Mr. Speaker, I too am very pleased to stand in the House today to speak to Bill C-41, an act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to sentencing of criminal offenders.
Since the opening of the 35th Parliament on January 17, 1994 this government has set in motion a number of initiatives to reform and strengthen Canada's justice system.
Amendments have been tabled in the House of Commons to revise the Young Offenders Act to crack down on violent youth offenders. Legislation has been introduced to reform the corrections and parole systems in order to improve our handling of sex offenders and, in particular, those who victimize children.
Today we are discussing the initiative announced by the Minister of Justice to reform the sentencing process in the Criminal Code. Bill C-41 is a well balanced, wide ranging bill that not only reorganizes but rationalizes the sentencing system in Canada. These reforms provide a number of options that address the public's concern for safety and the victims' demands for restitution. They include an important principle that serious offenders should be treated differently from minor or first time offenders.
Currently Parliament's role in sentencing is limited to setting maximum penalties for specific offences. The court systems in each province have been responsible for determining the purposes and principles of sentencing. As a result the values in sentencing structures in Canada's judicial system have varied from province to province.
Under the proposal a statement of purpose and principles would be added to the Criminal Code to provide guidance to judges from coast to coast in the sentencing process. The statement describes the objectives of sentencing as follows. They help in the rehabilitation of offenders as law-abiding persons, separate offenders from society where necessary, providing restitution to individual victims or the community, promoting a sense of responsibility by offenders including encouraging acknowledgement by offenders of the harm done to victims, denouncing unlawful conduct and finally deterring the offender and other people from committing offences.
This provision would allow the federal government to take a lead role in directing the courts on the fundamental purpose of sentencing, that is to contribute to the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society.
Furthermore the proposed statement of principles would direct the courts to hand down sentences that reflect the seriousness of the crimes. The proposed statement of principles would meet the concern about hate motivated crime and crime committed by those in a position of trust or authority in society. It would state that these types of crimes must be considered aggravating circumstances, therefore carrying heavier weight when handing down a sentence.
Bill C-41 also provides amendments to the Criminal Code that would improve both the effectiveness and the efficiency of the sentencing system. First it needs to amend the probation provisions of the Criminal Code. The proposal would encourage the transfer of important information to the courts during sentencing hearings.
The Criminal Code would be amended to specify that basic information be included in pre-sentence reports, including the offenders' juvenile records, their criminal records, information about the offenders' employment and social history and active steps taken toward rehabilitation.
Furthermore the bill seeks to strengthen the penalties for breach of probation. Strict time limits for reporting to a probation officer, for example, will be added to the Criminal Code. The penalties for breaking these conditions of probation would also be increased to bring more credibility to the probation system.
Second, if the bill is adopted by the House it will work to decrease the work load of Canada's already overburdened court system. Like most Canadians, I shudder every time I hear of a case that has been thrown out of court because of delays caused by an exhausted court docket.
The bill provides alternative measures to court proceedings that would prevent more criminal behaviour and would lessen the harm that can sometimes be done when minor offenders are dealt with through the courts. Furthermore alternative measures would involve the community and put greater emphasis on victim-offender reconciliation in court proceedings.
A final area of concern addressed by the bill is the impact of criminal activities on the victims of crimes. I am pleased the Minister of Justice has listened to the needs and concerns of those citizens. Victims feel a sense of frustration and loss when dealing with the criminal justice system. They want their voices heard. In particular they want to be involved in the process and have their interests taken into account during sentencing hearings. Bill C-41 addresses these concerns.
In recent years our justice system has seen the development and limited use of victim impact statements. The bill would oblige judges in sentencing hearings to consider these statements when handing down their penalties. This would ensure that a victim has the opportunity to speak about the harm inflicted upon them by the offender and would ensure that the victim's experience was taken into account in determining whether the parole ineligibility should be reduced.
We all know that crime is very costly not only to the judicial system but more importantly to the victims I speak of. Often expensive or cherished family heirlooms and personal possessions are stolen, lost or damaged during the commission of a crime. Currently if victims wish to seek restitution for personal or property damages they must make a special application to the court or seek recourse through costly civil litigation.
While they should not lose their right to follow a civil course of action, Bill C-41 would allow judges under their own volition to consider restitution to cover property and personal injury suffered by victims.
We can be proud of these proposals. They are indicative of the government's commitment to the rights of the victims of crime.
I would like to take a moment to compliment the Nepean Police Services victim crisis branch for the work it has been performing for victims of crime since 1983. Staffed mainly by a large contingency of trained volunteers from my city of Nepean, the service provides direct crisis intervention assessment, short term counselling and referral to suitable community resources to individuals and families that suffer the effects of trauma due to crime.
The mandate of the Nepean victim crisis branch not only operates in the best interest of the client it serves but follows the mandate set out by the Ministry of the Solicitor General of Canada.
I am pleased to stand here today in support of Bill C-41. I would like to congratulate the Minister of Justice for having the heart and courage to listen to Canadians and for carrying out the promises we on this side of the House laid out in our electoral platforms. I am convinced that all who carefully examine the provisions of the bill will recognize that it is in the best interest of Canada and works toward restoring Canadians' faith in the safety of their homes and streets.