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.