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.
Madam Speaker, it is a privilege to bring to the House of Commons an issue of paramount importance.
Many people have helped us work on this bill since the summer of 1994. We have turned it into a motion to try to get some action in the House of Commons. The motion to establish a national bill of rights will be voted on this evening at 6.30. I encourage everybody watching and listening to see where the House of Commons stands on a national bill of rights for victims. This is when we will separate fact from fiction, right from wrong.
As I stand in the House I find it quite embarrassing today to find that the government is to table legislation on gay rights when victims across the country and the Reform Party are fighting to get victims' rights. It is a total embarrassment that the priorities are on one aspect and not on the other in this society.
I dedicate this speech to the hundreds of thousands if not the millions of victims in Canada today. In particular I dedicate my speech to Sheena who was taken from us by a drunk driver. We shall never forget the good times and her family will always remember.
Many people think victims' rights in Canada today are things like changes to the Young Offenders Act, the repeal of section 745, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, the gun law or the many other bills in the great jungle of criminal justice laws in Canada. That is not the case. Those are the laws we use to help judge right from wrong. Those are the laws which are supposed to protect people from becoming victims in the first place. Those are the laws which victims seek to change.
On the other hand, victims' rights reflect the protection victims require after a criminal act has been perpetrated. They are the rights victims must have to ensure justice and equity exist and to protect them from being revictimized by the system.
Keith Kempt, a gentleman I met in Mission, British Columbia, said it best to me. He lost his young fellow when another individual shot him and killed him. Keith said to me not too long ago that criminals need correction; victims need rehabilitation. How appropriate a comment by a victim.
I hope the debate today will be constructive. We know a large number of victims have been advised of this debate and are watching as I speak now. I ask the people watching and listening to listen closely, to see if they will come to the same conclusion we have that a national victims' bill of rights is necessary. If you listen to the content and the sincerity of the speeches, you will see why we need this bill of rights. I encourage people across the country to write to us. Write to your MP, write to me in the House of Commons with your comments. Victims need our help. They need a national bill of rights.
Some provincial jurisdictions are involved. There are some actions within this bill of rights that would require administration by the provincial system. Just as the provinces co-operated with the federal government to implement reforms to the plea bargaining process, the same co-operation would be required here. Let us not blame one another for currently not having a victim's bill of rights; let us build one now.
I quote Somerset Maugham: "It is a funny thing about life, if you refuse anything but the best you very often get it". Let us develop the best together for victims, with victims.
The provinces of Ontario and British Columbia have recently attempted to address this issue through legislation. I looked at the legislation and I can see these rights are conditional to some extent; conditional to the Privacy Act, to the Freedom of Information Act and to the rights of the criminal. I do not think today we should be in the position to say the rights of the criminal are more important that the rights of the victim. I think we have to say there are unconditional rights of victims. Victims need more reassurance than having things conditional today. Victims need more consistency than that.
There are many victims' rights groups in the country that agree with our position and the criteria from which we set out what victims' rights are. Let us not leave them alone anymore. Let us support these groups, their membership, those victims.
There are groups like CAVEAT, CRY, Victims of Violence, Citizens United for Safety and Justice, Victims Resource Centre, Fair Justice, Move the Rock, and Peace and Justice for Canadians, to name some of the ones that have supported this initiative.
The standards we have established for a Canadian victims' bill of rights are here, and I wish to read them and table with them in the House. Afterwards I want to present an explanation for each article so that Liberal members can understand what is behind this incentive.
It is important to give an idea of some of the hurdles we have to cross in this country. To quote from the legal industry, Russ Chamberlain, a criminal defence lawyer, said in the Vancouver Province that crime victims want an eye for an eye. He said they want someone else to fix their petty problems and that their pitch for personal vengeance can improperly affect a jury's verdict.
Victim impact statements are just venting the spleen and do not serve justice and should be allowed, banned completely.
The consequences of criminal conduct are obvious to any intelligent person. It does not assist-to have persons who are the victims of criminal conduct spend all their time weeping in front of the jury.
I ask any reasonable and logical individual in this country to think about what this criminal lawyer has said. I sincerely believe the justice industry, the legal industry, sees victims as excess baggage in the process, and that is unfortunate and that is what we are to change here.
Let me read into the record exactly the criteria we want and then I will explain why. A definition for a victim, if you can believe it, is not existent in this country nationally, nor is it in many provinces. A victim is anyone who suffers as a result of an offence, physical or mental injury, or economic loss, or any spouse, sibling, child or parent of the individual against whom the offence was perpetrated, or anyone who had an equivalent relationship, not necessarily a blood relative. That is what a victim is.
Let us see what victims require. Victims have the right to be informed of their rights at every stage of the process, including those rights involving compensation from the offender. They must also be made aware of any victims' services available; not too much to ask.
Second, victims have the right to be informed of the offender's status throughout the process, including, but not restricted to, notification of any arrests, upcoming court dates, sentencing dates, plans to release the offender from custody, including notification of
what community the parolee is being released into, conditions of release, parole dates, et cetera. All information is to be made available on request.
Third, victims have the right to choose between giving oral and/or written victim impact statements before sentencing at any parole hearings and at judicial reviews.
Fourth, victims have the right to be informed in a timely fashion of the details of the crown's intention to offer a plea bargain before it is presented to the defence; not too much to ask.
Fifth, victims have the right to know why charges were not laid, if that is the decision of the crown or police.
Sixth, victims have the right to protection from anyone who intimidates, harasses or interferes with the rights of the victim.
Seventh, victims have the right to have police follow through on domestic violence charges. Once a victim files a complaint, police should have the authority to follow it through to the end.
Eighth, victims have the right to know if a person convicted of a sexual offence has a sexually transmittable disease.
I do not consider any of those difficult issues. Having worked with many victims since I was elected, I have come to realize that what they are asking for is fairness, something reasonable, something that gives them the feeling that they, too, are equal citizens to the criminal.
Let me go back and indicate why some of these are in here. Why do we define a victim? Shortly after the death of Sian Simmonds, a young girl in my riding, I was sitting with her dad, Chris, in his living room. Sue, the mother, had a very difficult time after Sian was murdered. They were both enraged and saddened that they could not get any counselling assistance for Sue. Why? The officialdom out there said Sue was not the victim.
If the mother of a girl who has been murdered is not a victim, who is? It is not the dead person, it is the remaining parents. We have to define what a victim is today.
Victims have the right to be informed at every stage of the process. Two weeks ago on a Friday I went to a sentencing hearing in my riding. Tami McKenzie, the mother of the victim, was going to it. I asked her whether she would make an attempt at having her victim impact statement read into the record rather than have it go in through the back door where the judge reads it and puts it on file.
She did not even know what a victim impact statement was. I had to tell her. I should not be telling her. There are many people in this country who have no idea what victim impact statements are, or any other part of the process. We need a process and a commitment to advise victims of their rights.
When I was watching "To Serve and Protect" one evening on television, I saw the RCMP reading rights to a criminal who bashed a lady who was laying on the street crying with blood on her hands. They were ignoring the other individual, who probably never did find out what her rights were. Where does she go? Who lays the charges? Will she go to court? If she goes to court, will she get assistance? Not done in this country, but it has to be.
Victims should have the right to be informed of the offender's status. In my riding an lady who was separated from her husband found that he came home one night, threw gasoline throughout the house and torched it. They escaped. He got a year or so in jail and she specifically asked: "Let me know if he is getting out, when he is getting out, the terms and conditions of getting out, where he will live when he does get out". What happened? No one told her. She got a call and there he was out and the nightmare started again.
This is not isolated. This is time and time again across the country. I am happy to see the justice minister intently listening. There are many victims today listening to what we have to stay in the House of Commons. I sincerely hope we get some answers.
The right to choose between giving oral and written victim impact statements should be a common right. However, as I read earlier, prosecutors and defence lawyers have a very difficult time with victim impact statements. This is mainly because the crime is against the crown and not the victim. When it is, a victim is seen as an extra, a difficult situation for the lawyers in the trial which is wrong.
Victims need to be informed in a timely fashion of the details of the crown's intention to offer plea bargaining. I wish I had more time to tell the House about Allen and Debbie Wayne in my riding. A young offender who was currently under prohibition from driving stole a 4 X 4. He smashed into young Allen Junior's car, broke Allen Junior's two legs, his arm, his pelvis, crushed his head and he still does not have much of a chance of living. In fact his mom, Debbie, told me several weeks ago they had to make the decision to cut his leg off. They explicitly asked that charges not be plea bargained and if they were, they asked that they be told if they were being bargained down.
The offender had eight charges against him. They found out from me and no one else that the eight charges were reduced to three minor charges. As a consequence this guy gets off but he is not a nice fellow. He was already under a prohibition from driving. What was he given? Fifteen months, I believe, open custody, he can go home; one day concurrent open custody for driving while prohibited; and something like three years prohibition from driving which
he was already under in the first place. I cannot tell the House how sick and crushed that makes victims feel. Allen and Debbie Wayne today are angry and I do not blame them.
Victims should have a right to know why charges are not laid, if that is the decision of the crown or the police. Is that not such a common sense solution to some of this? My secretary in my riding office had her house broken into by the same group three times last year. Charges were not laid. When I pursued it, and pursued it and pursued it again, I found out that charges were not going to be laid. Why? Because they were looking at some drug charges against these guys. She never did get charges laid against those people.
Victims should have a right to protection from anyone who intimidates, harasses or interferes with their rights. Why not? The justice minister may say we have that in the charter of rights and freedoms and so on, but it is not the case. We have to put some emphasis on it.
Joan in my riding was sexually assaulted with a weapon. We got the guy. We found out who it was and he was charged and has gone in. He was writing her letters. Joan is 63 years old. This fellow was writing letters from Vancouver remand, telephoning her and so on. We have got to do more in that area.
Police must follow through on domestic violence charges. We only have to look at what happened in the Vernon situation. One of the victims went to the police and said: "He is stalking me. He is going to come after me, but do not do anything because if you do, I am going to be murdered". So the police did not do anything. All they had to do was to follow it up from there and they would have found out that the fellow had purchased and registered guns.
Finally, we should know whether a person convicted of a sexual offence has a sexually transmittable disease. I could talk a lot about Jose Mendoza, and I have in the past. Tasha who was raped, not sexually assaulted, could not find out whether this guy had a sexually transmittable disease. Why? Because he did not want anybody to know. He did not want Tasha or anybody else to know. They are to keep their hands off of him.
Well done is better than well said. We have to do the job we have been sent here to do. This is not a partisan issue. I sincerely hope the Liberals particularly the justice minister think about this. Give the motion an opportunity to get to the justice committee for consideration to work out with the attorneys general in this country how we can improve on a system which needs improving.
People like Darleen Boyd, Chris and Sue Simmonds, Corinne and Ron Shaeffer, Chuck and Dona Cadman, Dawn and Bill Bakeburg, who are all people I have worked with, Debbie and Dan Mahaffy-Debbie is here today-Gail and Terry Smith, Paul and Marilyn Cameron and millions of other Canadians are hoping a national victims bill of rights can happen. It can start today. It can start at 6.30 this evening. Let us get away from looking at the gay rights issue today. Let us look at victims rights. Let us make a real attempt to do something positive in the country.
I will finish with a quote from Robert F. Kennedy who said it best: Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream of things that never were and say, why not. To me that says just about everything on the issue. It is not impossible. There is no need for excuses. There is no need to say that the Reformers voted against Bill C-68 or any other bill. That is criminal justice legislation. There is a need for a commitment today.