An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent Offenders

An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (fairness for victims)

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

David Sweet  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill.

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

The purpose of this enactment is to amend Part II of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act in respect of the following matters:

(a) the parole review of offenders who are serving a sentence of at least two years for an offence involving violence;

(b) the attendance of victims and members of their family at parole review hearings;

(c) the consideration of victims’ statements by the National Parole Board when making a determination regarding the release of an offender;

(d) the manner of presentation of victims’ statements at a parole review hearing;

(e) the providing of information under consideration by the Board to a victim;

(f) the cancellation of a parole review hearing if an offender has repeatedly refused to attend, or waived his or her right to attend, previous hearings;

(g) the providing of transcripts of a parole review hearing to the victim and members of their family and the offender; and

(h) the notification of victims if an offender is to be released on temporary absence, parole or statutory release.

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

May 7, 2014 Passed That Bill C-479, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (fairness for victims), as amended, be concurred in at report stage with a further amendment.
May 7, 2014 Passed That Bill C-479, in Clause 6, be amended by ( a) replacing line 9 on page 5 with the following: “6. (1) Subparagraph 142(1)( b)(iii) of the Act is repealed. (2) Subparagraphs 142(1)( b)(v) and (vi) of the Act are repealed. (3) Paragraph 142(1)( b) of the Act is” ( b) replacing line 18 on page 5 with the following: “(4) Subsection 142(1) of the Act is” ( c) replacing line 1 on page 6 with the following: “(5) Section 142 of the Act is amended by” ( d) replacing lines 4 and 5 on page 6 with the following: “information referred to in paragraph (1)( c) at least 14 days, where”

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

June 4th, 2014 / 5:55 p.m.
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Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

moved that Bill C-479, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (fairness for victims), be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I say this every time, but it is indeed an honour to stand here at third reading stage of Bill C-479 to make these important and necessary amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

In the time since the chamber debated the bill at second reading, the Prime Minister launched the first ever Canadian victims bill of rights in early April. I am proud that Bill C-479 works in concert with this historic piece of federal legislation to better protect victims of crime and give them a much stronger voice in our criminal justice system.

In addition, I would like to acknowledge the ongoing and dedicated leadership of the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness when it comes to victims' rights. The Canadian victims bill of rights is just one of many initiatives on which they and their ministries are working.

I extend special thanks to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, the member for Scarborough Centre, for all of her support at the committee process and in readings of Bill C-479 in the House.

I also thank the members who sit on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security for all their comments, questions, and interest. I appreciate every one of them.

I would especially like to thank the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Sue O'Sullivan, for her frank advice before and during the crafting of Bill C-479. We are fortunate to have such an experienced, dedicated, and caring Canadian leading this office as our ombudsman. It has been a pleasure to get to know her better over the past couple of years through the process of this bill. I salute the good work she does, and I know the provisions of Bill C-479 will help in the work she and her office do on a daily basis. I would also encourage all of my colleagues to go to the office's website and watch the videos of the victims and their stories. It is very educational about what victims have to endure presently in the process they go through in regard to parole hearings.

As we consider Bill C-479 for third and final reading in the House before it moves to the other place, please allow me to recap what this bill would do. Bill C-479, an act to bring fairness for the victims of violent offenders, would make nine changes to modernize the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, so it can better protect and support victims of violent offenders. Let me please summarize this.

The bill would extend mandatory review periods for parole. This means that if an offender convicted of a more serious violent offence is denied parole, the Parole Board would have to review the case within five years rather than the current two years.

It would increase the period to within four years in which the Parole Board must review parole in cases of cancellation or termination of parole for an offender who is serving at least two years for an offence involving violence.

It would require that the Parole Board take into consideration the need for victims and victim's families to attend a hearing and observe the proceedings.

It would require that the Parole Board consider any victim impact statement presented by victims.

It would require the Parole Board, if requested, to provide victims with information about the offender's release on parole, statutory release, or temporary absence, as well as provide victims with information about the offender's correctional plan, including progress toward meeting its objectives.

It is important to remember Constable Michael Sweet, and again I remind the House that he is no relation to me. It is important to remember that case because he was brutally murdered by two brothers and they were sentenced for this terrible, heinous crime. There was only one thing Michael Sweet's family asked for. Their plea was simple. They said that the offenders committed the crime in public—in other words, they killed the father and husband of the family in public—they were tried in public, and the family simply said the Corrections and Conditional Release Act should be changed so that it would be known publicly that offenders were making some effort to be rehabilitated and become contributing citizens.

I do not think that is too big a request.

It also matters a lot to victims and families who have gone through a tremendous ordeal only to be re-victimized by the process. We have discussed many examples during the course of debate on the bill, so let me make three points as we embark on this hour of debate.

In the cross-country public consultations held by the government that led to the introduction of the Canadian victims bill of rights, which I have previously mentioned, the overwhelming and clear message was that victims of crime want increased participation in the criminal justice system. I would submit that Bill C-479 would do exactly this.

We know we must pay particular attention to instances of violent crime, crimes that are heinous, repugnant, calculated, and senseless. I would also submit to members in this House that Bill C-479 would do exactly this.

It is victims of violent offenders who we are looking to help and support with this bill.

The statistics on violent offences in this country that I cited at the bill's second reading are alarming. These are contained in the Sampson report of December 2007.

Nearly 60% of all people serving sentences of less than three years, at the time this report was done, had histories of violence, and one in six had known gang or organized crime affiliations.

To make real and meaningful change for victims and families of victims whose lives have been turned upside down by these violent offences, we must do two things well: strengthen the voice of victims of violent crime by providing additional support to victims in the parole process; and give the Parole Board of Canada the tools it needs with regard to review of detention periods with the option of increasing the time between parole hearings for violent offenders.

I would repeat to my colleagues in the House that we want to give the option, discretion, and tools to the Parole Board so that, case by case, it will know when to engage those tools we would give it through this bill.

Once again, I would submit to members in the House that Bill C-479 would do exactly this.

As I have acknowledged before, in developing a well-researched and well-thought-out bill, my office and I spoke numerous times with the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Ms. Sue O'Sullivan, and her office. Her testimony before the standing committee was certainly compelling.

I am pleased that some of the recommendations of her 2013 report, “Meeting the needs of victims of crime in Canada”, have been acted upon in Bill C-479—in particular, the rights of victims to good communication throughout the system, the use of technology in victims' statements presented at Parole Board hearings, and ensuring the parole process is more accommodating to victims' needs.

However, I also believe this bill has a sound basis when I look at other jurisdictions that are doing similar things.

As I noted before the standing committee, the Victims' Rights Act of New Zealand, instituted in 2002, has been a model for the world. Under the corresponding provisions of the New Zealand Parole Act of 2002, rights of victims are also enshrined, much as is being proposed in Bill C-479. Similarly, the basis is support and respect for victims.

In 2009, the New Zealand Ministry of Justice launched an extensive public consultation to further enhance victim support within its justice system. One of the areas it looked at, which is echoed in Bill C-479, is the modernizations I propose to reflect with the use of technology through video conference and links to oral statements delivered in regional offices via telecommunication.

This is expressly addressed to ensure victims have a strong voice in the process, but also to mitigate the re-victimization of victims and their families. The Victims of Crime Reform Bill, introduced to the Parliament of New Zealand, includes this provision.

The New Zealand victims of crime reform bill also included improvements to the victim notification system, again similar to the bill we have before us today. It would allow Canadian victims increased access to information about how offenders are progressing with their correctional plans and pertinent documents.

Aside from New Zealand, our friends in other great western democracies are also looking at these issues. The report by Ms. O'Sullivan and the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime looked at U.S. legislation, both at the federal and state level. Also, the United Kingdom's code of practice and the 2012 European directives on victim support and protection were also studied.

Once again, this underscores that Bill C-479 is both timely and appropriate.

Before closing, I would again like to acknowledge the hard work and many long hours of my staff in bringing this bill through each stage of the House of Commons process. I dearly appreciate their work.

In closing, I would like to conclude where I began when I first introduced Bill C-479.

As the House knows, I have attended Parole Board of Canada hearings with my constituents who are victims of a very violent offender. I have attended them on three such occasions now.

This is the case of Jon Rallo, who to this day still denies the triple murder he committed, the gruesome triple murder of my constituent's sister, niece, and nephew. The body of her nephew has never been found. It is believed to have been disposed of in waterways around the Hamilton area.

The most compelling moment each time has been when my constituent asks Mr. Rallo the same question in her victim impact statement at each hearing:

Why did you kill our family? What did you do with your son?

She never gets a response. The offender sits stone-faced. He feels no remorse. This is something the parole board noted carefully in its last decision before denying him full parole in 2013.

However, since he may reapply for parole again next year, we may go through the same reading of a similar impact statement, and the tears and emotion from the family that inevitably accompany them will happen again.

I think I need to mention just once more that because of the duty these families feel to their loved ones who have been murdered, part of the re-victimization is something that they shoulder, but we should do everything we can legislatively and by regulation to make that re-victimization as minimal as possible.

Watching it in person, I can say it is as dramatic an example of re-victimization as there ever could be. This is what motivates me to see Bill C-479 through to fruition. Let us get on with the job.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

June 4th, 2014 / 6:05 p.m.
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NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to start by expressing my thanks to the member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale for the work he has done in bringing this bill in front of us.

He has certainly been very dedicated to this issue, very dedicated to his constituents, and has gotten this bill to this stage in the House of Commons to make some significant improvements in the rights of victims in our system. I congratulate him for that.

I also congratulate the member for being willing to listen in committee, willing to listen and make improvements to the bill. The bill we have has been slightly amended to the point where we on this side of the House are very comfortable in supporting the bill.

My question for the member is around how we let victims know about the rights they now have in the system and the changes we are making. That is one of the things I have heard, that lots of victims do not realize the rights they have now, and now we are making some changes.

I wonder if the member has given any thought to how we can make sure victims realize they have some new rights and new possibilities within the legal system.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

June 4th, 2014 / 6:10 p.m.
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Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his very kind words and for his very constructive question.

I would hope that part of the informing process would be our collective efforts in the 308 ridings across the country. When I first launched the initiative, I did not know that the timing would be the way it was or the magnitude of the victims bill of rights, but since it complements the victims bill of rights quite well, I believe that part of the government's initiative will be to communicate that, and aspects of this bill will go along with it, hand-in-glove.

Since my colleague has raised it, I will be communicating on this specific question with the federal victims ombudsman's office to see exactly what tools it has. I am certain it will make sure victims know about this, as part of its mandate. Certainly, I will make sure I deliver any information it needs, so that it can push this information out and that victims will know all about it and can access their new rights that the bill provides.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

June 4th, 2014 / 6:10 p.m.
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Scarborough Centre Ontario

Conservative

Roxanne James ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale for bringing this very important legislation forward to improve victims rights throughout the parole process.

The member talked about victims feeling re-victimized. Being a member of that committee and the parliamentary secretary, I can say we heard from a number of victims. They brought stories forward of having to appear before parole hearing after parole hearing, sometimes less than two years apart. One witness said it was almost six months in between each hearing. It actually brought me to tears in that particular committee meeting.

I want to thank the member for bringing this legislation forward. It is important that the member mentioned that, by putting forward this legislation, we are not actually mandating that the period of review is now five years in between. It is actually an extension and an option for the Parole Board of Canada to hear these particular cases.

I just wonder if the member could comment on that and reiterate how important this legislation is for victims, to ensure that we are not re-victimizing them again and again.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

June 4th, 2014 / 6:10 p.m.
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Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's great question affords me the opportunity, in case there is ever any misunderstanding in this regard, to say that we thoroughly agree and understand that the parole process is part of the rehabilitative process for offenders to go through to be integrated into society. The best thing that can happen to people who are convicted of crimes and institutionalized is they come out rehabilitated and become contributing Canadian citizens. I want that to be clear.

The premise of the provisions in the bill is to give the Parole Board of Canada the tools so it can make judgments when offenders apply for parole. If offenders have been working diligently through their correction plans and want to make amends, want to be contributing Canadians, and want to ensure there is a large space between them and those who were victimized so they feel safe, then I think the Parole Board is professional enough that it will make the right decision and conduct the reviews early. For those who want to continue their victimization and behaviour, the bill would give the Parole Board the tools to decide not to conduct reviews until five years later.

That is the purpose and intention of the bill. I sincerely trust that the professionals with Parole Board of Canada will follow the spirit, as well as the letter, of the law.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

June 4th, 2014 / 6:10 p.m.
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NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in favour of Bill C-479 at third reading. As I said just a few minutes ago, we believe Bill C-479, as amended, contains important improvements in victims' rights.

Once again, I would like to thank the member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale for his efforts to bring this improvement to victims rights before the House and to third reading, where it now seems assured to pass.

There are many provisions in the bill which would be of clear benefit to victims. Indeed, some of these have already become a normal part of the practice in the corrections and parole system. However, we agree that it is a good idea to entrench these rights for victims by placing them in legislation.

These rights include: the right of victims or members of their family to be present at parole hearings; the right of victims to have their statements considered by the Parole Board of Canada in its decisions regarding offender release; expanding the manner in which victims' statements can be presented at parole hearings through the use of technology, among other things; and requiring that the communication of victims' information be considered by the board. In other words, the victims would have a right to see what the board has looked at, so they can understand how that decision has been made.

Also, they include making it obligatory to provide transcripts of parole hearings to victims and their families, and making it mandatory to inform victims when an offender is granted a temporary absence, or parole or is released at the end of their sentence.

These are all good things, but there is one area in which we remain disappointed. That is the unwillingness of the government to go further in a very important area. We were surprised to see the government reject an amendment from our side, which would have expanded victims' rights in a proposal that would have allowed victims to choose other means of observing parole hearings than appearing in person.

We believe victims have the right to observe parole hearings by video or teleconferencing if they so choose. Strangely, with the way things work right now, victims only have the right to observe those hearings by video or teleconference if Correctional Service Canada has banned them from appearing in person.

It is a strange quirk in the rules. If victims have made threats or been disruptive and Correctional Service Canada says that they cannot attend the parole hearings, they are then allowed to attend by videoconference or teleconference. We believe this right should be extended to all victims.

There are many good reasons why any victim might not want to make use of the right to observe in person. Some victims would prefer not to be in the same room as the offender, whether out of fear or revulsion.

It would also allow those victims who would otherwise have to travel to attend a hearing. Perhaps an offender has been transferred across the country and a hearing is in British Columbia and the victims live in Ontario. If they could attend by video or teleconference, they would not incur travel costs and they would not have to take time off from work.

Hearings far from home have become a problem for many victims. Again, we believe that if we extended them the right to choose to attend by videoconference or teleconference, it would be an important improvement.

We remain concerned about one aspect of the bill, which is the provision that was just mentioned by the member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale in his answer to the question from the parliamentary secretary. This is the provision that would give the Parole Board the discretion to extend the interval between parole hearings for those convicted of very serious crimes.

We have no problem with this provision when it is applied to those serving life sentences. In fact, we proposed to amend the bill to do just that. However, there is a risk that lengthening the discretionary period between reviews for those serving shorter sentences may inadvertently remove incentives for offenders to participate in rehabilitation programs.

In other words, if offenders are told that their hearings have been put off for four years, what would their incentive be, when they are in the corrections institute, to enter into those rehabilitation programs?

Again, for those serving shorter sentences, it may inadvertently increase the number of people who leave custody without supervision upon their warrant expiry. In other words, if they are told that their hearings have been put off for three years and their warrants expire in three years and six months, they would have no incentive. They would not participate and they would get out without any of that very necessary rehabilitation.

How do we avoid that happening? Obviously, we support the bill, because we believe we could avoid that if there were a well-funded Parole Board. The Parole Board would be able to avoid these unintended consequences.

However, we have a Parole Board which is now suffering from restricted funding and so there will be the tendency for the Parole Board to be forced to extend the interval between paroles simply as a question of resources. It will have other things it has to do by law and therefore if the interval allowed, and we call it discretion, is longer, then it will inevitably become longer if it does not have adequate funding. As we have seen with the Conservatives in power, quite often we have underfunding of very important public services, and the Parole Board is one of those.

Finally, we remain concerned with process, and that is the process of making extensive changes to the Criminal Code of Canada and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act through multiple bills proceeding through different paths through Parliament on different timetables. The sheer volume of the changes that have been made by different bills often considered in different committees risk legal errors and omissions as well as unintended consequences. Some bills go to the justice committee, some go to the public safety committee where I sit.

For instance, in the case of Bill C-479, the public safety committee did not have the advantage of seeing the text of the government's victims bill of rights, Bill C-32, and now it will go to the justice committee where the members of the justice committee will not have the benefit of having heard the witnesses and the testimony that we had in the public safety committee on very closely related issues. Again, we think there is a potential problem by having multiple private members' bills as well as a government bill on victims' rights all going through the House of Commons with different paths and different timetables.

This piecemeal approach also means that sometimes important issues never end up in front of the House. What readily comes to mind is the question of how we address other needs of victims other than their needs in conjunction with the legal system.

Therefore, improving victims' rights with regard to the legal system is important. As I said, for that reason we have supported bills like Bill C-42 and the bill in front of us now. However, victims have other important needs like compensation for losses they may have suffered, financial help with time off work, counselling or help with other expenses necessary to get their lives back on track. Neither Bill C-479 nor Bill C-482 have tackled this question and Bill C-32, the victims bill of rights, suggests the answer can be found in simply expanding the rights of victims to restitution.

The problem that we on this side of the House see is that unfortunately very few victims will ever be able to recover anything through the restitution process because of the obvious fact that most offenders have few resources. This was a point that I tried to raise last night in the late night debate on the victims bill of rights. When I tried to put forward the need to discuss a better alternative, which has the potential to treat all victims fairly and equally, I was nearly shouted down in the House. It may have been the late hour that caused some of the rambunctious responses on the other side of the House, but it again illustrates the problem of doing these things piecemeal through the House of Commons.

What I wanted to put forward briefly was the idea that what we really needed was federal leadership on an adequate compensation plan for victims through criminal injuries compensation funds. The Conservatives try to slough this off, saying that it is a matter of provincial jurisdiction. Yet one province, Newfoundland and Labrador, and all three territories, have no such program and in the other nine provinces the criminal injury compensation funds have very low caps on the amount of compensation available to individual victims. In some cases, this is as low as $5,000. If we think about it, $5,000 will not go very far in trying to cover things even like lost wages.

As I said before, no party in the House has a monopoly on a concern for victims, but we sometimes have different approaches to the problem. We have been supportive of these attempts to expand victims' rights through the legal system, but we believe there are other needs of victims that also need equal consideration. As well, we have argued all along that one of the most important things we in the House can do is adopt programs and ensure that corrections programs do not contribute to further victims in the future. A well-funded corrections system is an important part of not having further victims in the future.

Therefore, we are looking for a balance in our approach to public safety, where we can build safer communities through having punishment in place but also having adequate rehabilitation.

As my time draws to a close, let me conclude, once again, by stating the support of the New Democrats for strengthening victims' rights in the legal system. However, I would urge all members to consider the other important issue, the thing that victims also need, which is well-supported programs in order to help them put their lives back in order.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

June 4th, 2014 / 6:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I too congratulate the member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale on bringing forward this legislation and getting it to this stage. I do expect it to pass in the House. The Liberal Party will be supporting the bill at this stage.

I want to draw on a couple of points that were mentioned by the NDP member who just spoke. He indicated there were amendments by opposition members—and very good amendments, I believe—that did not get the consideration that they should have at committee.

I agree with the member that video conferencing for victims was a sensible request. It would reduce cost and reduce stress on victims from having to appear in the same room with an offender. Turning down that amendment was a mistake.

The other point the member raised, which I will also not elaborate on, is that at the end of the day, public safety is key. If offenders, because of the longer time between hearings, find themselves unable to enter a rehabilitation program, that is a dilemma in terms of public safety. It could increase the risk of those offenders reoffending when they get back into society.

Given that the key element of the legislation, namely that the discretion of the parole board to conduct its tasks would not be infringed, it is our intention to support the bill.

The intent by the mover to ensure that victims of crime are considered remains. This was the cornerstone of previous Liberal initiatives and came into strong focus with the 2003 Canadian Statement of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime that was negotiated between federal and provincial governments at that time.

The problem with this legislation, as with many private members' bills coming forward from government members relating to public safety, is the extent to which the government, through Department of Justice lawyers, has had to intervene to amend the legislation to bring it into line both legally and constitutionally.

The trouble begins in part with the statements at the beginning, when the legislation is brought into the House. I see it this way. This legislation was brought in and went to committee. Witnesses came before committee based on the original bill. They were supportive of the original bill because it proposed to do a, b, c, and d in terms of victims rights. After the hearings were over and the witnesses left town—and I have said this with previous bills—legal counsel with either the Department of Justice or Public Safety Canada came in and made a number of government amendments that, in my view, substantially changed the legislation. As a result, the bill has ended up not being the same as it was when the mover of the bill talked about it at the beginning.

Even at report stage, the government is still trying to clean up the bill in an effort to bring it more in line with what is legally acceptable. By my count, the government introduced and passed nine amendments to what was originally a seven-clause bill. This ensured that the legislation would be in conformance with the legal requirements of any legislation.

It should be noted, for example, that the legislation now before the House does reinforce the idea that the requirements for Correctional Service of Canada, or in this case the Parole Board, to disclose certain information to victims related to offenders are not requirements without limitations. The power of the Parole Board to use its discretion has remained with the provisions of the act and within Bill C-479.

One of the concerns that has arisen is the contradictory nature of private members' legislation that is related to the government's tough on crime agenda and that comes from government members. I have raised this issue in the House and at committee. It relates to government members having a somewhat confused agenda. I cannot understand it. My colleague as well previously mentioned that there needs to be more coordination with the government itself in terms of legislation coming forward.

Why does the Minister of Justice not coordinate all these interests and private members' bills in a substantive way? That way, they would perhaps not be in conflict with one another, and the government would also be less likely to see legislation turned back by a superior court.

The principle behind Bill C-479 was to reduce the number of Parole Board hearings to which victims would be subjected. During the course of testimony before the public safety committee, it was emphasized that this legislation was necessary to minimize the re-victimization of victims.

The House needs to understand, and rightly so, that we heard some pretty sad stories from victims before the committee. When they have to prepare victim impact statements, go to a Parole Board hearing—sometimes practically without any notice—and then have to do it again in two years, it is the re-victimization of victims.

However, as members will find out later in my remarks, it appeared that the intent of the bill was to change that period to five years. That did not really happen at all. There is the possibility it could go to five years, but it could also remain at two. It is at the discretion of the Parole Board.

My concern, as I stated earlier in my remarks, is that victims who came before the committee actually believed that it would be five years. It is not so now. It could be two or it could be five or it could be four. It is at the discretion of the Appeal Board. The intent and the stated fact of what the bill would do did not really happen.

However, we then have the contradiction that I also want to mention. The principle of Bill C-483 was to increase the number of Parole Board hearings related to escorted temporary absences, thus creating further hearings to which victims would be subjected.

On the one hand we have a bill that is trying to reduce the number of Parole Board hearings, and on the other hand we have another bill in contradiction to that, trying to stretch them out.

The question victims and victims' organizations should ask themselves is straightforward: since government members speak to each other, why do they not coordinate this in a substantive way so that we have an overall strategy that works in harmony rather than in conflict?

Let me close by saying that my concern with this process is that when the bill is presented, it states one thing, but then, after the witnesses leave town, justice lawyers come in and amend it. We then have a substantively different bill, one that does not do what backbench Conservatives claimed in the first instance it would do. We have seen this on several bills now.

However, there are some good points in the bill. It is a step forward, and at the end of the day we will support it. However, I want to tell victims that it is not all they were told it would be in the beginning.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

June 4th, 2014 / 6:35 p.m.
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Scarborough Centre Ontario

Conservative

Roxanne James ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure today to speak about our government's unyielding determination and commitment to support victims of crime in our country.

As members of the House know, we recently took a big step forward in this regard with the introduction of Bill C-32, the victims bill of rights act. This particular legislation, developed and designed to respond to the long-standing concerns of victims of crime would, for the first time, enshrine in law four important rights: the right to information, the right to participation, the right to protection, and the right to restitution.

In fact, many of the concerns expressed earlier by the opposition parties are actually addressed in this particular bill. It is also historic in that it would transform the way in which the criminal justice system interacts with victims of crime. Quite simply, but also quite profoundly, the victims bill of rights act would ensure victims have a greater voice in the criminal justice system. We are grateful for the support we have seen for that legislation and we look forward to further debate about its many merits.

However, today we are here to discuss Bill C-479, the fairness for victims act. It is yet another example of our government's strong commitment to standing up for the victims of crime. It would build on the significant action we have already taken in this regard, including the victims bill of rights act and many other initiatives put forward since we came to power in 2006.

Not only have we instituted and permanently funded the federal victims strategy, but we have also passed several legislative measures to strengthen the parole process and give a greater voice to victims. Indeed, with the passage of the Safe Streets and Communities Act in 2012, we enshrined in law a victim's right to present a statement at parole hearings and ensured a victim's access to timely information from the Correctional Service of Canada about offenders' transfers.

Additionally, we have put in place measures so that the Parole Board can proceed, with some exceptions, to a decision even if an offender withdraws a parole application within 14 days of the scheduled hearing. Before our changes, a victim would have been inconvenienced travelling to a hearing that did not even take place.

Bill C-479 is also in line with the promise our government made to keep Canadians and their families safe. As ever, we remain focused on tackling crime and creating a fair and efficient justice system. Our government has continually placed the interests of victims ahead of those of criminals, and I would hope that the members opposite will start to support these important measures. I am pleased to hear today in the House that both parties will be supporting it.

I would like to take this opportunity to once again commend the hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale for his tireless work for victims and for bringing this important legislation forward.

As members know, there were some amendments adopted at report stage. We are confident that we now have before us the best legislation possible for the good of all victims. We thank members for their support in getting this legislation to where it is today.

Let us discuss the ways in which it would modernize the Corrections and Conditional Release Act as well as how it would help victims.

First I would like to speak to the changes we have proposed in regard to mandatory review periods for parole for offenders convicted of violent offences, including murder. When such offenders are denied parole, the Parole Board is currently required by law to review their case every two years. This legislation would now extend this period of review from two to five years.

We have also proposed to lengthen the mandatory parole review periods when parole is cancelled or terminated for offenders serving at least two years for an offence involving violence. It would increase this mandatory period to within four years in which the Parole Board must review parole, and for later cancellations the mandatory period would be increased to five years.

Why is this so important to victims? Let us not forget that many of them participate in hearings. If we pause and reflect for a moment and try to imagine the anxiety and distress that victims might feel leading up to the process of a Parole Board hearing, it becomes clear why a longer period of time between these hearings is desirable. Indeed, giving victims a longer period of time in which to rebuild their lives and heal from their ordeals is a reasonable, measured change that we can offer them. When we studied the bill at committee and heard from victims who chose to attend hearings as a duty to honour the lives of the loved ones they had lost, this was one of the most critical changes in their minds.

The bill would also require the Parole Board to take a number of further steps to better accommodate victims and respond to their needs.

For example, it would require the Parole Board to provide victims and their families another means to observe hearings remotely if they have not been permitted to observe in person. Similarly, it would obligate the Parole Board to take into account any victim statements presented, especially when considering what conditions may be appropriate to ensure the safety of the victim. We know, because this government has listened to victims, that many wish to lend their voices in a more significant way during this process. These changes would allow this to happen.

Finally, it would obligate the Parole Board to provide more information to victims. This is important, because here again, we have heard from many victims that they want and need to be more informed about a number of issues that relate to the offender. With this bill, we would have an opportunity to allow for some of this information to be provided where it made sense to do so. For example, if a transcript of the parole hearing were available, it would be provided to the victim, barring third-party information and any portion of the hearing that was not open to observers. Similarly, upon the victim's request, it would also provide information within 14 days of the offender's release, where practical, about the date, location, and conditions of an offender's release on parole, statutory release, or temporary absence, but only when it was clear that there would be no negative effect on public safety.

Simply put, this bill would improve the parole process for the sake of victims, making it more compassionate and responsive. I am proud of our government's track record in supporting victims and their families as they navigate the criminal justice system. We are getting closer to where we need to be. We are a government of action. We have listened to victims and their families and to advocates. We have consulted directly with them and have made sure that their concerns are reflected in the legislation and measures we have introduced. We have listened, and we have acted through the federal victims strategy, through the Safe Streets and Communities Act, through the victims bill of rights act, and now through the fairness for victims act. This bill would help us continue on this path and take one more step toward a system that helps victims heal and rebuild.

I once again would like to thank the members opposite for their support, and I urge all other members in the House to support this important piece of legislation.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

June 4th, 2014 / 6:40 p.m.
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NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to have another chance to speak to Bill C-479. I think this is a very important bill, and I am glad we had a chance to talk about it in committee. I would like to thank the Conservative member who introduced this bill.

The witnesses who appeared before the committee were very interesting. We heard from some victims who, sadly, have been affected by what is going on with the Parole Board and the way parole hearings work. Many of them shared their very personal stories, and there were certainly some touching moments in committee. We also heard from Sue O'Sullivan, the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, who appeared once again to provide her enlightening perspective. We really appreciated that.

The only other witness we should have heard from was a representative of the Parole Board, but unfortunately, the board was unable to testify. That is really too bad because the Parole Board people are the ones who will have to implement Bill C-479 and comply with the new requirements in the Criminal Code. We really missed the Parole Board's testimony in this debate. The committee meetings went well except for the fact that we were unable to get testimony from the Parole Board.

As the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca mentioned, we proposed an amendment, but the Conservatives rejected it. I was quite surprised by that. We proposed an amendment so that victims could observe parole hearings through means other than attending in person. There are various reasons for that. Victims sometimes do not want to be in the same room as a perpetrator or inmate, or they would have to travel to be there. They may have to travel from one end of the country to the other. For example, if the offender is a francophone woman, she could be being held in Joliette because there are not a lot of prisons for women. Meanwhile, the victims might live in Vancouver or New Brunswick. The victims could have to do a lot of travelling.

We therefore tried to present a completely reasonable amendment to resolve this issue. We proposed that victims be able to attend these hearings by videoconference or teleconference. The Conservatives rejected the amendment.

I was surprised by that, particularly since Sue O'Sullivan, the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime and one of our witnesses, had this to say in committee:

Our recommendation is that every victim or family member who wants to attend a parole hearing should have a choice and an option about how they wish to attend. That can be in person, or they may choose to attend by video conference or by another use of technology.

Other witnesses said much the same thing, but I do not want to spend too much time on that. We decided to follow the advice of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime and other witnesses who appeared before the committee. Unfortunately, the Conservatives opposed our amendment. This is a flaw in Bill C-479 that we could have addressed earlier in the debate.

Bill C-479 also responds to certain recommendations made by the former ombudsman for victims of crime and many of the recommendations made by Ms. O'Sullivan regarding the right of victims to attend parole hearings. We are happy to see that.

The NDP supports enhancing victims' rights. We think that is very important. These rights can be enhanced through various channels.

The NDP supports greater victim involvement in the parole process. That is extremely important.

We support a number of the recommendations made by the former ombudsman and the new one, and we are working to make our communities safer. One way to do so is to develop a parole process that enables offenders to safely reintegrate into society, in order to reduce victimization.

That brings me to my next argument. Everything we have here today is good. It is also good that the government has introduced a Canadian victims bill of rights. However, every witness we heard from in committee told us that if we want to reduce victimization, we need to focus on rehabilitation, programs and investments in our prisons. We need to ensure that there are good programs in place and that offenders are not released unless they are rehabilitated and prepared to reintegrate into society.

Reducing victimization also means developing good public safety policies. For example, Public Safety Canada is focusing its efforts on reaching out to kids between the ages of 5 to 18 to prevent them from getting caught in the vicious cycle of crime and street gangs.

The government needs to step up and adopt public safety measures. It should not be cutting essential services, such as rehabilitation services for offenders. It must invest in our youth to ensure that kids do not get caught in the vicious cycle of crime.

One of the witnesses we heard in committee was Arlène Gaudreault of the Association québécoise Plaidoyer-Victimes, who does incredible work in Quebec. She condemned the fact that we did not have enough time to study a whole aspect of victims' rights as important as attending parole hearings. She made a lot of recommendations during her testimony. She thinks we unfortunately did not have enough time to propose amendments or implement them. I wanted Ms. Gaudreault to be heard today in this debate.

Bill C-479 looks good on paper, but money will be needed in order to implement it. People will have to travel in order to attend parole hearings. Unfortunately, the Conservatives voted against our amendment to allow people to attend by means of videoconferencing or other technologies. In addition, because this is a change in the process, additional funds will be needed.

I hope that the Conservative government will follow these recommendations. The parliamentary secretary was very much in favour of this bill, but frankly, the Conservative government has to put up the money.

Massive budget cuts have been made at the Department of Public Safety and in all the departments. I understand that. However, if we want to set up a process for victims, then we must put words into action and invest the necessary money to ensure that victims get the good service they deserve. They have suffered enough. The least we can do is provide them with suitable service.

Again, I am pleased to support the bill of my colleague across the way. I am also very pleased to say that the NDP is in favour of a fair and equitable process for victims.

It is very important to use rehabilitation and reintegration to ensure that there are fewer victims and that our communities are safer for everyone.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

June 4th, 2014 / 6:50 p.m.
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Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with great gratitude and emotion that we come to the final minutes of debate on this bill in the chamber. For me to bring forward these right and necessary changes on behalf of all victims, including, not least, my constituents, has been a great privilege and honour.

As all members of this House know, the process for private members' bills is a long journey. There are many steps and it can take years. This one has been no different.

I am proud that the bill builds upon the good work of ministers and the government since 2006.

I am grateful that the bill builds on the Canadian victims bill of rights that the Prime Minister announced in April, which would provide for victims the tools that a couple of my opposition colleagues said Bill C-479 was deficient of.

I am gratified that the bill would strengthen the voice of victims, provide additional support to victims, and give the Parole Board of Canada the tools it needs to ensure re-victimization is reduced and, in some cases, even mitigated.

I strongly believe all these things are worth fighting for.

I will not belabour the point. I thank all members for their support and interest. Once again, I reiterate three key points. One is that this is about the worst kind of offenders: violent offenders. This is about giving victims a stronger voice and role in the process, something we have heard time and again in public consultations, in letters and emails, and calls. This is about giving the Parole Board of Canada tools.

Please allow me to close, as I have before, with the words of The Hamilton Spectator editorial from March 2, 2012. It sums up the decision before us now, the decision that the victims of Jon Rallo, the victims of Clifford Olson, and the family of Constable Sweet have been calling for, for years.

...the PBC also has a responsibility to victims of crime. For those victims, the parole board is virtually the only source of information about the status of the person who committed the crime against them.... some local victims of crime don’t feel well-served by the board. That must change.

Indeed, that must change. With the vote of this House on Bill C-479 we will be a good part of the way saying it will change.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' business

December 10th, 2013 / 5:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, this is the second hour of debate on this legislation, which was introduced in the last session of Parliament. It is Bill C-479, the fairness for the victims of violent offenders act. I will support this legislation going to committee for consideration and, where necessary, for amendment. I want to underline the fact that Liberals want some amendments to this bill.

Again, the intent of this bill is to provide additional measures for victims of crime, in this case the ability to ensure that victims of violent crime have a greater legislated role in any parole actions related to offenders.

The major elements of the bill are that the bill would extend the period between parole reviews from two to five years for violent offenders who are not granted parole at first or subsequent reviews or whose parole has been revoked. This change would apply only to offenders incarcerated for violent crimes.

Ostensibly, this bill is aimed at relieving the victims of violent crimes or their families from having to attend frequent parole hearings. That is a good intent.

The bill does not alter the rules governing initial parole eligibility. The bill also contains uncontroversial changes that codify victims' rights already recognized and applied in the parole process.

However, the bill's evidentiary basis remains entirely unclear. The rationale for choosing a maximum interval of five years between parole hearings for those denied parole instead of, for example, four, as in the previous iteration of the bill, remains unclear. The impact of extending the maximum time between parole hearings on offender rehabilitation is also unclear. Study at committee would allow members to debate the bill's merits on the basis of evidence from expert testimony.

I would reiterate the concerns expressed by the member for Lac-Saint-Louis with respect to the constitutionality of the legislation. I note that the courts are now beginning to challenge the efficacy of the mandatory minimum sentencing and the manner in which the government has attempted to alter the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to support an ideological agenda based on public fear of criminal activity.

This is another in a long list of private members' bills coming forward from Conservative backbench members. They all may be great in terms of their intent, but these are members of the government, and this is the Criminal Code that we are dealing with. It is a complex, massive code. Coming forward with off-the-wall requests for legislation could jeopardize the very intent of what members want to do with this legislation.

I see members smiling on the other side. This is not a joking matter. We are talking about the Criminal Code of Canada. What is happening on that side of the House is that they are allowing Conservative members to come forward with little private members' bills from their own riding so they can cater to their own power base. Do they not realize that they could, in the process, have a court throw out the legislation and make a victim of the very person we do not want to make a victim? That is the possible consequence.

I will turn to the Correctional Investigator's message in terms of how the government is really dealing with its tough-on-crime agenda. In the beginning of the report, he speaks of the time in 1973 when the first correctional investigator was appointed for federally sentenced inmates. It was a time when there was rioting in prisons. There were burnings and real trouble within the prison system.

He made a point in his report that I want to quote.

He stated:

Today, as my report makes clear, many of the same problems that were endemic to prison life in the early 1970s – crowding; too much time spent in cells; the curtailment of movement, association and contact with the outside world; lack of program capacity; the paucity of meaningful prison work or vocational skills training; and the polarization between inmates and custodial staff – continue to be features of contemporary correctional practice.

He is basically saying that what we are seeing under the government's justice, as it calls it, is moving back to a time that created riots in the prison system in the first place. That is not the answer to dealing with the justice system in a smart way.

With this specific bill, I would request, and will do so at committee, that the member present a list of experts and the evidence they provided, which he referenced in his remarks on May 10 of this year, as to his claim that “this bill has a sound legal and constitutional foundation”.

I will also be requesting that the member provide the evidence upon which this legislation was based. For example, upon what evidence did the member opposite base the determination that a period of five years between subsequent applications is justified? I trust that the member will provide that evidence at the committee.

I make note of the concern, given the recent case of Bill C-489, introduced by his colleague the member for Langley. In the course of second reading of that bill, the member gave the House the assurance that the bill was well drafted and was adequate. He did acknowledge that he was open to amendments, and indeed the elements of the bill were subsequently amended.

With regard to the amendments, there were six amendments to a bill with five clauses. Let me repeat that: six amendments to a five-clause bill. They were moved by members of the government on behalf of the Government of Canada. During this process, a representative of the Department of Justice was in attendance to ensure the amendments accorded with what even the government determined was the need to ratchet back on some of the extreme and likely challengeable features of the member's original bill.

It goes to my point. The government has all these backbenchers over there, but it is not bringing forward legislation in a comprehensive way on an issue as important as the Criminal Code of Canada. I believe we are getting 16 private members' bills on various subjects by members. As this bill clearly shows, it needed to be amended or the Department of Justice knew the bill would be thrown out by a court. The extent would be that it would create new victims as a result of the bill.

In the end, the bill was attempting to institute a mandatory minimum distance for offenders to have to maintain from the dwellings of the victims of specific crimes. It was amended in such a way as to add to the list of locations already in the Criminal Code from which a judge can currently apply a limitation on that of dwelling. We were told the whole intent and purpose of the legislation was so the judge could not use discretion, but the end result was that the ability of the judge to use discretion remains within the code.

In conclusion, we will support the bill going to committee. We will see if there will be amendments.

In closing, I want to underline that while we see some merit in this bill, we would prefer to see legislation from the government after they have talked in their caucus on various proposals in an all-encompassing way, in a way that fits legitimately within the Criminal Code of Canada. We do not want to see it add more risk to what a court might do in terms of challenging that legislation and throwing it out. It should be done in a comprehensive way, rather than these simple bills coming forward to play to the Conservative base.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' business

December 10th, 2013 / 5:45 p.m.
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NDP

François Pilon NDP Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am really pleased to speak to the bill we have before us today, Bill C-479, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (fairness for victims).

This bill is based for the most part on the recommendation made by the former federal ombudsman for victims of crime and seeks to pay special attention to the perspective of victims in the criminal justice process.

Bill C-479 broadens the rights of victims under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. It incorporates into law some of the elements that are already part of the current practice in parole hearings. Some of those elements are in fact consistent with the recommendations made by the former ombudsman in his special report.

Under this bill, victims would have more opportunities to attend parole hearings, and offenders would have considerably less access to reviews.

The NDP, however, is concerned that the bill adds five years to the interval between parole reviews for violent offenders.

This goes against the ombudsman's previous recommendations that this extension apply only to dangerous offenders and those serving a life sentence.

The people working with victims and those working with inmates agree that parole is an essential component of public safety. This change could prevent some offenders from having access to parole and, by extension, deny them the benefits of a supervised release in the community.

This amendment therefore would lead to a situation where many violent offenders would reach the end of their sentence without having had access to supervised release. They would then be out in the community for the first time, fully free and without any supervision at the end of their sentence.

On our side, we work tirelessly to improve the safety of the public. We believe that one way to achieve this goal is to implement a parole process that helps people reintegrate safely, and I emphasize the word “safely”, into the community to reduce victimization and the risk of reoffending.

We also support the victims and their families, and we want to work with them to ensure that in addition to taking legislative action to help them, we also provide them with the services they need.

Instead of focusing on the shortcomings of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act as a whole, this is yet another Conservative piecemeal bill that actually does very little to ensure the safety of our communities.

I will briefly run through the changes, or, more specifically, the amendments, proposed in Bill C-479: the parole review of offenders who are serving a sentence of at least two years for an offence involving violence; the attendance of victims and members of their family at parole review hearings; the consideration of victims’ statements by the National Parole Board when making a determination regarding the release of an offender; the manner of presentation of victims’ statements at a parole review hearing; the providing of information under consideration by the Board to a victim; the cancellation of a parole review hearing if an offender has repeatedly refused to attend, or waived his or her right to attend, previous hearings; the providing of transcripts of a parole review hearing to the victim and members of their family and the offender; and the notification of victims if an offender is to be released on temporary absence, parole or statutory release.

We think that this bill has several good points. That is why we will support it at second reading so that it can be sent to committee.

We also believe that it is appropriate for victims to attend parole board hearings, for example, when it is likely that the offender will return to live in the community where he committed the crime, or when a victim is asking for specific condition to be placed on the offender after release, such as a non-communication order. We also think that allowing victims to attend hearings via video conference or teleconference is a valid point in Bill C-479, especially for victims with mobility problems.

We also want victims and their families to feel that they are really involved the process. However, we must also ensure that offenders have access to appropriate services, whether in the correctional system or the parole system, such as supervised release, so that recidivism rates fall after offenders have served their full sentences.

We do see some weaknesses in Bill C-479, however, and it is important to point them out. For example, an offender who serves a sentence of less than five years might have only one chance at parole under Bill C-479. If his first application is denied, it is quite possible that he will serve his entire sentence without ever having been granted conditional release. This means that offenders will be released at the end of their sentences without any conditions, and more importantly, without the benefit of any rehabilitation or reintegration programs. It goes without saying that this poses a risk to public safety and that such a practice would likely result in higher recidivism rates and therefore an increase in the number of victims of crime.

Society would be better served by the gradual, supervised release of offenders who pose a risk. Such release helps offenders reintegrate into society safely and with the supervision they need to facilitate their reintegration, thereby reducing the likelihood that they will commit other criminal acts. If the Conservative government is truly serious about helping victims and their families, it will provide them with services and reintegrate criminals into society in such a way as to prevent the risk of victimization and recidivism.

In closing, the NDP's message to victims and their families is simple: we support greater victim involvement in the parole process. We also support many of the recommendations made by the former federal ombudsman for victims of crime, as well as his criticisms of Bill C-479.

We are working tirelessly on making our communities safer. Our plan goes beyond the Conservatives' simplistic ideology and really gets to the heart of the problem, rather than just scratching the surface. We want to help victims create a safer process that will reduce the risk of recidivism.

We hope the government will be receptive to the suggestions we will be making in committee.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' business

December 10th, 2013 / 6:05 p.m.
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Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour in the House to speak to Bill C-479, an Act to bring fairness for the victims of violent offenders. I am dedicated and passionate about seeing this bill through because the changes it would bring about for victims and their families are overdue. Today marks one step closer in the legislative process in seeing these changes become a reality.

First, I would like to thank the hon. member for Scarborough Centre, who is also the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety, for her strong support the last time we debated Bill C-479 in the House. In her role, she has been a strong advocate for victims in her community and across the country, and I congratulate her on her work.

The parliamentary secretary, the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Justice were busy this past summer, hearing from victims across the country. We look forward to hearing more from them in the months ahead on the federal government's support for victims.

I am proud that Bill C-479 complements our government's work to support victims and their families from coast to coast to coast.

I would also like to thank and acknowledge the hon. members for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, Winnipeg North, Alfred-Pellan and Abitibi—Témiscamingue for the support they offered in the House to bring this bill to committee. I appreciate their kind words on my intent in bringing forward this bill. While they have raised some points that will be further debated in committee, I have no doubt that their hearts are in the right place.

All of us on both sides of the House should desire to do everything we can to bring about fairness for victims and their families and act on some of the recommendations of the victims ombudsman. Contrary to the member for Malpeque's comments, this bill is not about the Criminal Code, but the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and victims' rights. This is all about that.

I offer special thanks to the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Sue O'Sullivan, for meeting with me and my staff and for all of her advice and support in the development of this bill. Many of the provisions of Bill C-479 stem from the recommendations made by Ms. O'Sullivan and her office. I appreciate and respect the work that she and her team do on a daily basis to advocate for victims. It is tough, emotional and unrelenting work and they do it effectively, professionally and compassionately.

I have also heard from victims. To me, that is the ultimate litmus test of this bill. When they tell me that it will make a difference and that we are on the right track, I know that this makes sense.

Please allow me to conclude this debate at second reading where I began. That is by reiterating my intent in bringing forward this bill. As I have said at each stage of the process, it was an eye opening and heart-wrenching experience at a hearing of the National Parole Board of Canada in the summer of 2010 that led me to introduce this bill. Invited to observe as a guest of my constituents, I witnessed first hand how the system revictimized the people who had already suffered enough for a lifetime. Since that time, I have witnessed many more meetings, all just as gut-wrenching and painful.

Constable Michael Sweet's story and his family's reasonable request to have more information has profoundly affected me as well. Their point is well taken that their father and husband's life was taken from them publicly. The offenders were tried publicly, with all of the evidence being introduced publicly. Victims, their families and all Canadians should have some public assurance that those convicted of violent offences are doing what they can to be rehabilitated and become contributing citizens.

If an act to bring fairness for the victims of violent offenders eases the revictimization of just one family, it will be worth it, but I am convinced that it would do much more.

Merry Christmas. Joyeux Noël.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

October 18th, 2013 / 1:30 p.m.
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Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

moved that Bill C-479, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (fairness for victims), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to be standing here to speak once again to the important amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act proposed in Bill C-479.

First, I would like to acknowledge the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety for their ongoing leadership on victims' rights. The ministers held consultations in every province and territory with victims of crime and their advocates over the summer months. While these consultations were held to discuss the government's intention to introduce a victim's bill of rights, the input gathered is relevant today because one of the things that came across loud and clear is that victims of crime want increased participation in the criminal justice system. That is what Bill C-479 is all about and I am proud that this bill would build on the good work of the ministers and this government since 2006.

In a nutshell, there are two key components to the fairness for victims of violent crime act that I am proposing. The first is strengthening the voice of victims of violent crime and providing additional support to victims in the parole process. The second is to modify parole and detention review dates giving the Parole Board of Canada the option of increasing the time between parole hearings for violent offenders. Both of these purposes work to act on the change that victims, their families and advocates like the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime have urged for many years. It is about time to bring these to fruition.

I want to be clear from the outset, just as we were when we discussed this bill last spring, that we are talking about instances of violent crime. As I have said many times before, I do not think words can ever adequately describe the repulsiveness of these crimes. They are heinous, often calculated and always senseless.

I would like to point again to two statistics from the Sampson report of December 2007, which underscored the alarming trend on violent crime. This report, named after former Ontario minister of corrections, Rob Sampson, cited changing offender profiles. Nearly 60% are now serving sentences of less than three years and have a history of violence. One in six now have known gang and/or organized crime affiliations.

The reason that it is such an honour to be speaking to this bill today is because I do so on behalf of my constituents and, tragically, thousands of Canadians like them and the sacred memory of their loved ones. As I have noted previously in the House, Bill C-479 is the product of an unforgettable experience that constituents of mine allowed me to observe in the summer of 2010. That is when a well-respected couple in my community contacted me and explained what it had been going through for many years at the national Parole Board hearings. After listening to many troubling experiences, I wanted to see first hand what the process was like and, fortunately, the couple also felt it was a good idea for me to witness the hearing and the voice given to victims primarily through the victim impact statement.

When I agreed to attend, I had no doubt it would be a very emotional experience. I was hoping it would also be an educational experience, and it sure was. However, I do not think I could have ever begun to prepare myself for the raw emotion in the room that day, let alone put myself in the shoes of the victim, who had to go through this gut-wrenching experience every time the offender reapplied under the current process, not because the victim was compelled by law but rather by love and justice.

I am certain many of my colleagues have never experienced a national Parole Board hearing, so please allow me to recount the story for them and for the members who were not present at the last debate on Bill C-479.

On the day of the first hearing I attended in the summer of 2010, once in session and the formalities were over, the sister of the deceased victim, my constituent, was asked by the representatives of the Parole Board of Canada to give her prepared statement. She tried hard to be composed, but before even uttering a word my constituent started weeping. The memories of a crime committed over 30 years previous came flooding back and the tears did not stop, understandable due to what the family had endured and still lives with to this very day.

It was a grizzly triple murder. Her sister, niece and nephew had been violently murdered by her sister's husband. After killing his wife, this violent criminal suffocated his two young children, a six-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl. The murderer meticulously concealed the bodies in the waterways around Hamilton, Ontario. The son's body has never been found, nor has his father, the perpetrator, ever offered information on the whereabouts of his remains.

My constituent wrote her first victim impact statement on the eve of the funeral, yet, too often over the years, she and her parents had to attend a Parole Board hearing to ensure that the voices of victims were heard. As with other victims and their families, they felt an incredible burden, a duty as a family. It was the least they could do to honour their daughter, sister, grandchildren, niece, and nephew.

While the evidence for a conviction was very clear and the Parole Board has upheld that, the offender still denies the crime to this very day.

Unfortunately, our federal parole process makes the revictimization of my constituents a frequent occurrence. I watched the family endure the same process again in 2011. Again the triple murderer was denied parole. They were victimized once again this summer with another Parole Board hearing for their sister's killer in Gravenhurst, Ontario, on July 10. I attended with my constituents once again, and I can assure all members of the House that the emotion was no less raw, no less painful this summer than at previous hearings.

My constituent asked the same question of the violent offender in her statement. She asks this question at every hearing: “Why did you kill our family and what did you do with your son?”

She received no response. The offender sat stone-faced. He felt no remorse. This was something that the Parole Board noted carefully in its decision to deny full parole this past July.

However, he may reapply for parole again next year, and we will go through the same set of victim impact statements and the tears and emotion from the family that accompany them.

These circumstances underscore, better than any words could ever do, the intent of my bill when it comes to victim impact statements and the modification of the parole review process.

While these experiences inspired Bill C-479, in researching this bill I discovered in talking to victims' advocates, law enforcement officials, and legal experts that while the provisions in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act may have made sense in 1970s, they no longer reflect modern technology and the respect and dignity our system ought to afford victims today.

From the work my office and I have done in preparation for the introduction of this bill—and, by the way, I give staff thanks for all the hard work that they have done on—and from the experts we consulted, I know this bill has a sound legal and constitutional foundation. I believe it has broad support.

In tabling Bill C-479 last February, I proposed nine changes to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to better protect and support victims of violent offenders.

This bill would extend mandatory review periods for parole. This means that if an offender convicted of a more serious violent offence is denied parole, the Parole Board would have to review the case within five years rather than the current two years.

In cases of cancellation or termination of parole for an offender who is serving at least two years for an offence involving violence, it would increase the period in which the Parole Board must review parole to within four years.

It would require that the Parole Board take into consideration the need for the victims and the victim's family to attend a hearing and observe the proceedings. It would require that the Parole Board consider any victim impact statement presented by victims.

It would require the Parole Board, if requested, to provide victims with information about the offender's release on parole, statutory release, or temporary absence, as well as provide victims with information about the offender's correctional plan, including progress toward meeting its objectives.

As I have said previously in the House, this last point is one of the changes requested by Constable Michael Sweet's family after 30 years of silence. In essence it is the Constable Michael Sweet amendment.

I would like to remind members of Michael Sweet's story so they can understand the family's depth of feeling with regard to these changes.

In the early morning hours of March 14, 1980, brothers Craig and Jamie Munro entered into what was George's Bourbon St. Bistro in downtown Toronto for the purpose of committing a robbery. Both men were high on drugs and armed with guns. At the time, Craig Munro was on mandatory supervision from a penitentiary sentence for a previous gun-related offence.

The brothers gathered all the people inside in one place. However, one of the victims managed to successfully flee. Once out on the street, he flagged down a passing police cruiser. Constable Sweet, who is no relation to me, aged 30 at the time, entered the restaurant and was immediately shot twice. Then began a 90-minute stand-off between the Munro brothers with their hostages, and the police. The police later stormed the restaurant and both brothers were shot and captured.

During the stand-off, Sweet was conscious and slowly bleeding to death. He begged his captors to let him go to the hospital. He had three young daughters and he wanted to see them again at home. While Sweet pleaded for his life, they laughed and taunted him. All three men were transported to the hospital after the police broke in. Craig and Jamie made full recoveries. Constable Sweet died a few hours later of gunshot wounds.

Just like the case of my constituents, the story does not need to end there. Let us make the changes proposed in Bill C-479, changes that have been requested by families, because these two cases I have talked about today are just two of thousands of sad cases. Violent offenders have committed unspeakable crimes. Families have suffered losses that are forever. These victims, these families and our communities should be confident that these offenders are positively progressing toward rehabilitation, and if not, that the Parole Board of Canada has the tools to delay their release.

We can act to respect victims and their families with the changes I am proposing in Bill C-479, changes that have been enacted by other jurisdictions such as California, New Zealand and the U.K.

In closing, please allow me to read into the record once again this paragraph from a March 2, 2012 editorial from my hometown newspaper, The Hamilton Spectator. It states:

...the [Parole Board of Canada]...has a responsibility to victims of crime. For those victims, the parole board is virtually the only source of information about the status of the person who committed the crime against them. ...some local victims...don’t feel well-served by the board. That must change.

That is why I have brought Bill C-479, an act to bring fairness for the victims of violent offenders, to the House. I certainly look forward to discussion on the bill with all members. This would give the Parole Board of Canada the tools that it needs to serve victims better in this country.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

October 18th, 2013 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale for his very moving presentation on the bill, and also to say that we do appreciate his motivations for bringing the bill forward, and I will be saying some more in my own remarks in a few minutes about our support for the bill.

I have one question for the member. Given the throne speech this week, and the announcement by the government that it will be introducing a comprehensive victims' bill of rights, was he personally consulted about the preparation of that bill of rights? Will there be any problem with trying to proceed with his private member's bill at the same time we are having a government bill come forward that deals with many of the same issues?