Mr. Speaker, the Reform Party motion implies that the government has not paid attention to the needs of victims of crime and that it has been generally so negligent and insensitive that it should formally apologize to the families of victims, presumably for its inaction. This criticism is unjustified.
There are two kinds of actions a government can take to help unfortunate victims of crime and their families. First, it can implement laws, policies and programs which are directly focused on the needs of the families and the victims themselves, for example, by giving them information, by allowing them to partici-
pate in the prosecution of offenders through victim impact statements, et cetera.
The second way a government can show solidarity for crime victims is by enacting laws that prevent crimes in the first place, that deter criminality and, when crimes do occur, impose tough sentences of imprisonment that will keep chronic offenders away from potential future victims.
Some colleagues talked about murderers, their eligibility for parole and the legislation recently passed by this Parliament, but it seems to me that today's motion gives us an opportunity to address another government bill, which is before us, since it recently came back from the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs. I am referring to Bill C-55, concerning high risk offenders, and the tools it provides to fight the most serious and violent crimes provided for in the Criminal Code after murder.
Bill C-55 is responsive to the demands of victims' rights organizations for tough measures. Let me briefly touch on the highlights of the bill because it is proof that there is no need for the government to apologize to anyone for its anti-crime strategies.
The legislation will create a new sentencing category to be called the long term offender. This measure targets sex offenders. It will allow courts to impose a regular penitentiary sentence on those sex offenders. Then if the judge decides to designate the offender as a long term offender, he can add up to 10 years of supervision to the sentence.
I ask colleagues to think about this. Someone who commits the offence of sexual assault causing bodily harm might normally receive a sentence of say 10 years, but under Bill C-55 the court could find him to a long term offender and add 10 more years of intensive supervision, thus effectively doubling the period of control over the offender by the correctional system.
This period of supervision will only begin when the offender has completed his full prison sentence. This long term supervision period has teeth. It will have conditions attached to it similar to parole conditions. These could include, for example, staying away from specific past victims and staying away from potential victims such as children. They can include a range of reporting and treatment requirements, all of which will allow authorities to keep very close tabs on the long term offender while hopefully encouraging his rehabilitation.
Moreover, Bill C-55 creates a new offence of breach of a long term supervision order. If the offender breaches one of the conditions, the supervisor can bring him into custody and bring charges for the new offence.
Some may argue that criminals should be locked up indefinitely. In some cases, this can be done. There has been a dangerous offender provision in Canadian law since 1976.
Since then, this provision was used approximately 186 times and it still is successfully used to deal with about 15 new cases every year, where offenders are found to be dangerous offenders. Dangerous offenders are covered by part XXIV of the Criminal Code, which contains a special procedure whereby individuals sentenced for a serious personal injury offence, who have previously committed similar offences and are likely to reoffend, may be locked up indefinitely.
This extremely severe sentence is justified not only by the past actions of the offender, but also by an observation made at a special hearing that the offender poses a constant threat to the community.
I would also point out that a recent study revealed that 90 per cent of the successful dangerous offender applications involve sex offenders, those who prey on women and children. The dangerous offender law certainly is severe but the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld it as a well crafted, legitimate form of sentencing. Bill C-55 does not tamper with the core concepts of the dangerous offender procedure but it does strengthen it with a few strategic amendments.
As the law presently stands, a judge who finds the offender to be a dangerous offender would normally hand down an indeterminate sentence, in effect indefinite confinement, but he can in exceptional circumstances impose a sentence for a definite term. A federal-provincial task force which reviewed the law concluded that it makes little sense for the crown and the court to go through the special lengthy dangerous offender process only to obtain the same kind of sentence that would have resulted from a normal prosecution.
Bill C-55 will require the court to impose an indeterminate sentence in every instance. This will ensure that these very serious, high risk offenders are detained indefinitely.
Although these offenders fall into a high risk category, it is still important that they receive periodic parole reviews. The current law provides for the initial parole review of a dangerous offender to occur at the three year point of the sentence with subsequent reviews every two years thereafter.
Bill C-55 will change that initial period review to the seventh year. An offender who is sentenced to indeterminate detention because of his ongoing dangerousness is unlikely to achieve parole after only three years. In fact, the average parole release date for dangerous offenders is closer to 14 years.
The new provision regarding long term offenders and the improvements to the dangerous offenders legislation will provide invaluable tools against violent offenders. We also introduced a provision dealing with sexual offenders, as victims rights groups had been demanding for a long time.
I should point out that the expression "dangerous or violent offender" includes those who commit crimes of a sexual nature. Indeed, sexual crimes are among the crimes for which someone may be designated as a violent or dangerous offender. Bill C-55 provides not only that a person convicted of a sexual crime may be designated as a dangerous or violent offender, but also that, if there are no reasonable grounds to believe that the offender might be found to be a dangerous offender, the court may still designate that person as a long term offender.
What do victims rights groups have to say about Bill C-55? During consideration of Bill C-55 by the Standing Committee on Justice, the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime commended the government for its initiatives.
As for Victims of Violence, it was pleased by the proposed amendments to the legislation on dangerous offenders. This group also commended the minister and the government for their proposed changes.
Jim and Anna Stephenson, whose son was murdered, are well aware of the needs of victims' families. They stated that the amendments to the existing provisions on dangerous offenders and the creation of a long term offender category, as proposed in Bill C-55, are major government initiatives. According to them, these initiatives will fill significant gaps in the current legislation, thus reducing the potential threat posed by violent sexual offenders.
These are examples of what the government has been doing. I reiterate that there is certainly no reason for the government to apologize for its crime policies.