Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on Bill C-211, an act to amend the Criminal Code as it relates to the arrest of those in breach of condition of parole, statutory or temporary release.
The hon. member for Langley—Abbotsford has brought this piece of legislation before the House in an attempt to improve public protection. No one can disagree with the importance of this objective. Indeed public protection in a criminal justice sense is of primary importance and concern to all of us in this House and to all Canadians.
Having sat on the Waterloo regional police services board for the past 10 years as chairman of the police service, I know firsthand the importance of public protection and the need for law and order.
My comments will be directed to amendments in this bill which propose changes to the way we deal with breaches of a federal release condition. The thrust of the hon. member's proposal is to make the failure to comply with the condition of parole, statutory release, temporary absence a Criminal Code offence. Thus police would have the authority under section 495 of the Criminal Code to arrest without warrant offenders in breach of a condition because such a violation would constitute a criminal offence.
Previous comments by the hon. member for Langley—Abbotsford lead us to believe that police work in isolation when dealing with offenders who breach a condition of release.
Further, he has suggested that the process of bringing an offender back into custody is difficult and time consuming. I remind the House that there is a long established system in place for handling such occurrences. Correctional Services Canada and the National Parole Board already have the legislative authority and processes required to intervene promptly when there is a violation of a release condition.
Correctional Services Canada has a network of duty officers who can issue a warrant on a 24 hour basis. The warrant can be transmitted electronically anywhere in Canada where the need arises.
Members may not be aware that under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act police have the power to arrest an offender without warrant on the knowledge that a warrant has been issued against the offender.
In such cases the warrant is transmitted for execution within 48 hours from the time of the arrest. The hon. member has also cited examples where he says a police office cannot take timely action when he or she encounters an offender who is violating a condition of release.
His comments fail to realize a very important reality, that in these instances and circumstances police work in partnership with correctional authorities to assess and respond quickly to these situations.
Federal correctional authorities view the police role and the enforcement of parole, statutory release or temporary absence conditions as a joint process, as a collaborative process. There is good reason for this.
When police provide information to correctional supervisors on breaches of conditions the breaches vary in seriousness. It may be that an offender has returned to a halfway house an hour past curfew or failed to report to the police station on a designated date.
In some instances, the correctional supervisor might deem that a disciplinary interview is sufficient to deal with the matter. In others, he or she may determine the suspension of a conditional release and the arrest of the offender is necessary for the protection of society.
All this is worthy of note. I fully understand the hon. member's desire to have an effective law and procedures in place especially when it comes to apprehending those who pose a danger to others, including children and other vulnerable individuals.
The government shares this concern. That is why, in addition to the authority and measures provided in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, there have been amendments to the Criminal Code to enable the police and the courts to better intervene in situations where a person's conduct in the community may be potentially threatening.
For example, the Criminal Code was amended in 1993 to permit the court to make an order prohibiting an offender who has been convicted of a sex offence including a child from being in the vicinity of a school ground, a playground or a community centre.
This provision also allows a court to make an order prohibiting that offender from seeking or continuing employment that involves being in a position of trust with children.
Section 264 was also added to the Criminal Code in 1993 to deal with the offence of criminal harassment to cover conduct such as stalking which places another person in fear for his or her safety.
Another provision makes it easier for those who are victims of domestic abuse to seek conditions of recognizance to keep the offender away and to make it more likely that the abuser, not the victim, is removed from the home.
Most recently a new long term offender designation was created for high risk sex offenders to provide a period of long term supervision for up to 10 years past their warrant expiry date. A new judicial restraint provision was also created to permit controls to be applied to any individual who poses a high threat and risk of committing a serious personal injury offence.
As members of the House know, the government considers the police to be an important partner in realizing our safe homes, safe streets agenda. The last four years have probably seen the most intense focus on criminal law issues ever in Canada. Let me take a moment to discuss some of those initiatives.
Arguably one of the most important changes for police work has been the new legislation on DNA. The first phase of this initiative began in 1995 with the DNA warrant legislation which allows police to get warrants to obtain DNA samples from suspects. That legislation laid the groundwork for phase two, the establishment of a national DNA data bank.
The DNA data bank legislation was reintroduced last September. This legislation will greatly strengthen our efforts to solve crimes more quickly by identifying repeat and violent offenders and it will make it easier to link cases around police jurisdictions. With the continuing advances in DNA technology, the data bank will become ever more important to police work and prosecutions.
This government also established a formal national program under the Witness Protection Program Act giving police better tools to fight organized crime by being able to ensure protection for those who risk their lives to assist in investigations. In May of last year a regulation under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act gave police new powers to conduct reverse sting operations. Amendments to the Criminal Code brought about by Bill C-17 last May provided the legislative basis for the police to conduct storefront operations.
This government has put measures in place to deal with real issues of concern today, but having the foresight to prevent crimes is equally important. Again the police community, in particular the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, has been a pioneer in promoting police crime prevention programs and victim services. This government has and will continue to work in partnership with the police in a balanced but determined approach to reducing and preventing crime.
In 1994 the National Crime Prevention Council was established as part of the national strategy on community safety and crime prevention. Together with the council, the Department of Justice and the Ministry of the Solicitor General of Canada identify what works and what is needed in crime prevention in our communities. This includes programs focusing on young people.
The Minister of Justice and the Solicitor General of Canada hope to move quickly on the crime prevention front and to follow through with the Speech from the Throne commitment to increase levels of funding to $30 million each year in this area. Both ministers are looking forward to working on renewing and developing new partnerships within communities, the police and all levels of government.
Canadians rely on the police for protection and security. This government has put the appropriate tools in place for effective police work through legislation and policies.
We in this House have an interest in ensuring that the concerns of Canadians are addressed in a most effective and efficient manner. I would ask that all members ensure that we proceed on that basis.
I would like to reiterate my earlier comments that the Corrections and Conditional Release Act provides police with ample authority to intervene quickly where there is a breach of parole, statutory release or temporary absence. The Correctional Service Canada staff are available 24 hours a day to issue warrants of suspension and apprehension against an offender who has committed a breach.
Moreover police already have the power to arrest without warrant an offender against whom they believe a warrant of apprehension has been issued by the Correctional Service Canada or by the National Parole Board. They may detain him or her for a 48 hour period from the time of the arrest until the execution of a warrant. The warrant can be electronically transmitted anywhere in the country if need be.
After a process of careful consideration, I feel that this bill would create a power that is duplicative, unnecessary and probably inconsistent with the charter of rights and freedoms. I would therefore urge members of the House to vote against it.