Mr. Speaker, I move:
That Bill C-45, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, the Criminal Code, the Criminal Records Act, the Prison and Reformatories Act and the Transfer of Offenders Act, be referred forthwith to the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to open debate on this motion to refer Bill C-45 to the justice and legal affairs committee before second reading.
This approach makes it easier for the committee and the government to consider changes to the bill in light of the proceedings of the committee. I am pleased to present this bill under the new House rules, which I sponsored as House leader last February and which were adopted unanimously by all parties.
Again I express my appreciation for the approach to these rule changes on the part of the various parties in the House. As I said at that time, the government was implementing a number of commitments that we made during the election campaign in the red book, and subsequently in the throne speech, aimed at revitalizing the House of Commons. In particular, we wanted to give members the opportunity to be more actively involved in the development of legislation.
Changing the rules of the House does not on its own bring about this revitalization. It is the extent to which the new procedures are used that makes the difference. It is up to members on all sides of the House to make the changes work. Therefore I am pleased to help bring these changes into effect in a meaningful way by proceeding with Bill C-45 under the new framework.
Turning to the bill, I believe it is important because it addresses significant issues of public protection in the area of corrections and parole. These are issues on which this government promised action in that same red book as part of its agenda to bring about safe homes and safe streets for Canadians. With this bill we are delivering on these promises.
Mr. Speaker, this government is sensitive to the public's concerns about criminal justice. Canadians are particularly concerned about violent crimes and sex offences, especially when the victims are children. With this bill, we will be able to tackle these problems.
Time is limited as each of us has only 10 minutes to speak in this debate. I want to highlight a few of the important provisions of the bill. I will discuss others in more detail when we go to committee.
This bill will change the test for the detention to the end of sentence for those offenders who commit sexual offences against children. At present, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act permits the National Parole Board to detain sex offenders and certain other high risk offenders until the end of their sentence if they cause serious harm and are likely to commit an offence causing death or serious harm if released.
In the case of child victims, serious harm caused by an offender may not be evident for a number of years. The victim may be too young to adequately communicate the impact of the offence. Therefore it is difficult for the parole board to make a determination that serious harm was caused to a child so that the offender should be detained until the end of sentence.
The amendments in the bill would make it easier for the parole board to detain in penitentiary until the end of their sentence sex offenders who victimize children by removing the requirement that serious harm must be established as the criterion for detention. This would give the board authority to detain such a sex offender if a further sex offence against the child is likely.
I should point out the measures in this bill are needed not because we say that sex offences against children are considered more serious than those against adult victims, but because the current legislation has proven less effective in cases involving children.
We will also be making other improvements in the availability of treatment for sex offenders in the community and in prison.
Another area of concern to the Canadian public is the credibility and accountability of the National Parole Board. Our priority is the protection of the public. One way of achieving this is through a responsible and well managed conditional release process.
In most cases gradual transition from custody to the community under supervision and control and with support and assistance is the safest way to release offenders. It enables parole authorities to gauge an offender's ability to maintain a law-abiding life and to return him or her to custody should the level of risk appear to be increasing. Successful adjustment by the
offender during the conditional release period provides the best chance for his or her continuing law-abiding behaviour and as a result for long term public safety.
Mr. Speaker, the adequacy of the people designated by the National Parole Board is critical if judicious decisions are to be made. We undertook to have commissioners selected on the basis of merit and qualification. I would say that the latest appointments made by this government, particularly in the case of the president of the board, did meet these high standards.
In addition, board member training has been strengthened especially around the difficult process of risk assessment. This will become an ongoing process. A code of conduct has also been finalized. The bill before us will strengthen the accountability of the board by establishing a disciplinary review scheme for board members.
Let me turn to another matter which has rightly been the cause of strong expressions of concern. I am talking about the way our present law requires the calculation of sentences of offenders serving multiple terms. Because of the formula set out in the present law, it can happen that an offender on conditional release who receives a new sentence of imprisonment can remain eligible for release and even stay out of custody. Under Bill C-45 however, people reoffending while on parole will have to serve a substantial portion of any new sentence before even being considered for parole.
Finally, dealing with the issue of post-sentence detention, which is not treated directly in this bill, I want to remind the House that we are working with a special federal-provincial task force on high risk violent offenders. It is studying legislative and policy changes that would improve public protection from high risk and violent offenders once their initial sentence has expired. The task force is expected to release its report at the end of this year. In the light of this report, I and my colleague, the Minister of Justice, will move to develop practical, workable responses and measures to deal with the issue of post-sentence detention.
In closing, I would add that this bill and related initiatives make for a balanced response to the legitimate concerns of Canadians and their request for reform. A stronger system will thus improve public protection.
This bill is part of a strategic framework of initiatives that work together in order to carry out our red book agenda and demonstrates our commitment to safe homes and safe streets for all Canadians.
I look forward to the committee review process and anticipate productive discussion of amendments which will reinforce the intent of the legislation. The end result I am sure will be the improved safety of the public. Therefore, I conclude by formally moving:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 73(1), Bill C-45 be forthwith referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs.