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.
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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.

Motions in amendmentCorrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

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

May 8th, 2012 / 4:50 p.m.
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NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you both for being here today.

I have a question that is related to comments by previous witnesses. You were here earlier for the witness before you. He said Bill C-350 causes more trouble than it solves. Would that be your learned opinion of this particular bill?

May 8th, 2012 / 4:25 p.m.
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NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would also like to thank Ms. Kane and Ms. Lieff for being with us today to discuss Bill C-350.

I have many questions about the constitutional side of all this, but I have to restrain myself.

I am going to ask you the following questions right off the bat. Do you find this bill too vague? Does it have flaws?

May 8th, 2012 / 4:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Yes, and I think that's where we've seen the challenge when we're talking about offenders.

When we're talking about people who aren't offenders and who are living in general society, there are ways for spousal support and child support to be collected. We've heard some conflicting testimony, but I think, by and large, what we've heard, unfortunately, is that there is no mechanism for offenders to be forced specifically to pay child support, spousal support, and then it goes on. We heard testimony in terms of restitution or other outstanding moneys that are owed.

Here's another question on something that we've heard come up as well. One of the witnesses we had, Mr. Toller from CSC, mentioned that if legal counsel determined there was a legal basis to consider that CSC might be liable, and if they've incurred damages, then an out-of-court settlement might be reached. Do you know whether out-of-court settlements would be included in the monetary awards that are affected by Bill C-350?

May 8th, 2012 / 4:20 p.m.
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NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Randall Garrison

Welcome to our witnesses today. We have with us on Bill C-350, from the Department of Justice, Catherine Kane, the director general and senior general counsel of the criminal law policy section, and Ms. Elissa Lieff, the senior general counsel of the family, children, and youth section. Thank you very much for appearing on short notice. We do appreciate that.

I understand that you may wish to make only brief or no opening statements, so I leave that in your hands.

May 8th, 2012 / 4:15 p.m.
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Correctional Investigator, Office of the Correctional Investigator

Howard Sapers

In fact, it may be possible to contemplate a list of awards that should be excluded from any scheme contemplated under Bill C-350, and you could attach that list as a schedule to the act. You could create a schedule relating to the new subsection 78(1) and then review that schedule from time to time. Certainly, residential school claims or, perhaps, claims arising out of human rights complaints are things you may want to exclude.

May 8th, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

The challenge that I heard you articulate was more in terms of the CSC. I think you said that Bill C-350 would effectively require CSC to establish a tracking system to administer debts that are owed. Is that your main concern?

As I read the bill, I see that if an award is made from the federal government to an offender, an inmate, this bill lays out who would be paid first, second, third, and fourth, and when all of these things were paid out, then the remaining moneys would go to the offender.

I'm seeing the Government of Canada, the crown, paying out the money, but what you're saying is that as the bill reads right now, it would be up to CSC to determine who else is owed money in this list of people who would get paid before the offender would. So you're seeing this as a problem because now CSC has to find out whom the offender owes money to. Is that correct?

May 8th, 2012 / 3:30 p.m.
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Howard Sapers Correctional Investigator, Office of the Correctional Investigator

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. It is a pleasure to be back.

I actually have very brief opening comments today, but I do appreciate the opportunity to appear before the committee to discuss Bill C-350. Today I am joined by Marie-France Kingsley, who is the director of investigations for the Office of the Correctional Investigator.

Though I will be brief in my remarks, I will raise some questions and concerns that we have noted regarding the application, scope and potential administration of Bill C-350, but I do want to declare my limitations at the outset. My office has no expertise in the prioritization of creditors or debt recovery mechanisms. I cannot speak to issues raised by this bill concerning jurisdictional matters or jurisdictional competence, and it is beyond my capacity to comment on matters of constitutionality, or even the compellability of forcing payments in the order of precedence contemplated by Bill C-350.

Hopefully, however, I can be of some assistance in bringing some insight into more practical matters that speak to the capacity and ability of a federal inmate to repay outstanding monetary debts, restitution orders, or victim fine surcharges and still meet their obligations to society while serving a sentence in a federal penitentiary.

As members know, Bill C-350 sets out priorities for debt repayment in cases when an offender is legally entitled to a monetary award. There are current mechanisms in place that allow Correctional Services Canada to register known restitutions and fines levied by the courts against federal offenders. Thousands of such registrations are currently on file. However, obligations arising from civil proceedings, creditors, and even spousal or child support payments, are not routinely noted in CSC's records. Bill C-350 would effectively require Correctional Services Canada to establish a tracking system to administer child or spousal support orders, as well as other debts owed as a result of an award by a court of competent jurisdiction.

It is not clear to me how such a registry would be created, or how much it would cost to implement or maintain. I do question whether we want or expect the federal correctional authority to be mandated to become part of a debt collection scheme. In fact, should it even be CSC's job to verify existing civil debts or other obligations, court orders, or settlements? What if a mistake is made? What if an appeal or variance is granted post warrant expiry? Who would be held accountable or liable? How would creditors register? In the case of debt repayment, is it up to CSC to decide what creditor gets paid first and in what order? One thing is certain, the cost and complexity of administering such a registry can be expected to be significant.

I understand that the need for this bill was based on a couple of high-profile cases. I appreciate that there may be a current impairment in recovering or garnishing monetary awards that may have been received by an offender under federal custody as a result of a legal action or proceeding by a federal court, tribunal, or agency. However, my experience suggests that the publicity surrounding such cases can be significant enough to likely alert any creditors. As we know, creditors usually act very quickly to intercept monetary awards before they can be disposed of by other means.

I am not certain that the creation of a complex and potentially expensive registry is the most efficient or effective way to deal with a few high-profile awards, much less meet court-ordered restitution arrangements, including child or spousal support obligations. In any event, the great majority of offenders in federal custody have very little money and limited capacity to earn while incarcerated. An elaborate recovery scheme is not likely to provide much satisfaction to victims as most debts will likely remain unpaid. Even the courts recognize these realities when imposing fines or making victim restitution orders or surcharges. This is an unfortunate reality, but perhaps also an opportunity to make substantive suggestions for reform.

Let me provide some context. I want to talk for a minute about the capacity of inmates to repay debts or meet ongoing family obligations while serving a federal sentence.

The maximum an offender can earn in a federal penitentiary while gainfully employed was set at $6.90 per day in 1981. It remains the same rate today, over 30 years later, and it has never been adjusted for the cost of living for inflation. Inmates in federal institutions are provided basic institutional clothing and personal hygiene products. Anything over and above that must be purchased by the inmate with their own money.

An established list of goods for purchase is available to the inmate population at a 10% profit margin. In 1981 when the rate of pay was established, a standard basket of canteen items could be purchased for $8.49. By 2005 that same basket of goods was estimated to cost $61.59, representing a 725% increase. Over the past three years, reductions in non-essential health care services previously provided by the Correctional Service has placed an additional burden requiring non-prescription items, such as Tylenol or medicated shampoo, to be purchased through the inmate canteen. For example, a 100 millilitre bottle of Buckley's cough syrup sells for $7.58 inside, more than one day's wages.

Other potential deductions from offender pay include institutional fines, inmate welfare committee funds, social events, and room and board. The top earners who receive overtime, incentive pay, or supplemental income, such as pension payments, are subject to pay for room and board while incarcerated. This amount is not to exceed $5 per day or $50 per every 14-day pay period.

In addition, all inmates must contribute to the inmate welfare fund. These expenses add up to $6 per 14-day pay period and cover things such as television and cable costs, as well as a variety of inmate welfare committee disbursements for organized activities for offenders, as well as inmate donations to charitable groups and legal fees for group actions.

My point here is simply to say that crime does not, in fact, pay. Prison rarely captures the affluent. Most offenders have no savings, and their earning capacity inside a federal institution is extremely limited. There seems little point in diverting earnings that, at best, will only minimally support release. It is not unusual for a released offender to be facing thousands of dollars of accumulated debt and only limited employment opportunities.

The issue that Bill C-350 addresses is an important one. Part of an offender's reintegration should include the satisfaction of debts to the best of their ability. My concern is that the suggested approach may prove both unworkable and counterproductive.

Thank you once again for the invitation to meet with you today. I look forward to your questions.

May 3rd, 2012 / 4:45 p.m.
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NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank our guest for appearing before the committee on Bill C-350.

My questions are for Ms. Pate because I think it is important to hear about women offenders who are in jail.

In your opinion, does Bill C-350 address a situation that is common among women?

May 3rd, 2012 / 4:40 p.m.
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Vice-President, Canadian Prison Law Association

Stephen Fineberg

—I had an opportunity to look at the transcript of Mr. Toller's testimony from yesterday. I think Mr. Toller was trying to make a distinction between the way the Correctional Service operates now and the way the Correctional Service would have to operate if Bill C-350 were enacted. What he was telling you was that currently the Correctional Service is not able to seize the money or divert the money. They can't do anything with the money. They can't act on a civil debt the prisoner has, even if they are aware of the civil debt.

What they do through the correctional plan is to encourage as much as possible. They encourage people to assume responsibility for their behaviour and their debts. That's what he was trying to say. I do not believe he was telling you that these moneys cannot be seized. He was saying that the Correctional Service has no authority to seize the money. He was not telling you that the civil mechanism for acting on orders does not apply to federal prisoners. That's my understanding of his testimony.

May 3rd, 2012 / 4:35 p.m.
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Vice-President, Canadian Prison Law Association

Stephen Fineberg

What we have said thus far is in reaction to the bill's intention. Our criticisms have presumed that the provisions as drafted will operate to create the proposed recovery system. But will they?

We note that the whole of the proposed section 78.1 is made conditional on satisfaction of its subsection (3):

In making payments under this section, Her Majesty is not required to take into account any judgment or order of which Her Majesty has no actual knowledge at the time the payment is made.

The very deliberate effect of that measure is to make this payment scheme operational only when the orders and judgments contemplated have been duly filed or registered in some manner that formally notifies Her Majesty in right of Canada of their existence. It could hardly be otherwise. No one should expect the administrator of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to cut a cheque and forward it to a faceless individual whose claim to be a creditor is communicated through a mere letter accompanied by a copy of a punitive court order that may or may not be genuine.

Keeping the knowledge requirement in mind, we turn to the proposed paragraph (a), which refers to amounts owed by an offender pursuant to a spousal or child support order. We expect this provision will be without effect. Recovery for orders such as these is already managed by administrative systems established and controlled by provincial legislatures acting within their jurisdiction. In every province and territory there exists a maintenance enforcement branch whose support orders are filed. Such orders are routinely issued with a clause requiring that support payments be directed not to the individual creditor but to the maintenance enforcement branch.

The maintenance enforcement branch, in turn, without any assistance from Bill C-350 , files the support order with all appropriate bodies, including federal tribunals, thereby garnishing not only wages but also monetary awards, both provincial and federal. The action contemplated at paragraph (a) is already taking place through a well-defined and comprehensive structure equally accessible to all creditors, a structure, we remind you, that is already funded. One sees that the proposed offender recovery scheme for support orders is entirely redundant, if not pernicious.

May 3rd, 2012 / 4:25 p.m.
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Vice-President, Canadian Prison Law Association

Stephen Fineberg

The Canadian Prison Law Association thanks you for the opportunity to appear on this bill.

We're a national organization of prison law practitioners from across the country whose purpose is to advocate on behalf of incarcerated persons and promote the rule of law as it affects the prison community. Since our founding in 1985, it has been our privilege to appear before this and other committees of Parliament on matters affecting the prison law environment.

I should mention that while our members are legal professionals, all activities undertaken on behalf of the CPLA are performed on a voluntary basis.

Our organization has objections to Bill C-350 based on principle and law. We are aware of and somewhat resigned to those many restrictions and irritants which consignment to a federal institution lawfully imposes on our clients and their incarcerated peers, yet the penalty unexpectedly proposed by Bill C-350 is of a kind unrelated to the rest. It is difficult to imagine that the sentencing judge, with one eye on the facts and the other on proper sentencing principles, would have anticipated, much less intended, the imposition of special rules for the garnishment of monetary awards, especially as the sanctioned criminal behaviour likely hasn't the slightest connection to the civil ill this legislation wants to cure.

Do not think that we stand against the payment of spousal and child support orders, or the payment of restitution, or the satisfaction of monetary judgments won in the civil courts. What we deplore is the conferral on deserving creditors of a new statutory advantage which is proferred only where and because their adversary is a federal prisoner. If there exists compelling reasons for offenders to respect court-ordered payments, it is not because an individual has committed a robbery, or an assault, or a drug offence; it is for exactly the same good reasons that apply to every other Canadian who is the subject of a court order. The statutory pressure on offenders to comply with orders should be neither less nor greater than that on the rest of the public. To operate otherwise would be to head down the road to second-class citizenship with second-class civil rights.

We must not forget that there was a time when conviction brought with it civil death, the extinction of all civil and property rights. The damaging disparity of the offender's status and that of the ordinary citizen could not have been more complete, but Canadian society has steadily moved away from that antiquated and counterproductive notion.

In 1906 the most drastic features of civil death were swept away in Quebec through the action of legislators like yourselves. In the rest of Canada the legislatures took action 14 years earlier. Still, the courts were slow to admit that offenders had rights that could be violated by unfair decisions by penitentiary authorities.

The Supreme Court decision in Solosky v. the Queen, in 1979, was a turning point, crystallizing the new understanding that “a person confined to prison retains ail of his civil rights, other than those expressly or impliedly taken away from him by law”.

Today this concept is built into the Corrections and Conditional Release Act itself, which reads at paragraph 4(d), as amended by Bill C-10:

(d) offenders retain the rights of all members of society except those that are, as a consequence of the sentence, lawfully and necessarily removed or restricted;

Clearly, that concept does not endorse a prejudicial garnishment scheme necessitated by neither sentencing principles nor the constraining barriers of bricks and bars.

Should the proposed rules be adopted, would this return Canadian offenders to the cruel and discredited condition of civil death? Obviously not, but it would be a step backward in that direction, and if it should serve to encourage additional measures that further degrade the civil status of offenders, it would be part of a societal tragedy.

We wish to refer the committee to the possibility that this adverse treatment reserved for federal offenders would violate section 15 of the charter, which prohibits discriminatory measures based on membership in a disadvantaged group. Of course, for a section 15 challenge to succeed the courts would have to recognize offenders, or at least federal offenders, as a group contemplated by that section.

Admittedly, this position was rejected in the Sauvé case by the Federal Court of Appeal, and subsequently by four justices of the Supreme Court, but we hasten to remind you that that opinion is found in a minority decision. That was in 2002. We note that the majority in the Sauvé case declined to rule on the application of section 15 to prisoners, leaving the door open for a differently constituted court to rally to our position, which we respectfully submit will one day prove to be the right one.

If the attack on Bill C-350 on equality grounds should have the look of a viable but uphill battle, the balance is different where the sections 91 and 92 debate is concerned. Here, we think it is for the bill's defenders to demonstrate why this apparent federal invasion of provincial jurisdiction would not be struck down. The question warrants a close examination by experts more focused than we are on the issues raised by section 91 and 92 conflicts, or, to be more specific, conflicts between Parliament's legislative authority over penitentiaries and the provincial legislatures' jurisdiction over matters related to the administration of justice and property and civil rights.

Given this bill's overt duplication of at least some provincial activity, before proceeding to enactment of Bill C-350 it surely would be prudent to hear from the provincial attorneys general, as they are among the interested parties who might be provoked to challenge your jurisdiction in the courts.

Without waiting for expert opinion, however, we feel comfortable stating that Bill C-350 wants to create rules governing matters in the provincial domain, and furthermore risks impairing the provincial scheme already controlling execution of court orders against all assets. The new specialized regime would create confusion for creditors faced with two sets of rules and create two classes of creditors, conferring an unfair advantage on those fortunate enough to have federal offenders as their debtors. One is forced to wonder if the new selective enforcement possibilities against federal offenders will work an even greater mischief by inspiring an interest on the part of some creditors in seeing their debtors receive a federal sentence.

We have said that we have no disagreement with legal rules that facilitate creditors' exercise of their civil and property rights. We imagine the author of this bill shares that position. Why, then, does he not seek to assist all the deserving creditors, instead of a small minority of them? The answer, of course, is that he understands this is beyond your competence as federal legislators. It is a provincial matter for your provincial counterparts, and that is how the execution of court orders and judgments should be handled.

We wonder as well if anyone has examined the financial burden of setting up a comprehensive registry of awards and judgments and orders issued against offenders and of federal awards of ail kinds in offenders' favour. Or is Mr. Lauzon's proposal to hand Correctional Service Canada, or some other branch of the federal bureaucracy, the assignment and discover later what the set-up and annual costs will be?

Bill C-350 pits itself not only against provincial legislative and administrative efforts, it seeks to undermine Correctional Service Canada's own operations. One remembers that Bill C-10 has recently added section 15.1 to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, instructing wardens to ensure that a correctional plan is established for all offenders, the goal of which is to bring about their rehabilitation and reintegration on release as law-abiding citizens. To that end, each correctional plan must contain “objectives for the offender's behaviour, including ... (iii) the meeting of their court-ordered obligations, including restitution to victims or child support”. Offenders' progress toward meeting these objectives is to have an impact on transfer and parole decisions.

The correctional plan is at the heart of Correctional Services Canada's program to move the prison population toward responsible attitudes that it is hoped will persist after release. I assume the inclusion of court-ordered obligations in the plan was not done without some thought. CSC does not want court orders satisfied despite the offender's opposition. That would defeat the goal of bringing offenders to understand and accept the rightness of responsible behaviour toward their dependants and creditors. Bill C-350 will pre-empt and frustrate CSC's mandate in this regard, one that was just conferred by Bill C-10.

May 3rd, 2012 / 3:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Thank you.

My time is limited, so I'm going to bring it back to Bill C-350. I appreciate, as you said, there may be more that we can do, certainly on the specific issue of restitution. I'm glad to hear that you support the spirit and what Bill C-350 does, even if it's a small step forward, telling victims that the restitution they've been awarded should come to them, and that we're starting the process.

The other part that the bill addresses quite clearly is the outstanding amounts owed to children and spouses of offenders. Do you do any work with the families of offenders, given the fact that they're also victims of crime?

May 3rd, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.
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President, International Organization for Victim Assistance

Dr. Irvin Waller

I think it's very clear that we don't have a system where the needs of victims are taken into consideration in a just and fair way. It's a surprise for victims when they go through the criminal justice process and find that the judge does not give due consideration to restitution. They suddenly find that the offender who was incarcerated is being released without any consideration given to restitution.

You're probably aware of the triple murder in the McDonald's in 1992. One of the offenders inherited some money and is now a multi-millionaire. So three people are dead, one person is disabled, and the parole process hasn't taken into account in any way whether this person is making restitution. I think that's a fairly extreme case, but nevertheless it's an important case that took place, and is taking place in Canada today.

I think victims are looking for some sort of justice from the criminal justice process. There are examples, like France and the International Criminal Court, where victims actually have standing and are able to talk about personal safety, restitution, and justice, and where restitution is ordered more often.

If you go back to cases like Olson, in those days we used to talk about the Son of Sam legislation. I'm not sure if you're familiar with that. A 2001 variation in New York State shows this is a model of what would happen.

One of the problems with Bill C-350 is that it's quite limited. We really need to set up a process whereby victims can sue an offender and get an order that is in some way enforceable. The Son of Sam legislation in New York State is one way of doing it, and there are other ways of doing it.

May 3rd, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Thanks very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Dr. Waller, for being here, and thank you for the work you do advocating for victims.

I can say emphatically that on this side of the table—and I believe on both sides of the table—we are concerned with the way victims have been disregarded in many ways over the last many years under certain criminal justice regimes. What we're trying to do as the Conservative government is bring the focus back to victims. We've appointed the ombudsman for victims and created the role. There are a number of other initiatives we're doing, so it's really good to hear.... I'm sure you have a broad range of suggestions and things you would like to talk about.

I'm going to focus specifically on Bill C-350. I'm glad to hear that you support it. I want to ask you a couple of questions on your research and the work you've done with victims.

Can you explain how, for a victim to see an offender receiving money, especially when it's from the federal government, which is what this bill deals with.... If an offender is awarded funds from the federal government and is not obligated to pay the restitution that has been awarded and ruled on by a judge, can you talk about what that does to a victim, even in terms of re-victimizing?

Can you differentiate—if there is a difference—between victims of property crime, versus victims of violent crime?

May 3rd, 2012 / 3:30 p.m.
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Dr. Irvin Waller President, International Organization for Victim Assistance

Thank you for that introduction and for the opportunity to speak to crime victim issues in front of this committee.

I want to add to the introduction two or three things that I think are relevant to what I'm going to say.

I was involved in a major study in the seventies on the needs of crime victims and how we could meet those needs. One of the things clearly identified in that study was their need for restitution. I was also on the Hugessen committee that in 1973 brought victims and police officers onto the National Parole Board, something that continues to this day.

The award that you mentioned was for my role in getting the UN General Assembly to agree to human rights standards for crime victims. Those standards are very important for this committee to look at.

I'm going to be really reinforcing what the federal ombudsman on victim issues told you earlier, but I'm going to go a bit beyond what she told you and say that I think we need a lot more than is in Bill C-350 and a lot more than she called for to ensure that the needs of victims for reparation are met through restitution in this country, and at a level that meets international standards.

I want to make a more general point that the situation of crime victims in this country is way behind that of comparable jurisdictions, jurisdictions such as the United States, France, or Australia. That's not just my opinion, that's the opinion of several committees. The committee in 1989 that was chaired by David Daubney made a series of recommendations in restitution. The committee report “Victims' Rights - A voice, not a veto” in 1998-1999 made a series of recommendations about victims, most of which were ignored or implemented in a very unsatisfactory way.

If you look at what has happened in Ontario, which is the only place we've really had a serious look recently at what happens for crime victims, the Ontario ombudsman wrote a report that said the compensation system in Ontario, not the restitution system, was adding insult to injury.

In response to that report, Roy McMurtry, recently retired Chief Justice of Ontario, who will be known to all of you, completed a report making recommendations. Those recommendations used the UN standards from 1985. They talked about what the role of police should be to inform victims more about what is available. And they talked about the importance of having an advocate at the provincial level to get action.

Another important critic has been the Prime Minister's Office, which in the material prior to Bill C-10 talked about the damage that is done to victims by crime in this country, talked about the famous 83% of $100 billion. I prefer talking about $83 billion. That's actually the figure that comes from Justice Canada. I think it's a reasonable figure. It is, of course, the damage done to adult victims. It doesn't include victims under the age of 15. And $83 billion is a very important figure for what I'm going to have to say.

The Prime Minister's Office also talked about the abysmal proportion of victims who report to the police in this country, 31%. And if you look at sexual assault, it's actually only 8%. This is way below any comparable country, such as the United States or the United Kingdom. I think we have to ask ourselves very much why so few victims in this country are going to the police. They're very professional police, very highly paid police. But it is a very low proportion.

If we do, in fact, scratch at those figures to understand why, what we see is that victims of property crime are going to police because they expect some sort of reparation. That could include restitution, but it could include also other ways of paying back, which would include, of course, insurance.

If we look at victims of violent crime, then we see what they want is the offender stopped, and I want to emphasize “stopped”. I didn't say “punished”, I said “stopped”. It's actually a relatively small proportion who are going for some very heavy penalties.

It's a serious situation, and I hope your committee will choose to encourage not only the adoption of something along the lines of Bill C-350, but much more serious attention to meeting the needs of victims, in terms of their losses, and the ways in which those losses can be repaired.

My third point basically relates to international standards. We have, since 1985—Canada of course was a leader in getting those adopted—UN standards, and within those there are basically five issues. One of those issues is restitution for the victim from the offender.

In your introduction, sir, you mentioned the much later guidelines, around 2003, that have been adopted by ECOSOC, in relation to child victims. Those also refer to restitution.

Both of those documents have in the resolution or in the actual documents themselves a heavy emphasis on prevention. This country needs to reduce the $83 billion in harm to victims, and the way to do that is to invest in what is well established and well known and would reduce violence and property crime, everything from examples like Winnipeg, which reduced car theft by 87% within three years, to the Alberta strategy, where comprehensive matching of smart enforcement with smart treatment with smart prevention has been going now for nearly four or five years, with a plan and with evaluation and with the driving energy of the Alberta strategy being reducing harm to victims.

Some of the other international standards that I think your committee needs to look at are those, of course, of western Europe. The European Union has a framework decision from 2001, and is studying a directive at the moment, and those refer to restitution. Victims are represented with legal aid in France in the court process, and roughly 50% of all cases in France are resolved by the payment of restitution from the offender to the victim and there is no other action taken. This is undoubtedly a model for us. It's the model that influenced the International Criminal Court, of which Canada is a strong supporter, where victims are represented by legally aided lawyers.

The U.S. has a range of different things that relate to restitution. In California, for instance, their corrections system monitors the restitution orders, it takes payments on the minimal amounts that prisoners earn in prison, and it also takes payments out of what prisoners might get if they get a paying job as part of their sentence. There are other U.S. states that have something similar. Florida, for instance, has something similar. Vermont, just south of the border, actually pays restitution up to about $2,000, I believe, and then collects from the offender. So there are a number of interesting options within the U.S.

Probably the most important is the Justice For All Act. As you may or may not be aware, the current Vice-President of the United States has been the lead on three major pieces of legislation.

The Victims of Crime Act in 1984 puts about $1 billion into victim assistance and compensation every year by using a victim fine surcharge, which is way more advanced than ours, because it is applied not just to individuals but companies. Pfizer, for instance, paid a $1.3 billion fine that went into that.

Vice-President Biden also supported the Violence Against Women Act, a very important act, because not only does this look at what responses there should be to victims, it also looks at prevention and evaluates it.

May 1st, 2012 / 5:25 p.m.
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NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

You also raised an important issue that we'll keep monitoring on this side, which is that you've opened a lot of new files. Our side will be monitoring the funding of your office and making sure that you're adequately funded.

You mentioned your recommendations and you said that you'd let us look at them again. Given that we're taking about Bill C-350, I wonder if there is any one of those recommendations you think might particularly relate to this bill that you would like to highlight for us?

May 1st, 2012 / 5:20 p.m.
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Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

Susan O'Sullivan

I would defer to Mr. Toller on the offenders' accounts and the issues around that.

I do want to say that I am here in support of Bill C-350, because it will help to ensure that offenders are held accountable for their monetary debts.

In looking at the bigger issue of restitution, I won't go over the recommendations; you have copies of the report, and they're there. I think we do need to be taking a bigger picture.

I did find some data. It's not my data, but I did find through the director of parliamentary relations at the CSC some data that looked at these awards—although the data clearly indicates that CSC does not keep statistics for claims against the crown paid to inmates where they are less than $1,000. Again, the data is not comprehensive, but I was able to see, for example, that from 2006 through 2007 the claims against the crown totalled $2,500,000. Of that, $279,000 was paid to inmates in 26 cases. So there is some data out there, but again, it's not comprehensive and it's not my data.

I tried to find from Statistics Canada all the guilty cases in adult criminal courts in relation to restitution orders, but these weren't specific. They were lumped together—federal, provincial, and territorial. For example, in 2009-10, there were 6,000 offenders. It says here, “The following statistics represent all guilty cases in adult criminal courts in Canada, including offenders for restitution.” It looks like there were close to 7,000.

I was looking at the data and what it means. Part of the issue around restitution is of course that in many cases the courts aren't ordering it. There are many reasons for that.

I mean if you're a victim of crime and you want restitution, it has to be done at the time of sentencing. That means, and I'm going to use an example, if I suffered a property loss or I was injured in an assault and lost two weeks' pay, I would have to prove how much that loss was at the time of sentencing. You won't know to do that unless somebody tells you to do that. You have to be able to prove that with receipts and bills. Then you have to have the crown attorney ask for that restitution.

There are huge issues. I know you've got limited time here, but I wanted to paint a bit of a picture for you.

Even if a restitution order is given, if the offender doesn't pay it then the victim has to go to civil court to try to figure out how they're going to get money from the offender. We need to be doing a better job at how we are dealing with restitution in this country and putting in place some of those frameworks to do that.

Thank you.

May 1st, 2012 / 5:05 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Rousseau NDP Compton—Stanstead, QC

Thank you very much.

Ms. O'Sullivan, if I understand correctly, rehabilitation is one way to help victims of crime who find themselves before individuals who are often—we hope—more responsible and "accountable" upon their release. Do you have any suggestions on how we could use rehabilitation more to support the victims? For example, I'm thinking about the possibility of combining Bill C-350 with a program on fiscal responsibility, depending on the resources of our correctional system, of course.

May 1st, 2012 / 4:45 p.m.
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NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you very much, Ms. O'Sullivan, for being here and telling us about how you see things. To be honest, it's nice to hear a point of view that's different from the one around this table. Given the work you do, in particular, you are fully aware of the needs of victims.

I agree with several aspects of Bill C-350. Usually, in society, a person must fulfill his or her obligations. In fact, all victims should have access to compensation of this kind. In your presentation, which calls for greater respect for victims, you made a number of very interesting recommendations that should be taken into consideration.

Like you, I think that Bill C-350 includes improvements, especially with respect to the previous one, Bill C-292. Among other things, compensation will from now on be shared more equally among the parties. And an order of priority has been set.

However, Bill C-350 seems to take on only a small part of this large problem of victim compensation. Would you like more improvements made to this bill? I'll go even a little further and ask this: if you could amend the bill or make it perfect, what changes would you suggest to us?

May 1st, 2012 / 4:33 p.m.
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Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

Susan O'Sullivan

Mr. Chair and members of the committee, good afternoon.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today about Bill C-350, which concerns offender accountability.

As you may know, the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime was created to provide a voice for victims at the federal level.

We do this through our mandate, which includes: receiving and reviewing complaints from victims; promoting and facilitating access to federal programs and services for victims of crime, by providing information and referrals; promoting the basic principles of justice for victims of crime; raising awareness among criminal justice personnel and policy-makers about the needs and concerns of victims; and identifying systemic and emerging issues that negatively impact victims of crime.

The office helps victims in two main ways: individually and collectively. We help victims individually by speaking with victims every day, answering their questions, and addressing their complaints. We help victims collectively by reviewing important issues and making recommendations to the federal government on how to improve its laws, policies, or programs, to better support victims of crime.

I would like to thank the committee for inviting me here today to speak to the payment of court-ordered debts owed by offenders, and its impacts on victims of crime.

Bill C-350, if adopted, would help to ensure that offenders are held accountable for the monetary debts they owe, including spousal and child support, restitution, the federal victims surcharge, and civil judgments. This bill will ensure that offenders who are successful in obtaining monetary awards from government are mandated to pay their court-ordered debts.

With respect to restitution and the federal victims surcharge, this bill provides a mechanism to further hold offenders responsible for providing reparation to victims for the harm they have caused, and to promote a stronger sense of responsibility and accountability. Similar to the garnishment of spousal and child support already occurring at the federal level, this bill will go further to ensure that offenders are responsible and accountable for their debts.

Our office supports measures that seek to better address the needs of victims of crime. Given that Bill C-350 seeks to hold offenders more accountable and ensure that victims of crime receive the money they are owed and have access to services following a crime, our office supports its passage into law.

To provide some context related to the financial impacts of victimization, a recent study by the Department of Justice estimates that the total tangible and intangible costs of Criminal Code offences in Canada in 2008 were approximately $99.6 billion. When looking at the combined costs measured in the study, the financial burden on victims, which can include lost wages, medical attention, and stolen or damaged property, is estimated at 83% of the total cost of crime. This, frankly, is unacceptable.

Given this burden, tangible supports, including restitution and the federal victim surcharge, become extremely important to victims. They are a means through which to recover loss and to promote access to much needed services. They also serve to acknowledge and provide reparation of harm to victims on behalf of offenders.

Further, when one considers that victimization often occurs within the family context, the payment of spousal or child support may also be extremely important for victims. A statistic that illustrates the familial ties between federal offenders and victims is the number of homicides solved in 2009, where 33.6% of victims were killed by a family member. As victims of crime are estimated to bear 83% of the cost of crime and federal offenders are often family members of victims, measures to ensure that victims receive the debts owed to them, including spousal and child support, and restitution, are necessary to address the needs of crime.

To elaborate, restitution is a payment made by an offender to the victim to cover expenses resulting from the crime, such as property loss or damage, or personal injury. Where a restitution order is made, the offender must pay the amount ordered directly to the victim named in the order. If the offender does not pay the amount ordered, the victim can file the order in civil court and use civil enforcement methods to collect the money.

Legal advice and representation is often needed to pursue these methods of collection, which are cost-prohibitive for many. 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.

In addition to restitution, the federal victim surcharge is also an important payment made by offenders to provide financial support to provincial and territorial victim services and to promote a link between an offender's crime and his or her accountability to the victim. The government recently made an announcement to introduce legislation to double and automatically apply the federal victim surcharge. This is indeed a very positive step forward in response to recommendations made by our office.

While the doubling and automatic application of the surcharge will serve to better meet the needs of victims, mechanisms to ensure that offenders pay the surcharge, such as Bill C-350, are necessary to help ensure that provincial and territorial victim services are given the funding they need and deserve. This bill is one small measure that will contribute to offender accountability.

However, measures to ensure that offenders pay their court orders, regardless of whether they have received a monetary award from government, need to be implemented to ensure that offenders are held accountable for their debts and for providing reparation of harm to victims. To this end, my office has made several recommendations to government to promote the reparation of harm to victims and to mandate that offenders be held accountable to victims for their court orders.

These recommendations were made in our most recent report, Shifting the Conversation, and they include the following: requiring judges to consider restitution in all cases involving a victim and to state their reasons for not ordering restitution, similar to provisions for the federal victim surcharge; giving victims the right to make an application for restitution and the right to appeal if an application is refused; providing victims with detailed guidelines on how to document their losses for the purposes of restitution; removing the requirement that a restitution amount be readily ascertainable, or allowing a court to order a “to be determined” restitution order if the costs are not fully known at the time of sentencing; examining the ability of the federal government to deduct restitution awards from federal government payments, such as GST rebate cheques and employment insurance payments; and holding offenders accountable by including conditions to ensure that they fulfill their court orders for restitution and the federal victim surcharges by authorizing the Correctional Service of Canada to deduct reasonable amounts from an offender's earnings.

These recommendations to government are aimed at promoting reparation of harm to victims and mandating that offenders be held accountable to victims for their court orders.

In conclusion, if adopted, Bill C-350 would help to ensure that offenders are held accountable for the monetary debts they owe, including spousal and child support, restitution, the federal victim surcharge, and civil judgments. This bill will ensure that offenders who are successful in obtaining monetary awards from government are mandated to pay their court-ordered debts.

From a victim's perspective, ensuring that an offender pays his or her financial debts, including restitution and the federal victim surcharge, upon receipt of a monetary award would seem to be common sense. In fact, many victims, and even Canadians at large, would perhaps be surprised to know that this is not already the case.

For this reason, we support the passage of Bill C-350, but we encourage members to understand that increasing offender accountability in relation to court-ordered restitution and the federal victim surcharge will require more comprehensive solutions above and beyond the measures proposed in this bill.

Merci. Je serai heureuse de répondre à vos questions.

May 1st, 2012 / 4:33 p.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

In our second hour today we're going to continue with our consideration of Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders).

Our committee welcomes this afternoon Ms. Susan O'Sullivan, the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime.

Welcome here. It's good to have you.

May 1st, 2012 / 4 p.m.
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NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I'd like to thank Ms. Budgell and Mr. Toller for being here to answer our questions about Bill C-350.

Some of these proposals are interesting, especially the idea of support for victims.

I am also interested in offender rehabilitation. A few weeks ago, I met with a prison warden who explained to me that he worked with rehabilitation a lot. He told me that such a person could live two houses down from me and that he wanted that person to become a good citizen again and the person not to be a danger to the community anymore. We also work a lot with rehabilitation in Quebec.

I noted in your remarks, at the end of your presentation, that you spoke about gaining the skills the offenders would need to change their criminal behaviour. How could we apply skills acquisition to this type of bill or to this way of doing things? Would there be a way to implement Bill C-350, or the provisions it contains, while making offenders accountable and, perhaps, getting them involved in the process?

May 1st, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.
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NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to Mr. Toller, and Ms. Budgell, for appearing today.

On this side we voted to bring this bill to committee, because we accept that there is a good principle involved here in encouraging responsibility and accountability. But we have some questions about the mechanisms used in this bill.

Mr. Toller, you said at the end of your remarks, which are quite measured, I would say:

This includes measures that would ensure that offenders assume greater responsibility and accountability

It seems to me that you're saying that Bill C-350 is only one of the tools in rehabilitation, re-insertion, and such. Would you prioritize the other tools that might be available in the toolbox for promoting this, besides this bill?

May 1st, 2012 / 3:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Ms. Budgell, and Mr. Toller, for being here. We appreciate your being here at the onset.

We spoke to the introducer of this bill and we heard from him. We got a good sense of why he introduced this bill. He talked a lot about people in his riding who are victims and have been victims of crime. He talked a lot about the children and spouses of the offenders also being victims and many times suffering because of what the offender has done, including not being paid things like child support or spousal support.

We got a good sense of the reasons, but it's good to have you here for some very specific questions.

Mr. Toller, in your comments you said at the onset that you wanted to make the distinction that Bill C-350 applies not only to an offender initiating a lawsuit or a claim against the Correctional Service of Canada, but also to monetary awards to offenders across all government departments.

You did explain how monetary settlements would be awarded regarding CSC. Could you give us some examples or explain how inmates would possibly receive monetary settlements from other departments?

May 1st, 2012 / 3:30 p.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

This is meeting number 36 of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, Tuesday, May 1, 2012. Today we continue our study of Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders).

In our first hour, we will hear from the Correctional Service of Canada, Mr. Ross Toller, deputy commissioner of the transformation and renewal team; and from the Department of Justice, Ms. Alexandra Budgell. I would invite each of you to make an opening statement on behalf of your different departments. Then we will proceed with a few rounds of questioning by members of Parliament.

Welcome. Mr. Toller, go ahead.

April 26th, 2012 / 4:50 p.m.
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NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Mr. Lauzon, for appearing before the committee today to introduce Bill C-350. We sincerely appreciate it.

Your bill seems to have considerable merit. I wasn't sure I would have any questions, but the more questions people asked, the more things came to mind.

When answering, you often used the phrases “my understanding of the bill is that” or “I think that”. I do not doubt your good intentions, but I want to know whether this bill really comes from you or from your government.

April 26th, 2012 / 4:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Guy Lauzon Conservative Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

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.

April 26th, 2012 / 4:10 p.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much for that folks, and for the extra information that we gleaned from that. We will just invite Mr. Lauzon to come to the table. I don't even believe we have to adjourn, even for a short period of time.

You have the bill in front of you. Mr. Lauzon has drafted Bill C-350. First of all, today we are going to commence our study on Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders). We're hearing from the member of Parliament who's brought this bill before the House.

Our committee welcomes Mr. Guy Lauzon, MP from Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry in Ontario. We congratulate you for shepherding your bill thus far through the House, and also for being one of the fortunate that had their bills drawn early. We look forward to your comments as to why you drafted this bill and your reasons for it.

Thank you for appearing before this committee, Mr. Lauzon.

April 26th, 2012 / 3:30 p.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

This is meeting number 35 of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, on Thursday, April 26, 2012. Today we're continuing our consideration of Bill C-293, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (vexatious complainants). Today we are scheduled to go through the bill clause by clause.

In the second hour, we will commence hearing another private member's bill, Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders). I think Mr. Lauzon will appear and give us the reasons why he brought forward this private member's bill.

I will now turn to our clerk for direction and we will proceed on the clause-by-clause of Bill C-293.

I have had a chance to speak to counsel in regard to the amendments that have been brought forward. We've just had four or five more amendments brought forward by the Liberal Party. However, I need to disclose that the first amendment will be the government amendment brought forward by Ms. Hoeppner, because it deals with the bill.

Ms. Hoeppner, did you want to speak to your amendment?

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

March 28th, 2012 / 6:20 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 second reading stage of Bill C-350 under private members' business.

The House resumed from March 16 consideration of the motion that Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

March 16th, 2012 / 2 p.m.
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Conservative

Guy Lauzon Conservative Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sincerely honoured to rise today to respond to the debate on my private member's Bill C-350.

I would like to begin by extending my appreciation for my colleagues opposite who took the time to participate in this debate, and I listened to their comments with great interest.

It is heartening to see that this bill has received a good deal of support during these debates from hon. members across the way, from all parties. This speaks to the bill's clarity and to its necessity. During these debates, hon. members have recognized that this legislation contains important improvements from the previous version introduced last year.

I would like to take the opportunity to stress the importance of passing this legislation. The changes which I am proposing to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act are crucial to holding criminals accountable for their actions and to supporting victims of crime. Our government's commitment to increasing offender accountability in the criminal justice system is well documented. Just as well known is our commitment to supporting victims and rebalancing the justice system to bring their interests to the forefront. This is one area where most parliamentarians and law-abiding citizens agree.

This legislation would teach these offenders, some whom have never been responsible one day in their life, that in society we do have obligations and we do meet them. Putting an emphasis on offender accountability helps to correct negative offender behaviour and is a key aspect of our correctional system. Hopefully, this would ultimately help offenders take more responsibility for their actions in their rehabilitation by reforming them into responsible members of society.

I am proud to report that this bill supports victims of crime. If an offender is the breadwinner in the family and commits a crime that leads to jail time, the offender's family members is left struggling to fend for themselves. In many cases, the offender's family members are victims. Those families are left struggling, many times beyond belief, when the offenders go to jail. It is only right that any monetary award be directed to the offender's family before any goes to the offender.

Bill C-350 would ensure that offenders live up to their family support obligations and that is a critical part of this bill. When an offender breaks into a residence, doing harm to an innocent family and the family's property, it is only right that any monetary award paid to the offender be paid first as restitution to the victim. That is just common sense. It is only fair when an offender files a spurious lawsuit or court action and receives a monetary reward, the offender's debts be paid prior to being able to benefit from that reward.

For Canadians whose lives have never been touched by crime, it might seem that once an offender has been tried, convicted and incarcerated in federal prison the story is over. It is far from over for the victims of these crimes. For some victims, it may take months, years or even a lifetime of rebuilding their lives following physical injury and emotional distress. Some may never get to the point of closure, particularly those who have lost a loved one due to an act of violence. We have seen too much of that in the press recently.

In the 2011 Speech from the Throne, our Conservative government committed once again to providing support for victims. We have listened to victims of crime and as a result have introduced many measures that support the rights of victims as opposed to the rights of criminals. The passage of this legislation would be another step in supporting the victims of crime. That is why I urge all hon. members to stand up for the victims of crime and support this legislation.

I also wish all my colleagues a very happy St. Patrick's Day. I hope they enjoy their week in their ridings.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

March 16th, 2012 / 1:55 p.m.
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NDP

Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to speak in the House. My hon. colleague from Hamilton Mountain gave a great and eloquent speech on the subject.

I, too, am very happy to rise today to give my thoughts on this private member's bill, Bill C-350, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders). Having given much consideration to it, I believe the legislation warrants enough consideration to be sent to committee for further study.

Using recent statistics, the cost of crime in 2003 was about $70 billion. What is even more shocking is that $47 billion of the costs were borne by the victims of crime. That statistic means that fully two-thirds of all costs of crime are paid by the victims. It is clear that we need to reduce these costs. The most obvious way for us to reduce them is to reduce the number and severity of crimes taking place in Canada. The problem is that the government's approach to reducing crime, in my opinion, is inherently flawed. If increased prison populations lead to decreased crime rates, then the U.S. would have a far lower crime rate than Canada, which is clearly not the case.

The government's omnibus crime bill contained a number of measures that New Democrats supported and were willing to fast track if they were separated from the more odious aspects of that bill. However, as is so often the case, the government was more interested in playing politics than in passing good public policy. The government rammed through the entire bill, which will massively increase the Canadian prison population without having any effect on crime rates, with limited debate and scrutiny.

While the government likes to talk about protecting victims, the bill did nothing in regard to the most important aspect of victim support, and that was ensuring that there were less victims of crime in Canada. It is good, however, to see that some members on the government benches are willing to take a more nuanced approach to dealing with crime and, more specific, with looking to help the victims of crime.

This bill would mandate that any compensation that would be awarded to an individual who committed a crime through a court settlement would not be immediately paid to the offender. Instead, any money owing in terms of child support, restitution to the victim of the crime, civil judgments or fines would be paid out of this award. Only once these outstanding debts had been paid would the court release the remaining funds to the offender.

New Democrats are committed to ensuring that the rights of victims are properly considered in all aspects of the criminal justice system. The victims ombudsman, which is supported on this side of the House, has had a lot to say on these aspects of the justice system. In a recent report, the ombudsman called on the government to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to include conditions ensuring that offenders complied with sentences imposed by the court, including restitution and compensatory payment of increased fines, and to authorize the Correctional Service of Canada to deduct reasonable amounts of income held to cover outstanding amounts corresponding to the specified compensation or increased fines.

In that sense, the bill seems to attempt to address those concerns. It is important to realize that the primary purpose of this compensation is to not punish them by taking away their money, but, instead, it seeks to acknowledge that crimes have an effect both on the victims of crime and on the offender's family and that, as such, offenders should be accountable to those groups. It is a shame, however, that the government did not include any of these provisions in its crime bill. It is very telling that it was excluded.

This bill, with its focus on victims and the families of offenders, is a step in the right direction from the party opposite. It is just a shame that it has to be pushed by a private member's bill and not by the government. Additionally, I believe we should ensure that the criminal justice system continues to focus on rehabilitating people who have committed criminal acts to ensure they are not trapped in the cycle of criminality.

By ensuring that offenders are required to honour these types of debts, the criminal justice system could go some way in fostering a sense of responsibility in offenders to meet their obligations toward the families, victims and the communities. Combined with adequate retraining and education programs, that could be a good way to ensure that rehabilitation would be given a central place in the criminal justice system.

However, some critics of the bill have argued that by forcing offenders to honour their debts before being paid compensation, we are treating offenders differently than we treat average Canadians. However, there is some precedence for forcing people to honour their debts to civil society. For example, courts can garnish the paycheques of individuals in order to ensure they make their child support payments. As a result of this, I do not think that it is unreasonable for parliamentarians to further study the possibility of the bill.

Critics have also argued that the bill may infringe on provincial jurisdiction. However, as I understand it, the bill would replace the previous private member's bill introduced by the same member on the same topic and then he changed some of the provisions in the bill to recognize the right of provinces to set priority of claims regardless of settlement. I look forward to hearing testimony at committee stage from legal experts to ensure that the changes made by the member are sufficient to overcome any worries regarding provincial jurisdiction.

Bills like these, which seek to ensure that offenders are accountable for their actions and that go some way to ensure the rehabilitation of offenders, are definitely a step in the right direction.

I truly look forward to further study of the bill at committee to ensure its viability and to further analyze its consequences.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

March 16th, 2012 / 1:45 p.m.
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NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to the same private member's bill, Bill C-350, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders). The bill would require that any monetary amount awarded to an offender pursuant to a legal action or proceeding be paid to victims and other designated beneficiaries.

I believe my colleague, the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, proposes this measure in good faith and attempts to tackle—

The House resumed from February 16 consideration of the motion that Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

February 16th, 2012 / 6:55 p.m.
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NDP

Bruce Hyer NDP Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-350, a private member's bill introduced by the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry regarding the accountability of offenders.

This is an important topic. Canada has in the order of about 40,000 prisoners presently, which represents a very small share of our population. Although it sounds like a large number, it is less than 1% of our population. About 15,000 of these prisoners are in federal custody while the remainder are in provincial penal systems. Our incarceration rate is in line with, or slightly lower than actually, incarceration rates from many of Canada's peer countries, with an exception. It is far less than a third of the rate of incarceration in the United States.

In addition, the crime rate in Canada is actually decreasing, including the severity index for violent crimes. Even so, it seems that the government intends to greatly expand our prison system. Under the government's planned changes, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, last year, estimated that the cost of running of our prisons could grow to $9.5 billion annually in 2015-16. That is up from $4.4 billion in 2010, which is more than double. That could require the construction of up to a dozen new prisons. Mr. Page found that the numbers could be twice as high in the provincial system as well.

I can only see our prison population ballooning even higher than the Parliamentary Budget Officer's estimates with the legislation introduced recently by the government, such as Bill C-10. We could see any number of people convicted and sent to jail for five years for just circumventing digital locks to listen to their purchased CDs on their iPods or copying their DVDs onto their laptops, for example. Who knows how many people might be sent to jail when their cell phone locations are scanned by the authorities and they happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, going home from work through an area where a protest breaks out.

With these and other changes from the Conservative government, including mandatory minimum sentences, I expect to see our prison population in this country growing and growing under the government.

This raises questions. How are taxpayers expected to pay for so many Canadians in jail when the federal government is running a steep and rapidly growing deficit and our provinces are struggling financially as well? Surely the government is aware that we would have a hard time paying for megaprisons and megaprison populations while trying to balance the books.

Does the Prime Minister intend to burden we taxpayers, our taxpayers, our constituents and the provinces with so many prison costs that he will just throw up his hands in a few years and say that we cannot possibly afford it anymore and that the prison system needs to be privatized.

This would fit in lockstep with his overall philosophy of allegedly creating smaller governments and privatization. However, it could have catastrophic consequences for Canadian society. If incarceration itself becomes a profit centre when the Conservatives privatize the jails, it will be in many corporations' best interests to send more people to jail for longer and keep them there.

That means that our goals as a society will have changed from rehabilitation and good outcomes for citizens to one of maximizing the incarceration rate, a growth industry. A well-funded private prisons lobby could emerge to keep pressure up for ever-harsher laws. They could lobby to ensure that many more people cease to be productive members of society, no longer paying taxes but instead left rotting in prisons or being criminalized even further there.

To me, this is a disturbing picture of Canada's future if we continue down the government's path. We can see how badly that road has worked out for the United States of America. In the early 1980s, privatization of prisons took off in the U.S. with the war on drugs and harsher sentencing. States could no longer afford to run their prison systems and so companies starting taking over more and more prison services and eventually entire prisons. Incarceration skyrocketed, doubling every decade from less than half a million in 1980 to over two million by the year 2000.

Our neighbours to the south now have by far the highest incarceration rate in the entire world. They have the largest prison population on earth. With less than 5% of the world's overall population they have almost a quarter of the world's adult prison population. We have all heard about the extraordinary incarceration rates of African Americans and other visible minorities in the U.S.; entire generations thrown in jail. Are we going to replicate that failed system here in Canada?

I cannot begin to detail the tragic social costs that come when incarceration becomes a profit-making enterprise. Sadly, this was all for nothing. U.S. statistics show that cost savings promised to the taxpayers by privatized prisons simply have not materialized. It is no wonder that states such as California and Texas are now backpedaling on privatized prisons.

For Canada, this is a very real possibility given the crime agenda advanced by members on the other side of the House. Statistics Canada found that 93% of Canadians are satisfied with their personal safety, so most do not live in fear of crime or criminals. Perhaps they should start worrying about some politicians as being costly to their welfare.

This private member's bill takes on a new importance in light of all of this. If we are to have so many more people in prison, then we need to make sure that families and others surrounding them do not pay more of a price than they need to. The aim of this bill is to make sure incarcerated people are held to account for their actions financially with respect to victims and families. That is a laudable goal.

As my colleagues have discussed, it mandates that family members and victims to whom the offender owes money would be compensated first from any financial gains awarded to that offender by a court settlement. I support an underlying presumption in the bill that the principle of accountability and learning accountability is important in the rehabilitation process of all inmates.

My colleagues on this side of the House and I believe it is important to rehabilitate offenders, not harden them and offer criminal graduate degrees. Part of that rehabilitation involves meeting obligations to others. It is taking responsibility for debts owed.

I also see a welcomed item in this legislation, and that is child support. Children of offenders should not be punished for their parents' crimes. All too often they are. They often fall through the cracks. Children whose parents have been incarcerated face unique difficulties. Aside from the sudden separation from their caregiver, sometimes their only caregiver, these children have to deal with fear, depression, anger and guilt. They are often moved around from caregiver to caregiver. They are at higher risk of failure in school and delinquency. They are often left in poor circumstances financially as well. I am glad to see that Bill C-350 counts child support as a priority for repayment of debts.

I know that this version of the legislation has been tweaked from a previous iteration to take into account not just child support but also respect for the jurisdiction of the provinces as well. I am very happy this seems to signal an openness to improvements so that the bill may pass with broad support from all parties. It gives me hope that we can improve things for Canadians if and when the bill passes in the other place. I know from personal experience that all too few private members' bills actually end up becoming law. I wish the member luck with his legislation.

To sum up, the bill has merit in that it seeks to help victims and families. I support this private member's bill going to committee for further consideration.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

February 16th, 2012 / 6:35 p.m.
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Portage—Lisgar Manitoba

Conservative

Candice Bergen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of Bill C-350, which addresses crucial changes to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act as it relates to the accountability of offenders.

I would like to thank the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry for his hard work on behalf of victims of crime.

Before I begin, I would like to take a moment to briefly review what the bill is all about. Bill C-350 is about putting more focus on offender accountability and restitution. It will do this through two key changes.

First, the bill would amend 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.

Second, the bill sets out the priorities for debt repayment in cases when an offender is owed a monetary award as a result of a legal action against the crown. What this means in essence is that an offender will first have to satisfy outstanding debts before collecting any award. The debt owed to the offender would be paid on a pro rata basis and in the following order of priority, to amounts owing, pursuant to the following: a spousal or child support order; a legal restitution order; any victim surcharge order; and any person with a civil judgment against the offender. It is only after all of these priorities have been addressed that any outstanding amount from the monetary award would be paid to the offender.

While our government supports the rights of offenders to be treated humanely, we also believe that offenders must be held accountable for the debts they owe. Learning how to do this is an important part of their rehabilitation.

This legislation would ensure that crown debts are distributed with these obligations in mind and ensure that priority is given to victims and the spouses and children of these offenders.

At its core, the bill is really about supporting victims and holding offenders accountable for their legal obligations. That is why our government is pleased to support this legislation, with some minor amendments. When the bill reaches committee stage, we recommend amending it to add clarity regarding the role of the Correctional Service of Canada in the administration and operation of these provisions.

Our government is wholly committed to supporting victims and ensuring that the justice system takes the consideration of victims to heart, and I am proud of our impressive track record. For example, we have committed $52 million to enhance the federal victims strategy to better meet the needs of victims. We have created and provided ongoing support to the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime as an independent resource for victims. We have provided support to the National Office for Victims at Public Safety Canada to give victims a greater voice in the corrections and conditional release process, and to help them access the services that they need.

These are only a few examples of how our government has dedicated itself to supporting victims of crime.

Just as important, we remain committed to making sure that offenders are held accountable. Because more needs to be done, our government included offender accountability measures as part of our safe streets and communities act that we introduced in September 2011. Bill C-10 contains measures that will help to enhance offender responsibility and accountability while strengthening the management of offenders during their incarceration and parole. It would also give victims access to more information about the offender who has harmed them and modernize disciplinary sanctions for offenders. Under that proposed legislation we would amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to emphasize the need for offenders to conduct themselves in a way that demonstrates respect for other people and property.

As well, the proposed changes would require all offenders to obey all penitentiary rules and conditions governing their release, while also actively participating in the setting and achieving of objectives in their correctional plan, including their behaviour, program participation and meeting their court-ordered obligations such as restitution to victims. This ties directly to the legislation that we are discussing today.

Another element of offender accountability found in our safe streets and communities act is amendments to modernize the system of discipline in federal penitentiaries by addressing disrespectful, intimidating and assaultive behaviour by inmates, including the throwing of bodily substances.

The safe streets and communities act also delivers on the issue of victim support. Victims have limited information about an offender's life in prison. They do not know whether offenders are taking part in rehabilitation programs, if they are absent from the institution temporarily or are being transferred to a minimum security facility. Yet victims deserve to have access to as much information as they reasonably can about the offender, and Bill C-10 would enshrine in law their ability to take part in parole hearings and to be kept better informed about the behaviour and management of offenders.

Clearly, the measures proposed in the safe streets and communities act will work in tandem with Bill C-350, the legislation we are discussing today.

Just as clear is the message we are hearing from victims and advocacy groups across this country. They are asking us to move swiftly to strengthen the rights of victims. They are asking us to make changes to our laws to improve the accountability of offenders, and they are asking us to create mechanisms that support victims of crime.

I spoke earlier of our ongoing financial support programs, like the National Office for Victims and the federal victims strategy. While we have made progress, much work still remains to be done.

In the 2011 Speech from the Throne, we reiterated our intention to move swiftly ahead with efforts that support victims, that give our law officers better tools and that support crime prevention programs. That is what we told Canadians we would do, and that is exactly what we intend to do.

Today I am very pleased to support the bill with our proposed amendments, and I call on all hon. members to ensure its speedy passage.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

February 16th, 2012 / 6:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, the Liberal Party will be supporting the bill going to committee to study various aspects that have raised questions such those my colleague has just touched on.

As the member who is sponsoring the bill mentioned, it is very important that offenders be accountable. Therefore, the principle that underlies the bill is a good one. Liberals have always believed in personal accountability. It is a tenet of liberalism and, of course, that extends to offenders who are serving time for the crimes they have committed.

It would have been interesting if the sponsor of the bill had provided some concrete examples of situations where victims have suffered because of the absence of such legislation. It leaves us wondering whether the bill is responding to a real problem, or whether it is more of a theoretical exercise.

It is important for anyone watching at home to understand that this is not what has been referred to in the past as profits from crime legislation, introduced under a previous Liberal administration. The purpose of that legislation was to confiscate the proceeds earned by a criminal who, for example, wrote a book about his or her crime. That legislation, Bill C-205, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Copyright Act, was introduced in 1996 by the Liberal member from Scarborough. That bill would have prohibited a criminal from profiting by selling or authoring a story of their crime. However, this is not what we are dealing with here. It is important that the two ideas not be confused.

The reason I bring up Bill C-205 is that, despite its good intention and good principle upon which it was based, it did not complete the legislative process because of the election. However, even a similar bill did not complete the legislative process. It was deemed unconstitutional when it was debated in the House because it violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. More than that, the issue fell under provincial jurisdiction because it is a matter of property, which is generally dealt with under civil actions within provincial jurisdiction.

Bill C-350 does raise some comparable issues about jurisdiction. In fact, as my hon. colleague from the NDP mentioned in his speech, Bill C-350 had a predecessor, Bill C-292. Unfortunately, that bill did not make it to the stage of adoption precisely because of jurisdictional problems.

I will read a quote from the researcher of the committee, Michel Bédard, who presumably was looking at the bill, but this was before I was appointed to that portfolio. He said:

I have doubts as to the federal government's power to pass provisions of this kind. It's important to understand that, according to the division of powers in Canada, property and civil rights fall within provincial jurisdiction. Under that head of power, the provinces have jurisdiction over contracts and all private law, including debt priority ranking. That includes debts owed to creditors, in particular.... It's important to realize that federal jurisdiction regarding debt priority ranking is limited to certain well-defined areas, such as bankruptcy, tax collection and banks.

In other words, this new debt priority ranking cannot be connected back to bankruptcy law, to banks, to tax collection or other areas of federal jurisdiction. What he is saying is that Bill C-292 had nothing to do with these areas where there would be a federal role. That is something we are going to have to discuss at committee when the bill gets there.

I believe that the committee researcher expressed the same reservations about Bill C-350. Again, this is going to have to be discussed at committee, which does not take away from the hon. member's noble motives in wanting to protect victims and underscore the need for offender accountability.

There may be a way in which the bill is constitutional, but there are some doubts. Establishing a debt priority ranking is a power, as I said, usually given to the provincial government. Bill C-350 uses this concept and applies it to a criminal matter where the federal government does have jurisdiction under subsection 91(27) of the Constitution Act of 1867. However, the constitutionality of this manoeuvre is open to debate.

Section 2(a), on using crown funds to repay spousal and child support debt, deals with a tricky issue. While it is true that the government does have jurisdiction over marriage, it may depend on how a judge interprets this provision. For example, a court could interpret the provision to apply only to all legally married couples. Furthermore, as stated above, the federal government can legislate in the area of marriage and divorce. However, there are certain parts of marriage and divorce law that have been delegated to the provincial courts. The nuances of such a relationship require further study.

Sections 2(b) and 2(c) of Bill C-350 use the Criminal Code provisions of restitution orders to establish a debt priority for victims and third parties, as well as victims' surcharges. Restitution is defined as equity aimed at restoring a person to whom a duty was owed to the position in which he or she would have been had the duty not been breached. It does this through a variety of remedies, including compensation. It could be argued in regard to restitution orders requiring an offender to pay financial compensation to a victim or third party that the federal government is legislating in a provincial area.

The constitutionality of restitution orders, as a federal power, was upheld most recently in R v Zelensky in 1978. However, Bill C-350 goes much further than the Zelensky decision in that it elevates restitution orders in the debt priority ranking. Bill C-350 establishes that payment to parties outlined in the bill receive priority over any other debts or fees incurred as a result of the offence. Currently, restitution orders are placed on the same level of priority as other provincial fees levied during the criminal court process, like administrative fees and fines.

There is another interesting aspect. What happens if the offender is innocent and after doing his or her time in prison wins a court case whereby their innocence is proved? Are there measures to reverse the situation to take care of that eventuality?

This will all be studied at committee and I look forward to doing that.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

February 16th, 2012 / 6:15 p.m.
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NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

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.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

February 16th, 2012 / 6:05 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 second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I am proud to rise today to speak on behalf of my private member's Bill C-350, which brings forward important offender accountability measures. This important legislation will encourage the accountability and responsibility of offenders with a goal of ensuring that their obligations to society are addressed.

It should come as no surprise to any hon. member of the House that our Conservative government firmly believes in holding offenders to account and providing victims of crime with better support.

We have said from day one that we are committed to supporting victims and to taking their concerns seriously. That is one of our highest priorities and we have delivered on that commitment in a number of ways, particularly through legislative changes relating to pardons and parole. We have passed legislation that repeals the faint hope clause, meaning that offenders who commit murder are no longer eligible to apply for full parole prior to the parole eligibility date fixed by law. We have passed legislation that allows judges to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods for individuals convicted of more than one first or second degree murder.

We have taken the concerns of victims of white collar crime into account by passing legislation that imposes tougher sentences for fraud, and we have passed legislation to end accelerated parole review that applies to those who commit white collar crimes.

This past September, we were proud to introduce the safe streets and communities act, which includes measures that hold offenders accountable and supports victims. Of note, we have proposed that offenders must play a larger role in their own rehabilitation and reintegration programs, that pardons be renamed by the more appropriate term “record suspensions” and that the right of victims to attend and make statements at parole hearings are enshrined in law.

We have made great progress over the past six years. We have listened to the concerns of victims and we have acted on them, but we are not done yet.

That is why I am proud to speak to Bill C-350, which would take another step in the right direction toward increasing offender accountability and improving restitution measures.

My goal is straightforward. In simple terms the bill would 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 would first be put toward financial obligations, including child support and restitution orders. The reason for this is to teach these individuals, some of whom have never had a responsible day in their whole lives, that in society we have obligations, and we are meant to meet them.

Let me tell hon. members what that means in real terms.

First and foremost, the bill would add wording to the purpose section of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that refers to encouraging the accountability and responsibility of offenders and ensuring that their obligations to their fellow Canadians are addressed. The addition of these words will put an increased focus on offender accountability as a key purpose of a correctional system that actually corrects criminal behaviour. It will drive our correctional system to reform these criminals into responsible and accountable citizens.

Second, Bill C-350 proposes important changes to how debts owed to offenders are distributed. It is extremely difficult for victims and their families to understand why we would allow an offender to receive a monetary award when they themselves are struggling or are waiting for financial restitution from the offender as a result of a civil law suit. The proposed amendments will help rectify this issue when it involves a payment by the Crown. This is another measure to ensure that offenders will be held accountable for fulfilling legally owed debts.

The bill states that any award owed from a legal judgment against the Crown will be paid on a pro rata basis in the following order of priority: the first priority is that the debt must be put toward spousal or child support orders.

When we think of victims, we often think only of the individuals or families directly harmed by the offender's actions. The bill before us addresses the needs of an often overlooked group of people, those innocent individuals who are indirectly impacted by the offender's actions, such as the offender's spouse and children, the families of the offenders.

If an offender is a bread winner in the family, the line of income and financial stability is suddenly gone when the offender is sent to prison. The resulting financial hardship and instability can have immediate and detrimental effects, particularly on children. An unemployed mother whose spouse is convicted and incarcerated for a crime could suddenly struggle to provide the basic necessities for her children: a warm home, food, clothing and other essentials. It is only reasonable that debt owed to the offender by the Crown should first provide for these vulnerable individuals.

The next priority is to pay any restitution for damages or injuries caused by the offenders as a result of their offence. Just as importantly, and falling in line with our focus on supporting victims, the next two priorities include payment of any victim surcharge orders and any outstanding civil judgments against the offender.

Victims can face years of recovery as a result of physical injury or emotional distress. The bill would ensure that the recovery and financial stability of the victims of crime would be taken into account before issuing the balance of a financial award to an offender. It is only after these priorities are addressed that an outstanding amount would be paid to the offender.

This is a fair process. We have heard from victims of crime advocates who tells us that any step toward improving offender accountability and victim restitution is a step in the right direction.

Bill C-350 would go a long way toward increasing the accountability of offenders and ensuring that better restitution measures are in place for not only the victims but the spouses and children of those offenders.

I believe the bill is good legislation. Canadians want and deserve to feel safe in their homes and communities. That means offenders need to be off our streets. It also means that offenders must be held accountable for their actions. Canadians will not stand for a system that allows an offender to file spurious lawsuits or court actions and then be rewarded for this prior to them making their debts whole.

With this bill, our government continues to create a system of justice and public safety that meets the high expectations of Canadians, and that takes into consideration the concerns of victims of crime.

This legislation is simply common sense. What it says is that when an offender is incarcerated, there is a reason the person is incarcerated. Why should the offenders family suffer, why should the victims suffer and why should the offender, who is incarcerated, reap financial rewards when the victims, both spousal or children, or a direct victim of the offence are hurting? This tries to right that wrong.

I urge all hon. members to support this important legislation, with amendments. We will welcome amendments on this legislation.

Multiple SclerosisPrivate Members' Business

February 16th, 2012 / 6 p.m.
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NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Pursuant to Standing Order 93 a recorded division on the motion stands deferred until Wednesday, February 29, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Pursuant to Standing Order 37 the House will now proceed to consideration of Bill C-350 under private members' business.

December 8th, 2011 / 12:15 p.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Okay, I think we're coming to a consensus. All those in favour of allowing Bill C-350 to be considered votable?

Okay. Bill C-350 is deemed votable.

On Bill S-206, we'll ask our analyst to comment.

December 8th, 2011 / 12:10 p.m.
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Committee Researcher

Michel Bédard

That wasn't the reason. When we studied Bill C-292, I said that it encroached on the provinces' authority on property and civil rights. We changed the restitution order. It's often under provincial authority, unless the federal government has jurisdiction.

Furthermore, we were "expropriating" from offenders money that belonged to them. It's as if we said that everything that remained of an order no longer belonged to the offender, but would now belong to a victims' group, whether the victims' group, or a victim advocacy group, had a claim of some kind against the offender. It was practically expropriation.

This problematic provision no longer appears in Bill C-350. In the preliminary remarks when we did the study, I said that some questions could still be raised, constitutionally speaking. But we are at the start of the legislative process. As you know, when the courts are required to look into whether a bill is constitutional or not, they are going to study the intrinsic proof, meaning what is said in the House. They will try to determine the pith and substance, justly, through debate and study in committee. Right now, this proof doesn't exist because the debate hasn't happened, and it seems that the bill could still certainly benefit from amendments at the committee stage.

December 8th, 2011 / 12:10 p.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Are there any questions or comments on Bill C-350?

Mr. Toone.

December 8th, 2011 / 12:10 p.m.
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Michel Bédard Committee Researcher

Bill C-350 provides “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”.

Members of this subcommittee will recall that we looked at a similar bill earlier in this current session, a bill that had been designated as non-votable. Bill C-350 is similar to its predecessor; nonetheless, it is an improvement as regards its constitutionality.

I note in particular that the provision distributing the money awarded to an offender to victims groups instead, when there are no other claims against an offender, has been removed from the new version. I still have reservations about the constitutionality of this proposal.

I must note, however, that a case could be made for the constitutionality of Bill C-350. Proposed paragraph 78.1(1)(a), it could be argued, could be linked to the power of Parliament over marriage and divorce. Proposed paragraphs 78.1(1)(b) and (c), it could be argued, could be linked to the power of Parliament over criminal law.

I am still not totally convinced that this bill is within federal jurisdiction. However, at this stage of the legislative process, when no debates on the bill have taken place yet, debates may then cast some light on the intent and effect of the bill and where the bill could still benefit from amendments. It may be that some restraint may be appropriate before designating the bill as non-votable.

December 8th, 2011 / 12:10 p.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

I'd like to call to order this second meeting of the Subcommittee on Private Members' Business of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Our orders of the day are to determine whether or not certain items are non-votable.

We have four bills before us: two from the Senate and two from the House. We're going to go in the order in which they were received. Bill C-350 is the first one. I am going to ask our analyst to give his comments on the four criteria.

The other thing all of you should have received is the list of criteria relating to House bills and the criteria relating to Senate bills. There are two separate sets of criteria.

Proceed.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActRoutine Proceedings

November 17th, 2011 / 10:05 a.m.
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Conservative

Guy Lauzon Conservative Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders).

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce an amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. The amendment would ensure that any monetary amount awarded to an offender, pursuant to legal action or proceeding, would be paid to victims and other designated beneficiaries.

The amendment would ensure victims of crimes came first and criminals would not profit from crimes.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)