Act respecting the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal Acts

An Act to establish the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal Acts and to amend certain Acts

Sponsor

Sylvie Boucher  Conservative

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

Status

Defeated, as of Nov. 1, 2017

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-343.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment establishes the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal Acts and sets out the Ombudsman’s powers, duties and functions. It also amends the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights to clarify that the Ombudsman is the authority that has jurisdiction to review complaints under that Act. Lastly, it makes consequential amendments to certain acts.

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

Nov. 1, 2017 Failed 2nd reading of Bill C-343, An Act to establish the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal Acts and to amend certain Acts

Act Respecting the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal ActsPrivate Members' Business

October 26th, 2017 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Scarborough Southwest Ontario

Liberal

Bill Blair LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to rise to speak to Bill C-343, An Act to establish the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal Acts and to amend certain Acts. This bill seeks to establish a new department supporting an office of the federal ombudsman for victims of criminal acts, and it would drastically expand the role, mandate, and powers of the current victims ombudsman and thereby incur associated costs. Bill C-343 also proposes to make the victims' ombudsman an agent of Parliament with unrestricted investigatory powers and, in my opinion, an overly broad mandate.

To better understand Bill C-343's proposals, it is important to review the existing mandate of the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. The current office was created in 2007 pursuant to a decision of the Prime Minister as part of his prerogative for the machinery of government. The ombudsman's mandate establishes the terms and conditions of an order in council and provides that the office do the following: to assist individual victims with regard to the provisions of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act; to promote and facilitate access to federal services and legislation available to victims of crime; to increase awareness of victims' needs and victims' issues among criminal justice personnel; to promote federal legislation for victims of crime among criminal justice personnel; to identify and review emerging and systemic issues, including those issues related to programs and services provided or administered by the Department of Justice or the Department of Public Safety.

The ombudsman is required to submit an annual report to the Minister of Justice on the activities of the office. The bill's sponsor has stated that the Department of Justice can remove anything from the ombudsman's annual report that is unfavourable to the department, before tabling it in Parliament. I must correct this statement, as it is simply untrue. Neither the Minister of Justice nor officials in her department have any authority whatsoever to alter the ombudsman's report in any way. The Minister of Justice tables the ombudsman's annual reports in Parliament, along with a government response that often responds directly to criticisms or recommendations included in that report. In addition to the annual reports, the ombudsman may also issue special reports at any time to the Minister of Justice or to the Minister of Public Safety concerning any matter within those ministers' mandates. These special reports can be made public by the office of the ombudsman 60 days after being submitted to either minister. As is the case with the annual report, the ombudsman's special reports cannot be altered by the ministers of justice or public safety or by officials from those departments.

Since the establishment of the office, the ombudsman has published nine annual reports, seven special reports, and two systemic review reports. In addition, the victims ombudsman has made numerous appearances before House and Senate parliamentary committees to provide recommendations on various bills addressing issues, such as on-line crime, increased penalties, victims' rights, firearms, elder abuse, and the amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act affecting victims.

The sponsor has stated that the bill would improve the functioning of the victims ombudsman's office by making the ombudsman independent and directly accountable to Parliament. While the proposed changes would make the office a separate department, the bill curiously proposes to have the ombudsman report to Parliament through the Minister of Justice, who would table the annual report. As this is in fact exactly the same process as that currently followed, the bill appears to fail in its goal of making the ombudsman directly accountable to Parliament.

The current Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime is funded through the Department of Justice, but operates at arm's length from the federal departments responsible for victims' issues. This arm's-length relationship is critical to the credibility of that office. There is no evidence that the existing system for ensuring independence is failing in any respect. It allows the ombudsman to address victims' concerns by working directly with the relevant federal department and to propose options for policy and legislative reform that would benefit victims, and yet it does not involve the additional expense associated with the creation and maintenance of a separate department as proposed in Bill C-343.

The bill's sponsor has stated that there would not be any new costs associated with the proposed new ombudsman's office. We know that this is simply not accurate. New costs would be incurred on an ongoing basis to develop the internal services to support that office, such as human resources, security, communications, information management, and technology and financial services. These costs are currently borne within the Department of Justice. In addition to these costs, there would be extra costs incurred as a result of making the ombudsman an agent of Parliament. As previously noted by the hon. member for Eglinton—Lawrence, section 54 of the Constitution requires that bills that appropriate any part of the public revenue must be recommended to the House of Commons by the Governor General.

Standing Order 79(1) similarly prohibits the House from passing any bill that requires the appropriation of funds without the support of the Governor General.

The sponsor of Bill C-343 also has suggested that the ombudsman's existing mandate does not allow her to fully discharge her responsibilities. Most notably, the sponsor is concerned that the mandate does not permit the ombudsman to conduct reviews of complaints under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. I respectfully disagree. The existing mandate is sufficiently broad to allow the victims' ombudsman to provide a second level of review for complaints of alleged rights infringements under the Canadian Bill of Rights. Since coming into force in 2015, that act has enshrined rights for victims of crimes at the federal level.

These rights apply to victims in their interactions with the Canadian criminal justice system. One of the key objectives of the act is to foster a culture of change in the system to ensure the police, crown prosecutors, correction officials, and others provide victims with the information they need about their case, provide them with the necessary measures of protection, give them opportunities to be heard, and to facilitate their ability to seek restitution for the losses incurred as a result of the crime.

The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights also expanded the role of the federal ombudsman for victims of crime with respect to addressing victim complaints. It provides that victims who are not satisfied with the outcome of the internal complaint mechanism of a federal department may file a complaint. The website for the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights complaints mechanisms indicates clearly that the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime is the second level of review for the listed federal departments and agencies. This mechanism is open and accessible to all Canadians.

The ombudsman's website currently shows that her office assists victims by providing them with information about their rights under federal law and how to request her office conduct a review of a victim's complaint about any federal department, legislation, or services related to victims of crime. The office reported that it had responded to 713 issues that were the subject of complaints in 2015-16. Victims' rights were included among the top five topics for which Canadians sought the assistance of the ombudsman's office.

In spite of the sponsor's assertions to the contrary, it appears quite clear to me that the ombudsman's current mandate allows her to provide assistance with complaints related to the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.

I value the important role the current Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime plays in our criminal justice system. She is a former colleague and a close friend. In the absence of compelling evidence that the ombudsman requires any of the measures suggested by the sponsor, I am unable to support Bill C-343.

Act Respecting the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal ActsPrivate Members' Business

October 26th, 2017 / 5:35 p.m.
See context

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-343, an act to establish the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal Acts and to amend certain Acts.

The NDP has proudly and always has been a strong advocate for victims' rights. I therefore support the bill because it seeks to better support those victims on the road to healing. By ensuring the independence and the long-term existence of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal Acts, the bill places a priority on the rights of the victims. No matter what government is in power, it is victims who will be recognized.

The Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal Acts, an act which was created in 2007, is an institution under the auspices of the ministry of justice. The important and declared purpose of this institution is to help victims of crime and their families. Its mandate has evolved ever since, notably with the introduction of the Conservative government's Victims Bill of Rights, Bill C-32, in 2014.

At that time, we supported the victims bill of rights bill, which sought to ease the burden for the victims by granting them this set of rights, although some experts argued that it would not meet all the needs of victims. As was made clear by a significant number of witnesses during the 2014 committee study, victims had to be put first. Much remains to be done in that regard.

This is all the more important given the current legal context and the implications of the R. v. Jordan decision. Timelines on unreasonable delays for trials have been imposed, up to 18 months in the lower provincial courts and up to 30 months in superior federal courts.

In the wake of this decision, many charges related to violent crimes have been stayed. This is notable in the case of a man accused of killing his wife, a father accused of child abuse, and a sexual assault of a toddler in a daycare centre. This brings to light the abysmal lack of resources in our justice system, and its terrible consequences. It underlines the necessity of appointing more judges, of creating more courtrooms, and of providing the system with adequate resources. If not, many other charges, like those already mentioned, will be stayed due to unreasonable delays.

We must put ourselves in the victims' skin to understand how terrifying and disheartening it must be to learn that an offender escapes justice. The government must come to realize the additional emotional trauma and stress it can cause people victimized by crime, and the urgent need for those victims to have access to a legal system that allows justice to be done. The government must act accordingly. Victims must be confident that their government is there to help and support them in this difficult and often bewildering journey.

However, despite these pressing needs, the previous government and current government did not do their best to address the situation. Quite the contrary, they contributed to the deterioration of our justice system while they were in power and when they were in opposition.

Although the former Conservative government introduced strong criminal laws as well as the Victims Bill of Rights, it also slashed police budgets and undermined police resources. Moreover, the actual delays on trials are nothing new. This situation has been a reality of the system for decades. These deficiencies are the result of years and years of neglect and cuts to our judicial system.

The former Conservative government could have done something to prevent the present chaos when it was in power. Why did it not give the judicial system the resources that were needed? Why, instead, did that government cut resources drastically? I am, however, pleased that one of the members of that previous government has seen fit to at least partially redress that neglect by introducing Bill C-343.

For their part, the Liberals' justice agenda is equally insufficient. It is under the current Liberal government that charges for sexual assault and first degree murder are being stayed. What is the government doing to ensure that those accused of these crimes are brought to trial? The government has been very slow to address this situation. However, it must act now and deal with the crisis to ensure that no more charges are unfairly stayed or withdrawn. Quite simply, the government must adequately fund the justice system. This is a priority, or at least it should be.

Why the government feels it does not need to adequately resource our justice system is a mystery. Does it regard Canadians as the lumpenproletariat? Notably, it could make a real and important difference by appointing more judges and by providing sufficient resources to our courtrooms. Proper funding is essential. It is crucial if we are to have any chance of bringing hope to victims and bringing those accused of violent crimes to justice. It is the only appropriate response if we are to truly respect those who have suffered, their families, who have likewise suffered, and our communities. We need to bring them a sense of closure and a sense that the system has served them well.

In addition to providing proper resources to our justice system, everything must be done to ensure that victims are offered adequate support on the road to healing and recovery. Bill C-343 seeks to promote the better provision of help and services for crime victims. This, of course, is very much in keeping with the values of the NDP.

I am sure members are aware that since the federal ombudsman for victims of crime operates as a program under the Department of Justice, it is not necessarily independent. This is a problem. Freedom from political interference is exactly what the proponent of the bill presently before us wants to address. The intent is to strengthen the office of the ombudsman by upgrading this position from a program and making it equal to that of the correctional investigator.

For instance, the ombudsman is currently required to submit the annual reports to the Department of Justice rather than to Parliament. Therefore, no matter what is said, in the event the department does not agree with a recommendation or is concerned about a criticism from the ombudsman, it can remove it from the report. This goes against the fundamental goal of the institution. How can the ombudsman be the voice of the victims it serves if its recommendations are at risk of being removed?

To make absolutely sure that the ombudsman can effectively represent victims and their rights, the position has to be independent and accountable directly to Parliament. This is crucial to better protect the rights of victims and to prove to all victims that they matter. Therefore, I strongly recommend that Bill C-343 go to committee, where its effects can be examined and where there can be a discussion in regard to how to better strengthen the role of the ombudsman. However, this does not change the fact that the Liberal government must take immediate action to amend the current crisis.

We must always bear in mind that the road to healing after suffering a great trauma is very difficult. The experience of victims of crime can be very painful and arduous when they become caught up in the justice system. By testifying in court, and when sometimes having to challenge a ruling, they have to relive the terrible crimes they experienced. This is often complicated by added administrative barriers and difficulties, notably the problem of understanding the legal jargon and the necessity of filling out form after form. This is the reason it is critical to the healing process that the voices of those who have suffered be truly heard and that their rights be truly respected. We must ensure that their road to healing is as seamless as possible.

By passing bill C-343, we can show victims that we support them. This is something we, as parliamentarians, must take seriously. Every party must be committed to the well-being and healing of victims. Action must be taken now out of respect for those people. They need to know that their needs will always be addressed, that real and just action is possible, and finally, and most importantly, that victims will be treated fairly in Canada's justice system. I would hope that the latitude is given to the ombudsman to make that so.

Act Respecting the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal ActsPrivate Members' Business

October 26th, 2017 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today in support of the hon. member for Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans—Charlevoix and her private member's Bill C-343, an act to establish the office of the federal ombudsman for victims of criminal acts and to amend certain acts.

I am confident and hopeful all parties represented in the chamber will join me in resounding support for this bill, because it would ensure the protection, information assistance, and liaison services would remain in place for victims, much as they currently are for criminals from the office of the ombudsman for federal offenders. Having an arm's-length regulator in place for the victims of crime is the right thing to do, and I will speak specifically about the services offered by the victims ombudsman in addition to laying out the case to ensure that equivalent supports and services are accessible to victims of crime, as they currently are to offenders.

The mandate of the victims ombudsman would be to ensure that victims are informed, considered, protected, and supported. The service would offer victims of crime the opportunity to learn about their individual rights under our federal laws, learn what services are available to them, and if necessary, lodge a complaint about any federal agency in its dealings with victims of crime. In addition to this, the federal ombudsman for victims of crime would ensure that policies are made to reflect victims' needs and concerns. By being in communication with victims, the ombudsman would be able to identify the areas that may be of concern to victims or that may negatively impact victims, and when appropriate to do so, the office of the ombudsman for victims of criminal acts may make recommendations to the government.

The mandate relates exclusively to matters of federal jurisdiction and enables the ombudsman to specifically promote access by victims to existing federal programs and services for victims; address complaints of victims about compliance with the provisions of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that apply to victims of crimes committed by offenders under federal jurisdiction; promote awareness of the needs and concerns of victims and the applicable laws that benefit victims of crime, including to promote the principles as set out in the Canadian Statement of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime with respect to matters of federal jurisdiction; and to identify and review emerging and systemic issues, including those related to the services by the Department of Justice or the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness that could negatively impact victims of crime.

I am proud of the Harper government's initiative to create the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime as an independent resource for victims of crime. I was there in 2007 when the government launched this. I was very pleased with the support of people like Senator Boisvenu, who was not a senator at the time but was very interested and involved with victims of crime. I am sure that, regardless of what side of the aisle one sits on, all members would agree that this office has served an important role for all victims of crime.

At the present time, the ombudsman operates, as we heard, within the Department of Justice and therefore does not function as a completely autonomous body. This could prevent the ombudsman from conducting a formal investigation within the Department of Justice itself. Another example of this would be in a federal prosecution where a victim of crime felt that his or her voice was not afforded the adequate opportunity to be heard. This could ultimately undermine the confidence of victims towards the minister of justice and the Department of Justice. Other examples could be when a victim has not been invited by the Parole Board or the prison system to a hearing on the offender's release, when the federal crown and defence make a plea bargain without consulting the victim, or when a victim is refused the opportunity to make a statement before a sentence is given in court.

This illustrates the importance of the ombudsman to become a parliamentary officer answerable to the Parliament of Canada, because an ombudsman is a person with authority to conduct thorough, impartial, independent investigations and make recommendations to government organizations with respect to the difficulties and problems experienced in the case of victims.

Normally, an ombudsman will investigate in response to citizen complaints, but he or she can also investigate on his or her own initiative. In most cases, an ombudsman is appointed by Parliament and can issue reports and recommendations to government officials and ultimately to Parliament itself.

The same protections are offered to criminals through the correctional investigator as the ombudsman for federal offenders. If criminals are protected by their own autonomous ombudsman, it is only fitting and reasonable that victims of crime should be afforded the same rights. By the same token, it is only equitable to ensure that the ombudsman for victims of crime is equivalent to that of the position of the correctional investigator for offenders. This is in line with the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights mandate: information, protection, participation, and restitution for victims. Victims must be strongly and independently represented. This is a fundamental right that criminals have had since 1971.

At present, the federal ombudsman for victims of crime must table its annual report to the Department of Justice, meaning that if a recommendation and/or criticism is mentioned in the report that is not favourable to the Department of Justice, the minister could remove it. Such a possibility is not acceptable. It could have the effect of challenging the faith that victims of crime should have in our overall justice system. The ability to monitor, to make recommendations or necessary criticism is imperative.

I would like to highlight some of the more high profile submissions and the importance of this work.

The ombudsman submitted to the pre-inquiry design process in order to facilitate a national design process for the current national inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women. The ombudsman also made recommendations for Bill C-26, which sought to make a number of changes to the Criminal Code and other legislation to address some issues related to sexual offences against children, including creating a new national public database containing information on high risk child sex offenders. The ombudsman has also made valuable contributions to the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. I remember how important this was to my colleague, Peter MacKay, and the leadership he showed on this. These are just to name a number of them.

Ultimately, the mandate of the federal ombudsman for victims of crime is to inform, consider, protect, and support victims. It is the the obligation of parliamentarians to ensure that Canadians who are victims of crime can continue rely on their elected members of Parliament to ensure that they are adequately informed, that their needs are taken into consideration, that they are fully protected as citizens of Canada, and that they are fully supported by the federal government by the respective departments they represent. The only way to ensure that Canadians are fully and impartially represented is to put the ombudsman for victims of crime at arm's length from the Department of Justice.

I respectfully ask my colleagues in the House do the right thing by all Canadians and support the hon member from Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans—Charlevoix's bill to ensure victims are effectively and independently represented. Together, we will ensure that victims of crime in Canada will continue to be informed, considered, protected, and supported.

Act Respecting the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal ActsPrivate Members' Business

October 26th, 2017 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Alain Rayes Conservative Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, before I begin my speech, I would like to commend the member for Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans—Charlevoix and Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu for their efforts. They worked extremely hard on this bill to stand up for victims across Canada.

Today, we are talking about the importance of Bill C-343, which seeks to amend the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights in order to make the ombudsman for victims of crime independent from the Department of Justice. This bill would also create an ombudsman's office that is independent of the department, which is very important.

It is 2017, and in the interest of fairness, it is high time that victims enjoyed all the same rights as criminals. I said “the same”, but I really think that victims should have more rights than criminals.

This bill sets party politics aside and puts the well-being of victims and their families first. To begin with, understanding the importance of the ombudsman's role is crucial. The ombudsman plays a vital role because he or she represents victims of crime when their rights are violated. Furthermore, trials and investigations can be very painful for victims and their loved ones, which can slow down the healing or grieving process. It is therefore not surprising that many families and victims decide not to proceed at some point in the process. Clearly, the ombudsman's office is an extremely important resource.

However, given that it currently falls under the Department of Justice and is not an independent office, it could be abolished at any time. In fact, it is the only ombudsman's office that is not independent of a department.

The ombudsman for federal offenders is independent, but the one for victims is not. What this basically means is that, at present, criminals have more rights than victims. Bill C-343 will give the ombudsman for victims of crime the importance that that office should have in our society.

The creation of the office of the ombudsman for victims of crime would make the ombudsman an officer of Parliament just like some of the most important players in our democratic society, such as the Auditor General and the parliamentary budget officer. Theses officers are accountable to Parliament and not to a minister governed by the leader of a political party and his or her agenda.

Thanks to this new status, the ombudsman would have the power to compel the government to be accountable for the welfare of the victims, who would be able to trust this office when they file a complaint against the government, which includes the Department of Justice. The victims will be guaranteed to be invited to the Parole Board of Canada when it deals with their case. They will be guaranteed to be consulted when the defence and the crown negotiate a plea bargain, and they will be able to make a statement before the sentence is handed down.

This bill will also ensure the continuity of the position. In other words, it cannot be abolished. The ombudsman position is currently nothing more than a program that can be abolished as quickly as the Liberals raise taxes.

Being under the Department of Justice limits what the office of the ombudsman can do. For example, when the ombudsman wants to conduct an investigation, he cannot see it through. His status simply prevents him from doing so.

In the event that a victim files a complaint against the Department of Justice, the ombudsman would have to investigate the very hand that feeds him. The confidence of victims and Canadians is crucial to the legitimacy of the judicial system.

At present, can we blame victims for losing confidence in our system when their rights are violated and they have no recourse? Can we blame them for feeling betrayed and abandoned by us, the decision-makers?

I want to point out that this bill would make the position of ombudsman equal to the position of correctional investigator, which operates at arm's length from the Department of Justice. That is another important federal agency for criminals, who enjoy more powers and rights to defend themselves than the victims of crime, who currently only have a simple program to protect themselves.

How is that fair?

Victims of crime should enjoy the fundamental right to have strong and independent representation, just as criminals have had for several years. Giving victims the opportunity to access the services of an office that would defend their interests without running the risk of a conflict of interest is a matter of equal rights and fairness between victims and criminals. In addition to expanding investigative opportunities, the office of the ombudsman could also do a better job of advocating for the rights of victims of crime under the four pillars of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights: the right to information, the right to protection, the right to participation, and the right to restitution.

To clarify this for my colleagues in the other parties, having an ombudsman who is not independent is like having a union representative who is his own boss. That arrangement would make no sense. Because of the indispensable role the ombudsman plays, it would be perfectly appropriate to make the position independent of the department. This is not meant to discredit the ombudsman, but rather to empower the ombudsman to help more victims. The ombudsman will have the power to investigate various departments and the independence this position requires in order to properly defend and apply the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Victims of crime should be the focus of the justice system in Canada, not criminals. This bill is one more step in the right direction. If more of my colleagues introduced bills like the one put forward by the member for Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans—Charlevoix, Canada's justice system would have the absolute confidence of all Canadians.

This bill is just as important as the one that was introduced by my former colleague, the Hon. Rona Ambrose. Her bill changed the way we treat victims of sexual assault by ensuring that judges have the proper training to respond to victims' unique needs. I need hardly remind members that that bill was unanimously passed by the House of Commons during the previous session. Even the Liberals recognized that victims of crime need help and recognition, not partisan games.

Imagine how much easier it would be for victims to report their assailant knowing that justice would be served. Imagine a father who lost his daughter or a mother who lost her son. They would know that the person who murdered their child would pay for what he did.

I am hearing a lot of noise coming from across the way. I think that is shameful when we are talking about such an important issue.

This bill is not partisan in any way. The well-being of victims and their loved ones must be the priority of every elected official, even those who are talking while I am giving my speech. Finally, Bill C-343 is more than just a simple bill. It is a matter of principle and respect for victims and their families. It seeks to provide them with the support they so desperately need.

In closing, I invite all members of the House to show their support for victims of crime by voting in favour of Bill C-343. I would like to thank the bill's sponsor and Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu for all the work they do to support victims and their loved ones in their fight for justice.

Act Respecting the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal ActsPrivate Members' Business

October 26th, 2017 / 6:05 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak in support of Bill C-343 introduced by the member for Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans—Charlevoix. This is a good bill. It is a common-sense bill. It will go a long way toward strengthening the role of the victims' ombudsman so that the victims' ombudsman can better fulfill her mandate of promoting, advancing, and protecting the rights and interests of victims of crime.

Just by way of background, the victims' ombudsman was established about 10 years ago by the previous Conservative government. It was established through the government's national victims strategy.

The purpose of the national victims strategy was to give victims of crime a voice at the table. As part of that strategy, the ombudsman was established to provide an important link between victims and government. Among the responsibilities of the victims' ombudsman include assisting victims to access programs and services, promoting awareness around the needs and issues of victims, and dealing with certain complaints brought forward by victims.

Over the last 10 years, the position of the victims' ombudsman has evolved. It has changed and part of that has to do with the passage of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, which our previous Conservative government brought into law, which statutorily enshrines rights of victims, rights that include the right to information, promotion, protection, and restitution.

I would submit that with the passage of the Victims Bill of Rights, the role and the importance of the victims' ombudsman is all that much more important. Consistent with that, bill C-343 would do much to help strengthen the victims' ombudsman to protect and defend the interest of victims.

Bill C-343 would make the ombudsman truly independent. It is true that the ombudsman does operate on an arm's-length basis but the fact remains that the ombudsman is housed within the Department of Justice. The ombudsman reports directly to the Minister of Justice. Bill C-343 would change that by moving the victims' ombudsman out of the ministry of justice. Instead of reporting directly to the Minister of Justice, the ombudsman would report directly to Parliament.

Having the victims' ombudsman report to Parliament rather than the minister would do a lot to help the ombudsman better carry out his or her mandate. After all, policy recommendations or a report of the ombudsman might concern matters that pertain directly to the minister or the Department of Justice. Moving the ombudsman out of the minister's office and out of the department to have it independently housed, to have the ombudsman completely independent, makes sense from that standpoint.

Additionally, Bill C-343 would make the victims' ombudsman permanent. Right now, the victims' ombudsman is a program of the Department of Justice and as a result, the ombudsman could be cancelled at any time by the government.

Bill C-343 would change that by statutorily establishing a victims ombudsman. I believe it would complement the first part of the bill, as it would make the ombudsman independent and help to ensure that he or she could carry out their work without interference, or the perception of interference, not to mention the possibility that the government in an instant could shut the ombudsman down simply because it perhaps did not like a report or recommendation by the ombudsman.

In addition to making the ombudsman independent and permanent, Bill C-343 would give the ombudsman some additional tools, including investigative powers. That is consistent and important in light of the passage of the Victims' Bill of Rights and would help the ombudsman ensure that the rights of victims, including those that are statutorily enshrined, are respected.

In short, Bill C-343 is a good bill. I know there have been some issues brought forward by the Liberals. However, I would submit that the concept of independence and permanence make sense. At the very least, the bill merits going to committee for further study and review.

The establishment of the victims ombudsman was due, in part, to the recognition by the previous government, unlike the Liberal government, that our criminal justice system has often placed criminals and their rights ahead of the rights of victims. For too long, victims have been ignored and not given a voice.

The Conservative government not only created the position of the ombudsman, but took many meaningful steps to give victims a voice in Canada's criminal justice system to ensure that their interests were addressed and that there was a place for them to go. While there was a tremendous amount of work done with many successes over nine and a half years, there remains a lot of work to be done to give victims a voice and to restore the place of the victim in Canada's criminal justice system.

I believe that Bill C-343 is a step in that direction. On that basis, I urge the House to pass Bill C-343 so it can go to committee for further study and review.

Act Respecting the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal ActsPrivate Members' Business

October 26th, 2017 / 6:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu as well as my assistants, because without them, I never would have been able to introduce my bill, one that I think is so important. I also want to thank my colleagues who support Bill C-343.

As I recall, the position of federal ombudsman for victims of crime was created in 2007. It was demanded by victims of crime for victims of crime. Since 2007, under the previous Conservative government, the rights of victims of crime have evolved considerably, but a lot of work remains to be done. For two years now, we have been waiting for this government to take up the torch on helping victims. To support the government's future efforts, I am proud to have introduced my first private member's bill, Bill C-343.

Act Respecting the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal ActsPrivate Members' Business

October 26th, 2017 / 6:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

I would like to be able to speak without being interrupted by the members opposite, Mr. Speaker. If they are not interested, I would ask them to leave the chamber.

We all know that it is unusual and unacceptable that the rights of victims of crime in Canada are still not systematically recognized, or recognized nearly to the same degree as the rights of criminals.

Victims of crime were very important to former Prime Minister Harper and nearly a decade ago he worked very hard to assert their rights. Recognizing victims' rights has become synonymous with wanting to give victims of crime a voice and rights that are on par with the rights of criminals. In the course of trying to gain this recognition, a number of things have been considered, including the creation of a federal ombudsman for victims of crime, a sort of counterpart to the federal ombudsman for criminals.

From day one, the ombudsman for victims has always reported to the Department of Justice. He is therefore not independent, unlike the ombudsman for criminals. He is tied to a Department of Justice program that can be abolished at any time. The powers of the ombudsman for victims of crime are limited, unlike those of the ombudsman for criminals, including the power to investigate when complaints are lodged by victims, especially complaints against the Department of Justice, to which the ombudsman reports directly.

The National Office for Victims, which is part of the public safety portfolio, the Correctional Service of Canada, the Parole Board of Canada, and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada review victims' complaints and work with them in order to formulate recommendations on how to remedy any infringement or denial of their rights.

If a victim of crime disagrees with a response received from the Department of Justice, he or she can go to the ombudsman for victims of crime. However, since the ombudsman is not independent from the department it is supposed to criticize and monitor, its powers are more limited. It could end up in a conflict of interest, to the detriment of the victims themselves.

The ombudsman could suggest an apology to the victim or a new review of the victim's request, but it would be a highly delicate matter to contradict a decision made by the department under which it operates and side with a dissatisfied victim demanding a new review of their complaint.

The main goal of Bill C-343 is to make the position of ombudsman for victims of crime equal to the position of correctional investigator, which is independent of the Department of Justice and can operate freely, unlike the ombudsman for victims of crime.

If the ombudsman makes a recommendation or criticism that is unfavourable to the Department of Justice, the department can remove it from the report at any time and thereby directly circumvent one of the chief purposes of the ombudsman for victims of crime, which is to be a voice for the victims and represent their rights and interests.

Victims of crime are asking for a voice and for fair and equitable representation before the Department of Justice. This is indispensable especially since the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights was passed because it expands the responsibilities of the ombudsman, who is the guardian of victims' fundamental rights. I sincerely hope that everyone in the House will be strong and stand up to protect victims of crime.

Act respecting the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal ActsPrivate Members' Business

October 4th, 2017 / 6:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

moved that Bill C-343, An Act to establish the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal Acts and to amend certain Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise in the House today for the second reading of my first private member's bill, Bill C-343, an act to establish the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal Acts and to amend certain acts.

The position of ombudsman for victims of crime was created in 2007. Like the ombudsman for the Department of National Defence and the ombudsman for offenders, or correctional investigator, the ombudsman for victims of crime exists for a reason: to defend the rights and interests of those in need of such advocacy.

Unlike the other federal ombudsmen, the ombudsman for victims of crime currently operates under a Justice Canada program and therefore is not independent from that department.

The main goal of Bill C-343 is to make the position of ombudsman for victims of crime equal to the position of correctional investigator. Commonly referred to as the ombudsman for offenders, the correctional investigator is federally appointed and operates at arm's length from the Department of Justice, unlike the ombudsman for victims of crime.

The ombudsman for victims of crime is currently not independent from the Department of Justice and is required to submit all her annual reports to the department instead of Parliament. Accordingly, if the ombudsman for victims of crime makes a recommendation or criticism in her report that is unfavourable to the Department of Justice, the department can remove it from the report at any time and thereby directly circumvent one of the chief purposes of the ombudsman for victims of crime, which is to be a voice for the victims and represent their rights and interests.

For victims of crime, having a voice and fair and equitable representation before the Department of Justice is critical to their healing process, which is all too often a difficult one. After experiencing a terrible trauma that is incredibly hard to survive, victims far too often have to fight to get their rights recognized at every stage of their journey.

The road to rehabilitation and healing is long and daunting. Victims have to provide a statement and testimony at trial, they have to be able to understand and digest all the legal jargon, and they might have to challenge a ruling. They also have to duly fill out a multitude of forms, even just to have the right to receive information.

Given that the ombudsman's responsibilities have significantly evolved since the position was created in 2007, particularly with the enactment of the victims bill of rights in 2015, it goes without saying that the rights of victims of crime must be respected and that, if they are not, the ombudsman for victims of crime must be able to properly represent those victims, independently of the Department of Justice. That is particularly true when a problem arises that is directly related to the department in question.

The rights of victims of crime are grouped under four categories in the bill of rights: the right to information, the right to protection, the right to participation, and the right to restitution.

It is important that the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights be updated to make the ombudsman for victims of crime an agent of Parliament who is independent from the minister and who is responsible for providing feedback and oversight.

For victims of crime, having an independent body to protect their rights is a matter of survival. All aspects of the Canadian justice system need to be fair and equitable.

Victims of crime and criminals must have equal rights, and ombudsman positions must also be equally independent.

Making the victims' ombudsman as independent as the criminals' ombudsman would be a big step in the right direction in proving to victims that they matter, and that all members of the House agree that it is unfair that in 2017, victims' rights are still not given the same importance as the rights of the criminals who destroyed their lives, that this must end, and that we need to give ourselves the legislative tools necessary to do just that.

For victims, passing Bill C-343 would ensure that the federal ombudsman for victims of criminal acts will operate at arm's length from the Department of Justice, and this is critically important to all victims. The ombudsman could do a better job of defending the rights and interests of those victims when they file a complaint against federal departments, particularly the federal Department of Justice.

I invite my colleagues to imagine themselves as someone who has suffered a terrible trauma after being victimized by a violent crime, someone whose basic rights enshrined in the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights have been violated during the court proceedings and who now wants to file a complaint against the federal Department of Justice. After a quick search on the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime website, they will soon realize that that office is an agency of the Department of Justice, and therefore an extension of the same department that is responsible for the wrongdoing.

Let us put ourselves in the shoes of a victim who thought they could rely on solid representation before the courts, when in fact they cannot count on the independence of the ombudsman representing them to the same extent as our soldiers and even criminals can count on their ombudsman. Who can such a victim turn to?

A very important part of the ombudsman's work involves identifying issues that affect victims of crime and issuing recommendations to help the federal government make its laws, policies, and procedures more compassionate toward victims.

The ombudsman must also help criminal justice system personnel and decision-makers develop a better understanding of victims' needs and identify systemic issues, some of which are created by the Department of Justice itself, that can have negative repercussions on victims. I believe that this part of the ombudsman's job is crucial for victims, and I have to wonder whether it can be done properly without full independence.

Not being fully independent makes things difficult for both the victims ombudsman and victims themselves. Trying to defend clients' interests before the Department of Justice without the independence and power to conduct a formal investigation to determine whether a complaint is legitimate and make recommendations to right a wrong is frustrating for the ombudsman, and it is frustrating for victims too.

Victims of crime deserve strong and independent representation. It should be a fundamental right, a right that criminals have always had. By passing Bill C-343, the position of ombudsman for victims of crime will no longer be a program. The victims are calling for a meaningful recognition of the office to ensure its long-term existence.

The time has come to make the victims ombudsman an agent of Parliament. Passing Bill C-343 provides the current government with an ideal opportunity to strengthen its position on transparency in the selection process for this type of appointment. Passing Bill C-343 is an opportunity to send a strong message to victims of crime.

In other words, everyone here in the House believes that it is high time we gave victims of crime equal rights relative to the rights of criminals, and that their recognition is in no way partisan. Every party is concerned about the well-being of victims. This is not a one-party issue.

In closing, for victims of crime and their loved ones, I hope that every member will support Bill C-343.

Act respecting the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal ActsPrivate Members' Business

October 4th, 2017 / 7:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Michel Picard Liberal Montarville, QC

Madam Speaker, I commend my colleague for her work on the extremely delicate subject of the importance of supporting victims of crime. I thank her for her attention to their cause.

However, I have an issue with this bill as drafted, and I would like to hear more from her about it. My concern is that saying the bill is intended to make this institution independent implies that it is not already, and seems to cast aspersions on the ombudsman's expertise and judgment and the department's ability to properly manage its affairs.

I know from experience that a number of departments have welcomed recommendations issued by various organizations and that the resulting collaboration, on matters of public safety or other issues, has always benefited Canadians.

Why, then, seek to make the ombudsman independent, when doing so casts a pall on the credibility of the system in its current form?

Act respecting the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal ActsPrivate Members' Business

October 4th, 2017 / 7:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

Madam Speaker, let me be clear: no aspersion is intended.

My bill calls for the position of federal ombudsman for victims of crime to be equal to the position of correctional investigator, which operates at arm's length from the Department of Justice. I am only asking that the ombudsman for victims of crime be granted the same independence.

Let us put ourselves in the shoes of a victim of violent crime. How can we defend both the widow and the orphan? I want the ombudsman for victims of crime to report to Parliament, not just to the department. When a complaint is made, the ombudsman needs to be able to tell us about it.

All the other ombudsmen, such as the ombudsmen for national defence and for offenders, operate at arm's length from the relevant departments. They report to the House, not to the departments. That is exactly what my bill seeks to achieve. I am not putting down the work of the ombudsman in any way. I only want the position to be independent. Being at arm's length from the system enables an ombudsman to—

Act respecting the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal ActsPrivate Members' Business

October 4th, 2017 / 7:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

Madam Speaker, the ombudsman position already exists. We just want it to be independent. This will not cost anything since the office already exists. We want the ombudsman to be able to work independently, like every other ombudsman.

Every ombudsman position that has been created has become independent. They are accountable to Parliament, not just to departments. This bill is very important for victims of crime.

I was fortunate, or perhaps unfortunate, to come from a family of police officers and prison wardens, so I have seen a lot of victims of crime. They are the ones who are asking us to make the ombudsman position independent.

This is not a partisan issue. It concerns every party. Whatever government is in office, this ombudsman would be independent and would be free to stand up for—

Act respecting the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal ActsPrivate Members' Business

October 4th, 2017 / 7:10 p.m.
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Eglinton—Lawrence Ontario

Liberal

Marco Mendicino LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, I want to begin by congratulating my colleague on all her hard work on this bill.

I am pleased to speak to Bill C-343, an act to establish the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal Acts and to amend certain Acts. This bill has been sponsored by the member for Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans—Charlevoix. It seeks to establish a new office for the federal ombudsman for victims of criminal acts.

As I am sure all members know, there is already an Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. It has been in place since 2007, and Sue O’Sullivan has very capably undertaken the role of federal ombudsman for victims of crime since 2010. The new office proposed by Bill C-343 would entail a drastic expansion of the role, mandate, and powers of the federal ombudsman for victims of crime.

While I support the need for a federal office for victims of crime, I cannot support this new, proposed office for the following three reasons.

First, the bill would require additional resources, beyond those currently provided, to establish a new department for the victims ombudsman. This issue was raised on a point of order by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons on May 12, who reminded us that section 54 of the Constitution requires that bills that appropriate any part of the public revenue must be recommended to the House of Commons by the Governor General. Standing Order 79(1) similarly prohibits the House from passing any bill that requires the appropriation of funds without the support of the Governor General. He also noted at the time that the bill would attempt to circumvent the requirement for a royal recommendation by tying it to a coming into force clause. Bill C-343 would establish a new office, which, according to precedent, may require a royal recommendation.

The second reason, unfortunately, I cannot support the bill is that it would make the federal victims ombudsman an agent of Parliament. Agents of Parliament have broad powers they are able to exercise at their own discretion. They do not require the approval of parliamentarians for their actions, and there is no avenue for members of Parliament or senators to direct their activities.

There are currently only eight officers of Parliament whose roles include the Auditor General, the Chief Electoral Officer, and the Privacy Commissioner.

The sponsor of Bill C-343 states that the bill would make the powers of the victims ombudsman equal to those of the correctional investigator in terms of independence and accountability to Parliament. This is, in fact, incorrect. The correctional investigator is not an agent of Parliament. Rather, the correctional investigator is appointed by the Governor in Council.

While the sponsor has noted that the responsibilities of the victims ombudsman have evolved since the coming into force of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, this does not justify elevating the victims ombudsman to the position of an agent of Parliament who would enjoy largely unrestricted independence. The victims ombudsman is already able to provide a second level of review for alleged infringements of victims' rights under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights once the internal complaints mechanisms of federal departments have been exhausted. A new agent of Parliament should not be created without first undertaking a rigorous analysis, and unfortunately, in this case, such an analysis has not been carried out.

The third reason I cannot support Bill C-343 is that it proposes new and unrestricted investigatory powers and an overly broad mandate for the victims ombudsman. The bill's proposed mandate would allow the ombudsman to investigate complaints against any federal department. The ombudsman's current mandate allows for investigations of complaints related to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, or CCRA, as it is known, and the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. This is in keeping with the limited number of statutes and programs for victims of crime at the federal level due to the constitutional division of powers. This is also in keeping with the powers of other ombudsmen.

The overly broad mandate proposed by Bill C-343 raises concerns regarding an overlap between the mandate and duties of the victims ombudsman and other federal ombudsmen or oversight bodies. For example, the Canadian Armed Forces has its own ombudsman. Similarly, the victims ombudsman currently does not have the authority to review complaints regarding the RCMP, as this is the responsibility of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission. It would be unwise to create a regime that could undercut or interfere with other oversight bodies that already exist.

As I mentioned, the bill's sponsor states that Bill C-343 is modelled on the correctional investigator, who is responsible for investigating and addressing complaints of federally incarcerated offenders. The investigatory powers granted to the correctional investigator are necessary due to the nature of the complaints being investigated, which can include allegations of mistreatment and human rights violations. The need for such broad investigatory powers does not exist for the victims ombudsman, who operates in a substantially different context. The role of the victims ombudsman is closer to that of other federal ombudsman, such as the veterans ombudsman, who does not have the power to compel documents or sworn testimony.

Our government is committed to a criminal justice system that keeps communities safe, protects victims, and holds offenders to account for their actions. Our government's ongoing support for the victims ombudsman is one such example of this commitment. However, I cannot support this bill for the significant substantive and procedural reasons that I have just highlighted.

Any proposals for changes to the ombudsman's mandate should be informed by evidence, rather than speculation. I am not aware of any evidence, such as an evaluation of the office of the victims ombudsman, that demonstrates any shortcomings in the current mandate of the ombudsman or that officer's ability to carry them out. In fact, as the numerous reports released by the ombudsman's office shows, the ombudsman's mandate has allowed for a broad range of work in the criminal justice and corrections systems in order to effect change for victims of crime since the office was first established in 2007.

I am also unaware of any evidence supporting the need to grant the ombudsman the additional discretion and independence that comes with an officer of Parliament position.

I am also unaware of any evidence supporting the need to grant the ombudsman the additional discretion and independence that comes with an agent of Parliament position.

An evaluation of the office of the victims ombudsman would allow for a measured consideration of the need for changes to the ombudsman's mandated powers. It would also allow for a careful assessment of the office of the victims ombudsman's current arm's-length relationship with the Department of Justice in order to determine if further independence would be required. In the absence of an evaluation of the current office, there is insufficient evidence to support a broad expansion of the ombudsman's mandate as proposed in the bill.

For all those reasons, in spite of all of the work of my hon. colleague, which I began by commending at the outset of my remarks, unfortunately we on this side are not able to support it. I would encourage all my colleagues to vote the bill down.

Act respecting the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal ActsPrivate Members' Business

October 4th, 2017 / 7:20 p.m.
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NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this bill because I believe that victims' issues are of utmost importance.

The bill that my colleague from the Quebec City region introduced addresses this issue. The ombudsman's office is currently a program within the Department of Justice. My colleague's bill will make that program a permanent, independent office. It will no longer be merely a Justice Canada program. The office will be much more independent. I think this is a very good idea, especially when the ombudsman has to intervene regarding problems within the Department of Justice itself. With more independence, the ombudsman will be able to do that properly.

I think this is a very good bill that really deserves to go to committee. I am sure there are probably other repercussions, but I think the committee can get to the bottom of that. I sincerely hope this bill will make it to committee.

It is important to give the ombudsman's office more independence because that will facilitate victims' access to federal programs and services. Once we have examined the bill more closely and maybe amended it to make it even better, it will achieve that goal.

I think it is important to point out that, too often, indigenous victims get completely overlooked. I believe that making the office of the ombudsman more independent would allow it to provide more assistance to indigenous victims of crime. Indigenous communities are often very isolated. Unlike other Canadians, the people who live in these communities cannot just go to the nearest courthouse for information. They have to get their information online or over the phone in a language that is not their mother tongue. That is why I believe it is especially important to highlight the circumstances indigenous victims often get trapped in. Whereas criminals with limited means are entitled to legal aid, victims are often left to chase down information for themselves and struggle to understand what is going on. Unfortunately, this can make victims feel overlooked.

Given the badly mismanaged missing and murdered indigenous women inquiry going on right now, I understand why indigenous victims fear and distrust the Canadian justice system. An independent ombudsman's office would be able to help them get more justice. It would also be in a position to issue recommendations so these women can get more resources and support and the reality of small communities can be better understood.

For people who live in Waskaganish or in the small village of Kangiqsualujjuaq in my colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou's riding, the courthouse is not next door. There are no victims services in their community. What is more, victims of crime committed locally might be forced to live with the person who committed the crime or with that person's family, which makes the situation even harder for a victim living in those communities. They might want a bit of privacy, but everything is out in the open in those communities. That is tough to go through.

I think that the ombudsman could focus specifically on the issue of services provided to indigenous victims who live in those communities. With greater independence, the ombudsman will not be afraid to make recommendations calling for swift action from the Department of Justice. That might be a bit harder to do for someone who is not fully independent.

Then, we might manage to truly improve the lives of women living in the north, but also of men who might be victims of crime.

We see what is happening with the Jordan decision, where criminals are being released without punishment. Lack of access to justice in the north is already an extremely complicated problem. Having a more independent and effective ombudsman whose term is secure will go a long way to improving justice in the north. I think it is worth sending this bill to committee so that we can truly understand how beneficial this role can be. By passing a bill like this one we might bring more justice to people who are far too often forgotten in our current justice system. I am talking about first nations in northern Quebec, but also across Canada.

Act respecting the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal ActsPrivate Members' Business

October 4th, 2017 / 7:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Madam Speaker, what a pleasure, honour, and privilege to speak to this bill introduced by my colleague, the very patient and very committed hon. member for Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans—Charlevoix. Toward the end of my comments, I will have a chance to touch on the circumstances surrounding this bill, but especially the circumstances surrounding that member's commitment.

Bill C-343 seeks to establish the office of the ombudsman for victims of crime. It is not written anywhere, not in any bill, civil code or criminal code, but there is a principle of justice whereby justice must be served, but most of all there must be the appearance of justice. That is exactly what this bill is trying to do.

We acknowledge that there has been an ombudsman for victims of crime in Canada since 2007. However, as the hon. member who introduced this bill said so well, the ombudsman is an honourable person who is diligent, earnest and professional, but unfortunately is in a conflict of interests. Why? Because the ombudsman works under the authority of the Department of Justice.

Because of the painful situation they are in, victims of crime may understandably have grievances against the Department of Justice. As a result, the ombudsman, despite all of his good will and professionalism, as well as the thoroughness, intensity, and quality of his work, finds himself in a conflict of interest when it comes time to determine whether the Department of Justice did its job properly.

That is the spirit in which the member introduced the bill now before us. The bill seeks to ensure that the ombudsman is independent from every level of government, organization, and service that victims may be in contact with.

It is a bit like saying that the ombudsman will now report to judges. That would not work. If victims feel as though they have been mistreated by a judge, that would constitute a conflict of interest. It would also not work to have the ombudsman report to crown prosecutors, defence lawyers, or the prison service. The ombudsman needs to be completely independent since he protects victims of crime.

When I read the bill introduced by the member for Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans—Charlevoix, I was surprised to learn that this was not already the case because it just makes sense. How can the protector of victims of crime not be independent? It goes without saying that such should be the case. Therein lies the genius and the wisdom of this bill. It implements a fundamental principle of justice: independence.

We must protect that basic principle, and this bill not only protects it but literally enshrines it in the very definition of the ombudsman's role and, most importantly, puts victims of crime first.

As the member explained very clearly earlier, the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights recognizes four categories of rights: information, protection, participation, and restitution.

All four are very present in this bill, which will ensure that victims get relevant information when they feel they need help from the ombudsman. Protection is critical, and anyone who has been in contact with a victim of crime knows very well that the first thing they ask for is protection. Victims have already been victimized, and they do not want to be victimized again by the system or, worse still, by the person, people, or institution that victimized them in the first place. That is why this right is such a prominent part of the bill before us.

The bill will also ensure participation by all stakeholders, especially victims, and it includes the restitution element, which is very subjective, of course.

That is precisely why we need to have an office that will rigorously, but above all independently, handle the requests of victims of crime. In 2007, when a parliamentarian decided to introduce this bill, that was merely the beginning. It goes without saying that experience leads us to want to make changes, but when I hear the government's argumentation, I think it is unfortunate, perhaps even suspicious, with all due respect.

First of all, the Liberals argue that this is an insult to the current ombudsman, when that is not at all the case. On the contrary, we want to give the protector of victims of crime even more tools and powers so that the office can take meaningful action, and more importantly, remain independent. This is a fundamental part of our justice system.

Furthermore, contrary to what the government is suggesting, this will not require any additional money, since the ombudsman already has a team in place. With a budget of over $300 billion, the Government of Canada can certainly come up with the money needed to guarantee such a fundamental function, namely, the position of victims ombudsman.

The staff in the ombudsman's office are doing a fine job, but unfortunately, they are not independent, since they fall under the Department of Justice. We would simply need to put them somewhere else and change the name plate, which would not cost much. I am hardly exaggerating. Obviously this could be done. The cost involved should not be a concern.

Not to get too off-topic, but is it really the Liberal government saying we need to count every penny, the same Liberal government that is accumulating deficits 80% larger than it promised? The Liberals have no idea when the budget will be back in balance, yet they have the nerve to lecture us about spending. Let us take what they say with a grain of salt.

For all of these good reasons, we believe this bill should proceed to a clause-by-clause study so it can be improved in committee. The process itself demands it.

As I said earlier, it is an emotional experience for me to support this bill, because I have the privilege of being acquainted with its sponsor, the member for Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans—Charlevoix. She was first elected in 2006, and as luck would have it, I was working as a journalist at the time, assigned to cover the federal election. I was in the basement of a restaurant in what is now the riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent when I spotted this brave woman, whom I had met during the election. She was accompanied by her leader, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, the member for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, the member for Lévis—Lotbinière, the member for Beauce, and the rest of the team. They were all having fun celebrating their victory.

I will never forget this woman who was at a table with at most four other people, and who had just been elected by her peers. That is the beauty of democracy. These people worked hard, ran for office, offered their services, and were elected.

Without getting too melodramatic, I would remind my colleagues that this member was defeated in 2011. It happens. I have not experienced that yet, but it could happen one day, although I am in no hurry. What I am trying to say is that a setback in politics is no reason to give up altogether. On the contrary, the member ran again. She faced the popular vote in 2015, and the people of her riding, Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans—Charlevoix, placed their trust in her, which is to her credit.

In closing, this is a good bill that guarantees the independence of the protector of victims of criminal acts. That office protects us, and we need to ensure the independence of that institution. The office, as it is proposed in this bill, guarantees precisely that, and also ensures that Canada enjoys not only justice, but also the appearance of justice.

Act respecting the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal ActsPrivate Members' Business

October 4th, 2017 / 7:35 p.m.
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Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I rise today to address Bill C-343, and perhaps take a different approach on it.

I believe all members of the House understand that tragedies take place in all regions of our country. When there are victims, we want to extend whatever we can to assist them in whatever manner we can. For a number of years, when I sat in opposition, I would often talk about victims, understanding that when an offence took place, there needed to be a consequence. We have to be very sensitive to victims.

I served for many years as the chair of the Keewatin youth justice committee. We dealt with young offenders in the communities we represented, in a volunteer capacity. One of the things that sparked a great deal of interest was how we could assist victims. We had great discussions about restorative justice, believing this was one way to do that. The victim and the individual who has committed the offence are brought together and we try to build some sort of consensus as to what kind of consequence that youth should have to pay to make the victim feel there has been some justice. Even though we really did not get too heavily involved in that area, there was a great desire to pursue it.

When I have the opportunity to address issues of this nature, I always like to highlight that there are different ways to work with and support victims, understanding and appreciating in many ways some of the things victims have to go through. Therefore, I have a great deal of sympathy in dealing with these types of issues.

We should be looking at ways to prevent victims from becoming victims in the first place. We can do that through different types of programs and promotions, for example, getting young people more involved in different types of programs. We all have a responsibility, as local members of Parliament, to encourage and promote this, and to get citizens involved as much as possible.

I was always a very strong advocate for community policing and programs like the neighbourhood watch. In fact, we have the Bear Clan in Winnipeg's north end. It is well served by that group of outstanding citizens, who are volunteers and committed to improving conditions and making our communities a safer place, and thereby, in many ways, preventing individuals from becoming victims. Other groups are working within our communities, and most often it is in a volunteer capacity. I truly applaud their efforts and the types of things they do to make their communities safer.

With respect to Bill C-343, I did get the opportunity, back in April or May of last year, to make reference to the fact that there was a cost to the implementation of the bill. Both Conservative members have attempted to address that issue. From the government's perspective, there is a significant cost factor to what has been proposed, and it would require a royal recommendation. Collectively, we need to be somewhat concerned about that. If we say that bills that have a cost to them do not require royal recommendation, we open up a whole new window. We know the former prime minister and House leadership team of the Conservative Party would never have supported that.

This is something we have seen as a parliamentary tradition in the House. Therefore, I think it is legitimate to raise concern with respect to that issue.

It is also important to get a sense of what it is we are talking about with respect to the bill, and what is being asked by the member opposite. The current Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime was established back in 2007.

The current ombudsman was appointed by Governor in Council. We know that. The ombudsman currently deals with complaints of victims regarding compliance with the Corrections and Conditional Release Act; promoting awareness of the needs and concerns of victims, and the laws that benefit victims of crime; identifying and reviewing emerging and systemic issues, including those related to services and programs administered by the Department of Justice and Public Safety Canada that impact negatively on the victims of crime; and facilitating access of victims to federal programs and services by providing information and referrals. It also includes things such as examining any matter that relates to his or her powers, duties or functions, which is like a catch-all.

My colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety, questioned if there has ever been any sort of an analysis done. Where does the member across the way get the information to say that this office should now become an agent of Parliament? I do not think that she has made the case as to why that should happen.

If we look at the numbers, there are a significant number of files that the ombudsman has ultimately looked at and reviewed. All in all, I believe that the office has done a fairly decent job at representing the interests of victims, and no doubt will continue to do so. However, I do not believe there has been an argument with respect to why it is that the office should become an agent of Parliament, given the fact that it has been there for almost a decade.

From what I understand, there has not been any thorough analysis, report, or ask for that to be the direction for that office to move in. That is something that would definitely be warranted before we want to move forward. That is not to minimize the thoughts of the member opposite on the issue, but to say there needs to be a lot more work done on the issue. We need to have a better understanding of what is taking place, and an appreciation of the actual numbers, as has been pointed out with respect to the correctional investigator.

As there are other ombudsman offices out there, what about the potential crossover of responsibilities? That is something we feel has not really been addressed. The member should be looking at some of those numbers. For example, we know that in one year there were 453 contacts for which there were files opened. Half of those files, some 224, involved some form of a complaint. If we look at the Office of the Correctional Investigator, it responded to 25,600 contacts, over 6,500 complaints from federal offenders, and it conducted over 2,000 offender interviews.

It is really important that we get a better understanding of the role the member across the way is envisioning, but for now it is best that maybe we not see the bill go further but rather for the member to give it—