Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and speak on this motion before us advocating a victims' bill of rights. It might be appropriate for me to remind everyone of what the motion states:
That the House urge the government to direct the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs to proceed with the drafting of a victims' bill of rights, and that, in such areas where the committee determines a right to be more properly a provincial concern, the Minister of Justice initiate consultations with the provinces aimed at arriving at a national standard for a victims' bill of rights.
I am very pleased to note that this is a votable motion.
It is a timely and long overdue initiative which seeks to establish the rights of victims and their families as a cornerstone of our judicial system. That it has not been attempted in any substantive or meaningful way by the government is a sad commentary on its lack of commitment to safer streets and communities, although I am heartened by some of the words I heard the Minister of Justice speak in addressing this motion a short while ago.
Some colleagues across the way will no doubt disagree with some of what we say on this issue. I also expect some of them will vote against these proposals. If they listen, I am confident that our discussion today will draw attention to the subject of victims rights. In doing so, it is my hope to provide a voice in the House to the thousands of people who are the real sufferers of crime each year, the victims.
Victims for the purpose of this initiative also include the families of the persons against whom the offence was perpetrated. For them there is sometimes no escape from their suffering. All victims will bear the psychological scars of their ordeals for years to come.
While a victims bill of rights may not address all their concerns, the measure contained in this initiative in part would allow them a say before every legal proceeding that deals with the disposition of an accused. It is on this aspect of the victims bill of rights that I would like to spend the remainder of my time.
Clause 3 of the proposed bill declares that every victim has the right to choose between giving an oral and/or a written victim impact statement before sentencing, before parole hearings and before any judicial review. Simply put, victims and their families are not presently guaranteed the right to make oral impact statements at the trial of an accused, yet the accused seems to have every right.
If accepted, this bill of rights would ensure that a victim could choose to make such a statement at each stage where the legal system deals with the accused or the convicted. It would also allow them to determine if they want to give that statement verbally, in writing, or both. I do not think that is an unreasonable proposal.
Being allowed to do both is significant. It would prevent the courts from altering or editing a written victim impact statement. That was done to the statement submitted by Mrs. Mahaffy in the trial of Paul Bernardo. In that case, Mrs. Mahaffy submitted a statement only to find that it had been edited to the point that it no longer reflected what she wanted said about her daughter's death and the impact it had on her family.
The bill does not stop there. The bill would also allow a victim and their family to make a verbal impact statement at the parole hearing of a convicted criminal. In this regard, I will share with members in this House the tragic experience of a constituent of mine.
Her name is Inge Claussen. Many in my riding of Nanaimo-Cowichan will know her as my very capable constituency assistant in Duncan. Seventeen years ago, Mrs. Claussen's teenage daughter was abducted and brutally murdered. An individual with a known criminal history was subsequently charged and convicted of the crime.
Now, 15 years after being sentenced, this person-no, not person-this animal is now scheduled for a section 745 parole hearing asking for early release. Meanwhile the family of the slain girl does not have the ability to give a verbal impact statement at a parole hearing, after which this animal could be put back on the
street where again it will have the opportunity to prey on more innocent children.
I sincerely hope no one should every have to endure the horror this woman and her surviving family had to go through. Sadly though, given reality, I must expect there is still a possibility of that.
Rather than contribute to the pain and anguish of the victims and their families, rather than sully the memory of those victims killed, every effort should be made to give them a voice.
In the case of parole hearings, the right to make an oral victim impact statement should be guaranteed, if only to serve as a poignant reminder of the impact the offence had on a victim and the victim's family. Just as important, such measures should ensure victims of crime are treated as something more than observers of the judicial process. In point of fact, it would allow them to be active participants with something relevant to say, something beyond what happened during the commission of the offence.
Victim impact statements allow an individual to share with the court and for that matter share with the accused what the crime has done to them. It makes all involved acutely aware of the suffering endured by the victim and the victim's family. The catharsis of being able to do so helps in the healing process of the victim and allows them to form some semblance of closure on the incident.
However if the past actions of this government are any indication, we are not likely to see the reforms we want as they are outlined today any time soon. I hope from the words of the minister today I am wrong in saying that.
As I reflect upon this government's effort in the area of criminal reform addressing the rights of the victim, I am not encouraged. The approach used seemingly and invariably puts the rights of the accused ahead of the victim.
In recent years this country's criminal justice system has fallen into disrepute among Canadians. Increasingly, there exists a cynical opinion among many people that justice in this country is spelled and hence viewed in two different ways. There is "justice" which is viewed and spelled in the traditional way and incorporates the sacrosanct ideals of equality and fairness. Then there is "just us", the albeit harsh reality exploited by defence attorneys and their clients that the only people entitled to the principles of justice are the accused.
Sadly, recent tinkering with the Criminal Code has done nothing except enhance this unfortunate perception among Canadians. Real reform and leadership is needed on the issue. Only courage by legislators in this House will set things right.
I want to end my remarks by urging members opposite to put aside any partisan beliefs they might have and consider very seriously what is being proposed here. At the heart of this effort is a sincere attempt to assist victims of crime and to put more justice into the justice system.
When we vote on this motion, it does not have to necessarily be about winning or losing. As long as we work from the premise that these measures would benefit all Canadians who might one day find themselves victimized by crime, we will have accomplished something.
I ask members from all parties to join with me and support the initiative before the House today.