moved that Bill C-591, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act (pension and benefits), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present my first private member's bill, Bill C-591, an act to amend the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security Act.
It is an honour to have the opportunity as a member of Parliament, representing my constituents of Chatham-Kent—Essex, to make a positive impact on this great country, helping to make it a better place for us and our children. Bill C-591 is such an attempt. This bill would close a long-standing loophole that enables someone in Canada today, convicted of killing their spouse or their parent, from receiving their victim's CPP benefit or CPP orphan benefit.
This bill is consistent with a long-standing common law principle, known as ex turpi causa, that criminals should not benefit from their crimes. This bill would restore fairness to the victims and their families by ensuring that those convicted of first- and second-degree murder would not be entitled to their victims' benefits.
The bill would apply to those convicted of first- and second-degree murder, which by definition is murder involving deliberate acts with intent to kill. The bill would not include those charged with manslaughter, since manslaughter, by definition, is death resulting from unintentional actions, such as accidents, provocation, or history of abuse. I will address this issue later in my speech.
A conviction of first- and second-degree murder must be within the meaning of section 231 of the Criminal Code of Canada or its equivalent in a foreign country, provided that the minister is satisfied that the procedures were fair and unbiased.
One cannot imagine the horror of having a loved one murdered, yet every year in Canada we read of tragic cases where someone loses their life by an act of murder. Sadly, this is done, at times, at the hands of a family member.
In an article posted in The Sun on Saturday, December 21, 2013, the headline reads, “Murder cases close to home — 2013 sees deadly rise in family related slayings in Calgary”.
And of the tragedy in our first nations communities faced by our aboriginal women, the Native Women's Association of Canada reports in their fact sheet of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls that of the murder cases in the NWAC's database where someone has been charged, 23% are committed by a current or former partner of the victim.
John F. Conway writes in The Canadian Family in Crisis, Fifth Edition, “About 40% of homicides in Canada involve victims and suspects in a domestic relationship...”
These are shocking statistics. I am not suggesting that all of these tragic events would be affected by my bill but what I am saying is, today, in Canada, approximately 30 cases a year involving murder of a spouse, common-law partner, or child could be affected by this legislation.
How terrible a thing to suffer the horror of family violence, how much more the horror of murder, but to have the added pain of witnessing someone profit from their crime, a clear violation to the long-standing common law principle of ex turpi causa, by way of collecting the victim's survivor benefit, is not fair to the families of the murder victim, and it is an injustice that cannot be allowed to happen.
I will first define who would not be eligible by providing an explanation of the CPP death benefit package, followed by the procedure to be put in place, the role of the minister, consideration of appeals, burial payments, explanation of first- and second-degree murder, and then a wrap-up.
First, I will talk about those to whom the bill is targeted by way of examination of CPP death benefits and OAS survivor benefits.
The Canadian Pension Plan is a social insurance plan that provides contributors and their families with a modest income replacement upon retirement, disability, or death of a contributor. It is this last provision, death of a contributor that is the essence of Bill C-591. At the death of CPP recipient, the survivors are eligible for these benefits: the monthly survivor pension paid to the spouse or common-law partner; the monthly orphan's benefit for dependent children; and a one-time lump sum death benefit.
As well, under the old age security program, the annual allowance for survivors, ALWS, is provided to low-income survivors aged 60-64 who meet the residence requirements and have not entered a new relationship.
These are the benefits that are provided through the Canada pension plan and old age security to the survivor of someone who is receiving CPP or contributing to CPP upon death.
The bill would make changes to the act that defines these benefits so that no one who has been convicted of first- or second-degree murder and who would normally be entitled to receive the survivor benefits would ever collect the victim's pension or survivor benefits.
Allow me to define the role of the minister. When the minister is informed and satisfied than an individual has been convicted of first- or second-degree murder, the payment would immediately cease. In cases of death benefits paid, when CPP monthly survivor pension, monthly orphan benefit, or one-time lump sum, the individual convicted would be determined never to have been eligible for the benefit and as such it would be considered an overpayment. All or any CPP and/or OAS benefit payment would be deemed repayable.
However, what if the disentitled individual were found innocent upon repeal or is subject to a new trial? If the disentitled individual appealed the conviction or were granted a new trial, the decision to cancel the benefit as a result of the original conviction would remain in effect pending the final outcome of the judicial process. If the individual were subsequently convicted of a lesser crime or acquitted, the benefit would be reinstated upon the department being notified. The individual would be entitled to payments dating back to the first day of eligibility.
The CPP would not be amended for orphans under the age of 18. In Canada, children under age 18 are considered minors and as such those charged with care and custody of a minor would receive the CPP orphan's benefit.
However, the orphan's benefit that normally is paid directly to someone between the ages of 18 and 25 who retain their eligibility by attending school would not be available to a child who has been convicted of murdering a parent when he or she turns 18. This approach recognizes the guardian's expenses undertaken to care for the child and the fact that the guardian, in some cases the surviving spouse, has not committed the crime.
Let me now address the death benefit. As stated, the CPP would be amended to ensure that any individual convicted of murdering his or her spouse would not be eligible to collect the CPP death benefit. However, the death benefit would continue to be paid to the estate of the deceased to help with the funeral costs or if there were no estate, the person who paid for the funeral costs might be eligible to receive the costs.
While the legislation would not permit the death benefit to go to the murderer, even if she or he paid these expenses, it is important to note that the funeral expenses would already have been paid by the time the person was convicted of murder. If the murderer received the death benefit before being convicted, he or she would lose eligibility for the death benefit and would have to reimburse the department at that point.
Next, let me explain why the bill would only apply to first- and second-degree murder. As stated earlier, the amendments made by Bill C-591 are based on a common-law principle that individuals should not benefit from their crimes. This principle of ex turpi causa clearly applies to conviction of first- and second-degree murder. The principle does not apply as clearly or uniformly to cases of manslaughter and other offences since they do not necessarily involve the intent to kill and can involve abuse, provocation, or accident. Courts have said that the principle of ex turpi causa should not be applied automatically to manslaughter and other offences involving responsibility for a death without examining the specific circumstances of each case.
Further to the role of the minister, it would be impossible for the minister to proactively identify murderers nor would it be feasible to implement a tracking system due to major obstacles such as provincial and territorial privacy laws. Creating the legal obligation for the minister to proactively detect who is subject to this provision would set an obligation upon the minister that is impossible to fulfill.
Therefore, there must be engagement with victims organizations to increase awareness of these amendments. This can be done by calling the department, by writing, or by visiting a Service Canada office. The department can then verify ineligibility due to murder by first and second degree through a copy of an official document confirming the conviction.
As stated, it is estimated that approximately 30 individuals per year would be affected by this legislative amendment. Of those, roughly half would apply for CPP survivors' benefits, roughly one-third would be OAS allowance recipients, and less than 10% would relate to CPP orphan benefits.
Familial homicides are not all committed by spouses, children, or common-law partners, and not all cases are charged with murder, convicted, nor have all victims sufficiently contributed to the CPP or possible recipients of the allowance for survivors.
The intent of the legislation would not be to punish families. The focus would be on preventing murderers from benefiting from their crimes. An individual convicted of murdering his or her spouse would be ineligible for survivor pension. However, if there are children, the orphans' benefit would still be applied.
The proposed approach is feasible, cost-effective, and consistent with privacy laws. It respects areas of provincial and territorial jurisdiction, ensuring that the minister would be able to fulfill obligations.
In closing, nothing can take away the pain and suffering experienced by the survivors of a murder victim. No law can ever bring back those whose lives have been taken by such a cruel act of violence.
However, this bill would restore fairness to victims and their families. This bill would ensure that those convicted of first and second degree murder would not be entitled to their victims' benefits. None of us wants to see those who suffer the loss of a loved one suffer the added insult of seeing the one responsible for their death by first or second degree murder collecting the victim's benefits as well.
I hope that the bill is supported by all members of this House and sees swift passage after a thorough debate.