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.

Motions in amendmentCorrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

September 19th, 2012 / 7:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jean Rousseau NDP Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment.

Since this is my first speech in the House this fall, I would like to share with you my intention to adopt a new approach to make my comments more accessible to all my colleagues and the general public. Even if the Conservative government continues to evoke in me—and I will say it—a certain sense of disgust when it comes to its understanding of democracy, I intend to take measures to keep my vocal chords intact for the remainder of my mandate. This will make many of my colleagues, both on this side of the House and the other, quite happy. I just want to make sure that I still have a voice when the time comes for the NDP to take power in 2015.

That being said, let us come back to the subject at hand, which is Bill C-350, which amends the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, particularly with regard to the accountability of offenders.

The principle of accountability was introduced into the Criminal Code in order to make offenders aware of the harm they caused another person, the victim. Thus, it seems that, in an effort to make restitution for harm done, in the case before us today, the legislator wanted to give itself a way to recover amounts that should normally have been given to recipients that I would say are much more deserving, for lack of a better word.

This bill does not conflict with the Criminal Code because, here, the idea of compensation is not to further punish offenders by taking away amounts that are due to them but, rather, to develop in them a sense of accountability, which is already found in section 718 of the Criminal Code. This section talks about reparations for harm done to victims in order to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders—that great virtue of acknowledging the harm that they have done to victims.

In committee, the NDP asked whether this bill would really enhance the accountability of offenders and improve the rehabilitation process. The NDP also asked whether this bill is really necessary, given the small number of offenders who would be affected by it. We said that we would support comprehensive rehabilitation programs that reduce recidivism and make our communities safer. In that sense, the meaning of the word “victim” must be expanded because there are often collateral victims, entire communities that are affected and that have their histories marked by crime

Although the role of the legislator is not to replace the court, we note that we must address the measures put in place to recover the amounts that the Crown owes to the imprisoned offender and to define the concept of victim that I just mentioned.

We are supporting Bill C-350 at this stage, and we will continue to support it, even though we find it limited in scope, despite the proposed amendment. We are wondering and have some reservations about the mechanics, about the actual application of the bill. Unfortunately, this is not the first time the Conservatives have given us a recipe without knowing how to cook.

The ombudsman for victims of crime has made some recommendations. Among other things, he suggested authorizing Correctional Services Canada to deduct reasonable amounts from offenders' income so that they cover their unresolved responsibilities relating to fines or specific compensation. In fact, in addition to responsibilities to the victims, a number of offenders also have responsibilities to their own families, which are often negatively affected by the offences committed by their loved ones.

The NDP acknowledges that it is important for offenders to be more accountable and that the idea of ensuring that the money they receive following a court judgment to pay their unresolved responsibilities is very good, unquestionably.

We also support the order of precedence set out in Bill C-350 regarding any monetary amount awarded pursuant to a court ruling. More specifically, we are in favour of priority being given to the child or spouse support order. That is fundamental.

But have I understood correctly? Why is there no mention of common-law spouses or partners, as proposed in the amendment? Are they not part of today's family landscape, especially since statistics are increasingly taking them into account because there are so many blended families and families that live under the same roof? That is a fact, and the concept of a common-law spouse is really part of the demographic landscape of the 21st century. Or is some ideology being subtly incorporated into this bill?

I was talking about disgust earlier in my speech. Well, it is unfortunate that this Conservative government is not often inclusive in its actions and deliberately forgets people for whom some administrative measures would be useful.

We are also concerned about the fact that this bill will probably just fall under federal jurisdiction and that it might unintentionally work against the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders. These people will be put off and some will even go before the various courts. Some offenders actually have ways to challenge a decision.

Mr. Fineberg from the Canadian Prison Law Association had this to say about the bill:

Bill C-350 pits itself not only against provincial legislative and administrative efforts, it seeks to undermine Correctional Service Canada's own operations.

It is important to mention it.

According to the NDP, this bill is not the best way to make offenders accountable. According to the testimony of experts, an offender must be directly involved in determining the payment of compensation to victims and other financial decisions in order to develop his sense of responsibility. That is rehabilitation. With this bill, some decisions will be made for and imposed on offenders. In many cases, this repressive approach will only make them more angry and rebellious.

With this bill, section three of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act will be replaced by:

(c) encouraging the accountability and responsibility of offenders, with a view to ensuring that their obligations to society are addressed.

It is a lovely thought, but by only having a very small number of victims benefit from this bill, the very intent of this statement is lost.

The same act is amended by adding, after section 78, the following:

78.1 (1) In furtherance of the purpose referred to in paragraph 3(c), any amount owed to an offender as a result of a monetary award made to the offender by a final decision of a court or tribunal pursuant to a legal action or proceeding against Her Majesty in right of Canada, or an agent or employee of Her Majesty for any act or omission in the performance of his or her duties...

Only amounts owed by the Crown would be subject to the “obligations to society” rule. Once again, the legislator is quite shy about including the indecent amounts of money offenders sometimes collect while they are still incarcerated.

I would have liked to see the government present figures on the offenders who receive settlements as a result of a court ruling. But we do not have any, and we have no idea of the real effect this would have.

Instead of getting caught up in less important issues, the NDP thinks that the federal government should focus its efforts on crime prevention, as we said earlier, and rehabilitation, two key factors in reducing the number of offenders and reoffenders.

In conclusion, I repeat that I support Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act , albeit with reservations. However, like my colleagues, I urge the Conservatives to be fair and I invite them to work with my colleagues and me in the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security in order to find a satisfactory and constructive compromise.

Motions in amendmentCorrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

September 19th, 2012 / 7:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House and speak to this bill. Many hon. members have already talked about the summary of the bill, so I will not dwell on it. It has already been done. I will instead focus on some of the points in Bill C-350.

First, I would like to applaud the intent behind this bill, which is to provide support to the families of the accused and to victims by ensuring that offenders are required to fulfill their responsibilities toward them. That is a very noble intention. I am glad that we have the opportunity today to discuss this issue and that the bill will be referred to committee for study.

I would also like to point out that we have just witnessed something exceptional and remarkable: a Conservative member and an NDP member have introduced two very similar amendments, two amendments that go along the same lines. We often talk about disagreements between parties and about how impossible it is for them to work together. Today's event is a fine example that, despite disagreements, the various parties also have some common interests. All hon. members of the House are thinking people, knowledgeable and well informed about the issues they are working on.

The proposed amendments are very interesting and are heading in more or less the same direction. It will be interesting to see how they will be received in committee and how the members will work together.

The government wants to put the protection of families and victims first. However, this bill should not replace measures designed to better inform and advise victims and provide them with better financial support.

This bill currently states that offenders who are awarded monies will compensate victims. However, many cannot be accountable to the victims and families. We have to take these people into consideration. We must also ensure that this bill is not one we can use to say that we did everything we could. We can do more for the good of the victims and the offenders' families, for the children of offenders. That is my concern with this bill concerning victims.

Bill C-350 seeks to make offenders accountable, as indicated by the title of the bill. We must consider what will result in true accountability of offenders. Once again, a very specific approach is being taken to a problem, which is fair, because that is what we have to do in our work. But we must not lose sight of the broader issue of interest in Bill C-350.

The NDP believes that this bill is not the best way to make offenders accountable. Based on the testimony of many experts, among others, who appeared before the committee, an offender must be directly involved in decisions about paying compensation to victims and other financial decisions in order to develop his sense of responsibility. If such decisions are made for him and he is not asked for his input, he will not necessarily develop that sense of responsibility. He does not have a say, he does not even have to think about his situation. Will that really make him more accountable? The NDP believes that this question must be posed. Many experts are also wondering about this.

I spoke about the victims and accountability. I would now like to talk about rehabilitation and prevention. These issues are not addressed in this bill, and the Conservative Party has not talked about them much in connection with this bill. I continue to find this unfortunate and worrisome.

Accountability, yes. But what about rehabilitation? We support comprehensive rehabilitation programs that will reduce recidivism and make our cities safer. When we were debating mandatory minimum sentences, there was a lot of talk about safety in our streets and communities. However, the two concepts do not necessarily go hand in hand. If we want to make our cities and communities safer, we have to talk about rehabilitation and prevention.

In a 2007 report, Public Safety Canada recognized that former inmates face a number of challenges, such as limited access to jobs, that compromise their ability to become law-abiding citizens.

If we really want to help offenders fulfill their financial responsibilities toward their communities and their families, we have to think about what we can do to improve their access to jobs. The two go hand in hand, and that issue has to be part of a debate like this one. If the Conservative Party really cares about offender accountability, what is it prepared to do to ensure that offenders who are released from prison can find work and shoulder their responsibilities toward their communities?

Quebec's Centre de ressources pour délinquants comes to mind. The centre works to enhance the skills and employability of its clientele in order to facilitate integration or reintegration into the job market. These things exist and have already been implemented in several departments and provinces in different ways. The Centre de ressources pour délinquants is an example of that. Experts are available to offenders to ensure they have the legal, social and educational support they need to give them the best possible opportunity to reintegrate into the job market. The centre is part of the Association des services de réhabilitation sociale du Québec. Yes, Quebec. So we have to think about just how involved we can get in this issue, but it is worth mentioning.

Now let us talk about prevention. Once again, we do not hear this word enough when talking about safety and the role of inmates or offenders in our society. It is important to prevent crime, and not simply punish people. This point cannot be over-emphasized, especially when working with a Conservative government like this one. Why not invest in prevention? A report entitled “Cost and Effectiveness of Federal Correctional Policy” stated the following:

The skyrocketing costs associated with new bills [like Bill C-10 and Bill C-25] will put a great deal of pressure on rehabilitation programs, which could suffer if the new influx of prisoners is not accompanied by the additional resources needed to handle them.

We could learn from the mistakes of other countries that also favour punishment, but did not put enough additional resources into the system and whose rehabilitation programs are suffering a great deal as a result.

I think it is now time to discuss Bill C-36. I can make an interesting link here. This bill deals with elder abuse. This bill contains measures that give judges another tool for punishing crimes committed against seniors. If we really want to tackle the problem of elder abuse, then we also need to ask ourselves how we can prevent it and how we can support seniors to make it easier for them to report cases of abuse.

In fact, a number of bills claim to be fighting a problem, but they do not really get to the heart of that problem and do not take into account the factors of vulnerability and prevention that go along with all that.

Lastly, I would like to talk about the work that the committee did on Bill C-350. I am pleased to see that amendments were made to the bill after the work in committee with all the parties. However, from what I heard from my colleagues on that committee, a number of questions have yet to be answered. I do not understand why members who know their stuff cannot manage to get some answers. For example, does this bill encroach on provincial jurisdictions? Is there not a risk of limiting a judge's discretionary power?

How is it that we have not yet gotten answers to these questions, and how is that we are seeing limited debate and testimony in this type of committee?

In conclusion, the NDP will support this bill at second reading, but it is important that prevention and rehabilitation be included in these discussions and these debates. Restitution is possible for a theft or items broken by an offender, but the psychological or physical damage done during a crime cannot all be repaired, and someone who dies as a result of a crime cannot be brought back.

That is why punishment is not enough; we need to take action beforehand to prevent the crime.

Motions in amendmentCorrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

September 19th, 2012 / 6:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to speak to Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

The purpose of this bill is to make offenders accountable so that they fulfill their obligations to society by establishing an order of priority for the disbursement of any amounts received as a result of a court decision.

According to the bill introduced by my colleague opposite, the order of priority of disbursement of amounts will be received by an offender following a court decision. That order will be established as follows: any amount owing as a result of a spousal or child support order; any amount owing to a victim as a result of a restitution order; any victim surcharge; and any other amount owing as a result of a judgment awarded by a court. Any amount remaining after all payments have been made is paid to the offender.

The NDP supports this bill. We recognize the fact that it is important to enhance the accountability of offenders and that the idea of ensuring that offenders use the amounts received as a result of a court decision to fulfill their outstanding obligations is very good in principle.

However, we do not believe that this bill is the best approach for ensuring the accountability of offenders. In order to develop a sense of accountability, an offender must participate directly in decisions related to the payment of restitution to victims and other monetary decisions. The offender should therefore be involved in the process.

In meetings of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, we heard the testimony of experts who share our opinion. We therefore wonder whether this bill will really enhance the accountability of offenders and the rehabilitation process since it will affect very few offenders.

The accountability of offenders is an extremely important step in an offender's reintegration into the community. By imposing accountability on offenders, we could weaken their chances of reintegrating into society, which is why it is important to let the offender participate in monetary decisions.

The NDP advocates comprehensive rehabilitation programs that reduce recidivism. This will make our communities safer.

We have some concerns about this bill, which could have a negative effect on such rehabilitation and reintegration measures, given the limited resources available to offenders, particularly those who are serving short sentences.

Another concern we have about this bill relates to the lack of clarity regarding federal and provincial jurisdictions. In fact, the focus of the bill comes under provincial jurisdiction. In reality, the provinces have jurisdiction over contracts and related private law matters, including the order of priority of debts.

Unfortunately, we did not manage to get testimony in committee about the matters of constitutionality that could have helped us shed some light on the subject. I think that the help of constitutional experts would have been useful, in order to ensure that this bill is really something that falls under federal jurisdiction.

Despite these important questions that unfortunately went unanswered, the Conservatives refused to study this bill further, limiting the number of meetings to just four.

So we can understand that there are still a lot of questions and concerns about this bill.

We understand the good intentions behind Bill C-350, and we also understand the importance of offender accountability and rehabilitation.

Fortunately, we managed to get two major amendments by working with our colleagues from all the parties: one exempted from the bill funds received through the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and the other slightly reduced the responsibility of Correctional Service Canada for administering this bill by putting more emphasis on the measures taken by the creditors.

With this last measure, we can anticipate a decrease in red tape and move on to the implementation of Bill C-350.

So that the bill is consistent with the reality of a number of Quebec families, I would like to put forward an amendment, which reads as follows:

That Bill C-350, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing lines 6 and 7 on page 2 with the following: “result of an order made by a court of competent jurisdiction requiring the payment of support in respect of a child, spouse or person who cohabited with the offender in a conjugal relationship for a period of at least one year;”

At present, Quebec's Civil Code does not allow common-law partners to request support payments for themselves, which is not the case in the rest of the country. This does not apply to the responsibility for child support, which is the same across the country, but only to spouses and common-law partners.

The issue was raised in the highly publicized case in Quebec of Lola versus Éric, which is pending. In November 2010, the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled in favour of Lola stating that the Quebec rules were discriminatory as they did not allow common-law partners to ask for support payments. The justices of the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled that this section is unconstitutional and contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The issue of common-law partners affects 1.2 million Quebeckers.

According to the Quebec justice department, in the Quebec Civil Code, the legislator voluntarily decided to not give common-law partners the same rights and responsibilities as married couples or couples in a civil union, no matter how long they have lived together, in order to respect the decisions of those people who have chosen this form of cohabitation.

The Conservatives are clearly showing that they do not respect the differences that exist in Quebec concerning the rights of couples in a civil union or marriage and couples in a common-law relationship. In Quebec, 34.6% of couples are in a common-law relationship, which is a significant portion of the Quebec population. Yet, the Conservatives refuse to take this into account.

Fortunately, the NDP is here to ensure that Quebeckers are properly represented in the House of Commons. It is all too easy for the members opposite to forget that the Quebec Civil Code contains certain provisions that do not exist in other provinces.

Clause 2 of this bill, as it is currently written, prevents Quebeckers who have been living in a conjugal relationship for at least a year from receiving this money. Although the aim here is to make offenders accountable and ensure that they pay support payments for any children or spouse they have, this ignores a good portion of Quebec households and favours couples that are married or have civil unions, even though common-law partners in the rest of Canada would be entitled to this money.

In conclusion, I believe that this bill has good intentions regarding restitution for victims and holding offenders accountable. However, I still have a number of concerns regarding federal and provincial jurisdictions in relation to this bill, as well as its feasibility and effectiveness.

As the correctional investigator, Howard Sapers, pointed out to the committee, the issue raised by Bill C-350 is very important. Part of an offender's reintegration should include the repayment of debts to the best of his ability. However, Mr. Sapers expressed concern that the proposed approach would be both impractical and, unfortunately, ineffective.

It would have been good to examine this bill more carefully in committee, and to not have had just four meetings about this important bill, in order to eliminate concerns about jurisdiction and to address the issue even more directly, to ensure the offender directly participates in his reintegration process into society and to ensure that victims and families benefit.

It is very important to adopt my amendment so that this bill reflects the differences in Quebec that affect many Quebec families. I noticed that my colleague who introduced this bill also introduced a similar amendment. However, if we compare the two amendments, we can see that there are some differences. I would like each of my colleagues in this House to take the time to look carefully at the differences between the two amendments and to see that we must absolutely protect common-law spouses in Quebec.

As I mentioned, 1.2 million Quebeckers could unfortunately suffer. As I was saying, the amendment proposed by the Conservatives needs some clarification. Simply removing the reference to child or spouse causes a problem, since support orders can apply to people other than children and spouses. For example, in Ontario, they can apply to parents. Therefore, if the text is amended as such, the French version would not at all be the same as the English version.

Speaker's RulingCorrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

September 19th, 2012 / 6:55 p.m.
See context

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

There are two motions in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-350. Motions Nos. 1 and 2 will be grouped for debate and voted upon according to the voting pattern available at the table.

I will now put Motions Nos. 1 and 2 to the House.

The House proceeded to the 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 18th, 2012 / 3:45 p.m.
See context

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 / 3:35 p.m.
See context

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 17th, 2012 / 6:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill, which we support at second reading. Obviously, we cannot be against virtue or against the victims, even though the members opposite claim that we are. We care about communities, Canadians and victims. We also care about the families of victims, and the families of criminals, which are sometimes blameless.

We will support this bill at second reading so that it can be studied in committee and because we still have questions about it. Some changes are required in order for it to be acceptable.

I will provide some context. First, Bill C-37 would amend provisions of the Criminal Code and double the amount of the surcharge. The surcharge would total 30% of any fine that is imposed on the offender, or $100 if no fine is imposed. The fine would be $100 for offences punishable by summary conviction and $200 for offences punishable by indictment.

Is that really a solution for the victims? I am not absolutely sure about that. Instead of taxing people even more, other things could be done. In addition, this bill eliminates the court's ability to waive the surcharge if the offender proves that it would create hardship for himself or his family. It is worrisome because the power of judges is being eroded. Judges are there to judge; what more can I say.

Rulings will always be given on a case-by-case basis, and that is why we have judges. As my colleague from Laurier—Sainte-Marie stated, judges are the elite of our lawyers. They are brilliant and capable of making appropriate rulings, and we can trust them. If all their powers are taken away, as the government seems to enjoy doing, then it is difficult for them to do good work in specific situations. I am especially worried about this. We are taking away judges' powers and we are not proceeding on a case-by-case basis.

I would like to list a few stakeholders that share our position. The Elizabeth Fry Societies are concerned about the impact of additional fines on the disadvantaged aboriginals who do not have the means to pay. Once again, it will be the criminal's family that will become a victim. I side with society and do not think that we want to make the children, brothers and sisters, and parents of the criminals pay. This is no way to do things. It is something that can happen, but it is not what we want. The government should not aggravate things.

The John Howard Society does not necessarily have a problem with the fines, but it is afraid that, under this system, the fines will sometimes be disproportionate to the crimes. We are dealing here with a wide range of crimes. It would be worthwhile to move ahead more gradually.

The Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime has long fought for better funding of services for victims of crime. Is this how we are going to do it? I am not convinced.

I have a few interesting statistics. In 2003, crime cost about $70 billion. That is a big number. Victims took about $47 billion of that, or 70%.

That is another major problem. A 2004 study estimated the pain and suffering of victims at $36 billion—another major problem.

A significant number of eligible victims do not claim compensation, often because they do not even know that they are entitled to it. We are talking about costs and amounts, but victims are not necessarily well compensated. Is it really by going after small amounts here and there that we will be able to adequately compensate those individuals?

I have a hard time putting myself in the shoes of a victim, because I have never been a victim of crime or anything else. I am really lucky, knock on wood. I hope that this does not happen to me or my family. I do not think that an amount of money would fix things. It is more about getting help. Money can sometimes help in seeking assistance, but it would be better if we came up with a more helpful measure for victims.

I have a few quick questions for the government. Perhaps I might get an answer. Bill C-37 overlaps with another private member's bill, Bill C-350, which also seeks to increase offenders' accountability. How will those bills overlap? Will they complement each other? I do not know. I am just wondering.

With the removal of the discretionary power of judges to waive the surcharge, does this measure not become excessively punitive in some cases? I am referring to low-income offenders or people with mental health problems. We know those people exist. I am not saying this to minimize the suffering of victims, but we have to think about offenders with mental health problems.

I am wondering once again how we will ensure that the money really goes to victims' groups that really need it. I also feel that the government should consult with organizations working with victims on the ground. I think that would be very useful. In my riding, for instance, we have the sexual assault centre CAVAS that does an outstanding job with little money. The hon. members opposite must surely have similar organizations in their ridings. It might be worthwhile to go talk to those groups that work on the ground in our communities to see how we can fix all this.

In conclusion, I would like to come back to what my colleague from Laurier—Sainte-Marie was saying earlier. When we talk about crime, we need to think about prevention, first and foremost, which comes before punishment. Education and fighting poverty are also important. Wealthier societies have less crime. Wealth does not solve all problems, but it can help considerably. I would be remiss if I did not mention affordable housing, since that is an important issue for me. When people have suitable housing and can eat three meals a day, that helps reduce crime rates significantly. So why not make that our first priority?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

September 17th, 2012 / 4:10 p.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am going to speak about section 737 of the Criminal Code.

First, I would like to welcome everyone. I hope that we are all returning with the attitude needed to try to work together, particularly on bills such as Bill C-37 to amend the Criminal Code, entitled the Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act.

We are at second reading and we have to determine whether we will vote to send the bill to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for more in-depth study.

I hope that everyone has come back with a good attitude because I still believe that this is doable and that we are here to try once again to ensure that the best bill possible comes out of this chamber, regardless of the party to which we belong. I will always say the same thing in all of my speeches.

What is Bill C-37? I really enjoyed my colleague's speech. In fact, I would like to tell her publicly just how much I enjoyed working with her this summer on the work pertaining to the Supreme Court appointments. This showed me that we are capable of working in a non-partisan way when we want to. I hope that we can do the same with regard to Bill C-37, which proposes to amend the provisions of the Criminal Code on victim surcharges. It seems like a good thing when we say it like that. It seems simple. It seems to say that no one can be against motherhood and apple pie.

I can say right away that the members of the New Democratic Party will support this bill at second reading so that it can go to committee.

The parliamentary secretary explained in her speech that the purpose of a victim surcharge is to help victims. That seems like a good thing, but it is important to understand that this is an additional sanction imposed when an offender who has been found guilty is sentenced. In theory, no one can be against such action because the person who committed the crime is paying the price for doing so.

When this was added to the Criminal Code, there were some jurisprudential debates. At the time, it was said that this was a little-used punishment, that it might not fall under federal jurisdiction, and that it was a hidden tax, because this surcharge was designed to be used to fund victims' assistance programs. The courts ruled that this clearly fell under federal jurisdiction. However, it is seen as an additional punishment. That must obviously be clear in people's minds.

The surcharge is collected and kept by provincial and territorial governments. It serves to fund programs and services for victims of crime in the province or territory where the crime was committed. Once again, I do not think that anyone would necessarily disagree with that.

Some colleagues asked the parliamentary secretary some questions. When we learned that the government would introduce this bill, we conducted a study and it was obviously a question that immediately came to mind. Organizations that support victims of crimes and the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime clearly explained that there is a huge need for funding. Many individuals have spoken publicly about how victims are often forgotten.

I would like to make an aside, simply because, in light of an answer that the Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism gave today in this House, I am not even sure that the government that introduced Bill C-37 is sufficiently concerned about the opinions of victims. The government announced in this House that it was appealing the decision rendered by Justice Blanchard in Quebec last week regarding the long gun registry, a tool supported by victims' groups, not only in Quebec, but across Canada.

It does not seem as though the government is listening to victims, in all cases, but when it comes to having more financial resources, the message was received.

My main concern is that, once again, research has shown that not all of the money reaches victims' associations. I will be able to expand on this position before the committee, if the bill passes second reading.

This is one of the NDP's concerns. We believe that being there for victims, tackling crime and rehabilitating criminals really mean something. These are not simply idle expressions, said just to make the headlines or simply to look good for a five-minute media scrum. These are important factors, because this is what is truly needed and what must be done.

Unfortunately, this government seems to react to media attention. My colleague from Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher asked a question that touches on a crucial point regarding Bill C-37: the lack of confidence this government has in the Canadian judiciary. I am absolutely amazed by this every time. We have heard about certain isolated cases during call-in radio shows, for instance. I have taken part in call-ins; I used to host a radio program and a television program. We have all read stories in the newspaper about people who served part of their sentence, were released from prison and then committed another crime. However, what the story does not relate is that for every one such person, a hundred others behaved appropriately, and the sentences were appropriate.

We need to strike a balance between the desire for immediate results and measures that can have a real impact. Will surcharges achieve the desired goal, which is to help the victims of crime? I hope to find answers to these questions during the committee's examination.

It must be understood that the bill amends the provisions pertaining to the amount of the surcharge, which, under subsection 737(2), would increase from 15% to 30% of any fine imposed on offenders. If no fine is imposed, the surcharge would increase from $50 to $100 in the case of an offence punishable by summary conviction and from $100 to $200 for an offence punishable by indictment.

There is another aspect, which concerns the discretion of the judge. When a judge is considering a criminal case, he does not do as he pleases. He must consider certain rules, principles and concepts before making a decision. The government cannot be constantly implying that judges are simple puppets who make decisions without thinking. I do not believe that. I have a legal background. I have been involved in many cases and I have seen how seriously judges take cases every day. They try to deliver justice in a fair and balanced way by considering that every case is unique.

That is often the problem with the Conservatives. They take a one-size-fits-all approach without considering that every case is unique.

We have to be realistic. I will give the example provided by a lawyer to support one point of view. A young man commits a Criminal Code offence. He pleads guilty to drawing graffiti here and there. He will be automatically ordered to pay a surcharge. If convicted of 12 counts of the offence, he will have to pay 12 times the surcharge. Will he be able to do so? The member for Delta—Richmond East, whom I greatly respect, seems to be saying that he can work if he is unable to pay.

The problem is that the provincial-territorial program does not apply across Canada. That is one more problem with Bill C-37. We cannot simply rely on the discretion given to the judge under subsection 737(5) because it will be removed or repealed by Bill C-37. People are claiming that this is not serious and that people who cannot pay will have to work so that they can pay the amount. But this will not necessarily be the case everywhere.

The other point that is often raised is this: in some areas of the country, aboriginals are often hauled before the courts and are unable to pay. There will be some imbalance in that respect. Some people are saying that it is not serious because "if you commit the crime, then you pay for the crime”. Perhaps, but if we believe in a balanced approach, one that punishes and ensures that the person will not reoffend, rehabilitation must come into play.

I do not want to see people so hardened by prison that they become a threat to public safety. We cannot keep people in prison for life when the offences they committed are not as serious as murder, say. We have to understand that these people will leave prison one day. What condition and what mood will they leave in?

If, as was done this summer, you increase the number of inmates per cell for a few weeks—the inmates are serving a minimum sentence because the judges do not have a choice anymore—that gives you some idea of the type of society that is being created.

The government claims to be in favour of law and order and public safety, two things that go together. But for law and order to reign, we need laws that hold up.

Now, Parliament is passing laws that are being challenged one after another before the courts. These laws reverse positions and thwart the work done by the committees. What is more, the committee members clearly told the government that some provisions made no sense. And measures are now being taken that are making people feel insecure.

A person who receives a fine or sentence of imprisonment and who has a debt of $2,000 will have further debt upon leaving prison.

By the way—often the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing—this week, another bill will make an appearance: Bill C-350. I encourage the members of the House to assess the impact of Bill C-350 in relation to that of Bill C-37. Bill C-350 will prioritize fine payments and criminals' taking responsibility and ensure that this surcharge is the third priority.

Sometimes it is not the criminal that is in one hell of a mess—if you will pardon my language—but the criminal's family. All of these aspects need to be considered. I encourage the members opposite to study the bill closely.

We all agree on helping the associations that help the victims themselves, that have always asked us for our help. Among others, I am thinking of CALAS, the Centre d'aide et de lutte contre les agressions sexuelles de l'Outaouais, which is doing extraordinary work in my community.

Every time I talk to the directors of these organizations, they always say the same thing, which is that there needs to be greater awareness. They are performing miracles with very little.

Victims always say that, no matter how much they are paid, they will never be in the position they were in before the crime was committed. We can forget that. The rest is pure nonsense and is just for the cameras, which is unfortunate. If the government really believed in helping the victims, it would walk the talk and ensure that the victims have the support they need.

Sometimes, it is not just about money. Sometimes, resources have to be available to the victims so that they can receive the services they need.

I urge hon. members to support the bill at second reading, but to be realistic. We need to get serious answers to a lot of questions before we can give our final seal of approval to this bill. We need an answer to the following question: what is being done in the provinces and territories where there are no programs that give the option of working instead of paying the surcharge? We need to make sure that the money is really going to the victims, that it is not floating around somewhere or that it is not being used for something else.

Another hon. member pointed out the issue with costs. The government does not admit it, but legal associations—be it the Canadian Bar Association or the Barreau du Québec—from coast to coast will tell you that there are justice issues. A society must have a justice system that holds up; a society is founded on justice. Yet we see what this country needs in terms of legal aid and our society does not seem to be concerned. In terms of prisons, we are talking about increasing the number of inmates, closing some prisons and building others. There is something illogical about this, which raises concern when we are faced with these types of bills.

We will need to get some serious answers. My hope is that the committee will be able to work with a view to getting answers to those questions to be able to come back here and say to the rest of the hon. members that yes, the bill can get the seal of approval, that yes, it is a good bill for victims and that it will fulfill the purpose for which it was designed. It will not try, once again, to divide us by saying that they support victims and we support criminals. That is absolutely not the case.

So we will vote in favour of the bill, hoping that the committee will do the serious work that it is mandated to do.

Public Safety and National SecurityCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

May 14th, 2012 / 3:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security in relation to its study of Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders), with an amendment.

May 10th, 2012 / 4:50 p.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Folks, we'll call this meeting back to order. This meeting is public. We are proceeding in the second hour this afternoon to look at the clause-by-clause of the bill that we have been studying for the last little while, Bill C-350.

We have a number of amendments before us.

(On clause 1)

The first amendment is NDP-1, on clause 1, and I will call on Mr. Garrison to speak to that amendment.

May 10th, 2012 / 4:15 p.m.
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NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Anderson.

I will now ask a question to Mr. Sullivan.

The present federal ombudsman appeared before our committee on Bill C-350. She said that we had to focus on what victims have to go through, presently, and also on rehabilitation, to make sure offenders do not commit more crimes.

How do you think Bill C-350 could encourage offenders to participate in this kind of initiatives, to support their rehabilitation?

May 10th, 2012 / 3:35 p.m.
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Director, Natural Resources Secretariat, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc.

Michael Anderson

Thank you very much. I have some brief comments to make regarding the bill.

Tansi, boozhoo, edlanet'e, and good afternoon, Mr. Chair, members of the committee, and Madam Secretary.

On behalf of the northern Manitoba first nations, of which there are 30, and the 65,000 first nations citizens represented by the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak—MKO—I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to provide these brief comments and recommendations regarding Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders).

It's a core vision of the 30 MKO first nations that each of the MKO first nations should be the safest and most secure place to live for each of the citizens of the MKO first nations. The MKO first nations first and foremost are committed to achieving the highest standards of public and community safety and security based on community-driven preventive and restorative approaches supported by community-based policing.

It is the objective of these initiatives to place an emphasis on reconciliation between the victim and the community and the offender, and on the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders as productive members of the family and the community. This vision also reflects the inherent and customary laws and the community and cultural values of the MKO first nations.

Bill C-350 proposes that reconciliation between the victim and the offender might be advanced by ensuring that any amounts owing and payable by Her Majesty to the offender are instead paid directly by Her Majesty to the victim in accordance with the priority that's established in proposed subsection 78.1(1).

Clause 2 of Bill C-350 proposes to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act by including the new subsection 78.1(1), which would provide that “any debt owed to an offender as a result of a monetary award made to the offender by a court, tribunal or agency pursuant to a legal action or proceeding against Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada or an agent or employee of Her Majesty in the course of the performance of his or her duties, shall be satisfied by the payment”, according to the order of priority established in the proposed bill.

MKO is very concerned that the classes of monetary awards contemplated in Bill C-350, being a monetary award made to the offender by a court, tribunal or agency pursuant to a legal action or proceeding against Her Majesty in Right of Canada, would include a payment or award made to an offender pursuant to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which settlement has been approved by the courts. Subject to check, it's my recollection there are at least nine court orders approving the Indian residential schools settlement as a series of class actions.

First nations persons receiving a payment or award further to the Indian residential schools settlement are recognized essentially as victims as well. The payment or award is essentially a form of restitution for the victimization of these first nation persons through the Indian residential schools system. The apology delivered on June 11, 2008 by the Prime Minister represents a recognition by government of the significant impacts of the Indian residential schools system on many thousands of first nation citizens. Further recognition in Canada's legal system of the potential impacts of colonization, including the effects of the Indian residential schools system on the circumstances of aboriginal offenders, appears in paragraph 718.2(e) of the Criminal Code.

Paragraph 718.2(e) requires a sentencing judge to give particular attention to the circumstances of aboriginal offenders in considering whether an alternative to incarceration may be more appropriate in the circumstances. In R. v. Gladue, the 1999 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, that responsibility or obligation of the court was reinforced for sentencing considerations in the case of aboriginal offenders.

In Canada, 20% of inmates in federal prisons are aboriginal people. In Manitoba, 70% of the inmates in provincial facilities and 50% of the inmates in the two federal institutions are aboriginal persons. However aboriginal peoples make up only 15% of Manitoba's population and about 4% of the population of Canada. In Manitoba, aboriginal offenders are sent to prison more often than non-aboriginal offenders. Aboriginal offenders in Manitoba make up more than two-thirds of offenders in custody, but less than half of those serving conditional sentences.

In part, the significant and disproportional representation of aboriginal offenders in Canada's justice processes arises from the persisting effects of the Indian residential school system on the survivors and their families and communities. It is important to recognize that many aboriginal offenders are also survivors and are also, therefore, victims of the Indian residential school system.

It would be inappropriate and contrary to the intent of the apology and to the objectives of the Indian residential schools settlement for Her Majesty to effectively seize a payment or award made by Her Majesty as restitution to the offender, who is also a survivor of the residential school system, when this survivor's offence can at least in part be attributed to the adverse effects of the Indian residential school system.

In respect of Bill C-350, MKO recommends that clause 2 of the bill be amended to expressly exclude or provide an exception for any payment or award made further to the Indian residential schools settlement agreement from those classes of monetary awards proposed to be encompassed through proposed section 78.1 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

MKO further recommends that persons expert in matters related to the Indian residential schools settlement agreement appear before the standing committee to provide evidence in respect of the settlement and of the court-supervised nature of the settlement process.

Those are my opening comments.

Ekosani. Mahsi' cho. Meegwetch.

Thank you very much.

May 10th, 2012 / 3:30 p.m.
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Steve Sullivan Former Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, As an Individual

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you for the invitation. My opening remarks this afternoon will be fairly brief.

I should just say that I've been working with victims in various roles for almost 20 years as an advocate and, as you mentioned, as the former ombudsman. Currently I work with Ottawa Victim Services, which is a smaller community agency here in Ottawa, but I'm here as an individual representing my own personal views.

Let me begin by saying that I support the principles of Bill C-350. I'm not qualified to speak to some of the testimony I've read on the federal-provincial issues that have been discussed, or the constitutionality, but the principle of the bill is one that I support. I think it is only logical that someone who is in a federal prison for creating victimization, for example, and who is being asked for compensation for that victimization committed upon that person, would respect the individual's legal rights and civil rights that have been violated and provide compensation if they have been ordered by the courts to do so. I think that's a fairly practical and logical procedure to undergo.

Having said that—and certainly no criticism is meant of the author of the bill—I don't think this will have a very large impact on the majority of victims of crime. You've heard evidence from other witnesses about the number of federal offenders who have restitution orders—around 575 or so, a relatively small number. There's a small number of those who have victim fine surcharges outstanding. I think it was 700 or so. That's a reflection of some problems in the courts about the way restitution is ordered and the way victim fine surcharges are often waived in so many cases even though they're not supposed to be. Those are other issues beyond the scope of the bill.

I don't know what the mechanism would be for Corrections, for example, to know about civil orders that have been ordered if a victim, for example, or a family, sued an offender civilly. Those as well are not all that common. It's difficult for victims or families to have the financial means to sue individuals in civil court, so it's a relatively small number of offenders who, I would expect, would be in federal prison.

I have not had a lot of experience with working with victims whose offenders have received compensation, either through the federal government or through other provincial governments. I can think of one case of an offender serving a life sentence for murder who received some compensation regarding an institution he had stayed at as a young person. He was abused in that institution. But other than that, I don't have a lot of experience with it. I don't think most victims have those civil judgments as well.

As I say, again, I don't mean to criticize the author of the bill. I think the principle is a sound one. I really don't have much else to say in my opening remarks, although I'm happy to answer any questions the committee members may have.

May 10th, 2012 / 3:30 p.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Good afternoon, everyone.

This is meeting number 39 of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, on Thursday May 10, 2012. Today we are continuing our consideration of Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders).

Our first witnesses today are appearing by video conference from Winnipeg, Manitoba. We have the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc., with Grand Chief David Harper and Michael Anderson, the director of the natural resources secretariat.

They are not there yet, but we also have here, appearing as an individual, Mr. Steve Sullivan.

We welcome you to our committee, Mr. Sullivan.

He is the former Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime.

Let me just say that you have a very tough act to follow, Mr. Sullivan, because we had the current victims commissioner here, and she did a remarkable job. You can pass that on to her.

We do welcome you here and we look forward to your testimony.

I see that we do have some action there in Winnipeg now.

We want to welcome you. Can you hear us in Winnipeg?