House of Commons Hansard #150 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was accused.


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12:30 p.m.


Shaughnessy Cohen Liberal Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, I feel like I am back in law school. The hon. member is raising a fair point. Legislatures make law; judges

interpret law. When there is a vacuum, when the legislature has not clearly set out society's intention, judges can wander from that.

Precedents are built on precedents and so we have to be vigilant as legislators to ensure that the law is actually delivering what we want the law to deliver in court rooms and in our lives as they are regulated by legislation.

There is tremendous ongoing debate about what is often called judge made law. A broader debate would be better held at another time. This is a case where judicial interpretation of the law has gone so far afield that there has been public outcry. We have lost the balance between private rights and public rights and between the rights of complainants and accused.

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12:30 p.m.


Sharon Hayes Reform Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-46 regarding the production of records in sexual offence proceedings.

As I was beginning to ponder this bill a symbol came to mind, the very symbol of justice. Therein we see a woman holding a scale. In the symbol is a picture of a balance. A weighing of evidence and actions are put to that balance where the rights of the accused and the rights of victims are weighed; all people are equal before the law.

The scale in that picture is the legislation that we craft in this place. That legislation should be designed to be fair. It should be designed to be free from built-in bias. It should be crafted outside specific cases so that it serves the best interests of all.

The woman in that picture is blindfolded, typifying that the human judgment factor of justice should display an absence of all prejudice. There should be equal rules for all in the justice system.

Increasingly in our system, the rights of the accused and the rights of victims come into conflict with our rules. Increasingly the purpose of the justice system is in debate in the public sphere. Is it to protect law-abiding citizens? Is it to rehabilitate criminals? What are the priorities that must be established in our justice system?

As the weight is shifted from the rights of the public to the rights of the accused, we see a consequence in our social fabric of lack of accountability, an increase in crime, more victims because of it and those victims left out of the process and often revictimized by that process.

A major concern of the Reform Party is that justice serve all Canadians, that it serve as a deterrent to crime, that it demand accountability of those who would break the laws of this country, that it uphold the rights of victims. The bottom line is safer streets and security for our families and for the citizens of Canada.

Bill C-46, this debate, deals with the pursuit of justice in cases of sexual assault. It seeks to strike a balance between complainant rights to privacy and accused rights to a fair trial and full disclosure in that trial.

The discussion is extended in this debate to a right for equality for the complainant, equality based on items such as race and gender.

The difficulty of balance is part of the history of Canada's rape shield law, the law that was designed to shield victims from being cross-examined about their sexual history and making judges responsible to decide when questions are permitted in that sphere.

Originally in law a man accused of sexual assault had an absolute right to cross-examine an accuser about previous relationships and their sexual history. Changes in 1992 to section 276, known as the rape shield law, resulted in most of the alleged victims' sexual history being out of bounds. The decision to allow evidence to come forward was made by the judge in a private hearing at the beginning of the trial.

However, opposite to the anticipated results of this change came demands for counselling and other private records. Counselling centres were besieged with requests from the courts so they began to minimize the records that were kept. Some records were destroyed. There were costly fights over subpoenas. Indeed, victims were not coming forward because they wanted to avoid public disclosure or review of their private past.

In December 1995 there was a supreme court ruling where the defendant in a sexual assault case need only establish records "likely to have relevance in order to be produced", and therefore such workers as doctors, priests, health workers and counsellors could turn over records to the alleged assailants.

Bill C-46 severely limits this access by defendants to records of alleged victims in sexual assault cases. Applications for production of records are determined by a trial judge and there is a two stage application put forward by this bill.

First, the accused must establish that the records exist, that there is specific grounds for requiring those records and that they contain information relevant to the issue.

The second stage is that the trial judge will review those records privately, determine which ones will be released and take into consideration privacy safeguards in so doing.

Both third party and crown records are included in this debate, as has been clarified, which is in direct contradiction to the supreme court ruling of 1995.

My colleague mentioned that records can be produced through the process in Bill C-46. Will they be produced with so many checks and balances? There is no prohibition for production of records but, given the rules and the criteria, would they amount to a prohibition of the records?

As I reviewed these issues there were more that came to mind. The issues range from the priorities of the justice system and the priority of a complainant versus the accused within the system.

Would the system affect the willingness of a citizen to come forward with charges?

Then there is the issue of the definition of who is a victim. In this case, can a victim be the complainant or can the victim be the accused if justice is not served in the process?

The process of justice is another issue and the basic principle in law that someone is assumed innocent until they are proven guilty.

Another issue is the role of the crown and the accountability of the accuser when the crown takes their place.

There are three more definitions and applications. Where does the definition and application of sexual assault charges stand in the law? Where does the definition and application of privacy rights stand in Canadian law? Where does the definition and application of equality rights stand in Canadian law? All these issues surround Bill C-46.

Many of the issues have been discussed in previous debate. Of particular note is the issue of the protection of the complainant versus the false accusation that might come from that individual. This could break down into two situations.

First, there could be false accusation without intent. That is, as we have heard, false memory syndrome which was put forward very succinctly by the member for Hamilton-Wentworth. I will not repeat the arguments.

The other issue is false accusation with intent. I will get to that later in a brief discussion of Bill S-4 and how that could put forward protection for an individual against false accusation with intent.

A second issue that has come up in previous debates is victim rights. This is of course a priority of our party. Too often people in the justice system who are victims are revictimized. Certainly we have seen in the last month or so the dismal failure of the Liberal Party, which had an opportunity to change the criminal justice system to revoke section 745. Section 745 allows for the application for early parole after 15 years for first degree murderers. In the last little while we have had victims revictimized by having to relive the horror in order to accommodate the killer of their children who is once again in the public spotlight.

This party, which forms the Government of Canada at this point, could have supported the repeal of that section of the criminal code. This party could have served Canadians but it chose not to.

The greatest slap in the face to British Columbia residents is that B.C. Liberal members chose to avoid supporting the repeal of section 745. A murderer, who was in their own backyard, came into the public sphere again. This abused the public's sensibilities of not only the victims but of the population of our province.

The stated intent of the bill that we are looking at today is commendable: increased protection of victims of sexual assault and to serve better their needs in the justice system by eliminating any disincentive for them to come forward for justice.

However, today I would ask what the government is doing, how effective it is and how selective it is in the process. As we have seen in section 745 and this government's treatment of that bill, very often justice and legislative proposals are brought forward to suit political purposes but do not serve the real victims, whether those victims are the accusers or the accused in the process. Thus too much legislation does not serve Canadians as a whole.

Today I would like to focus on three areas of discussion in particular, the definition of sexual assault in Canadian law, privacy concerns of the Liberal government, and special rights based on historical disadvantage.

First, the definition of sexual assault as proposed by the Liberal government was changed in 1988. Bill C-15 under the Conservative government redefined sexual assault. In doing so, the age of consent was lowered to age 14 from age 16.

Today I put to the House that the most tragic victims of sexual assault are children aged 14 and 15 who are exploited by adult pimps across our country and who are virtually untouchable by our laws. Child prostitution in Canada rips families apart and destroys the lives of young people. This fact is obviously not a priority of the Liberal government.

When I questioned the justice minister on March 3 he gave an equivocal answer to that question and obviously displayed no will to change, ignoring the recommendation from provincial governments and ignoring the incredulity of the public when it realized that the age of consent in Canada was 14. This issue was actually made worse by the Liberal justice minister who refused to challenge an Ontario court decision in 1995 that actually broadened the definition of sexual consent of children aged 14 to include homosexual activity. The Liberals are not only unwilling to protect our youth, but they would broaden the potential for sexual predators to destroy the lives of young people and not bring to account those who set about to destroy those lives for their own gain.

The second issue is privacy and the Liberal government. A recent tour by the human rights committee on the public concerns about privacy brought to light that the public is woefully unprotected in privacy matters in Canada. The Privacy Act is virtually without enforcement and applies only to the public sector. Other

jurisdictions in other countries are far ahead. The Canadian public is not well served in privacy matters.

There is general scepticism about both invasion of privacy by private sector and public sector concerns. Privacy rules are subjective and serve the purposes of government priorities.

The Employment Equity Act violates the privacy of businesses by making their business plans open to review procedures. On the other hand, in refugee hearings through privacy choices of the government, records relating to the individual are not available to the committee reviewing the refugee hearing.

In my constituency the latest government household survey, the detailed census, provides a severe penalty for non-compliance. This invasive questionnaire sent to households invades the privacy of individual Canadians and is now being challenged in B.C. courts because of privacy concerns.

I would like to draw the attention of the House how the government deals with the privacy rights of children. I quote from a report by a government committee in Beijing which states: "Human rights activists applauded a Canadian breakthrough in Beijing that recognizes children's evolving rights to make their own decisions. The issue pitted the child's right to learn about issues such as birth control against the right of parents to prevent access to subjects in which they do not believe". That is pitting the rights of children against parents by citing the privacy rights of children.

I heard the other day about privacy rights in foster care, a provincial matter, but it illustrates how governments can use these matters to their own end. In B.C. it is illegal for a foster parent to inspect the room of a foster child for weapons or drugs. Governments seek to protect children from parents but does not protect those children from those who would abuse them.

In Bill C-46 the restriction on access to complainant's records is limited to cases of sexual crimes. Today we recognize the sensitive nature and the trauma of the events that might surround them and we recognize the need for some privacy. However, we must also recognize the vulnerability of the accused if the accusations that are made are false but unchallenged. The credibility of the complainant is an important factor in all legal proceedings.

Bill C-46 however states that the fact that the records may disclose a prior inconsistent statement of the complainant is not grounds for getting access to the document. Previously defence lawyers could show that the complainant had lied before. If all players within the legal system are not accountable, then equal treatment in that legal system is denied.

Bill C-46 would also prevent access to crown records, not just third party sources. This is unique and precedent setting in the justice system. It implies special case treatment. It implies rights imputed to the complainant and because they are imputed to one party, rights are denied to the other.

I would put to the House that we cannot know the victim until guilt is established. A victim in this case can be the complainant or the accused. We cannot know which one could be victimized by the process until justice is served.

I mentioned Bill S-4 previously. It creates three new offences in the Criminal Code. It would make known false statements outside a tribunal illegal. It would make illegal proceedings that are instituted primarily to intimidate or injure another person. It would also make illegal knowingly deceiving a tribunal.

The bill introduces the concept of accountability of the accuser in the process. It underlines the concept, and I will quote from the hon. member who introduced this bill, a concept to "uphold the principle that truth is central in judicial proceedings and pivotal to the interests of justice". It was introduced on behalf of those whose lives were destroyed or could be destroyed by false accusations. I know in my riding, the reputation, the family, the careers of individuals can be destroyed through false accusations. Those things cannot be recouped through any court. We must make sure that great care is taken for the protection of all citizens in our laws.

The legislation is also founded on equality rights, particularly equality based on race and gender. This is a common theme of the Liberal government. It includes the concept of historical disadvantage.

These arguments have fueled legislation such as the employment equity legislation which grants special rights by way of hiring quotas for women or visible minorities. As we have seen in society, the results of these kinds of policies have been reverse discrimination in the marketplace. Very great care must be taken in this place that the balance of justice is not re-engineered with the same principles. Just as we cannot make up for past discrimination simply by reversing the targets of discrimination, we cannot and should not make up for past injustice by creating a system of future injustice.

Today my concerns have revolved around the definition of sexual assault and the lack of protection given by the government for our most vulnerable citizens, our children; second, the capriciousness of the privacy policy of the Liberal government and the selective response by the government in different areas of jurisdiction; and third, the disturbing and destructive recurrence of the Liberal mind-set of special rights based on historical disadvantage.

The track record of the Liberal government has been one sided, agenda driven justice policy. I will go back to the symbol of true justice. It must be maintained by the government in the best interest of all Canadians. The legislation requires checks and balances to assure fairness in the system and amendments to guarantee the assumption of innocence of the accused. That is basic in Canadian law so that the final result is that the privacy of the

complainant is balanced but with the protection of a fair trial of the accused.

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12:50 p.m.


John Bryden Liberal Hamilton—Wentworth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Port Moody-Coquitlam for her very excellent speech which covered a number of very important points, points of reservation about this legislation.

I wish to convey to her this information. The Canadian Association of Defence Lawyers has declared that if the bill goes through as currently written, innocent people will go to jail. The reason is that the bill puts limitations on what records the accused can obtain because it puts prohibitions on what the judge can request of a third party. These limitations, these guidelines, and the member for Port Moody-Coquitlam gave some examples, restrict the opportunity of the accused to have a fair trial because the judge does not have unlimited discretion to determine what third party records can be called forward.

The member for Port Moody-Coquitlam made the interesting point that the symbol of justice is a female and it is sort of relevant to this. It would be terrible if this legislation were to go through and innocent people did go to jail, remembering that the symbol of justice is a woman.

Nevertheless I would ask the hon. member whether she feels that in principle we as legislators should always protect the rights of the innocent versus the rights of people to privacy. In her mind which is more important?

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12:55 p.m.


Sharon Hayes Reform Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, the answer to the question is interesting. That the Canadian Association of Defence Lawyers feels that this will take innocent people to jail is of great concern and certainly reflects some of the concerns that I had in developing my thoughts with the presentation I made.

I feel, given the conflicting needs and certainly since coming to this place and my involvement in different committees and different debates within the House, the conflict of rights at various points within Canadian society is more and more of an issue. There are basic rights and certainly the right to maintain innocence within the judicial process should be a pre-eminent right for all Canadians. The justice system is there for the protection of those who are innocent, law-abiding citizens.

My concern is that this bill will-I am not alone in that concern obviously-trample on the very rights of those who are innocent. That is of great concern to me and should be a concern to the government obviously, even though it may not be but certainly it should be to the Canadian people. I thank you for the question.

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12:55 p.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member for Port Moody-Coquitlam a question with regard to an event that is taking place outside here today.

The mother and grandmother of Sylvain Leduc, who was brutally murdered in Ottawa in October 1995, are leading a protest in front of this place as we speak. It is just about to start. They are calling for the scrapping of the Young Offenders Act. They are saying that the balance in the justice system has been completely thrown out of whack as a result of changes made by Liberal and Conservative governments over the past 30 years.

They feel the sentences handed down at the end of last week regarding the brutal murder of their son and grandson is totally out of line with what they should have been. It does not send the right message. It does not keep these people who have committed such a heinous crime off the street. The sentence handed down will allow one of the four people who committed the crime to move freely about, or at least to be released from any kind of detention immediately, and the others very soon. Some will be released within a few months and the one convicted of manslaughter within about a year and a little bit from now.

Clearly the balance is between protecting the rights of the victims, the family, relatives and friends of the young boy who was murdered and the rights of the criminal. It is out of balance completely.

The hon. member commented on that but I would like her to comment further. In particular, can she connect it to the situation we have that requires victims to take actions such as the one they are taking to try to bring public attention to the issue through a rally being held out in front of the House of Commons.

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1 p.m.


Sharon Hayes Reform Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. In the very policies of this government, whether the Young Offenders Act or section 745, the absence of any type of support for victim rights in any legislation tells me that what is happening on the stairs of this place is too long ignored by a government that has its own agenda, which seems more intent on supporting the rights of the criminal, of looking to create a system that does not assign blame or accountability. It would indeed wipe the slate clean with early parole for someone who has committed a heinous crime against victims and their families. It would have that revisited on them, thinking more of the perpetrator of a crime than about those who have to live with the consequence of his action.

It is a common theme. It is an example of an agenda driven not by the best interests of the Canadian public but by special interests,

by some unknown thought process that considers it is the criminal who should take precedence in the system. That is not where Canadians are. That is not where the Reform Party is.

The priority of the justice system should be the law-abiding citizen. It should be to keep law-abiding citizens safe to the point of making our streets safe for our families, for our children and for their children. Our policies would put that into place so Canadians could look forward to a safer and stronger country.

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1 p.m.


Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her speech. Could she comment on something that has been raised on both sides of the House. It has to do with this false memory syndrome or recovered memory retrieval syndrome that some people have raised as a potential red flag issue with this legislation because it deals with the production of records.

The Canadian Psychiatric Association has issued a caution on this. It has said that we need to be very careful about the production of records because of this retrieval memory system where someone who is an adult can be counselled to think back into their past and could possibly come up with some reason for why they feel the way they do today based on a memory they have trouble retrieving.

The association has some concerns about the reliability of these memory retrieval systems, about whether they are putting words into people's mouths and so on. Is that a concern, or has the member had cases in her own riding office, as I have, of people who have said that this is a very serious concern and something on which we must proceed with caution because lives can be unnecessarily disrupted if those memory retrieval systems are proven false?

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1 p.m.


Sharon Hayes Reform Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for the question. I have had cases in my own riding of accusations that have later been found to be false based on false memory syndrome. They have literally torn families apart.

There has been quite an extensive review of these matters in the United States. Red flags are going up all over North America that this is something that is very real and very destructive if not properly checked and balanced within the justice system. I question whether this bill has those checks and balances.

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1 p.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

Mr. Speaker, in my speech on Bill C-46 I will start by making a few comments on the bill itself. Then I will talk more about the issue of the lack of balance between the rights of the accused and the criminal and the rights of the victims in our justice system. Then I will talk about the prevention of crime and the Liberal record on the prevention of crime, which is not dealt with in any way in this piece of legislation or in any other piece of legislation this government has dealt with.

I will deal with these three areas. I will start by making a few comments on Bill C-46, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding the production of records in sexual offence proceedings.

This bill is intended to strengthen the protection of privacy and equality rights of complainants in prosecutions for a variety of sexual offences. The added protection is gained through restricting defence lawyers' ability to apply for the production and disclosure of private documents such as medical, counselling and therapeutic records. That is what the bill is intended to do.

There is merit in this bill and I will be supporting it at least at second reading. I will have to see what happens in committee as the committee hammers out some of the possible impacts of this legislation before I can say that I will support it at third reading.

We will have to see what kinds of amendments come at report stage. Hopefully we will have a better interpretation of exactly what this legislation will do. However, there is merit in this bill. For that reason I will be supporting the bill at second reading.

I will not spend a lot of time talking about the bill itself. I would rather talk about the changes to the justice system in a general way, the things this bill does not deal with.

In the past, records sought by defence lawyers have included psychiatric, social welfare, employment, personal counselling and other private records. The fear of having such personal records revealed is believed to be a deterrent to victims to report sexual assaults against them.

That is what has been happening. There has been that concern. Probably a lot of sexual assaults have not been reported because of that. Therefore there is reason for action from the fear that such records may, at some future date, be called for as hampering the process of counselling and assistance provided to victims at support centres. That is part of the reason for the need.

The Reform Party supports legislation which provides increased protection for law-abiding citizens and victims of crime. We support this bill in principle. I will talk more about some concerns regarding this later.

We are also mindful of the longstanding tradition in the Canadian-British legal system that an accused person must have the opportunity to take a full and fair defence to any charges brought against them. Of course, that is the concern that people who are speaking out against this legislation are bringing forth.

They are concerned that the accused may not be able to get a proper hearing with this legislation put in place. It is a serious concern. They are asking questions that should be asked. I do not

feel we have the answer to a lot of these questions yet. We always must be concerned with the protection of the rights of the accused.

It is a matter of balance. I will speak more about this later. I feel in general in our justice system we have a very poor balance between the rights of the accused and the rights of the criminals, people who have been found guilty of a crime, and the rights of the victims. The balance is not there.

I will spend much of my time today talking about that. I have a few more comments on the bill itself. This is a subject that was brought up by the hon. member for Port Moody-Coquitlam. In some sexual assault cases the accused is a former spouse or a spouse of the accuser. In some cases we found out that charges were laid just to give the accuser an added advantage in a fight taking place between the two over child custody. We are finding out more and more that these accusations often are not true.

The hon. member asked who the real victim is in these cases. Because of the increasing prevalence of false accusations being made we have to ensure that there is no victim under the law until the case is finally proven. That is an area of concern which I know other speakers will address later.

I would like to speak about two issues which are related to this legislation. The first is the balance in our justice system or the lack of balance between the rights of victims and the rights of the accused. The second is the prevention of crime and the inaction of this government in dealing with crime prevention.

The words have been uttered and the government has brought forward the issues but it has not dealt with crime prevention in an effective way. I will speak about some of Reform's proposals in this area. First I will speak to the balance in the justice system.

In general we do not have a proper balance between the rights of the accused and the rights of the victims. Liberal governments in the 1970s deliberately changed the balance in the justice system. No longer are the rights of the victims and the protection of society top priorities. As a result of change, the protection of the accused and criminals has a higher priority in our justice system. The balance is clearly out of whack. It is important that we restore the balance which was there before Liberal governments and Conservative governments threw the balance out of whack.

In the 1970s a Liberal solicitor general said that for too long the top priority of the justice system had been the protection of society and that the rights and protection of criminals had not been made a high enough priority. Changes since that time have shown that Liberal governments believe that. They have demonstrated that in law time after time. They have distorted what Canadians see as the proper balance.

Several pieces of legislation passed by the current government have further thrown out the balance between the rights of society to be protected and the rights of criminals.

Bill C-65 is intended to protect endangered species of plants and animals. The intent is good, nobody would argue that. However, I have several concerns with the legislation. One of them has to do with a lack of balance. Another concern I have with the endangered species legislation is there is no compensation offered to land owners and land users if an endangered species is determined to be on their property. Under the legislation they could be required to pay dearly to protect endangered species with no compensation, the way the legislation is proposed. If amendments go through there will only be compensation through a charitable contribution process. There is no compensation, which could impose an incredible fiscal hardship on the land owner or land user.

Another concern is that it is a heavy handed interventionist piece of legislation. We have seen much of that from the government. What we need instead is co-operation. We found that land owners and land users co-operate on a voluntary basis to protect endangered species.

Another concern is in the area of balance in the rights of society, the rights of the accused and the rights of the criminal. It is interesting that under the legislation someone can anonymously accuse another citizen of harming an endangered species. The person who accuses can have his or her name kept completely confidential. The accused under the legislation would have absolutely no right at any time to know the name of the accuser or to face the accuser in court. That is the kind of legislation the government is putting forth. It is not something we can accept.

This type of legislation tramples on the rights of citizens, in many cases law-abiding citizens. For example, Bill C-68 on gun control tramples on the rights and freedoms of law-abiding Canadian citizens. There is heavy handed interventionist type of legislation in some cases and on the other side very narrow pieces of legislation like Bill C-46.

I will support the legislation. I await the final examination but it looks like a piece of legislation that will do some good.

The Liberal record since 1993 really did nothing to restore balance in the justice system. It has made it even worse in spite of the fact that it was not what Canadians wanted. If it was what Canadians wanted we would not see what we saw today, it being left to the mother and grandmother of Sylvain Leduc who was brutally murdered in Ottawa in October 1995. It was left to the

victims, the mother and grandmother, to try to restore balance in terms of sentencing and to give victims some rights.

Young offenders who are committing vicious crimes are being left out to walk the streets with very little punishment. This certainly does not provide a deterrent for people who might commit similar crimes in the future. It certainly does not protect society. These vicious murderers are walking the streets after spending a little time incarcerated. We would not see this if there were balance in our justice system right now and clearly there is not.

It is important to point out what Reform would do in this regard. In our fresh start platform we have put forth a substantial package of proposals to help restore balance. The first is a recognition that the justice system is out of balance and too heavily weighted in some cases in favour of the rights of the criminal rather than the rights of the accused.

One way of shifting the balance proposed by the hon. member for Fraser Valley West was to have in law a victim's bill of rights. This idea is well accepted and supported by Canadians and by the House. A document outlined 10 specific rights that must be given to victims which are not there now. Although it has been supported by the House, including the governing party, it has been almost a year and nothing has happened. We have a year and half until the government is required to hold an election. I dare say it will not be dealt with before an election is called. That is very sad. It shows the government does not place rebalancing of the justice system as a high priority.

I will read some of the points included in the bill that would help restore balance and give victims some rights. First, we want victims to have the right to be informed at every stage of the process, including being made aware of available victims' services. Routinely that does not happen. It happens for the accused, the criminal, someone found guilty of a crime.

I do not know how many court cases Clifford Olson, a mass murderer, has before our courts right now. He knows his rights.

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1:20 p.m.


Randy White Reform Fraser Valley West, BC

More than 30.

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1:20 p.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

That is a sad commentary on the lack of balance in the system. Why should a vicious mass murderer like Clifford Olson have this kind of access to our justice system at the expense of taxpayers? They are clearly frivolous cases. Where is the balance in the system? Canadians are as sickened by that as they should be. My colleague from Fraser Valley West wants to give victims the same rights accused and murderers have.

Second is the right to be informed of the offender's status throughout the process, including but not restricted to plans to release the offender from custody. One would only think that would make sense. Who could possibly believe that someone who committed a very serious crime against someone else could be released without the victim's knowledge? The victims who were directly involved will be concerned about the release of the criminal who might offend again. The family and relatives of victims will also be concerned.

Third, we want the right to choose between giving an oral or written victim impact statement at parole hearings before sentencing and at judicial reviews.

I am being signalled that my time is up. I have much to say on the issue. I will be saying it from now until the time the election is called and throughout the campaign as will other Reform MPs and Canadians who take part in the political process. This will be a huge issue in the upcoming election. The lack of balance is totally unacceptable.

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1:20 p.m.

An hon. member

What election?

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1:20 p.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

We will have an election within the next year and a half. The law requires it. Perhaps the member believes we should cancel elections altogether and make the system completely undemocratic. I am sure that is not what he is proposing.

I will conclude by saying that I support the legislation at second reading. We will see what comes out in committee. We will get more information on what the bill means in some areas to make sure there is a reasonable measure to strengthen the rights of the accused. Neither I nor the Reform Party can be accused of only being concerned with the rights of victims or the rights of society. We are also concerned with the rights of the accused and always have been. For that reason I support the bill which will help protect those rights.

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1:25 p.m.


Dennis Mills Liberal Broadview—Greenwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, the rash generalizations of members of the Reform Party of our disinterest in defending the rights of the victims are very unfair.

It is absolutely fair to have good constructive debate. I respect that the Reform Party has always made, along with the deficit campaign, the issue of law and order a pre-eminent piece of its platform.

The Minister of Justice has amended more justice legislation in the last four years than has been the case in the history of the country. Members opposite always use the words lack of balance. They indicate that we on this side of the House seem to be defending the criminal over the victim. I represent a downtown Toronto riding, Broadview-Greenwood. I have the Don jail in my riding, the largest city jail in the country.

Issues related to law and order, crime and young offenders are key issues in my community. We have made great strides in the last four years in these areas. To make a blanket statement that the

government is not concerned about issues related to law and order is not an accurate statement of fact. We will show in the upcoming election in detailed form a list of all legislation that has been amended.

Is it perfect legislation? I am not standing here saying it is perfect. I have never seen a piece of perfect legislation on any issue. We all have to compromise on certain issues, but there is absolutely no way the government is putting the rights of the criminal ahead of the rights of the victim.

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1:25 p.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am more than a bit distressed the hon. member would make such statements. He has shown some good judgment in the past in many areas and is not showing good judgment in this area. He cannot really believe what he is saying. I assume he does but I find it surprising.

The Minister of Justice amended a great deal of legislation and has clearly been tinkering. He has not made the changes that are necessary. I will raise three specific situations that have happened because the law is not right and the balance is not there.

First, where is our victims' bill of rights? The hon. member for Fraser Valley West had a motion passed in the House about a year ago. Where is the legislation to put it in place? It has not even started through the process. It has been held up. The government clearly does not support it.

Second, where is the law to prevent Clifford Olson from applying for early release? Where is the law to prevent Clifford Olson from having over 30 court cases at taxpayers' expense? Where is that law? It is not there. The member should be ashamed of himself.

Third, where is legislation so the family of Sylvain Leduc would not have to protest in front of the House of Commons for proper balance in the justice system?

Where is that legislation? It is not there. That is why the protest is taking place. It is sad and unbelievable when these issues come up that Liberal members claim they have done a lot. Then you look at reality and it is so frustrating. We need action. We do not just need talk.

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1:30 p.m.


Randy White Reform Fraser Valley West, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-46 and to acknowledge that the bill is intended to strengthen the protection of privacy and equality rights of complainants and prosecutions for a variety of sexual offences. I think the government is headed in the right direction on this. Since I am the author of the national victims' bill of rights and it has come up here, I want to address a few very specific instances with regard to that and maybe to set the Liberal member for Broadview-Greenwood straight on exactly what the problem is on the victims' bill of rights.

From my perspective and the perspective of people right across the country, victims' rights are not legislation amendments. They are not tinkering with the details of gun law. They are not minor changes necessarily to the Young Offenders Act. They are not amendments to the Conditional Release Act so to speak. They are specific rights that people are looking for as a result of the criminal justice system, as it used to be called, becoming a legal industry.

I can give all kinds of examples. I had been to numerous parole board hearings, numerous sentencing cases and on and on it goes. I was there in Vancouver when the insult of insults to the victims of a mass killer had the right to a hearing under section 745-I am talking about Olson-and where he actually debated with the judge the terms and conditions of the whole sentence. It was quite appalling.

Let me give an idea of what is problem with victims' rights. These rights are almost considered a privilege by the government. They are the kind of things where the government suggests perhaps it will give you a little right, it will throw in an amendment to this particular criminal justice act, the Criminal Code, and it will kind of tell you it is working on your behalf. That is not what these folks are looking for.

They are looking for a standard right across the country that applies so they know very specific things. They know that from the moment they become a victim, they will be told what are their rights, just like a criminal is today. That is all they ask. That is not too much to ask. That should be very quickly resolved by the government. It could have been three years ago and it could have been last year on April 29 when the justice minister said he agreed with it. It could have been last fall or this winter. I understand I will be addressing this issue tomorrow. He knows as well as I do that it is too late. The government is going to call an election and it will do nothing about this.

When the hon. member suggests that the Minister of Justice has amended more justice legislation than anyone ever has before, that may be so, but again he has missed the point of what we are looking for here. I will give an example. The government brought in Bill C-41 on conditional sentences. I happened to attend an appeal hearing of a conditional sentence a few weeks ago and the arguments I heard from defence lawyers were really quite appalling. It happens that conditional sentencing exists nowhere else in the world. It was brought in by this justice minister. That is the argument I heard in court by defence lawyers and by the crown. I presume it is true.

Conditional sentence virtually means that the criminal will let off this crime on condition that it does not happen again. That is as simple as it comes.

In my community, Darren Ursel met a young lady who was a single mom of two. He met her in a restaurant, talked her into

going to have a coke with him. He went behind the restaurant, locked the car door, pushed the front seat where she was sitting back and ripped her clothes off. He could not get an erection so he took his racquetball handle to her, front and back, and tore her open. For 90 minutes she suffered in this car, then managed to escape. He did not let her go.

When in court in front of Judge Harry Boyle, who made the decision, he said he was tender at times. It was his first conviction and he was darn sorry for what he did. That is what he told the judge. He got a conditional sentence, thanks to this justice minister. That means he does no time. I believe it is the first time in my life I witnessed something as terrible as that, an individual not getting any time in prison. He had a conditional sentence.

"Do not do it again. If you do, they might do something about it". He was out the next day. In fact, that creep was in the court room during the appeal smiling.

Those are the kinds of amendments that are brought into the House. I heard defence lawyers at that appeal tell the crown that the Liberals were motivated for this kind of conditional sentence because there are too darn many people in our jails and they are trying to keep them out.

At the same time, I heard many women across the country say: "Do you mean they are back into raping women, sodomizing them, and there is no jail time?" What that will do, quite frankly, is take us back 20 years and put women in the closet again in these kinds of cases. They will not go through what happened in this case with that offender, Darren Ursel, and have nothing happen to the offender and expose their whole private lives.

That is why that whole issue was in the closet for years in the first place. There has to be punishment befitting the crime in this country.

When I hear Liberals say that they care about victims' rights, I would like to ask where in conditional sentencing they give two hoots about it, given Darren Ursel's case. By the way, I have a petition of 13,000 names coming in here this week saying that this is very wrong. I agree that it is wrong.

Do not tell me that we have a justice minister who has brought in a whole bunch of legislation, therefore you care about victims. I do not see that one iota in conditional sentences. Neither does the young lady whom I have had the pleasure of talking to a number of times. Neither will the next woman or young girl who has met the same fate.

That is what is wrong with trying to relate victims' rights with amendments to justice. Members can go right back to Bill C-45, which takes the automatic right of a victim impact statement away in a hearing for serious offenders to get early release after 15 years. That is wrong too.

We fought too many years to have people express themselves, to have the right to express themselves. Even today when I am listening to sentencing hearings and so on, I hear victim impact statements that are expunged. Certain sentences are taken out because in the defence's opinion, it may harm the character of the client. In fact this happened in one case when his good client bludgeoned to death a young lady from my riding by hitting her 26 times. He did not want all of the expressions of the victim to come out in the sentencing. He had already been proven guilty.

Therefore we must look at what it is that people are asking for. They are not asking for a whole bunch more amendments to criminal justice legislation. Although that may be another request they have, it is certainly not the impetus behind a victims' bill of rights.

I am quite appalled at defence attorneys, specifically at some of the comments they make about victims and victims' rights. I have a few quotes to illustrate this. If you really think this is where the country is going, then you should vote Liberal. But if you do not, you have to consider other options.

Listen to these quotes about victims: "There is no such thing as a victim. It's just a state of mind". That comes from a defence attorney. "Victims want someone else to fix their petty problems". That comes from a defence attorney.

"Victim impact statements are just a venting of the spleen and don't serve justice and should be outlawed". That comes from a defence attorney. Are we getting the message? We have long past the time when we dealt with something called criminal justice. We are now into a legal industry. Let me go on.

"Victims' rights groups have outlived their usefulness. What these groups are doing is pushing criminal justice policy toward punitive measures rather than rehabilitative measures". This comes from a criminologist and it is wrong, patently wrong. I have not yet met a victim I have worked with who was looking for punitive measures. They were all looking for justice.

The folks in Ontario, where a major battle is brewing over the politics of this country, should be listening to what is right and to what needs to be changed. The government does not give two hoots about victims' rights. "Victims should not have the formal right to make submissions before a judge since this will result in an arbitrary justice system". That is patently wrong and comes from another criminologist. I could give all kinds of quotes but I think my message is getting through.

Victims are no longer just interested in sweet amendments to the criminal justice legislation, the Criminal Code as we call it today. They are interested in distinctly designated rights that pervade our

society from Newfoundland to British Columbia. Mr. Speaker, how much time do I have left?

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1:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

Seven minutes.

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1:40 p.m.

An hon. member

One minute.

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1:40 p.m.


Randy White Reform Fraser Valley West, BC

A Liberal member wants me to speak for one minute but the member will get seven minutes and the member will listen. I am trying to say that this goes beyond party lines. There is something amiss in this country. Victims want and need rights. They are not privileges handed down from a government to its people.

Let us look at the core values, the core rights we are looking for. Why not define what a victim is? I sat in a room shortly after a young lady in my riding was murdered. Her mom, Sue Simmons was in very bad shape, understandably so. Sian was murdered, shot to death. Chris, Sian's dad, could not get assistance for Sue, the mother, because she was not considered a victim. Sian was the victim, they said. That is patently wrong. If it is my daughter, my son, my wife, then I am a victim.

The government fails to understand how large this movement is. It is compounding quickly because of the crime in this country.

I sat with five parents on Saturday. They told me that three offenders were trying to get two young girls off the street and into a car. The victims are the two young girls, the parents, the friends, and on and on it goes. The government says that if it is one crime, there must be one or two victims. All those people are victims.

The Liberals are in trouble. These people are joining victims' rights groups. The Liberals cannot understand all the noise, but they will have to because victims need these rights.

Victims must have the right to be informed of what their rights are. That is common sense. There is no need to expand on that any further. So why are we not putting it in legislation?

I heard a lawyer say it is going to cost more money to do that. Take a little money away from the inmates. Take away a few of the grants that the government is giving to its buddies in order to get re-elected. The money should be put where it belongs.

Victims should have the right to be informed of the offender's status throughout the process. What is wrong with that? They should know where he is incarcerated, where he is going and when he is going. They should know the terms and conditions of getting out.

I could tell the House horror stories about what happens when the victim does not know and the perpetrator, after getting out of prison, after changing his name, shows up on the doorstep and beats the living daylights out of the victim who had no idea they were out on parole.

Victims must have the right to submit unrestricted victim impact statements, whether they be oral or written, at sentencing hearings and judicial reviews. The government took that automatic right away from the people with Bill C-45.

I stood in Vancouver and I watched the parents of the victims of Clifford Olson ask for the right to submit a victim impact statement. Good grief, what have we crawled down to in this gutter? We should be ashamed of ourselves.

Victims should be informed in a timely fashion of the crown's intention to plea bargain before it is submitted to the defence. What is wrong with that? How many times have we heard of people walking into a courtroom only to find that what they thought was a first degree murder charge had been changed to an assault charge? The sentence went from life to two or three years.

Give these folks some decency. Listen to what they are saying. Victims should have the right to know if a person convicted of a sexual offence has a sexually transmittable disease. What is wrong with that?

In my riding Tasha would have liked to know that. She was raped by an individual who is not even a citizen of this country. Now he is out of here, thank goodness. This should not have to be something we ask for or go into a prison and beg for; it should be a right. Do not bother with amendments to criminal legislation on that. State it clearly, enunciate it, articulate it.

Victims should be informed as to why charges were not laid if that is the decision of the police. They should be protected from anyone who intimidates, harasses or interferes with their rights. They should have the police follow through on domestic violence charges once a victim files a complaint. That is not much to ask in this country. I am at a sincere loss as to why this Liberal government did not and will not move on it.

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1:50 p.m.


Jim Abbott Reform Kootenay East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was interested in the comments of my colleague from Fraser Valley West. Certainly of all the members of this House, not just of this party but of this House, he has done more to bring the issue of victims and victim rights to the attention of the Canadian public than any other member possibly in the last 25 years. I commend him for that.

It is really interesting to note that in addition to Bill C-46, by the Minister of Justice, an act to amend the Criminal Code, the production of records on sexual offence proceedings, on today's Order Paper the Minister of Justice also has Bill C-27, an act to amend the Criminal Code, child prostitution, child sex tourism, criminal harassment and female genital mutilation, and Bill C-55, an act to amend the Criminal Code, high risk offenders, the

Corrections and Conditional Release Act, the Criminal Records Act, the Prisons and Reformatories Act and the Department of the Solicitor General Act.

It is particularly interesting, looking at Bill C-27 and Bill C-55 which cover so many topics under the Criminal Code, to note how they are really omnibus kinds of bills. What does this indicate? Very clearly this indicates that we are coming up to, of all things, an election. What the justice minister is trying to do in this particular case is clear the deck. What he has done with Bill C-27 and Bill C-55 is make an omnibus collection of a whole bunch of detail that he could have taken care of and should have taken care of over the last three and a half years.

However, what does he do? He pulls them in at the last minute, at the 11th hour, the witching hour of the election. Therefore when I take a look at Bill C-46 and the fact that the justice minister is finally getting around to this bill and I take a look at the fact, as the member for Fraser Valley West has pointed out, that a member's motion about bringing in a victims bill of rights has just been languishing, I ask myself are these amendments to the Criminal Code under Bill C-46, Bill C-27 and Bill C-55 actually more important than the member's motion that came before the House to give victims in Canada a bill of rights, to give victims in Canada an opportunity to have some say in the courts, to give victims in Canada some standing in the justice process.

It is very clear in my mind that what the minister is doing, with massive cynicism, is a clean-up at the very last minute.

I wonder if I could ask the member for Fraser Valley West for his opinion. It seems to me the justice minister has had a clear track to do these things. It seems to me that the justice minister has had opportunity after opportunity to do something on the victims bill of rights and in spite of the fact that there is an election coming he still is not doing anything on the victims bill of rights.

He has taken the time to do his house cleaning and sweeping and getting it all together at the last minute on these other things. I wonder if the member would like to express an opinion. It defies logic why the justice minister did not move long ago on his motion for a victims bill of rights.

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1:55 p.m.


Randy White Reform Fraser Valley West, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question. It is a very good point.

I was informed very late last week that the justice committee will be discussing the victims bill of rights tomorrow from 3.30 to 5.30. I will have an hour to make a presentation and the justice committee will have part of that hour to ask questions and so on, and victims will have an hour to make a presentation; one hour in front of a committee to talk about victims and that is it.

There are more victims in the country than the government understands. Why are we not asking for input on this important issue? The answer is the government has no appetite for it. That is why I say to people in Ontario, where a good part of this election is going to fought, young people, some who know victims and are asking why this or that does not happen, this is important. Let us do it and do it right. But under no circumstances should we insult victims by giving them one hour in the House of Commons, less questions, so probably 40 minutes, to discuss this merely so that the Minister of Justice can say "we dealt with victim rights" during the election. That is what this is about. It is wrong and misleading.

This has not gone unnoticed. Exactly as my colleague stated, this is where it is at. The government is bringing in all kinds of amendments to bolster up the sagging image of the Minister of Justice before the election. What the public really does not understand is that these pieces of amendments to legislation have to go through committee, come back to the House for second and third reading, and on and on it goes, but it will not go anywhere. When the election is called it will be dropped.

We have to live with the future, and the future is with kids and victims and our seniors, many of whom are victims of crime.

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1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

It is almost two o'clock. We will now proceed to Statements by Members.

Forum For Young CanadiansStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Ron Fewchuk Liberal Selkirk—Red River, MB

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure today to rise to congratulate the participants in the Forum for Young Canadians.

Since 1976 the forum has provided over 10,000 young Canadians and teachers the opportunity to speak with key decision makers, to watch government work and to re-enact government procedures. In brief, this project is all about learning about Canada and what it means to be a Canadian.

On Wednesday, March 19, I had the pleasure to meet and dine with Rebecca Ann, a participant from my riding of Selkirk-Red River. I congratulate her and her fellow Canadians for their interest and their drive in becoming the future leaders of our nation.

Baha'I CommunityStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, for the past 17 years, the Baha'i of the Islamic Republic of Iran have been systematically persecuted, harassed and discriminated against, solely on the grounds of their religious convictions.

The official document in which the Iranian government sets out its co-ordinated policy for dealing with the Baha'i question is still in effect.

The economic and social repression of this community is progressing rapidly. It appears that the pressure is constantly being stepped up, and that the Iranian government is in the process of gradually and systematically implementing restrictions and limitations on the life of the Iranian Baha'i community.

The Baha'i community does not pose any threat whatsoever to the authorities of the country, since the tenets of its faith call for obedience to one's government and abstinence from partisan politics, and forbid violence in any form. What, then, is the present Liberal government waiting for to denounce this unacceptable situation?

Rights Of VictimsStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Randy White Reform Fraser Valley West, BC

Mr. Speaker, many in the legal industry object to victims of crime participating in the courts on the following bases.

First, it opens up another front against which an offender must defend.

Second, it compromises judicial independence. Judges cannot resist emotional and political pressures.

Third, it yields evidence irrelevant to the offender's case.

Fourth, it prejudices offenders because victims may encourage special sentences.

Fifth, I understand they say it is unfair to offenders because some victims may be eloquent speakers.

The rights of victims are not a privilege we have to beg for from any government. These are rights, rights like being informed in a timely fashion of the details of the crown's intention to offer plea bargaining before it is presented to the defence and the right to choose between giving oral and written victim impact statements.

It is the rights of victims first, not criminal rights.