An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (high profile offender)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

Sponsor

Rodney Weston  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

In committee (House), as of June 10, 2015
(This bill did not become 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 to require the Correctional Service of Canada, in certain circumstances, to disclose particulars of the statutory release of a high profile offender by posting those particulars on the Service's website and to provide a written notice of the disclosure of the information to the victim. The enactment also provides for community consultation relating to the proposed release.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

June 10, 2015 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

June 8th, 2015 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Rodney Weston Conservative Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to stand in the House today to close the debate on second reading of my private member's bill, Bill C-642.

I feel very confident that my colleagues will see the wisdom of these proposed amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

The private member's bill will amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act so as to require Correctional Service Canada to disclose certain key information regarding the statutory release of a high-profile offender. This would be accomplished by posting the required information as prescribed by the bill on the service's website, and also by providing written notice with the disclosure of the information to the victim or victims. The legislation would also provide for community consultation related to the proposed release.

I introduced the bill in order to fulfill a commitment that I made to the citizens of my community after they were exposed to a situation that many felt was a major injustice in 2013. The injustice I speak of today was the release of three high-profile offenders into a halfway house in Saint John without any prior notice whatsoever to the community. This could happen in any community throughout Canada that is home to a halfway house that houses high-profile offenders prior to their full release.

I want to say at the outset that I believe we in society have an obligation to do our part to reintegrate individuals back into society once they have paid their dues. However, it cannot be without looking after the mental and physical well-being of law-abiding citizens.

I made a commitment at the time to try to ensure this situation was not repeated in Saint John, or in any other community throughout Canada. I felt it was important for communities to have the information they needed in advance to allow the police and the citizens to be prepared, and to ensure that the victims were aware about the people who had violated them as well.

As lawmakers, we have an obligation to listen to our constituents and to act in the interests of the majority. I undertook, in 2013, to address the needs and concerns of the people in my riding. They were concerned and looking to us to provide them with the protection and information they needed to feel good about walking the streets of Saint John.

Bill C-642 would not interfere with the rights of the inmate being released. It would not change the fact that they are being released. It would not deny the protection provided by our Canadian justice and correctional system.

What it would do is to give the citizens of our country, and the victims of crime, more information and a sense that they are being treated fairly. It would make the release of certain dangerous offenders part of the public record.

It would not be the responsibility of the police in local communities to decide if certain information should be made public. This would give the public and the victims the knowledge so that certain individuals would not be able to quietly, and under the veil of secrecy, enter their community and possibly reoffend before the community even knows they are there.

I want to point out that this change would not apply to all offenders being released into our communities. It would only apply to the most dangerous, as defined by schedule I of the act, or if the commissioner determines that the offence dynamics have elicited or have the potential to elicit a community reaction in the form of significant public or media attention.

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you very much for having taken the time to listen to the bill and consider it. I want to thank all members for taking the time to consider the bill. It is very important to the citizens of my community, and it certainly would make a difference going forward.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2015 / 7:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Rodney Weston Conservative Saint John, NB

moved that Bill C-642, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (high profile offender), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House tonight to start the debate on second reading of my private member's bill, Bill C-642. Before I begin, I want to thank my colleague the hon. member for Miramichi for seconding my bill. I certainly appreciate her doing that.

I feel very confident that my colleagues will see the wisdom of these proposed amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. This private member's bill would amend the act so as to require the Correctional Service of Canada to disclose certain key information regarding the statutory release of a high-profile offender. This would be accomplished by posting the required information on the service's website, as prescribed by the bill, and by also providing written notice with the disclosure of the information to the victim or victims. The legislation would also provide for community consultation related to the proposed release.

I introduced the bill in order to fulfill a commitment I made to the citizens of my community of Saint John after they were exposed to a situation that many felt was a major injustice, in 2013. The perceived injustice that I am speaking of was the introduction of three serious offenders into our community, without prior notice or without people even understanding who they were dealing with, what they looked like, what restrictions were imposed on them, or what was being done for the protection of the citizens in our area.

As an example of this, I would like to refer to a news article at the time that described one of these individuals, who had been convicted of raping eight women. He was sentenced to 37 years in prison. He qualified for statutory release and was released from prison to the Parrtown Community Corrections Centre, after having served two-thirds of his 37-year sentence. However, what got people quite concerned was that the news article stated that a recent assessment had indicated that this individual's risk to reoffend and commit another sexual assault was in the high end of the moderate range. That had community members on edge.

I want to highlight that this could happen in any community throughout Canada that is home to a halfway house that houses high profile offenders prior to their full release.

I want to say at the outset that I believe that we in society have an obligation to do our part to reintegrate individuals back into society once they have paid their dues. However, it cannot be done without looking after the mental and physical well-being of law-abiding citizens.

I stated back at the time that this whole situation unfolded in Saint John that there must be stronger rules to ensure more public disclosure of information surrounding the release of high-risk sex offenders in the application of conditions to the release that protect the public interest. I am no different from anyone else. I certainly consider Saint John to be a wonderful area in which to live, with a lot of support services for the people who need it. I believe we have an obligation to protect those who are vulnerable from potential risks. This is an area of responsibility that we all take very seriously, and we do in Saint John for sure.

Saint John, New Brunswick, is home to the Parrtown Community Correctional Centre, which is commonly referred to as a halfway house by most. We also have a strong chapter of the John Howard Society. Together they do great work helping prisoners re-enter life in the community. However, their job is not the protection of the public.

The National Parole Board and the approach we have taken to prisoner releases in Canada give the role of protecting the public to the police and to us, the lawmakers of Canada. We need to provide the police with the tools they require when doing their job. At the present time, it is left to the local police to decide if they will inform the public about the release of dangerous criminals. They must balance the right of the prisoner with the right of the public to know. This is not fair to the police and it is definitely not fair to the public.

There is another example in another news article from 2013 when this was unfolding in my riding. Another individual, different from the one I referred to earlier, was released from prison after having served a 12-year sentence for forcible confinement and sexual assault.

This was put out by the Saint John Police Force. The Saint John Police Force considered this individual to be a high risk to offend sexually and violently against females and other vulnerable persons. They went on to say that the Saint John Police Force was issuing this information in warning after careful deliberation about all related issues, including privacy concerns, in the belief that it was clearly in the public interest to inform the members of the community. It is quite extraordinary to have an article like that appear in the local newspaper. It certainly caused concern for many citizens in Saint John.

We need to protect the citizens of our communities that play host to these dangerous offenders as they are reintroduced in society.

In 2013, the city of Saint John played host to three individuals, as I mentioned earlier, who were deemed to be dangerous offenders and who it was determined had a high chance of reoffending. Each was in jail for sex-related crimes, and the people of my community were alarmed when they learned of their release into the Saint John area. We had no idea what they looked like, where they were staying for sure, and what restrictions were placed on their movements, if any.

We were not made aware of their release into the community until after it had already occurred. Concerned citizens, as one can probably imagine, held rallies, signed petitions, and raised the issue in the media. They raised the issue with city council, provincial MLAs, and me, their member of Parliament.

At the time, I made a commitment to try to ensure that this situation was not repeated in Saint John or in any other community in Canada. I felt it was important for communities to have the information they needed in advance to allow the police and citizens to be prepared and to make sure that the victims of the people who had violated them were informed as well.

The Saint John city council passed motions about having access to more information about the people being released into the community. Again, I refer to another article at the time about these motions, when city council was debating this. In the motion, one of the councillors, the deputy mayor, actually, stated:

I believe it is important that we understand the process by which these types of offenders are released and how locations are chosen as well as what support is available from the Federal Government for those communities expected to accept such individuals.

She went on to say:

People are concerned, and rightly so. The absence of good information just exacerbates the concern. I would like to have accurate data to be able to decide what the issues are.

I have all the faith in the world in our law enforcement officials here, but I want to provide them with all the support I can to ensure that they understand the process and what supports are necessary and what resources might be available elsewhere to help them.

The deputy mayor made it clear that she was not asking for the disclosure of offenders' personal information. She went on to say:

I respect the fact that people who've been convicted of an offence served their time, and they do need to be able to re-establish a life for themselves. But at the same time, we do have a responsibility to our community to ensure that the quality of life is maintained for our citizens.

Obviously, as politicians, we are called upon to respond to many situations, and I did respond at that time to that situation talked about in another article. I went on to say in that article that I think the public needs to be aware of the nature of the release. With each of these individuals, there are conditions applied, and the public should be aware of the conditions that are applied. That was in a news article at the time.

That is the gist of what I am trying to say here today. As lawmakers, I believe we have an obligation to listen to people and to act in the interests of the majority. I undertook in 2013 to address the needs and concerns of the people of my riding. They were concerned and were looking to us to provide them with the protection and information they needed to make themselves feel good about walking the streets of their community.

I want to be very clear. Bill C-642 does not interfere with the rights of the inmate being released. It does not change the fact that they are being released. It does not deny them the protection provided by our Canadian justice and correctional system. What it does do is give the citizens of our country and the victims of crime more information and a sense that they are being treated fairly.

It makes the release of certain dangerous offenders become part of the public record.

It would no longer be the responsibility of the police in local communities to decide if certain information should be made public. This would also give the public and victims the knowledge that those certain individuals would not be able to quietly, under the veil of secrecy, enter their community and quite possibly reoffend before the community even knew they were there.

I must point out one very important point. This change would not apply to all offenders being released into our communities. It would only apply to the most dangerous offenders, as defined by schedule 1 of the act, and if the commissioner were to determine that the offence dynamics had elicited or had the potential to elicit a community reaction in the form of public or media attention.

I look forward to the members, my fellow lawmakers and protectors of the public, supporting this simple change that would give the general public the notice and the information they deserved when a dangerous offender was to be released into a community. We as elected officials must be responsible to our communities. We must take the steps that are needed to protect the people who make up our great country.

Some will no doubt argue that this is more tough-on-crime legislation. Let them. This is not tough on crime. This is simply informing members of the public of what is happening within their communities. It would provide a protection to the people who deserve to be protected. It would inform and involve members of the public in a key aspect of our justice system.

In this age of social media, especially at a time when municipal policing budgets are under strain, we must do whatever we can to keep the public informed with factual information for communities.

I look forward to the support of members for the bill and to their involvement with the protection of their constituents. In our modern world, information is key. People demand to know what is going on and, as elected representatives, it is our obligation to do what is expected of us, which is provide reliable and valuable information in a timely and predictable fashion.

I look forward to the support of my hon. colleagues and I am ready for any questions they might have.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2015 / 7:20 p.m.
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NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his speech.

When this bill was introduced, we consulted several groups of experts on this subject, and a number of questions were raised by interest groups. Before stating my position on this bill, which I will do a little later when I have the opportunity to give a speech, I would like to report what Steve Sullivan, the former federal ombudsman for victims of crime, said about Bill C-642.

Without an evaluation of the possible impact of the disclosure of information on rehabilitation and public safety, Mr. Sullivan wondered what would happen if the victim were related to the offender, if the victim did not want the attention being received or if there were a publication ban. He believes that the bill could also encroach on provincial legislation governing the disclosure of information about dangerous offenders. He also said that every province has laws or policies concerning the disclosure of information, which are often enforced by police services, and that this bill could encroach on their jurisdiction.

First of all, what does my colleague think of the position of the former federal ombudsman for victims of crime? Second, did my colleague consult him or any other representative of victims of crime in Canada?

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2015 / 7:25 p.m.
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NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-642, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (high profile offender).

I want to start by saying that I will oppose my Conservative colleague's bill at second reading, and I will explain why in my speech today.

This bill would amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to require the Correctional Service of Canada, in certain circumstances, to disclose particulars of the statutory release of a high-profile offender by posting those particulars on the service's website and to provide a written notice of the disclosure of the information to the victim. Information including the offender's name and a recent photograph, previous convictions, the date of release, the destination of the offender and any of the conditions attached to the conditional release could be disclosed.

My colleague spoke a lot about the fact that the public has the right to know what is going on, which is connected to what I want to talk about in the second part. I do not know whether the member opposite is aware of these provisions, but I still want to inform people across the country who may be watching right now and following this debate closely.

Right now, the communication of this sort of information is governed by section 25 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. Under this section, before the conditional release of an offender, the Correctional Service of Canada notifies all police forces that have jurisdiction at the destination of the offender. Police forces are also given any information that the Correctional Service of Canada has about the offender. If the Correctional Service of Canada has reasonable grounds to believe that an offender poses a threat to any person, police forces can share that information with the general public. That is already in the existing legislation. This decision is left to the discretion of police forces, who are responsible for determining whether such communication is necessary. Right now, it is already possible to do that under the existing legislation. The Correctional Service of Canada transfers the information to the police forces concerned. They are the ones that decide whether or not to disclose the information, for all sorts of reasons that I will talk about later in my speech.

Unfortunately, the bill as it now stands is a way for the Conservatives to play partisan politics rather than establishing a good public safety policy, which Canada really needs. There have been a few examples of this in the area of public safety, whether it be private members' bills or bills that come directly from the government. I am thinking, for example, of Bill C-42, which we are in the process of examining in committee and which deals with the classification of restricted and prohibited weapons. This bill would assign the responsibility for classifying these weapons to cabinet rather than to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which is who should be responsible for doing that.

As I mentioned, our police forces already have the discretionary power to release information about the offenders referred to in Bill C-642 when they deem it to be necessary. That brings me to the question that I unfortunately did not get an answer to. That question concerns the groups that should have been consulted, groups that have specific questions about Bill C-642.

I think that, in examining this bill, it would have been a good idea to consult victims groups across Canada.

As I mentioned, Steve Sullivan, the former federal ombudsman for victims of crime, had far more questions than answers about this bill and what it involves. I would like to quote him once again for those watching the debate. He said that there was no evaluation of the potential consequences of the disclosure of information on rehabilitation and public safety.

He was concerned about victims of crime and wondered what would happen if the victim were related to the offender and did not want the attention or if there were a publication ban.

He also said that this could be integrated into provincial legislation governing disclosure of information about dangerous offenders. Each province has information disclosure laws and policies often used by police services, and this bill could infringe on their jurisdiction.

I note that my colleague from the third party asked a question about the provincial laws that would be affected.

Again, my Conservative colleague failed to answer the question.

Studies show that the best results for public safety are obtained through the supervised, gradual reintegration of offenders in society.

Perversely, Bill C-642 might lead some offenders to opt out in order to avoid being covered by the content of the bill, and that is quite serious.

Rehabilitation programs are the cornerstone not only of our Canadian correctional system, but also of our entire political system when it comes to public safety and national security.

The Auditor General's report came out today and raised a relatively serious fact about what goes on at Correctional Service Canada institutions. Last year, 1,500 offenders did not have access to reintegration programs. At the end of their sentence, they left prison directly without having followed this type of program. This is quite serious.

We know, we see it and everyone talks about it, including the police services who happen to be on Parliament Hill today. I commend the Canadian Police Association, which supports all reintegration measures.

Correctional Service Canada works hand in hand with a number of reintegration organizations, including ARCAD, whose $70,000 annual funding was unfortunately cancelled by the Conservative government. This group performed small miracles in terms of reintegrating different offenders. What is more, this group existed for over 50 years. It therefore had a proven track record.

It is not uncommon to see that the members across the way do not take into consideration all these fine examples and this evidence that everyone wants to work together to ensure that our communities are safer and that, as much as possible, we live in harmony and in a safe system. They do not understand the importance of reintegration. This bill might have some egregious repercussions for safety in general.

We are already going downhill when it comes to reintegration and the false debate surrounding crime. As a society we simply have to make a choice and the choice the Conservatives are making is to play partisan politics with programs as important as those that Correctional Service Canada and their partner organizations are trying to put in place.

Many stakeholders we were able to speak with seemed to share our opinion regarding Bill C-642. I cannot name all of them, but I would like to name a few.

As I mentioned, one such individual is the former federal ombudsman for victims of crime. Another is Howard Sapers, the current Correctional Investigator of Canada. We would have liked him to be able to stay longer, since his reports are always extremely important and interesting.

Howard Sapers said that he finds it unfortunate that offenders are staying in prison longer, much like Marion Vacheret, a professor and criminologist at the Université de Montréal, who said that she does not understand why the government wants to see offenders kept inside at all costs.

Furthermore, a very interesting article that appeared in La Presse in January 2015 had this to say:

...a number of studies have shown that social reintegration has a higher success rate when the offender has spent more time under community supervision before the end of his sentence, in other words, on parole.

I also deplore the lack of consultation by my colleague. I do not know why he did not do more consultation.

When introducing such a bill to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, it is important to consider every possible effect it could have on the Parole Board of Canada.

I think more consultation was needed, and my colleague did not address that very much, especially since this bill aims to replace the objectivity of the Parole Board of Canada with public consultation. That is something that he perhaps should have examined a little more thoroughly.

The Parole Board of Canada always does a remarkable job. The staff there do excellent work and are under a lot of pressure to protect our safety. I think it would have been important for my colleague to do more consultation.

I would like to add that, once again, I will unfortunately have to vote against this bill at second reading. I would like the member to go back to the drawing board and come back to us with something that will encourage social rehabilitation rather than discourage it, as my colleague suggested.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2015 / 7:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I will begin by saying that I certainly agree with the remarks by the member for Alfred-Pellan.

I will state where we really stand on the bill. We do not support Bill C-642, because one, it is unnecessary, and two, it is excessive in its punitive nature.

If the government should have learned anything today, it should have learned it from the Auditor General. In terms of his comments, the Conservative government's so-called tough on crime bills, but not smart on crime, in the House which the government has enacted over time are in fact leading to our streets in Canada being less safe. That is clearly what the Auditor General indicated in his comments.

We are seeing people being put out on the street without proper rehabilitative measures taken. They are just put out cold turkey on the street, and the chance of their reoffending is much greater than it would have been if they had been treated with the proper parole within the prison system.

The bill before us would amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to require the Correctional Service of Canada in certain circumstances to disclose particulars of the statutory release of a high-profile offender by posting those particulars on Correctional Service's website and to provide a written notice of the disclosure of information to the victim. The enactment would also provide community consultation relating to the proposed release.

It sounds good on the surface, but when we dig into it in any sense at all, the bill just does not make sense. A responsible government, and the Conservative government is certainly not one, must approach changes to our criminal justice system seriously. Changes must rely on evidence to demonstrate that they are necessary to ensure Canadians' safety.

It is interesting in this place to hear the backbench members get up all the time and talk about “our government”. Really, the government is the cabinet. The backbench members are just members of the Conservative Party. They are not the government, but they get up and talk about “our government”. However, it is funny that when they bring forward a private member's bill, it is suddenly a private member's bill, when we know it is really a Conservative agenda in which they are picking here and there. The ultimate result is that they are jeopardizing the criminal justice system with these one-off bills which are designed to give backbench members a little credibility in their ridings. I know they do not want to hear it, but those are the facts.

Any legislation, especially from government backbench members, should be done as a comprehensive criminal justice package. What have we seen? I think it is something like 16 private member's bills on criminal justice. In fact, some of them will be challenged at the Supreme Court. Some of them will be rolled back. Actually, at the end of the day, these private member's bills which are coming from the government side will actually jeopardize the criminal justice system and possibly even make our streets less safe.

Bill C-642 is based on the assumption that those responsible for monitoring the releases of high-profile offenders are somehow unprepared for such a release, but evidence indicates that is not the fact at all. In fact, that is simply not true.

Correctional Service Canada already has an effective structure in place, and there is already an obligation to inform the victims about the release of the offender.

Furthermore, there is nothing in this bill that addresses the key issue, which is how to ensure that offenders, high-profile or otherwise, do not reoffend.

The first point is that we must rely on facts and evidence, particularly when changing laws that affect the safety of Canadians. This legislation fails to demonstrate that there is substantial need or that these high-profile offenders pose a direct threat to public safety.

Further, the bill is focused on punishment instead of making Canadians and our communities safer, which clearly comes right to the point the Auditor General made today. If we read the report of the Auditor General, we will see it says that the cumulative effect of the government's bills over the past number of years is making our streets in Canada less safe, not more safe, and Canadians will pay a price for that kind of strategy by the current government.

This bill is yet another example of Conservative legislation that aims to further ensure the isolation of offenders who, under the law, must be released. Instead of pursuing this punitive legislation, the government should address some of the real issues affecting our correctional facilities.

The first is rehabilitation, which is shown to decrease reoffending. That was in fact what today's Auditor General's report was all about.

The second is double-bunking inmates, which causes even greater difficulties within the prison system, even greater disillusionment, and even greater risk to those people who work in the correctional system.

The third is the growing number of incarcerated offenders with mental health issues, which is not in any form being addressed by this bill or any others that the Conservative government is putting forward. We know that this is really not a private member's bill but rather a strategy by the government as a whole, and probably comes right out of the Prime Minister's Office.

These are the priorities of any responsible government, and they are not the priorities of the current government, so we know it is not really a responsible government.

Correctional Service Canada, under the Commissioner's directive, “Information Sharing”, revised July 24, 2014, currently is required to provide the following information related to those defined as “high profile offenders”:

41. The Parole Officer will ensure the high profile offender flag has been entered in the offender’s file in OMS.

42. The high profile offender flag will be deactivated only in consultation with the Regional Communications Manager. The only circumstance warranting a removal of the high profile offender flag is when the flag has been activated in error.

43. If it is determined that the proposed decision or event regarding a high profile offender is likely to generate significant public attention and impact public safety or the safe return of the offender to the community, the Institutional Head/District Director will ensure the Parole Officer forwards an e-mail, upon a decision being rendered, to the regional distribution list created for high profile offenders. The e-mail will include, at a minimum, the following:

a. the offender’s name and FPS number

b. an indication of the proposed case management decision or event, the geographic location of the event and the anticipated date and length of the event, when known

c. any known public interest or recent community attention that are likely to be significant and may impact public safety or the safe return of the offender to the community.

44. Upon receipt of the notification from the Parole Officer, the Regional Communications Manager will advise if there are any additional media concerns, using the regional distribution list created for high profile offenders.

Simply put, there are already a lot of conditions in place. This bill is unnecessary. It is more of the same, punitive in nature, and does absolutely nothing for the public safety of Canadians.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2015 / 7:45 p.m.
See context

Scarborough Centre Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I am certainly pleased to speak today to private members' Bill C-642, which was introduced by my colleague, the member for Saint John. Contrary to what the Liberal member for Malpeque just said, I would like to thank him for taking an issue that is very personal to his constituency, listening to the concerns of his constituents in his riding and bringing solutions o Ottawa to address those concerns. Members of Parliament should be doing that.

Since being elected in 2006, our government has been very clear. For too long, the rights of criminals have come before the rights of victims and the rights of all law-abiding Canadians. That is why we have passed over 30 measures to crack down on crime. Our government has a strong record on this issue, and we can see the results. Contrary to what the Liberals believe or what they think, crime has actually gone down, and Canadians feel safer in their homes and in their communities.

The legislation before us seeks changes to how victims and the Canadian public are informed about high-profile offenders who are released into communities on statutory release. Our Conservative government is pleased to support the bill.

At the outset, let me provide a brief background on statutory release.

Since the first Penitentiary Act of 1868, various mechanisms have existed to allow for the early release of criminals. The rationale was to provide an incentive for good behaviour and rehabilitation. Until 1992, these mechanisms were based on various combinations of statutory release and earned remission. Statutory release itself was introduced in 1992, when the Corrections and Conditional Release Act was enacted. It allows some low-risk federal offenders to serve the final third of their sentence in the community under strict supervision.

I am pleased to note that this would be changed by the statutory release reform act, which was recently introduced by our government. We would ensure that dangerous, repeat and violent offenders no longer have access to this early release. I look forward to this legislation receiving support from all members of the House. It is unfortunate to note, however, that both the leaders of the NDP and the Liberal Party have indicated that they are opposed to these common sense changes that would protect Canadians.

However, returning back to the legislation before us today, under section 25 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, Correctional Service of Canada is mandated to share information with the police upon the conditional release of an offender, including statutory release. It also provides the police with an information package about high-risk offenders released into the community at the end of the sentence. If warranted, the police may issue a public notification about a high-risk offender, which generally occurs when the offender is released at the end of their sentence.

As we know, the release of violent or sexual offenders can cause a great deal of anxiety in communities. We heard that today from the member who brought forward this bill. I imagine that most of my colleagues in the House share the same concerns as the member for Saint John, who was compelled to introduced this bill after three high-profile offenders were released to a halfway house in his riding last year.

The legislation before us would help to provide communities with important information about a high-profile offender before he or she would begin statutory release. It would also offer an avenue for community officials to provide feedback to Correctional Service of Canada before the offender would be released, feedback that would be considered in the development of the community release strategy for the offender.

Allow me now to go into more detail about the four provisions of the proposed legislation.

It begins by proposing a definition for a high-profile offender in the CCRA. A high-profile offender is defined as one who has committed an offence under schedule 1 of the CCRA and who, as a result, has been or has the potential to be the subject of a significant public or media interest. The first part of this definition is clear. Schedule 1 includes a broad range of violent and sexual offences, including more serious offences such as aggravated assault, hostage taking and robbery.

As for the second part of the definition, the Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada would determine whether the dynamics of the offence caused or had the potential to cause significant public interest.

To give members an idea of the numbers that we are talking about, over the last 10 years, an average of 324 offenders who had made the definition of high-profile were released on statutory release each year.

Next, the bill proposes that Correctional Service of Canada be required to post a range of information about a high-profile offender on its website before the offender is released on statutory release. This will consist of the high-profile offender's name, photo, previous convictions, date of release, and the destination and any conditions attached to the statutory release itself.

As is often the case when dealing with the criminal justice system, there would be exceptions to the release of this information when its disclosure would have a negative impact on the safety of the public.

The third provision of the bill would require CSC to provide written notice of a high-profile offender's pending release and the release information to the victim.

Our government has long advocated for a shift in the focus of our criminal justice system. We have worked toward giving victims a clear, strong voice for the entire judicial process, as well as putting in place measures that give victims more access to information.

Indeed, we have recently introduced legislation to create a Canadian victims bills of rights. One of those rights is for the right to information, which would enshrine a victim's right to receive information about the progress and investigation of the offence, the timing and location of proceedings, their outcome and information about reviews and timing of the offender's conditional release.

To ensure that Bill C-642 does not duplicate provisions found in the victims bill of rights act, we will examine amendments at the committee stage to ensure the bill is as effective as possible.

The fourth provision of this legislation would require CSC to provide notice of the release of the offender into the community and to hold public consultations with representatives of that community, including the local police. CSC would then take those views into account when preparing to release the offender.

This is yet another important step in our efforts to keep victims and all Canadians informed about the whereabouts of high-profile offenders.

I would like to thank the member for Saint John for bringing forward this important legislation, for bringing a forward a bill to the House that represents the concerns of his constituency. On this side of the House, we actually support these types of measures. Although the New Democrats and the Liberals have said they will not support it, I certainly hope they do come to their senses and join me in supporting the bill.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2015 / 7:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jean Rousseau NDP Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, upon listening to my speech, members will quickly understand not only my interest in but also my uneasiness—and even my ambiguity—in speaking clearly to the matter before legislators, namely Bill C-642, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (high profile offender).

In October 2009, my cousin Natasha was savagely kidnapped by a repeat offender, a sexual predator. He murdered her shortly after assaulting her. The authorities found her body a few days later. My life, the lives of her close relatives and especially her mother's life were turned upside down forever. When the police caught this high-profile offender, his long list of misdeeds gave pause to our society: hostage-taking, repeated sexual assault, repeated domestic violence—which are all found in Schedule I of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act—and also drunk driving, road rage, drug possession and other offences.

It makes you wonder why he was out on parole. In reality, the real questions this evening are as follows: Would this bill have affected his release? How could the people involved have influenced this decision? I am not really convinced that it would have made a difference.

First, this amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act concerning high-profile offenders is grossly inadequate, meaningless and unfortunate when we examine the scope of its provisions. There is absolutely nothing about their reintegration into society and, more particularly, there is nothing about providing resources to victims. Tracking the comings and goings of an offender in a neighbourhood or community is not going to alleviate the stress of victims of crime, let alone prevent offenders from committing other crimes in a community, regardless of how close by or how far the offender is living.

I will not even comment on the availability of drug treatment programs, mental illness treatment programs, and anger or violence management programs, let alone their effectiveness.

The objective of the bill is to require the Correctional Service of Canada, in certain circumstances, to disclose particulars of the statutory release of a high-profile offender by posting those particulars on the service’s website and to provide a written notice to the victim, but the bill definitely misses the mark. Our police forces already have the discretionary power to disclose all of the relevant information regarding offenders covered in Bill C-642 when they deem it necessary. In the specific case I mentioned, it would have been extremely necessary.

As a result, this objective, while laudable, calls into question the credibility of this bill, especially if we look at the results of the consultations this government has held on these types of issues since 2006. Not once have the Conservatives considered anything important coming from citizens' groups or stakeholders. The minister and his government simply hold phony consultations, which have become old hat now, in order to satisfy their need for control and partisan politics, at the expense of good public policy and good faith that could make our streets and neighbourhoods safer.

In this case, even though all kinds of people testified in committee that it was important to provide prevention programs or other types of programs to someone who is being reintegrated or released, nothing to that effect was included in this bill.

I would remind the House that according to the Correctional Service of Canada's definition, a high-profile offender is an offender whose offence dynamics have elicited or have the potential to elicit a community reaction in the form of significant public or media interest.

When the NDP voted in favour of Bill C-32, the Victims Bill of Rights Act, which provides for a mechanism for communicating information to victims regarding an offender's conditional release, we thought the issue was resolved. Alas, no, this is just more partisanship. The practical political interests of an upcoming propaganda campaign are the impetus for this bill, which serves no legal purpose and does nothing to improve public safety.

Specifically, this bill has to do with high-profile offenders who have committed a schedule 1 offence, as my colleagues have already mentioned. Such offences include causing injury with intent, using a firearm, invitation to sexual touching, child pornography, corruption, criminal negligence causing death, criminal negligence causing bodily harm, as well as dangerous driving, harassment, assault, rape and aggravated assault. Many of those offences were among the ones committed by the criminal I was talking about earlier.

These offences are enough to make Canadians shudder. Nobody wants the people who have committed these crimes anywhere near them. Everyone agrees on that. However, the victims' bill of rights already includes provisions on the disclosure of the comings and goings and all of the information the victims want.

However, victims do not always want that information. They just want to know that these predators are far away from them. Regardless of formal demands, criminals always come back. That is stressful for victims and can cause burnout.

We live in a changing world. People want to live freely, to enjoy health and safety. That is one of the principles that all bills should be based on to ensure they are useful and pragmatic.

It is clear to me that weakening the social fabric by cutting front-line services, such as food banks, education and mental health services, does not help people who are vulnerable and marginalized, nor does it help struggling or single-parent families.

It is our duty to put those who can be redeemed back on the right track. Some can be redeemed, but they need reintegration programs and help. The resources have to be available. This government puts various provisions in place through its bills, but it constantly forgets about resources, both human and financial.

In conclusion, I believe that this bill is futile and useless. It does not achieve the objective of making our society safer, even though that is what Canadians expect. The NDP believes that we must help victims of crime get their lives back by ensuring that they can benefit from all of the services they need, including the full range of legal and health services. We want to work with victims' groups to find real, pragmatic solutions.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActRoutine Proceedings

December 4th, 2014 / 10:05 a.m.
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Conservative

Rodney Weston Conservative Saint John, NB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-642, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (high profile offender).

Mr. Speaker, I rise to introduce my very first private member's bill in this House. I feel confident that my colleagues will see the wisdom of these amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. The amendments are meant to address the concerns of any community that is home to a halfway house that houses high profile offenders after their release.

In my riding of Saint John, a situation arose last year when three such offenders were released to a halfway facility without warning to the community. This prompted a wave of fear throughout the community that I am sure is not unique to Saint John, but it was nonetheless unsettling.

This bill asks that an offender's name and photograph be posted on the Correctional Service website, along with any previous convictions, date of release, destination, and any conditions attached to the statutory release.

The bill also requires that Correctional Service Canada provide communities with notice of the proposed release of any high profile offenders, hold public consultations with community representatives, including police, and take into account the views of the host community.

I look forward to hearing the views of my colleagues on these proposed amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. I also hope that it addresses the concerns raised by my constituents in Saint John.

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