moved that Bill C-206, an act to provide for the relocation and protection of witnesses, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I begin by thanking my seconder for seconding the bill. In the 20 minutes that I have allotted to me under Private Members' Business I would like to deal with six specifics of my bill, an act to provide for the relocation and protection of witnesses in Canada.
The first point I would like to deal with is the genesis of my interest in the subject.
In the previous Parliament I was the Official Opposition critic for the Solicitor General. In that capacity I was approached by someone who had difficulty with the existing witness relocation protection program run by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I, like many Canadians, had assumed that such a witness relocation program was a national program with rules and regulations pursuant and subject to the laws of Canada. I was shocked to find out that is not the case. In my capacity as the Official Opposition critic I began to investigate to see what I could find out about witness protection in Canada.
It came to my attention that we in this country do not have a national witness protection program which would cover potentially all witnesses to serious crimes in Canada. What we have is ad hoc witness protection programs across the nation with various police forces.
We know, for example, that there is an ultra secret witness protection program for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We know that there is a witness protection program of some nature run by the Ontario Provincial Police. There may be one for the Quebec provincial police. We know that some but not all municipal police forces such as the metropolitan Toronto police
force and the Calgary police force have witness protection programs.
What is the common characteristic of these various witness protection programs? I think there are really a couple. First, there is really no legislative provision for any of them. There is no accountability to the public for any of them and they are all shrouded in complete secrecy. When I attempted to find out about these witness protection programs I found that this cloud of secrecy descended and became a fog of secrecy and we simply were not able to find out any information.
This would come as a surprise to Canadians, to potential victims of crime, to witnesses to crime and to the taxpayers of Canada.
That is what got me interested. Am I alone in thinking this way? Am I alone in feeling that there is a need for a national witness protection program? Of course I would suggest not. In fact I have presented in the last year or so numerous petitions with thousands of constituents and Canadians across the country asking that there be a national witness protection program enacted.
In response to one of those petitions the Solicitor General of the day, the Hon. Doug Lewis, said: "Witness protection is indeed a very important function of law enforcement and equally a crucial service to witnesses who are at risk of retribution as a result of giving testimony in court. It is accurate to say that presently there is not a national legislated program as exists in the United States, for example. My officials are currently examining the state of witness protection in Canada". This was March 16, 1993. Over a year ago the officials were examining the situation.
That was a different government at a different time. Thankfully I note that the current Solicitor General of Canada, when he appeared before the justice and legal affairs committee on April 13, 1994, had this to say about the subject: "An effective witness protection program is critical to the successful prosecution of serious drug and organized crime cases". He has also undertaken to report back.
The problem is that there have been studies and studies going on and we do not seem to be getting anywhere. Therefore, I brought forward my private member's bill. Is there some experience in some other jurisdiction that might help us? Indeed there is. In the United States, for example, a national witness protection program has been in existence since 1970. We can at least look at that to see whether it has served a useful purpose.
That particular program was enshrined in the 1970 omnibus crime control act and is currently in force in all 50 states.
Bill Dempsey of the U.S. marshall service in Washington said: "It is the most successful tool that U.S. attorneys have in their daily work". It merely buttresses what our own Solicitor General has so eloquently said before the committee.
Are Canadians, those who are at least aware that we do not have any rules and regulations pertaining to the protection of witnesses, behind this program?
I received a letter from "Canadians Taking Action Against Violence". The founder and president is Deborah Mahaffy. Her daughter was violently murdered and the alleged perpetrator is currently before the courts.
I think it expresses a lot of the intention I have in bringing this bill forward: "Dear Mr. Wappel, I am writing to commend your action and offer our support of Bill C-206, a national witness act. As we in Canada are guided by a national criminal code it is logical and economically apparent that we should also have a national witness protection act.
It is also very clear that there are a great number of people who have not been afforded proper protection for their valuable testimony in our criminal courts of law across the country. Unfortunately witnesses have found themselves victims, always looking over their shoulders for fear of reprisals from those they helped convict or someone associated with them.
Agreements between witnesses to crimes and police should not be left to chance. Written contracts would provide effective protection rather than add further insult to injury. We are paying far too great a price when witnesses and informants do not come forward as they fear exposing personal safety or that of their families.
When the general public becomes aware that Canada has an effective and efficient national witness and police informant program which would be accountable to the House of Commons with respect to budgeting concerns, only then will we see the desired reductions in delayed investigations and unsolved crimes.
My husband and I continue to support a national witness act, and in the memory of our daughter, murder victim Leslie Mahaffy, and all victims of violence in Canada. All families of victims of violence in crime need to see that justice is served in an expeditious manner based on accurate and forthcoming testimony and to achieve that it is imperative that Bill C-206 is votable", which thankfully it is, "and that it becomes the legislative framework of one national witness act which will aid
in the prosecution of violent crime and show that our government is willing to make public safety a priority".
The Canadian Police Association as well as Victims of Violence of Canada is also supportive of this particular bill and the principle behind it which is the protection of witnesses.
There are approximately 1,400 unsolved murders in this country, some of them clearly because witnesses are afraid to come forward for fear of reprisal.
What is the subject matter of this bill? It is a relatively short bill. I would like to discuss briefly some of its provisions and then talk about what would happen if this House were to give its agreement to this bill.
The underlying philosophy is in section 3. The minister may, where the minister considers it appropriate in the interests of justice, take action to relocate and protect the witness or any member of their family where the minister believes that there is a substantial risk of violence being directed toward that person in an attempt to interfere with the course of justice.
Is that somehow different than what we have now? Of course not. Any of these police forces using their current witness protection programs can do precisely what I have put into this bill. The difference is that they do it without legislative authority and without a minister responsible to this House and the Canadian people to answer for situations in which either a witness has been refused or a mistake has been made. There is nothing new except it is actually in an act giving the minister some direction.
The minister must consider certain factors. One is to determine whether there is any other alternative to providing relocation and protection. It is not mandatory. Every person who is going to be seeking relocation is not going to get it. It will depend on the minister's judgment whether the interests of justice and the safety of the witness are dealt with and that there is no other reasonable alternative.
One of the important features is in clause 5 because if the minister feels that it is necessary to relocate it may also be necessary to give a new identity. The bill provides that the minister would have the power to provide suitable documents to assist the person in establishing a new identity or to otherwise assist in protecting the person. This would mean a new name, a new social insurance number, new documents of all kinds.
It is my understanding, and I may be wrong, that the RCMP currently does this. They currently provide in certain circumstances a new name, new passport, new documents. Under what legal authority? There is no legal authority yet they are doing it.
However if someone happens to be a witness to a crime that the RCMP is not investigating, if it happens to be a municipal police force or if it happens to be a province, the province has no power to provide a new identity. Arguably the RCMP has no power, but at least they are doing it because they are a federal agency. Certainly there should be even treatment of all witnesses across Canada, just as there is even treatment of all people who are accused of a crime across Canada.
Another aspect of the bill I would like to highlight for the House concerns the responsibilities of the parties. I have set out in clause 7 that there must be a written memorandum of understanding. The memorandum of understanding would set out the rights and obligations of the parties. The federal government is currently being sued by a number of people who are in the witness protection program. Disputes arise as to whether or not the RCMP agreed to something or did not comply with some promise that was made. Why? The answer is because often there is no document to which to refer and to see whether or not the parties met their obligations.
I have set out there should be a memorandum of understanding and of course, because of confidentiality and protection, there should be a mechanism short of a court of law, short of requiring a witness to go public, if you will when they are trying to hide from criminal retribution, a method whereby those breaches or alleged breaches could be dealt with in a private way.
To protect the minister, to protect society I have provided that no decision made by the minister would be subject to review in any court in Canada. This would prevent all sorts of frivolous lawsuits by people who feel they were unfairly denied an opportunity. However it would not allow the minister to escape responsibility from certain decisions that were made and from questioning about those decisions in the House of Commons.
Finally, we have no idea how much money is currently spent on witness protection. We do know that money is spent, but there is no way of finding out how much. There is no way of budgeting. There is no way of suggesting that there should be another allocation. My bill provides that no payments shall be made out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to defray the expenses necessary for the implementation of this bill without the authority of an appropriation made by Parliament for such purpose.
We need a witness protection act. Everybody seems to be in agreement. This provides some legislative framework for it. It provides some legal authority for the act to proceed and it provides also an opportunity for the aggrieved witness or the aggrieved crown to deal with problems of interpretation.
In drafting the bill I tried my best, but by no means do I pretend that it is absolutely perfect. I know that the minister has a department and I know the justice minister has a department that spend its days looking at legislation. I am not adverse to amendments to the bill. I am not adverse to any suggestions that would keep the spirit and the intent but make the bill better. I
have no desire to pretend that the bill as drafted is necessarily perfect, although I would like to think that it is pretty good.
However, it is important to realize that what I am asking, and those people who have petitioned the House over a course of 16 months or so are asking, is that we accept the principle of witness protection and relocation across Canada so that all people are treated the same way under law pursuant to legislation.
If the House is favourable to voting in favour of the bill, it would then be referred to the justice and legal affairs committee for intensive study. At that time the department, witnesses, everybody could come forward and put suggested amendments. The committee could deal with the bill on a clause by clause basis, accept those amendments which are thought appropriate and needed and then refer the bill back to the House for final passage.
What I am saying is very simple, an affirmative vote would not mean that the bill is cast in stone. It would mean that the principle, which is the protection of witnesses, would be espoused by the House. The fine tuning, the drafting, the repair, if any is needed to some of the drafting that was done by me and by the counsel who help us in doing these things, would then be done at the committee level.
In a nutshell then, I ask the House to very seriously consider this bill over the course of the time that it has to debate it, to look at the principle, look at the forest not the trees, examine the principle and remember that currently it has no legislative foundation. We are operating in a vacuum. We are operating under a cloud of secrecy We are operating under a system that is not fair because it does not apply equally to all people across Canada and is not accountable to the House of Commons.
I would ask my colleagues to vote in favour of Bill C-206 at the appropriate time so we could take the matter to committee, get it addressed and protect witnesses as soon as possible.