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.