Madam Speaker, today the Reform Party is tabling a motion urging the government to direct the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs to proceed with the drafting of a victims' charter of rights. Indeed, Reformers are really asking for a charter of rights.
First, I submit that this an issue that comes mainly under provincial jurisdiction. I want to make this very clear, and I will elaborate on that point.
On December 13, 1993, Quebec passed the Crime Victims Compensation Act, to replace the Act respecting assistance for victims of crime.
The act provides for the payment of various forms of compensation to victims of criminal acts, including income replacement benefits, academic retardation benefits, loss of physical or psychological integrity allowance, bereavement allowance, and also an
allowance for supporting a child born following a criminal offence of a sexual nature. The act also provides for the refund of certain costs related to personal assistance and rehabilitation, as well as for the administrative support required for its implementation.
An office and an assistance fund were set up. Thanks to this assistance fund, help centres were established in various districts to comfort victims and to support them throughout the judicial process. The Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail was given a mandate to administer this act. This commission has regional offices.
The Reform Party is also proposing that consultations be initiated with the provinces to arrive at a national standard for its proposed victims' charter of rights. This is unacceptable, since this is essentially an area of provincial jurisdiction.
First, a national standard can only be arrived at in an area of exclusive federal jurisdiction, such as defence, bankruptcy and insolvency, divorce, postal services, unemployment insurance, aboriginal issues, the Criminal Code, criminal law, banks, weights and measures.
Beyond these explicitly listed areas in section 91 of the British North America Act, any action by this House is likely to be opposed by the provinces, unless it is in an open or vacant field, or unless the proposed legislation is ancillary to legislation in an area listed under section 91 of the 1867 BNA Act.
This House may enact any ancillary provision required to provide effective and complete legislation. However, it can only legislate on the rights of victims in an indirect fashion, that is through legislation concerning an area expressly mentioned in section 91.
Is this a question of national interest? Certainly not. However, the federal government may intervene and does so within these areas of jurisdiction. Thus, the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act contain provisions aimed specifically at victims of crime.
One of the provisions of the Criminal Code is that trials and preliminary hearings may be heard in camera, that a court may make an order restricting publicity in order to protect the identity of witnesses in proceedings involving sexual offences or in which violence is alleged to have been used, threatened or attempted.
Other provisions allow videotapes to be used in place of the testimony of a witness, or certain testimony to be given outside the courtroom so that a witness will not have to appear before an accused.
These provisions, furthermore, are the subject of two bills recently introduced in the House, Bill C-27 and Bill C-217, which I myself tabled. If passed, these bills will further ease the testimony of victims of crime.
The Criminal Code also provides that a court may, on the application of a person aggrieved, at the time sentence is imposed, order the accused to pay that person an amount by way of satisfaction or compensation for loss of or damage to property suffered by that person as a result of the commission of the offence.
The Corrections and Conditional Release Act provides that a victim may provide information for use by the Parole Board in determining whether an offender will be granted parole and under what conditions. In addition, the Board or the Correctional Service shall, at the request of a victim, disclose to him certain information, such as the date of commencement and length of the sentence, and the dates on which an inmate becomes eligible to be released on unescorted temporary absence or parole.
Other information may be disclosed when, in the opinion of the chairperson or the commissioner of corrections, the interest of the victim outweighs any invasion of the offender's privacy that could result from the disclosure. Such information includes the following: If the person is being detained, the penitentiary where he is incarcerated, the date of any anticipated hearing, the type and date of release, the destination of the inmate, and the conditions of his release.
Many victims would rather turn the page and try to forget this tragic episode in their lives. Out of respect for them, the Parole Board and the Correctional Service do not automatically send information to the victims, who must make a written request if they wish to obtain such information.
In short, the current situation does not warrant the measure proposed by the Reform Party. The provinces are in a better position to protect the victims of criminal acts, and they can do so in a manner that better reflects their particular environment. This is not to say that the federal Minister of Justice should stop continuing to improve the law in areas that can affect victims of criminal acts.
Given that this is a matter that comes essentially under provincial jurisdiction, and that the provinces, including Quebec, have already legislated this area, we oppose the motion of the Reform Party.