Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Nanaimo-Cowichan. I would like to express my thanks for the opportunity to rise today and address the motion to introduce a victims' bill of rights.
Every act of violence touches each one of us. It crosses party lines, gender lines, cultural, sociolinguistic and economic lines. Our concern is the reality that brings us together as we all struggle with the infuriating, frustrating and heart wrenching results of violent crime.
While all aspects of this bill of rights are of great significance, as critic to the department of status of women I am particularly concerned with issues that address victims of domestic violence.
Since my election to Parliament I have seen any number of times the consequences of a justice system that neglects the welfare of victims of crime. These consequences are particularly stark and devastating for the victims of violent crime and domestic violence. The following will bring to light how devastating, as I share with members a few of the numerous cases I have dealt with in my riding of Calgary Southeast.
These cases specifically involve domestic violence including pedophilia and stalking. The sensitivity and confidential nature of some of these cases means I will not make reference to the names of the constituents concerned except for the case of Helen Leadley. Helen has courageously brought her story to the public, and Parliament is already familiar with it.
In early 1994 Helen Leadley approached our office for assistance. Her concern was that a convicted violent offender by the name of Robert Paul Thompson was up for parole in 1995 and she feared for the safety of her family. She explained to me that Thompson had been convicted for the murder of her daughter, his common law wife, Brenda Fitzgerald. Mr. Thompson's record dated back to 1969. The crime of murder, for which he is currently serving time, he committed while on a day pass from the Bow Valley correctional institute where he had been incarcerated for two counts of hit and run. Thompson was caught, found guilty by a jury trial and put in jail for his crime.
Helen and her grandchildren have never had the opportunity to go on with normal lives. Helen would spend the next 10 years fearing for the life of her family. Thompson sent death threats to Helen and her family promising that once released, and he remains quite confident that he will be released, he would follow through on these threats.
While Thompson is being provided for by the state, Leadley family members live in fear for their lives, never able to put the tragedy of Brenda's death to rest, as they have spent countless hours agonizing over and working to prevent Thompson's release.
On June 13, 1995 I attended Thompson's parole hearing in Renous, New Brunswick. There I was able to present a written statement to the parole board on Helen's behalf requesting that Thompson serve his full life sentence. Helen was denied permission to make any verbal statement to the parole board. As unimaginable as that ruling is, it remains that victims are not permitted to speak during the parole hearing.
Fortunately the board ruled against Thompson's release but he will be allowed to apply again and again in the years to come until he is successful.
As Helen works valiantly to keep the shattered pieces of her family life together, she must also find the strength to go on fighting to secure her own protection because the state seems incapable of doing that. When will she be free from this burden? As long as we continue to neglect the victims of crime, people like Helen will continue to live in fear and sorrow.
More recently, another constituent came to see me, this time for assistance in protecting her family against a sex offender who had sexually abused not only her daughter but six other little girls including his two daughters. The individual in question was convicted on seven counts of sexual assault three years ago, sentenced to nine years in prison but became eligible for early parole this past February, ludicrous as that may be.
The constituent asked that I attend the parole hearing at the Bowden Institution in Alberta. Once again neither the victims nor their parents were allowed a voice at the hearings. In this case the decision was made in favour of society and the victims, as the offender was denied earlier parole.
However, the positive outcome was outweighed by the uncertainty felt by the victims as they awaited the process as well as the emotional anguish of having to relive the violation as they revisited the horrible memories of the crime. The very intrusive representation by the pedophile as he used this hearing to absolve himself was truly offensive.
I will share with members the story of a family haunted by a former spouse who while in prison issued death threats to his ex-wife and her husband. The offender in question was scheduled for release sometime around April 4, 1996. Authorities informed me that in all likelihood his release would be granted. I was informed by those same authorities that this man is capable of following through on his threats. He has been diagnosed with degenerative personality disorder, a disease that causes him to become increasingly aggressive and increasingly dangerous.
This offender has made threats against me and my staff in the constituency office. When I contacted the RCMP to find out what could be done to protect not only my constituents from this dangerous man but also me and my staff, I was told that until he reoffends there is not much that can be done short of surveillance. While our justice system fulfilled its promise to release the criminal as scheduled, it continues to neglect the very real and overwhelming threats to the lives of its victims and the rest of our community.
In light of the above, I take this opportunity to express my support for the victims' bill of rights. For too long we have worked to protect the accused at the expense of the victims. While I understand the need to ensure the accused are treated with fairness under our laws, must it be done at the expense of those innocent individuals who have already experienced abuse and humiliation and who have to suffer the further insecurity of never knowing if they will ever be safe again?
How much longer will we buy into the argument that what is needed above every possible consideration is rehabilitation? What of protection for our citizens? What of making individuals accountable for their actions? What of the rights of the victims and of potential victims in society? It is time to stop giving priority to criminals and violent offenders who prey on our families and children.
As we see cases of domestic violence increasing we must ask what are we doing to alter effectively that reality. While I am a strong advocate of prevention and the incorporation of preventive measures to curb the tide of the growing number of violent offences being perpetrated within families, I also believe it is well past the time that we put in place effective measures to respond to the needs of the growing numbers of victims in the nation.
As we can see from these real life examples, victims are not being accorded the protection they need or even a say in the process.
Domestic violence presents particular problems for the criminal justice system. Some of the most violent crime in our communities is committed in the home by close family friends and family members. Unfortunately children and women bear a disproportionate amount of this aggression.
In one of the most widely referred to studies on domestic violence, a 1993 government publication entitled "Changing the Landscape: Ending Violence-Achieving Equality" found that 34 per cent of Canadian women have experienced a physical assault from a partner in an intimate relationship. Five per cent of the women reported being threatened, 39 per cent were sexually assaulted, while 50 per cent of Canadian women say they have been abused in some way. A shocking 45 per cent of women have faced violence at the hands of husbands or boyfriends they live with.
Children have also been the target of abuse and violence. What is equally damaging for children is the relationship that exists between the witnessing of violent domestic abuse and the probability of becoming abusive later in life. Government of Canada research illustrates that children who witness violence, especially against a mother, are more likely to be abusive as adults. This is tremendously troubling, considering that 39 per cent of women have reported that their children were witnesses to violent acts committed against themselves.
This points to a growing crisis that has dangerous social implications for Canadian society. One of the problems in overcoming domestic violence is the inability to break the cycle of repeat abuse after a conviction has been made and a sentence has been served. Ex-convicts regularly attempt to re-establish contact with former spouses or family members with devastating effects. Oftentimes victims are not aware their abusers are not back on the street. They show up unannounced, occasionally with violent intentions. Victims should be notified when a convicted abuser is freed from jail so they may take precautions to protect themselves and their children against repeat aggression.
Again, there is an imbalance here, which the Minister of Justice suggested a few moments ago. The criminal justice system in my view must become more focused on protecting victims from harassment and intimidation.
The victims' bill of rights challenges the criminal justice system to follow through, from beginning to end, charges related to domestic violence. The system has learned to effectively take into consideration the rights of the accused and the convicted, but it has no corresponding capacity to link the victims of crime to the process of justice. Without question a victims' bill of rights would have a positive effect in redressing the imbalance which presently exists.