Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on private member's Bill C-489, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act with regard to restrictions on offenders.
On the comments of the previous speaker, the member for Malpeque, I am pleased to say that in the House, perfection is never the enemy of the good.
This bill has received the unanimous support of all members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I would like to thank the committee for its thorough review and for reporting back so quickly to the House.
Before I get into the amendments adopted by the committee, I would like to congratulate the member for Langley, British Columbia. I note his important work in promoting the interests of victims, of which this bill is a direct result. I would also note how the member for Langley worked with all parties to gain support for this bill and was open to a number of suggestions to improve the bill, all of which, I believe, makes this bill worthy of the unanimous support of the House.
The government indicated its support for the objectives of this bill, given its consistency with the government's commitment to the rights of victims of crime. In previous Parliaments, this government has taken bold and decisive action in this area, including the Safe Streets and Communities Act, which, among other things, established a new and higher mandatory minimum sentence for sexual offences against children, eliminated conditional sentences for serious and violent crimes, and eliminated record suspensions, formerly known as pardons, for serious offences.
As indicated in the Speech from the Throne on October 16, 2013, this government has committed to introduce and support new legislation that follows through on our belief that victims come before criminals. The Minister of Justice has already fulfilled one important government commitment to crack down on cyberbullying with the introduction of Bill C-13, the protecting Canadians from online crime act, on November 20, 2013.
Bill C-489 is completely consistent with the government's commitment to strengthen the rights of victims at every stage of the criminal justice process. This bill would require judges to either impose or fully consider specific conditions prohibiting contact between offenders and their victims, witnesses, or other individuals to protect them against contact from offenders.
The bill proposes to amend provisions of the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that would allow courts and the Parole Board of Canada to impose conditions on offenders released into the community. These include prohibitions for child sexual offenders orders, probation orders, conditional sentences, peace bonds for child sexual offences, and federal penitentiary conditional release orders.
It is estimated that about 110,000 offenders each year would be subject to this new requirement proposed by Bill C-489. The source for this figure is the 2012 Juristat, Statistics Canada, and the Parole Board of Canada's annual report on conditional releases.
Turning to the report of the justice committee, I note that a number of amendments to the bill were adopted by the committee. I would like to briefly summarize these amendments.
The bill proposes to amend section 161 of the Criminal Code. This is a prohibition order that currently requires a judge sentencing a child sexual offender to consider imposing specific prohibitions on the offender that come into effect once the offender is released into the community. These can include prohibitions to stay away from specific places where children might be present and/or not to work or volunteer with children.
The bill proposes to also require the court to consider prohibiting the offender from being within two kilometres of any dwelling house in which the victim can reasonably be expected to be present without a parent or guardian. In considering this proposal, the justice committee expressed concern that it was too rigid, as the court would only have two choices: either impose a two-kilometre restriction or impose no restrictions at all.
While a two-kilometre restriction might well be appropriate in many cases, the committee expressed concern that in many instances it might be too big or possibly not even a big enough distance to achieve the objectives of preventing contact between the victim and the offender. As a result, the committee adopted a motion to require judges to consider conditions of two kilometres or any other distance. I believe this change in the bill makes sense and I will fully support it.
The justice committee also adopted a motion to require the court to consider imposing a condition prohibiting an offender from being in a private vehicle with a child. In adopting this change, the committee recognized that the recent Safe Streets and Communities Act had already enacted a new condition against any unsupervised contact with a child under the age of 16.
Bill C-489 would also require a court to impose mandatory non-contact conditions for all prohibition and conditional sentences under the Criminal Cod”, although there is some discretion retained by the court not to impose such a condition if it finds there are “exceptional circumstances”. In addition, the condition can be waived by the victim if they consent to the contact. The provision would also require a court to provide its reasons in writing if it does find that “exceptional circumstances” exist.
The justice committee also adopted a small number of amendments to these proposals. First, the bill was amended to change the requirement that the judge give written reasons to require the judge to provide reasons in the record.
The committee felt this change was important, as the requirement to provide reasons in writing would have a potentially significant impact on court resources. The new formulation of requiring reasons to be stated in the record would still achieve the desired results of the original clause.
Second, the committee amended these proposals in cases where the identified victim consents to the contact by the offender to require that the victim's consent be in writing or in some other form specified by the court. This would ensure certainty in subsequent proceedings regarding whether or not there was in fact consent. Again, I believe these amendments make sense, and I support them as well.
Bill C-489 proposes to include similar non-contact conditions for section 810.1, peace bonds that are imposed on suspected child sexual offenders. This provision in the Criminal Code allows a recognizance with conditions to be imposed on any individual by a court if there is a reasonable fear that the defendant will commit a sexual offence against a child under the age of 16, unless there are exceptional circumstances.
To maintain consistency and to avoid any confusion in the courts, Bill C-489 has been amended to remove the reference to “exceptional circumstances” in this provision, given the fact that the judge has full discretion to impose any of the listed conditions under section 810.1.
The bill has also been amended to remove the requirement of the court to provide written reasons for the peace bond condition, given that all peace bonds are already required to be provided in writing and filed with the court.
As introduced, the bill also proposed to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to ensure that the releasing authority has the ability to impose non-contact conditions on offenders as well as geographic restrictions.
While the Corrections and Conditional Release Act currently authorizes conditions to be imposed upon an offender when granted conditional release, there is no specific obligation to consider the input of victims in determining appropriate conditions.
The committee adopted an amendment to require the releasing authority, either the Parole Board of Canada or the head of the institution, to impose reasonable and necessary conditions on offenders, including non-communication or geographic restrictions if a victim or other person has provided a statement regarding the harm done to them, the continuing impact of the offence, or their safety.
Finally, the committee amended the bill to come into force three months after receiving royal assent to provide adequate opportunity for courts and correctional institutions to prepare for these reforms.
I fully support the efforts of the sponsor of the bill to enhance the level of protection afforded to victims when offenders are released into the community.
Bill C-489, as amended by the justice committee, goes a long way to address concerns that all too often offenders are able to come into close proximity to their victims. I agree that Bill C-489 will help to ensure that victims, their families, witnesses, and other individuals will feel safe in their homes and in their communities when offenders are released.
I hope all hon. members will join me in passing the bill.