Thank you very much for having me, Mr. Chair.
I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you this afternoon.
To begin with, I'm very proud to speak to Bill C-350, which will take a step in the right direction, I believe, toward increasing offender accountability and improving restitution measures.
Let me begin by saying I believe that Bill C-350 is simply common sense. This legislation will ensure that any monetary award owed to an offender as a result of a legal action or proceeding against Her Majesty in right of Canada will first be put toward financial obligations and not into the offender's pocket.
Bill C-350 does this by amending the wording in the purpose section of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which currently refers only to custody and supervision and rehabilitation and reintegration. The new wording will clarify that one of the purposes of the federal corrections system is the following: encouraging the accountability and responsibility of offenders, with a view to ensuring that their obligations to society are addressed.
The bill sets out the priorities for debt repayment in cases where an offender is owed a monetary award as a result of a legal action against the crown. This means in essence that an offender will first have to satisfy outstanding debts before collecting any award, which I think is pretty much common sense.
The debt owed to the offender would be paid based on the following order of priorities: first, to a spousal or child support order; second, to a legal restitution order, any victim surcharge order, and any person with a civil judgment against the offender. If any money remains after all these judgments are satisfied, then the balance would go to the offender.
A prime example of why action needs to be taken on this issue is the case of multiple murderer Gregory McMaster. Mr. McMaster has a long criminal history as an adult and as a youth, which includes charges of assault, weapons offences, burglary, and the murder of three Canadians and a Minnesota police officer.
Throughout his time in the correctional system, Mr. McMaster has filed four lawsuits resulting in monetary awards that have gone directly into his pocket, instead of toward fulfilling his obligations to society.
The case of Peter Collins also demonstrates why action needs to be taken on this issue. Mr. Collins murdered a police officer in 1983 and since that point has been serving his sentence in a Correctional Service Canada penitentiary. He filed a complaint against Correctional Service Canada at the Canadian Human Rights Commission, claiming that he was targeted in a discriminatory way by correctional staff who required him, per standard procedure, to stand during regular inmate counts. He claimed that due to a physical disability he is unable to stand for the mandatory counts and that staff continued to unfairly make him stand.
Mr. Collins was awarded $7,500 for pain and suffering and an additional $2,500 in special compensation by the CHRC. This compensation was awarded on the basis that staff behaviour was reckless and that they had knowledge of his disability. The monetary award went directly into his pocket.
Bill C-350 will correct that problem of offenders receiving a judgment and not using it to settle outstanding debts, by ensuring that any monetary award owed to an offender as a result of a legal action or proceeding against Her Majesty in right of Canada be put toward financial obligations, including child support and restitution orders.
Although they are often overlooked, spouses and children of offenders are also victims of crime. I can't stress that enough. I believe that the spouse, whether it's a male or a female in the family of an offender, is shamed and hurt. They're victims as much as the actual victim.
If the breadwinner of a family is convicted, that family's financial stability is suddenly gone. This could leave innocent children without food, a warm home, or clothing. These types of financial hardships can be extremely detrimental to children and to all victims. This is why it is only right that any monetary award be distributed to the offender's family as a first priority.
Secondly, these funds should be put toward any damages or injuries caused as a result of the offender's crime. Our government has always emphasized the importance of protecting the rights of victims, as opposed to the rights of criminals. This bill strives to add to our record of victims' rights.
Victims of crime can face years of physical and emotional distress. It is only fair that the recovery and stability of victims of crime is taken into account before issuing the balance of a financial award to an offender.
Ladies and gentlemen, I can speak to the emotional distress suffered by a victim of crime; I can't speak to the physical distress, but certainly the emotional. About 30 years ago, someone entered my home in Sudbury while our family was sleeping, came into my and my wife's bedroom, and stole my wallet off my dresser. Neither one of us woke up. I can't begin to tell you how traumatizing that is, when you wake up and realize somebody has invaded your privacy and stolen your money and you weren't even aware of that.
This was 30 years ago, but I can still remember the emotional distress that particularly my wife and my children, but I to a certain extent as well, went through over that incident.
Those were the days when we didn't lock our doors. I can assure you, as a result I certainly lock my doors now. I've lived that experience. None of us were physically hurt, but the emotional distress was certainly there.
Further, the property of victims is often damaged—in our case, there was no damage—during a crime, leaving them unable to afford the repairs.
This piece of legislation will ensure that when an offender receives a monetary award, any outstanding victim surcharge will be taken into account before the remaining balance is awarded to the offender.
The next two priorities, which also focus on supporting victims of crime, include payment of any victim surcharge orders in any outstanding civil judgments against the offender. Only after those priorities have been carried out will the outstanding amount be paid to the offender. This is a fair process. It is only fair that when offenders receive a monetary award while incarcerated that debts be paid before they are able to benefit from it.
This bill takes strong action to increase the accountability of offenders and improve restitution orders to protect spouses, children, and victims of crime.
Since elected, our government has taken action to provide Canadians with safe streets and communities. This bill actually builds on that. Not only do offenders need to be off our streets, they need to be held accountable for their actions. The bill holds them accountable, assisting in their rehabilitation.
Many offenders have never been responsible for a day in their lives. This will teach them that in society we have obligations and we need to meet them. The bill makes sure that their obligations to society are addressed. The measures proposed in this bill will help offenders take more responsibility for their rehabilitation by reforming them to be responsible members of society.
The emphasis that this legislation puts on offender accountability helps to correct negative offender behaviour, which is the ultimate goal of our correctional system. Measures that encourage offender accountability will ultimately prepare them for the responsibilities of life after prison and help them reintegrate into Canadian society. Paying their debt to society starts with paying outstanding debts owed to their victims.
As our government has stated in the House of Commons, we hope to amend the bill to add clarity regarding the role of the Correctional Service of Canada in the administration and operation of these provisions.
I welcome and look forward to seeing any amendments that come from this committee. Since introducing this bill, I've met with a number of victims and one advocacy group in my riding of Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry. For example, I met with a local association in my riding that goes to great lengths to help victims of crime. They support this kind of legislation overwhelmingly.
The message from this group, and from my constituents—from all constituents—is that the rights of victims need to be strengthened. By the way, as an aside, the rights of landlords also have to be strengthened. That's the thing I seem to hear, that the rights of victims and landlords are the rights that are most contravened.
They want to see offenders held accountable for their actions and mechanisms created to protect victims of crime.
As a government, we've listened to victims of crime and committed to delivering on our promise in the 2011 Speech from the Throne to support the rights of victims ahead of the rights of criminals. The passage of this legislation is another important step in accomplishing this.
I look forward to hearing from my colleagues and witnesses participating in the study of the bill.
And colleagues, I began my remarks by stating that Bill C-350 was simply common sense. I hope you agree, and I look forward to your questions and your comments.
Merci. Thank you very much.