moved that Bill C-483, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (escorted temporary absence), be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today at third reading to discuss my private member's bill, Bill C-483, the escorted temporary absence act. I firmly believe this bill would provide a good balance between the need to reintegrate prisoners into Canadian society and the need to do everything in our power to keep our streets and communities safe.
Even if we have not been personally affected by crime, it is not hard to imagine the trauma that victims or their loved ones may feel when they learn that the criminals who victimized them have been granted an escorted temporary absence. Regardless of the reason, it is my belief that Canadians want assurances that all possible measures are taken to ensure their safety when the prisoners are in the community. We find these measures in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which outlines the decision-making criteria for escorted temporary absences.
As we have heard in these debates, escorted temporary absences, or ETAs, can be divided into two main categories: those that are obligatory or necessary, as for court proceedings or medical treatment; and those that are for correctional purposes. There is no question that there are circumstances when an inmate must leave a penitentiary for obligatory reasons, such as for court proceedings or medical reasons. In these cases, the releasing authority determines and applies the proper security escorts, up to and including the use of physical restraints. These decisions are for the most part straightforward. Even a high-risk prisoner, for example, must have access to emergency medical treatment when it cannot be provided within penitentiary walls. These types of absence are granted because they are necessary.
It is when we get into the non-obligatory absences, in other words those that are for correctional purposes, that victims become concerned about how decisions are being made to allow the inmate to be absent from a penitentiary. The decision to send an inmate outside penitentiary walls for non-obligatory reasons is made using greater discretion, taking into consideration among other factors whether the absence would contribute to the goals outlined in the inmate's correctional plan.
Today, decisions on escorted temporary absences for inmates serving minimum life sentences are authorized by the penitentiary warden. However, some of them require the approval of the Parole Board of Canada, based on the scheme outlined in the Criminal Code. To be clear, minimum life sentences are imposed for first degree and second degree murder, as well as high treason.
The current ETA scheme for inmates convicted of these offences works as follows. For inmates serving minimum life sentences, the Parole Board must approve the ETA from the start of the sentence up until the time of day parole eligibility. Once at day parole eligibility, the Correctional Service of Canada takes over as the sole releasing authority. For those inmates who committed murder before they turned 18, the Parole Board must approve the ETA from the start of the sentence up until the expiration of all but one-fifth of the specified number of years that the inmate is to serve without parole eligibility. Once at the one-fifth mark, Correctional Service Canada becomes the sole releasing authority.
Over the past several years, our government has made a number of legislative changes that give victims a larger role in the corrections and conditional release system. Of note, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, which came into force in 2012, enshrined in law the entitlement of victims to attend parole hearings and to make a statement, and it expanded the definition of who can be considered a victim. Measures like these have contributed to a greater public understanding of the decision-making process surrounding the conditional release of federal offenders. It only stands to reason that victims of crime want every opportunity to make their views known and have their safety considered.
Bill C-483 builds on these efforts, and responds to calls from victims who want the Parole Board to remain the releasing authority for all temporary absences, regardless of when an inmate becomes eligible for parole. Shifting decision-making authority for ETAs to the Parole Board after an inmate reaches day parole eligibility would address victims' concerns. As members of this House know, the bill has received thorough examination in committee, and, as mentioned earlier, the objective of the bill is to provide the Parole Board with greater decision-making authority for ETAs for inmates serving minimum life sentences.
To ensure the bill would meet this goal, amendments were passed in committee so that the Parole Board is explicitly named in the CCRA as the decision-making authority for escorted temporary absences after day parole eligibility. Through these amendments and existing provisions within the Criminal Code, the Parole Board would be responsible for ETAs for the duration of an inmate's life sentence.
At the same time, we have also clarified certain conditions relevant to this authority. For example, if an inmate reaches day parole eligibility and successfully completes a rehabilitative ETA, authority would move to Correctional Service Canada to grant all future escorted temporary absences. At that point, if an inmate breaches any conditions of a subsequent escorted temporary absence granted by Correctional Service Canada, this decision-making authority would revert back to the Parole Board.
Complementary to this, we have moved an amendment to limit the authority of an institutional head of Correctional Service Canada to authorize ETAs to inmates serving life sentences imposed as a minimum punishment. As a further measure to keep the Canadian public safe, the amended bill now states that Correctional Service Canada has authority to cancel all ETAs, including those authorized by the Parole Board if deemed necessary. This particular amendment would ensure that if an inmate's behaviour changes or if there is an issue within the penitentiary that prevents the ETA from taking place, Correctional Service Canada can make the decision to cancel the ETA.
Taken together, these amendments would ensure that the bill meets its intended objective. I ask all members of the House to support this bill as amended, and ensure its swift passage.