Evidence of meeting #108 for Justice and Human Rights in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was victims.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Yves Gratton  Lawyer, Criminal Section, Aide juridique de Montréal, Laval
Caitlin Shane  Lawyer, Pivot Legal Society
Moses  Lawyer, Pivot Legal Society
Robert Leckey  Law Professor, McGill University, and Past-President, Egale Canada, Egale Canada Human Rights Trust
Steve Coughlan  Professor, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University, As an Individual
Tom Hooper  Contract Faculty, Law and Society Program, York University, As an Individual
Gary Kinsman  Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Laurentian University, As an Individual
Calla Barnett  Board President, Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity
John Sewell  Member, Toronto Police Accountability Coalition
Joel Hechter  Barrister and Solicitor, As an Individual
Rick Woodburn  President, Canadian Association of Crown Counsel
Christian Leuprecht  Professor, Department of Political Science, Royal Military College of Canada, As an Individual
Bruno Serre  Executive Board Member, Association des familles de personnes assassinées ou disparues
Karen Wiebe  Executive Director, Manitoba Organization for Victim Assistance
Nancy Roy  Executive Director, Association des familles de personnes assassinées ou disparues
Maureen Basnicki  As an Individual
Julia Beazley  Director, Public Policy, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
Arif Virani  Parkdale—High Park, Lib.

7 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Mr. Woodburn, on peremptory challenges, I got your point. What would your feelings be if we, for example, introduced in Canada the Batson test that they have in the United States, where you can't do a peremptory challenge for a discriminatory cause, and if you were to do so, you could be called on it and have to justify your challenge?

7 p.m.

President, Canadian Association of Crown Counsel

Rick Woodburn

That's a tough question because in the U.S. the jury system is taken as a whole, so you kind of move through it. Right now, we're inserting things in piecemeal and, in our view, it won't work. The issue that we're having is that we're getting closer to that with this whole notion that challenge-for-cause hearings start to become those in the sense that the questions are put to the juror, and then we argue about the juror and then the judge makes a decision. It's very close to what's happening in the United States right now.

7 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

In this case, if you were to use that as a component, you've retained your peremptory challenges, and then it would be up to the other side to say, “Hey, I think you're using them for a discriminatory reason”, and that would possibly in itself limit the number of times that anybody would ever even contemplate doing that, because they could be called out on it.

Would that be a preferable solution to you than stripping them from your repertoire of things that you can do?

7 p.m.

President, Canadian Association of Crown Counsel

Rick Woodburn

I can't really comment on that, because it still doesn't make sense in our system, from my point of view. It just doesn't.

7 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

That exhausts my six minutes. Does anybody else have a short question before we go to our next panel?

If not, I want to thank our witnesses. Mr. Sewell, thank you for coming to us all the way from B.C. I'm sure Mr. Rankin was thrilled that you were vacationing in his province. I really appreciate all the testimony as well. It was very helpful to the committee.

I'd like to ask the next panel to come forward. Colleagues, we're combining the next two panels so that we can do one panel, and that will be our last panel of the day.

We're going to take a brief recess

7:09 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

It is a great pleasure to convene our last panel of the day.

Colleagues, on the agenda, the 6:30 to 7:30 and the 7:30 to 8:00 panel are combined. We have testifying before us today as individuals Ms. Maureen Basnicki and Mr. Christian Leuprecht, who is a professor, department of political science at the Royal Military College. Welcome.

7:10 p.m.

Dr. Christian Leuprecht Professor, Department of Political Science, Royal Military College of Canada, As an Individual

Thank you.

7:10 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

From the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, Ms. Julia Beazley, the director of public policy.

From the Association des familles de personnes assassinées ou disparues, we have Ms. Nancy Roy, Executive Director, and Mr. Bruno Serre, Secretary of the Board of Directors.

Good evening.

7:10 p.m.

Bruno Serre Executive Board Member, Association des familles de personnes assassinées ou disparues

Good evening.

7:10 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

From the Manitoba Organization for Victim Assistance we have Ms. Karen Wiebe by video conference from Winnipeg.

Welcome, Ms. Wiebe.

7:10 p.m.

Karen Wiebe Executive Director, Manitoba Organization for Victim Assistance

Thank you. It's nice to be here.

7:10 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

We normally put the person on video conference first in case we lose the connection.

Ms. Wiebe, if it's okay with you, I'm going to ask you to go first. You have eight minutes.

7:10 p.m.

Executive Director, Manitoba Organization for Victim Assistance

Karen Wiebe

Thank you for this opportunity to address the standing committee on issues that are of particular importance to victims of homicide.

MOVA is a support organization consisting of families of homicide victims, whose sole goal is to support other families of homicide victims.

I would like to speak to you today about four pressing issues that are of particular importance to people like me. You see, I, too, am a mother of a murdered child. My son, T.J., had his life taken on January 3, 2003. The issues I bring forward to you today are not only issues that I know about from my own experience, but are also ones that I've gathered from other families.

The first issue that I'd like to speak to is the poor representation of victims, not only throughout the justice system as it has always been, but even through the justice review process.

The view of those who are requesting change for the accused has been disproportionately requested, compared to the view of victims, yet for every offender, there are between one and 10 immediately affected victims whose needs are addressed in only the most summary fashion. Victims are revictimized over and over again by a process that has no place for them, and yet these victims and co-victims must try to regain their lives with next to no supports. This, in turn, results in drains on the health care and policing systems, to name only a couple.

We constantly hear about the rights of the accused and the rights of the offender, and the judicial system makes every effort to adhere to those rights. We seldom discuss the rights of the victim and co-victims. The supports to them are almost non-existent. As we are looking at reforms of our criminal justice system, we need to put greater emphasis on the rights and needs of victims and co-victims—people and citizens of Canada who have had their lives stolen by the actions of another individual or individuals through no fault and no intention of their own.

In one case in Manitoba where a young man was murdered on a Greyhound bus, 15 of the people who were riding on the bus and who assisted on the bus that day were interviewed. Of the 15, all were still suffering after-effects 10 years later. One person committed suicide and a new mother had her child taken by CFS because of her inability to properly care for her child. Others were suffering from PTSD, and still others were no longer able to hold onto a job and were needing assistance from welfare.

Where are the supports for those people and, in turn, for their families—a few dollars from the province for counselling? Where do we even talk about them and their needs? Who even cares what happens to them?

Are they a drain on public systems? Absolutely. Even economically it makes sense to support those people following the incident, to recognize them and to provide assistance for their return to a somewhat normal life.

The second issue I'd like to speak about is the reclassification of offences. Currently, charges of murder in the first and second degree are often plea bargained down to manslaughter. I realize that this is done for a variety of reasons. There needs to be a separation between cases where a person is charged with an accidental death and a person is plea bargained to manslaughter. They are not the same. However, we have had several cases in Manitoba where, because time spent in custody pre-sentence is realized at time and a half, the offender serves a minimal amount of time following sentencing, sometimes finding that their sentence has been completely served by the time of sentencing.

In cases where there has been a deliberate act of taking of a life, pre-sentence time should not be allowed to be represented as time and a half. It should be represented in the same way as time served for murder or second-degree murder.

The issue could be solved if manslaughter could be divided into two categories: one where the plea bargain could fit and one where accidental death would fit. A common factor for all victims is that the person who deliberately took the life of their loved one be held accountable. We don't want the wrong person prosecuted, but we want the right person to be held accountable. When an initial charge of first- or second-degree murder is made, the charge is based on a deliberate act. That needs to be recognized in sentencing.

The third issue that I'd like to speak with you about is the issue of NCR, not criminally responsible. Families of homicide victims understand the implications of the NCR findings more than anyone, other than the offender.

The issue of mental illness is a huge and timely discussion that is happening throughout many departments and institutions in Canada. Families of victims whose lives have been taken by someone who subsequently has been found NCR are in disbelief that when someone is found NCR in a murder case, there is no requirement to follow them to make sure they are complying with the directions of doctors who will make sure that they take the medications to keep them on track. In these cases, it is as if the health care system and the criminal justice system are failing not only the victim, but the offender themselves. If that person offends again because they have stopped taking their medications for whatever reason, they will end up in the criminal justice system again and they leave more victims in their wake. This could all be avoided if there was a requirement that those who have committed a murder and who are found NCR would still be followed to make sure they remain on their medications.

The last issue that I would like to speak with you about is the lengthy trial delays. I realize and understand there's been a lot of work done across Canada on this. Justice delayed is justice denied. That is true for the accused but it is also true for victims. In Manitoba, we have a case that took eight years from the date of the offence to the date of appeal dismissal. There were two accused and they were found guilty of first-degree murder. They had both achieved bail pretrial. They have now been incarcerated for four years and one is already applying for escorted absences. Certainly this family was victimized by the killers of their son, but they were revictimized by the judicial system over the period of eight years that it took for the court processes to be resolved, and the revictimization continues through a process that recognizes the rights of the offender but only limited rights for the victim's family.

Victims throughout Manitoba, and I'm sure throughout Canada, are thankful for the reforms that are speeding up the trial process. The stories of victims of homicide are months' worth of telling, and the issues of revictimization are many more than I'm given time here to present to you. However, I appreciate the willingness of this committee to hear the issues that I am bringing forward to you today for your consideration.

Thank you.

7:15 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Thank you very much, Ms. Wiebe. Of course, all of us extend our sympathies for what you and your family have gone through.

Because I think that Madam Roy and Mr. Serre are speaking about the same issue, maybe we'll put them as the next speakers.

Ms. Roy and Mr. Serre, you now have the floor.

7:15 p.m.

Nancy Roy Executive Director, Association des familles de personnes assassinées ou disparues

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The Association des familles de personnes assassinées ou disparues is a non-profit organization with activities throughout Quebec. Its core mission is to break the isolation of victims' families by offering various resources and tools to help them rebuild their lives. The AFPAD's core mandate is to assist and support families affected by a homicide or a disappearance with an apparent criminal cause.

Since 2005, we have helped hundreds of individuals affected by a homicide or tragedy, right across Quebec, and helped them receive moral, psychological and legal support after the tragedy, so that they can cope with their loss and resume the course of their life.

The AFPAD wishes to thank the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs for the opportunity to submit our point of view. Making this presentation is very important to the AFPAD, to engage legislators about the fate of victims of crime so that they may in turn broaden the scope of this bill in the interest of victim safety, which is unfortunately severely weakened by the changes proposed therein.

Victims are often forgotten when legislative changes are made. It is not our intention to address all of the points today, but we want to draw your attention to two major points, the first being that we commend and approve the addition of the definition of “intimate partner” to section 2 of the Criminal Code of Canada.

Proposed subclauses 227(3) and 227(6), which amend section 515, introduce what we consider a major change by reversing the burden of proof in conditional release applications when an offender is charged with this type of offence. However, this provision applies only to a repeat offender previously convicted of an offence against an intimate partner. We are very concerned about the concept of a repeat offence, because many of our families have lost a loved one who was killed by an intimate partner, without this necessarily being a repeat offence. Violence between intimate partners is a tricky situation and is often kept quiet and overlooked, which should incite legislators to exercise greater caution toward potential victims and to take political and legal action. What is the opposite of protecting a life? An attacker's choice. This overly cautious interpretation involving repeat offences comes too late in the victim protection process. Those same victims are entitled to the protection established by the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, so they must claim it. The concept of a repeat offender must be removed to achieve the worthy goal of protecting victims.

The second point that seems important to us is the bill's intent to modernize practices and procedures with regard to interim release. Bill C-75 proposes several changes aimed at modernizing practices and procedures around interim release. The bill reorganizes several provisions and modifies certain procedures to facilitate the quick release of persons charged under the least restrictive conditions according to the circumstances. We do not agree with these principles, which jeopardize the protection of victims. Can you name a single defendant or accused who would admit to the judge that they do not intend to comply with the conditions, however restrictive they are?

The will to reduce delays and administer justice as expeditiously as possible imperils the protection of victims. We are disappointed to see that legislators failed to take the opportunity to protect victims. It seems that the right of the alleged aggressors overrides the protection and safeguarding of a life and the rights granted by the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. How do you intend to protect these vulnerable victims who are further exposed by this concept of quick release under the least possible constraints? I am worried today, because these victims, unfortunately, did not get a second chance.

7:20 p.m.

Executive Board Member, Association des familles de personnes assassinées ou disparues

Bruno Serre

I am going to continue on the same topic.

My name is Bruno Serre. I am the father of Brigitte Serre, who was murdered on January 25, 2006, at her workplace in Montreal at the age of 17.

I have worked in the Association des familles de personnes assassinées ou disparues for close to 10 years and I am a member of the board of directors. I am here on a volunteer basis in order to make you aware of the legislative void that exists when it comes to victims.

I have often appeared here on the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights and the changes to the law we wanted to see for victims. However, in this bill, I do not feel the influence of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.

How do you intend to protect all of these victims who are frightened and who denounce their aggressor, when these aggressors are quickly released again under the least strict and least constraining conditions, unless they are repeat offenders?

Please! Did Brigitte Serre, Daphné Huard-Boudreault, Cheryl Bau-Tremblay, Gabrielle Dufresne-Élie, Francine Bissonnette and all of the others get a second chance? No. They were all murdered, and by aggressors who were not repeat offenders.

I implore you to withdraw the concept of repeat offence and add more elements to protect the victims. The reversal of the burden of proof to obtain release should be systematic when there has been violence against a victim. Otherwise, how can you protect those victims? Perhaps you need to build them an ivory tower, or you will have missed your chance. Ask some of these terrorized victims what they think.

I can tell you that over the past 10 years, I have been around families that have lived through these tragedies. It isn't easy for them and they receive no assistance. They are scared, they are terrified. When you have crimes of passion like those, with violence, we are the ones who then support the families of these murdered victims.

We thank you for taking the time to listen to us. This has to change because we have to reverse the tendency that means that we see too many homicides that could have been avoided.

Thank you.

7:20 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Thank you. Thank you for the work that you do.

Now we’re going to go back to the order on the agenda. I apologize for the diversion.

Ms. Basnicki, the floor is yours.

September 25th, 2018 / 7:20 p.m.

Maureen Basnicki As an Individual

Good evening, and thank you for your invitation to discuss Bill C-75.

My name is Maureen Basnicki. I am the co-founder of the Canadian Coalition Against Terror. I'm also the founder of the Canadian National Day of Service Foundation.

Over the years, I've had the opportunity to address both House and Senate committees re many topics concerning terrorism, counterterrorism initiatives, and advocating for victims of violent crime, which includes Canadians victimized by terrorists. I was one of the original recipients of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal for my enduring dialogue on terrorism, and it is through this lens that I'm giving a brief today. I thank you for the opportunity to do so.

On September 11, 2001, my life changed forever when my husband Ken was murdered in the attacks on 9/11. He was a proud Canadian who worked from his home in Toronto. Ken was on his first trip to New York to network for his job. In the aftermath of the horrific attacks, I decided that I wanted to do something to ensure that no family has to go through what mine did, and I shared this with other victims.

I'm a very proud Canadian, as was my late husband Ken. Even though Ken was murdered outside our border, it is important for me to have my country send a proper message to the global community that my Canada will not tolerate anyone, either a Canadian citizen or a citizen from another country, deliberately trying to harm or murder innocent civilians. That is why I co-founded C-CAT, along with my friend and colleague, Danny Eisen. For those of you who are unaware, the Canadian Coalition Against Terror is a non-partisan policy research and advocacy body committed to seeking innovative legal and public policy strategies in the fight against terrorism.

In that context, I would like to speak to you about some of what is contained in this legislation that concerns me greatly.

The government has used the anodyne term “hybridization” to refer to more than a hundred changes they are making to sentencing provisions in the Criminal Code. However, it is clear that what is happening here is simply a reduction in sentences. I would particularly like to speak to clauses 16, 17, and 20 to 23. These are all provisions relating to terrorism.

Currently, providing property or services for terrorist purposes could be punished by up to 10 years in prison. Under this bill, the sentence could be as little as a fine. Currently, using or possessing property for terrorist purposes could be punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Under this bill, the sentence could be as little as a fine. Currently, participation in the activity of a terrorist group could be punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Under this bill, the sentence could be as little as a fine. Currently, participation in terrorist activities could be punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Under this bill, the sentence could be as little as a fine. Currently, leaving Canada to participate in a terrorist activity could be punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Under this bill, the sentence could be as little as a fine. Currently, advocating or promoting terrorism could be punishable by up to five years in prison. Under this bill, the sentence could be as little as a fine. Finally, harbouring a terrorist is currently punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Under this bill, the sentence could be as little as a fine.

The rationale provided by the government has been that there is a need to speed up the court system. On that point, I don't disagree. There are unconscionable delays in prosecuting criminals, and those delays have often led to criminals walking free on a technicality. However, one has to wonder if treating a terrorist in the same manner as someone who got a parking ticket is the best way to fix a broken system. I would say absolutely not. It sends the wrong message to victims and to Canadian society as a whole. It sends the wrong message to other countries and would-be terrorists, either homegrown or from outside our borders.

Terrorists, members of terrorist groups, and those who profit from them should face the full force of the law. I have to wonder, since this government is often very fond of consultation, what groups were asking for this. I can't imagine that any of the members of Parliament on this committee knocked on a single door where someone told them they were concerned the punishment for terrorists was simply too harsh.

I would recommend that this committee repeal all the provisions in this bill that lessen the penalties for terrorists. Unclogging the courts is certainly a noble objective, but there are many better ways to do this than have been attempted here. Victims have an important interest in the criminal justice system that is not delayed. Remedies that emphasize both the rights of the accused and the rights of the victims must be found.

I would like to close by stating Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's words when he was challenged by Canadians across the country with regard to the $10.5-million payout to satisfy the settlement regarding the violation of Omar Khadr's rights. He said:

The measure of a society – a just society – is not whether we stand up for peoples' rights when it is easy or popular to do so, but whether we recognize rights when it is difficult, when it is unpopular.... We are a society that stands up for peoples' rights and when governments fail to respect peoples' rights, we all end up paying and that is the lesson hopefully future governments will draw from this settlement.

I'd like to remind you that it's the safety and security of citizens that is the primary responsibility of our Prime Minister. Ensuring that there are laws and penalties in place that send a strong message of condemnation and act as a deterrent are of vital importance to Canada. I'm a Canadian who has been victimized by terrorism. I join many other victims of violent crime to say that, in our opinion, changing sentencing to minimum time in the case of heinous crimes committed by terrorists, repeat offenders, drunk drivers, etc., lessens the rights of victims.

Justice and accountability are not obtainable for all victims. However, when our security forces do get the perpetrator, I hope that our judicial system delivers the proper sentence that is fair to both the offender and the victim. I want my rights as a Canadian who has been victimized. Please do not decimate our criminal laws. That will send the wrong message.

Thank you, and I'll be pleased to take questions later.

7:30 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Thank you.

Again, as I mentioned to Ms. Wiebe, I am so sorry for what you went through.

Professor Leuprecht, you're next.

7:30 p.m.

Professor, Department of Political Science, Royal Military College of Canada, As an Individual

Dr. Christian Leuprecht

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.

I thank you for your invitation and for the privilege of testifying before the committee.

I have a couple of caveats. I'm no lawyer and I come at this strictly as a political scientist. I've also been asked to comment specifically on the issue of hybridization, so I shall limit my remarks to that particular remit.

I will be happy to answer your questions in both official languages.

The overall strategy, as far as I can tell, with regard to hybridization is to provide an incentive for people to plead out. If, on an indictment, you face a long sentence, you have not much of an incentive to plead. If, under a summary conviction, you face a much shorter sentence, you have a strong incentive to plead out. That incentive is reinforced by programs such as justice on track that provide a financial reward for Crowns to plead out on cases. The Crowns will be happy, because this will result in more money in their pocket, but I have some concerns here.

The first is that, ultimately, as I point out in my submission, the vast bulk of cases go through provincial court. A tiny number of cases go through superior court, so this bill risks unclogging the superior court system at the cost of the provincial court system. Of course, this also raises many of the potential maximums to two years less a day. It also risks reinforcing the number of people who find themselves in provincial systems where, by and large, they don't have access to the sort of programming they have in federal court. I'm not sure that having even fewer cases go through superior court than we already have is really going to be particularly effective in terms of the correctional system that we have in place.

Second, we already have people who deliberately drag out the court process because they take advantage of dead time. Dead time, which used to be credited at two for one, is now at the discretion of the judge. It can now be credited and is often credited at one and half for one. Now your incentive is to drag out the process as long as possible, because the longer you can drag it out, the less chance you have of ever doing any jail time under this new proposition if the offence is a summary conviction. It will reduce the number of people who will effectively do any jail time under their sentence.

Third, very few cases ever go to trial. I provide some of the data here. It is well upwards of 90% of cases that are cleared by other means than trial. To what extent is hybridization really going to achieve the objective of unclogging the court system?

Fourth, many offences are already hybridized. What is particularly interesting here is, of course, the long list of acts and violations that are not currently Criminal Code violations but other forms of violations. I point to one particularly curious matter, which is that the act lists the implications for every offence except for one, which is the exploitation and trafficking in persons, where the only reference is to another bill that is currently finding its way through Parliament.

The reason I pick out this particular example is that I am not sure to what extent the Canadian public will tolerate hybridization for sentences that currently have 10-year maximums. The reason is presumably to signal with these 10-year maximum sentences that these are serious offences. If we now hybridize these offences, the signal that we are sending is that these offences are no longer as serious as they were before. We will need to test that with public opinion.

Fifth, expanding the latitude for the Crowns has important procedural implications that I am not sure have been carefully contemplated. I list these implications, implications with regard to warrants, with regard to statutory limitation and charges, with regard to fingerprints, with regard to the right to elect a trial by judge and jury, and when you can apply for a pardon. We are talking about some fairly significant procedural changes here.

Sixth, a Crown or police presumably lay charges for a reason. The reason is that they believe there is a reasonable chance of obtaining a conviction. Shouldn't we let the justice system then take its course? Aren't we doing a disservice to the law enforcement agencies and to the Crown who believe there was merit in laying a charge to begin with? What is the point ultimately of having a justice system when our sole objective now becomes to resolve as many cases as possible before they ever go to trial?

Seventh, I have concerns about the implications for investigators that, by having fewer cases go to trial, it means that the few cases that come to trial are very serious cases that are going to be highly complex.

If we have fewer investigators with extensive experience being questioned by aggressive and very talented defence lawyers, I think there is a greater risk that these particularly complex and notorious cases will subsequently fail as a result of the inexperience of some of the law enforcement members who show up to provide testimony.

Eighth, this point has already been expanded upon in a much more articulate manner than I ever could by the families of victims present here. I suspect that even though we have a Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, this has already become rather a pro forma matter in consultation. It doesn't appear that the changes being proposed here will reassure their faith in the criminal justice system. They're probably likely to be somewhat unpopular with victims.

In sum, I would conclude that it appears hybridization puts the benefits of the judicial process before the interests of victims, investigators, prosecutors, provinces, the public, the integrity of the justice system, and the rule of law. I'm apprehensive about any legislative change that puts the merit of process before the merit of substance.

Thank you.

7:35 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Thank you very much.

Ms. Beazley.

7:35 p.m.

Julia Beazley Director, Public Policy, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada

Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, for the opportunity to participate in this study.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is the national association of evangelical Christians in Canada. Our affiliates include 45 denominations, more than 65 ministry organizations and 35 post-secondary institutions. Established in 1964, EFC provides a national forum for Canada's four million evangelicals and a constructive voice for biblical principles in life and society.

Our approach to the issues we will address in Bill C-75 is based on biblical principles that teach respect for human life and dignity, care for the vulnerable, and freedom of religion, principles that are also reflected in Canadian law and policy.

Bill C-75 proposes a significant number of changes to the Criminal Code, including the hybridization of a number of Criminal Code offences. This would allow, as you know, some serious indictable offences to be treated as relatively minor summary offences at the discretion of the Crown. It's on this element of the bill that I have been asked to provide comments. Our concerns in this regard are limited to a few key areas.

Criminal laws give expression to the norms that undergird a society. They both express and reinforce the basic commitments that bind a society together. It is often said that the law is a teacher. Amendments to the Criminal Code can signal or imply a shift in our society's core principles or their interpretation, which is sometimes appropriate, but this also means we must carefully consider the implications of any changes we make.

The categorization of a criminal offence tends to indicate the seriousness of the conduct it addresses. Hybridization suggests that an offence can now be considered less of a violation of human dignity, less of a threat to society or social cohesion, and less harmful to the vulnerable among us. Respectfully, we submit that to hybridize some of the offences proposed in this bill would send the wrong message. We understand that one of the objectives of hybridization is to reduce delays in the criminal justice system, but to paraphrase what Mr. Geoff Cowper told this committee last week, our goal should be not to reduce delays but to deliver justice in a timely way that's responsive to the public interest, to the needs of the victim and to the community generally.

When Bill C-75 proposes a greater maximum penalty for repeated intimate partner violence—and I hear the concerns of my co-panellists about recidivism—this communicates that this is an offence the government considers to be very serious, that violence is unacceptable and is to be deterred with severe penalty. This is a good message.

Conversely, when the bill proposed to hybridize offences related to human trafficking, sexual exploitation, or the assault of religious officiants, it sends the message, whether intended or not, that these offences are of lesser concern. Bill C-75 proposes to hybridize subsection 176(1) of the Criminal Code, which deals with obstructing or violence to an officiating clergy. Obstructing or assaulting a religious official who is about to perform religious duties strikes directly at the heart of religious belief and practice. Religious officials are not merely acting as individuals when they're carrying out their religious duties; they are representatives of the broader community of faith.

Last year, more than 65 interfaith leaders wrote to the Minister of Justice expressing our deep concern with the repeal of the section 176 protections that were proposed in Bill C-51. We wrote, “The deliberate assault of a religious official outside a house of worship is a different kind of offence from other public disturbances, assaults, threats or incitement to hatred. An offence against a people at worship reverberates through the community and touches every member.”

Offences against religious officials and people at worship are unique in character, in significance and in motivation, and in a climate of increasing incidence of hate, specifically at and against places of worship, we believe it's essential to maintain the focused protection that section 176 offers religious leaders. We are grateful that this committee heard the concerns of religious Canadians and recommended that section 176 not be repealed but instead be revised to be more inclusive of all religious officials. We ask the committee, in keeping with that same understanding and responsiveness to the concerns of religious Canadians, to recommend that this offence not be hybridized in Bill C-75.

You heard compelling testimony last night of the realities of human trafficking and all forms of sexual exploitation, and the devastating impact of these crimes on their victims. These crimes constitute a grave violation of human rights, including the rights of women and children to live free from violence, and it's essential that the gravity of these offences be consistently reflected in our laws and policies. We know and have known for years that in Canada it is mainly Canadian women and girls who are trafficked, and they're being trafficked into the commercial sex trade.

Ninety-five per cent of all cases in Canada in which trafficking charges have been laid in the last 12 years were domestic and primarily involved sexual exploitation. StatsCan's latest report says that 95% of trafficking victims are female, 72% are under the age of 25 and one in four victims is under the age of 18.

We're pleased that this government is taking action on human trafficking and is consulting on the development of the new national action plan. We're also eagerly awaiting this committee's report out of its study on human trafficking.

We're disappointed that Bill C-75 proposes to hybridize certain offences related to human trafficking and sexual exploitation. These other initiatives demonstrate that this government rightly considers these crimes to be worthy of significant legislative and policy focus, but the proposed hybridization of related offences seems to send a conflicting message.

In particular, we note the bill's hybridization of the following:

The first is section 210 on keeping a common bawdy house. This provision allows law enforcement to address the ownership and operation of brothels, which are often loosely disguised as spas, holistic centres or massage parlours, in which individuals are frequently held, exploited or trafficked. The naming and continued inclusion in the Criminal Code of such a place is significant, because the existence and operation of these places can legitimize the hold, power and influence of a pimp, trafficker or exploiter over the exploited.

As I was preparing for this, I spoke with a friend and colleague who has first-hand experiential knowledge of how these facilities operate. She explained that pimps and traffickers use places like holistic centres and massage parlours with the full knowledge of the owner, and that placing their girls in a licensed facility legitimizes the pimp or trafficker as part of a business. Individuals who use these places to exploit do so with intention, forethought and planning.

The exploitation that occurs in these facilities is rampant. We need access points to these places, and we need to be careful that we don't limit or restrict the ability of law enforcement to monitor, to search and to prosecute where needed.

Rather than repealing this section, as some have called for, or hybridizing it, as this bill does, we suggest the committee consider clarifying the definition of “bawdy house” in the Criminal Code. The current definition is imprecise, and that imprecision actually cloaks the exploitation that concerns us. We would support a definition which makes it clear that the offence targets situations of sexual exploitation where individuals are held, kept or exploited in a place where someone else is in control of their movement, their activity and quite often their finances.

Next are subsection 279.02(1), on material benefit with trafficking, and subsection 279.03(1), on withholding or destroying documents. These offences as they relate to the trafficking of a person under the age of 18 remain indictable. Our laws rightfully extend particular protections to children who are uniquely vulnerable in a number of ways.

However, this bill would hybridize these same offences as they relate to adult victims. This is problematic because exploited adults are quite often just exploited children who happen to turn 18. In fact, often the only thing about their circumstances that has changed is that they are now 18 and the severity of the abuse they have suffered or continue to suffer does not lessen when they turn 18.

Victims who become adults in the eyes of the law may already feel a bit left behind, because the system offers them fewer supports and services and treats the crimes committed against them as less serious. I would argue that even in cases where the exploitation begins or occurs when the victim is an adult, we do not want to send the message that this conduct is less serious. Human trafficking and the criminal offences associated with it must be considered very serious and be dealt with accordingly. As such, we recommend that these offences not be hybridized.

Finally, we have subsection 286.2(1), on material benefit from sexual services. This provision is clearly aimed at and I suspect applied almost exclusively to individuals who are benefiting, as the law says, from the sale of someone else's sexual services. It is clear that what the current laws aim to do is prevent the exploitation of one individual by another.

This offence and others covered by the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act should not be hybridized. This act established an incredibly important shift in how our country addresses prostitution. It refocused our laws on the buyers and those who profit from exploitation while decriminalizing those who are selling or being sold. We believe these laws are a critical tool in the fight against trafficking and sexual exploitation because they seek to curb the demand for paid sexual services, which is what fuels sex trafficking and funnels women into prostitution.

The act has a mandatory five-year review built in. We strongly recommend that the government keep the current prostitution laws in place as they are, and that when that five-year mark is reached it conduct a thorough review of the laws and their effectiveness in order to determine how they may be strengthened or improved, with the clear objective of eliminating sexual exploitation.

Thank you.

7:45 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Thank you very much.

Thank you to all of the witnesses.

We'll now go to questions, and we'll begin with Mr. MacKenzie.

7:45 p.m.


Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you to the panellists.

I'm really impressed. I'm just an old policeman. I'm not a lawyer. I haven't spent my life defending clients, but I have spent my life defending everyone, both sides of that equation. That's the only fair way a police officer can function.

Having said that, Ms. Wiebe and Mr. Serre, both of you indicated the real pain of going through the loss of a loved one at someone else's hand. Can you explain to us—I suspect you will—how the trial includes the sentencing and the incarceration, and what happens when people are released early from prison?

Ms. Wiebe, you can go first.

7:50 p.m.

Executive Director, Manitoba Organization for Victim Assistance

Karen Wiebe

The needs of homicide victims are very specific, I guess, more so than many crimes, because there is no coming back from a murder. When a person is murdered, they're gone. There's no way to fix it. There's no way to change it. There's no way to pay it back. That's why we need to look at the term “restorative justice”, for example, because there's no restoring in a homicide.

The co-victims, the families and so on, of those who have lost their lives through the deliberate act of somebody else are often very angry. They are victimized initially by the crime, but they feel revictimized by the system. Then, when the system fails them by allowing somebody to achieve parole early or to plea bargain down to a lesser sentence that then carries a very small amount of time, they feel even more angry. Their anger is often then directed at the justice system.

There are many ways in which victims are revictimized through the process and there are many ways in which the offender's rights are valued greater than the victim's rights. Here's just one minor thing with regard to parole hearings, for example. When you go to a parole hearing as a victim, it's a shocking experience. I remember being in shock and not remembering a lot of what happened in that parole hearing, coming face to face with the killer of my son. At the end of it all, he gets a transcript of what went on in that parole hearing and I don't because I was there. Yet I don't remember it.

That's one small example of how people are revictimized over and over again. There are many, many more.

Perhaps I'll let the other person speak.