That, in the opinion of this House, the government should create the position of commissioner for the rights of victims of crime, with a role similar to that of the correctional investigator.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this motion seconded by the member for Surrey North. I appreciate his seconding this motion.
Motion No. 386 calls on the federal government to establish a commissioner for the rights of victims of crime. The motion further specifies that the role of such office would be similar to that of the correctional investigator. I introduced this motion last month to highlight the strong need of victims of crime to have a voice, a voice within our criminal justice system.
Since the election last June it has become increasingly clear that victims in the justice system are in need of such an office. As the justice critic for the Progressive Conservative Party I have had the opportunity to speak with many victims of crime, and those courageous individuals are not only against crime itself but want to further involve themselves in the cause of victims generally. These victims are also spouses, children, parents and siblings, those who have lost loved ones as a result of criminal activity.
Unfortunately victims often have no one to turn to at the federal level for assistance when their concerns have not been properly addressed by those who are charged with the task of administering justice. I mention the federal level because all provinces and territories have legislation in place for victims of crime, unlike the federal government which appears reluctant to adopt a victims bill of rights.
In my home province of Nova Scotia we have a victims services division within our department of justice. In Quebec, le Bureau d'aide aux victimes d'actes criminels, BAVAC, provides information and assistance to victims of crime. Progressive Conservative governments in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario have also increased the level of services and information available to victims and their families.
The problem has less to do with the offices and more to do with the lack of information and government programs that provide for victims. Specifically it has more to do with the lack of an independent advocate for victims when the justice system breaks down.
Who is there to provide answers for these individuals, for their loved ones, those who have died or who have been seriously injured as a result of crime? When this happens there needs to be a federal agency that can address these problems. Let us ask someone like Carolyn Solomon of Garson, Ontario. In 1997 Ms. Solomon lost her son Kevin who was murdered by Michael Hector. Hector was a federal parolee who was not properly supervised. Moreover, Hector's parole supervisor was not provided with enough information about this individual.
Hector breached his conditions of parole and should not have been permitted to walk the streets. Consequently he was free to kill. Three young individuals lost their lives as a result, including Carolyn Solomon's son Kevin.
Mrs. Solomon wanted to know why Michael Hector was permitted to breach these conditions of his parole without accountability. She wanted to know why Correctional Service Canada did not provide Michael Hector's full criminal and psychological records to his parole supervisor. She wanted to know why Hector's parole supervisor took everything Hector told him at face value, a sense of self-reporting. There was no in-depth investigation on these bits of information provided by the parolee.
To their credit, Correctional Service Canada and the National Parole Board have a mechanism in place to promptly undertake a review when cases are botched the way they were with Michael Hector. Mrs. Solomon was a victim of Michael Hector's crime which resulted from mistakes made by Correctional Service Canada and the National Parole Board and yet they are in essence charged with investigating themselves in the wake of this tragedy.
Mrs. Solomon certainly asked for information in the months that followed her son's death and certainly asked to see the final report of the CSC and the National Parole Board investigation. However, what was the response of the agencies to her inquiries? Dead silence or perhaps mild indifference. Only when Mrs. Solomon hired a lawyer and raised the spectre of legal action did the CSC and the National Parole Board finally provide her with a copy of the board of investigation report into the death of her son. Only when Mrs. Solomon spent over a year facing a wall of apathy within the federal agencies which are paid for in part by her taxes did she receive a meaningful response.
A few months ago Mrs. Solomon sat in my office in Ottawa. She looked me straight in the eye and said: “I feel more anger toward our justice system than I do for Michael Hector”. This is a very telling statement given the fact that Michael Hector killed her son. It is an extremely sad commentary on the current state of our justice system when a mother whose son was murdered feels this way about our justice system.
Mrs. Solomon is not alone. Helen Leadley of Calgary, Alberta lost her 23-year old daughter in 1983 to Robert Paul Thompson while he was out on a day pass. Two weeks ago Thompson was granted a 19 hour escorted temporary absence, an ETA, to attend a religious ceremony. Who was Thompson's escort? Was it a security guard? No, it was not a guard. Thompson's escort was the Springhill inmate chaplain because, as it was related to Mrs. Leadley, it was part of Thompson's personal development program.
Although a personal development program for a convicted killer may be laudable, releasing him into the general public without proper supervision is a slap in the face for victims and family members like Mrs. Leadley.
What does Mrs. Leadley have to do? Where does she turn when this happens? Does the federal government provide her with an opportunity to contact an independent advocate or an ombudsman to investigate these questionable decisions made by Correctional Service Canada or other related agencies? No. Sadly there is not such an office. Another victim is feeling revictimized.
Someone has ended the life of a loved one and then the criminal justice system appears to focus solely on the needs of the criminal to the detriment to the needs of the victim at times.
The lack of concern within the justice system for the rights of victims only underlines the fact that there is increasingly low confidence in our justice system, low confidence by the victims and by the general public. The problem of low confidence within our justice system has been highlighted. We see it time and time again in terms of the expression of the frustration on the part of victims and people at large. Our justice system does not exactly inspire public confidence, and that needs to change.
That is not to say the public must always agree with the decisions made by police, the judiciary, crown prosecutors, the parole board or even the prison system, but Canadians must be assured that victims have the same access as criminals to ensuring their rights are respected by our justice system.
Unfortunately most Canadians feel little assurance in the ability of our justice system to include the views of the victims of crime in the decision making process.
Last week I hosted a town hall meeting in my riding in Nova Scotia and the topic was victims rights. There were not too many people present at the meeting who expressed a great deal of faith in our justice system. There were a great deal more who expressed a feeling of frustration about our political system and its ability to make significant change.
Victims like Carolyn Solomon should not have to spend their own dollars hiring lawyers to get answers within our justice system. They should have a commissioner for the rights of victims of crime, an independent ombudsman, their own voice at the federal level, involved in the administration of our country's justice system. This commissioner would be modelled after the office of the correctional investigator established in 1973 as part II of the Inquiries Act.
Since 1992 the office of the correctional investigator has fallen under part III of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. The correctional investigator acts as an ombudsman independent of Correctional Service Canada for offenders serving prison sentences within our federal penitentiaries. The correctional investigator may investigate on his own initiative, on request from the solicitor general, on a complaint or on behalf of an inmate.
The office also reviews all CSC reports of investigations into death or serious injury within our federal inmate system. Each year the correctional investigator submits an annual report regarding problems investigated and actions taken to the Department of the Solicitor General and the solicitor general is in turn required to table the report in parliament.
In the past these reports have outlined general issues of concern to federal inmates such as overcrowding, double bunking and the use of force by guards. I can only use those as examples because it would appear to me to be a very positive step the government would take to establish a victims rights commissioner who would have the ability to investigate similar problems on behalf of victims and similarly table a report in the House.
Would it not be a more positive climate for parliament to have an independent annual report coming forward that outlines the problems facing victims within our federal system and allowing us in the House to take a look at those problems with a mind to improving them?
A commissioner for the rights of victims would be more than just a sympathetic ear or a clearing house for government information. The commissioner would be an ombudsman, an advocate and an independent voice within the criminal justice system, a system that all believe does not properly reflect victims rights.
The Minister of Justice told the media earlier this year of her intention to create a national victims rights office. Unfortunately the victims of crime with whom I have spoken and met recently are worried that this initiative would be little more than a duplication of the information services provided for victims already within the provincial and territorial governments. The minister and the government could show good faith in creating a meaningful government mechanism to support victims rights by supporting in principle Motion No. 386.
For those who would express reservations in supporting the motion on the basis that it would infringe on provincial or territorial jurisdiction, I would ask that they simply consider what provincial organization is able to properly hold federal agencies accountable for their decisions within the federal component of the criminal justice system.
Beyond the office of a correctional investigator let us remember the many independent federal organizations that operate to scrutinize decisions made by important national institutions. The RCMP is subjected to independent review from both the RCMP public complaints commission and the RCMP external review committee. CSIS is subject to the Security Intelligence Review Committee and a CSIS inspector general.
When there is a transportation related accident the transportation safety board is mandated to investigate. Air Canada does not investigate its own plane crashes without examination by a board. VIA Rail similarly is not left to its own devices to review passenger train accidents. The operation of the Government of Canada as a whole is subjected to the scrutiny of offices such as the auditor general, the information commissioner, the privacy commission and the official languages commissioner.
A society and a government that are prepared to provide for independent scrutiny for many of these policy objectives should similarly be prepared to provide an independent advocate on behalf of victims of crime.
Victims are not seeking the right to be judge and jury, but they are simply demanding they be listened to and respected by a system that often centres too much on the relationship between the state and the community. Victims need to be added to the criminal justice equation.
As an illustration previously provided, in the case of Carolyn Solomon, her son and others the sentence of the offender is often less important to victims than the experience of the judicial process itself. Victims are demanding a voice and Motion No. 386 would help provide them with that voice.
I urge hon. colleagues from all sides of the House to put aside partisanship that often enters into the question of law and order and let us make a lasting and positive contribution for those who have been excluded from the justice system for far too long. Let us give victims a stronger voice within our justice system.
During my time as an attorney in Nova Scotia I heard many people state that the measure of a true democracy is demonstrated by the treatment of its prisoners. Certainly the time has come for Canada to show that we want an equally important measure of democracy in how we treat our victims.