Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to debate the motion on the issue of victims rights.
Although as a society we have an obligation to protect the rights of the accused and the rights of the convicted, we also need to establish and safeguard the rights of all victims and their families.
If an occasion should arise where the rights of the victim and the rights of the perpetrator are in conflict, the resolution of that conflict should be very easy: it should be in favour of the victim. I sincerely believe this can be done without compromising our fine tradition of rights and freedoms.
The call for better victims rights is not a new one. In 1981 a federal-provincial task force was struck to examine the role of victims in the criminal justice system. The task force reported in 1983 with suggestions to provide information to victims, develop victims rights, develop victim services, introduce victim impact statements and compensate losses where appropriate. I agree with all of these proposals. However, I do not agree with its conclusion that many proposed victims rights "were not appropriate to be included in the criminal law". Since that time some progress has been made.
In 1988, Bill C-89 amended the Criminal Code to allow courts to consider victim impact statements during sentencing. Recent amendments which will soon come into force will require courts to consider any properly prepared impact statement. Similar changes have been made to the Young Offenders Act and to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
Provisions have been placed in the Criminal Code regarding restitution. In section 727.9 of the Criminal Code a victim fine surcharge has been introduced, not to exceed 15 per cent of any fine levied. Unfortunately, proceeds go to the crown and not directly to the victim. Under section 725 of the Criminal Code a court can order compensation to a victim. However, application must be made by the victim who would need to seek a civil judgment to enforce the order and the accused would not pay the amount ordered.
It is progress, but it is not enough. It is not sufficient for the federal government to point to the provinces and suggest that the administration of justice is a provincial matter. It is not good enough that changes on these matters are done haphazardly and at a snail's pace. It is certainly not good enough to suggest further patience by those whose lives have been shattered as victims of crime.
The federal government has a clear responsibility to set the protection of victims as a national priority. I believe this motion can achieve that objective.
We can accomplish our objectives by including the rights of victims in a preamble to the Criminal Code. On matters which
traditionally fall within the scope of the provinces, this preamble should state that the administration of the law, as established in the Criminal Code, specifies the rights of victims.
There are five principles which should be included in a statement of victims rights. First, victims should be kept informed of the criminal investigations, court proceedings and parole applications being undertaken in respect of criminal action perpetrated against them or their families. These people need to know the process. They need to be informed of what is going on. Victims of crime are not an impediment to court proceedings, the lawyers and others who administer the law. They are the reason for it and should benefit from it.
Second, victims should be financially compensated for personal injury or financial and all other forms of loss which result from criminal actions against them or their families. They should not have to make a separate application to the court, nor be required to obtain a civil enforcement order. The thought that a victim must in essence sue an individual convicted of a crime against them to obtain restitution is beyond comprehension.
Third, an individual convicted of committing a property crime should have a portion of their fine or labour in prison go to providing restitution to the victim. Innocent bystanders should not have to absorb the cost of another's deviant behaviour.
Fourth, victims should have the unconditional right to have their impact statements heard by the courts and parole boards. The rules and processes surrounding this procedure should be simple and should facilitate, not impede such action.
Fifth, the statement of principle should call for the administration of justice under the Criminal Code by the provinces in a manner which obliges them to inform victims of the services available to them, including possible legal recourse.
The intent of the motion before us is to further protect the rights of victims who are all too often forgotten by the justice system, which is why I will support the motion today. I will carefully watch the progress of the minister and the committee. I hope they find merit in my suggestion to include the bill of rights in a preamble to the Criminal Code.
I am not a lawyer, a judge or a learned legal scholar. I do not know the intricacies of the law. But I am a father, a husband and a concerned citizen. As parliamentarians we have an obligation to continue the progress of the last few years, to set a national standard and an example to protect and assist all victims of crime.