Mr. Speaker, we have before us an opposition motion from the third party, which reads as follows:
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-and I emphasize this part of the motion-the Minister of Justice initiate consultations with the provinces aimed at arriving at a national standard-and I also emphasize this expression-for a victims' bill of rights.
Victims have rights, victims have needs. If I may, I will use an illustration from testimony I heard before the standing committee on justice from a person who had lost a loved one when a crime was committed. This person did not tell us about loss of income, but rather about her emotional loss. She did not tell us about the criminal aspects involved, but rather about needing the government to offer her support during this difficult time.
This person was the indirect victim of a crime. I am telling this story to emphasize that the victims of crime are not the only direct victims. Sometimes people around the victim also suffer the consequences. The contribution the government can make to these direct or indirect victims is not just legal or financial, but also moral, supportive in nature.
How many times do we see victims or their relatives hounded by the media? What recourse, what protection do these people in their state of shock have to help them hang on to the privacy they need at a difficult time?
These are important questions. Victims and those close to them have rights because they have needs. Now, to meet these needs, to guard these rights, the question is: Who is best placed to do the job?
Naturally, the Bloc Quebecois is in favour of protecting and compensating victims of crime; this is a given. And in Quebec, for a number of years now, we have had legislation that provides this protection and compensation for victims of crime. As I have just told you, in Quebec, the Government of Quebec has legislated this protection, this compensation. Why? Because it is a provincial responsibility.
Because this is a provincial area of responsibility, the federal government therefore has no business interfering. Let us be very clear, then: the Bloc Quebecois is strongly in favour of the protection and compensation of victims, but by the appropriate level of government; and, in this case, it is the provinces. Quebec has been active for a number of years in this area of jurisdiction.
To put it more plainly, the jurisdiction proposed in the motion is not a matter for the federal government through the criminal law, that is section 91 (27), but, rather, concerns property and civil rights in the province, or section 92 (13). Therefore, national standards in this area would constitute flagrant interference in the provinces' exclusive areas of jurisdiction.
You will tell me that that would not be the first time. I am afraid not. In how many areas has the federal government, through its spending authority, interfered? If we look strictly at spending authority, the federal government could begin compensating victims left, right, and centre, first thing tomorrow. In one sense, these people would probably not be upset, but as I pointed out, what is important for victims or those close to them, is less the money than the comfort and moral support.
This person, who went through this unfortunate experience and described it to the justice committee added, and this is important, that a public servant had actually telephoned her the day after reading the newspapers to tell her that the pension cheque of her now dead loved one was already in the mail and that she should take steps to return it. The next day, twenty four hours later.
What victims or those close to them need is not necessarily financial compensation, but understanding, moral support, respect for human dignity, and these are things that the provinces are well equipped to provide. The provinces have all that is needed to do the social work required to ensure the respect of human dignity. I
repeat then, national standards in this area would constitute a flagrant infringement on areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction.
This is not just my own opinion I am stating; on two occasions already the Privy Council-which, as you know, was the level of last recourse at the time, until its abolition in 1949-acknowledged provincial jurisdiction over victim compensation. This is the legal precedent, formed in the past, and formed solidly. It is something already in place, something that ought not to be opened to re-examination and challenge at this time.
In 1920, in its decision on Canadian Pacific v. the British Columbia Workers Compensation Board, the Privy Council acknowledged that, when victims are to be compensated, even if the company in question happens to be under federal jurisdiction, section 92(13) of the Constitution takes precedence and the provincial legislation applies. Now, in 1996, we cannot again question a practice that was entrenched in our Constitution, unless the Constitution itself is laid open to question.
In another decision, in 1937, following a reference on unemployment insurance, the Privy Council reaffirmed the provinces' exclusive jurisdiction over victim compensation. This is why-I shall make this my concluding statement-the Reform motion, despite its praiseworthy intentions, runs totally counter to the policy of the Reform Party, which has been calling since it arrived here for greater decentralization of the federal system and respect for the exclusive provincial areas of jurisdiction.
Praiseworthy intentions, but the wrong approach, surprisingly. I would have preferred the Reform Party to continue along its path of decentralization of powers and respect for the jurisdictions of each of the provinces, instead of giving in to what I am sure was a flood of good intentions, and questioning an area of jurisdiction which is clearly provincial.