Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry introduced Bill C-350, which makes offenders accountable for their obligations to society, to their family and to victims.
This legislation was originally introduced on September 28, 2010, as Bill C-292. That bill also sought to make offenders accountable, so that they would fulfill their obligations to society. Therefore, that objective was added to section 3 of Corrections and Conditional Release Act . Under Bill C-292, if an inmate was awarded money following a legal action or proceeding, the government would seize that money and split it equally between the beneficiaries of a restitution order, a child or spousal support order, and a civil judgment against the offender.
If the offender had no obligation or debt to these people, he still could not get the monetary award, which was distributed to organizations that help victims or to other similar entities. This bill did not make any sense then, because if, for example, an inmate was abused in jail and then compensated following a civil proceeding, he still could not get the money, even though he had no obligation to his family or to the persons I mentioned.
Consequently, the bill was significantly improved. In the case of Bill C-350, the obligation to distribute the money that the inmate would receive has been removed and that money is now given to him. So in this sense it is an improvement.
We can think of other examples. This is not just about people who suffer abuse in jail. It could be a reckless driver who was responsible for an accident causing death and who received compensation through the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec. This bill would also have allowed the government to seize this compensation and redistribute in accordance with the priority list in Bill C-350.
The previous version of Bill C-350 was amended. The responsibility of offenders regarding their obligations remains the bill's primary objective. However, Bill C-350 seems more specific in certain respects than Bill C-292 was. First, it indicates in a more concise fashion who would get part of the compensation received by an inmate. An order of priorities is set: first, the money owed by the offender pursuant to a spousal or child support order will be given to his family, then the money owed by him pursuant to a restitution order, followed by civil judgments and fines.
The compensation will no longer be paid in equal parts, as stipulated in Bill C-292. It will instead be pro-rated in the manner described in Bill C-350. If there are any remaining funds, they will be paid to the inmate. I should think that the inmate would be entitled to the money. This provision is different from the one in Bill C-292 because of concerns about areas of jurisdiction. The remainder of the obligations set out in Bill C-350 are pre-existing legal obligations. By listing these rights, the bill seems to do a better job of addressing the priority of claims. However, the priority of claims also falls under provincial jurisdiction.
It is our belief, therefore, that this bill contains relevant provisions such as the protection of families and victims. All members of society must be held accountable for their obligations, and that obviously includes prisoners. Being incarcerated in no way removes the inmate's obligations and responsibilities. An inmate must still meet the needs of his family and, obviously, comply with child and spousal support orders.
Compensation is of equal importance for victims. According to the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, in the eyes of the law, a victim is a person who has suffered physical or psychological harm as a result of a crime. Family members, legal guardians and dependents are considered victims when the victim is deceased or when the victim is a child or a person who is unable to act on his own behalf by reason of an illness or disability.
The victims’ compensation scheme was established not only to make restitution to victims, but also to compensate for any financial losses resulting from the crime. Victims may require all manner of care in order to recover. For example, we can think of medical expenses and psychological support.
The purpose of the principle of restorative justice is also to ensure that the victim is not victimized a second time. Consequently, making restitution means that the victim will have no need to navigate the judicial process a second time in order to receive restitution. This process, therefore, forces the victim to demonstrate that the harm suffered by him resulted from the crime.
Victims and victims groups have been calling for some time for legislative provisions of this nature that would force inmates to comply with family support and restitution orders. This was referred to in a document written by the solicitor general dated 1987.
We are also pleased to see that the bill identifies priorities and that support payments will be at the top of the list. The Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime made the following recommendations in the report entitled “Toward a Greater Respect for Victims in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act”:
That the Government of Canada amend paragraph 133(3) of the CCRA to include a necessity for conditions to ensure offenders fulfill their court ordered sentences, including restitution and victim fine surcharges.
That the Government of Canada amend subsection 78(2) of the CCRA to authorize the CSC to deduct reasonable amounts from an offender's earnings to satisfy any outstanding restitution or victim fine surcharge orders.
Still, this legislation is not perfect. In my opinion, the problem with this bill is that it creates two civil law systems: one for prisoners and the other for the rest of society. The protection of the law applies to all citizens, including prisoners. In civil law, there are provisions that force individuals to repay their debts. For example, salaries may be garnished to force an individual to pay child support. However, there is a big difference between existing provisions and this bill.
Unfortunately, the government cannot intervene to enforce court orders, thereby circumventing the courts. The government cannot take over the courts' role in the justice system. For example, in the case of support payments, the family must take the case to a civil court and go through the normal justice process. Any loss of basic civil rights cannot be taken lightly lest the justice system revert to principles of punitive justice.
In my opinion, we cannot deny some individuals their rights in order to help others. We cannot rob Peter to pay Paul. That is why we must strike a balance between victims' rights and prisoners' rights.
This bill includes another important measure aimed at better integrating prisoners into rehabilitation programs. Such programs have been very successful. It is not enough to hold prisoners financially accountable. They also need to understand the reason for their actions and the consequences of their actions. Rehabilitation is an integral part of the rehabilitation process for prisoners. This kind of program should also be offered during the inmate's parole period.
To sum up, the spirit of Bill C-350 is entirely relevant. Offenders must be held accountable for the financial obligations issued in lawful orders.
Let us all support this bill and hear from experts regarding the bill's validity.