds for victim services.

Victims, by and large, have their entire lives disrupted and oftentimes do not have the resources to try to piece their life back together. This is an attempt, whether it be monetarily or through community services, to try to assist the community and the victims as a result of the crime perpetrated upon them.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 3:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt that Canadians have many concerns, victims in particular, in regard to what role the government wants to play in terms of doing more than just talking.

I will give a specific example. We have fine option programs. Some provinces have different types of programs than other provinces. There are all sorts of victim services programs. Some provinces provide different types of victim services programs than other provinces.

On that front, we have seen a vacuum or a lack of national leadership in regard to the government trying to ensure that there is some form of standards or national program that would address the issue of victim services or fine option type programs.

What would the member suggest his Prime Minister do to deal with that aspect of victims of crime?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Robert Goguen Conservative Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, the willingness of the federal government to permit the provinces and territories to impose a fine option program suited to their needs should not be confused with a lack of leadership. It is simply recognizing the ability of the provinces to know what their needs are.

The Liberal Party has a different way of doing things. We believe the provinces are more than capable of administering justice, as the Constitution provides for the administration of justice in their realm.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, in the time that I have been in this place I have witnessed some amazing things. I have seen the opposition members oppose job creation measures. I have seen them object to low taxes. I have seen them oppose union transparency, reforms to reduce immigration wait times and responsible resource development regulation.

Does the hon. parliamentary secretary think that the opposition may also oppose these very long overdue reforms, oppose, for example, allowing people who cannot afford to pay victim surcharges to instead do community service? Does he expect that?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Robert Goguen Conservative Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I cannot surmise exactly what the opposition members will do faced with such a circumstance. We certainly know that they have opposed, by and large, just about every aspect of trying to protect the public from crime and basically standing up for victims.

However, I will leave it to the opposition members to make their decision about whether they, like most Canadians, want the government to stand up for victims and do everything possible to protect them.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his speech. One of the concerns heard in committee was that, for many victims, the compensation program varies from province to province. I heard the response the parliamentary secretary gave earlier to the other hon. member, to the effect that the government respects the provinces' jurisdiction.

However, that is still problematic. Indeed, we heard the mother of the victim of a crime committed in Newfoundland and Labrador, who lives in Alberta. That is a rather complex system.

Therefore, I am wondering if we can get the government's assurance that a serious conversation will take place with provincial counterparts to try to have similar systems. We are all respectful of provincial jurisdictions, but it is also important to be entitled to the same services from coast to coast to coast.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Robert Goguen Conservative Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, that is a good point. Of course, as regards discussions, there is a federal ombudsman for victims of criminal acts to whom one can refer or make comments and ask for some consistency in the provision of services. Also, all our counterparts, all the provincial justice ministers, meet regularly. They have the responsibility to develop best practices, based on the needs of their respective provinces.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

My colleagues are applauding, and I thank them on behalf of the victims. It has long been said that the New Democratic Party is not against victims, like it or not; it is on the contrary in favour of a fair, logical and intelligent system. However, sometimes that is not entirely the case with respect to the bills introduced by the present government. I would certainly not say that this bill is perfect, since it will occasion enormous disappointment. While we support it in its current form—it is difficult to be against virtue, as my mother would say—we do have some concerns: among other things, as to whether our colleagues opposite really listened to the 14 witnesses who testified before the committee.

I take this opportunity to digress in order to thank those who served on the committee studying this bill. It may not be the case with regard to Bill C-279, which did not end well and came to an extremely disappointing conclusion, but with respect to Bill C-37, solid work was done in committee. Some extremely worthwhile witnesses explained their concerns, and the issues they had experienced.

They also highlighted what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice explained to us just now: that in Canada, victims of crime are unfortunately left to themselves in many cases, in a manner that differs from province to province or from territory to territory. They often spend fortunes trying to obtain reparation, which they will never receive in full, and we are all very much aware of that. They will never obtain full reparation for the plain and simple reason that when you have been the victim of a rape, for example, or a family member has been killed or kidnapped, compensation is an impossibility. Nothing can compensate for a crime of that sort. There is simply no way to achieve it. It may be possible to offer help, but that is all, and that is what a bill like this tries to do.

There is a problem with the victim surcharge which has existed since it was established in the late 1980s. The Criminal Code takes the approach that a sum can be added to the sentence. We have now doubled that sum, but I will not talk about it, because enough people have done so, and others will do so. After all these years, moreover, I agree that it is not the end of the world. However, that has been the problem from the beginning, and that is why we agreed to refer the bill to committee, so that we could actually hear some witnesses on the subject.

My question concerns judicial discretion. My colleague, the member for Edmonton—Strathcona, posed the same question a short time ago. This is somewhat worrying, because the government is constantly withdrawing the discretionary component of judges’ authority. Nevertheless—I shall come back to this—I am reassured, not 100%, but rather 98%, because the Canadian judicial system will make up for Conservative mismanagement. That is more or less how I see it. It is sad to have to rely on the courts, but at the same time, the importance of victims weighed more heavily in the balance for me, and I believe the same is true of the NDP caucus and all members of this House.

However, I am not necessarily proud to see that Canadian judges have imposed a victim surcharge in only a very small percentage of cases since the system was introduced. And yet this system was designed to help victims. If it had been because the accused or the convicted individual was unable to pay, as the Criminal Code provided, that would have been different.

The burden of proof was on the accused, who therefore had to prove to the court that the surcharge was too much and that he was unable to pay it.

We would have had extraordinary statistics on the kind of individual who appears before our courts, but, no, the judges invariably did not impose it, and did so without explanation. That is where the problem started. The provinces expected to receive some revenue from the victim surcharge. That money goes into the provinces' victims of crime compensation funds, except in the three provinces that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice mentioned. One morning the provinces woke up and asked where the money from the victim surcharge was.

I also agree that this should not be the only fund. In 2003, we were told that the cost of victim damages represented approximately $70 billion. That is not peanuts. However, surcharges can only put a few hundreds million dollars in the coffers. We are still a long way off.

Victims must not imagine that this is a panacea. Passing Bill C-37 will not solve all the problems in Canada so the Conservative government, that great champion of Canadian victims, can suddenly wave around its Bill C-37. That is absolutely not enough, particularly since the vast majority of provinces and territories permitted what is called community service programs.

That is the other aspect that reminds me that some people in the correctional system are unable to pay this amount. Those inmates are unable to pay this kind of surcharge; the crime they committed has nothing to do with the argument I want to make.

The people from the Department of Justice told us that the decision in R. v. Wu would continue to be applied. According to that decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, no one may be imprisoned merely on the basis of inability to pay a fine. In that case, the system is okay.

However, once again I would like to shed some light on a problem with community service programs. Some groups that came to testify before the committee during consideration of the bill are convinced that, if this bill is passed, they will suddenly be able to get compensation for their damages. However, that will not happen. In the majority of cases, the offenders will not pay and will have to do community service.

As the parliamentary secretary noted, that suited some people, because they were asked whether they would be disappointed at not receiving money if the person went into a community service program. Community service programs are not just for people who have no money, but also for anyone who can do it that way. Everyone has access to those programs, provided a program is available in the region where the request is made. Some people, not everyone, said that they would prefer to have the money.

Let me take this opportunity to say that, rather than adopt victim surcharge systems such as these ones, perhaps this brilliant law-and-order Conservative government should get with the times and follow the example of various countries on this magnificent planet that are tending toward restorative justice

I see the member who introduced the bill on this matter and an example springs to mind. The case of a person who commits a crime by destroying national monuments is a very sad one. Which is harder for that person, paying $100 out of his pocket or appearing in front of a group of legion members and having to apologize?

Let me take a brief trip back to my childhood. When my parents punished me and sent me to my room, it made little difference to me. It gave me some peace and quiet. However, when my parents told me to go and apologize to the person I had offended, I admit that was the worst punishment for me because being compelled to admit you have made a mistake is, in a way, a form of humiliation.

Countries a little more in tune with the reality of what punishment should be, should head in that direction. They should make someone who has done something realize what he has done so that he does not do it again. The advice I have for the members opposite is to realize that always pulling out a stick and slapping people's hands does not accomplish much and that it is time to start considering other options.

All that to say that, in the context of Bill C-37, yes, it bothers me that judges are no longer granted this discretion. However, let me tell all my colleagues in this House, including my colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands, that they were not using that discretion properly in any case. By that I mean that we have no idea why they granted an exemption to virtually everyone who appeared in court. It was as though the victim surcharge did not exist. To my mind, that is as intolerable as saying that a form of discretion is being taken away.

However, R. v. Wu has nevertheless had an impact. It is clear from our study in committee that the provinces and territories do not automatically impose a term of imprisonment because an individual does not pay, unless someone does it on purpose. Some will withhold driver's licences or documents from certain provinces. Some colleagues here will tell me that the most disadvantaged people we deal with do not have cars. I agree: they do not have cars, and we therefore cannot withhold their licence. However, they have other possessions that make it possible for us to make arrangements with them. The time is past when people were imprisoned for the fun of it, because they did not pay their fines.

I am repeating this because the message needs to be sent. We know that on Christmas Eve, the members opposite will be walking around saying that they have again saved the lives of X number of victims. I am disappointed to think that we have raised people's hopes and we are making them believe things that are not true. We cannot claim victory for the victims too quickly, because we have to be sure that the money that will be collected in the victim surcharge account is paid into the provincial and territorial accounts so it can be used and distributed to victims’ groups.

I do not have much time left, but still, I would like to take advantage of this opportunity. At the Standing Committee on Justice, we have seen just about everything. We are revamping Canada's criminal justice system, which prompts many different questions and leaves many of them unanswered. We do not have the time to conduct all of our studies in depth. With regard to Bill C-10, we will probably be told by the courts that it was all done much too quickly, in some respects. It is the government that will have to take the fall for this.

Regarding Bill C-37, I am reasonably satisfied just the same, as almost all of the witnesses we wanted to hear from were able to appear. Regarding the witnesses we were unable to hear, it was not because we were prevented from hearing them, but rather because they were not able to travel. I know that the bill is not perfect and that it poses the same problems for my colleagues in the Canadian Bar Association and the Barreau du Québec as it does for us. This is discouraging, because we have the time. There have been no changes for 30 years, and before any adjustments are made, sometimes it is worthwhile to spend a little more time and try to get it right.

I enjoy working with my colleague from Delta—Richmond East, the government's spokesperson on the committee. I enjoy our discussions and this new procedure, even though it was a bit of a flop last week, which I am going to say was because everyone was tired. I hope we all come back to the committee in an excellent mood.

I would like to urge everyone to support this bill for the victims. We in the NDP made promises. We have of course heard the recommendations from the Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. That was one of the planks in our platform during the last election campaign. We will present it better when we are in power in 2015. We will make sure to compensate the victims and fill in all the gaps in what is called justice in Canada.

I would like to end by thanking my NDP colleagues. I thank the deputy justice critic, my colleague from Toronto—Danforth, my colleague from Brome—Missisquoi and my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou for their excellent work on the committee. It was a huge endeavour, and their approach was serious and scrupulous, as required by this justice issue. Mr. Speaker, you know this file, because you were the justice critic for many long years and you mentored many of us here in the House. Frequently, on this issue, we try to rise above partisan politics, because people's lives are at stake and the issue is justice.

I would be remiss if I did not thank the people on the committee, as well as the committee clerk, Jean-François Pagé, and his assistants, and especially the people from the Library of Parliament, who often work in the shadows. We never say it often enough, but they do thorough, non-partisan work at the level of seasoned university researchers. Their work makes it possible for us to meet the various witnesses who come before us in committee and to be knowledgeable about the topic.

I encourage everyone who is interested in victim surcharges and the current programs in the various provinces and territories to read the two documents that were written for the study of Bill C-37.

I would of course like to thank the people on my team—I call them “Team Gatineau”—for all the support they have given me in 2012.

On that note, I would like to wish everyone happy holidays.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 4 p.m.
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Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I first want to thank my colleague for what I know are extraordinarily generous comments from her about a government bill and for her support of the bill. I also want to commend her and her mother for coming up with the principle that it is difficult to oppose virtue. The first thing I thought of when I heard my colleague say so was to invite her to cross the floor, to come over to this side and put an end to all of her difficulties. She would no longer have to oppose virtue, if she did that. Failing that, if she feels she cannot cross the floor, I hope she will spread that philosophy to her colleagues on the opposition side.

I want to take a moment to brag about my home town of Kitchener, where Judge Kirkpatrick was the first judge to invent the community service order through what he called the rehabilitative remand. It has now spread across Canada. Mark Yantzi of Kitchener was the first person to invent the victim offender reconciliation program, which has now spread across Canada. I am very proud to represent my community and a party that has the right balance of prevention, rehabilitation and judicial deterrence where necessary.

I would like to ask my colleague what she found to be the most appealing provision in this excellent bill.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 4 p.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to settle the issue raised by my colleague with regard to my crossing the floor. First of all, my mother would refuse to speak to me if I were to do that. I became a New Democrat member of Parliament not by crossing the floor of the House of Commons, but by giving the matter serious and thorough consideration at a time when I was not a member of this House. This is a very different thing from crossing the floor of the House. My mother simply said that she would accept my decision, although she did say that she would disown me if I ever decided to join the Conservatives. I understood what she meant. That will not happen. There is no problem in that regard.

What I thought was the best thing about the bill, which does not have many clauses, was the title. I am joking with my colleague from Kitchener Centre.

In my opinion, it is high time that the surcharges were increased, because they have been at the same level for a number of years. Despite the fact that the bill eliminates the judge's discretion to not impose the victim surcharge on an offender who can prove that he is unable to pay, it does make offenders eligible for fine option programs, something it did not do before.

The judge's discretion has been removed, but access to fine option programs makes the victim surcharge subject to existing provincial and territorial legislation. If this had not been the case, we would have found it impossible to support the bill. With the implementation of this kind of measure, together with the ruling in R. v. Wu, I would be extremely surprised if anyone who is unable to pay the victim surcharge finds himself in jail.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 4:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member referred to the positive impact on a victim from meeting with the person who might have violated him or her in whatever manner.

I chaired a youth justice committee for a number of years, where we had the principle of restorative justice. That principle we do not hear very much about inside the House. However, it is a valuable tool and something that we need to look at and expand as much as possible to the point where the person who committed the offence will enter the same room as the victim—if the latter wants to do so. A great deal of satisfaction comes out of that as a direct result.

Could my colleague expand on the role of restorative justice? I ask because we have talked a lot about victims' services in this debate but I do not think we have heard enough about restorative justice.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 4:05 p.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Quite so, Mr. Speaker, and that is why I referred to the concept. I know that it is increasingly popular in Quebec. As I said in my speech, some people are genuinely anxious to improve the situation.

The Conservatives often tell us that we are against victims, but that is not the case, because we want there to be no more victims. People are working hard to find ways to achieve prevention. This sometimes means working harder to fight poverty. Many studies of crime prove this, and there are specialists who spend years studying the issue, using identikit portraits. Once you have the information and you know what works and what does not work, you have to work accordingly.

In French we refer to justice réparatrice to translate “restorative justice”. The word is apt: restorative justice effects a “repair”. That does not mean that every victim necessarily wants to meet their assailant. However, there can be ways for a person to repay society for the crime they have committed so that it is more beneficial than just taking the money and putting it somewhere. Yes, it is tough. On the other hand, such programs must not be allowed to serve just to let people off the hook, like the victim surcharge.

In my riding, Gatineau, as in every riding, community organizations are struggling to deal with the increasing withdrawal from programs by the various levels of government. There are absolutely monumental gaps. These people are working miracles with next to nothing. The victim surcharge must not become the only solution for victims. That is not what it is. Let us try to find a happy medium in all this.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 4:10 p.m.
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NDP

Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my distinguished colleague for her very persuasive speech, and I also thank the member for Gatineau, who works very hard as justice critic and vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

That being said, I understand from her speech that the NDP firmly supports victims of crime and their families and respects the recommendations of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. The NDP recognizes the importance of supporting the discretion granted to judges.

The Conservatives are using this bill to show that they are the protectors of victims and families, but would they not protect them by engaging in genuine prevention? What does it mean to engage in “genuine prevention” to reduce the number of potential crime victims? Hiring more police? Strengthening the social fabric and all of that? I will let the member for Gatineau continue.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 4:10 p.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, my colleague from Brome—Missisquoi brings an absolutely extraordinary background to this subject. He has done a lot of work with young people to try to lower the crime rate. He has made a start on listing many of the solutions.

Just to come back to his introduction, I will say that we do support victims; we support the ombudsman’s recommendations. We would have liked to retain that discretion, if it had been properly used by the courts, which in this case, as a rare exception, perhaps did not use it advisedly. If that is the case—since I do not want to be accused of criticizing the courts—we do not know why. There was a section in the Criminal Code, however, that said that judges had to state why they were not imposing a victim surcharge.

On the question of lowering the crime rate, there is so much to be said. As we know, it is often said that poverty can sometimes lead some people to commit certain crimes, such as some kinds of theft. In the case of certain kinds of abuse, whether it be sexual violence or discrimination, a lot of education still needs to be done.

Last week, we had some trouble and the committee went right off the rails concerning Bill C-279. This was a direct result of a failure to understand the charter and human rights. We saw supposedly educated adults dealing with this problem. We can imagine what happens when some people in society do not have the benefit of all the resources that are available to us. I will say no more, because there are other people who would like to speak.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 4:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-37 and the question of the victim surcharge. If passed, this legislation will double the amount of the federal victim surcharge and will also remove the possibility of judicial discretion to waive the surcharge in cases where it will result in undue hardship on an offender or on his or her dependants.

I will begin by reiterating that everyone in the House supports the funding of victim services. There is no debate on this issue of indemnification. The policy question is how best to do so and even a cursory analysis of Bill C-37 reflects a deeply flawed policy approach that will have prejudicial fallout, particularly for the most vulnerable of Canadians.

Before addressing my particular concerns over the policy behind this legislation, I will make a brief mention of alternatives. The premise of the government at first with respect to this bill was that victim services needed increased funding from the federal government. We on this side of the House do not disagree. We support the direct funding of such efforts through grant making and the like. The issue is that the question, “should more money go to this?” is not the question that is before us now.

Just last week, the House voted on budget Bill C-45. Canadians may be interested to know that this legislation does not use the word “victim” even once. This is perhaps unsurprising since the budget speech did not use the word “victim” once. My point here is not to suggest that the government does not fund victim services. The point is that if the objective were truly to ensure adequate funding for such services, it would seem that the budget would be the most logical place in which to show support for this notion and through which to disburse funds on a matter that the Conservatives consistently characterize as a priority.

Regrettably, the government has not chosen to make direct funding of victim services part of its budget legislation. Instead, it has proposed to increase funding through the doubling of the surcharge amount.

Yet, as was noted at second reading, and as was further elucidated in the witness testimony before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, the doubling is not based on adequate consultations with relevant stakeholders and, in particular, provincial attorneys general. Indeed, the government has not provided any evidence-based foundation that the doubling of the surcharge is sufficient to provide sustainable services for victims of crime in all provinces and territories, which would be something that we would all seek to see.

During our first committee meeting, I raised this concern with the Minister of Justice, noting that when I was minister of justice in 2005, the then attorney general of Manitoba had recommended that the surcharge amount be raised from 15% of any fine imposed to 20%, an increase of only 5%. Recall that the bill before us today would double the surcharge amount in all cases. While I am well aware that circumstances can be expected to have changed since 2005, as has the attorney general of Manitoba, it seemed more than appropriate to ask the minister what input he had received from his provincial counterparts in this regard.

The minister did not provide specifics regarding amounts and percentages but did state, in response to a similar question from a colleague:

Again, I believe this will be well received. These funds will go straight into provincial coffers, straight into the programs they have to assist victims of crime. My prediction is that this will be very well received.

Mr. Speaker, the minister's projections, to paraphrase him, are not an adequate consultation process.

Did he raise this issue with his provincial counterparts? When did he discuss it with the Quebec justice minister? When did he raise it with Nunavut's justice minister?

There is no need to be minister or clairvoyant to understand that these two jurisdictions have different needs. What did the provincial ministers want to know? How are these differences reflected in the bill?

Let us be clear. We know there are disparities. For the year 2006, the most recent year for which such statistics are available, the actual revenue produced by the federal surcharge varied drastically by region, with Quebec taking in approximately $2.2 million in surcharge revenue and Ontario taking in approximately $1.2 million. How do we account for this? How would this legislation take this into account? Indeed, I am returning to my primary question here: How was the determination made to double the surcharge? What was the evidence-based foundation for this?

On this point, I recently received an email from the former ombudsman for victims of crime, Mr. Steve Sullivan, who expressed concern to me with regard to the committee testimony at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights of Ms. Susan O'Sullivan, the current Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime.

Mr. Sullivan was troubled by Ms. O’Sullivan’s contention that her recommendation to double the surcharge amount was itself based on the recommendation of her predecessor Mr. Sullivan. However, Mr. Sullivan stressed that in 2009, during his tenure as ombudsman, he in fact recommended no such thing. Although at the time he supported removing the undue hardship defence, he stressed that he “thought then, as I do now, that it was not appropriate to double fines if judges were waiving fines because of their belief...that offenders could not pay existing fines”. I only raise this to correct the record on behalf of Mr. Sullivan.

At the risk of repeating a recurring theme that I addressed during second reading, the question was raised as to when we would next be back in Parliament to raise the surcharge again. Will this be an annual parliamentary occurrence? Perhaps some provinces view the amount received currently as being sufficient. Without adequate consultation on this legislation, there is no good way to predict, which the minister said hew as prepared to do so, just how soon we will be back here debating it again and whether or not it is having a beneficial impact in the way the government so envisages.

Beyond the problematic approach to legislating without accounting for the different needs of individual provinces and territories, this legislation is seriously flawed in its presupposition that the surcharge ought to be the primary funding source in the interests of victims. Simply put, the surcharge is only imposed upon conviction. The result is that in situations where no suspect is apprehended or where no conviction is obtained because of problems with the evidence, no surcharge will ever be imposed.

There is an example I have mentioned before, but I believe it bears repeating. One of the most common crimes in our country, sexual assault, is one of the least likely to result in a conviction. Indeed, in many cases of sexual assault charges are not even pressed for a variety of reasons, including that these victims are not necessarily comfortable facing their attacker in open court. In these instances, no surcharge will be collected. How does the government propose to help these victims of crime through the mandatory collection of a surcharge if there may never be a conviction secured.

Even if there had been adequate consultation with all provinces and territories and even if this were reflected in the legislation, there would still be good reason to oppose the bill given that it removes the judicial discretion of judges to consider the undue hardship that imposing the surcharge may have on individual defenders or their dependents. Indeed, this aspect of the bill is particularly problematic and counterproductive.

As was observed in witness testimony before our committee by Catherine Latimer of the John Howard Society, this change would result in harsh financial consequences for the many marginalized members of our society: the poor, the mentally ill and low income Canadians, as well as minorities such as aboriginal Canadians, who are already grossly represented within the criminal justice system itself.

The problem is that serious consequences, including incarceration, can result in the failure to pay a court-ordered fine or surcharge. Indeed, the injustice and inequity of a mandatory financial penalty, absent judicial discretion to waive it based on an inability to pay, is not just a matter of my own opinion or the opinion of some Canadians. Indeed, it is the opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada, which stated in the case of R. v. Wu, “it is irrational to imprison an offender who does not have the capacity to pay [a fine] on the basis that imprisonment will force [payment]”. In that case, the court further stated, “For the impecunious offenders...imprisonment in default of payment of a fine is not an alternative punishment — he or she does not have any real choice in the matter”.

This bill puts the most vulnerable Canadians in a situation where they may have to face incarceration, not because a court has deemed jail to be the proper punishment warranted by the offence for which they have been convicted, but only because they lack the financial resources to pay the mandatory surcharge. I submit that this is prejudicial and in violation of the law as defined by our nation's highest court.

Further anticipating the consequences of this bill if it were to be adopted, we can expect it to have a disparate impact on Canadians based on their province or territory of residence. Much was made during committee of the particulars of the provincial fine option program, to which I referred briefly earlier in my remarks. Regrettably, the discussion during committee regarding these programs was particularly insufficient and demonstrated a complete lack of understanding by the government in this matter.

The government has defended the removal of judicial discretion to waive the surcharge by arguing that those who are not able to pay can take advantage of provincial fine option programs that allow for the disposal of an individual's surcharge obligation through work or community service. However, as I am sure the members in this place are by now well aware, such programs do not exist in Ontario, British Columbia or Newfoundland and Labrador. Moreover, where they do exist, their availability and eligibility vary drastically.

I would hope that my colleagues in this place would need no explanation as to why I object to legislation that affects Canadians in a discriminatory manner based on where they happen to reside without any reasonable justification.

However, what is particularly troubling was the lack of concern by some of my colleagues during the committee process in this regard. Indeed, one member, noting that the fine option program was clearly a matter of provincial competency, conceded that this was not something the federal government could delve into and went on to observe that it was sufficient that any province could use the funds from the surcharge to implement such a program and that, where no such program exists, other means for enforcing the surcharge might exist.

This line of reasoning, regrettably, entirely misses the point. It is irresponsible for us to pass legislation based on predictions and presumptions about what could happen. Furthermore, the lack of consistency between the provinces and territories in this regard is precisely what would result in a differential prejudicial impact.

The bottom line is that, depending on the specific province or territory, low-income Canadians who are simply not able to meet a surcharge obligation will find themselves disproportionately burdened merely because of financial status and area of residence. Ultimately, one may find himself or herself subject to incarceration for circumstances entirely outside his or her control. I submit that this is prejudicial, inequitable and unacceptable in a free and democratic society.

To conclude my remarks, let me summarize the reasons for my opposition to this legislation.

First, the arbitrariness of the proposed doubling of the surcharge amount must be rejected. The needs of victims vary substantially, as I mentioned, between the provinces and territories.

Second, we must permit judicial discretion and enable judges to consider the specific facts before them, in particular, on the undue hardship that may result in specific instances on either the offender or on his or her dependants.

Third, there are problematic assumptions underlying the government's approach to criminal justice, which considers after-the-fact punitive measures to be an effective means of achieving deterrence, completely ignoring the importance of preventive measures and the need to consider the relationship in various complex social factors in so far as they contribute to both crime and victimization. Indeed, one critical factor that is undeniably related to the problem of crime and recidivism is a cycle of poverty and the marginalization of particular segments of our society. Regrettably, the bill, as it now stands before us, would only exacerbate this problem.

I would like to briefly describe the amendments that I offered at committee, all of which were proposed with the intention of achieving the shared goal of providing support for victims of crime in all provinces and territories and in an effective, sustainable and non-discriminatory fashion. Regrettably, all were rejected, but I believe they deserve discussion here particularly as they may be relevant to our colleagues in the other place during their deliberations in this matter.

My first amendment would have restored the undue hardship defence as it currently exists, but would have implemented a requirement that the court record its reasons for waiving the surcharge in writing. This amendment was directly aimed at improving the surcharge enforcement rate without improperly infringing on the judiciary's authority to consider all the facts before it in a particular instance.

My second amendment would have enabled the court in a jurisdiction where no fine option program existed to suspend the requirement to pay the surcharge based on a finding that the immediate enforcement of the surcharge would result in an undue hardship on the offender or his dependents. This amendment, in line with the Supreme Court decision, would have maintained the mandatory nature of the surcharge in all instances and merely would have enabled the court to suspend the requirement to pay. The surcharge obligation would indeed remain in the event that the individual's financial status should change. Moreover, this amendment would have limited the court's discretion to waive the surcharge to only those jurisdictions where no fine option program was available.

My third amendment would have specifically addressed what I submit should be one of the underlying purposes of criminal justice policy, namely, to prevent recidivism by achieving the rehabilitation of offenders. This amendment would have provided the court with authority to waive the surcharge only in those jurisdictions where no fine option program is available and based on a finding that the requirement to immediately pay would have a negative affect on an individual's rehabilitation. Again, the surcharge obligation would remain should an individual's circumstances change.

My final amendment was intended to codify the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Regina v. Wu, so as to ensure that no Canadian would be subject to imprisonment based on an inability to pay. To be clear, this amendment would not have interfered with the court authority to order incarceration as part of an individual's sentence when so warranted by the specific facts of the case. This amendment would have ensured that neither an individual's financial situation nor the unavailability of a fine option program in a particular jurisdiction would result in incarceration. Put simply, this amendment would have avoided the prejudicial effect of Bill C-37 while preserving its underlying purpose. Despite the fact that this principle has been clarified by the Supreme Court, my amendment was voted down.

The committee process could have produced a version of this bill that accomplished the government's intention and what I am sure is the intention of all members in this place, to ensure the support of victims of crime without prejudicing any Canadians. Regrettably, we are here today to debate the same flawed version of this bill as was sent to committee. Thus, I must oppose the bill, as it is currently written, and urge all members in the House to do the same.

In conclusion, the most effective way to support victims of crime is to propose and promote legislation that prevents victimization in the first place, that seeks to achieve rehabilitation so as to prevent recidivism upon the inevitable return of offenders back into society. Regrettably, we have yet to see justice legislation from the government focusing on prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration, and Bill C-37 would accomplish no such thing. Despite my strong support for legislation that would fund victim services programs, this bill in its current form remains ineffective and will be counterproductive, discriminatory and prejudicial. I therefore will be voting against it.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 4:30 p.m.
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NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I understand that the member for Mount Royal is on the committee and would have heard the testimony by Dr. Irvin Waller, president, International Organization for Victim Assistance. Dr. Waller pointed out something that I took a look at when I was a chief of enforcement and worked in the environmental enforcement field.

In 1984 the United States passed an act called the Victims of Crime Act that allowed the government to go after the major corporations that violated the law in a bigger way. I wonder if the member could speak to whether he thinks it is an adequate remedy to impose $200 on a company that might bilk investors out of millions of dollars or billions of dollars, or other major corporate crimes that may cause major harm to the health and safety of Canadians.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 4:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was present for the testimony of Dr. Irvin Waller. I thought it was an important piece of testimony before the committee. Dr. Waller went beyond the specifics of the surcharge issue to, in fact, recommend larger policy prescriptions. Those policy prescriptions were based on his own comparative studies in other jurisdictions, including, as the hon. member mentioned, that which exists in the United States, and he made particular reference to the importance of the use of the instrumentality of having corporate accountability involved in the indemnification of victim services.

I mentioned to Dr. Waller in the aftermath of his testimony that I would be meeting with him to further pursue this particular remedy and others that he suggested, as I took his testimony, as I say, to go beyond the specifics on the victim surcharge issue and to recommend broader policy proposals, which we should be bearing in mind.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 4:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his remarks. It is always a pleasure to listen to him. He is very articulate and, for the most part, very knowledgeable.

I wonder about one thing. He made a very impassioned argument on the fact that there are three jurisdictions in Canada that do not have a fine option program and he said if there are even only three jurisdictions in Canada where someone might go to jail for being unable to pay a fine, then there is a flaw in this legislation. The member is a former justice minister, a lawyer, and he is well experienced. I want to know if he is going to stand in the House and deny that there is provision in our law that absolutely prevents individuals from going to jail if there is a reason they cannot pay a fine. My understanding is that our law would absolutely not put individuals in jail for non-payment of a fine if in fact they have good reason for not being able to pay it.

I would like to hear the member deny that, if he can.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 4:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that my hon. colleague found only one thing wrong with my speech and made specific reference to the fine option programs in the provinces.

We did indicate that there were three provinces that do not have it, and under the present legislation we may have a situation where we cannot come up with an option in a province that does not have it.

That was the whole question of why I said to codify the principle of the Supreme Court in the Regina v. Wu case, to make it clear that nobody would ever be incarcerated because they could not pay a fine, because the fine option program might not have been available, so that which is said to be an assumption would be made clear in the law.

That is the reason I proposed the amendment, to clarify what could end up being an uncertainty, particularly as we have removed the judicial discretion in these cases, which might have addressed and redressed such an anomaly, if it indeed occurred.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 4:35 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. friend from Mount Royal. Speaking earlier to my own amendment, I credited much of his work in the committee as inspiring efforts that I have made at report stage to try to change the bill.

What concerns me is the complete absence of judicial discretion. What I see is a pattern, one might even say a transformative pattern, of Canadian criminal law in removing judicial discretion. We see it through mandatory minimums. We see it here through mandatory application of fines.

I wonder if my friend, having had the experience of being Canada's justice minister, agrees that there is anything like a pattern occurring here in removing judicial discretion.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 4:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, there is a pattern here: the imposition of mandatory minimums, which accompanies the removal of judicial discretion, increasingly suggesting a mistrust of the independence and integrity of the judiciary to be able to address these issues where they have the appreciation of the facts and circumstances in any particular case, where they can deal with the understanding of the offender, where they can address questions with respect to undue hardships and questions with regard to rehabilitation of the offender.

This leads me to the second concern. That is that the bill follows a pattern, again, of not addressing the complete spectrum of the criminal justice system, where that would include the whole importance of prevention, and not just the question of a punitive approach; where that would include the question of rehabilitation and reintegration of the offender, and again, not just a condemnatory approach; and where we would have, with respect to the process of dealing with these pieces of legislation—whether it be in the House or at committee, which is supposed to be the place to deal with this—the opportunity to propose amendments for the purpose of actually improving the bill as proposed by the government. However, they are summarily rejected, rather than being addressed, when their particular intention is to improve the very legislation brought forward by the government.

We have had situations where we have had a kind of bizarre anomaly where recommendations—and I was in that circumstance—that I made by way of amendment in committee were rejected in committee, only to be brought forward by the government afterwards on rethinking at report stage, and where the Speaker had to say at report stage that those things should have been addressed by committee, and therefore we had to go into the other place to correct this whole process and bring it back here to the House itself, when it could have been initially corrected at committee.

So the issue of process is inextricably bound up with the issue of substance.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 4:35 p.m.
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NDP

Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Mount Royal and I commend him for his work on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

He used the word “prevention”. That term is music to my ears. The NDP supports victims of crime and their families, and it supports the recommendations made by the ombudsman for victims of crime in Canada. The best way to reduce the number of potential victims is to engage in prevention.

I wonder if the hon. member could tell us how we can truly achieve prevention in the current context.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 4:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the hon. member on the importance of prevention. As I said, I think the bill is lacking in that respect. It is also lacking in other respects, but the justice process begins with prevention. That is why I proposed a few amendments. I mentioned those on prevention, but there were also amendments on judicial discretion, rehabilitation and reintegration, while dealing with the protection of victims.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 4:40 p.m.
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NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for this time, which I will be sharing with the hon. member for Manicouagan, when I will state my position on Bill C-37. I would like to tell the House that we support the increasing offenders’ accountability for victims act.

This bill responds to a need expressed by intervenors and lobby groups. Even though our support is not complete, we are satisfied that such a measure will make it possible to award additional sums to victims. Our party has always had a clear position on issues relating to the judicial system. We argue for an equitable, impartial and progressive form of justice.

We believe that victims deserve all the assistance they require, and we believe that our role as parliamentarians is to support them. Criminals must take responsibility for their actions, but we must also remember that it is also our duty to encourage their rehabilitation. Bill C-37 is consistent with this logic, because it recognizes the victims' needs. It forces criminals to confront the consequences of their acts, and allows for the conversion of financial penalties to hours of community service.

The increasing offenders’ accountability for victims act will double the amount of the victim surcharge and make it mandatory for all offenders convicted of a criminal offence. At the moment, if a person's goods are lost or destroyed, or if personal physical or psychological damage is inflicted or threatened, the judge may order an offender who is convicted or discharged to pay an amount directly to the victim for damages.

Currently, a 15% surcharge is added to that amount. The money is used to finance programs that assist victims of crime in the province where the crime was committed. Bill C-37 increases these amounts significantly to 30%, in order to help victims. Thus the surcharge may be $100 instead of $50, $200 instead of $100, and so on.

The bill also changes another aspect of the surcharge. At the moment, an offender may be exempt from paying the surcharge if paying it would cause undue hardship to the offender or the offender's dependents.

Bill C-37 eliminates this aspect of the current law. It permits the offender to discharge the fine in whole or in part by earning credits for work performed. The official opposition welcomes this measure, since it provides an opportunity for offenders to become involved in their communities and make restitution for their offences.

Still, the uniform application of the law is significantly limited by the absence of such programs in Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador. Through this measure, the bill aims to make criminals more accountable for their actions and especially to help the victims of crime. We agree completely with the principle.

However, we believe that there are significant social problems associated with crime and they deserve our attention. For example, 82% of the women in prison have been victims of physical or sexual abuse. That is not an excuse for crime, but it does explain certain aspects. Similarly, poverty often has an influence on the nature and type of crimes committed, and this fact cannot be ignored.

Certainly, the bill does assist victims, and we agree completely with that. Still, it is equally important to attack crime at it roots and rehabilitate the criminals, and the government's current policies ignore these aspects, despite the advice it has received from many experts.

Rather than making massive cuts to federal social programs, the government could have attacked crime at its roots. Rather than constructing prisons to accommodate greater repression under the Conservatives' most recent measures, Canada could have been attacking crime at its roots.

We supported this bill at second reading because we agreed with its principle, but we want to work on improving some of the measures.

We did express some reservations about enforcement and results.

We were particularly concerned that the law might not be enforced uniformly across Canada, especially with regard to victim compensation programs. The lack of a compensation program in Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador, as noted in this bill, limits the extent to which the government's changes can be put into practice.

Thus, the consequences of a crime committed in Montreal would not be the same as if the same crime were committed in Toronto. We cannot create a law like this and find out that some of its elements are completely non-operational in some part of the country.

Therefore, the federal authorities must sit down with their provincial counterparts to make sure there is one justice system for everyone and not a two-tier system because of a lack of structure.

At the moment, the federal program for assistance to victims of crime has a budget of $16 million, but only $3 million is being used. Over 80% of the budget envelope is not being used. Once again, it is essential that the government not limit itself to the surface aspects alone. Once the legislative process is complete, it must really work on enforcement. It is important that the money be set aside for victims of crime, but it is even more important for the victims to actually benefit from that money.

Moreover, crime costs Canada about $70 billion a year, and 70% of that is borne by the victims. In that context, it is essential that the money raised through the surcharge really go to the victims and that additional funds be provided.

We agree completely with the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, who argues for increased funding of programs for this often-neglected group of people, who are directly affected by the Conservative government's budget cuts.

I also want to use this time to call upon the Canadian government to take inspiration form initiatives outside our borders. For example, the United Kingdom and other countries are developing a more evolved concept of restorative justice for victims and for offenders. It would be useful for the Conservatives to consider such ideas seriously as they develop their policies.

The ideas of mutual assistance, mediation between the parties, reparation of the damage caused and restitution would be stressed, for the good of both victims and ex-offenders. Why could we not take our justice system to another level, and go beyond mere technocratic logic?

In conclusion, we will be supporting Bill C-37. We believe that this measure is justified, that it responds to what the community wants and that it will help victims. However, we think it is essential that this government make sure that these measures are applied effectively. We cannot allow a law not to be fair to everyone, from one province to another.

We think the government has to explore other avenues, to develop a modern, proactive system that both promotes rehabilitation and supports victims. One thing is certain: we will be keeping a close eye on how Bill C-37 is administered, and we will continue to stand up both for victims and for rehabilitation of criminals.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 4:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her remarks and support of this great bill, with its long overdue reforms. I can see that my colleague agrees with her colleague who spoke earlier that it is difficult to oppose virtue. I can only hope that this catches on all across the opposition.

I want to mention one thing relating specifically to another Liberal colleague who spoke before her. He did not ever actually deny my assertion that our bill does not require anyone to go to jail because the person cannot afford to pay a fine. He failed to mention the specific section of the Criminal Code. It is section 734.7, which states that a “court shall not issue a warrant of committal in default of payment of a fine...unless the court is satisfied...that the offender has, without reasonable excuse, refused to pay...”. Therefore, if there is a reasonable excuse, no one watching today needs to worry that anyone will ever go to jail if he or she has a reasonable excuse for not paying a fine.

Regarding the comments of the member who just spoke, I would also mention that if she were to visit the website of the Minister of Public Safety and corrections, she would find that the government has just recently sponsored a symposium on restorative justice and is sponsoring many programs across the country on restorative justice. That is just part of our balanced approach.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 4:50 p.m.
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NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

I would simply like to remind the House of how important the NDP believes judges’ discretion to be. There is no doubt in our minds that these powers are in fact discretionary and that it is important to ensure that the integrity of the judiciary is recognized and upheld.

On the question of the victim surcharge, obviously, as I explained, this bill unfortunately does not go far enough when it comes to prevention. This does not mean using punishment as a deterrent; we know there is the whole area of prevention and rehabilitation to be considered when it comes to crime.

As a democratic party, we can never stress this enough, and we reiterate our position on this.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 4:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to refer to the comment by the previous Conservative speaker, who had a question for my hon. colleague from the NDP, because I do not think he understands how our legislative process works. When a new law is passed it overwrites or supercedes previous laws, unless we are talking about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Constitution. We cannot change those without a much more elaborate process. However, when we have a new law with new provisions, in this case creating real doubt about what happens when a person cannot pay his or her debt, we do have a new problem.

He perhaps does not understand that the Criminal Code is simply previous legislation, and it can be changed by any bill that comes into the House and is passed.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 4:50 p.m.
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NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, right off, I do not know whether I am the right person to answer that question. I could leave it to my colleague opposite to answer it, but I will answer.

There is no doubt that this bill focuses on victims and all the assistance we can provide for them. That is why we support it. That is not the case for victim surcharges, which are essentially intended to hold offenders accountable. I will say it again, since it is really of crucial importance: we cannot fight crime through punishment alone; there has to be an element of prevention and an element of rehabilitation, which will create a society with a justice system that is as clear and fair as possible. That is how I would answer.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 4:50 p.m.
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NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, because of my ongoing concern with shedding light on the concrete application and real impact of measures designed to address a social issue that has been identified, it strikes me as essential to introduce into this debate a number of imponderables with respect to cases that give rise to the imposition of a victim surcharge by a sitting judge in a criminal court.

At the risk of being redundant and repeating myself, I will draw upon my past experience in a legal aid office to illustrate what I am talking about. When I joined the legal aid office, one of the first concepts that I learned was the ability to pay. I had been provided with a binder showing the financial scales applicable to individuals, meaning clients, who came to our office to check whether they were financially eligible to obtain legal aid, whether for criminal or civil cases. It is one of the first concepts you learn when you begin in the practice.

When I joined the Sept-Îles legal aid office in 2007, the financial limit was approximately $20,000 to $25,000 for a person to be eligible for free services. If the amount exceeded $20,000 to $25,000, then services were still available, although a small financial contribution from the client was required. Allow me to reiterate that this is one of the first concepts you learn when you begin practising law.

When you meet a client, you need to complete a fact sheet that includes information such as principal source of income and all sources of additional earnings. These are the first things you learn. You complete the fact sheet and before meeting clients, you check it to determine whether they are eligible for services.

Even though I have been referring to this financial scale, most of my legal aid clients were of course receiving social assistance or other income security benefits. They were therefore eligible for the services provided by the legal aid office. For me, it became pretty much automatic. My employer at the time, the attorney who introduced me to practising in the trenches, instilled this reflex in me to some degree. After completing one's submissions on sentencing, one says, more often than not, “I would ask that my client be exempted from paying the surcharge because he is receiving social assistance.”

Even today, although I have not been pleading cases for two years, it is still mechanical, by which I mean that I can repeat this stock phrase from memory. It was somewhat redundant, because at the end of each of my cases, I had to repeat this set phrase because most of my clients were social assistance recipients. Even when I was in private practice, I was first and foremost handling legal aid assignments. It became second nature to me.

In short, if the lawyer tells the judge that the client should be exempted from paying the surcharge upon sentencing, then the judge has to decide on the sentence applicable to the individual on the basis of that person’s sources of income and ability to pay a fine. I will refer to this later and will go into the subject in more detail. I simply wanted to raise this concept.

An offender's ability to pay is the determining factor at the submissions on sentencing stage. Like the codified guidelines applicable to cases involving an aboriginal offender, judges have considerable latitude in determining and handing down alternatives to imprisonment. I will refer to the section of the Criminal Code that covers this particular case.

But we must understand that judges have some latitude when sentencing. Although it is not mandatory, the judge will still ask questions to see what sentence would be appropriate in a given case. Judges have few options, meaning that they can choose from among two or three options: either a prison sentence, a fine or community service. It always depends on the individual's willingness and ability to pay a fine.

Earlier I mentioned the Criminal Code. I will now read part of it. It is sometimes a good idea to refer to the wording of legislation, because it helps prevent mistakes. So that is what I will do. Paragraph 718.2(e) of the Criminal Code states:

718.2 A court that imposes a sentence shall also take into consideration the following principles:...

(e) all available sanctions other than imprisonment that are reasonable in the circumstances should be considered for all offenders, with particular attention to the circumstances of aboriginal offenders.

When I was practising law, I dealt with aboriginal offenders every day, since most of my clients were Innu and Naskapi people from my riding.

This paragraph in the Criminal Code indicates that the judge must make decisions regarding alternatives to a prison sentence in a given case. Obviously, this type of sentence does not apply only to aboriginal offenders, but it applies to them in particular.

The Supreme Court of Canada also ruled that an offender cannot be imprisoned for not paying a fine if he or she is truly unable to pay it. The judge has some latitude in verifying the offender's true willingness to pay.

Generally speaking, when clients, especially those receiving social assistance, are exempted from paying the fine, there may be an alternative sentence. I have seen this in some instances. Even if the client is on social assistance, he must pay the fine if the judge deems him capable of doing so. However, a schedule of payments will be established. The judge will ask how much the person would be prepared to pay on a monthly basis to discharge the fine. Simply because people are receiving social assistance or some other form of income support does not necessarily mean that they will not have to pay anything. There is always that possibility, even if the person has limited financial resources. There is always the possibility of paying a fine. I am not speaking about a surcharge, but rather a fine. First and foremost, the judge will attempt to determine whether it would be preferable for the person to do community service or to make a donation.

As for the surcharge, when the client is receiving income security benefits, the judge will tend not to require payment of the surcharge. The judge will even exempt the offender from paying it because the offender’s ability to pay is already limited. The surcharge, it should not be forgotten, is above all for people who have financial assets, perhaps not considerable assets, but enough in the end to pay the surcharge.

The surcharge is mainly intended to make people accountable. It is a form of empowerment to encourage the individual to take responsibility and give back to society. That is the ultimate reason for assessing a victim surcharge.

When all is said and done, I believe that the important thing to remember is the compensation aspect of the surcharge to be paid by an offender. There is an etymological perspective here too.

The funds raised by the surcharge partly pay for services to crime victims. In Quebec, there is IVAC, the Crime Victims Compensation Act. Under this act, victims receive the compensation surcharge directly, which is enough of a reason to support this bill at third reading.

I will now move on to a brief aside to discuss crime victims compensation boards.

Lawyers, at least practising litigators, work on a regular basis with IVAC. Even in the Sept-Îles courtroom, the IVAC office was right beside the Crown attorneys’ office. Most of the people working for IVAC are social workers. They attend nearly all of the hearings. I used to kid around with some of them who were more knowledgeable about law than I was after only a year, because they attended the hearings for virtually all the courtroom cases.

In short, some of the victim surcharges would ultimately be redirected to the crime victims compensation boards. These boards are extremely important. The workers there deal mainly with victims and children. If you visit, you will see some toys for children to play with. They are friendly and family oriented because there is a wide variety of victims. It is therefore essential for the funds that are collected to be redistributed. Those who ultimately have the ability to pay, those with substantial income, and those with solid financial assets who are capable of paying, should be held accountable and required to pay a higher surcharge so that the services so essential to the maintenance of acceptable social standards can be provided.

I submit this respectfully.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 5 p.m.
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NDP

Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his speech. I listened to what he said very carefully and I have a question for him, since he is very knowledgeable about the aboriginal population and legislation.

The majority of women who are incarcerated, 92%, are aboriginal, while 82% have generally experienced physical or sexual abuse. Unfortunately, they end up behind bars because of a lack of resources. In my opinion a societal problem is at the root of this crime problem, and the situation needs to be examined more fully.

I would like to hear more from my colleague about the aboriginal population and in particular about aboriginal women.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 5:05 p.m.
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NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her question.

When I stated that the majority, if not virtually all, of my clients were aboriginal, it is important to understand that where I come from, the figure is not necessarily 91%. The statistics we had at the time showed that 75% were aboriginal.

When we go and meet with inmates in the basement of the courthouse in Sept-Îles—and even in Baie-Comeau, since space is fairly limited at the courthouse in Sept-Îles—it is quite obvious to us that the inmates are primarily aboriginal. This is unfortunate, but it is also a reflection of the breakdown of the communities’ social fabric. Deviant elements can be observed every day on reserves. There are nearly 15,000 Indians in my riding: Innu and Naskapi. So then, by force of circumstance, deviant behaviours can also be observed in the communities. It is most unfortunate, but this is first and foremost a societal problem that must be addressed from within.

As for the victim surcharge, it is important to understand that there were many female clients, especially in light of the number of cases of domestic violence that I handled. Many female aboriginal clients will also turn to the criminal injuries compensation board. So then, in the final analysis, increasing accountability by raising the victim surcharge amounts can only be beneficial to the healing process and the social intervention that must take place in cases of domestic violence.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 5:05 p.m.
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NDP

François Lapointe NDP Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, several of my colleagues in the House have talked about how important it is for the judge to have some discretionary decision-making powers. I personally am not a legal expert, but the basis of their argument is that no two situations are identical and that therefore, the facts and the environment are not the same in every case.

Applying this premise to first nations communities, I would be interested to hear my colleague’s views.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 5:05 p.m.
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NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

I mentioned section 718.2 of the Criminal Code. A provision in the code already deals with aboriginal offenders. However, I have seen a few lawyers specifically refer to this provision at the time of sentencing, when presenting their sentencing arguments. Some of my colleagues mentioned this provision. They reminded the judge that pursuant to section 718.2, the court had to take into account the circumstances and the fact that their client was aboriginal. The judge, however, is not necessarily bound by this. He must look at whether a sanction other than imprisonment can be considered.

However, there are limitations. At some point, an individual must be held accountable. In the case of repeat offenders, ultimately if there is no sanction other than imprisonment that is deemed appropriate, then the judge will sentence the offender to prison. I saw this happen during my years as a practising lawyer pleading cases. So then, even though there is a specific provision in the Criminal Code, the judge is not necessarily bound 100% by it. He must consider the circumstances, but there are limitations and ultimately, the offender must bear responsibility for his actions.

That is all I have to say.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 5:05 p.m.
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NDP

Tyrone Benskin NDP Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand in the House to speak to Bill C-37. New Democrats support the bill in principle, which I am sure comes as a welcome relief for my colleagues across the way. We support the bill, first and foremost, because we support victims of crime, their families and communities.

We take note of the recommendations made by the Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, whose office wrote four years ago that it recommended repealing subsections 737(5) and (6) of the Criminal Code to remove all discretion of judges to weigh the surcharge and make it automatic in all cases. The removal of the discretion of judges has been the subject of some debate in the House.

The report went on to say that judges' discretion had been widely and improperly applied. As well, the judges themselves wrote the Minister of Justice asking him to push for the doubling of these fines. As far as the doubling of fines, New Democrats support the bill and its recommendations, but I would like to offer some food for thought.

While we support Bill C-37, there are some concerns that persist as to the administration of these funds and what they are intended to accomplish. In administering these funds, are we truly providing victims with justice? That is a question I will look at a little later.

I want to make it very clear that providing services to crime victims has always been and will continue to be our priority. Using these funds in a transparent way to meet the needs of crime victims is a step in the right direction.

We must not lose sight of the larger goal of preventing such criminality in the first place. Too often criminal action is the direct outcome of social and economic precariousness. Too often crime is the terrible yet predictable consequence of poverty and a seemingly hopeless future. Too often we try to address the needs of victims while ensnaring those who have already been disenfranchised in a cycle of marginalization.

The question is this. Can we address the needs of victims without ensnaring those who have already been disenfranchised and caught in a cycle of marginalization? We have to focus our energies on preventing that disenfranchisement, that marginalization, as well as those criminal acts, thereby reducing the number of victims.

It is not always easy, of course. When confronted with the aftermath of crime, we react with disgust, revulsion, anger or a desire for vengeance. Less than a week ago, the members of the House rose to observe a minute of silence. We remembered the 14 women who died as a result of a horrific crime committed in my hometown of Montreal.

This is a time when we are all conscious of the horror of violence and, in particular, gender-based violence. Just as we will never forget what happened that day, we cannot permit ourselves to do simply the minimum of only addressing the issue of crime with punitive measures. As my grandmother would say, “It's kind of like closing the barn door after the horse has left”.

We must acknowledge that punishment and fines only hold so much sway. In all honesty, our citizens demand more from us. They know that crimes are committed for complicated reasons and while supporting victims is our clear and primary objective, preventing future victims and future victimization by preventing future criminality is, by far, the best use of our resources, our talents and our time.

I would like to give my esteemed colleagues an example of the complexity of this issue and the need for a more comprehensive approach to criminality. It is a point that was brought up by one of my colleagues earlier in her question. We know that 82% of incarcerated women were previously victims of physical or sexual aggression. I would like to add to that the fact that 91% of incarcerated women are of first nations origin, a vast overrepresentation. One has to ask where was the victim support that they needed, whether financial, psychological or sociological?

These statistics illustrate the need for victim support, for better financing of victims services but also for a more restorative and holistic justice system. These women who were abused, for what ever reason, self-esteem, a need to survive, resorted to criminal acts: a bounced cheque, prostitution, petty theft. If there were services that helped them regain their self-esteem, to help them through that process, frankly, if we as a society knew a little more and spent more energy educating ourselves on the long-term effects of sexual aggression and gender violence, would this 82% of women be incarcerated? That is a question we need to ask ourselves.

Increased fines are increased fines; they help to a certain extent. The projected use for these fines, as I understand it, is to go to victims services, but in what way? We are seeing a weakening of the services available to victims. It is a step in the right direction, but the fines, increased or not, do not and will not interrupt the cycle of crime.

The judicial system in Quebec, my home province, favours reforms and reintegration to ensure justice. The proof of this approach can be found in a tour of the neighbourhoods of Petite-Bourgogne, Saint-Henri and Pointe Saint-Charles in my riding.

I am very proud to represent these communities. Anyone who tours these neighbourhoods will see how areas once riddled with crime can be transformed with the proper guidance.

We unequivocally support increased funding of services for crime victims. Providing better funding and an open, transparent system that gives victims access to the services they need is an important measure.

Support for victims services has to be more than just charging more money to criminals. It has to be more for the simple reason that I would think a considerable majority of these petty criminals would have very little to give to these organizations. Our energy needs to be put into creating financial support for victims of crime through organizations and support that is about restoration, not only of what was taken from them but what they feel they have lost.

I was robbed once. Someone broke into my condo in a very timely manner when the all the alarm systems were being redone. Yes, it was suspicious. However, one comes home to the feeling of someone being in one's apartment, going through one's things and not only taking things that are of value financially but things that are of value because they were given from a child or they were the last thing given by a grandparent. Although my mother raised fairly strong children, it took a long time for me to get through that sense of violation, and that was only from having my home burglarized.

As I have mentioned, there is a need for victims services. However, for those people who find themselves in marginalized, disenfranchised and isolated situations, it is of the utmost importance. Having those services could very well prevent a large number of these types of crimes, where some women find themselves on the wrong side of the law. These are crimes of survival and of need.

We have to look at justice as a three dimensional thing. It is not simply that because one did something wrong that one needs to go to jail. We need to understand why people do the things they do.

Criminals are criminals. They are going to do things, be bad people and they will pay for it as the justice system allows. However, not every criminal has a criminal mind. There is a reason for their criminality. Therefore, there is a need to have more resources put into making sure that victims of crime, victims of sexual abuse and gender violence, are not placed in a position where they have to commit a crime because the criminal acts put upon them dehumanized them so much that they could not function in society.

There are very important interventions that we need and can make, financial interventions, support for these organizations and support for people who have lost loved ones or who have lost fortunes. They are important among the many things that we can undertake as we seek to improve our justice system.

Our aim needs to be to make our justice more logical, more balanced and, indeed, more helpful to our citizens. This is what we hope the government will take away from these debates we have been having on a bill that we do support, but there is something that is missing from that bill. It is that restorative outlook in what we can do to prevent the creation of more victims as opposed to overly punishing criminals.

There is something that keeps sort of popping into this discussion whenever we discuss any of these bill, which is that the opposition supports crimes or that it is soft on crime.

We need to remember that the laws we have in place, even those laws that are abused by those who commit crimes, those laws are actually in place to protect the innocent. They are there to ensure that governments and police law enforcement agencies do not run roughshod over people's constitutional rights. They are not there to protect criminals. They are there to protect those people from getting caught in a situation not of their making and having every recourse of the law to ensure they can prove their innocence.

Unfortunately, like anything else, somebody who wants to abuse that will abuse it, but we cannot change those protections because we are afraid of those who abuse it. If we do, we law-abiding citizens, Canadians, will lose those protections ourselves.

I will just reiterate the last part of my speech by saying that the interventions, such as support for victim groups, is incredibly important and we must make every effort to make our justice system more logical, more balance and more helpful to all our citizens.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2012 / 5:25 p.m.
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NDP

Tyrone Benskin NDP Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, my experience, though limited with restorative justice, is in the juvenile area.

We have a situation here where young people will commit a crime for the silliest of reasons and be subject to laws that are unduly harsh for the situation they are in, unduly harsh because they are spending time in an environment, prison, where they themselves will become victims, where they themselves will learn the tools of a trade that we do not want them to learn.

What we need to do in terms of restorative justice is to ensure they not only understand what they have done, they understand the consequences and feel the consequences, but that they can take that education back out into the world and become a better citizen.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

October 5th, 2012 / 12:15 p.m.
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NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Vaudreuil-Soulanges for sharing his personal experience with us. It was very interesting and reminded me of an organization in Quebec City called L'Autre Avenue, which offers an alternative to the judicial process in some cases, such as in the case of a dispute between a minor offender, so to speak, and the victim, for instance. It is very interesting.

When I had the opportunity to meet the executive director, she told me that victims are not always looking for compensation nor do they necessarily want the offender to be convicted. They simply want to be informed of the process and to know that the offender is remorseful. This allows the police to avoid automatically prosecuting every individual they arrest. This also helps victims feel like an important part of the judicial system, because often, they feel forgotten.

I wonder if my colleague could share his thoughts on such alternative measures.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

October 5th, 2012 / 12:15 p.m.
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NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is important to look at what the Province of Quebec is doing for young offenders. Clearly, Quebec's approach is different. Every scientific study shows that Quebec's approach is producing positive results. Quebec's recidivism rate is lower than in the other provinces.

I suggest that the government take note of the fact that every province takes a different approach to dealing with young offenders and to look at Quebec as a positive example.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

October 5th, 2012 / 12:15 p.m.
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NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleagues, who contributed a well-informed and different point of view to fuel debate on Bill C-37, the Increasing Offenders’ Accountability for Victims Act.

Let us review the provisions of Bill C-37, which have been discussed at considerable length already. The bill proposes to amend provisions of the Criminal Code concerning victim surcharges in order to double the amount offenders must pay when they are sentenced. The bill also makes the surcharge mandatory for offenders.

This morning, we heard a moving account from the member for Vaudreuil Soulanges, and it made a deep impression on me. Unfortunately, in discussing this bill, we are also talking about victims. It cannot be avoided, because victims are the ones who are the most affected and who suffer the most from such events.

We heard the account by the member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges this morning, and I would like to add something else.

Yesterday evening, I was having supper with my family, who told me that bus drivers are often assaulted. Someone this happened to personally told me that a person had got on the bus and punched them in the face. The person in question was simply angry because the bus did not pull up to the stop quickly enough, which sometimes happens when a car is in the way, for example.

There have been several assaults of this kind in our province. Bus drivers are attacked at the end of their shift. These people feel powerless, as the member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges demonstrated clearly this morning.

People feel powerless when they are attacked, first of all because they do not expect things like that to happen to them. People also do not expect offenders to do things like that, because it is not part of our upbringing to be assaulted and to have to be on the defensive. People believe they live in a safe country.

This bill proposes to amend Criminal Code provisions in order to double the victim surcharge. Needless to say, we support this. The surcharge would increase to 30% from 15% of any fine imposed on the offender. Where no fine is imposed, the surcharge would be $100, up from $50, for summary conviction offences. It would increase from $100 to $200 for indictable offences. This section is somewhat complex, but in short, the fines are being doubled.

These amounts are significant. Particularly as those who receive them to assist victims are often community groups. In Quebec, they are called Centres d'aide aux victimes d'actes criminels, or CAVACs, and there are equivalent centres across Canada. They are often groups that intervene to provide assistance to victims.

People often do not know that such a system exists and that they can contact a CAVAC if they are victims of a crime.

The CAVACs are funded as follows. They receive funds that are generated in part by offenders, and contribute them towards the activities conducted by groups that provide assistance to victims of crime.

The NDP members will be supporting this bill, but they have reservations. They would like it to be re-examined in committee, simply because judges are not being allowed to impose sentences that may vary, as needed and depending on the person before them. Once again, this is something that comes up in many of the bills I have seen recently in the House.

Many offenders live in poverty. These are criminal groups or individuals with records. In some cases mental illness is involved, but not necessarily. For example, these people may be dropouts who have lived on the street with nothing and who systematically resist integrating into our society, because it does not suit their values. They want something different and they want to make their own laws.

We must intervene and educate them; this is important.

I would like to remind the House of something. In 2003, crime cost about $70 billion, $47 billion of which was borne by victims. That figure represents 70% of the total cost. A 2004 study estimated that the cost of the pain and suffering suffered by victims was in the region of $36 billion. It is truly important to understand the victims, and the NDP will continue to support families in this regard.

Many eligible victims very rarely seek compensation, one reason being that they do not know these services exist. The member for Vaudreuil—Soulanges said this again this morning. He did not know that there might be a system like that. The system also helps to reassure the victim and lets them know these measures exist and sometimes helps them cover various expenses. When a person is a victim of violence, they are scared, they do not take the same routes they used to, they are afraid to get on the bus or go out in a car, afraid of being accosted even when they are walking on the street, and so on. We have to offer these people services, and that has a social cost. Often, the victims do not even think of asking for anything.

Our concerns relate to the elimination of the judge’s discretion to decide whether paying a surcharge would cause undue hardship. In Quebec, and I imagine things are the same in the other provinces, although I have not checked, judges sometimes decide to require a person to do community service when they do not have the means to pay the surcharge in question. These surcharges are important, because they largely fund the assistance provided for victims. They may even cover up to 100%.

Sometimes, when a person is unable to pay the surcharge, they are required to perform community service. It must be open to the judge, at their discretion, to decide that the young person in question will have to approach a community group, and the group will have them do painting, wash windows, and so on. An entire system is in place to help the young person. I say “young person” because young people are often the ones on whom surcharges are imposed, in the case of petty crimes committed by gangs, for example, as the member for Vaudreuil—Soulanges described this morning.

It is important to retain community service. The measure would be too punitive it if were applied in its simple form. That is why we are asking that this bill be referred to committee. We will then be able to examine it and fix some of its flaws. We hope the surcharges will not be disproportionate to the offender’s ability to pay.

I will support this bill at this stage of the legislative process in the hope that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights will take all the time it needs to examine it, meet with stakeholders and perhaps amend certain aspects that need to be reconsidered. This bill is good for families, but it could be even better and at the same time preserve the right, the power and the flexibility that are needed for making the best possible decisions.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

October 5th, 2012 / 12:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, we have put a lot of emphasis on the importance of victims, and justifiably so. There are many victims of violence who are looking to the government to do what it can to ensure that there is some form of assistance available, either directly or indirectly.

We do not necessarily believe that it is just the surcharges that are there to support victims but also that the government has a role to play in terms of direct assistance.

I am wondering if my colleague could provide some thoughts on the importance of the government coming to the table to support victim support groups or victim services agencies?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

October 5th, 2012 / 12:25 p.m.
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NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question. Funding is often the lifeblood of community organizations that support victims. We have to really make an effort. Taxes and surcharges are not going to meet the needs of all these organizations.

My answer to the hon. member is quite simply this: yes, organizations that help victims of violence should receive direct funding.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

October 5th, 2012 / 12:25 p.m.
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NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague from Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles if she has noticed what seems to be a general trend. We see it again with this bill, which would eliminate judicial discretion. In a fair number of bills introduced by the Conservative government, the responsibility is shifting increasingly to those who administer the law. The latter will be reduced to establishing relationships, with charts and tables, instead of relying on their judgment. However, a judge—as the term suggests—can weigh the pros and cons, and take into account the circumstances of each situation.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

October 5th, 2012 / 12:25 p.m.
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NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague. The government has a strong tendency of taking away judicial discretion. That is what we have noticed in a number of their bills and here in the House. The NDP is calling on the government to restore judges' ability to choose and to have a certain flexibility when they hand down a sentence to an offender and in other situations. I would say that this is a dangerous trend. Judges are intelligent and capable of discernment and handing down a sentence that is commensurate with the crime in order to protect society.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

October 5th, 2012 / 12:30 p.m.
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NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am going to support Bill C-37 so that it can be referred to committee. This bill proposes amendments to the provisions of the Criminal Code on victim surcharges, including subsection 737, in order to double the amount that offenders have to pay when they are sentenced, and to make the surcharge mandatory for all offenders. The surcharge is imposed at the time of sentencing for guilty offenders. It is used to finance crime victims programs and services in the province or territory where the crime was committed.

The Criminal Code requires that a judge impose a victim surcharge in all cases, but the judge also has discretionary power to waive it if the offender can demonstrate that it would cause undue hardship to him or his dependants. If the court decides not to impose a federal surcharge, a rationale has to be provided for the decision and the reasons have to be entered into the court record of deliberations. I am in favour of enhanced funding for victims programs.

On the surcharge for victims, I have some statistics. On May 27, 2010, 729 victim service agencies in Canada reported serving nearly 9,500 clients on that day. It is worth noting that three-quarters of them were women. Of those victims who received services, 81% said that they had been a victim of a violent crime.

In 2009-10, the most frequent types of assistance provided directly by victim services providers in Quebec included court-related guidance or information, courtroom assistance, information about the process and structure of the criminal justice system, preparing victims or witnesses, and assistance in compensation claims.

It is clear that helping victims of crime is costly and that we need to devote more to those who are suffering after a violent crime or any crime that has been done to them or to their family.

Although I support the essence of this bill and I agree that a larger levy on victims' service is, in general, a good idea as it would help us contribute more to victims, I do have some concerns and I hope the committee will closely examine this bill. For instance, the provincial programs that would be funded by this increased surcharge are essential and they need the support. There are not enough victim support services in the provinces. People who are the victims of crime often require psychological and social support during and after the legal process. Therefore, I approve of this. It is quite appropriate that those who commit the crimes be forced to invest in the programming that would help heal, not only for specific victims but for those who are similarly in need.

I call attention to the fact that the most glaring example of an underserviced demographic of victims is the families of missing and murdered aboriginal women. Yesterday, Ottawa had a strong show of solidarity with the families who have lost daughters, mothers, sisters and wives to horrible violence and unsolved disappearances. A hard-working group called Families of Sisters in Spirit organized a massive vigil on Parliament Hill yesterday. Its message was very strong and clear. Hundreds of women who have been taken will not be forgotten and the families and allies will not rest until the government recognizes its responsibility to these victims and to aboriginal women across the country who remain in danger.

Some of the saddest stories we heard on the Hill yesterday were about cases where crimes were not thoroughly investigated for months and sometimes years and where the victims of crime had to take it upon themselves to investigate the disappearances of their own loved ones because they could not get access to the services they needed. One of the repercussions of this phenomenon of disproportionately unsolved murders is that the families were told that they could not receive the victim services until the cases were solved. If no one is solving the cases, then, unfortunately, these families are left to themselves entirely.

When it comes to aboriginal women, it is not just the victims of kidnapping and murder who badly need the victim services. It is for the families and communities that we really need to invest in prevention. An aboriginal woman is five times as likely as a non-aboriginal woman to be the victim of a violent crime. This is mostly due to extreme rates of poverty. Over 40% of aboriginal women are living below the poverty line. These women have a shameful lack of access to police services, legal services, shelter and psychiatrists, let alone provincial victim services.

We do need better and more effective victims' services. If we can do something in this House to increase those kinds of services to those who need it, we especially need to think about increased funding to first nations, Métis and Inuit communities for those both on and off reserve.

This bill would make it impossible for a court to order that no victim surcharge be imposed on an offender when it is demonstrated that the payment of such a surcharge would cause the offender—or his dependants—undue hardship. Currently, judges have discretionary power to order the payment of a higher surcharge or to waive such a surcharge.

We on this side of the House have one concern and that is the power of judicial discretion. This discretionary power allows judges to waive the surcharge for criminals to whom it would cause undue harm or cause undue harm to their families. This is important for people who have committed crimes and are very poor.

Poverty is often the root cause of crime and financially crippling a person on top of sentencing them could make rehabilitation impossible. It could also make it difficult for their children to properly integrate into society and so on. With respect to the withdrawal of the clause on undue hardship and the provision seeking to double the surcharge amount, this would be problematic for low income offenders.

I will share with the House some statistics about who a lot of these people are. Eighty per cent of all federally sentenced women report having been physically or sexually abused. This rises to 90% when we are talking about aboriginal women. Two-thirds of federally sentenced women are mothers and they are more likely than men to have primary child care responsibilities. There are about 25,000 children whose mothers are either in federal prisons or provincial jails, and that was as of last year. Separation from their children and the inability to deal with problems concerning them are major anxieties for women in prison. If poverty is a contributing factor, then we can imagine the situation facing these families.

Women who have been in prison also have much lower employment rates than men who have been incarcerated. Not only do women experience more poverty than men but most criminalized women have low levels of education, limited employment and economic records and usually live alone in extremely poor housing conditions. In the Prairie region, most of the women in prison are indigenous. They represent 85% of the female prison population.

As I said earlier, these are people who are living in poverty and do not have access to social services. They also lack access to health care and education.

The issue of judicial discretion needs to be examined more closely. If it is used often, we may need to look at more prevention. We may need to look at providing more help to those on the ground who are living in poverty and may end up becoming criminals in the future. We really do need to be concentrating more on prevention.

I will be voting to send the bill to committee in order to examine it further because I agree that we should be funding more services for victims.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

October 5th, 2012 / 12:40 p.m.
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NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel for her very informative comments, which were much appreciated.

I would like to point out that this bill would once and for all do away with the discretion judges currently have with respect to penalties, sentences and fines. Could the member comment a bit more on this matter?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

October 5th, 2012 / 12:40 p.m.
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NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, this was a recommendation made to the government. It was found that judges were often using their discretionary power to waive the fee. We really need to look at why that is. Judges are human. They are going to see things differently. They are not always going to apply the law perfectly unless it is made mandatory.

If it is being invoked often, the problem is more likely because of the fact that a lot of people who live in poverty become criminals. We need to look at addressing that problem before we start taking away the discretionary power of judges, who are really trying to help. Many of those women are mothers with dependents. If they are unable to pay, then in a sense we are creating more victims.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

October 5th, 2012 / 12:40 p.m.
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NDP

Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her speech. She is a very brave and highly intelligent woman, and I found her remarks very relevant.

As we are all aware, this bill is an election promise made by the Conservatives during the last election. The Conservatives would like to show the world that they want to provide better protection to victims and families, but we know that everyone here is in favour of justice and safe communities.

There is something that worries me. In my colleague's opinion, what would be the repercussions of taking away judges' discretionary power to waive a surcharge, particularly for aboriginal people who do not have the means to pay these surcharges?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

October 5th, 2012 / 12:40 p.m.
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NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert for her very important question.

A bill like this one goes hand in hand with prevention. The federal government needs to understand that it is responsible for the first nations, the Inuit and aboriginals.

It seems as though the Conservatives do not understand that it is their responsibility to provide services to these communities.

We need to provide them with greater access to culturally relevant education.

Providing preventive measures would mean fewer victims in the future. As I was saying, this has to go hand in hand with more funding for the victims. There will always be victims, but I think there could be fewer. I also think the government should focus its efforts on prevention.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

October 5th, 2012 / 12:45 p.m.
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NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, today, I would like to participate in the debate on this bill.

Clearly, this bill would benefit greatly from additional debate in committee. It is very important that all the points that are raised there be debated.

Once again, the Conservatives are trying to pass a bill that will take discretionary power away from judges. We have to ask ourselves why that is. What is the reasoning behind this? What impact will it have?

In court, during the testimony and sentencing, judges are in the best position to understand and to determine the proper sentence for the offence committed. Why is this not being taken into consideration? This bill takes away judges' discretion, and I am very concerned about that.

Canada's legal system allows a judge to clearly understand the testimony, the evidence and the circumstances. The burden is on him to impose a fair and equitable sentence. We in the House of Commons must not think that we know all the facts and that we are always right, when all of this should be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

We do not know the circumstances of the crime or the offender's ability to pay the fines. We thus do not know what sentence would be fair and equitable. Let us not forget that the purpose of a sentence should be rehabilitation; it should not encourage the offender to reoffend.

I will come back to that in a moment, but I would first like to share with the House what the Quebec justice minister has to say about fines on his website:

A fine is a sum of money that must be paid to the State by an offender within a time frame determined by the judge.

He then adds the following, and this is the part that seems important to me:

Before imposing a fine, the judge must be satisfied that the individual has the means to pay it.

This is not the first time in Canada's legal history or in our legal system that we have heard this said. In a legal system such as ours, the sentence must fit the crime. In the past, there were debtors' prisons, prisons for people who did not pay their debts. We can impose all the fines that we want on a homeless offender who does not have any money, but that will not change the fact that he does not have any and that he will never be able to afford to pay those fines.

We should not take away from a judge the power to waive a surcharge when he is fully aware that the offender does not have the means to pay that surcharge. The judge knows that because he is the judge of the facts and he is well informed.

Yet, that is what the bill will do. The judge will be fully aware that a fine will never be paid, but he will still have to impose it. It makes no sense. It is absolutely illogical that a judge who knows the facts should have to do that.

There a reason why we have our modern legal system. The trial judge looks at the facts and he is the one who has the responsibility of imposing a sentence, based on the offence and on the offender's ability to serve that sentence.

The sentence should also be an incentive to rehabilitate. I find it hard to believe that imposing a series of fines can lead to rehabilitation.

There is one thing we often hear and cannot ignore: jails are a place where offenders increase their ability to break the law, to remain offenders. Jails are crime schools. We should not feed jails like that. If we create this situation and the offender cannot pay his fine, what are we going to do? Are we just going to ignore the fact that a fine was imposed? No, we cannot do that. The fine exists and the offender must pay it. If he is unable to do so, he will be fined again and this will generate yet another legal process. We are imposing a burden that cannot be supported. It is important to understand that.

The current act already provides for a 15% surcharge on any fine imposed on the offender. If no fine is imposed, the surcharge is $50. That surcharge must be imposed because that is what the law says. Now, we want to increase the burden twofold, from 15% to 30% when a fine is imposed, and from $50 to $100 for offences punishable by summary conviction, when no fine is imposed.

Under the current act, the judge has a discretionary power. Section 737(5) of the Criminal Code reads as follows:

When the offender establishes to the satisfaction of the court that undue hardship to the offender or the dependants of the offender would result from payment of the victim surcharge, the court may, on application of the offender, make an order exempting the offender from the application of subsection (1).

As we can see, the lawmakers who wrote this legislation were wise enough to understand that, sometimes, one is not in a position to pay a surcharge. They even went a little further and said that the court must take into consideration the offender's ability to pay the surcharge. They also thought about a dependent: would imposing a surcharge harm this dependent? A dependent is usually a child, but it could be anyone.

I would point out that in international law and Canadian law, the needs of the child must always be given priority when a bill is drafted. And whenever judges have to interpret legislation, they have a duty, an obligation, to consider the impact it may have on a child. Looking at the bill that is before us, it may be that a judge will have no choice but to impose a surcharge, knowing not only that the burden is too heavy for the offender, but also that it might cause hardship for a dependent child of the offender. What this means is that it would be contrary not only to a number of Canadian laws, but also to international obligations.

It is incomprehensible that we could enact bills in Canada that might impose an unreasonable burden on a child who, clearly, does not have the means to pay a victim surcharge levied against the child's parents. We have to avoid, at all costs, imposing that kind of burden on a child who is an innocent party in the situation. And yet what we are doing is creating a situation that could cause hardship for a child. Frankly, and I will say it again, we would benefit from a longer and more thorough discussion in committee. That is why I will probably vote to send the bill to committee, but that does not mean it would not benefit from being amended.

I also want to note that the popular encyclopedia Wikipedia, which I often find to be an inspiring source, talks about surcharges and fines. This is what it says:

Fines are counter-productive if the offender commits more offences to get the money to pay the fine.

What that means is that there is little point in imposing fines when the person is not able to pay them, because that could actually encourage recidivism. A person who is not able to pay their fines has to get the money somewhere, or they will be charged with another offence. And again, that encourages recidivism. We are potentially creating a vicious circle. I hope that everyone will think carefully about this and there will be a good debate in committee.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

October 5th, 2012 / 12:55 p.m.
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NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my riding neighbour for his speech on Bill C-37. I have a specific question to ask him. We talk a lot about judges' discretionary power, but I would like to address another matter Senator Boisvenu raised with respect to the bill, when he presented it to Canadians. According to his comments, increasing the victim surcharge will be a deterrent to crime.

Can my colleague comment on the statement the senator made when introducing the bill?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

October 5th, 2012 / 12:55 p.m.
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NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my riding neighbour, who represents a riding with a name that is too long to say today.

The surcharges and fines have a definite purpose. However, I do not believe that this purpose is properly reflected in the bill being studied, where surcharges are not used to rehabilitate, but to punish the offender. In that sense, it would be effective. The problem is that we must have a balanced judicial system. We must balance the desire to punish and the desire to prevent recidivism. The bill only deals with punishment, and there is nothing about rehabilitation.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

October 5th, 2012 / 12:55 p.m.
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NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Indeed, Pontiac is easier.

To answer the question, our legal system goes back hundreds of years. It has been well developed and is very pragmatic. There is a reason why we have trial judges who are familiar with cases. They know what went on; they hear testimony. It is up to them to come up with a sentence to fit the crime committed.

That is why appeal courts do not hear testimony. They make rulings on specific legal questions. In our system, the trial judge is the one familiar with the case. Neither the appeal court nor the Supreme Court, and certainly not the House of Commons, is familiar with every case.

Members of Parliament must not think that they know everything about everything. It would be quite a bill if it took every possible situation into account. If people truly wanted to work on such a bill, it would be a lifelong project and it would never be done. We must not think that we are that smart in the House. We do not know all the facts. The trial judge is the one who knows the facts, and it is up to him to impose an appropriate punishment.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

October 5th, 2012 / 1 p.m.
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NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is always an honour for me to address the House.

On May 17, 2012, the government introduced Bill C-37, which amends the Criminal Code provisions on victim surcharges as currently set out in section 737.

I have listened to many of the speeches given by my colleagues on both sides of the House, but mainly on this side, since few government members have spoken about this bill. I trust the judgment of my hon. colleague from Gatineau, who was the first to say that we would be supporting this bill at second reading. I also respect her legal experience. For my part, I worked for quite some time as a special constable, for I have always had a special interest in saving lives and keeping the people in my community safe.

At the beginning of this Parliament, I was our party's public safety critic. I care deeply about the safety of my fellow citizens. Now while debating this bill, it is our duty as legislators to ensure that victims of crime have the support they need.

Many people here have pointed out the lack of funding for programs and services offered to victims, and like my colleague, I am very concerned about this. That is why I will vote in favour of this bill, for we in the NDP support many of the recommendations made by the ombudsman for victims of crime, many of which are addressed in this bill. Furthermore, we have always supported increased funding for programs and services offered to victims of crime.

Bill C-37 amends the Criminal Code sections dealing with victim surcharges. A victim surcharge is an additional penalty imposed on offenders at the time of sentencing after they have been convicted of an indictable offence. This bill doubles the amount of victim surcharges and makes them mandatory for all offenders.

The surcharge would be the equivalent of 30% of any fine imposed on the offender at sentencing. Currently, the surcharge is 15%. If a judge does not impose a fine with the sentence or if no fine applies, then the surcharge would be $100 for summary offences and $200 for indictable offences.

Judges will be able to impose a higher victim surcharge if circumstances warrant and if the offender has the means to pay it. This provision is interesting because it leaves room to adjust the fine, but especially because it gives judges discretionary power in cases where this might apply. These fines will be collected by the provincial and territorial governments and allotted to the programs and services for victims of crime. These fines are not supposed to end up in the consolidated fund of any province or territory. We must ensure that this will indeed be the case.

A number of my colleagues have also mentioned that the programs and services are severely underfunded and that the precarious finances of these organizations often jeopardize the success of their mission. Crimes have considerable socio-economic repercussions on victims, including funeral costs, the need for psychological counselling and lost revenue. There are many repercussions for the families of victims of crime.

The statistics say it all. In 2003, crime cost roughly $70 billion, $47 billion of which was assumed by the victims. In other words, the victims assumed 70% of the cost. In 2004, a study estimated that the pain and suffering of the victims was in the neighbourhood of $36 billion. That is huge and, unfortunately, the victim surcharge is not going to fully cover this cost, but it will help.

Did the government do its homework and use the best possible tool for maximizing the funding for these organizations? That remains to be seen, and I hope we can determine that when we study the bill in committee.

This bill could contribute to funding these organizations and if that is the case, then I am most pleased. If it also—although I have my doubts—helps make an offender accountable and prevents recidivism, then just like the government, I will be very happy. But make no mistake, this is not a magic solution. The provisions in Bill C-37 will not solve all the problems, but they will be another good tool to help provide funding to the organizations.

We should not, however, expect that the impact of this bill will be significant enough to dissuade a person from committing a crime, as some members mentioned in their remarks.

This is where policies and programs on crime prevention and offender accountability come into play. Since the beginning of this parliament, the Conservatives have introduced many justice bills involving mandatory minimum sentences. Yet, they have done very little in the way of crime prevention and offender rehabilitation.

That is why, when I was a member of the Standing Committee on Public Safety, I endorsed a balanced approach to crime and rehabilitation, as did my other colleagues. It is important to invest in prevention and rehabilitation in order to minimize the chances of people committing a first offence or reoffending. We must not focus all our efforts on punishment. The Conservative Party's vision of this concept is rather shameful.

For the Conservatives, punishment solves all problems. There are so many factors that lead to crime that we must take a multi-faceted approach to dealing with it. Poverty, unemployment, inadequate housing and low levels of education are all factors that contribute to a rise in crime. A preventive approach must address all these problems in order to achieve effective results.

It is also important to have intelligent corrections legislation and policies accompanied by rehabilitation programs that help to reduce recidivism. It is everyone's duty, as a community, to help victims of crime and to do everything possible to prevent people from becoming victims of crime.

The bill also contains provisions regarding offenders who are unable to pay the fine. Under Bill C-37, these people can participate in a provincial fine option program. These programs allow offenders to pay their debts by earning credits for work done in the province or territory where they committed their crime. I think this is a worthwhile approach because it could get offenders involved in their communities and make them feel accountable, which will greatly contribute to their rehabilitation.

However, the government will have to regulate these programs, since they must be fair and equitable, in light of the sentence, and must be standardized across Canada. I hope the government has done its homework, and we will be able to check that once the bill is sent to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. We must not blindly rush into this, since these programs do not currently exist in all the provinces and territories. What happens when a program does not exist? This is a legitimate question that my colleague raised during the first debate.

If a province must create a new program, it will require funding to do so, and once again, like with Bill C-10, the government may end up passing the bill on to the provinces. Has the government consulted the provinces about this? Will the provinces once again be on the hook for financing the government's crime agenda? I would like a clear answer to that question.

The bill will eliminate the court's ability to exempt the mandatory surcharge if undue hardship to the offender or the dependants of the offender would result from payment of the surcharge. I have some concerns about this provision. The bill indicates, in order of priority, the debts that the offender will have to pay, and support payments are at the top of the list.

In conclusion, like my colleagues, I have a number of concerns about Bill C-37, but I support the spirit of the bill and some provisions that deserve to be studied more carefully in committee. A number of the questions we asked the government have not yet been answered, and we think that they deserve to be discussed in committee. We must talk about the proposed elimination of the judge's discretionary power to decide whether paying a surcharge would cause undue hardship to the offender or dependants of the offender. I think that discretionary powers for judges are very important and that we must protect their autonomy.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

October 5th, 2012 / 1:10 p.m.
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NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the Conservatives this question, but they are not making any speeches. I am not quite sure why. I wonder if this is a new way for them to block the debate. We will see in the end.

I would like to ask the member a question, but I do not know if he will be able to respond. Perhaps the committee will respond. Will the money from the fines that are being doubled go straight to victims of crime and the groups that represent them? Does my colleague know the answer to that question?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

October 5th, 2012 / 1:10 p.m.
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NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for the question. Indeed, we have some concerns about that. We are wondering if all of the money that comes from these fines and increased surcharges will be completely turned over to victims' funds. There is no guarantee in this bill. Will all of that money be paid to organizations that help victims? This issue needs to be clarified.

I am sure we will have an opportunity to ask these questions when the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights examines this bill. For now, we will have to wait and see, for this is very important.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

October 5th, 2012 / 1:10 p.m.
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NDP

Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-37 proposes to amend the Criminal Code provisions concerning victim surcharges in order to double the amount offenders must pay when sentenced, and to make the surcharge mandatory for all offenders. I have concerns about that. Therefore, I will be voting to send the bill to committee.

I have a concern about the surcharge. I would like my colleague, who gave a fine presentation, to tell me about the discrepancy that will arise between the nature of the crimes committed and the surcharge imposed.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

October 5th, 2012 / 1:10 p.m.
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NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the excellent question. There are a number of reasons why we are concerned that judicial discretion to apply this victim surcharge is being eliminated.

The inmate population in certain provinces includes people who are from very poor and disadvantaged backgrounds. Will they be able to pay this mandatory surcharge? Will they be able to participate in a provincial program that allows them to work instead of paying the surcharge? Is such a program available in all provinces? According to what I was told, that is unfortunately not the case.

The minister does not seem to have confidence in judicial discretion because he wants to eliminate it. That is rather worrisome. The government is constantly trying to restrict the discretion that judges have when imposing sentences by introducing bills with minimum sentences. Once again, judicial discretion is being eliminated. The government wants to impose a victim surcharge that a poor offender may not be able to pay and that would cause him undue hardship.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 10:05 a.m.
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NDP

Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate on a very important bill, Bill C-37, the Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act. This bill would amend section 737 of the Criminal Code to increase victim surcharges. Specifically, it would double the amount of victim surcharges imposed on offenders from 15% to 30%, and if no fine is imposed, the surcharge will increase to $100 for offences punishable by summary conviction and to $200 for offences punishable by indictment.

I forgot to mention that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Beaches—East York.

Back to BillC-37. It is important to note that, contrary to what the members opposite have said over and over again all over the place, the New Democratic Party cares about victims' interests. That said, let us talk specifically about Bill C-37.

First, what is a surcharge? It is an additional penalty imposed when a guilty offender is sentenced. The surcharge is collected and kept by the provincial and territorial governments to finance programs and services for victims of crime in the province or territory where the crime was committed.

This would be one way to increase funding for programs to assist victims of crime. The existing services cannot keep up with the demands of so many Canadians, and additional means would be most welcome.

According to the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, crime cost Canadians around $70 billion in 2003. Of this, $47 billion, or about 70%, was assumed by the victims themselves. Those numbers are huge.

What concerns me about this bill is the repeal of section 737.5 of the Criminal Code. This section allowed judges to waive the surcharge if they felt that imposing it would cause problems or undue hardship for the individual in question. I am deeply concerned about this. I am not convinced that we can anticipate every possible situation. I am very comfortable with the idea of giving judges the flexibility to determine if the surcharge will cause more harm than good to society. We have a strong criminal justice system and competent judges. We should let them do their jobs. They have been appointed because of their competence and their sound judgment, and we should let them use those skills.

I would like to take this opportunity to remind the House that the courts have already ruled on judicial independence. I recall one particular judgment of the Ontario Court of Appeal on minimum sentences that was handed down last February. The court ruled that some mandatory minimums could be considered cruel and unusual punishment and therefore were in violation of the Charter.

I am not suggesting that this is exactly the same thing, but it follows the same principle. We cannot possibly anticipate every situation, and we should give judges the flexibility they need to determine the best outcomes. I think it makes sense to maintain the discretionary power of the judiciary, especially since there are many extenuating circumstances in which forcing an offender to pay the surcharge would have an unnecessarily harsh effect.

I am particularly concerned about offenders who have a clear history of mental illness and who may be unable to pay that surcharge.

We must seriously examine the impact that this change will have on our justice system. I hope that, if the bill is passed at second reading, the Standing Committee on Justice will examine this issue seriously and thoroughly, and that the members of the committee will keep an open mind when listening to the witnesses.

Some organizations have already expressed their concern. I am thinking of the Elizabeth Fry Society, which is concerned about the impact that these additional fines will have on disadvantaged aboriginal people. The John Howard Society is worried that some fines will be disproportionate to the crimes committed, but does not have a problem with monetary penalties.

The idea of allowing people who cannot pay their surcharge to participate in a provincial fine option program strikes me as a worthwhile approach. However, the bill does not take into account whether such a program exists in the province or territory where the crime was committed. There is no other alternative if this type of program does not exist. I hope that the committee will take this into account and will find a solution for such cases.

Like many of my colleagues, I am also wondering about the link between this bill and the hon. member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry's Bill C-350, and the mutual impact they will have if they are passed. Time and time again in this chamber, we have seen the government use private members' business to pass more controversial measures.

In closing, I am very pleased to see that the government is concerned about the funding of victims programs. However, I have reservations about taking away from judges the power to choose not to impose the victim surcharge under certain specific circumstances that are currently set out in the act, particularly since they will have the flexibility to choose to impose a higher surcharge.

I hope that this will be seriously examined in committee if the bill is passed at second reading. We must not contribute to the vicious circle of poverty and crime but, rather, we must work to reduce crime in Canada in the short, medium and long term.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 10:10 a.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, when the member talked about the principle of the bill, she made reference to two things. One was the surcharge. There is a great deal of sympathy from the public as a whole that there be some form of surcharge that ultimately goes to assist victims of crime in one form or another. There are many different types of programs across the country. There seems to be a lot of merit and support in principle for that.

We would also suggest that there needs to be general funding that supports victims, possibly through general revenue.

The other principle of the bill, and it is a significant one, is the issue of judicial independence and allowing judges the discretion to determine what sort of surcharge would be applicable. That is, in essence, being wiped out with this particular bill.

It surprises a lot of people that the NDP seem to favour judicial independence being taken away or taken out of the court by allowing and supporting the bill to go to committee. The largest, most significant aspect of this legislation is that it is proposing to take away that judicial discretion.

Does the NDP not have concerns about taking away the judicial independence, and if so, why would it be voting in favour of the bill?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 10:10 a.m.
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NDP

Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his questions. I think I have made it clear that we, in the NDP, are concerned about a judge's discretionary power. I think I said that we agreed that the government should think about the victims of crime. We are also as concerned as the members opposite about taking away judicial independence, but we are also concerned about taking away their discretionary power, which is why we were talking about exceptional cases. As I mentioned in my speech, the cases of people visibly affected by mental illness come under these exceptional situations.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 10:15 a.m.
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NDP

Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert for her question. I know these are topics that concern us all. As for the connection between poverty and criminal behaviour, we know very well—and it has now been scientifically proven—that social factors play a very important role, both in the criminal behaviour and the health of individuals.

So we want to reduce criminal behaviour and, to do that, we need to backtrack and reduce the poverty that might be one of the factors at the root of criminal behaviour.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 10:15 a.m.
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NDP

Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to stand this morning to speak to Bill C-37.

As our justice critic, the member for Gatineau, has made clear in her speech on this matter, we will be supporting this bill in order to send it on to committee. I am happy to move the bill out of this place for a couple of reasons.

First, it appears to trivialize an issue of real concern and significant cost, which is victim compensation. A 2003 study put the cost of crime in the vicinity of $70 billion. Seventy per cent of that cost is borne by the victims of crime, it concludes. Another study from 2004 assessed the pain and suffering of victims at $36 billion.

Now I come to these numbers somewhat skeptically. I am not quite sure of the methodology quantification for placing a price tag, in effect, on the kinds of losses, heartbreak, trauma and mental or physical anguish that victims of crime experience. Nevertheless, I would not dare suggest that they overstate the case.

Therefore, it is in that context and through that lens that I come to Bill C-37. What I see is a bill that purports to support victims by way of pennies on the dollar.

For example, where no fine is imposed, the bill would increase the surcharge from $50 to $100 for summary convictions and from $100 to $200 for indictable offences. If the goal is to provide real and meaningful compensation for victims, the bill on its face is a woeful and token effort. For all the world, it looks to me like a political marketing exercise, one that makes a mockery of victim rights and victim compensation.

However, let us let the committee look into this issue and answer some obvious and important questions: How much of this surcharge makes it to victims? How much of it goes to support bureaucracy, a special victim surcharge collection agency, if I may? What are the costs to the court system of administering fine option programs where they exist? These programs, on the face of it, would require significant administrative effort to operate.

I have another issue for the committee to study. How many of those who are found guilty of a crime can actually pay a victim surcharge? Interestingly, Conservative senator, Hugh Segal, had an oped published last year entitled “Tough on poverty, tough on crime”. He begins his oped by stating:

Debates about whether approaches to crime and corrections in Canada are too soft or too tough are ongoing and endemic.

While the partisan debate continues unabated, the real issue is why prisons disproportionately house our most vulnerable citizens.

While all those Canadians who live beneath the poverty line are by no means associated with criminal activity, almost all those in Canada’s prisons come from beneath the poverty line. Less than 10 per cent of Canadians live beneath the poverty line but almost 100 per cent of our prison inmates come from that 10 per cent.

Senator Segal's comments raise another question. Bill C-37 seeks to remove judicial discretion to waive the discharge. So, is the judiciary's predilection for waiving the surcharge an acknowledgement of the social fact noted by Senator Segal? Do judge's understand from their seat on the bench, confronted daily with courtroom reality, something that my colleagues, from their seats in the House exercising their ideological reflexes, fail to grasp? Do judge's perhaps recognize, as this legislation fails to do, that very often those subject to a victim surcharge have dependants, children, for example, whose circumstances are not at all advanced by the imposition of fines on those upon whom they depend?

We should put this question to the committee. Will crime victims meaningfully benefit from Bill C-37 or is this tokenism, cynical political marketing and/or just another ideological spasm? Or, is there a better way to deal with our collective responsibility to those who are victims of crime?

This leads me to the second reason I would like to see the bill move on to committee. It is so we can get on in the House with the crucial task of ensuring that we do all we can to prevent crime and limit the number of victims of crime.

On this side of the House, we recognize that we, in a meaningful way, must ensure that we treat victims of crime with compassion and generosity. That means being tough on crime by protecting the communities in which we live with a balanced, effective approach that includes prevention, policing and, more important, border security.

One of the issues that we need to address is gun violence. Toronto is not a dangerous place in which to live but this past summer gun violence in my city created many new victims, those who lost their lives, those who lost loved ones and those who will never again be able to feel safe in their own community.

We know that smuggled guns account for about half of all guns recovered in large Canadian cities. According to Toronto's police chief, Bill Blair, 70% of the guns seized by Toronto police are smuggled in from the United States and yet the Conservative government is recklessly cutting back on front line border security officers. Of the 325 jobs on the front line of border crossings across the country that will be cut, 60 are in the GTA and 72 in southern Ontario.

In 2011, CBSA officers in the southern Ontario region seized 128 firearms, including 106 handguns, as well as 191 prohibited weapons. In addition to the front line border cuts, every intelligence officer in Canada got an “affected” letter. These are the people who gather and develop information on how and where guns, drugs and other contraband are being smuggled into Canada and by whom. Dog handlers at marinas and airports are also being cut, further limiting CBSA's ability to interdict contraband. A huge percentage of the drugs smuggled through southern Ontario borders every year end up on the streets of Toronto, my city, fueling more gun crimes.

Another issue that needs to be dealt with is gang activity. There are an estimated 11,000 street gang members and associates in Canada today. Most of them are young, under the age of 30. The youth gang prevention fund was meant to support initiatives that target youth and gangs who are at risk of joining gangs in communities where youth gangs are an existing or emerging threat. This fund was set to expire in 2011 but we, the NDP, pushed successfully for its extension. That funding supported case management, parent support, community education and employment outreach for youth age 13 to 24 through the PIT program in Toronto. Funding, however, expired in 2012.

The youth gang prevention fund continues to fund the MY Region Park project, a project that works with community organizations, families and individuals to assess and understand issues related to gang activity and to design and implement appropriate interventions. The MY Region Park project is targeted at kids age 12 to 17. However, funding for this project is set to expire in 2013.

We should move Bill C-37 to committee so some critically important questions can be asked and answered there. We should also take the opportunity to prevent crime and prevent the creation of more victims of crime. We should reverse the cuts to the CBSA and ensure that we stem the smuggling of handguns onto the streets of our cities. We need to work with the provinces and municipalities to ensure that all jurisdictions are working hand in glove to develop and implement a comprehensive anti-gun smuggling strategy. We also need to take the opportunity to ensure that kids themselves do not become victims by way of getting recruited into gang activities before they even have a chance to contemplate a different and better future for themselves. We need to partner with municipalities to ensure that we establish successful programs that will steer kids to education and employment, not crime and violence. This is what it means to be tough on crime.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 10:25 a.m.
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Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I noticed that toward the end, and even throughout, the member was talking about new programs to stem the crime rate and steer young people into education and jobs. I would hope that when the NDP members, and perhaps that member, come to committee to discuss the bill they will not just once again bring in the mantra of “we need a program for this, we need a program for that”. If they have an idea for a program, and I hope they will, the way to do it is to bring that program, the cost of the program and a cost-benefit analysis of the program. That is the job they should be doing, rather than just arbitrarily asking for a program for this. They should come prepared with their request for a program to demonstrate the cost and the benefit of it.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 10:25 a.m.
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NDP

Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend for his question and his expression of hope for the New Democrats' participation on the committee. I do not sit on the justice committee but I trust that my colleagues who do will bring forward some very concrete proposals to deal with crime, assist victims in this country and compensate them properly.

I find it ironic that the member raises the issue about real programs. The very point of my speech is that what is being offered as a token gesture to victims of crime is something that will not help victims of crime as far as I can see. We will let the committee answer the serious and important questions about whether any of the surcharge makes it into the hands or pockets of victims of crime to assist them with their experiences, trauma and losses. We will also see if it makes sense to waive judicial discretion in terms of actually applying the surcharge.

I trust that my colleagues on the justice committee will be able to talk about the social circumstances that surround criminal behaviour and bring a little reality to the members of the government so they do not bring wasteful and token legislation into the House just as a matter of ideological reflex.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 10:25 a.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it was not that long ago when former prime minister Jean Chrétien brought in legislation that dealt with the surcharge. There was an increase in the surcharge, the way in which it would actually be applied and so forth.

In most part, I think we will find favourable reaction to the surcharge ,but the principle of this bill is to take away the discretion of judges to apply that surcharge. That is the overriding concern in this legislation. I believe the New Democrats are sending a very strong mixed message. They are saying that, in principle, they support judges not having that discretion by voting in favour of the legislation. The New Democrats need to be clear on this particular point.

We in the Liberal Party do not support the government of the day taking away the discretion from judges to use common sense to get a better understanding of a situation before the surcharge is actually applied. We believe in the judicial discretion that is necessary in order to make this program work because we want victims in Canada treated appropriately and the funds for victims to be there.

Do the New Democrats support judicial independence and, if so, why are they voting in favour of this legislation?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 10:30 a.m.
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NDP

Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that I have just 30 seconds because I wanted to quote an article by a criminologist on the subject of ironies.

It is interesting that the member stands and talks about mixed messages because it was a Liberal government in 1994 that introduced the largest set of mandatory minimum penalties in Canadian history. If the Liberals want to talk today about mixed messages, then I would suggest that they look at their own history and efforts to limit judicial discretion.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 10:30 a.m.
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Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-37, another Conservative bill that shows just how out of touch the Conservatives are with reality when it comes to crime and justice.

The bill changes the rules concerning victim surcharges, which are the fees that are imposed on a person who is sentenced for a crime. This proposal doubles the amount of the fine and removes the discretion of a judge not to impose the fine if it would cause undue hardship. That is the prerogative of the judge. I will explain why this is a flawed idea and why I will be voting against this legislation at second reading.

There is no dispute that victims of crime need support and assistance. Often the victims of crime are not just the people we think of as being the ones involved in the incident. Their families and communities can also be affected tremendously by crime, especially in areas such as hate and bias crimes.

Support for victims, their families and the community must take multiple forms. Financial support alone does not heal. There must be services. Government must take an active role in providing those services through providing grants, public-private partnerships, and many other forms other than simply imposing a fine.

We oppose this increase to the victim surcharge because it ignores the reality of those who are being placed in prison, who are primarily the poor, racial minorities and aboriginal people. Those who steal for subsistence certainly do not have the money to pay such a fine, and the removal of a judge's discretion based on the ability of the offender to pay the fine is untenable. It does not take an expert to see the problem. Even Conservative Senator Hugh Segal said this:

Less than 10 per cent of Canadians live beneath the poverty line but almost 100 per cent of our prison inmates come from that 10 per cent. There is no political ideology, on the right or left, that would make the case that people living in poverty belong in jail.

This is precisely what the bill would do. Those who are living in poverty and commit a crime would be forced to stay in jail longer because of their inability to pay the fine. While the government is content to say they can work it off through a provincial program, the government fails to understand that not every province has equivalent programs. We would be creating further disparities depending on the province in which the offender lived.

Nobody in the Liberal Party is suggesting that criminals should not be held accountable for their actions. What we are saying is that it is the role of the judges to decide how criminals should be sentenced for their crimes. Judges should be trusted to do that. An independent judiciary is at the core of a democracy. To tamper with the independence of the judiciary, whether it is to impose decisions on judges or set mandatory minimums means that the government does not accept an independent judiciary.

The government seems to be convinced that locking away more people in jail is the solution to both poverty and crime. It is not surprising, however, because it also sees prison as the answer to mental health and homelessness.

The point is that not only are we continuing this vicious cycle of poverty and disadvantage rather than addressing it, but the whole model is flawed.

Let us look at the victim. Remember that the fine is supposed to be collected when someone is found guilty, but what about those instances when, for various reasons, a person is not found guilty or the case is thrown out because the police did not follow the right procedure? All of those things occur. What happens when the victim does not want to press charges, as in the case of rape, because the victim does not want to face the accused or does not want to go to court? Will the government step up to the bar, pardon the pun, and actually do something for the victim? If there is no fine imposed or if there is no one to pay the fine, what happens? This is not helping the victim at all. All these points give rise to situations where there is a victim of crime but no victim surcharge is being imposed.

What about the family of someone who is attacked by a stranger who was never caught? Should we not ensure that family is funded and has available services to help with the healing process? The mandatory imposition of a fine is laughable. At the same time, the government speaks of hate crimes being a victimless crime and therefore, no one needs assistance because there was no victim.

The point is that we must trust our judges to impose a fine where it is warranted. The language of the existing provision in the Criminal Code should be changed if it is inadequate, but judges should not be stripped of their discretion, doubling the fine and providing no way for some offenders to work it off.

As I said earlier, the provinces are not equal in their ability to meet the provisions that have been placed in the bill. For instance, in British Columbia a $100 surcharge would help, but in the north and in rural areas where more money is needed to sustain programs for victims, that $100 may not be enough.

The government is actually shirking its role. It does not want to play a role in helping the victims of crime. It wants to lay it all on the shoulders of the “offender” who may or may not be found.

The point is that the very arbitrariness of the increase is the flaw. A 100% surcharge gets something different in every province as victims do not all have the same needs. We need a consistent level of support for victims. The government cannot shirk that responsibility.

How was the fine calculated? It is not based on evidence. It is arbitrary. We could be back here to increase it in two years and again in five years as time moves along. Committed direct funding from the government is a way to help victims deal with the effects of crime. This dithering by the federal government does not cut it.

I want to speak about the aboriginal people who tend to be over-represented in our prison systems. Aboriginal people make up 17% of our prison population but only 2.7% of the Canadian population. In fact, some people say that aboriginal people make up 30% of the prison population. However, the Conservative government is not talking about aboriginal justice here. Where is its plan to assist aboriginal offenders? Where is its plan to combat the cycle of homelessness, poverty, lack of education, unemployment and discrimination? Where is its plan for culturally sensitive sentencing, or will the government continue with a one-size-fits-all approach like Bill C-37?

The government does not seem to care at all about a person's inability to pay or circumstances that drive someone to commit a crime. It does not seem to want to talk about the prevention of crime. It does not seem to want to talk about the rehabilitation of offenders and helping them integrate back into society. None of that is here. It is just about punishment, having offenders pay fines and not even allowing them to work it off if they cannot afford to pay the fines.

Where is the youth criminal justice strategy in here? We do not see any. What about the soccer fields and after-school programs that would prevent young people from getting into crime? Why are we treating youngsters like hardened criminals and locking them up in jail where they will only learn how to become better criminals with no hope of joining society again?

Crime is a complex puzzle. No one disputes that victims of crime need support and assistance, but this one-size-fits-all focus on punishment is not effective. It is flawed.

Taking away the judges' discretion is flawed. Interfering with the independent judiciary is non-democratic. In fact, the Conservative member for Kootenay—Columbia is saying that if offenders do not want to pay the victim surcharge, they should not commit crimes. That is a fairly simple way of dealing with things, assuming that criminals go on Google every day to find out what the Criminal Code says the sentence would be if they commit a crime. If punishment were a deterrent for crime, the jails in the United States would be empty, but they are not. People do not check and see what the Criminal Code says before they commit a crime. This is a misunderstanding that drives an ideology of mandatory minimums and throwing people in jail. As I said, it is as if the government thinks that criminals spend their time searching on Google to see what the Criminal Code has to say.

Deterrence is not achieved by this surcharge, nor does it help the victims. It is not achieved through mandatory minimums. True deterrence, although the Conservatives would never admit it, is about giving people options and providing them with the ability to start living reasonable lives, to get out of poverty, to get an education and to be rehabilitated.

The Liberals will not be supporting the bill.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 10:40 a.m.
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NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her speech.

I would like to go back to a comment by one of her colleagues, a member of her party.

The member has a great deal of experience in the House. I am certain that she knows that just because a party supports a bill at second reading does not mean that it agrees with the bill in its entirety. The party wants the bill to be examined by a committee, which will hear from experts and have the opportunity to make minor and major amendments.

I am very surprised by the hypocritical comments to the effect that by supporting Bill C-37 the NDP opposes the discretionary power of judges. The NDP does not support this bill, but it does support referring it to committee.

I would like to give the member the opportunity to comment on the absurd remarks made by her colleague. Perhaps she has a concrete example of a bill introduced by the NDP that clearly undermines judicial discretion, but that would surprise me. The NDP believes that judicial discretion is important.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 10:40 a.m.
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Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member is right. I have been here for a long time and I have not seen in my time in Parliament a majority government that does not listen to witnesses at committee.

I think the hon. member knows in her own short experience that with this particular government, it does not matter what witnesses say and it does not matter what amendments are made, because amendments are not going to happen. To send the bill to committee and hope it will be changed is the ultimate in Pollyanna thinking. We know it will not happen. We know it has not happened with that majority government.

Let us just say no, put our cards on the table and say that we do not support it.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 10:40 a.m.
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Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, while listening to the fine speech by my colleague from Vancouver Centre, I was reminded of an interview in Maclean's this summer of a professor of psychology, Dan Ariely. He stated:

Yet most of our attempts to overcome bad behaviour are about catching it after the fact, and exacting some kind of penalty. We think this will deter people from behaving badly, but it turns out to have no effect.

This is what psychologists who study crime are telling us. I would ask my hon. colleague from Vancouver Centre what relevance it has to this bill.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 10:40 a.m.
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Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question.

As I touched on in the short time I had to speak against this bill, everything that we see on crime coming into this House from the government is about punishment. There is nothing about looking at the root causes of crime and ways of preventing crime.

We know what the root causes of crime are. Enough studies have done over the last 25 years. Even the United States is moving away from the idea of throwing people in jail, locking them up and throwing away the key and building more jails and filling them with people.

We need to understand what causes people to turn to crime. We need to look at populations that are the highest represented in jails and find out the reasons for that. We need to look at how to assist them to live different lives.

I talked about soccer fields, after-school programs, helping aboriginal people to get an education. I talked about looking at justice in culturally sensitive ways, looking at why people commit crime and preventing it at the outset. If we do catch people who have become criminals, let us look at how we can rehabilitate them. Let us look at how we really help victims, which is what this bill is about, and not simply put it on the shoulders of the offenders, especially if there is no offender.

The government is shirking its responsibility to help victims of crime by not putting forward its own solid and clear programs to help people who are victims of crime.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 10:40 a.m.
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NDP

Jean-François Larose NDP Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's comments are quite astute. I do not understand the Liberals' position that the bill should not be sent to committee because we have a majority government. I do not believe that having a committee study a bill means that it will pass. It seems to me that there are other votes.

We have a democratic system where people believe that they have less and less representation and that they are being heard less and less. It is vital that the experts and the people be heard in committee to prove that the government is not listening to them. Canadians must always have a voice. Our position is that committees are essential in order for citizens to participate at any time.

What does my colleague have to say in that regard?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 10:45 a.m.
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Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, of course committees are essential. It was under a Liberal government in fact that we made a decision to send these to committees before they came back to the House for the final reading. We need to hear what people have to say.

I am speaking about the experience with this particular majority government. Even the past majority governments of Brian Mulroney did not treat committees as places where victims would be disrespected and not listened to.

In this House we saw a budget bill on which over 800 amendments were proposed and not one of them was accepted by the government at committee. Every one of them was denied. Then the government members stood in the House and high-fived each other every time they voted one down. This is a farce. Are we going to allow this farce to continue?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 10:45 a.m.
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NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have the opportunity to address the hon. member on this side of the House and to ask her a question. From her comments and answers to questions, I gathered that this bill was unfortunately not going to do anything for victims.

I am not sure if she did some research to see who is in support of the bill, but the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime does support it. As she probably knows, we all agree that it is important to help victims so that they have more rights. We need a better balanced justice system, and I am sure that the hon. member agrees with that. It would also be useful for the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to look into this issue to figure things out.

But does she not feel that she went a bit too far by saying that the bill does not help victims at all? Should we not perhaps take the time to study the bill further in committee before jumping to these conclusions?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 10:45 a.m.
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Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think the hon. member might have been distracted for some time during my speech. I did not say that the bill would not help victims. I said that it was arbitrary in that it would be unequally applied because the $100 fine would not apply in some provinces where the cost to help the victims would be greater.

I also questioned what would happen if the offender was not found or if the person did not press charges. The victim would be left with no help whatsoever if we were to place the burden of help for victims solely on the offenders and not on government to provide appropriate services to help victims and to help the provinces where that would not cut it for the victims either.

This is an arbitrary throw-it-together $100 fine. What is the basis of that fine? Where is the evidence to say that $100 would work? Have our provinces been consulted?

This is not a reasonable way to deal with the problem of support for victims.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 10:45 a.m.
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NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to rise again to ask the hon. member some questions.

As she was answering my question, I kept nodding my head, for the most part, because it is true that we need to look at victims of crime and the funding they receive. Are programs appropriate? What more can we do to help the victims and to better balance our Canadian justice system?

Does the hon. member not feel that this would be a good opportunity to open the door to some of the recommendations that experts could make in committee in order to better assist victims in Canada?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 10:45 a.m.
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Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am not being frivolous when I say I think I answered that question at least three times.

I have said that we should go to committee to look at how we can modify the bill and make it better. With the majority Conservative government, this does not seem to occur.

I am on the health committee. I have watched witnesses come to committee and they have been disrespected by the Conservative members. I have watched proposals agreed upon by everybody to amend a bill thrown out completely.

All I am saying is this is a farce. Let us not allow this farce to occur over and over again. It is a waste of everybody's time until the current government learns how to respect the parliamentary process and its committees, especially when some decisions could lead to an outcome that would only create problems for victims and offenders, minority offenders like aboriginal people. Let us talk about doing this properly. Let us throw it out and come up with something new.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 10:50 a.m.
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NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for allowing me to speak to Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, which is at second reading in the House. First, I would like to say that the NDP is very pleased to support this bill at second reading so that it will be sent to committee.

Unlike what I just heard the Liberal member say on this side of the House, we are very interested in examining this bill more carefully. This is an excellent opportunity to open the debate on victims' rights in Canada. I was a bit sad to hear the member who just spoke say that her party did not support sending the bill to committee, calling the committees a farce. She was wondering why we would use committees, since they are useless and either way, the Conservatives will do whatever they want with this bill, that it does not go far enough, and so on. I agree, but in this case, are we supposed to block all of the bills and give up, saying that no matter what, this is a majority government, that there is no point because we will not be able to make amendments?

I am disappointed to hear such a thing. As my colleague said, I am still relatively new to the House, but I am familiar with this Conservative government. I sit on the Standing Committee on Public Safety, and all of the parties represented there agree on a number of things. For example, we succeeded in making amendments to a Conservative private member's bill, which we debated this week. We managed to flesh out the bill so that it better represents Canadian ideals.

I am very disappointed to hear the member suggest that committee work would be completely pointless, because the Conservatives have a majority. I do not believe that. On the contrary, I believe that progress in committee is possible. I agree with my colleague that it can be very difficult, but I think that most of the time, everyone is capable of being reasonable. We are all here to pass the best legislation in the interest of all Canadians. Why not take this opportunity to pass better legislation for the protection of victims and their rights, and ensure that victims have access to programs that are managed better financially?

I am not suggesting that Bill C-37 is perfect. I will come back to that point later in my speech. It is extremely important. A door is opening before us and we must take advantage of the opportunity. It is time to examine this bill in committee in order to come up with something better. I am almost certain that my colleagues across the way who are members of the Standing Committee on Justice also want to have a closer look at this in order to ensure that victims are properly represented.

I doubt there is any member here in this House who does not want to protect the rights of victims of crime. That is unthinkable; it would be in bad faith. All parties in this House, especially the NDP, want to explore this issue. We want to strike a balance in order to ensure that victims are well represented and supported. That is extremely important, and besides, who knows what could happen? Any member of the House could suddenly become a victim of crime or perhaps some already have been. This issue affects so many Canadians.

I will therefore support the bill at second reading so that it goes to committee. I hope that all my colleagues who sit on the Standing Committee on Justice will be fair in their discussions about this bill, so that it is a better bill when it returns to the House at third reading. I hope we get the answers to some questions we have about the bill.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues from Gatineau and Toronto—Danforth for the great work they are doing in the Standing Committee on Justice to represent our position on criminal justice in Canada so well.

My colleague from Gatineau is our justice critic and my colleague from Toronto—Danforth is the deputy critic. Their research on Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Criminal Code was very thorough.

I was very interested in the type of recommendations they would make. I cannot say that I am an expert in justice issues; as a critic, I tend to address public safety issues. We are drawn to certain issues, but I found their explanations on what Bill C-37 could contain and where we could go with it to be very interesting. Furthermore, the bill touches on some of the recommendations made by the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime.

I met with Ms. O'Sullivan several times in my work with the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, and I also know that many of my colleagues who follow justice issues work closely with the Ombudsman.

What I liked about what the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime had to say was that, while there is room for improvement with respect to protection of victims' rights and compensation for victims of crime, we must also ensure that our criminal justice system is balanced. I will come back to that later on.

What is the infamous Bill C-37, which is before us today, all about? I see three main elements. First, the bill would amend Criminal Code provisions to double the amount of the victim surcharge. Because I am not an expert in the area of justice, I did some research to learn more about these surcharges. Here is what I learned: under this bill, the surcharge would be 30% of any fine imposed on the offender. Currently in Canada, the surcharge is 15%. If no fine is imposed, the surcharge would be $100—it is currently $50—in the case of an offence punishable by summary conviction, and $200—it is currently $100—in the case of an offence punishable by indictment. All of the amounts will double. These funds are channeled directly to programs that help victims of crime.

Second, the bill would eliminate the court's discretion to waive the victim surcharge if the offender demonstrates that paying the surcharge would cause him or his dependants undue hardship. Judges will, however, retain the discretion to impose an increased surcharge if the offender has the ability to pay.

The third main element is that Bill C-37 would make it possible for an offender who is unable to pay the fine to participate in a provincial fine option program.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 12:10 p.m.
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NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to continue the debate on BIll C-37.

Before I was interrupted for members' statements, I was trying to give some background information on Bill C-37.

I said I wanted to talk about three main points. I had reached my third point, which is this: if the offender in question is not able to pay the victim surcharge, Bill C-37 allows that individual the opportunity to participate in a provincial fine option program. I knew very little about such programs, so I consulted the Department of Justice website, where I found the following definition:

The federal victim surcharge (FVS) is a monetary penalty imposed on offenders convicted or discharged of a Criminal Code offence or an offence under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The underlying purpose of the FVS is to provide a rational link between an offender's crime and his or her accountability to the victim, as well as provide financial support to victim services. Provincial and territorial governments are responsible for collecting the surcharge, which is used to provide programs, services and assistance to victims of crime within their jurisdictions.

What happens when offenders cannot pay the victim surcharge? Some territories and provinces have a fine option program that allows offenders to volunteer and help communities by giving their time. It seems like a very good idea, on paper. It is worth studying.

Participating in a fine option program is possible; however, my research shows that the program does not exist in every province and territory.

The first thing I would ask my colleagues on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is to determine what will happen in the provinces and territories where this program does not exist.

What will happen to offenders who cannot pay and who cannot participate in a fine option program?

What options will they have? Will a fine option program be established in every province and territory? I do not know how that could be done, because these programs are set up in provinces that have agreements with the federal government. We will have to see what can be done in that regard. That is one of the questions I have about this bill. It will be interesting to study it further in committee. It will also be very important to decide how to address this rather important problem with Bill C-37.

I am also concerned about what will happen with low-income offenders. Previously, there was the possibility of applying the undue hardship clause, but Bill C-37 will eliminate this option.

The Victims of Crime Research Digest points out that some provinces and territories have a fine option program that, as I mentioned earlier, may have some weaknesses. At present, the judge can decide whether or not the offender can pay the fine, which is good. Now, the government is thinking of eliminating judicial discretion. We should take a closer look at this because, in this case, judges working in the Canadian penal system will lose some of their powers.

Once again, I think that this is something that should be studied in greater depth. A number of experts should be invited to the committee to tackle the issue and explain to us what can be done.

Many people have ruled either in favour of or against this bill. There are also people who feel the same way we do about the bill. Earlier in my speech I mentioned the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. Sue O'Sullivan is the ombudsman and I have already met with her.

I have a great deal of respect for her and for the work that she does. I also have a great deal of respect for the information that she provides in committee, be it on justice matters or public safety. She has a very simple way of explaining the information and making it very accessible. She also has a very balanced take on our system. I very much respect her vision and her approach to her work.

In one of the last meetings of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security in the previous parliamentary session, she talked about the need to balance our criminal justice system and our justice system in order to have the least number of victims. For instance, when we met with her, we talked about programs for offenders inside penitentiaries, as well as the importance of their reintegration into society to ensure that they do not reoffend. At the same time, she ensures that our correctional system works well so that Canada has fewer or no victims. I greatly appreciate this balanced approach. We therefore share her vision.

The Elizabeth Fry Society has raised a rather interesting point. The organization asked how this bill would serve disadvantaged aboriginals who, from the outset, do not have the means to pay.

This raised some concerns because, as we know, aboriginal people are already overrepresented in our Canadian prisons right now. The number of aboriginal people who were incarcerated in a federal penitentiary increased by 28.1% from 2000 to 2010, and it is expected that the current aboriginal baby boom will cause the number of aboriginal offenders to rise still further. This information can be found in a document published by Public Safety Canada. I believe that we also have to consider this issue. I once again urge my colleagues who sit on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to really pay close attention to what is said by the experts who come to speak about these issues. What will we do about these people?

Aboriginal poverty is nothing new, but it is a growing and worrisome problem. It has to be a concern. We know that, in addition to being overrepresented in our prisons, too many aboriginal people are living in poverty in Canada. The truly sad statistics speak for themselves. For example, among first nations, one in four children live in poverty, and over half of aboriginal people are unemployed.

Overcrowded housing is also twice as common among aboriginal families than among all other Canadian families. According to a recent government study, over half of Inuit families live in overcrowded homes. Sometimes up to 20 people are living in a three-bedroom home. This is clearly a problem.

I am going to try to conclude my remarks about Bill C-37 quite quickly. As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, we will support this bill at second reading so that it is sent to committee. It is extremely important that we consider this issue. The door is open to offer more help to victims.

I hope that all my colleagues in this chamber will support this bill because it is important that we study it in committee. It is important to see what we can do to improve it. I hope that the government will be open to some amendments because, as I mentioned, this bill does have some small shortcomings, such as the fine option programs. What will we do about people who have low incomes?

What about the first nations, which are under-represented and whose members are, unfortunately, often poorer than the rest of the Canadian population?

I trust in our parliamentary system to examine this issue with all of the seriousness it deserves. I hope that we will be able to find a balance with Bill C-37 in order to better represent victims and to position them well in our penal system, in the Canadian legal system.

I leave this in your hands and I am ready for questions and comments from my colleagues.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 12:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, in the member's comments prior to question period, she seemed to take some exception as to why we would prevent the bill from going to committee.

We tried to explain that the principle of this bill is to take away judicial discretion, which is probably the most significant thing that the bill would do. Therefore, in principle, we in the Liberal Party do not like that. We want to support the victims of crime, and there are many things the government can do in order to do that, but the principle is judicial discretion, which would deal with many of the things she is talking about.

The NDP members seem to be saying that they have concerns about the bill but that they will still pass it to committee. The member's logical argument that she put forward prior to question period was that even though the NDP members are in opposition to this and have a lot of concerns about the bill, they will still pass it to committee. Given their position on this, could the member not use that argument for every bill? If that is the case, why would she ever vote against a bill going to committee?

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 do not want to inflame the situation with my colleague, but I find his comment somewhat demagogic and partisan. That is rather sad in this situation.

A large part of this bill is extremely interesting and we are opening the door to a discussion that is essential for victims of crime in Canada. I agree with my colleague about the problem with judges' discretionary power to waive the victim surcharge, a power that judges had. That is something that will have to be examined in committee.

What I find even sadder when I hear these comments is seeing what little faith my colleague seems to have in our parliamentary system. In committee, we can really change things, even as members of the opposition. As I mentioned in my speech, before question period, the proof of this is in the bills we discussed in the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, of which I am a member. Honestly, there are times when we do not really agree with the government, but we have some extremely interesting things to bring to the table. We see a shortcoming here, a hole in a bill and if we want to be sure that the bill works properly and that we create the best laws possible, then we have to work on fixing these holes.

Right now, we have something important that needs to be done. This bill is important. So yes, we have questions. However, I would like to remind members that the NDP's slogan during the last election campaign focused on working together with all parties. So this would be important to do, even in committee. We have an opportunity here to do so. Why would we pass it up?

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.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 1:05 p.m.
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NDP

Élaine Michaud NDP Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I know that I do not have a lot of time, but I want to quickly reiterate two key things.

First, there is the fact that the victim surcharge will be doubled for all offenders without exception. Sometimes, certain specific cases need to be considered separately. Second—and I think that this bears repeating for some of the members of the House—the NDP is opposed to restricting the autonomy and freedom of judges to determine whether a surcharge is necessary on a case by case basis.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 1:05 p.m.
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NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, under section 737 of the Criminal Code, a judge may impose a victim surcharge on a person found guilty of a criminal offence. Specifically, this is an amount of money that accompanies any other punishment and is determined by the lower of the following amounts: 15% of any fine imposed, or, if no fine is imposed, $50 in the case of an offence punishable by summary conviction and $100 in the case of an offence punishable by indictment. Furthermore, the Criminal Code allows the judge the discretionary power not only to order an offender to pay an amount exceeding that amount “if the court...is satisfied that the offender is able to pay“, but also to make sure that the offender is able to pay the surcharge.

Our criminal legislation goes further in allowing the offender the opportunity to establish that the additional payment of the victim surcharge would cause undue hardship. The judge can then exempt the offender from the victim surcharge.

The victim surcharge is imposed in addition to any other punishment for an offender convicted or discharged of a Criminal Code offence or an offence under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. It is a sanction that is principally directed at the offender's assets. The money is paid to the provinces and territories so that they can fund assistance to victims of crime.

Given that the victim surcharge is a penalty, it must be effective and it must reflect the traditional objectives expected of penalties: to dissuade, to deter, to provide redress and reparation, and to rehabilitate. In other words, Canadian legislation has, in a way, assigned three classic functions to the penalties provided for in the Criminal Code: those functions are prevention, reparation and redress.

The NDP supports Bill C-37, the intent of which is to amend the provisions of the Criminal Code dealing with victim surcharges in order to double the amount that offenders will be required to pay when they are sentenced, and to make the surcharge mandatory for all offenders.

More specifically, under Bill C-37, the surcharge would increase to 30% of any fine imposed, or, if no fine is imposed, it would go from $50 to $100 for a summary conviction offence. It would also go from $100 to $200 in the case of an offence punishable by indictment.

Bill C-37 makes other amendments to the Criminal Code by repealing the provision that gives the court the flexibility to waive the victim surcharge if offenders establish that paying it would cause them or their dependents undue and unreasonable hardship.

The bill preserves the discretionary power that judges have under the current legislation to increase the amount of the victim surcharge if they believe that the circumstances warrant it and the offender has the ability to pay.

Bill C-37 takes into account the fact that some members of the community may not be able to pay the surcharge because of difficult social conditions, so it gives them an alternative: participating in a provincial fine option program, where such programs exist.

Fine option programs allow the offender to pay a fine by earning credits for work done in the province or territory where the crime was committed.

The purpose of the proposed increase set out in Bill C-37 is to have a more meaningful impact on the personal wealth of potential criminals by connecting their actions to the costs incurred by the government in helping victims cope with the consequences of the terrible acts they commit.

The NDP supported several of the recommendations made by the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, including this one, and is also in favour of enhanced funding for programs for victims of crime.

Indirectly, this bill will satisfy a number of the recommendations made by the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, who for years has been arguing in favour of an automatic surcharge and better funding for programs for victims of crime.

Crime puts a major strain on government resources. It also puts a strain on the limited resources of Canadian taxpayers.

In 2003, crime cost about $70 billion. Victims of crime bore $47 billion or 70% of that total cost.

In 2004, studies estimated the compensation paid to victims for pain and suffering at $36 billion. That amount does not include the compensation that a significant number of eligible victims do not claim because they are not familiar with the legislation.

On a number of occasions, the Elizabeth Fry Society has also expressed its deep concerns about the bill and about the impact of additional fines on disadvantaged people who cannot afford to pay.

The John Howard Society said that it does not necessarily have a problem with the fines, but that it is afraid that, under this system, fines might end up being disproportionate to the crimes.

The NDP is in favour of Bill C-37 as far as the benefits mentioned earlier go. However, they have some concerns about the bill and hope that the necessary improvements will be made once it is studied in committee.

In the meantime, I would like to talk about the proposal to remove judicial discretion under Bill C-37. That is unacceptable since the discretionary power is very much part of a judge's role. Removing it from judges means undermining the independent nature of the judiciary, which allows judges to hear all sides of the story and to take a stand based on what they know and according to their conscience.

Judges have sovereignty to weigh the facts before them and to make a ruling one way or another. We have a problem with removing judicial discretion when it comes to the surcharge.

The NDP recognizes the paramount importance of the autonomy of judges and will not be able to support the amendment that proposes to restrict judicial discretion. Judges must have that power to be able to perform their duties free from pressures of any kind.

We in the NDP also have some reservations about the proposal to remove the undue hardship clause, considering the negative impact this could have on low-income people. The same is true for the proposal to double the amount. For people who have low incomes, the bill should include a provision to allow judges to waive the surcharge. The law cannot blindly punish people. It must take into account the particular circumstances of the victim, otherwise it would be unfair.

The Conservatives and the NDP have different views of justice. This bill is based on one of the Conservatives' campaign promises in the last election, that they would double the amount paid to victims and make the surcharge mandatory in all cases, with no exceptions, in order to make offenders more accountable to victims of crime.

The NDP, which is appealing for a justice system that is more conscious of the specific needs of young offenders and the need to rehabilitate criminals, opposes any justice reforms that appear to be motivated by a law and order ideology and that do not take into account the specific circumstances of each offender.

I cannot conclude my speech without pointing out the overlap that exists between BIll C-37 and private member's Bill C-350, which also aims to make offenders more accountable to victims. How will these two bill affect one another?

The NDP supports victims of crime and their families and respects the recommendations of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. Although we support the principle of Bill C-37, the NDP would like it to be debated further in order to improve it overall.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 1:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do appreciate the fact that members of the New Democratic Party say that they support the Liberals' efforts and thoughts in regard to the importance of judicial discretion.

When I have asked why the NDP members would vote to send the bill to committee, the response has tended to be that that is where it should go. Even though Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, was strongly supported by provincial jurisdictions, including the NDP in Saskatchewan, the federal NDP voted against that bill going to committee. It is an issue of consistency and that is what I am looking to the member for. As the Liberals and the New Democrats voted against sending that bill to committee, it is a bit of a surprise that those members would not join us on this bill. Instead they have chosen to join the Conservatives in supporting this particular bill going to committee even though we seem to share the same concerns about judicial independence. I for one am a very strong advocate for listening to what the victims and others have to say.

If the government were to change the principle of the bill, then it would deserve the support of an opposition party. Would the member not agree?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 1:15 p.m.
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NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question.

I would simply like to remind the member that the NDP believes in democratic debate. We think that changes can be made in committee, because dialogue and discussion take place there and because debate is possible there, which is why we intend to support this bill, so it can go to committee.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 1:15 p.m.
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NDP

Tyrone Benskin NDP Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to preface my question with, “Really?” Bill C-10 was Bill C-10 and Bill C-37 is Bill C-37. I am not sure where my hon. colleague is drawing the link that just because we stood up against Bill C-10 from the beginning, we should do the same thing for Bill C-37. There are elements in Bill C-37 that deserve being looked at in committee. There are elements in Bill C-37 that need to be changed, in particular the point on judicial discretion.

Could my hon. colleague enlighten us a little more on the importance of taking a good look at a bill, trying to change the things that do not work and enhancing the things that do work, which is what we are trying to do with Bill C-37?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 1:15 p.m.
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NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question.

Obviously, ensuring that democratic debate can continue in committee is very important to parliamentarians. We have opportunities to go back to certain things and propose amendments. These discussions are vital because they make it possible to influence in some way the changes made to legislation.

I believe that we must insist on the fact that democratic debate does not exclusive to the House. It occurs in our committees, and these meetings are needed in order to influence and propose amendments to proposed legislation.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 1:15 p.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciated my colleague's last comments, and her entire speech for that matter.

These bills make it possible to meet with groups who want to be heard by parliamentarians. In that context, would voting against the bill prevent a number of groups that represent victims from having a say on such an important matter?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 1:20 p.m.
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NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my college for his excellent question.

Obviously, hearing from witnesses is crucial and vital to a healthy democracy. It is important and necessary for committees to hear from as many groups as possible, or even from individuals, people who present their viewpoints and suggestions for improvements, which we, as parliamentarians, must consider. That is very important.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 21st, 2012 / 1:20 p.m.
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NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take the opportunity to express my congratulations to you on your recent elevation to the Speaker's chair in the Deputy Speaker role. Your acknowledged expertise in Parliament, with winning the Maclean's/Dominion Institute Awards as Canada's “Most Knowledgeable” Parliamentarian three times in a row, puts you in a position of considerable support from the entire House for the work that you will do. I hope it all goes very successfully for you. I am sure you will work very well with our Speaker and the Acting Speakers to make the House more reasonable and acceptable to Canadians. I think that is the goal of all of us here. It is a wonderful goal and something for which we should be pushing very hard.

On Bill C-37, first, I would like to deal with the issue of why the NDP would support a bill that would ostensibly take away some discretion from judges and put it into the hands of legislation.

We have to look at the past six months in Parliament to see that many of the bills we wanted to discuss in committee were rammed through. We did not really spend much time on important legislation, legislation that will now have an impact.

Thinking back to Bill C-38, we heard from some witnesses who said that they were in favour of the provisions in the bill on the environment, but that it needed some changes. These people liked the legislation, but thought it required amendment to make the bill better. However, there were no amendments at all to that huge omnibus bill and it was rammed through Parliament. Every Canadian may feel the impact of legislation that is not properly constructed and given due attention.

In this Parliament, the ability to bring something like this forward to committee is an excellent opportunity. There are people who should be heard. Judges need to be heard.

Over previous years, judges have used their discretion quite often not to put a victim surcharge in place. We need to understand why those judges made that decision and why they judged that it was the correct thing to do. We need to understand what it was should that discretion over the victim surcharge be maintained. Upon hearing their opinion, we may get closer to what the bill can accomplish.

We talked a bit about the fine option program. That exists in the Northwest Territories, which I represent, and that program works very well. Not only does it provide low-income Canadians with an option to deal with the added financial responsibility after a criminal charge has been given to them, along with all the other problems it causes in their lives, but in the small communities I represent it really brings people back into the community. It allows them to show that they are willing to work with the community again, that they have attributes and a good side, which can be displayed with these fine option programs.

Over and over we see people under the fine options program taking care of seniors by cleaning their driveways, mowing their lawns or doing all kinds of nice work that brings them back into the community in a real fashion. There are other options that have people out on the land. There may be a variety of activities. They are not costed that well because the cost is not the important part of that program.

The important part of that program is the rehabilitation it provides. If this bill in any way encourages the other provinces and territories to take on a fine option program to match up with this, because the increased fines will be so difficult for many low income people to deal with, that may be a good outcome of the bill. It will encourage those other provinces and territories to get onside with the fine option program, something that works well.

On the other side of it, victims services in the Northwest Territories are probably in the millions of dollars a year. Yet, if we look at the total number of charges and convictions and the amount of money that is raised, we can see that this surcharge is only a small part of what society puts into victims services. It has to be.

It is really not about the money. It is about creating an atmosphere where people understand that what they have done has hurt others and they have an opportunity to remedy that through a financial contribution, which may take something off it, but there is also this fine option program where they actually have to interact with the community. The community understands they under a fine option and they understand they are working off some problem that they created. That is very useful for the justice system.

I do not want to see the provincial or territorial fine option program turn out to be something that does not deliver to the victims. Offenders could end up in the fine option program working off their time, but where is the money for the victims? Do they have to wait until the time is worked off? That might be an amendment we could look at to ensure that if victims' compensation is to be delivered that, it is done in a timely fashion to the victims who have an opportunity to get some services or support for whatever has beset them through the crime that has occurred. The victims should have some opportunity to get that as soon as possible.

There are some issues there that would require a careful look at this. The position of the judges needs to be understood more fully. Canadian judges, by and large, across the country represent a very large and significant volume of justice, understanding and experience with handling criminal cases. Canada has an enormous record of making criminals out of our citizens. The judges are there for all of that.

Bringing this bill forward and taking a look at what it actually means is the sensible thing to do right now. It is a good thing for Parliament to do as well. I do not want to go through the exercise we went through last June when the government rammed through the omnibus bill with no consideration of the finer points of any of those legislation changes. The sheer stupidity of that will play out in Canada for many years to come.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 19th, 2012 / 5:15 p.m.
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NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I welcome you back after our recess over the summer. This is the first time I have had an opportunity to rise in the House and speak since we came back and I hope everyone had a good summer. I know that we were all busy in our ridings taking care of constituents and constituency business. I certainly was and it was very good to connect with people because we are so often here in Ottawa in the House. We are nevertheless glad to be back in the House debating various pieces of legislation again.

As was just pointed out, Bill C-37, proposes to amend the provisions of the Criminal Code on victim surcharges, namely section 737 in the Criminal Code. It would double the amount that offenders must pay when they are sentenced. It would also make the surcharge mandatory for all offenders.

By way of background, we know that a victim surcharge is an additional sanction imposed at the time of sentencing on offenders who are found guilty. It is collected by provincial and territorial governments and is used to provide programs and services for victims of crime in the province or territory where the crime was committed.

Obviously that is a very important service provided and I am sure we are all aware of situations where people or their family members have suffered as a result of their being a victim of crime. It is very important to have the support services and programs in place. This kind of program is something that is very important in our society.

We know that the bill being debated at second reading proposes to amend the provisions of the Criminal Code relating to the amount of the victim surcharge, which the bill would in fact double. The proposed surcharge would be about 30%, or higher than the current 15%, of any fine imposed on the offender. Where no fine is imposed, it would be $100, again representing a doubling because it is currently $50 for summary conviction offences, and $200 for indictable offences, from the current $100.

That sounds reasonable and is something that we have supported in principle. However, we do have some concerns about the bill that some of my colleagues who have spoken previously have put forward. I wish to put them on the record as well.

One of our concerns is that the bill removes the ability of the court to waive a victim surcharge if the offender can show that paying the surcharge would result in undue hardship to either himself or herself, or to his or her dependants. This is now contained in subsection 737(5) and would be repealed by the bill.

The second concern we have is that while on the one hand judges would retain the discretion they have to increase the victim surcharge if they believe the circumstances so warrant, on the other hand their discretion would be removed as to whether or not there was some undue hardship. This is quite problematic and part of a pattern that we have seen in many of the so-called law and order bills the Conservative government has brought forward. The thrust of these bills, and certainly this one is now another example of this theme, has been to undermine the discretion of the court system, and judges in particular.

We have a lot of concerns about the bill. We believe that it needs to be studied at committee, particularly with regard to the decreased discretionary power of a judge to decide if paying a surcharge would cause undue hardship. Why do we believe that? It is because we believe very much in the importance of discretionary powers of a judge and the autonomy of judges within our judicial system. That will be restricted by the bill.

The withdrawal of the undue hardship clause and the provision seeking to double the surcharge could be problematic for low-income offenders. It would not always be the case, but certainly there are situations and experiences where this would be a consideration.

Therefore, it seems very puzzling that we have a government that would bring forward yet another bill that would seek to restrict the scope and discretion of what our judicial system can take into account at the level of the decisions that judges make and what information they can look at.

That has a lot of consequences. When we look at this particular bill in the context of all of the other bills we have dealt with that also have the same kind of purpose in restricting judicial discretion, then we can see that we are fundamentally changing what our judicial system is about and how it operates. As legislators, members of Parliament representing our constituents across the country in so many diverse ridings, this is actually something that we should be concerned about. It is very easy to look at legislation one by one and say it is not a big deal, that maybe we could live with it. However, when we begin to add it up and we see the incremental changes in a more comprehensive way, we begin to realize that there are some fundamental changes taking place.

That is something that concerns us. We believe there should be proper analysis. We should look not just at this piece of legislation but at all kinds of legislation to see what those impacts on the judicial system are.

For example, the Elizabeth Fry Society is very concerned about the impact of these additional fines on, for example, aboriginal people and people who do not have the means to pay. The John Howard Society has also expressed concern that the fines could be disproportionate to the crimes committed. These are two very notable, hard-working, credible organizations in our society. They operate across the country. They know the system first-hand from the ground up. They deal with offenders as they come out of the system and are making a transition back into society. When we hear organizations like the Elizabeth Fry Society and the John Howard Society express their concerns based on their real experience in dealing with offenders in a community setting, this is something that we should take note of. It really worries me when Conservative members will just sweep that concern under the carpet and say it is of no consequence. Someone in this place has to take note of what the impacts and consequences are.

What I am trying to argue here is that the principle of sanctions against offenders is a good principle. It is something that we have supported. We have supported the ombudsperson's report on this matter. However, we have to look at the very fine details of this legislation and examine whether or not it has gone further than it needs to go and cause more negative impacts by removing the discretion we now have. This is something that we very much need to examine at the committee level.

Over the summer I had the pleasure of attending the Canadian Medical Association's general council meeting in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. We heard an extraordinary speaker, Sir Michael Marmot, one the world's renowned experts and researchers in the social determinants of health. He made a quite remarkable presentation to all of the doctors assembled there as members of the CMA. He spoke about how our society has moved so far away from establishing some of the basic foundations of a healthy society, like a decent income, a good education and proper housing. He was speaking about these matters as they related to the health of our society, not just in terms of our personal health but also our overall health. I wanted to bring this into the debate today because to me it is very pertinent to what we are looking at in Bill C-37.

Again, what really worries me about the government we have in power right now, which hopefully will not be there for too long, is its emphasis on punitive measures addressing issues after the fact. As Sir Michael Marmot said, we need to go upstream. We need to be developing much stronger foundations for healthy communities and healthy people, ensuring that people have proper education and decent incomes. The evidence is overwhelming that all of these things ensure that a society is more sustainable, not just in terms of the environment but also in social terms.

When we ignore those questions and focus so much on fixing everything with a new piece of legislation, or changing the Criminal Code and saying that somehow that is going to fix issues and problems in our society, we are under a terrible illusion. I know the members across the way in the Conservative government cannot look beyond that. They are very focused and driven by that simplistic approach. I am very glad to say that we on this side of the House in the NDP have a much more progressive, complex and intelligent analysis of what we need to do to make safe and healthy communities.

In speaking to this legislation today, I know we are going to hear a barrage of questions and comments, if we get to them, because if we dare to question any of the Conservatives' law and order provisions then we are said to be favouring the criminals. It is such a simplistic, ridiculous debate that they try to engage in. We do as much as we can on this side to resist that kind of ridiculous, absurd debate.

We are here to look at legislation based on its merit and its consequences for our society overall. That is a matter of balancing the rights of victims. This is something we believe strongly in. Victims have rights. They have the right to be supported. They have the right to know that a judicial system will work for them and that prosecutions will be dealt with in due diligence. However, we also have to ensure that our judicial system is balanced and ensure that discretion is there so that people are not penalized unfairly.

I represent a community that has many low-income people. Many of my constituents have been through the judicial system and have had horrible experiences. They would have been better out of prison. They would have been better with programs that might have focused on restorative justice. They would have been better in programs where there was attention paid to youth at risk, so that youth would not even get into the criminal justice system. However, yet again we see a government that has moved away from that kind of approach and has focused on the need for yet another law and punitive measure.

In conclusion, my colleagues and I have voiced our support at second reading for the principles in this bill. We have reservations and concerns and will take our responsibility to ensure that if this bill goes to committee, we will examine it clause by clause. We will look at it very carefully. We will propose amendments, I have no doubt. Our justice critic is very able in doing that. Our aim is to ensure that this bill becomes one that would not cause problems or unintended consequences.

I have been pleased to speak to this bill today. I look forward to its going to committee and the amendments that I know we in the NDP will propose to improve it.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 3:05 p.m.
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NDP

François Pilon NDP Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today, first of all, to wish all members from all political parties a warm welcome back for the fall 2012 session.

More importantly, I rise here today to speak to Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Criminal Code. This bill proposes changes to the provisions of section 737 of the Criminal Code on victim surcharges. The change would double the amount offenders must pay when they receive their sentence, while, more importantly, making the surcharge mandatory for all offenders.

First of all, it is important to explain exactly what a victim surcharge is. It is an additional sanction imposed when an offender who has been found guilty is sentenced. The surcharge is collected and kept by provincial and territorial governments and serves to fund programs and services for victims of crime in the province or territory where the crime was committed.

Bill C-37 proposes to double the amount of the victim surcharge from 15% to 30% of any fine imposed on the offender. The amount would also double for offenders who are not fined. Therefore, the surcharge for an offence punishable by summary conviction would increase from $50 to $100, and for an offence punishable by indictment, from $100 to $200.

Bill C-37 also eliminates the possibility of having a court waive the surcharge if the offender proves that it causes, or would cause, undue hardship. However, judges would have the option, or the discretion, to order the payment of a higher surcharge if they believed it was warranted under the circumstances and if the offender had the means to pay the victim surcharge.

In cases where offenders are unable to pay the surcharge, under Bill C-37 they may be able to participate in a provincial fine option program, where such programs exist.

This type of program would allow offenders to pay off their fines by earning credits for work done in the province or territory where the criminal offence was committed. That is a summary of Bill C-37.

Now, what is the NDP position on this bill? As you certainly are aware, the NDP supported several of the recommendations of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, especially the recommendation that gave rise to Bill C-37. We obviously support better funding for programs for victims of crime.

However, we have some reservations. Some minor changes are needed to improve this bill. That is why we are supporting the bill in order to be able to discuss these amendments in committee.

What are these changes? We mainly have concerns about reducing the discretion of judges to the point that they would no longer be able to decide if payment of a victim surcharge would constitute undue hardship. We are strong supporters of the discretion of the Canadian judiciary and we believe that their autonomy is being curtailed by this bill.

The other major reservation concerns the fine option program mentioned earlier in my speech. Eliminating the paragraph on “undue hardship” and introducing a provision to double the amount of the surcharge will inevitably result in more offenders using the program in question.

There are no objections to this in the provinces where this type of program exists. However, in the provinces where this type of program does not exist, this would create a much more complicated situation. There would be an imbalance that would prevent the provisions of the bill from being equal across the country.

We think that we should discuss solutions, programs and appropriate measures in committee to create some uniformity, which would make this bill applicable with the same measures, same justifications and, in particular, same rules across the country, instead of having to proceed on a case by case basis.

A number of Canadian organizations agree with us and we believe that hearing from them in committee or, at the very least, bringing their opinions into the debate, would only benefit the bill. Among the organizations that have expressed concerns is the Elizabeth Fry Society, which is concerned about the effect of additional surcharges on low-income Aboriginals, who will certainly not have the means to pay them. There is also the John Howard Society, which is not bothered by the monetary penalties, but which is concerned that with this system, the surcharges will be disproportionate to the crimes committed.

In conclusion, we will support this bill at second reading, so that it can be examined more carefully in committee. However, Bill C-37 needs a number of adjustments in order to be complete. A number of people have questions, so we urge our colleagues to act in good faith when the bill gets to committee and, especially, for once, to listen to Canadians.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 3:10 p.m.
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NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the discussion on Bill C-37. Having worked in probation and parole services for about 13 years, I recognize the impact this has on those people with low incomes.

By removing the discretionary powers of the judges, could my colleague enlighten me on the concerns this would create with respect to low-income people, especially the fact that a majority of first nations people would actually be impacted by this as well? Could my colleague can enlighten me as to the impact this would have on those who have very little money to begin with?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 3:15 p.m.
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NDP

François Pilon NDP Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, if we take away the discretionary power of judges, surely the most disadvantaged will be the hardest hit, especially aboriginals because they very often do not have programs in their communities. In addition to having to pay the surcharge, which the judge cannot reduce, they will not be able to do community work. In the end, they will be the ones to pay the price. Where will they find the money? I have no idea.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 3:15 p.m.
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NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Laval—Les Îles for his speech.

I am reminded of a conversation I had with a correctional officer. He interacted with inmates at a detention centre and said that they too have a future. When a surcharge is imposed on a convicted individual and that person's personal situation is not taken into account, are we not extinguishing hope? I would like to hear what my colleague has to say about that.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 3:15 p.m.
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NDP

François Pilon NDP Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I said before, for the individuals who must pay a fine when they do not have the means, imposing a surcharge is almost like criminalizing them, in some situations. Where will they find the money? We know very well that some of them will have to turn to petty theft to pay the fine.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 3:15 p.m.
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NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague.

I would like to ask him why it would be important to send this bill to committee to study the fact that not every province or territory necessarily has community work programs.

Why is it important to have standardized programs in this specific case?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 3:15 p.m.
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NDP

François Pilon NDP Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry for her question.

In committee, territories or provinces where these programs do not exist could be discussed. The federal government could perhaps create the programs or give the provinces and territories money to create these programs. However, it would be up to them to decide how to proceed. What is important is that this be standardized across Canada.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 3:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise to speak to Bill C-37. It is a bill that we in the Liberal Party are greatly concerned about, and we are a bit surprised by the amount of support the New Democratic Party has decided to give it.

It was interesting listening to the debates and to some of the questions and answers yesterday. I believe it is a fairly simple message that the government is trying to communicate with this particular bill, as it has done with other justice-type bills, and that is that the government wants to start getting tough on crime. It is a message that the government consistently states.

The first thing that comes to my mind is that just because the government said it does not necessarily make it true, and just because it is passing the type of legislation that it is passing, does not necessarily mean that our streets are going to be safer at the end of the day.

I think that if the Prime Minister really wants to get a sense of how the population feels about the issue of crime and safety, he would be best advised to start meeting and talking to people, maybe attend an actual town hall meeting. He should go out to some of our larger cities and smaller communities and get a sense of what people are thinking about in regard to crime.

I would like to make reference to the people I represent, the people of Winnipeg North. Crime is a very serious issue. My constituents want to feel safe in their communities. I would argue that they have a right to feel safe in their communities. I love my city. It is a great place to live, and I would recommend that all people visit, maybe spend a little bit and enjoy the beautiful city of Winnipeg. Having said that, there is a significant crime rate there. It is very real. It is tangible.

What the people I represent want to see is a government that is more inclined to prevent crime from happening. I do not believe the government is doing a good job on this. At the end of the day, there are initiatives that the government could take that would have a very real and tangible impact in terms of preventing crime.

Interestingly, the member for Kootenay—Columbia, in British Columbia, posed a question yesterday. I actually printed out the question. I just want to read a small part of it because it is so relevant to what I am trying to highlight here. The member stated:

The way I look at it is that if offenders do not want to pay the victim surcharge, maybe they should not commit crimes.

Even though I would ultimately argue that one of the biggest priorities of my constituents is to get the government to prevent crimes from taking place, I can assure everyone inside this Chamber that increasing a surcharge is not going to prevent any crimes from taking place. Whether it is in a remote area or an urban centre, it is not going to reduce the crime rate.

Anyone who tries to imply that is just wrong. No one is going to think, “If I have to pay x number of dollars more because of a surcharge the court is going to give me, I am not going to commit that crime”. I do not believe that would happen. It is not going to address that particular issue.

That is what this bill is all about, increasing the surcharge for individuals who commit a crime. There is nothing new about that. This is something that has been talked about. Legislation was brought in. I believe it was in the late 80s, possibly the early 90s, when it was decided that we should have some sort of surcharge or a financial penalty for those individuals who commit crime. It was the Chrétien government that went as far as to say it should be applied to individuals who commit crimes, but we have to enable a judge with the judicial discretion as to whether or not to apply the surcharge. That makes a whole lot of sense to me.

Not everyone is in the same position. Not everyone is able to facilitate the payment of a surcharge, and quite often it works at odds. I talked to a constituent yesterday about this particular bill, and what I was thinking of right offhand was someone who commits an illegal act in order to provide food on the table. I have had presentations on this. Many individuals are involved in the sex trade not because there is a desire to be there or a desire to feed their drug abuse and so forth, but because it is a source of income. Individuals who find themselves in that position and are ultimately fined are, at the end of the day, going to have to pay more for the food on their table.

Maybe there are other ways, such as social services, that we could be assisting people, but unfortunately that is not happening. Certain individuals within our communities do not have the luxury that many of us have in terms of disposable income in order to be able to pay the type of fines that might be levied. If the individuals do not pay the fine, they could end up being put in jail as a direct result. I would suggest that is not in society's best interest. Ultimately one could argue that there is always a way in which they could deal with it through working. Manitoba has the fine option program. Under the fine option program if an individual cannot pay a fine, there are certain places to go and work where minimum wage is paid in order to pay the fine. Not all jurisdictions have similar programs so that might not necessarily be an option for everyone.

The point is that the current system provides our judges with the opportunity to make an evaluation if someone who has committed a crime is able to convince the court that he or she is not in a position to pay the fine. That should suffice in this situation. It is not in the best interests of the public to assume that our judges do not know what they are doing when it comes to using the waiver they have in legislation. That waiver enables them to say to someone convicted of a crime that given their hardship or their circumstances there will be no surcharge. A judge has the expertise to make a good judgment on that issue. If the government lacks confidence in our judges then maybe it should be having discussions with ministers of justice across Canada on that particular issue. Nothing prevents the Crown from being able to raise the issue.

The government had other options as opposed to bringing in this particular legislation, taking the responsibility away from a judge and just arbitrarily making the decision to dramatically increase the surcharge on crimes or fines.

Ultimately the government would say that the reason for this legislation is to support victims. I am exceptionally sympathetic and I like to think that all my caucus colleagues understand and appreciate the need to support victims of crime in all of our communities. That issue does need to be addressed.

However, I do not believe that we should be totally reliant on a charge that is given to individuals who commit crimes to finance the programs necessary to assist victims of crime. There is a responsibility of government to be at the table through general revenues and more, in terms of supporting victims of crime. There are many different ways in which we can do that.

To deepen the reliance on a judge to penalize individuals, who may not be able to pay anyway, is not the best way to finance the programs that should be put in place to support victims of crime. Yes, it could supplement it. I do not know the percentages, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with surcharges supplementing programs. I am quite comfortable with that.

What I am not comfortable with is when the government gives the message that it is sympathetic to victims, but demonstrates that sympathy by taking away the responsibility of judges to use their discretion on whether or not there is a hardship case, and applying the surcharge to everyone. I do believe there could be circumstances that would justify a waiving and it would be inappropriate for the government to take that away. I believe that we have more confidence in the judicial system than the government does. I also believe that the government does have a role to play in standing up for the victims of crime, and there are different ways in which we can support that.

Over the years I have met with hundreds of individuals who have shared their stories with me as victims of crime. I myself have had the unfortunate incident of my home being broken into and property stolen. I felt that there was little support, for example, to provide information, and in many ways, that is what it is.

If someone breaks into my or my neighbour's house, I want to have an understanding of what happens next. Victim services could provide that type of education or a phone number that an individual could call if their home was broken into or there was an incident at their workplace or if they witnessed something and allegations were made. There is a wide variety of incidents and I have only mentioned the less severe ones.

I was present when a good friend received the news that one of her children was murdered in cold blood. I witnessed the impact it had on her. What type of services were there? She was a victim but she was not alone. There are a number of individuals out there with horror stories. I can appreciate the need for victim services.

I believe most, if not all, members of the House of Commons would recognize the importance of victim services and would encourage all governments to provide some form of those services. It is amazing that now with the Internet, people can go, for example, to the Manitoba department of justice and can access web pages that talk all about victim services. We have made some significant strides over the years.

However, at the end of the day, we really need to work toward, and the government needs to focus more attention on, preventing crimes from taking place. The emphasis of the government should be on that. This is a bill which I question the value of bringing forward because in government it is all about priorities. What are the priorities of the government when it comes to dealing with crime in our communities? Obviously, it has put this bill as a very high priority.

When I first was elected, it was during the by-election. The Conservatives, the New Democrats and Liberals all had a wonderful opportunity to go to Winnipeg North and get a sense of the important issues. Because it was a by-election, the individual caucuses would have been aware of what was happening in Winnipeg North and in the other two areas where there were by-elections and would have known that the number one issue was crime and safety.

I was very honoured and privileged that the people of Winnipeg North chose me, but I went right from the by-election into the chamber. One of the first things I raised was the government's cutback on gang initiatives, on alternatives to gang lives, on assisting refugees and others in not becoming attached to gangs and to be more productive citizens. I know how critically important it is that we provide those types of alternatives to gang lives.

As I made reference to earlier, when I was the justice critic, we had a huge problem with automobile thefts. During 2000, 2005 and 2006, 14,000 vehicles were stolen in the province of Manitoba. For months I argued that the issue had to be dealt with. We found out that a relatively small number of individuals were causing half the problem, roughly 300 individuals. A high-risk program was developed where these individuals were monitored and as a result automobile theft decreased by half, from 14,000 down to 7,000 over a couple of years, so there were fewer victims.

This is the type of thing governments need to demonstrate more. When I asked a question of the parliamentary secretary, I suggested that she should look at the national government's important leadership role in what happened in other provinces and bring provinces together to look at which programs worked well in the different provinces and get a consensus, more like best practices, and promote and encourage those good ideas in other jurisdictions.

Ottawa has a responsibility in preventing crime. The bill will not prevent a crime from taking place. The bill is not necessary in the sense that the judge has discretionary authority. It is already mandatory. In terms of the amount of the fine, we are open to that discussion. We will wait and see what happens at committee.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 3:35 p.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, before I address the hon. member for Winnipeg North, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment as Deputy Speaker. This is twice as nice for me because I am now the justice critic, and I find myself in this position because you trained me well. I will try to do my best. We will try not to be too annoying so that your job will be as pleasant as possible when you are in the chair.

I would like to tell the hon. member for Winnipeg North that I really appreciated his speech on Bill C-37, which he delivered with deep conviction. I think we share many concerns because, as he said so well, it is not all black and it is not all white. With the Conservatives, beyond the headlines and the front page, it not always clear whether the measure that has been put down on paper will actually achieve the desired objectives. We can work on all that in committee.

Bill C-37 duplicates Bill C-350, which deals mainly with the order of collection of fines. This could affect Bill C-37. I am wondering whether the members of the Liberal Party considered this issue and whether we are going to be able to work on this in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights if the bill is passed at second reading.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am not as familiar with the other bill, but I am somewhat familiar with the way in which fines can have a profound impact in the size of the fine and a person's ability to pay the fine. We need to ensure that in all locations in Canada, where there are opportunities to have ideally a uniform approach to dealing with fine options and work toward that. We need to look at the bigger picture of where fines might come from and allow it to be funnelled in such a way that it is dealt with at one time as much as possible. By doing it that way through the courts or whoever might be ultimately responsible for the collecting of a fine, there is a standard procedure that allows for individuals to claim they do not have the financial means or maybe they can afford to pay a certain percentage and are prepared to work out some sort of a fine option where they would go to a community facility and work perhaps for the minimum wage instead of paying 100% of a fine.

I do not know how accurate I was in answering the member's specific question, but I do appreciate the thought on fines.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, there is a lot of discussion around fines and whether the offenders would have to make application or why the offender would be predetermined to have a victim fine surcharge and that it should be up to the judge's discretion.

Judges are ultimately still deciding the fines and the fine amount. Fines are an alternative to jail, which is positive and allows offenders to remain in the community to contribute to their families and social and economic development. However, the point of accountability is that when a victim fine surcharge is assessed automatically, the offender still has the option of presenting undue hardships or mitigating circumstances where a judge could consider reducing the fine option or fine generally. To be accountable for that, it is up to the offender to present that case. It should not be up to the taxpayer or the crown and it should not be up to the victims or non-government organizations to present to the judge why a victim fine surcharge should be imposed. For accountability to work, it should be up to the offenders to present a case why they cannot manage the fine or how the fine should be managed so they can pay it and not the reverse.

Would my hon. colleague not agree with that being an important part of accountability?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, in good part, that is in fact the way it works currently. If a criminal is told he or she will not go to jail but will have to pay off a $2,500 fine and the criminal can afford to do it, which many individuals would not be in a financial position to do, the judge has the discretion today to take that into consideration. If a person does not have the ability to pay a $2,500 or $5,000 fine, as opposed to putting the individual in jail, a judge has the discretion today to make a decision in that situation. Quite often, it will still include a fine and possibly something that would allow for an individual to work it off within the community. The bottom line is a judge has the discretionary authority to make the decision.

My understanding of the legislation that the government proposes to pass will take that discretion away from a judge. At the end of the day, that goes against what the member has just advocated for. If the member reads the legislation, he might be surprised at what the legislation actually proposes to do. It is taking authority away from judges. On the basis of his question, he seemed to think that the judge should have the authority.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 3:45 p.m.
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NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, let me congratulate you on your appointment as Deputy Speaker of the House. That shows how highly regarded you are in this House.

I would like to thank the hon. member for his very interesting speech. Actually, he has raised a number of questions that deserve to be addressed in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Getting back to our topic, I am going to refer to the title of the bill: Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act. In response to the question from the hon. member for Yukon, my colleague just talked about the loss of discretionary power. It is a major responsibility for judges to establish the preponderance of evidence and to paint the full picture when they have to make a ruling in a criminal case.

Could the hon. member for Winnipeg North comment on this loss of responsibility for judges, which is a bit ironic when we think about the goal of the bill, based on its title?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 3:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have had the opportunity to sit on a quasi-judicial body, a youth justice committee. When sitting on a youth justice committee and dealing with young offenders, one thing people like to do is have some discretion with regard to what sort of a disposition they want to give. There is no doubt more of that discretion is being taken away from judges. Generally speaking, our judges are fairly well educated. They have come to the table with a great deal of experience and it is a question of whether we trust judges to make good decisions.

We should work within the system to try to effect more positive change and maybe meet with the ministers of justice across the country to hear what they have to say. With teamwork in dealing with stakeholders, they could maybe achieve some of the things they are hoping to achieve.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 3:45 p.m.
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NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, let me first say that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou.

I would also like to congratulate you. I am very pleased to see you in the Speaker's chair. It must be a very interesting experience and a great challenge for you.

It is a pleasure to stand once again to support, in part, with some reservation, Bill C-37 on behalf of my constituents.

In any modern liberal democracy, the presence of a trustworthy legal system and judiciary is essential in maintaining the confidence of the population. It is the responsibility of all elected officials to respect the constitutional separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of good government. A fundamental respect must be had by members of the government and opposition alike for the legal system, its procedures, customs, practices and powers. This, of course, also includes respect for its magistrates and judges.

Recently, I had, in my functions as Treasury Board critic for the official opposition, a delegation from an African country that is just developing its democratic institutions, those institutions necessary to have good government for its citizens. Though we spoke primarily about how a government can be more accountable and transparent to its citizens with regard to the budgetary processes and presenting public accounts, our more general conversation underscored to me how fragile our democratic institutions can be and how much they depend on a just, equitable and fair legal system. It also underscored to me how fundamental culture dedicated to this respect is.

My hon. colleagues will no doubt agree a basic fundamental belief and respect for the rule of law is an essential characteristic of any democratic society, but at the same time this respect from the people must be earned. The reality is that it has taken several hundred years for us to develop our system. It was not perfect from the beginning and open to all sorts of machinations, corruption and elitism. No, respect of the population must be gained and it must be preserved.

Our legal system and those labouring in it must inspire confidence to be legitimate. Sadly, the reality is that many Canadians, particularly marginalized and racialized Canadians, do not view our legal system and its enforcement as legitimate. In fact, many communities across our country have a deep suspicion about the fairness of our legal system. There is no doubt if we were to ask a Jamaican in Toronto or an aboriginal person in Winnipeg or Vancouver how legitimate our legal system is, we would get a completely different opinion from that of someone on Bay Street or in Rockliffe Park. For too many Canadians, our legal system is simply there to protect the property of the most well-to-do in our society. It is up to us to prove that things can be different. This is our burden as legislators. It is also one of the reasons that I support this bill.

Though I doubt very much the government of high finance is motivated by such questions as fundamental equality before the law, we must take the good where we can find it. On one principle at least the government and I see eye to eye. At the core of the skepticism of many Canadians toward our judiciary system, the issue of appropriate punishment of criminals and just compensation for victims is at the core.

I will take a moment to tell Canadians who are watching now and who deeply care about this issue that this issue is by no means a monopoly of the Conservative Party of Canada. For decades, the New Democratic Party has been calling for greater respect and compensation for victims of crime. We have at every occasion possible supported well crafted legislation that helps the victims of crime and their families. We have respected and continue to respect the recommendations of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime.

The reality is that this is a non-partisan issue. It is not a left or right issue. Crime is wrong, from whatever political perspective we look at it, Conservative, Social Democrat or Liberal. We may disagree on the solutions in eliminating crime but the goal of reducing crime is shared by all of us. I will offer the hand of peace therefore and give credit where credit is due. I think of many of the bills on crime that the Conservative government has come forward with, this particular bill is well justified and constructed.

This bill is based on one of the Conservatives’ election promises in the last election, that they would double the amount paid to victims and make the surcharge mandatory in all cases, with no exceptions, in order to make offenders more accountable to victims of crime, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

The Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime has been fighting for better funding for victim services for a long time, and the facts support those recommendations. In 2003, for example, crime cost roughly $70 billion, $47 billion of which was the cost borne by victims. That represents 70%, which is far too much.

The effect of this is to create an image of our judicial system as not doing a good job of representing the interests of law-abiding citizens. As well, a 2004 study estimated the cost of the pain and suffering experienced by victims as being in the neighbourhood of $36 billion. In addition, many eligible victims do not even seek compensation, often because they do not know they are entitled to it, and that is completely unacceptable.

So the principle of better funding for victims is based on solid facts and a fundamental principle of justice. I recognize that, and I acknowledge it. But I still have a few reservations, so I cannot give this bill my unconditional support. We have a number of questions on this side, things that my colleagues on the government side may be able to reassure us about.

One has to do with respect for federal and provincial jurisdictions—a fundamental question in my province, Quebec. Technically, the surcharge money has to be used by the provinces to fund services for victims of crime. So will victims benefit directly from the increase in victim surcharges or not? Also, are the provincial fine option programs standardized? Not to my knowledge. So how will the government ensure that the money from this surcharge will really reach the victims’ groups that need it, particularly if their funding remains the same?

A second is that Bill C-37 overlaps with another private member’s bill, Bill C-350, which is also meant to make offenders accountable to victims. How are these bills going to affect each other? That is another question.

And third, and more fundamentally, is the reservation I have about the role of judges in our system. Judges are independent for excellent reasons. It is up to them to interpret the law justly and fairly. That is their burden to carry, not ours. This government seems to have trouble understanding that principle and respecting the important role that judges play in this country.

Is Bill C-37 an example of that lack of respect? Well, by taking away judges’ discretion to waive the surcharge, does this measure not fetter the good judgment of our judges? There are many situations in which punishment should be mitigated, and there are exceptional cases, in particular low-income offenders or offenders who have mental health problems.

Nonetheless, this bill has my conditional support, because, like my party, I support victims of crime and their families. I want to help build Canadians’ confidence in our judicial system.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 3:55 p.m.
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NDP

Jean-François Larose NDP Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, congratulations on your appointment.

My question will be simple. My colleague mentioned that, in various sectors, we often tend to just slap a number on the back of each citizen and establish an excessively rigid system. This always leads to high costs and serious consequences. So we always end up giving discretionary power to various sectors. I think that this is essential for judges, given how a court works.

I myself have worked in the correctional sector, and I have seen how important it is for each case to be handled individually and just how important the human relationship is.

Could the hon. member comment further on the fact that we need to help judges, not hinder them?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 3:55 p.m.
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NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question.

What concerns me is the, shall we say, healthy relationship that must exist between a majority government and the judicial system. We need to ask ourselves why there is a separation between politics and law in Canada. There is a very good reason for that: we do not want to manipulate the judicial system. That is not what the government is there to do.

What concerns me, and we see it almost every day with every new justice-related bill, is that the government wants to impose minimum sentences and to tell judges how to interpret the law. That goes against the very principle of an independent judicial system.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to build on the comments or the line of questioning that I just witnessed from my colleagues with regard to the notion that so much of the legislation dealing with the criminal justice system that we have been dealing with in this 41st Parliament has really amounted to members of Parliament interfering with the discretionary judgment of the justice system, even up to and including prescribing sentences.

I am a carpenter by trade. I do not know enough about the criminal justice system to dictate what should be the sentence for certain crimes. That is why we appoint competent and capable people to the bench, so they can make that determination free of political interference.

While I am aware that the particular bill we have before us is perhaps not in that category, could the member speak to the folly associated with and perhaps, just as a precautionary tale for subsequent legislators, the danger of that kind of tampering and interference by political influences into the judiciary and the crossover of those three pillars of how we govern ourselves as a nation?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4 p.m.
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NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, here is the danger that justice is not done because what winds up happening is that instead of the peculiarities or particularities of a case that is in front of a judge being taken into consideration, what is taken into consideration is the opinion of a government on sentencing, an opinion which, of course, is backed by certain values. The whole point of the judiciary system is objectivity and independence.

If we impose upon our legal system the values of a particular political party, a particular lobby group or a particular interest group through this type of legislation, although I am not saying that is the case for Bill C-37 but it certainly was the case for certain parts of Bill C-10, then we are on a slippery slope indeed.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4 p.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like the hon. member for Pontiac to continue because I know that there is a very high unemployment rate and a lot of poverty in his constituency. This type of provision affecting discretion often has an even worse effect on the people who are least able to pay, such as people with mental health problems, for example.

How does he see this in his constituency?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4 p.m.
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NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Gatineau for her question.

For some populations, such as the aboriginals in my riding or people in precarious financial situations, we have to take the socio-economic situation of the offenders into account. That is part of the solution for reducing crime in our country.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4 p.m.
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NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to have the opportunity to rise in the House and speak to this government bill that seeks to amend the Criminal Code and increase offenders' accountability to victims. At least, that is what it says in the title, but it is a whole different story in practical terms. I hope that we will be able to look into that in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, on which I have the honour of sitting.

Let us get something straight from the start: the members of the New Democratic Party and all members in the House agree wholeheartedly to fully support victims of crime and their families. The question is figuring out what resources we are going to use to do so.

A bill is a perfectly valid tool to address some needs and to deal with these types of situations. Hon. members will agree that a bill alone, without the means for being implemented, is totally inadequate. I have said the same thing about other bills. I am going to continue to defend this position, over and over again.

We may ask ourselves what the goal of this bill is. From the outset, the title is somewhat misleading. It actually takes us down a path that might get us lost. This summer I took the opportunity to visit many organizations and to make appointments and go meet with them. One of the organizations I had the honour of meeting with, as a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, is the organization Autre Avenue, which has been operating in the greater Quebec City area for a long time to provide an alternative to the systematic referral to courts that some support.

L'Autre Avenue has been around for a few decades. It provides people in a dispute, such as a neighbourhood dispute, a way to find a basis of agreement. It is a very interesting option because it makes it possible to avoid a trial that is lengthy, costly and frustrating for both parties, even if justice is served. L'Autre Avenue has explored alternative options to prosecuting young offenders arrested for petty crime, which sometimes evolves into more significant problems. Think about the phenomenon of criminal gangs.

It is very interesting to note that L'Autre Avenue tried to explore the option of restorative justice without involving a judge. It was truly fascinating to hear about the successes and, especially, to what extent this met a need of the victims of crime. The crimes could range from a shopkeeper's broken window, a destroyed flower garden or a vandalized car belonging to a private citizen.

One of the interesting, if not fascinating, things that L'Autre Avenue noted was that the victims of crime did not systematically seek financial compensation. Above all, the victims did not want to be forgotten after the judicial process was over, or to lash out at the young offender.

Many people have said that they are happy simply to get information about the case they were involved in as victims and that they absolutely do not want to seek vengeance or get money. In many cases, simple apologies may be enough. But it is still something that is very important. Which brings us to the following question: does systematically giving fines or prison sentences, in the case of crimes, truly meet the needs of victims of crime? This is far from obvious to me, despite what the government claims. No doubt it is an option that we will look at and study in committee.

I have spoken a number of times in the House on another aspect, a serious concern, and I will continue to speak up about it in committee, as well. I am talking about restricting the power of judges to assess each case. It is a very important power, which reflects both the responsibility and the role of judges in our society.

Let me come back to the title of the bill. How are we going to promote offenders' accountability if we systematically and indiscriminately apply a sentence, a measure? Can we give the judge the freedom to make offenders accountable for their actions in other ways? This question is not being answered and it will certainly have to be studied because we really can offer very worthwhile options.

Let me come back to the fascinating meetings I had last year with Correctional Service of Canada officers. A correctional officer told me straight out that inmates also had a future, just like everyone else. There comes a time at the end of their sentence, when they must be released, get support, and reintegrate into society. They must certainly not be driven into situations that are so difficult for them that they will go back to a life of crime in order to make up for their exclusion and their inability to become ordinary law-abiding citizens. It is very important to keep that hope alive without threatening it with measures that are too drastic or too systematic. Therein lies one of my major concerns.

There is a great danger not only in terms of the amendments to the Criminal Code, but in terms of all the measures taken by this government. At the end of the day, do we want Canada to appeal only to rich and healthy people, or do we want this country to be a place for all of its citizens, regardless of their conditions, their origins or limitations, be they cultural, physical or intellectual? It is really important not to give up on any of our people; in other words, it is important to make sure that we do not commit more injustices than we think we are correcting. Committing so many injustices is counterproductive. That is one of the issues with this bill that we are going to have to examine.

Mr. Speaker, thank you very much for this opportunity.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, the vein of my colleague's speech would lead everybody to believe that we would impose tremendous fines on offenders.

One of the changes we should tell Canadians about is really just upping one of the fines for a summary conviction from $50 to $100, which is still less than the average speeding ticket in this country. The other fine, for an indictable offence, which is a serious offence under the Criminal Code, is up from $100 to $200. The purpose of that, based on a judge's discretion or view of the case, is to make the offenders accountable for the actions they have taken and to contribute to the victims' programs, some of which end up benefiting offenders.

That is a positive step. Those kinds of measures help offenders work toward reparation for victims, who are continually forgotten by the NDP. The NDP members talk about how poor and underprivileged offenders are, as though there is no rich offender on the planet, and how they should not be accountable for anything they have done to Canadian victims.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4:10 p.m.
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NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Yukon for his question and comments. I would certainly not want the hon. member to think that we are against the surcharge system.

In fact, it is worth debating and looking at the effects and consequences of increasing the fine. We are completely open to looking into this issue.

But all the other measures in the bill that make the surcharges systematic and that limit the discretionary power of judges raise concern. In my view, that is a major concern because it goes back to a cookie-cutter approach where the same standard is applied to many different cases, which can be dangerous.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4:15 p.m.
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NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to extend my heartfelt congratulations to you on your appointment. We are all thrilled to have you in the Chair.

I would first like to congratulate the hon. member for his excellent presentation. I know that he briefly touched on the matter of eliminating judicial discretion.

I would like him to elaborate a little further on this issue, because this feature is at the very foundation of our current justice system, meaning a fair and equitable system. Could he expand on this?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4:15 p.m.
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NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. This is, in fact, something truly fundamental. I an going to take my colleague down another path.

I remember that when we were in committee studying the bill on wearing masks during demonstrations, we very amicably recommended amendments and justified them fully. In the case of this bill, as in other cases, the Conservative government is trying to impose minimum standards to restrict not just a tradition, but an entire system that has been around for practically thousands of years. We can go back to England and King John or even to the Roman Empire to see that these social and legal practices have been passed down to us and reflect social realities. So why go against that and make judges nothing more than technicians, if we want to engage in a little caricature?

This is of particular concern to me. It amounts to giving ourselves, as members of this House, greater authority than we should have, to the detriment of the independence of our justice system, ultimately.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4:15 p.m.
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NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, may I offer my congratulations to you on your election to the chair? I want to go a step further and say I speak for the whole House, I bet. Certainly anyone who has been around here any length of time would appreciate the values you bring to this position. Without an effective speaker or deputy speakers, this place cannot function, especially for us in opposition. We need our rights upheld. Yet the government has rights too. This is not about stifling the government's right to govern. I think you are the perfect choice to make that judgment, and you certainly have my respect and the respect of this entire House as you go about this difficult job.

In the short time I have been in the House today, I have been pleasantly surprised and pleased by the lack of “we care more about victims than you do” or “you are soft on crime”. There has been none of that rhetoric, at least not while I have been here. Maybe it happened before and it may happen as soon as I sit down, but so far I have not heard it, and it is a breath of fresh air for everyone, particularly Canadians who follow this place, to see that there really are some places where we can set aside partisanship and talk about ideas, constructive ideas and even constructive criticism. When we talk about our precious criminal justice system, is there anything more important to which we could possibly bring the notion of rolling up our sleeves as MPs and doing as good a job as we possibly can collectively?

I say to my colleagues, to government members, members of the third party and the independents that, if we can hold this kind tenor through most of our debates, we will actually increase the way all of us are viewed and the way politics is viewed because right now the slippery slope of politics being seen as dirty, underhanded and not positive is not healthy. But we are the ones who set the image people watch to make those determinations.

Our caucus will be supporting the bill going to committee. We are okay with the notion of increasing the victim surcharge. It was almost 20 years ago to the day that I became a provincial minister responsible for part of the justice system, so not only do I know how important this issue is in terms of identifying the rights of victims and the need for government to step in and be there for victims to the degree that it can, but it also made me very much aware of the respect Canada has around the world in terms of its criminal justice system.

It is not perfect, and there are headlines almost every day that remind us it is not perfect. It cannot be perfect because it has human beings involved. However, given how bad some criminal justice systems are—the word “justice” ought not even be in there—we should remind ourselves and take pride in the fact that we do have one of the finest, if not the finest, most respected, effective criminal justice systems in the world. Although we see in the newspaper where it fails, we do not see the literally hundreds and thousands of cases where the system does do what it is supposed to do, fairly and even-handedly.

One of our concerns is not with the doubling of the surcharge, because we believe it is an important concept. Again, 20 years ago I was part of a provincial government, and the parliamentary secretary referenced Ontario, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan as examples of provinces that have made this an issue and have made a success of it. However, everything needs increased money because costs go up, so we are good with that. It is the notion of taking away the discretionary powers, especially since they are already there. That really troubles me and will cause many Canadians to scratch their heads and not quite get it.

I am not a lawyer, but the government is proposing that, in addition to doubling the fines, the judge would retain the discretion to increase the surcharge, if he or she believed it was warranted and that the convicted person had the means to pay it and that it was the right thing to do. The government wants to leave that in there. It is not a question of really taking away discretion, because it is leaving it in there. It is just that the judges could only use discretion to increase it. The government is taking away the discretion that now exists for a judge to say, “It's one step beyond for me, in terms of applying a fair criminal justice system, to now add this surcharge and, therefore, I am going to exercise my rights to waive that”.

I do not have the time nor do I think I need to go through all of the examples where a rational ordinary person would look at a case and say that he or she deserved a break. Therefore, we think that ought to remain.

I am glad the bill is going to committee. I would hope witnesses will be brought in and we will go through it. If the government is right that we should change it, hopefully that will become self-explanatory as the meeting unfolds. However if not, I hope the government would be willing to stay open-minded on that issue, again in the spirit of the kind of debate and discussion we are having here now.

I know my time is rapidly expiring, so with those few remarks I shall conclude.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4:25 p.m.
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NDP

Jean-François Larose NDP Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I used to be a correctional officer and I wore the uniform for a good portion of my life. I had the opportunity on a number of occasions to see the victims, at the prisons. I do not need to be lectured on the emotional connection we may feel towards victims.

Having said that, we have to ask ourselves some major questions. There are two types of people who go to jail: those who have a lot of money and those who do not. Very few of them have a lot of money. I find it interesting that we are saying that the way to help victims is to give them some money. It is a step in the right direction, but I take issue with interfering in how judges do their work. You have to build a relationship of trust with victims.

I am a father and I know family members who have been victims. It is good to have compensation. From my experience as a correctional officer, I know that $200, $300 or $1,000 is no punishment for those who have the means and it is no solution for those who do not. People are in jail because they do not have the money to pay the government back. That does not get us any further ahead.

I have a suggestion. Instead of buying planes that cost billions of dollars, perhaps we should take some of that money and give it to victims. One thing is certain: if we want to take a positive step forward, we have to seek constructive solutions, not introduce flawed legislation. This may be a step forward, but there are still some gaps.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4:25 p.m.
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NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will now fall back on the good will I hope I generated when I spoke to you earlier. I would ask you to recognize that I neglected to say at the beginning of my remarks that I will be splitting my time with the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île. I hope you will accept that now.

Let me just say that one of the unsung jobs in our country is that of a correctional officer. It just as difficult a job in its own way as those of police officers and people who put on other uniforms. It is not an easy place to work. It is not necessarily a fun place to work. I just want to tip my hat to all those who perform that function for us. It is not something we want to need, but we do, and let me just say that individuals like my hon. friend and others do commendable work for Canadians every day, while we are off doing other things, to make sure that sentences are carried out and that people are treated humanely. Again, that is why our criminal justice system stands out. It is so easy to be the other way, to be hard about it, to turn our mind to say, “Well, this is a clear case so we'll just lock the door and throw away the key”. That might feel good for a few moments, but that is not where the real world is.

To directly answer the member's question, I would hope the committee could take the time to explore other options beyond just a fine because, when a punishment is based on a fine, are the rich really being fined?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, let me begin, as many others have done, by congratulating you on your appointment as Deputy Speaker. I am very proud to see you in the Chair and I congratulate you.

In his remarks, my colleague from Hamilton Centre correctly referred to the tendency the government has to remove judicial discretion in much of Canada's criminal law.

From my perspective, victim surcharges are often very appropriate, and certainly supporting victims and initiatives that support victims of crime has a lot of merit in our justice system.

Does he agree that the knee-jerk reaction of the government is always to tie judges' hands by imposing mandatory minimum sentences, pretending that somehow that is getting tough on crime, often creating unintended consequences? Does he agree that the solution in the case of a judicial sentence that appears inappropriate or does not respect the principles of sentencing is to go to the court of appeal to seek to have that sentence changed instead of consistently taking away judicial discretion, as it is seeking to do in this bill?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4:30 p.m.
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NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is not fair. It takes me that long to clear my throat.

Let me just quickly say that I agree with almost everything my friend said. I cannot answer the last part. That really is kind of a legal procedural question as to where its next step ought to be in the system.

However, let me just say that I do think, in this particular case, it is going to be very difficult for the government to argue that discretion should be removed in one part and yet remain in a piece of legislation where it is already there.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4:30 p.m.
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NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to tell you how proud I am to see you in front of the House today and to be making my first speech with you in the chair.

I am going to begin by saying that I am very pleased to be back here today. I would like to greet all my colleagues and just say to the people in my riding how happy I was to spend so much time with them this summer in La Pointe-de-l'Île. I will be back soon, on the weekend.

And now let us talk about Bill C-37. More than ever, Canadians need a government that thinks about their interests and is focused on enacting legislation to help them. I would very much like to add my voice to that of my colleague from Gatineau and say that regardless of our ideology and the party we belong to in the House of Commons, we are here to pass bills that will improve the situation of Canadians and make our society a better one for our children and for us all.

Working together is a fundamental principle for the team in the NDP. It would be nice to have a government that wants to listen to us and try to improve its own bills. That is how a parliament operates. There has to be co-operation among the parties. I would like to say that I am very disappointed in the attitude of the government members who have sat silent in their chairs for several days while the opposition extends a hand to work with them. But they refuse, if only to ask us questions, to rise in the House to show their interest. If this bill was so important to them, why do they sit silent in their chairs, staring stone-faced at their computers and their BlackBerrys? Why are they not even looking up to listen to what I am saying to them now?

I appeal to them today to do this. I am going to make a speech now, and I would like the government members to listen to me. Perhaps they will take some of my recommendations and go back to their leader’s office with them, to look at the bill again. It would be something for us today, to see the Conservative government, which has been in power for six years now, act like a government, listen to the opposition, and learn some lessons from it.

Let us move on to Bill C-37, the Increasing Offenders’ Accountability for Victims Act, which amends the Criminal Code. This is a fine example of a bill that calls for all-party participation. As my colleague said earlier, we have one of the best judicial systems in the world; it is recognized everywhere. It is important that this be said.

It will be my pleasure to table the articles I have read in a number of American criminal law journals, where even Republican senators and governors of Texas criticized the Conservative government, saying this was not the way to go. They tried it; they adopted the same policy as the Conservatives, and it cost them millions of dollars. Their prison population exploded and they were unable to handle the situation. The government of Texas is even in the process of revising its policy to try to imitate the policy that Canada has so valued for years.

This is my first question for the government: why does it want to destroy our criminal justice system, a system that every other country would like to have?

My second question is about the principle of doubling the surcharge. The principle of imposing a surcharge on an offender to fund justice programs such as crime victim assistance programs is an honourable one, and we are not disputing it.

However, the government should perhaps take another look at some of the provisions of the bill. For example, there is an order in which an offender’s debts are paid. Support payments come first, the money paid to victims under a restitution order second, and the surcharge third.

If a judge loses the discretion to determine whether a criminal has the ability to pay, someone is going to be sent into debt. I understand that the intention is to fund programs because we do not have enough funds, but could the government not reach into the billions of dollars in tax credits it gives companies to fund these programs, instead of sending more Canadians into debt?

My second question is for the government. Are offenders, who are Canadian citizens, born in Canada, with Canadian parents, considered to be Canadians? Are they in a different class? Is the government telling us that there are two classes of citizens now, one composed of victims and the other of offenders?

Forgive me; I know the Conservatives are probably outraged at my comments, but to my mind, victims are the priority. A victim is someone we should take care of, but it is the government that should look after that. We should not be shifting the burden onto other people, who have probably been the victims of their social situation, of their poverty. We can talk about aboriginal people. In some ridings, there are no rehabilitation programs and no money to combat poverty. They do not even have police or the chance to have a system like ours.

My third question is: are we creating another class of citizens? Are there Canadians that the Conservatives are willing to recognize as Canadians, and aboriginal people, victims and criminals? The government is dividing Canada, the better to rule it, so that people are confused about its policies. That is not what we need now. We need a government that lives up to its responsibilities today and helps not just victims, but also the people who may be victims of their social situation, of their poverty.

Some of my colleagues have said how widely poverty is recognized, internationally, as a causal factor in crime. If the government wants to lower the crime rate and make our streets safe, why not tackle the problem at the source and help the people who are living in extreme poverty? That would be a good lesson to learn for the people in the government sitting in front of their computers and reading who knows what articles making who knows what claims.

We are here to work together to help Canadians. I refuse to have the government tell me that victims, offenders, aboriginal people and women are not all in the same class. We have been hearing this same thing for six years. Aboriginal people, offenders, victims, women, whoever: they are all Canadians. They all deserve to have every one of the government members stand up for their interests. We are not here to judge; we are here to solve problems and make our society a better one. We are not here to divide people and create classes; we are here to unite people.

I can see some of the government members laughing at my speech. Apparently, they think that what I am telling them today is a laughing matter. They are laughing at my speech. I can hardly wait to see if any Conservatives will have the nerve to stand up and ask me a question, if only for the purpose of showing that they care about Canadians. I would be more than happy to answer.

I will close by pointing out that what the government is trying to do is download the burden to the provinces by telling them that if they do not have a program to help offenders pay the surcharge, they should come up with one because the federal government is not about to give them any money. I am ready for questions from my colleagues, particularly my government colleagues.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, the record needs to be really clear. We have heard this rhetoric now a dozen times today, that members of the Conservative Party, the government side, are not standing up and commenting in debate.

If my hon. colleague, who I have tremendous respect for, would check Hansard, she will see that I spoke for 20 minutes yesterday and have been up multiple times today, as have other members of the party. Their rhetoric just needs to end. We are tired of hearing it. It does not serve any purpose.

What we have heard from members on the opposition side every time they lead debate is 5 to 10 minutes of discussion about lack of debate, and parliamentary process discussions and lessons on how to debate properly. They attacked a Liberal government of years past for its inaction. They have completely dodged the issue. We have had members of the opposition not even answer questions that have been asked.

I would urge the opposition members when they engage in debate to actually use good, common sense and debate the topic at hand and not spin this into some kind of parliamentary lesson or refuse to answer the questions. It is no wonder we are not engaging in fruitful debate; it is because they are not answering the questions. They have not done so at all today.

The opposition members are the ones pretending they have the high ground here and being holier than thou every time they get up to speak. Quite frankly, on behalf of all Conservatives, we are tired of it and I think most Canadians are tired of it too. I thank the opposition members for wasting everyone's time. We appreciate it.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4:40 p.m.
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NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will repeat what I said because some people did not hear me. I would like to tell my colleague that I have plenty of respect for him and that he is an excellent soccer player. I enjoy playing soccer with him.

However, I have to point out that the member did not ask me a question. How can he claim that members of my party do not want to answer questions when the government has not asked us any actual questions?

The ball is in his court: if the member is absolutely certain the government has information, we would sure like to see it. To date, the government has provided no facts, no studies, no research that would give us reason to support this legislation.

Is there a proven connection between imposing a surcharge on someone who is probably already living in poverty and lower crime rates?

If the government has information, please, do share. To date, no government member has provided any information that would answer the questions.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île on her speech. I agree that the government is often uninterested in parliamentary debates. However, it may be interested in the question I have for my colleague or my suggestion for her.

In her speech she referred to some of the failures of the Republican policy on criminal justice. I share her concerns about the fact that the government is basing programs, policies and bills on ones that have proven to be failures in certain U.S. states, such as California and Texas.

Could my colleague elaborate, for the benefit of everyone, on her concerns that the government seems to be inspired by policies that have failed in certain U.S. states?

What are her concerns for the future of the Canadian justice system in light of the Conservative government's blind faith in its American idols?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4:45 p.m.
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NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Beauséjour for the question.

I remember passing an article on to him regarding some Republican governors and senators who had shared their opinions with criminal law journals.

I would go even further and say that, for the Conservatives, national defence is a secret, criminal justice is an ideology, and poverty is an invention of the opposition. In fact, for the Conservatives, everything they believe is real, but they never want to share the facts with us. The Conservatives were found in contempt of Parliament, because they refused to hand over budgetary information in relation to their criminal justice policy.

They are worse than the Republicans, because at least the Republicans will co-operate with the Democrats. Since the Conservatives have a majority, they do not care what the opposition thinks or what Canadians think. The Conservatives seem to think that criminals, victims, women, families, children and aboriginal people are not Canadians and are second-class citizens. The Conservatives have chosen their cause: to defend their cronies. I can assure this House that their choice is not in the best interest of Canada or Canadians.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4:45 p.m.
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NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say that I will be sharing my time with the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan. Before I begin, I also want to congratulate you. I am very glad that you are there. Your wisdom and experience in the House will serve you well as you guide all us members from all parties.

As you know, the NDP supports this bill at second reading so that it can be sent to committee. Bill C-37 amends provisions of the Criminal Code to double the amount of victim surcharges. The government is trying to take an existing surcharge and double it, to increase what victims will receive. We support the principle of this bill, and as I just said, we want it to be sent to committee.

In light of what my colleague just said about what goes on in committee, I hope that once this bill makes it to committee, the members from each party will listen to the witnesses and will consider their concerns and everything they have to say and use what they hear in order to amend the bill. I say that because, with this majority government, the Conservatives sometimes do not want to listen to what witnesses have to say and it becomes an exercise in futility. So I hope, since everyone more or less agrees on what this bill entails, that we will truly be able to study it and find the best solutions for victims.

I would like to give a little context. What does this mean? A victim surcharge is an additional sanction imposed during sentencing on an offender who is found guilty. It is collected and retained by provincial and territorial governments, and helps fund programs and services for victims of crime in the province or territory where the crime was committed. We are asking those responsible to financially support victims. That is fair and good. This bill seeks to increase how much money is raised.

First, Bill C-37 would amend Criminal Code provisions governing the amount of the victim surcharge, doubling it from 15% to 30% of any fine imposed on the offender. If no fine is imposed, the victim surcharge will be $100 instead of $50.

This bill also removes the court's ability to waive the victim surcharge if the offender demonstrates that it would cause him or his dependents undue hardship. Judges will still have the freedom to order a higher victim surcharge if they believe that doing so is justified under the circumstances and if the offender is able to pay. Also, Bill C-37 would make it possible for offenders who are unable to pay the surcharge to participate in a provincial fine option program.

All of the pieces are in place. For example, we supported several recommendations from the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, such as this one, and we are in favour of enhanced funding for programs for victims of crime. That being said, we have some concerns about this bill that should be reviewed in committee—the committee's study is very important—particularly with respect to removing judges' discretionary power to decide whether paying the surcharge would cause undue hardship.

The NDP believes that this bill restricts judicial discretionary power and independence.

Even though this does not have anything to do with the bill, I want to emphasize the fact that this Conservative bill would limit judges' power. That means that any decisions made would be political decisions instead of practical decisions made by judges every day of the week. That is one of our concerns. When the committee begins its study of this bill, I hope that it will give judges that discretionary power because they should have it.

That is something we want to talk about. We also want to talk about repealing the undue hardship clause and about the clause to double the amount of the surcharge, which could be a problem for low-income offenders.

For example, members have already pointed out that some offenders have no or low income. How will we solve that problem?

However, this is offset by the fact that the bill gives people the option of paying off their fine by working through the various fine option programs offered by several provinces. The balance provided in this bill needs to be examined further in committee hearings in order to ensure that the bill is indeed appropriate, particularly for the provinces and territories that do not yet have such programs in place.

The provinces' and territories' requirements must be taken into account. Even though this legislation is federal, given that it is administered in the provinces and territories, the wishes and requirements of provincial and territorial governments must be taken into account. I hope this aspect will be examined carefully at committee.

Some of the organizations that support our position include the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Elizabeth Fry Societies and the John Howard Society.

It is perhaps worth mentioning that the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime has been fighting for quite some time for better funding of services for victims of crime.

In 2003, crime cost about $70 billion. Victims paid for about $47 billion of that, or 70%. A 2004 study estimated the pain and suffering of victims at $36 billion. In addition, a significant number of eligible victims do not claim compensation, often because they do not even know that they are entitled to it.

Once the bill is enacted, it is essential that victims know that they are entitled to compensation. I will stop here. I am ready for questions.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to get the member's thoughts about taking away judges' discretion as to whether an individual is able to pay the type of fine that would be applied through this particular bill. Does the member believe that it is best to leave that discretion with the judicial system? In his opinion, is that in the best interests of our communities?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4:55 p.m.
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NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, yes it is very important that we leave that discretion to judges. I also mentioned earlier in my speech that lately, with all this legislation, we have been slowly taking away this discretion.

It is interesting, Mr. Speaker, that you are in the chair now, that in your former capacity as justice critic how many times over the past years I have talked to you about this, and the message I got from you, an experienced lawyer and critic, is that it is very important that judges retain this discretion. If I retain anything from you in all our years of contact, it is that judges need to have this discretion.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, we have heard a bit of discussion around the discretion being taken away from the judges. To be accurate, what is being presented is the victim fine surcharge being levied at 30% of the fine but the fine amount would still be determined by the judge and at the discretion of the judge. Is that the member's understanding of this legislation?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4:55 p.m.
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NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I wish the member for Yukon well over in that corner. He used to sit over here and now he cannot follow my lead on standing up for votes anymore.

Yes, that is how I understand it. However, the point I am trying to make is that it is important that we allow judges to retain that discretion and this should be discussed in committee. It is my hope that when the bill is polished and it becomes law, there will be this discretion for judges to ensure they have that final say in what happens to these folks.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 4:55 p.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, a big thank you to my colleague for his very thoughtful speech. My comments are for him. He pointed out some problems with this bill. We will vote in favour of the bill to send it to committee.

The member for Yukon repeated a few times that judges still had discretionary power. I would like to bring him back to that topic. With Bill C-37, judges will no longer have any discretion regarding the surcharge, as it was set out in subsection 737(5). This provision enabled a judge to not impose a surcharge if the offender had shown, for very specific reasons, that he would be unable to pay it.

Unless they have a completely different bill, that is what this bill will do. That is one of the fundamental questions we will ask in committee. I encourage the members opposite to reread their own bill. I would like to hear from the member who just spoke about this issue.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 5 p.m.
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NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, first, I thank my colleague for all of the work she has done on the justice file. It is not an easy file and I respect what she has to say about the nuances of these bills. I thank her for her comments. I have not carefully studied this bill. I am very happy that she had the opportunity to clarify this bill. I thank her very much.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 5 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to add my congratulations to you for assuming the chair. I have been fortunate enough to work with you over the past eight years and I always appreciated the even-handedness and fairness you brought to the work we have done in the House.

I want to thank the member for British Columbia Southern Interior for splitting his time with me. He is a tough act to follow, but I have a couple of points I would like to make in addition to what he raised.

I also want to acknowledge the very good work that the member for Gatineau has done in providing us with the analysis on the bill.

As other members in the House have pointed out, Bill C-37 proposes to amend the provisions of the Criminal Code on victim surcharge, article 737, in order to double the amount that offenders must pay when they receive their sentence, and make that surcharge mandatory for all offenders.

As a number of other speakers in the House have pointed out, the bill also proposes to limit some of the discretion that judges have by removing the ability of a court to weigh the victim surcharge if the offender can show that paying the surcharge would result in undue hardship to either himself or herself or his or her dependants, which is the repeal of article 737(5). However, as others have pointed out, the judges would retain the discretionary power to increase the victim surcharge if they believed that circumstances so warranted and that the offender were able to pay. This is article 737(3).

I will focus on the particular aspect of limiting judicial discretion. Our critic from Gatineau has recommended that we send the bill to committee for further review and possible amendment. It is this section of the legislation that is troubling.

I am the aboriginal affairs critic for the NDP and I will focus on the impact on aboriginal offenders. I will be quoting from a report called “Good Intentions, Disappointing Results: A Progress Report on Federal. Aboriginal Corrections”. The reason I quote from that report is not only that it comes from the Office of the Correctional Investigator, but it has very good statistics about why we should be concerned about limiting judicial discretion in imposing this surcharge.

Most of us in the House recognize that First Nations, Métis and Inuit are some of the poorest of the poor in our country and they are seriously overrepresented in the correctional system at the federal level and also at the provincial and territorial level. Of course, my focus is on the federal level.

In the executive summary of this report it outlines some of the challenges for aboriginal offenders. It indicates:

A young and rapidly growing aboriginal population presents important challenges and opportunities for Canada. Should they not be taken up however, the impacts will be felt throughout the youth and criminal justice system, including corrections.

With the Aboriginal population much younger than the overall Canadian population and experiencing a higher growth rate, the problem of aboriginal over-representation in corrections continues to worsen rather than improve.

The offending circumstances of Aboriginal offenders are often related to substance abuse, intergenerational abuse and residential schools, low levels of education, employment and income, substandard housing and health care, among other factors. Aboriginal offenders tend to be younger; to be more likely to have served previous youth and/or adult sentences; to be incarcerated more often for a violent offence; to have higher risk ratings, to have higher need ratings, to be more inclined to have gang affiliations, and to have more health problems, including fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and mental health issues.

The last part is particularly important in the context of the bill, because we have a population that first has had a history, and I have some other statistics, of reoffending. We would have First Nations, Métis and Inuit coming into the system and constantly being reassessed a surcharge.

We often have people coming into the system from severely disadvantaged backgrounds, so their ability to even pay this surcharge comes into question. The point around judicial discretion was that in the past, a judge could take into account some of these circumstances I just outlined.

The report goes on to talk about some of the statistics. It says that the aboriginal population is growing quickly, representing a greater percentage of the Canadian populace, increasing by 20.1% from 2001 to 2006. The aboriginal population is also much younger than the overall Canadian population. It says that in 2006, the median age of the total aboriginal population was 27 years, which was 13 years lower than the median age of non-aboriginals.

It says that Statistics Canada predicts that the aboriginal population aged zero to 14 will grow from 6% of all children in Canada, in 2001, to over 7.4%, in 2017. Similarly, by 2017, the population of aboriginal youth adults aged 20 to 29 years will have increased from 4.1% to 5.3%.

It goes on to say that with the aboriginal population much younger than the overall Canadian population and experiencing a higher growth rate, the problem of aboriginal overrepresentation in corrections continues to worsen rather than improve and that aboriginal overrepresentation has grown in recent years. Between 1998 and 2008, the federal aboriginal population increased by 19.7%. Moreover, the number of federally-incarcerated aboriginal women increased by a staggering 131% over this period.

In 2007 to 2008, it says that 17.3% of the total federal offender population was aboriginal, compared with being 4% of the Canadian adult population.

We can see from those numbers about this very serious overrepresentation of first nations, Métis and Inuit in the federal correctional system. It says that they represented 19.6% of those incarcerated and 13.6% of those on conditional release, or parole and for women, this overrepresentation is even more dramatic. Thirty-three per cent, that is one-third, of women in federal penitentiaries were aboriginal.

I have some other statistics if I can get to them and talk about the fact that many times aboriginal women are imprisoned because of domestic violence. They end up reacting to a situation where they are in very unsafe homes and then they end up in prison. By removing judicial discretion, we are penalizing these women further who often are the sole providers of their young children and so on.

It says that of those offenders admitted to federal jurisdiction in 2007-8, 49.4% of aboriginal offenders were under the age of 30, compared with 38.6% of non-aboriginal offenders and that the median age of aboriginal offenders in prison was 30 compared with the median of 33 for non-aboriginal offenders and so on.

Part of the reason that these statistics are important is not only do we have an overrepresentation in the correctional system, but we also have young offenders who often have not had an opportunity to establish themselves in their community. Therefore, they often have not got a strong track record of employment.

I heard a member say it was only $50.00. In many cases, for young aboriginal offenders, $50.00 is an enormous amount of money. Often times they are supporting young children at home as well because the birth rate is very high for our young aboriginal people.

I just want to reiterate the fact that I have been talking numbers and data, but we have to continue to look at the context.

I mentioned earlier the intergenerational trauma, residential school abuse, the ongoing poverty, lack of housing, lack of education, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and so on. These are all really important issues to consider.

I had mentioned earlier that there were some interesting statistics, in terms of aboriginal people who were incarcerated and whether they were serving their first sentence in federal correctional system. In fact, the percentage of aboriginal people with no previous convictions between 2001 and 2006 ranged between 3% and 5%. Therefore, only 3% to 5% of the people admitted to the federal correctional system had no previous offences.

I talked about that revolving door and about the fact that people would continue to have to pay every time they were readmitted to a federal correctional system.

The final point I want to make is this. Were first nations, Métis and Inuit consulted in the development of this bill?

The Teslin Tlingit is one example of a first nation that has a self-governing agreement. It has a justice agreement in place. It has the authority under its self-government agreement around administrative of justice. Therefore, what would be the impact of limiting judicial discretion on some of the first nations that have these self-governing agreements? This has been answered anywhere. That is important when we continue to negotiate these self-government agreements and encourage first nations to take the authority, to take the ground on administering their own justice agreements.

I look forward to further conversations on this bill when it gets referred to committee and, hopefully, some of these issues will be remedied.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 5:10 p.m.
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NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's speech was very informative. What I think it underlines is the difference in visions between that side of the House and ours with regard to the importance of social determinants of crime. The other side of the House has a simplistic idea about choice and context in crime. Members on that side think somehow bigger sentences will solve crime. There has been long-standing literature that points to the opposite and that socio-economic determinants of crime need to be addressed.

My question is with regard to the discretionary power of judges and the link between that power and social determinants.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 5:10 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, we need an approach that looks at victims' rights, ensuring that victims are protected and have compensation and why people commit crimes in the first place.

There was a meeting earlier today in which someone was talking about fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. A question I posed to people in the correctional service was what kind of testing actually took place on people in prison who may have FASD, and there was no testing. We talk about social determinants of health. We talk about a significant percentage of the population that people suspect are in the federal penitentiary system. What programs and services are we offering in order to prevent people from getting into a life of crime? What are we doing to work with people and their families who may have FASD?

On this whole issue around social determinants and health, one would expect we would have a comprehensive approach that looks at preventing people from going to prison to begin with, dealing with them while they are in prison so they are rehabilitated when they come out the other end and also working with victims and their families to ensure they are adequately supported when a crime is committed.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 5:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the words of my colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan, who spoke very eloquently about the limiting of judicial discretion not being a principle that she supported and that aboriginal overrepresentation was something about which she was concerned. There is no evidence the bill would deter crime or reduce aboriginal overrepresentation. We heard her colleague make the point that this represented a different vision than the NDP Party's vision with respect to prevention and the social determinants of crime.

Given that the NDP is planning to send the bill to committee, which essentially means agreement to the principle of the bill, though some changes are being asked for, I would like to know from the member what the basic foundational principles are of the bill that she is in agreement with to allow her to vote for sending it to committee.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 5:15 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, recognizing it is important to look at how victims are impacted and how we can support victims and their families is the kind of principle of which New Democrats have spoken in support. We have encouraged the government to invest more in programs and services for victims and their families.

I suggest there are probably not many people in the House who, in some way or other, have not been touched by people who have been victims of crime, whether it was a break and enter or something far more serious. Our hearts go out to those families. We know the pain and suffering they have to go through in order to recover from whatever crimes have been committed against them. It is a very serious question.

This is not a black and white question. The question is how we support victims and their families and prevent people from going into the criminal justice system to begin with. If we bring those two things together, we will probably have a much more holistic approach to the criminal justice system.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 18th, 2012 / 5:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I join with others in congratulating you on your elevation to the chair as deputy speaker. It is appropriate, and I congratulate you and your party, the official opposition, for putting you there. For all of us, I guess it is overwhelming that you are up there for all the right reasons.

Today we are talking about Bill C-37. This debate has been going on now for a few months, and we have picked it up after the summer constituency break.

On April 24, the Minister of Justice introduced Bill C-37, an act to amend the Criminal Code, increasing offenders' accountability for victims act, in the House of Commons and it has been given first reading.

The summary, as handed out by the Library of Parliament, states that a victim surcharge is an additional penalty imposed on convicted offenders at the time of sentencing. Bill C-37 would amend the Criminal Code to change the rules concerning victim surcharges. The surcharge would be 30% of any fine imposed on the offender. Where no fine is imposed, the surcharge would be $100 for offences punishable by summary conviction and $200 for offences punishable by indictment. In addition, the judge would retain the discretion to impose an increased surcharge where the circumstances warrant and the offender has the ability to pay. Some of those I will touch on in just a few moments.

Let us talk about many aspects of this legislation. We have talked quite a bit about some of the root elements of crime in this House. A lot of people think we talk about the economy, but we have probably talked as much if not more about crime during the last three years, and I have voted for some of the bills proposed to us. I felt they were reasonable and that the amendments to the Criminal Code were justified for reasons and circumstances we have before us today.

However, in looking at the situation, the base root of all crime, poverty, is one of the major issues. My colleague from Charlottetown was quite eloquent in his speech yesterday and he brought some of these factors out. I would like to reiterate some of those factors because I believe they bear repeating.

In times past, we confronted great challenges, not with slogans and silly appellations for parliamentary bills but by deploying our best and brightest in search of facts that would lead to meaningful and realistic solutions.

The growing gap between those who have and those who have not, the persistence of poverty and its relation to crime are real and present danger to social cohesiveness in Canada.

We cannot afford to stand aside and do what we are doing, which is little.

He also came up with a recommendation that I support.

We cannot dismissively say that poverty is a provincial matter...

This is something that has been brought out quite a bit in the House, and I believe it to be right. Although some areas of concern, most notably health care, education and housing, are dealt with mostly by the province, that does not mean we cannot further a national dialogue on how we go about dealing with issues such as poverty.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the current government has a poverty reduction strategy that is being held up as a solid example of how we can reduce elements of poverty within our society. It has been carried out over many years in Newfoundland. It started with a strategic social policy and now we have this poverty reduction strategy, which is a strong element in reducing poverty rates within the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Many elements brought out in this poverty reduction strategy deal with specific instances where people find themselves wrapped up in elements of crime and in front of courts and judges. In many cases, the judges are given discretion as to what to do. In some cases, some of the laws we have need to be reformed to give the right sentence to a particular crime.

When we take all these elements of reforming our laws, whether it is through the Criminal Code or others, we have to encapsulate it into the narrative, and the narrative is about poverty reduction. That is the first part of it.

The second part of it is aid to victims of crime. The element we are talking about here tries to address that. Principally, it was a good start, but we sort of went off the rails as we proceeded further. Some of the circumstances that brought the legislation forward may have been justified at the time, but the end results will dictate that it will not be the case. The main thrust of the bill will not be fulfilled in many cases just by imposing these particular fines or fees.

Therefore, as my hon. colleague from Charlottetown mentioned yesterday, we should strike a royal commission on poverty in Canada. Elements of that should include addressing causes of crime and how we address victims of crime, as well as those who perpetrate the crimes. This should be done through the lens of reducing poverty, such as the poverty reduction strategy we currently have in Newfoundland and Labrador.

With the greatest respect to my colleagues on the other side, it is not right or just for any prime minister from any political party to suggest, as our current Prime Minister does, that poverty is a provincial problem, end of story. That is a very strong argument to be made in this House because it furthers the dialogue. Certainly we cannot just extricate ourselves from a particular debate because it has to do with health care and health care is a provincial issue. As a matter of fact, we are the authors, and we certainly are the enforcers, of what is called the Canada Health Act. The same goes for child care as well as aspects of education, whether secondary or post-secondary.

We certainly can further the dialogue when it comes to these elements of provincial jurisdiction. For example, I have been a strong advocate for stronger sentences and stronger action to reduce human smuggling. We certainly have made attempts in the House to come down heavily on people who perpetrate the crime of human smuggling, and rightly so. However, let us look at the other aspect of human smuggling, the victims. We do not address that in the House. Why? It is because many people say it is provincial jurisdiction. It is, because of one of the elements that was brought in many years ago. The Conservative minister of the day said he would make it easier for victims of human trafficking from outside of Canada to remain in Canada to deal with their situation. However, unless we create a dialogue among the provinces and territories about health care providers, because they provide the ultimate care to victims of human trafficking, we become ineffective in dealing with victims of international human trafficking. The provinces would not recognize these people because they do not have a particular health card. We have to look at that element of aiding people who are victims of human trafficking, but it is not discussed and it should be, as another part of it.

I do not mean to derail from the topic we have right now, but I just wanted to point that out under the narrative of why we need to further a national dialogue that may place itself into provincial jurisdictions. That is a strong element that we should deal with in the House and I do not think we are doing it. The authors of this bill may have wanted it to be that way, but from the dialogue we are receiving in the House, and seeing the debate in the House, that is not happening.

Going back to poverty, that is the particular issue. Homelessness was talked about today. Many people would ask why we should deal with that, because the provinces do. We should all deal with it, to further that dialogue.

There are many causes, but the root cause of many of crimes do deal with poverty, and the numbers would dictate that. I will get to that in just a moment.

In a recent article in one of our leading newspapers, anti-poverty advocate and Conservative senator Hugh Segal said the following:

While all those Canadians who live beneath the poverty line are by no means associated with criminal activity, almost all those in Canada’s prisons come from beneath the poverty line. Less than 10 per cent of Canadians live beneath the poverty line but almost 100 per cent of our prison inmates come from that 10 per cent. There is no political ideology, on the right or left, that would make the case that people living in poverty belong in jail.

These are strong words from a Conservative senator with a vast amount of experience as a former clerk of the Privy Council and so on and so forth, and author of many articles about this and other issues that concern Canadians. I think these words are crystal clear and certainly his assertions are correct.

More than 70% of those who enter prisons have not completed high school; 70% of offenders entering prisons have unstable job histories. Four of every five arrive with serious substance abuse problems. Sending more people to prison, appearing tough on crime, or enacting legislation that is punitive at its core is not going to solve the problem of crime in Canada.

Again, the intentions are to look after the safety and security of victims, or certainly the well-being of victims in this particular case, and principally it may have started out that way. Some of the ideas put out there by some of the Conservative speakers made a lot of sense.

No one has any less compassion for a victim of crime than anyone else in this House. I do not think it is germane to this debate who has more or less compassion for a victim of crime. However, it has to be done effectively and it has to be done so that it counts.

In closing, I have one other quote from Senator Segal:

In a modern, competitive and compassionate society like ours, these numbers are unacceptable.

In this particular case there are many reasons why supporting these particular measures would not find be effective. Provincial and territorial victims services are funded in part by a federal victims surcharge under the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code. The surcharge would be 30% of any fine, and $100 on a summary conviction.

Currently offenders who can demonstrate undue hardship may request that the victim surcharge be waived. The proposed amendments to the Criminal Code would make a victim surcharge mandatory for all offenders. That is what the government is trying to do. However, the removal of the undue hardship defence signals a lack of concern for the particular situation of individual offenders and a lack of faith in judges or our justice system, as other speakers brought out.

Therefore, the effectiveness of this is called into question, despite the government's efforts to be true and certainly to rectify the situation for victims.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 17th, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.
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Delta—Richmond East B.C.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate at second reading of Bill C-37, the Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act, concerning victim surcharges.

Bill C-37 would make offenders more accountable by doubling victim surcharges for offenders and by ensuring that surcharges are applied automatically in all cases.

Clearly, the Conservative government is keeping its promises with respect to the concerns of victims of crime.

I am pleased to be here today to speak on Bill C-37, Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act. The bill would make convicted offenders more accountable to victims of crime by doubling the victim surcharge that offenders must pay and ensure that the surcharge is automatically applied in all cases.

The underlying philosophy of the federal victim surcharge in subsection 737(7) of the Criminal Code is that the surcharge is imposed for the purpose of providing assistance to victims of offences. As I will explain, surcharge revenues fund a wide variety of programs and services to assist victims of crime.

Our government, in its electoral platform, committed to amending the Criminal Code to double the victim surcharge and make it mandatory in every case, without exception. The Speech from the Throne reiterated this commitment.

The victim surcharge was first enacted in 1989, and at that time it was called a victim fine surcharge. The surcharge was set as a maximum amount, and in many cases very low amounts were imposed. Research was conducted by the Department of Justice in the early 1990s in British Columbia and Ontario to review the impact of the new surcharge provisions at the time. The research reports revealed that in many cases the imposition of the surcharge was ignored or forgotten, particularly where the disposition was something other than a fine. In situations were a jail term was imposed, judges often relied on the undue hardship provision to waive imposition.

In addition, the imposition of the surcharge where a term of imprisonment or other non-fine disposition was imposed was criticized as disproportionate to the gravity of the offence. Another reason cited explaining the lack of acceptance of the surcharge included the perception that surcharge revenue would be deposited into general revenues with no guarantee that existing services for victims would be expanded or new services developed.

In summary, the low revenue from the federal surcharge was attributed to a few key factors, including lack of awareness, concerns regarding the use of surcharge revenue and some lack of clarity in the amount set out in the code.

In 1998, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights tabled a report entitled, “Victims' Rights - A voice, not a veto”, following its review of the victim's role in the criminal justice system. The committee noted the problems with the original surcharge provisions, including the inadvertent failure of judges to impose the surcharge and non-aggressive enforcement and collection initiatives. The report affirmed that additional resources were needed to provide adequate victim services across the country and that increasing the victim surcharge would be a reasonable way to generate more revenue, particularly given that the maximum surcharge amounts had not increased since 1989.

In 2000, two amendments were made to the surcharge provision. The surcharge became a fixed amount and became automatic unless the judge ordered a waiver because of undue hardship to the offender. The term “fine” was also dropped to avoid the interpretation that it was only applied in addition to fines.

In 2006, the Department of Justice published the “Federal Victim Surcharge in New Brunswick: An Operational Review”. The objective of this research project was to develop a better understanding of the challenges and possible solutions to the federal victim surcharge regime in the province of New Brunswick, to identify challenges that are present in the current process and to generate possible solutions to circumvent impediments in maximizing the effectiveness of this process.

Despite the fact that imposition of the surcharge is supposed to be automatic unless the offender can convince the sentencing judge that it would cause undue hardship, the victim surcharge is not being applied in cases even where the offender would have the ability to pay. The research has shown that the victim surcharge is not being applied in all appropriate cases for several reasons, including, as previously noted, a presumption that an offender who is sentenced to jail time will not have the means to pay, and a lack of awareness of how the money from the victim surcharge is used. Under the current victim surcharge regime, offenders who are not able to pay the victim surcharge without incurring hardship are simply exempted from making the payment. This bill would address many of these issues.

The amount of the victim surcharge has not been increased since 2000. The new proposed surcharge would be 30% of any fine imposed on the offender. Where no