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.