Mr. Speaker, "The proposed high risk offenders' legislation is the single most important improvement in Canadian public safety legislation in the last 20 years". So said Scott Newark, executive officer of the Canadian Police Association. I could not agree more. The government has announced new measures to deal with high risk offenders.
The following three initiatives will toughen the sentencing and correctional regime for those who pose a high risk of committing another violent crime: a new long term offender designation that targets sex offenders and adds a period of long term supervision of up to 10 years following release from prison, strengthened and streamlined dangerous offenders provisions in the Criminal Code, and a new judicial restraint provision to permit controls, including electronic monitoring, to be applied to individuals who pose a high risk of committing a serious personal injury offence.
In the 1996 speech from the throne the government pledged to focus resources on high risk offenders while developing innovative alternatives to incarceration for low risk offenders.
Once again we have kept our promise and fulfilled our commitment to the Canadian public. After all, they deserve no less. Canadians are honest, hard-working people. They give much to their communities and expect very little in return. What they did ask for during the 1993 election campaign was safer homes and safer streets. That is what they are getting.
Canada's crime rate fell again in 1995, its fourth straight drop following 30 years of almost constant increase. Violent crime is down for the third year in a row. The homicide rate reached its lowest level since 1969.
The York region, which includes my riding of York North, has one of the lowest crime rates in the country. This is good, this is progress, but this is not good enough.
Criminals still commit offences and victims still suffer. That is why we have introduced Bill C-55. Under the proposed changes a new sentencing category, to be called long term offenders, will be added to the Criminal Code. It will target sex offenders who are less violent and brutal than those designated as dangerous offenders but are found to pose a considerable risk of reoffending.
The procedure will be similar to the existing dangerous offender application. On conviction the crown can ask for a thorough assessment of the offender's criminality and the risk he or she presents.
On the basis of the assessment report, the crown can then bring a dangerous offender or a long term offender application. With a long term offender application, a special hearing is convened and evidence is heard, including the assessment report.
If a long term offender finding is made, the judge will impose a prison sentence suited for the offence and add a period of long term supervision of up to 10 years to start when the incarceration period, including any parole, expires. Every long term offender will be subject to standard conditions, such as keeping the peace and not being allowed to possess firearms.
Further, specialized conditions can be added to ensure close supervision of the offender, such as regular reporting to the assigned supervisor and mandatory participation in counselling, electronic monitoring and other rehabilitation programs.
The long term offender designation, by imposing on the offender an additional period of supervision in the community after the end of the regular sentence, gives the offender a real opportunity to reintegrate without putting the community at risk.
Public safety is improved because Correctional Service of Canada and the parole board can set stringent conditions on the offender, monitor the offender closely and pull the offender back if there is a breach. An offender who breaches these conditions can be persecuted and reincarcerated.
Next we looked at the dangerous offender category. This classification has proved to be a useful tool in increasing public safety. Dangerous offender applications have been used successfully in approximately 150 cases and we are building on this success. Anyone who is classified as a dangerous offender will be kept in prison indefinitely. A judge will no longer have the discretion to sentence a dangerous offender to a fixed term.
Currently a dangerous offender application must be made at trial. Under Bill C-55 the crown will have a window of six months after conviction to bring a dangerous offender application based on newly received information. The process has been streamlined.
The number of psychiatrists required to testify at a hearing has been reduced from two to one.
Third, a new judicial restraint provision will be added to the Criminal Code. This procedure will focus on persons who pose a risk of committing a serious personal injury offence. It can be applied to people who are not under sentence as well as those who have completed their sentences. The crown attorney will be empowered to bring an application where there are reasonable grounds to fear that an individual will commit a serious personal injury offence. These grounds will be examined at a hearing before a judge. The judge will have the power to impose general conditions, such as keeping the peace, and specific conditions appropriate to the kind of threat posed by the individuals, such as staying away from schools and playgrounds or certain neighbourhoods.
As one of the conditions, the judge could order that a program of electronic monitoring be applied if such a program were available in the province. The judicial restraint would last up to one year and could be renewed.
A breach of conditions would constitute a separate criminal offence which could result in a jail sentence. This is an important step forward for the victims of domestic abuse. The reality is that we live in a country where women are six times more likely to be killed by a spouse than by a stranger. In fact, spousal homicides continue to account for one out of every six solved homicides. Of those women who were registered married and who were killed by their spouse, almost one in four were separated at the time of the incident.
Community safety has always been a priority for this government. The high risk offender package is a big step forward. Bill C-55 provides the tools necessary for the justice system to do its job. Law enforcement officers are empowered to protect their community. The chair of the law amendments committee of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police said: "It will help law enforcement officials, especially at the local level, to deal better with the people who pose the greatest danger to community safety". It gives judges more options when deciding which course of action would be best, both for society and for the offender, when handing down sentences.
In bringing forward these measures to control high risk offenders, we are strengthening our society and building a safer future for all Canadians.