An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

This bill was previously introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

Guy Lauzon  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

In committee (Senate), as of Feb. 5, 2014
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

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

This enactment amends the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to provide that any monetary amount awarded to an offender pursuant to a legal action or proceeding against Her Majesty in right of Canada be paid to victims and other designated beneficiaries.

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

Oct. 31, 2012 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
Sept. 26, 2012 Passed That Bill C-350, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing line 6 on page 2 with the following: “result of an order for maintenance, alimony or family financial support”
March 28, 2012 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.

Private Members' BusinessOpening Of The Second Session Of The 41St Parliament

October 16th, 2013 / 6:10 p.m.
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Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I would like to make a statement concerning private members' business.

As hon. members know, our Standing Orders provide for the continuance of private members’ business from session to session within a Parliament.

In practical terms, this means that notwithstanding prorogation, the list for the consideration of private members' business established at the beginning of the 41st Parliament shall continue for the duration of this Parliament.

As such, pursuant to Standing Order 86.1, all items of private members' business originating in the House of Commons that were listed on the Order Paper at the conclusion of the previous session are automatically reinstated to the Order Paper and shall be deemed to have been considered and approved at all stages completed at the time of prorogation.

All items will keep the same number as in the first session of the 41st Parliament. More specifically, all bills and motions standing on the list of items outside the order of precedence shall continue to stand. Bills that had met the notice requirement and were printed in the Order Paper but had not yet been introduced will be republished on the Order Paper under the heading “Introduction of Private Members' Bills”. Bills that had not yet been published on the order paper need to be recertified by the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel and be resubmitted for publication on the notice paper.

Of course all items in the order of precedence remain on the order of precedence or, as the case may be, are referred to the appropriate committee or sent to the Senate.

Specifically, at prorogation there were three private members' bills originating in the House of Commons adopted at second reading and referred to committee.

Therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 86.1, Bill C-458, an act respecting a national charities week and to amend the Income Tax Act (charitable and other gifts) is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Finance.

Bill C-478, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (increasing parole ineligibility), is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Bill C-489, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (restrictions on offenders) is deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Accordingly, pursuant to Standing Order 97.1, committees will be required to report on each of these reinstated private members’ bills within 60 sitting days of this statement.

In addition, prior to prorogation, nine private members' bills originating in the House of Commons had been read the third time and passed. Therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 86.1, the following bills are deemed adopted at all stages and passed by the House: Bill C-217, an act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief relating to war memorials); Bill C-266, an act to establish Pope John Paul II day; Bill C-279, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity); Bill C-290, an act to amend the Criminal Code (sports betting); Bill C-314, an act respecting the awareness of screening among women with dense breast tissue; Bill C-350, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders); Bill C-377, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations); Bill C-394, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (criminal organization recruitment); and Bill C-444, an act to amend the Criminal Code (personating peace officer or public officer).

Accordingly, a message will be sent to the Senate to inform it that this House has adopted these nine bills.

Consideration of private members’ business will start on Thursday, October 17, 2013.

As members may be aware, among the items in the order of precedence or deemed referred to committee, there are four bills standing in the name of members recently appointed as parliamentary secretaries who, by virtue of their office, are not eligible to propose items during the consideration of private members' business.

Bill C-511, an act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act (period of residence) and Bill C-517, an act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons) were awaiting debate at second reading in the order of precedence at the time of prorogation.

Bill C-458, An Act respecting a National Charities Week and to amend the Income Tax Act (charitable and other gifts), and Bill C-478, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (increasing parole ineligibility), were in committee at the time of prorogation and, as stated earlier, have been returned there.

This is in keeping with the principle expressed at pages 550-551 and 1125 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, which provides that bills remain on the order of precedence since they are in the possession of the House and only the House can take further decision on them.

These items are therefore without eligible sponsors but remain in the possession of the House or its committees. If no action is taken, at the appropriate time these items will eventually be dropped from the Order Paper, pursuant to Standing Order 94(2)(c).

Hon. members will find at their desks a detailed explanatory note about private members’ business. I trust that these measures will assist the House in understanding how private members' business will be conducted in this session. The table officers are available to answer any questions members may have.

I thank all members for their attention.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

October 31st, 2012 / 3:15 p.m.
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Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at third reading of Bill C-350, under private members' business.

The question is on the motion.

The House resumed from October 26 consideration of the motion that Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders), be read the third time and passed.

Correctional and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

October 26th, 2012 / 1:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Guy Lauzon Conservative Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to summarize our debate on Bill C-350.

When I first introduced Bill C-350, I said it was common sense. I still maintain that the more we study it, as it has gone to committee, et cetera, the more I believe that it is just good, honest, old-fashioned common sense.

My NDP colleague mentioned something about the good intentions in the bill. It is a bill of good intentions because we on this side have the intention to look after victims.

I was once a victim of a crime. I understand the pain and anguish people and their families go through when they become victims of crime.

In some cases, the victim is also the offender for a variety of reasons. Maybe the offender ended up being an offender to start with. Many offenders have gone through their whole lives without ever having to face responsibility. If that is the case, under Bill C-350, when they are incarcerated and they do happen to come into a few dollars, they will finally have the opportunity to live up to their responsibility and be able to accept it.

I sense that we have the support of the House for Bill C-350. I am encouraged by this because I think it is a win-win for the victims, the offenders and for society.

Correctional and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

October 26th, 2012 / 1:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on the debate on Bill C-350, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders).

This is a particularly timely debate, as the justice and human rights committee, upon which I sit, continues its deliberation on the matter of Bill C-37, increasing offenders' accountability for victims act.

I will organize my remarks today around two themes. First, I will address where the bill fits within the government's overall approach to crime and justice. Second, I will address the specific critiques I have on this legislation, particularly from a law and poverty perspective.

May I state, parenthetically, that I began my law teaching career some 42 years ago in the area of law and poverty. One of the first books I co-edited was one that was precisely entitled Law and poverty.

The common thread of both Bill C-37 and Bill C-350, legislation proposed by government members, is that they both seek to address the accountability of offenders through financial obligations on or after sentencing.

Bill C-37 proposes to double the victim surcharge and make it mandatory. Bill C-350 proposes to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to provide that any monetary amount awarded to an offender pursuant to a legal action or proceeding against the Crown must be paid to victims and other designated beneficiaries.

It bears repeating that all parties agree on the objectives of these two pieces of legislation, namely that offenders must be held accountable for their acts and that restitution must be made. It is an objective of the sentencing process outlined in the Criminal Code itself.

However, the Criminal Code provides other purposes in sentencing. I believe section 718 of the code bears repeating, for the benefit of colleagues and those hearing these debates. It states:

The fundamental purpose of sentencing is to contribute, along with crime prevention initiatives, to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society by imposing just sanctions....

I pause here in my reading of this section to note that the Criminal Code places sentencing efforts alongside crime prevention initiatives. Indeed, the two are given equal footing.

Regrettably, while we have a steady stream of legislation from the government with respect to increasing and enhancing sentencing, particularly in regard to imposing mandatory minimum penalties and the like, we have seen very little with respect to crime prevention. Indeed, both Bill C-37 and Bill C-350 can hardly be said to be preventative measures, an issue that I will address shortly.

I will excerpt further from the Criminal Code, which speaks of the purpose of sanctions, and I quote:

...just sanctions that have one or more of the following objectives: (a) to denounce unlawful conduct; (b) to deter the offender and other persons from committing offences; (c) to separate offenders from society, where necessary; (d) to assist in rehabilitating offenders; (e) to provide reparations for harm done to victims or to the community; and (f) to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders and acknowledgment of the harm done to victims and to the community.

I realize that it is not the preferred practice for members to read excerpts from statutory text. However, it may well be necessary in this case to illustrate that the objective here, in the bill's own words, “increasing accountability of offenders”, or in the language of the Criminal Code, “promoting a sense of responsibility in offenders and acknowledgment of the harm done”, is the sixth and final objective in sentencing.

This is not to say that this objective is not worthwhile or that it ought not to be pursued. Rather, it is simply to note that it ought to be pursued alongside or together with the other objectives expressly mentioned in the code.

Again, while we have seen many pieces of government legislation that address accountability, we do not see any, for example, with respect to the objective of the rehabilitation of offenders. Despite the fact that the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry characterizes the legislation as dealing with rehabilitation, in fact it ignores the whole issue of rehabilitation.

This is where I believe the government's approach to criminal policy is particularly problematic. Conservatives propose, often in a piecemeal fashion, provisions pertaining solely to one objective, thereby missing an opportunity to develop a holistic and integrated approach to criminal law policy. That is, one that addresses not only what to do after the fact, after the offences occur, but no less important, why people commit crimes, and particularly how they can be prevented from committing those crimes—the whole with a view to protecting public safety and preventing the victimization to begin with.

We are all in favour of concern for and protecting the rights of victims but our objective must be to prevent the victimization and the crime to begin with.

In debates over Bill C-37 and Bill C-350, government speakers spoke of the deterrent objectives of these pieces of legislation. As I have noted in the House before, it is difficult to imagine that an offender who would otherwise commit an offence would somehow desist from doing so upon being informed of either a victim surcharge or a priority system of extinguishing debts once incarcerated. Addressing offenders after the fact ignores crime prevention as a necessary element of any criminal law policy. Moreover, doing so by financial measures alone does not assist with rehabilitation, an essential element of any criminal justice agenda.

Turning now to the specifics of the bill before us, Bill C-350 establishes that before an inmate can make use of any financial compensation gained as a result of a court proceeding against the Crown, certain groups must receive payment first. It thereby establishes a priority of debt repayment program. The first is paid to outstanding spousal or child support, followed by outstanding debt or restitution owed to the victim, such as for therapy or medical bills. Third is the debt owed to third parties who acted in good faith, followed by any victim surcharge imposed during sentencing. Subsequently, the priority is to debts owed by the offender as a result of any other court case, whether civil or criminal, and only after these conditions are satisfied may the offender receive the monetary award for use at his or her discretion.

The government has framed this legislation in terms of supporting victims, noting the need to fund restitution orders that courts may impose to address, for example, damage to, or loss or destruction of, a person's property or bodily or physiological harm to any person. Again, it must be reaffirmed that this is something that all parties support and stand behind, and was a central theme of my own tenure as minister of justice.

The problem here is that when it comes to the impecunious offender, courts have noted this concern in relation to restitution, such as the Ontario Court of Appeal in R. v. Scherer wherein the court found that:

It may be that in some cases it would be inappropriate and undesirable to make a compensation order in an amount that it is unrealistic to think the accused could ever discharge.

The reason for this is in part what the Manitoba Court of Appeal found in R. v. Siemens and again I quote:

The impact of a restitution order upon the chances of rehabilitation of the accused, either pro or con, is a factor to be considered....

A compensation order which would ruin the accused financially, thus impairing his chances of rehabilitation, should not be imposed....

As such, I am particularly concerned about the impact of the legislation on those who may be of limited financial means. Directing funds from an award may impact upon the rehabilitation of an offender. In this regard, discretion should have been built into the legislation before us. Moreover, in the cases of those with no means, it is unclear how this legislation would serve the purposes of offender accountability. Simply put, if someone cannot afford any of the fines levied, the legislation would not achieve its objectives.

Here and also in respect of Bill C-37, it is important to recall the words of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Wu:

[I]t is irrational to imprison an offender who does not have the capacity to pay on the basis that imprisonment will force him or her to pay....

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.

Again, as I noted in my generic critique of the government's justice agenda, not enough focus is being placed on prevention and tackling the underlying causes of crimes, chief among them being poverty.

In my limited time remaining I will briefly outline additional concerns with the legislation, many of which were raised in committee and might be raised in the other place. First is whether or not the bill is constitutional from a federalism perspective, and reference has been made to this by my NDP colleagues so I will refrain from enlarging on this point. Second, the bill does not address what happens to these payments in cases of wrongful conviction, an issue with which I was preoccupied as minister of justice and appreciate this concern. Third and finally, there is a concern that this legislation may deter inmates from taking action against the Crown when there are legitimate grounds to do so, such as in cases of prisoner abuse, because they would not be able to use the award as they see fit.

While the Liberal Party supports the intent of the bill, we feel that the bill and these concerns must be addressed further so as to achieve the objectives of the bill.

Correctional and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

October 26th, 2012 / 1:40 p.m.
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NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak on third reading of Bill C-350, and I am pleased to reaffirm that the NDP will be supporting this bill in the final vote.

This is a bill which has the worthy objective of supporting offenders and taking responsibility for the consequences of their actions. However, before I give the wrong impression to the public, let me stress that this is a very narrow bill, which will affect only a very small group of offenders. It applies only to that small group who receive funds as a result of a court-ordered settlement against the Crown. During the course of the debate on this bill, no one has been able to provide an accurate number of those offenders who receive such settlements. However, the sponsor of the bill, the witnesses before committee and the parliamentary secretary have all assured us that this number is very low.

From the beginning, on this side of the House we have said the bill sets out an order of priorities for disbursing such funds. Limited as they might be, it is an order that we can support. The first priority is spousal and child support. I was very pleased to hear the hon. member acknowledge that there are, in addition to the direct victims of crime, often other indirect victims, who are the families and children of those who commit criminal acts. They often lose their main source of income and then end up losing their homes and all kinds of other things, through no fault of their own. The second is payments to victims as a result of restitution orders. Of course, on this side of the House we have always supported offenders having to fulfill their duties under restitution orders. The third is the payment of any victim surcharges that are owing. Finally, fourth is the payment of any civil judgments against offenders. New Democrats can support this order of priorities, and for that reason we can support this bill.

Obviously, getting additional resources to victims and families of offenders, who both often find themselves in dire straits as a result of criminal acts, is a good thing to do. Yet, we still have some doubts about the constitutionality of this bill with respect to federal-provincial jurisdiction. We are supporting the bill based on the assurances from the government as to the legal advice it has received on this point, but we expect to hear further from the provinces, perhaps in debate in the Senate.

We in the NDP would not be supporting this bill had the government not agreed to bring forth one very important amendment. That amendment, which we originally proposed in committee, was to exempt payments from the Crown made under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. We felt it was very important to recognize that aboriginal people who might receive payments as a result of abuse suffered in residential schools would be revictimized, if such payments were taken from one victim and transferred to another. We must recognize that the experience of physical, psychological and sexual abuse in the residential schools was very often the source of the involvement of those offenders with the legal system in the first place.

We are supporting this bill, recognizing its good intentions. We are cognizant of its very limited scope in providing assistance to victims, and while we appreciate the government's support for this private member's bill, we would call on the government to turn its attention now to the full recommendations of the victims ombudsman from last February. That is, not just the increase to the victim surcharge before the House now, and not just this bill, but the full range of recommendations from the victims ombudsman.

Let me conclude today by saying that we will be voting for this bill with the full knowledge that, at best, it will make only a small contribution to repairing the damage resulting from criminal acts. We do so while continuing to look forward to seeing further initiatives from the government to provide more extensive and effective assistance to victims of crime.

Correctional and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

October 26th, 2012 / 1:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Guy Lauzon Conservative Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am so pleased with my Bill C-350. I get a chance to not only speak to it for 15 minutes but to reply to questions for 5 minutes. The previous question talked about victims but also about rehabilitation. I had more to say about rehabilitation, and this question allows me the chance to do that.

Every offender is subject to rehabilitation. Every offender can be rehabilitated. We have to give them every opportunity to become rehabilitated. Part of the way we do that is to get them to accept their responsibility. Having people live up to their financial obligations, if they get an award, is of course part of living up to their responsibilities. I thank my hon. colleague for the opportunity to reiterate that.

Correctional and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

October 26th, 2012 / 1:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Guy Lauzon Conservative Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question, and I appreciate the input he had into the drafting and improvement of the bill. I want to thank members on the other side of the aisle for doing the same.

The member is right. Our government's priority in the justice system is victims, and we want to maintain that as a priority. However, just as important is the hope of eliminating victims. The way we can eliminate victims is by rehabilitating offenders. By having offenders accept their responsibility, that is part of the rehabilitation. Everyone in the public has to meet their obligations. Too often when people go to prison, they are obligation free. Bill C-350 would ensure that the offender, while he is incarcerated, will accept his responsibilities.

Correctional and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

October 26th, 2012 / 1:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Guy Lauzon Conservative Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

moved that Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders), be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, finally we are at third reading of Bill C-350. My private member's bill would encourage accountability and responsibility in our federal offenders. The bill would help ensure that offenders are held accountable for the monetary debts they owe. I think we can all agree this should be done.

As we have heard in committee, Bill C-350 raises important issues about the way in which offenders are held accountable for outstanding debts.

The evidence is clear. The cost of crime is immense in our society, to the tune of $99.6 billion a year in both tangible and intangible costs. That is not $99.6 million, but $99.6 billion in tangible and intangible costs.

We have heard, loud and clear, from victims of crime, victims' families and victims advocacy groups that offenders must be held accountable. We have heard these calls and are responding to them with several legislative measures.

We have supported legislation to address vexatious complaints by offenders have overburdened the complaints and grievance system with frivolous complaints.

We have also introduced legislation to double the victim surcharge owed by offenders and to make the payment mandatory in every case and without exception. While making the victim surcharge mandatory fulfills another of our commitments, we have the proper structure in place to ensure that it is paid.

This is where Bill C-350 comes into play. It would ensure that in cases where an offender is awarded money by a final decision by a court or tribunal, it must first be distributed in priority order to fulfill outstanding debts to child and spousal support, restitution orders and victim surcharges and any other amount owed as a result of a court judgment before the remainder goes to the offender.

We have seen strong support for this legislation from committee witnesses, including the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. The ombudsman clearly illustrated what this legislation would mean for victims of crime. She said:

For victims of crime who have already experienced loss and trauma, the additional legal and financial burden of having to track down moneys owed to them as a result of a crime committed against them can simply be overwhelming. This cannot and should not be the reality. Victims do not deserve to be revictimized. It is for this reason that measures that encourage the enforcement of the payment of restitution by offenders to victims are a necessary and welcome step forward.

This then is really the aim of Bill C-350, to reduce the financial burden on victims of crime. Bill C-350 puts in place a structure that would ensure that a monetary award from the Crown is first directed toward the offender's financial obligations outside the penitentiary walls. In particular, it would ensure that offenders are fulfilling their family responsibilities by continuing to pay court-ordered spousal or child support, or by paying restitution orders and victim surcharges.

I would like to take a moment to recognize the great work done in committee. Its members carried out a thoughtful and thorough study of the legislation in a non-partisan way, and I am grateful for that. The amendments put forward and subsequently passed in committee have served to strengthen and clarify the original bill. The amendment made at report stage further strengthened the bill's mandate, as it adjusted the wording to ensure that common law spouses will be eligible to receive payments under the legislation.

The proposed bill addresses a very specific section of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, section 78, which addresses payments to offenders. We are proposing changes to the law to ensure that money owed to the offender is distributed to meet his or her financial obligations. Here it is important to clarify that we are not talking about all moneys. This legislation deals only with those specific cases in which an offender has successfully won a monetary award as a result of a final decision by a court or tribunal.

This could include a case against the Correctional Service of Canada or another federal department. When this happens today, the CSC or other federal department would pay out the reward directly to the offender.

Of course, offenders are already obligated to pay their debts while in prison. Under the recently passed Safe Streets and Communities Act, they must participate fully in a comprehensive correctional plan, which among things includes addressing their court-ordered obligations.

However, there is no law specifically ensuring that they honour these obligations. This legislation does just that and prioritizes child and spousal support. Sometimes the offenders' families are also victims. In many cases the children or spouses of the offender face the strain of having lost the income of their partner and perhaps even lack the basic necessities.

To promote accountability among the offender population and ensure that victims and families of offenders are not further burdened, Bill C-350 will set out in law a means of ensuring that offenders honour their obligations according to the set priorities for repayment.

In this case the award must be paid out in the following order of priority: first, any amount the offender owes as a result of a spousal or child support order; second, any amount the offender owes as a result of a restitution order; third, any amount owed as a result of a victim surcharge; and fourth, any other amount owed by the offender as a result of a court judgment.

At committee concerns were raised regarding how this system of repayment might work in practice. These were realistic concerns. Amended wording now clarifies and addresses these concerns.

First, as I mentioned earlier, it is now clear that this bill only applies to awards made as a result of a final decision of a court or a tribunal. It is also specifically noted that legal costs should be respected before the award is distributed. Next, the bill now specifically ensures that any moneys owing to the offender under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement is exempt from repayment under Bill C-350.

We have also addressed concerns that the debt repayment priorities under Bill C-350 would override debts owed to the offender under the Income Tax Act or the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. A provision now exists in the bill that will ensure that it will not conflict with these or other similar federal statutes.

Another key concern brought forward by witnesses at committee was that the bill was not entirely clear with respect to the role of the Correctional Service of Canada in the administration of this scheme. In other words, what is the CSC's role in collecting, maintaining and sharing information on offenders and their debt obligations?

Furthermore, the bill was silent on issues of privacy and the sharing of the offenders' information among other departments as needed. As now stated, the CSC will act as a repository of this information. In other words, the onus is on the creditor to provide the CSC with written notice of any debts owed by the offender as a result of judgments or orders, such as on child support payments.

In the event the offender successfully sues and wins a monetary award from another federal department or agency, the latter would need to consult with CSC to determine if the person were a federal offender. The CSC can then provide that department with information on any outstanding obligations of the offender.

Bill C-350 represents an important step forward in our progress to make offenders accountable and responsible to society. Is that not what going to jail is all about? It is about rehabilitating the offender. This Bill C-350 sends an important message to families, children and, most importantly, victims of crime that we have not forgotten about them.

I hope that all members of this House can see the value of and give me their support for my private member's bill, Bill C-350.

Increasing Offenders’ Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

October 5th, 2012 / 10:30 a.m.
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NDP

Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-37.

I will remind members of what our critic, the member for Gatineau, has stated. We support the bill at second reading. We are anxious to see it move forward to committee where we will give the matter more examination.

There is no question that members of the official opposition support victims of crime and their families. We recognize the value of provincial and federal services that have been provided to victims of crime and their families. However, there is a concern whether these services are adequate and sufficiently funded. I certainly have not heard an adequate explanation from the government whether this additional surcharge would ensure that those services are properly funded. If we are going to provide services to victims and their families to try to address some of the impact of the crimes to which they have been affected, then the support needs to be there and it needs to be properly funded.

We have raised our concern with the idea that the discretion of the courts has been removed in terms of deciding whether the surcharge creates an undue burden and hardship on the offender. This goes to the point that the Conservative government seems to continually move in on the jurisdiction of the judiciary to remove the learned discretion the courts have earned over many decades. This is a concern. In other words, the government is moving into an area in which, frankly, it has no business being. The Conservatives seem to be cherry-picking to restrain the judiciary in areas they think are politically advantageous to them.

There is certainly no evidence as to whether this achieves any positive outcome in terms of addressing crime and making our communities and Canadians any safer. They appear to continually penalize the people who are trying to ensure there is a balance of fairness in restitution and rehabilitation within the system, which has been shown to be much more responsive to the demands that we ensure that our communities are safer for Canadians.

I have some experience with the Nova Scotia victim fine surcharge and its implementation. It is an important measure, but I have not heard the government talk about the consultations it has had with provincial jurisdictions. Is there a standard application for the victim fine surcharge across the country?

I have not heard if the government has worked in any way to make sure that there is some standardization across the country or that the application of this victim fine surcharge is being applied in a uniform fashion across the country and that it complements what already exists in provincial jurisdictions. That is an important question. Certainly it is one members on this side will be pursuing at committee and in further debate in this chamber.

We recognize that more has to be done. We are concerned that members opposite are looking for an easy fix, for measures that would appear to be having some impact. They could be doing more in a substantive way to get at the issues of crime and punishment, to ensure that victims are properly compensated, that services are in place to deal with the impacts of the crimes on victims and their families in the most effective way possible. As we have said, the intent of the bill, which is to ensure that services for victims of crime are properly funded, is laudable and is something we support. Whether this increase would properly fund those programs, we have not heard as yet. These questions will be forthcoming.

I have not heard anything from government members during the second reading debate to answer some of our questions. I am not the first member to raise these questions, but we have not heard anything in response. They are important questions. We are not here simply to pass laws that fulfill a political objective. We are here to ensure the laws of this land do what they are supposed to do, that they are properly thought out and have the intended impact.

It is unfortunate that we are dealing with a piece of legislation in this House when there does not seem to have been an attempt to coordinate it with what exists at the provincial level. There is Bill C-350 and there are some conflicts between it and Bill C-37. Those things have to be clarified. We have to ensure that the work we are doing here is adding in a positive and constructive way to the laws of this land and not creating more conflict. We have already seen that legislation passed by the government, as it deals with crime and justice, has been challenged in various jurisdictions. Various provisions have been struck down by the courts. I suggest that these things happen because the legislation is not well thought out and members of this House who have much experience and knowledge to bring to bear are not given the opportunity to fully engage in debate and examination of legislation.

In conclusion, we on this side will be supporting this bill in principle to send it to committee. However, we have a number of outstanding questions that we will be pursuing. I hope members opposite will recognize the need to co-operate to ensure that this legislation, if it passes this House at the end of the process, is the best piece of legislation it can possibly be.

Increasing Offenders’ Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

October 5th, 2012 / 10:05 a.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to see you enter the chamber and be our Speaker for the day, it seems. We know you will perform your duties professionally, as usual.

I rise in the House to reiterate my position on Bill C-37 as the justice critic for the official opposition. We repeat: we will be voting for this bill, which will be sent to committee.

We have spent long hours here debating Bill C-37, the Increasing Offender's Accountability for Victims Act, whose purpose is to amend the Criminal Code by increasing victim surcharges. We have spent long hours doing our utmost to show that there will be work to be done in committee. We cannot give the Conservative government a blank cheque, for the simple reason that this bill raises a lot of questions.

It was extremely interesting to hear my New Democratic Party colleagues try so hard to make our colleagues opposite understand the weaknesses in this bill. At the very least, we are going to have to ask for some serious answers.

I am going to summarize the problematic aspects of Bill C-37. One of the bill’s major weaknesses is that, once again, it takes away the judge’s discretion, by repealing subsection 737(5) of the Criminal Code. It takes away the judge’s power not to impose a surcharge when the offender can show that he is unable to pay or when the judge has particular reasons for not imposing the surcharge.

It must be understood that the surcharge is in addition to the sentence already imposed. That may be a term of imprisonment or a fine; it may be many things. That is what subsection 737(5) provides.

The bill has not yet been sent to committee, and already some people are arguing that this change could lead to unequal treatment for certain types of offenders. Consider aboriginal women, the first nations, and various categories of people who may not have the ability to pay this kind of fine.

We often hear the other side say, “You did the crime, well, you pay the fine”. We can all agree with that. It is indeed hard to have any sympathy sometimes. But here, it is not a question of sympathy, it is a question of justice and rehabilitation for a person who is released from prison.

The surcharge is in addition to each of the counts of which the person was convicted. If a person was charged with 10 counts of breaking and entering, for example, and decided to plead guilty to each of those counts, a surcharge would be levied for each count. That provides a small idea of the astronomical sum that would get added, if the bill were to be enacted.

If a person was sentenced to a term of imprisonment, a $200 surcharge would be imposed automatically for each count. That can add up to quite a lot of money. These people really have no income. The Minister of Public Safety seems to think that $4 or $5 an hour is a high wage, but that is not really the case.

Bill C-350 then lays down a new order for payment of the amounts owing. In short, the Criminal Code is well designed, in that it allows the judge to consider all cases on their own merits and make the best decision possible.

As a brief aside, yesterday evening, I attended the committee meeting to vet the Supreme Court of Canada nominee, Richard Wagner, of the Quebec Court of Appeal. In response to a question asked by a Conservative member, he explained the importance of the discretionary aspect of a judge's powers in relation to the independence of the three branches: legislative, judicial and executive. This discretionary power assures us that we live in a true democracy and not an anarchistic system that impinges on the powers of each of those branches.

The legislative authority must have confidence in its judicial branch, because without that, we have a serious problem.

Often, when it comes to justice bills, when you get right down to it, this government really seems to have a problem with allowing judges to exercise their discretion. This is a serious accusation for this government to level, and it is dangerous for our society, for Canadian society. I am not saying that all decisions are perfect, since to err is human, but overall, our system works well.

Here is my message to my colleagues: I hope we will work on this bill at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in the same way we worked together for the screening of the new Supreme Court justice—that is, in an entirely non-partisan fashion. We worked with a view to allowing the minister and the Prime Minister to appoint one of the three individuals recommended from among the best we have to offer Canadians to sit on the Supreme Court of Canada. I hope we can work as collaboratively once again.

Judicial discretion is referred to in subsection 737(5) of the Criminal Code, and there is a very strong argument in favour of it. During the first hours of debate on this issue, I was here, in the House, to encourage colleagues speaking to the bill, and I listened to the speeches. The Conservatives had little to say. That seems to be their approach: they introduce bills without anyone knowing what they are thinking, because they do not tell us. We see the minister or the parliamentary secretary briefly, and then they vanish. By asking a few questions, we sometimes manage to get to the bottom of what they are thinking.

I listened to the member from Yukon, who will surely raise his head because I am talking about him. I am standing right across from him, talking about him. He sees me and is listening to me. He said the following a number of times:

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 [not necessarily], which is positive and allows offenders to remain in the community to contribute to their families and social and economic development.

That is the first misinterpretation of what Bill C-37 seeks to do. Fines are not being used as an alternative to jail. This bill spells out how much the victim surcharge will be for a person who is sentenced to jail. Everyone will be fined. There will be no exceptions. A person sentenced to jail used to be fined $100. Now they will be fined $200. If a fine is imposed instead of a prison sentence, then the amount will be based on a percentage. The percentage used to be 15%; now it will be 30%. That is what this bill will do. It is important that government members understand the bills that the government is introducing.

However, the point of accountability is that when a victim 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. That is what subsection 737(5) is about. The Conservatives are using Bill C-37 to remove this subsection. They want to repeal it.

I agree with the hon. member for Yukon. I do not take issue with the fact that the onus is on the offender to prove that he is unable to pay or that there are fundamental reasons why he should not pay the surcharge.

I agree with the way the hon. member for Yukon sees things, but I feel like telling him to read Bill C-37, because it has the totally opposite effect of what he keeps saying about it in the House.

In closing, that is the message I want to send to my colleagues from all the parties. Bill C-37 will probably pass because the NDP will support it and I imagine that the Conservatives will do the same, at least, and so will the Liberals. At the very least we have to refer this bill to committee to be studied thoroughly. We have to find out what impact it will have, why the government wants to change this, why it wants to eliminate judicial discretion, whether there have been any abuses or bad decisions. That is what we need to know. It is not right to take the ideological approach that judges do not know what they are doing and cannot make a proper decision.

The House resumed from September 19 consideration of Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders), as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

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 / 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 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

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.