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An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (escorted temporary absence)

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

Dave MacKenzie  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.

This enactment amends the Corrections and Conditional Release Act in relation to escorted temporary absences of offenders.

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 28, 2014 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
May 7, 2014 Passed That Bill C-483, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (escorted temporary absence), as amended, be concurred in at report stage.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

May 26th, 2014 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

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.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

May 26th, 2014 / 11:15 a.m.
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NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak today in support of the member for Oxford's private member's bill, Bill C-482. On this side of the House, we share the concern of all Canadians for the victims of crime and we support initiatives that will help to better support those victims within the legal process, which for victims can often be bewildering and often forces them, on a repeated basis, to relive the emotional impacts of victimization. Therefore, anything we can do to make that legal process easier for victims, while allowing them to have that input, is certainly something worthy of support.

However, on this side of the House, we are also concerned about assistance to victims of crime in helping put their lives back together. We have some concerns that the private members' bills that have come forward, and even the government's victims bill of rights, neglect that part of treating victims fairly, that assistance to them in getting counselling or whatever else they need to get back to whatever they can of their previous life.

Some of this is in provincial jurisdiction, but I am concerned that most provinces have severely underfunded their victims' compensation funds and in some of the provinces, including all the provinces in the Atlantic, these funds have actually been eliminated. Examples of assistance that people might need, let us say if they had a loved one murdered who was the sole breadwinner, are job training to get back into the workforce or those kinds of assistance that we often forget about in focusing on the legal process, which is important. However. there is another side to this.

On this side of the House, we are also concerned that we take measures to ensure we do not create new victims, and that means both effective crime prevention and rehabilitation programs.

We understand the concern that many victims have about escorted temporary absences. We know that to many of them it feels like some kind of early release or privilege to which the perpetrators are not entitled. Therefore, helping victims better understand the process and participate in that is a worthy objective.

We clearly understand the need to prevent surprise encounters. We have had too many instances where families have not known that someone is actually out on escorted temporary absences and they might run into them in the community, which is a great shock to them. I know Correctional Services Canada endeavours to ensure that this does not happen. This bill would actually strengthen the requirements to give notice to victims of those temporary absences.

There is another concern about escorted temporary absences, which I raised just a moment ago in the question for the member for Oxford; that is the safety of those absences both for the public and for the Correctional Service employees of those who are serving sentences for the most serious crimes.

At committee, we urged the government to place in legislation the requirement that those first escorted temporary absences for those serving sentences for murder be accompanied by two fully trained Correctional Service employees, not just one employee. The most serious problems we have had with escorted temporary absences have always been on early escorted absences for those convicted of murder.

Recently in 2011 in Drumheller, we unfortunately had an incident where a convicted murderer was being escorted by a single corrections staff in a non-secured vehicle. The person escaped and took hostages. This creates both a threat to the public and to the corrections staff involved. We were disappointed that the government was not interested in accepting this additional improvement to legislation.

We did support the bill at second reading, but we had some concerns about the original version of the bill. As I said before, I was pleased that the member for Oxford and the government side were prepared to accept a compromise version of the bill that we had suggested. In its main provisions, the bill is substantially different, although not different in principle, than what was originally introduced.

The member for Oxford talked about the current provision for those convicted of serious crimes in which the warden would become the granting authority for escorted temporary absences in the three years immediately prior to parole. The bill would now create a workable situation where the Parole Board would still have the first authority to decide on escorted temporary absences.

If the bill had remained as in its first version, we were concerned that the Parole Board would conduct all hearings into escorted temporary absences and, frankly, that was not workable. That would have required, in the estimates of officials, an additional 900 hearings at the Parole Board every year, placing a large burden upon the Parole Board and also placing a very large burden upon victims who would have had to submit impact statements at each of those additional 900 hearings.

The compromise that has been adopted will have the Parole Board make that initial decision before escorted temporary absences are granted. Then, if there are no problems, additional escorted temporary absences can be granted by the warden. We think that is quite workable and it guarantees a role in that initial decision for victims.

The other provision is that if people fail in their escorted temporary absences, and it does not have to be a hostage taking, then it would go back to the Parole Board, not just to the warden, for a decision on whether they should be granted future escorted temporary absences. Again, on this side, we think that is a reasonable provision. It will also allow victims to have a say at that time. If people had done something which violated the terms of their temporary absence, then the victims would get to talk about that and make their opinions known.

Again, the compromise is important, both in protecting the rights of victims to have input and in not interfering with the role of escorted temporary absences as part of a rehabilitation program. When we stop to think about it, escorted temporary absences are the first step on that road to recovery for many of those who have been convicted of serious crimes and it is a way of testing whether they are ready to go out into the public. Therefore, is important that they be under supervision the first time they are released.

The second part to rehabilitation is that escorted temporary absences create an incentive to complete rehabilitation programs, an incentive to move along through the correctional plan so when those people return to the community, they are not the same as they were when they originally committed those serious crimes. In ensuring that ETAs still play a role in rehabilitation, we will help to guarantee there will not be future victims by the same perpetrators.

I want to stress that we support Bill C-483 in its compromised version. We thank the government for being willing to consider our ideas on this and adopt that compromise. We look forward to having a further debate on how we can have effective crime prevention and rehabilitation programs to prevent their being future victims. When we get to the government's bill on victims' rights, we look forward to talking about how we can provide additional supports, not just rights, to those families that have been victims of serious crime.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

May 26th, 2014 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand at third reading to further discuss Bill C-483.

As I indicated in my question, I listened to the member for Oxford as he spoke on the third reading of this bill. What he did not say, though, was that this was now a substantially different bill than was originally introduced. I personally believe we are seeing a pattern where backbench members introduce private members' bills with all of these quite out there intentions in terms of protecting victims.

A set of hearings are held on original bills. Quite a number of witnesses come in and make presentations based on original bills. After the hearings are done, the Department of Justice comes in and sometimes makes more amendments than there are clauses in the bill, which means it is a substantially different bill at the end of the day. The victims who have come before the committee, at the request of Conservative members, still believe the bill is in its original intent. However, it is not. Justice has come in and changed the bill substantially.

In my view, to a great extent victims are being misled on what legislation is being implemented here at the end of the day. The original intent of Bill C-483 would have required the full participation of the Parole Board of Canada in virtually all escorted temporary absences for those convicted of either first or second degree murder rather than the warden of federal institutions being responsible for that program.

The targeting of only those convicted of first and second degree murder in this legislation implies that both the number of offenders involved and the likelihood of their early release represents a threat to the community. The information by the promoter of the bill identifies a single case of the release of an offender on the authority of the warden of the institution who had been denied a similar request the year prior. No evidence was provided that the offender in question committed any offence while on temporary release. The legislation as it was originally presented to the House was not supported by evidence indicating an abuse of the escorted temporary release program, which would justify such legislative change.

Even in its current form, it remains to be seen as to what degree the legislation is actually addressing an issue or whether it is an example of the Conservatives playing to their base and creating an issue. If the issue was what was stated in the beginning with this legislation, then why the amendments by the Department of Justice?

As I said earlier, when victims come before the committee, they base their decisions on the original legislation, which in this case is that the Parole Board would have to review all escorted temporary absences. That is no longer the case because the bill has been substantially amended by the Department of Justice after the witnesses presented at the hearings. It certainly does not look at the evidence of the witnesses who came before the committee because the witnesses wanted to go a bit further in many cases.

What evidence has been produced has indicated that ETA program, or escorted temporary absences, as currently structured, basically has a 99% success rate. That has to be said.

Escorted temporary absences are granted to allow offenders to obtain treatment that is unavailable in a penitentiary, to be with critically ill family members, to attend funerals, and to prepare for other types of conditional release. During these absences, an offender is escorted by a Correctional Service Canada staff member or a trained citizen escort.

Offenders are eligible for an ETA at any time during their sentences. The duration of an ETA varies from an unlimited period for medical reasons to not more than 15 days for any other specified reason. Wardens typically authorize ETAs. In certain instances, for offenders serving life sentences, Parole Board of Canada approval is required.

The category of escorted temporary release, as defined above, in 2011-12, involved 2,675 offenders, and for all categories and all offenders it was granted on 44,182 occasions.

The point was raised by some witnesses that the government should be taking control of its justice agenda and should introduce well-thought-out and carefully drafted legislation, rather than using the private members' bill process, which has required government intervention during the committee process to bring the private members' bills into conformity with Canadian law.

As I said, and I really want to emphasize this point at third reading, some 16 private members' bills have been brought forward by backbench members on the government side. We have seen some challenges in the courts to some of the legislation coming out of this place. When witnesses come before committee on various private members' bills, they look at the original bill and everything that is intended to be done by the original bill. The hearing process is based on that.

As I said, there are 16 different bills we have seen or that are yet to come forward.

With respect to this particular legislation, the NDP proposed an amendment. That amendment was based on evidence that witnesses had produced before committee. The Liberal Party also had an amendment, which would have changed the word “may” to “shall”, to make it compulsory for the Department of Justice and the correctional release system to do such and such.

The opposition parties had amendments based on the evidence of witnesses who appeared before committee. What happened at the end of the day? The Department of Justice or Public Safety Canada, somewhere on the government side, or someone within the bureaucracy, decided to make a number of amendments. They are usually made to soften legislation from its original intent and to narrow the focus, so the bill is substantially different. That is the problem I have with the way the government is proceeding with all of these bills, not just this particular bill.

On April 1, the government presented its amendments to Bill C-483 at the public safety committee. That is where my concerns arise.

The government's amendment, however, has undermined the principle of the legislation. It was presented to the House in the third report of the committee. I am running out of time, so I will not go into it, but it is available in the committee record.

The principle of the bill, as the witnesses who appeared before the committee testified, which was that decisions related to the authority to grant ETAs would be removed from the office of the wardens of the institutions and would be placed under the control of the Parole Board of Canada, has been removed from the bill. The intent that all temporary absences be approved by the Parole Board is no longer there. That changes the bill.

We will support Bill C-483, but it has substantially changed.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

May 26th, 2014 / 11:30 a.m.
See context

Scarborough Centre Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to thank my colleague, the member for Oxford, once again for his demonstrated commitment to supporting victims of crime. Whether it is his great work as a member of Parliament or his numerous years as a law enforcement officer, he has spent his life keeping Canadians safe.

It was this member who brought forward the bill we are discussing today, which would further strengthen victims' participation in the corrections and conditional release systems.

As all members of the House know, our Conservative government has taken strong action to support victims of crime. We believe that the criminal justice system must provide victims with an opportunity to have their voices heard.

Since 2006, we have established the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime to provide information on victims' rights and services for victims, to receive complaints, and to raise awareness of victims' concerns among policy-makers and in the justice system. We have also made the rights of victims a priority in our reforms to the justice system and have recently followed through on our commitment in the Speech from the Throne to introduce legislation to create a Canadian victims bill of rights.

Our government is determined to do more and will continue to listen to the concerns being raised by victims. Our commitment is that we will act on victims' concerns to ensure that we provide them with the support they need.

Simply put, an escorted temporary absence is a short temporary release of an inmate into the community under escort. There are two types of ETAs. These are rehabilitative and non-rehabilitative. As it stands now, ETAs for inmates serving minimum life sentences must first be approved by the Parole Board of Canada before being authorized by Correctional Service Canada. This scheme is found in the Criminal Code, which states that the Parole Board of Canada has to approve ETAs for inmates serving minimum life sentences from the start of a life sentence up until he or she reaches day parole eligibility.

Once an inmate reaches day parole eligibility, Correctional Service Canada's authorization of ETAs is no longer subject to the Parole Board of Canada's approval. In other words, if an inmate who is serving a life sentence is never granted parole, Correctional Service Canada remains the releasing authority for ETAs for the remainder of the sentence.

The Criminal Code also states that although the Parole Board has the authority to approve ETAs up until day parole eligibility, Correctional Service Canada has the authority to grant temporary absences for medical reasons, court proceedings, or coroners' inquests at any time in an inmate's life sentence. While the current regime works well in that almost all ETAs are successfully completed, we feel that it is important to consider the position of victims.

Prior to the introduction of this bill, we heard from victims that the Parole Board of Canada needed greater decision-making authority over these types of absences. During the study of the bill, committee members were given an opportunity to hear first-hand how the ETA scheme currently operates and what concerns members of the public have about the current system. Among the witnesses who appeared at committee were victims support groups and victims themselves, who shared their concerns about the current system and questioned why ETA releasing authority is transferred to Correctional Service Canada.

We heard from a witness who said that victims are asking for an open, transparent, and accountable system. On the point of accountability, we heard that the current ETA system does not go far enough in terms of adequate checks and balances. Victims believe that the power to grant ETAs more appropriately belongs within the Parole Board of Canada, through which it is felt there is increased rigour and accountability involved in making these types of release decisions. Our government wholeheartedly agrees.

Bill C-483 would do just what victims have asked us to do. It would give the Parole Board of Canada almost exclusive authority to grant ETAs to inmates who are serving minimum life sentences. That is the primary reason we support this proposed legislation.

That being said, our government felt it was important to introduce amendments at committee to ensure the sound application of the measures laid out in this proposed legislation. We are pleased that two government motions were adopted at committee stage. These motions would work in tandem to give the Parole Board of Canada greater authority over escorted temporary absences. The bill, as amended, would ensure that the Parole Board would maintain decision-making authority for ETAs after an inmate reached day parole eligibility. In other words, the amendment would ensure that decision-making authority for ETAs would not continue to be automatically transferred to Correctional Service Canada once an inmate reached his or her day parole eligibility date.

We have also ensured that Correctional Service Canada wardens would have limited authority to authorize ETAs for inmates serving minimum life sentences. Under the proposed scheme, if an inmate was never granted a rehabilitative ETA, or if an inmate was unable to successfully complete this type of ETA, the Parole Board would remain the releasing authority for the entirety of his or her custodial sentence.

By virtue of our amendments, the only time rehabilitative ETAs would be granted by Correctional Service Canada is if an inmate successfully completed a rehabilitative ETA after day parole eligibility. Only at that time would CSC be able to take over as releasing authority.

Although the proposed scheme would allow ETA releasing authority to be transferred to CSC in limited circumstances, we would also ensure that the authority could revert back to the Parole Board as needed. When would this occur? If an inmate failed to successfully complete an ETA authorized by CSC, releasing authority would go back to the Parole Board.

These amendments respect the spirit of the bill, which is to ensure that the ETA decision-making authority stays almost exclusively in the hands of the Parole Board of Canada. In addition to respecting the intended objective of the bill, the amendments would also ensure legislative harmony between the ETA scheme in the Criminal Code and the scheme we are proposing in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

The ETA schemes in both pieces of legislation would work together to ensure that the Parole Board had greater authority over escorted temporary absences for inmates serving minimum life sentences. The Criminal Code would continue to give the Parole Board authority to approve ETAs from the start of a life sentence up until day parole eligibility. Once at day parole eligibility, the ETA scheme we are proposing in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act would take over and would state that the Parole Board would continue to have decision-making authority over ETAs.

This bill builds on the strong measures we have taken to support victims of crime and to improve our federal correctional system. I hope that all members will support us in our goal to improve the rights of victims, and I ask for full support to pass this bill as amended.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act—Speaker's RulingPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

May 2nd, 2014 / 12:10 p.m.
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Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. member for Malpeque on April 9, 2014, concerning amendments contained in the Third Report from the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security on Bill C-483, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (escorted temporary absence), presented in the House on April 2, 2014.

I would like to thank the member for Malpeque for having raised this important matter. I would also like to thank the government House leader and the House Leader of the Official Opposition for their contributions.

In raising his point of order, the member for Malpeque argued that the amendments adopted by the committee had significantly altered the intent of the bill and that these amendments were not in keeping with the principle of the bill as adopted at second reading. In making his argument, the member referred to the second reading debate, during which the sponsor of the bill had indicated its intent as being to provide the National Parole Board of Canada with the authority to grant or cancel escorted temporary absences for offenders convicted of first or second degree murder. The member asserted that the bill’s main purpose was to remove the ability of institutional heads to grant escorted temporary absences for such offenders.

It was the member's contention that the amendments adopted by the committee, specifically in allowing institutional heads to grant escorted temporary absences once the Parole Board had granted an initial absence, were contrary to the principle of the bill. The member is asking the Chair to declare the amendments in question null and void and to direct that they no longer form part of the bill. The House Leader of the Official Opposition rose in support of the member's point of order.

In his intervention, the government House leader contended that the amendments in question were both consistent with the principle of the bill and within its scope. Several procedural authorities were cited to bolster this opinion. He also noted that the chair of the standing committee had ruled that the amendments were in order and that this ruling should be respected.

The government House leader pointed out that the intent of the bill was to involve the National Parole Board of Canada in granting the escorted temporary absences, which would, in turn, involve the victims by providing them with an opportunity to participate in the hearings during such a process. The new provision, in his view, meets that requirement.

Before addressing the particulars of this point of order, I would like to remind the House of the Speaker’s authority in dealing with a report on a bill containing inadmissible amendments. House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, states at page 775:

The admissibility of...amendments...may therefore be challenged on procedural grounds when the House resumes its consideration of the bill at report stage. The admissibility of the amendments is then determined by the Speaker of the House, whether in response to a point of order or on his or her own initiative.

I have examined the third report of the standing committee, as well as Bill C-483, both in its first reading version and in the reprint containing the committee's amendments. The intent of Bill C-483, as stated in the summary to the first reading copy of the bill, is as follows:

This enactment amends the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to limit the authority of the institutional head to authorize the escorted temporary absence of an offender convicted of first or second degree murder.

The amendment to clause 1 of the bill restructures the bill so that the provisions with regard to the National Parole Board of Canada are removed and later inserted in the subsequent new clause 1.1.

New clause 1.1 of the bill provides that the National Parole Board of Canada is involved in the granting of the initial escorted temporary absence. This process would be very similar to the original provisions previously contained in clause 1. The key difference is a new paragraph that the amendment also added, which provides that:

If the Parole Board of Canada authorizes the temporary absence of an inmate under subsection (1) for community service, family contact, including parental responsibilities, or personal development for rehabilitative purposes and the temporary absence is not cancelled because the inmate has breached a condition, the institutional head may authorize that inmate’s subsequent temporary absences with escort...

This would mean that once the authority is granted by the National Parole Board of Canada for an escorted temporary absence, it remains in place unless it is cancelled. The institutional head may grant subsequent escorted temporary absences only if the original authority from the National Parole Board remains in place. If conditions are breached and the absence is cancelled, authority must be sought anew from the National Parole Board of Canada.

This appears to me to limit the authority of the institutional head in this regard. Escorted temporary absences must still be authorized by the National Parole Board of Canada. What appears to be different in this new provision is the frequency with which authorization must be sought. I can see nothing in the bill as amended by the committee which would alter the aims and intent of the bill, namely the limiting of the power of institutional heads to grant escorted temporary absences and providing a role for the National Parole Board in the granting of such absences. Therefore, I find that the amendments adopted by the committee are indeed in keeping with the scope and principle of the bill as adopted at second reading and are, therefore, admissible.

Accordingly, the House may proceed with its study of the bill as reported from the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.

I thank the House for its attention.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

February 7th, 2014 / 1:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, thank you for this opportunity to continue to speak in the House today in support of Bill C-483, the private member's bill that proposes to amend the current scheme for escorted temporary absences. Bill C-483 proposes to grant the Parole Board almost exclusive decision-making authority for escorted temporary absences.

Ultimately, the goal of Bill C-483 is to give the Parole Board greater authority over escorted temporary absences for murderers. Our Conservative government is pleased to support the efforts of the hon. member for Oxford.

Investing in crime prevention efforts, holding prisoners accountable, supporting and protecting victims of crime, and providing opportunities and programing that help prisoners move away from criminal behaviour and become productive, law-abiding citizens are the elements that help form a strong foundation on which we can build safer communities.

The message in the most recent Speech from the Throne was clear: Canadians expect safe and healthy communities in which their children can play safely and in which our most vulnerable citizens can feel safe when they walk down the street.

Canadians deserve no less than our full attention to these issues. That is why we continue to push ahead with a number of initiatives and measures that support victims.

We have recently announced the coming into force of the Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act, which holds prisoners more accountable to victims by doubling the victim surcharge that prisoners must pay.

We intend to introduce legislation to create a victims' bill of rights, which will enshrine victims' rights in law and give them a greater role in the criminal justice system. Bill C-483 will add to our efforts to address victims' concerns.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

November 21st, 2013 / 5:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

moved that Bill C-483, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (escorted temporary absence), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to thank Kim Hancox-Spencer for all of her time, patience and help in getting this bill to this stage.

It is my honour to rise today and have an opportunity to speak to my Bill C-483 and highlight our Conservative government's strong action to support victims of crime. Our Conservative government has worked to re-establish Canada as a country where those who break the law are held accountable for their actions, where sentences match the severity of crimes and where the rights of victims come before the rights of criminals. We believe that victims must be at the heart of the criminal justice system.

Since 2006, we have provided more than $120 million to respond to the needs of victims of crime. The Safe Streets and Communities Act, one of our first bills after forming a majority government, was a significant accomplishment, one that further strengthened support for victims. For example, the Safe Streets and Communities Act provides the Parole Board of Canada and Correctional Service Canada with additional authority to give information to victims.

The Safe Streets and Communities Act brought about meaningful changes in the lives of victims by ensuring that the concerns of victims were taken into account in parole hearings. Victims have consistently called for greater fairness and a greater voice in the criminal justice system. This imbalance between the rights of offenders and the rights of victims was also noted in a report released in 2010 by the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime.

Our government has listened and we continue to take action to support victims of crime. We have announced our plan to bring forward legislation to create a victims' bill of rights, one that will enshrine victims' rights in federal law—

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

November 21st, 2013 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I think if the member for Malpeque would just wait for a couple of seconds, he will understand.

This commitment was recently reaffirmed in the Speech from Throne, which noted that our government will introduce a victims' bill of rights to restore victims to their rightful place at the heart of our justice system.

Indeed, these are all important steps. We are pleased with the progress we have made. We are taking the necessary steps to reshape the criminal justice system into one that is more responsive to the needs of victims. That is why I introduced the bill before us today, which would build upon the previous measures introduced by our government.

Bill C-483 proposes to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act as it relates to escorted temporary absences for offenders convicted of first- or second-degree murder. The bill is consistent with our commitment to ensuring that the needs of victims and victims' families be considered when correctional officials make decisions affecting a prisoner's release. An escorted temporary absence would allow a prisoner to leave prison for very short periods of time, for very specific reasons. As the name implies, the inmate is escorted for the duration of the absence by law enforcement, possibly a sheriff or a correctional officer.

I would like to take a few moments to briefly outline the current structure for escorted temporary absences, as set out in the Criminal Code.

With the exception of specific situations I will mention in just a moment, the Parole Board is the releasing authority on escorted temporary absences for all those serving indeterminate sentences, from the start of their sentence up until they reach day parole eligibility. For those sentenced to a minimum sentence of life imprisonment, eligibility for day parole occurs three years prior to eligibility for full parole.

The exception to this is the escorted temporary absence for medical reasons, judicial proceedings, or a coroner's inquest, which can be authorized by the Correctional Service of Canada at any time in the sentence. Once those serving an indeterminate sentence reach day parole eligibility, the Correctional Service of Canada then becomes the releasing authority for escorted temporary absences, and so remains until the time the offender is conditionally released into the community.

That is the current scheme. I would now like to take a moment to examine what Bill C-483 proposes to do.

The bill proposes to grant the Parole Board of Canada authority for the full length of the sentence to grant or cancel escorted temporary absence for offenders convicted of first or second degree murder.

The exception to this would be that the Correctional Service of Canada would retain the ability to authorize escorted temporary absences for medical emergencies. This would mean that the wardens of federal prisons would no longer have authority to grant temporary escorted absences to inmates convicted of first- or second-degree murder, except in a medical emergency.

Instead, the authority would rest with appointed Parole Board of Canada members, who are accountable for their decisions.

As I have previously noted, for some victims' families, the decision-making authority of wardens to grant escorted temporary absences to murderers has been a matter of great concern. There are several reasons for this, including the decision-making process, access to hearings, a victim's right to make a statement and access to decisions.

I will briefly touch upon each of these reasons.

When a decision regarding an escorted temporary absence is made by the Correctional Service of Canada, no hearings are conducted, as decisions are made on an administrative basis by institutional heads. In contrast, when decisions by the Parole Board of Canada are made, hearings are conducted until the first escorted temporary absence has been approved, and further hearings can be held at the Parole Board's discretion.

Given the administrative nature of decisions made by the Correctional Service of Canada regarding escorted temporary absences, victims and the public are not granted access to the decision-making process.

However, when the Parole Board of Canada conducts a hearing, a victim or a member of the public who applies in writing is permitted to attend as an observer at a hearing where their attendance would not disrupt the hearing, present security concerns, adversely affect the person providing the information to the Parole Board, or adversely affect the appropriate balance between the public interest in knowing and the offender's application.

Furthermore, under the power of the Correctional Service of Canada, not only is there no right for victims to attend the decision-making process, they also have no right to make a statement when decisions are made for an offender's escorted temporary absence. When the Parole Board of Canada conducts a hearing on an escorted temporary absence, the victim may present a statement. The victim may comment on the harm or damage that has resulted from the offence and its continuing impact, including concerns for his or her safety, and on the possible release of the offender.

Even if the victim does not attend, the Parole Board of Canada has the option to allow the presentation of a statement in an alternative format therefore still allowing the victim's voice to be heard.

Finally, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act does not require the Correctional Services Canada to maintain a registry of its decisions therefore limiting access to information for the victim and accountability to the public. However, the Parole Board of Canada must maintain a registry of its decisions and decisions rendered by the Parole Board under section 746(1) of the Criminal Code along with the reasons for its decisions.

An individual who demonstrates an interest in a case, may, on written application to the Parole Board, have access to the contents of the registry related to that case. This request is balanced out in order to ensure that no information is disclosed of which could reasonably be expected to jeopardize the safety of any person or reveal the source of information obtained in confidence. This allows the victim to access not only the decision on an escorted temporary absence but also the reasons for its approval or refusal.

As we can see, there are flaws in the current system that result in a non-accountable and inaccessible system and hinder the rights and voices of victims.

Through my private member's bill, I want to ensure that proper measures of transparency and access are in place for all individuals affected by temporary absences, including the victims. It is also our firm belief that the decisions of the Parole Board of Canada should be respected in letter and spirit as it is an institution that is accountable to all Canadians. I believe the bill is a step in the right direction in this regard.

As I conclude, I would reiterate our government's strong commitment to keeping our streets and communities safe and to a fair and efficient justice system that supports the rights of victims. I hope we can count on the support of the NDP and the Liberals for this common sense measure.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

November 21st, 2013 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak on Bill C-483, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act with respect to escorted temporary absence. The bill has been brought forward by the member for Oxford, I think with very good intentions, but as is often the case, I have many reservations about these kinds of private members' bills.

My first concern is that the bill is part of a pattern we have seen in this Parliament of the introduction of bills that more properly ought to be government bills. Government bills differ from private members' bills in many ways. One of those is in how much scrutiny and how much debate they receive in the House. An even more important way they differ is in the kind of scrutiny they receive before they even arrive in the House. Therefore, as a private member's bill, Bill C-483 escapes any scrutiny with regard to its conformity with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

My concern here is not just about the protection of fundamental freedoms, although I do have that concern, but it is also about the stability and certainty we need in our legal system if we want to make sure that the rule of law can actually function. If we pass measures that are likely to be eventually overturned in the courts, or even if the outcome of this measure is endless litigation, then we add a significant challenge to our legal system. How can people know what the law is? How can even defence attorneys or prosecutors be certain that the actions they are taking will actually end up being upheld in court? Without that kind of scrutiny, when something comes forward as a private member's bill, we risk creating instability in the legal system over the long term.

My second concern is that we have had a large number of private members' bills introduced, which were actually government bills masquerading as private members' bills, and they all sought to amend the Criminal Code and/or the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, piecemeal. What we have is a number of different bills making a number of different changes to a very complex Criminal Code and a very complex Corrections and Conditional Release Act. Therefore, quite apart from the dangers of inadvertently adopting contradictory provisions as we deal with these bills, we have another problem. We have a certain danger that we will adopt changes to the Criminal Code or the Corrections and Conditional Release Act without waiting to see the results of the preceding bills that we have already adopted. We have not even seen what has happened or what is going to happen with some of the changes we have already made, and now we are changing the bills yet again. It raises a problem with rule of law. It raises a problem with knowing the certain consequences of what we are doing here in the House.

My third concern is that the ideas for these Conservative private members' bills are often ripped from sensational headlines. They are based on cases that, by their nature, outrage or concern the public and all of us. They forget that these cases, which are so outrageous and sensational, are often news precisely because they depart from the norm, because they are outrageous and unusual.

Therefore, in attempting to fix the law based on the exceptions that are represented by these extreme cases, we do run the risk of throwing out the baby with the bath water. We may have some things that are operating, as in the case of escorted temporary absences, with a 99% success rate, so we focus on the 1%. These cases are tragic and probably could have been prevented through some other means, but we throw out the whole system, which has been working very well to help rehabilitate people and get them back into society successfully.

I acknowledge that the bill does attempt to address two real concerns. One is the sensitivity of the families of victims of murder when they see someone who has been convicted of this very serious crime released from custody, even if only on a temporary basis. That is something we are sensitive to on this side of the House. It is something we feel needs to be addressed.

The other concern that is real is the safety of escorted temporary absences, both for the public and for corrections staff. The bill, unfortunately, does not really address that concern in its provisions.

For those reasons, New Democrats will be supporting Bill C-483 at second reading. There are legitimate concerns here and we think that in committee we can find the right measures to address these concerns. What we have to do is make sure we do not confuse escorted temporary absences with parole. On the other side, there is an unfortunate tendency to use a phrase that describes escorted temporary absences as “parole by the back door”. The previous minister was very fond of talking about this. Escorted temporary absences are not a form of parole. They are a way in which we test whether offenders are ready for staged and supervised reintegration into the community.

The way we find out whether they handle increased freedom and the way we can find out how they react to being out of custody is through escorted temporary absences when there is someone with them to observe and prevent the negative consequences that might occur. As I said, it is about the staged and supervised reintegration into society that is the real purpose of escorted temporary absences.

This leads me to something the member for Oxford did not mention, which is public safety. He talked about victims quite sincerely, and I believe that. I share that concern, but there is another concern here about not having future victims. We need to have a corrections system that functions to ensure we reintegrate people into society and we do not create problems for other families in the future.

There is a wide range of reasons why escorted and unescorted temporary absences are granted to those in custody. This bill would not affect most of those, but it is important to note how these temporary absences are used. They are often used for rehabilitation programs, including drug and alcohol treatment which is not available in the institution the person is in. This is a particular concern with the very large number of people that we have in our prisons with alcohol and drug addictions.

The temporary absences are also used for significant family events, like terminal illnesses or funerals. They are also used for interesting things that people might not think about, like job interviews for positions after release from prison. If we want people successfully reintegrated into society and they are in prison, how can they get a job? An escorted temporary absence to a job interview might be an important part of that reintegration into society.

Sometimes the absences are used for training that is not available in prisons. When people get out, they need skills to earn a living, support themselves and not be a further burden on the public. Sometimes these temporary absences are in structured situations where people get the training they need. Again, this is very important to public safety after they get out of prison.

There are a wide variety of legitimate reasons which, in fact, contribute to public safety and prevent future victimization by preparing inmates for more successful reintegration into all of our communities upon their release.

What am I worried about in the bill? I am worried about the proposed solution. It is not the concerns. As I have said, we share those concerns. However, as I asked the member for Oxford earlier about the proposed solution, can the Parole Board actually deal with each and every application for an escorted temporary absence from nearly 3,000 inmates in custody at the present time? Do we have the personnel to do this? Do we have the financial resources?

The Parole Board, as I mentioned in my question, now has a backlog of 20,000 pardon applications. It has said that it will not clear these applications until the end of 2015. It has had to hire 1,000 temporary workers to try to attack the problem of pardons.

Why are pardons important? Pardons are important because they are the way that people can get employment after they have completed their sentences and want to be reintegrated into the community. That pardon part, of course, does not apply to those convicted of murder. There is no such thing in Canada. Life in Canada actually means life under supervision.

The Parole Board is already dealing with these other applications and it has had its budget cut by $3 million in this current fiscal year.

It is important to remember that the Correctional Service of Canada reports that 99% of temporary absences are completed successfully.

There was a letter published in the Montreal Gazette in July, when this bill was introduced, written by Peter Huish, who is the Chaplain-Coordinator of the Montreal area. He is the person who organizes work with those who are being released from prison and he has a very intimate knowledge of what happens with both escorted and unescorted temporary absences. In his letter, he emphasized the “significant contributions to effective eventual parole” that escorted and unescorted temporary absences play in our system. This is someone who works with offenders every day, in and out. He also emphasizes that the vast majority, in fact almost all, of these are successfully completed.

What do we need to ensure that the small number are successfully completed? The corrections system needs more resources for the security reviews that the wardens rely on before making those decisions.

What do need to ensure that those escorted temporary absences are safe for the public and the corrections staff? We have had a reduction of resources, meaning that many times, an offender who would need two people on the escorted absence, because of the complexity of the absence or travel involved, is instead escorted by a single corrections officer. Therefore, it is a question of resources in the corrections system that would take care of most of the security.

We on this side do share the concerns that families of victims have about escorted temporary absences. We share the concerns that corrections officials have about single accompaniment in these absences. In committee, we will be proposing that this bill be amended significantly. We need to hear from victims. We need to hear from those who work with offenders.

We believe a solution may be found in having the Parole Board make the initial determination on whether an offender is eligible for temporary absences, then leaving the specific decisions on individual absences to the wardens. This would allow victims to be heard in the parole system, as the member for Oxford suggested. I hope he is willing to consider that this may be the solution to the problem he is trying to solve without placing that undue burden on the Parole Board and without inadvertently eliminating an important part of our system, which helps reintegrate prisoners into society.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

November 21st, 2013 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I usually say that I am pleased to speak on a bill, but if I am being honest, I am not really pleased to be speaking on Bill C-483 in the fashion it has come forward. My colleague who just spoke mentioned some of those areas.

When the member for Oxford started off, he gave a great rendition of the Safe Streets and Communities Act and the government's tough on crime agenda and all of that. It sounds wonderful when it is talked about that way. However, what are we doing dealing with all these private members' bills coming up one by one? Where is the discussion within the government caucus? Do they not discuss these matters?

I mean, we are talking about the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. We are talking about very complicated pieces of legislation.

My colleague who spoke earlier talked about the different rules for private members' bills, and it is true. With this kind of mishmash of private members' bills coming forward from the Conservative backbench, we could be complicating the justice system and could end up with results we do not want.

I have a list of private members' bills. There are some 16 related to the Criminal Code that are all coming forward as private members' bills. Let us be honest. Why are they using these bills, like this one from the member for Oxford? It is a real concern. I agree with the concern in terms of the victims, but why is it not coming forward as a comprehensive piece of legislation from the Government of Canada?

Is what we are really seeing from members on the backbench over there, in collusion with the government, a bit of a farce? Are Conservatives having private members come up with bills so they can tout what they have done for victims at home?

The parliamentary secretary got up a moment ago, and it sounds as if she is fully in favour of this proposal. Well, why did it not come forward as a piece of government legislation? This parliamentary secretary is close to the minister. Why did it not come forward as a well-thought-out piece of legislation?

My concern is with the process. If this place is going to work effectively, then the government itself should come forward with legislation such as this in a well-thought-out fashion that is comprehensive, not piecemeal.

I am getting a little heckling, but it is all right. They can heckle, because I know that sometimes the truth hurts.

I think that is what we are seeing from government backbench members in collusion with the government. They are bringing forward bills so they can showcase themselves at home on all they are doing for criminal justice, when really, the government has failed in its responsibility to do it in a comprehensive way.

In terms of this particular bill, we will, regardless of what I have said, support it going to committee for examination. It is our expectation that we may be able to get some answers from the member for Oxford at those committee hearings.

On the issue of severely limiting the ability of individual wardens to grant such temporary releases, I think the committee process will enable us, as members, to raise questions and allow the member to provide evidence to demonstrate a clear need that requires such legislative changes.

My colleague who spoke before talked about the victims, and the member for Oxford talked about the victims. I know that he tries to paint us as not there for victims and being there for the offenders. Nothing could be further from the truth. However, how can it be done in a way that actually enhances public safety and protects the interests of victims?

We are certainly not as likely to do it in this piecemeal approach that we see by the Government of Canada. This is not really a private member's bill. It is a Government of Canada bill by the back door.

The targeting of only those convicted of first and second degree murder in the legislation implies that both in terms of the number of offenders involved and the likelihood of their early release represents a threat to the community. Is that the case? I am asking the member upfront now. Could he provide us some evidence in that regard? We need to hear it.

I have not heard any evidence. I raised this question. Could the member provide us with evidence where offenders have indeed committed an offence when they are released under the escorted temporary release? He did not answer that question. He just went on his attack that we did not like victims. It is not the way to do legislation.

There is no argument that the temporary release programs for all offenders must be well managed and that only those offenders who have met a certain set of criteria should be eligible for such a program. I really do not disagree with the member that the victim's family should have a right to be heard, but I do not necessarily agree that this is the way to do it.

The legislation, as I have said, is not supported by evidence indicating an abuse of the escorted temporary release program, which would justify these kinds of legislative changes.

What remains to be seen is to what degree the legislation is actually addressing an issue, or whether, as I indicated earlier, it is an example of the Conservative Party playing to its base and trying to create an issue. That seems to be where we are at.

The government members had the opportunity in 2011 to seek amendments such as this in Bill C-10, the so-called Safe Streets and Communities Act, but they failed to bring them forward at that time and they certainly failed to bring forward all these other 16 that are on here that are private members' bills. Why was it not done in a comprehensive way?

What C-10 did provide for, according to the legislative summary, was for “The Commissioner of the CSC, Correctional Service Canada, to make rules regarding the circumstances in which the institutional head may authorize escorted temporary releases and work releases”.

Even the former minister of public safety appeared content with the new restrictions imposed with respect to temporary absences when he testified before the justice committee on October 6, 2011, not that long ago.

The question remains this, and I asked the member to come forward to committee with this: what significant public safety issue is being addressed with Bill C-483? Is there any?

I will not go through all the areas for which escorted temporary releases are granted, but indeed, as others before me have said, we are concerned about the families and we have to find a way of addressing that. However, I do not think the approach to find the way to address that is to haphazardly, through private members' bills, change the Corrections and Conditional Release Act or the Criminal Code. It needs to be done in a more comprehensive way.

We just dealt with a private member's bill at committee. It was amended extensively. That work should have been done by the Department of Justice. It should have been done by the government as a whole, showing leadership to make the criminal justice system better in terms of protecting victims' rights and enhancing public safety.

That is my concern, that we are seeing these private members' bills come forward as if they are playing a game when the real issue is, yes, victims' rights and public safety, and the government should be showing the leadership to do so.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

November 21st, 2013 / 6:05 p.m.
See context

Scarborough Centre Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin my remarks by once again thanking the member for Oxford for bringing forward this common sense proposal.

His law enforcement background clearly provides a wealth of experience, which contributes to practical solutions to keep Canadians safe. His efforts with the bill would give a voice to victims and their families. Victims have long demanded that more be done to ensure that their rights come before the rights of criminals. Giving victims a stronger voice is a key priority for our government, something we clearly laid out in the Speech from the Throne.

Since we were first elected in 2006, our Conservative government has taken steps to end the imbalance created in our justice system by the previous Liberal governments, which replaced bars with a revolving door. Shockingly, Trudeau-era solicitor general, Jean-Pierre Goyer, said that they have decided from now on to stress the rights of criminals rather than the protection of society. That is shameful.

Is it any surprise that the victims of crimes and their families have felt that they are an afterthought in the current justice system? Unlike the Liberals, our Conservative government has listened to the concerns of victims and we have clearly acted. We have pushed ahead with common sense reforms to right these past wrongs. We have done so because we believe that victims have a role to play at the heart of the justice system. Strengthening the justice system to support victims of crime requires us to tackle the issue of crime from all angles, and this is exactly what we have done. We have made significant investments in crime prevention programs to keep at-risk youth out of gangs, and we are providing police with the tools and resources they need to do their jobs.

In many cases, helping our police means bringing in new laws that give them improved powers to investigate crimes, make arrests and keep criminals off the streets for appropriate amounts of time. We have passed laws to ensure that those who break the law are held accountable for their actions, where sentences match the severity of the crimes committed. We have also brought in a number of measures that emphasize offender accountability, from enshrining correctional plans into law to ensuring prisoners cannot withdraw their parole application at the last minute, and ensuring that prisoners are paying for their own room and board.

While I could speak for hours about all of our Conservative government's accomplishments, the bill we are here to talk about today relates to escorted temporary absences from prison. More specifically, it is about ensuring that only the Parole Board of Canada has the power to release prisoners except in very limited circumstances.

Currently, for prisoners serving indeterminate sentences, the authorization for ETAs, or escorted temporary absences, falls either to the Correctional Service of Canada, CSC, or the Parole Board of Canada, depending for the most part on how much of his or her sentence a prisoner has completed. Aside from some minor exceptions, the Parole Board is typically in charge of approving escorted temporary absences from the start of the sentence until the prisoner reaches day parole eligibility.

After that point, the Correctional Service of Canada takes over for all prisoners serving indeterminate sentences for the remainder of their sentence, in other words, until the day they are granted parole and conditionally released into the community. As the member for Oxford has said, we continue to hear calls from victims of crime who feel that decisions on these absences should remain with the Parole Board, rather than an unaccountable official. Victims want assurances that violent offenders who are serving time for murder are only granted escorted temporary absences after a rigorous process of checks and balances similar to that used to grant parole.

The legislation before us was born out of those concerns. It proposes changes to the current system that aim to alleviate this stress and help victims of crime feel greater confidence in the escorted temporary absence system. Under the proposed legislation, the Parole Board would be granted almost exclusive authority for making decisions on escorted temporary absences for first- or second-degree murders. Our Conservative government supports the intent of the proposed legislation. We will introduce amendments at committee to address some concerns regarding duplication and operational considerations.

We are ensuring that the concerns of victims are respected, and that the corrections system actually corrects criminal behaviour. I applaud the member for Oxford for bringing forward Bill C-483. I believe that the bill would continue to move us in the right direction. This is just one more example of how our government is working hard to support the victims of crime.

In the coming months, we will push forward with more initiatives and legislation, with the same determination we have shown in the past seven years. We will do everything in our power to ensure that public safety comes first. This is what Canadians have asked us to do, and this is what we will continue to do.

We will support this legislation, with amendments, and I hope that just for once, the NDP and Liberals will support this legislation that puts the rights of victims first.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

November 21st, 2013 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jean Rousseau NDP Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-483 deals with an extremely delicate matter. On this side of the House, one of our main concerns is having a free society, a great place to live where neighbourhoods and streets are peaceful and safe. We are quite concerned about public safety.

This bill affects victims, the families of victims, the correctional system and conditional release under the justice system. It is a very delicate subject.

We have before us Bill C-483, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (escorted temporary absence). This bill has parameters and limits that sometimes are quite broad and other times are narrow.

We are convinced that this amendment of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act has merit. However, there are certain problems because the Conservatives are once again using a private member's bill to develop and spread their repressive ideology. Once again, rehabilitation is not a consideration.

There are certainly cases in which parole and supervision are not options. However, in some cases, people are sincere and should perhaps be supervised. They should be supervised after the first offence, however, before they commit first degree murder. These are people who may have a lengthy record, but they could be rehabilitated and reformed so that they can reintegrate into society. Many people are sincere, but are they in an environment where they are receiving the supervision they need? That is the question.

This is the fourth time in one year that we are seeing a private member's bill designed to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. These are sensitive topics. The government is the one that should have introduced a bill to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

The system has its positives and negatives. For many years, successive Liberal and Conservative governments have made cuts to human resources, financial resources and infrastructure.

That is why we could have used more than an hour at second reading to discuss this bill in the House. It would have been worth spending more time discussing a reform of the corrections system and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

Nevertheless, the NDP will support this bill at second reading, because we believe in the principle of having the Parole Board of Canada making the initial decision about whether a detainee should be allowed a temporary absence before being paroled.

However, it is not realistic to require the board to make all of the decisions regarding these absences, which could be granted to 2,880 detainees, to be exact. That is why I said that the Parole Board of Canada will be short of time and resources.

In reality, since the Conservative government took power, it has made some draconian budget cuts to all sectors of correctional services. Corrections officers have been repeatedly trying to update their old terms of employment, since the environment is changing. I wanted to say, “evolving”, but that is not true.

The prison system is not evolving. Serious and violent crime is on the rise, as are all sorts of other crimes. More and more people are being imprisoned for terrorist activities, and there are more and more crimes related to cyberbullying. Crimes are increasingly varied and serious and affect several segments of society.

The corrections system is in constant flux. People who work in the system should be given an environment, the financial resources and the infrastructure to be able to do their job. The same is true for the Parole Board of Canada. Clearly, it does not have the necessary resources to carry out the tasks in this bill.

The Conservatives cannot continue slashing the parole board's budget while asking it to do more. As a result of other legislation passed by the Conservatives, the backlog of pardon applications to the Parole Board of Canada has reached 20,000, and they would like to do more. I do not know how many years it would take to process 20,000 applications. Clearly, the board is not able to keep up with everything being asked of it. If this bill is not amended, it will not work, and implementing it will be impossible.

I talked about the critical importance of rehabilitation. I would like to share a story with you. It took me a while to decide whether to share this story because it is about a family I am close to that lost a loved one who was murdered by a repeat sex offender. Nobody ever took a real interest in that offender, so he ended up committing several crimes. The whole time he was in the system, he never had a chance at rehabilitation. It ended with murder.

That person did not have a chance to use the resources available in the justice system, to get therapy, to get the kind of supervision he needed to reintegrate into society. Not even once. It ended with murder. A family's loved one was murdered. For all intents and purposes, life for the victim's family is over. After something like that, people can never get back to normal. I am not talking about the victim or the prisoner; I am talking about the victim's family. After such a tragedy, family members lose their bearings and life no longer has any meaning.

However, in a modern, industrialized and prosperous society, it would have been quite easy to provide resources for rehabilitation, whether to address recidivism with regard to alcohol, drugs, spousal abuse, sexual offences or cyberbullying. Governments are not coming to grips with the situation.

Rather than coming up with bills containing more repressive measures, we must address rehabilitation and education. It would just be a matter of engaging with people on the ground before it is too late. However, here we have yet another bill that takes away decision-making authority from prison wardens. They do an exceptional job with the resources they have. They are there on the ground and they are capable of making decisions. This power is being taken away from them and given to the Parole Board of Canada, which is already overloaded.

As I said, the goal of the bill appears very noble, but it will be impossible to make it work on the ground. The resources available at the moment make that impossible.

I am asking the government to co-operate. Then, when the bill goes to committee after second reading, I am asking the government to accept the amendments, be they from the NDP or from the Liberal Party.

People who have worked on the ground have suggestions that will make the bill easier to implement, so that the society we live in can be safer for everyone.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

November 21st, 2013 / 6:25 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, thank you for this opportunity to speak in the House today in support of Bill C-483, a private member's bill that proposes to amend the current scheme for escorted temporary absences.

I would like to begin by explaining the purpose of these types of absences and why we have them as part of the conditional release process. Later on, I will explain who has the responsibility for authorizing escorted temporary absences and when.

The purpose of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act is simply to correct criminal behaviour. Escorted temporary absences, when used sparingly and appropriately, can help to meet that goal. They help reconstitute prisoners by allowing them to participate in programs that may not be offered inside prison walls. Escorted temporary absences are typically the first type of conditional release prisoners may be granted. Escorted temporary absences are usually very short. The prisoner is typically only out of prison, under escort, for a few hours.

In reviewing an application, the safety of the public is the paramount consideration in deciding whether to authorize a prisoner's escorted temporary absence. The level of security required during the absence is determined by the level of risk the prisoner poses to the community. For a high-risk prisoner, a correctional officer and the use of physical restraints, such as handcuffs and leg restraints, would be deemed necessary to ensure public safety.

In this instance, the absence would only be granted for a required absence such as for a medical appointment or a court proceeding. A prisoner's behaviour while on an escorted temporary absence assists the Correctional Service of Canada in determining whether or not he or she would be a good candidate for parole.

Now I would like to take a few moments to explain who has releasing authority for these absences and at which point in a prisoner's sentence these absences may be granted.

To begin, releasing authority for prisoners serving life sentences is set out in section 746.1 of the Criminal Code. The Criminal Code gives the Parole Board of Canada authority to approve absences from the start of a sentence up until the prisoner reaches day parole eligibility.

For those serving life sentences, day parole occurs when prisoners are within three years of being eligible to apply for full parole. Currently, at this point, the Correctional Service of Canada takes over responsibility to grant short escorted absences for the remainder of the life sentence, or until the prisoner is released on parole. After that point, in other words, after the day parole eligibility date, the releasing authority moves to Correctional Service of Canada for the remainder of the life sentence. This is how decisions to authorize escorted temporary absences to prisoners serving life sentences works today.

Victims have expressed concerns about how decisions on escorted temporary absence applications are being made and they have asked for more involvement in the decision-making process.

I would like to tell the House about Kim Hancox-Spencer. She is a woman who lives in my riding, who had to suffer the unthinkable tragedy of losing her husband, a Toronto police officer, to a cold-blooded killer.

After that fateful day in August 1998, she found herself a single mother with nowhere to turn. Some 14 years into the life sentence of her husband's killer, Kim received a letter from Corrections Canada that said, “This letter is to notify you that the warden of this [prisoner]'s institution has authorized four additional escorted temporary absences” and “we will not be notifying you every time this prisoner leaves the institution”.

This was granted by the warden despite the fact that the Parole Board of Canada ruled that the prisoner was not ready to go on temporary absences.

We are here to protect the safety of the community and the safety also of the prisoner. I heard that many of my colleagues are concerned about how prisoners are reintegrated into society. However, if they are not ready to go into society, they represent a problem for society and for themselves. This type of ignorance of the rights of a victim of a horrific crime is nothing short of shameful.

Let us listen, in her words, to how victims and their families are often abandoned by the current process. She said, “You end up reliving it over and over again.... No one told me about this”. She goes on to say that this temporary absence scheme is “...absolutely a loophole...”. On this side of the House, we are here today to close this loophole.

Our government has made a number of changes to our laws to address a wide range of victims' concerns and to ensure they are given a greater voice in the corrections and conditional release systems. Chief among these measures is our guarantee of a victim's participation in Parole Board hearings, which can be found in the Safe Streets and Communities Act.

Bill C-483 proposes to grant the Parole Board almost exclusive decision-making authority for escorted temporary absences. Ultimately, the goal of Bill C-483 is to give the Parole Board greater authority over escorted temporary absences for murderers.

Our Conservative government is pleased to support the efforts of the member for Oxford.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActRoutine Proceedings

March 8th, 2013 / 12:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-483, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (escorted temporary absence).

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to introduce my private member's bill, seconded by the hon. member for Northumberland—Quinte West, also a former police officer.

My private member's bill is an enactment that would amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act in order to limit the authority of the institutional head to authorize the escorted temporary absence of an offender convicted of first or second degree murder.

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