Mr. Speaker, I speak today about Bill C-489, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (restrictions on offenders). It is a privilege to speak on behalf of my constituents of Surrey North about this important bill. As my hon. colleague, the member for Gatineau, has pointed out in a previous speech, it is rare that we as MPs have the opportunity to discuss something that has a tangible outcome for our constituents. It is a privilege to be able to bring a Surrey North perspective to this debate.
The NDP has a solid history of advocating for survivors of violent crimes, particularly in reference to gendered violence and violence against children.
In my own riding, offenders who are released from detention have moved into neighbourhoods where constituents are worried for their safety and the safety of their families.
My predecessor NDP MP, Penny Priddy, along with other MPs from British Columbia, previously proposed measures to assist municipalities in the management of violent offenders. They have called for federal funding for communities that must pay extraordinary costs to monitor these offenders, to support mental health facilities and addiction services, and to provide appropriate housing for the reintegration process. Lack of funding has not prevented hard-working professionals from addressing this concern. We have seen from the federal side, over the last number of years, a downloading of a number of services to the provinces and, eventually, to the municipalities.
However, Surrey's crime reduction strategy has been heralded as the most comprehensive community-based initiative intended to reduce delinquency and re-offence. It builds community capacity to address crime while providing rehabilitation and reintegration assistance to the offenders.
Surrey's program has been particularly successful because of the extensive collaboration between law enforcement and correction services, non-profit organizations, the Surrey school board, the Surrey Board of Trade and other community organizations. I am also grateful for the professionals who work in rehabilitation and half-way house services, and I encourage a perspective of rehabilitation and social integration in our justice system.
The bill proposes restricting certain offenders from being within two kilometres of a house where a victim is present without a parent or a guardian, or from being in a vehicle with a person who is under the age of 16 years old without the presence of a parent or a guardian. It also would potentially prevent certain offenders from communicating with any victim, witness or any other person identified in a probation order, or from going anyplace specified in the order, except in accordance with specified conditions.
This is an important bill for violent crime survivors' rights, and it must be examined with the needs of survivors in mind. Along with my NDP colleagues, I am in favour of Bill C-489, as we are in favour of any proposal that would protect vulnerable members of our society.
Although well intentioned, the structure of the justice system often retraumatizes the very people it is trying to protect. It is well documented that witnesses and survivors, particularly of gendered crimes and cases involving children, are revictimized throughout the justice process, particularly when the victim must confront the alleged offender at trial.
Once the ordeal is over, survivors can begin their healing journey. However, imagine a survivor's shock when the offender returns to the neighbourhood. The retraumatization of having to see this person every day could undoubtedly lead to increased mental health issues and challenges to the healing of the survivor.
Although victims understand that offenders will eventually be released, it is imperative that they be informed of the release and the relocation.
Research has proven that knowledge about the offender and the rehabilitation of such can be incorporated into the psychological healing journey of the survivor. The knowledge that the offender is taking steps to address the reasons for his or her crime could be relieving to some survivors.
Furthermore, information on the offender's relocation is essential to the development of a safety plan and a general feeling of security.
However, as with any proposal that would affect Canadian lives, we need to ensure that the bill would offer suitable solutions.
The NDP proposes that there be extensive consultations with victim rights groups to ensure that Bill C-489 offers adequate and appropriate protection for survivors of violence. I am particularly interested in gaining the perspective of organizations in my community, such as the Surrey Women's Centre, The Centre for Child Development and Options Community Services. By talking to these front-line service providers, families and local enforcement agencies, we can gauge whether the bill, in its current form, would address the needs of the most vulnerable.
Throughout our discussions today, we need to be conscious of the fact that most crimes are unreported, particularly sexual assaults, and if they are reported, often survivor stories are not believed. Contrary to the “stranger danger” myth, the University of Toronto reports that in as many as 85% of sexual assault cases, the survivors know their attackers. As found by Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse, if children are the target of violence, in 75% of the cases they know the offender, who is usually a relative or family member.
Power imbalance between the victim and offender and even the victim and justice services, as well as societal reception of certain crimes, often averts survivors from reporting. This means that many survivors are forced to relive their trauma without closure, justice and adequate support services. If the offender is a close relative, friend or community member, the survivor may be forced to continue to see the offender on a regular basis, reliving the trauma first experienced and making him or her increasingly vulnerable to further violence.
Today we may not be able to change the lives of survivors of unreported crimes. However, through a debate in the House, we have the power to make a real change in the lives of those people who we can help. We need to do what we can here in the House to say that the retraumatization and revictimization of survivors of violence, particularly women, youth and children, is not okay. We need to protect survivors and empower them to continue their journey of healing.
I encourage my hon. colleagues in the House to reflect on these ideas while remaining conscious of the power we have in our positions as members of Parliament. We need to use this power to support survivors of violent crimes and continue to support tangible solutions for prevention, the justice system and protection of victims rights.
I encourage members of the justice committee to examine this bill further, to look at ways we can protect victims and provide services to victims of crime.