House of Commons Hansard #117 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was wheat.


Commissioner For The Rights Of Victims Of CrimePrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS


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.

Commissioner For The Rights Of Victims Of CrimePrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Hamilton West Ontario


Stan Keyes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Transport

Madam Speaker, I consider it a privilege to speak to an issue of top priority to the Minister of Justice and the government, that is the role of victims within the justice system. I am encouraged that so many members in this place agree that much more needs to be done to improve the situation of the victim.

In addressing whether we should establish a federal commissioner for the rights of victims of crime, which is proposed by the hon. member's motion, we must consider a whole range of issues not least of which is the interaction of provincial and federal jurisdictions in this area.

In light of the commitment of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to deal fully with the issue of the role of victims in the justice system, I find it passing strange that we are debating this issue in the House today. Next week we are holding the victims forum in Ottawa to hear from those who have firsthand knowledge of what needs to be done and what role the federal government can play in ensuring these needs are met.

Much work has already been done in this field. I believe the experience of those who have undertaken pioneering work will benefit the members of the committee as they prepare their recommendations.

The hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough spoke to the issue last week during debate on the Reform Party's allotted day motion regarding the criminal justice system. As I recall, the hon. member noted that pursuant to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act the office of the correctional investigator had been established to ensure that incarcerated offenders within the federal corrections system had a mechanism to address their complaints and concerns. The hon. member is suggesting that there should be a parallel office or a commissioner—I also heard him use the term ombudsman—to look out for the interests of victims of crime.

Hon. members are aware that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is currently examining the role of the victim in the criminal justice system. This review is under way due in part to a motion made by the hon. member for Langley—Abbotsford in April 1996 calling on the government to ask the standing committee to explore a federal bill of rights for victims. The standing committee heard from several witnesses in April 1997 and concluded that a more detailed examination of this and other related issues was indeed necessary.

The standing committee will address a host of issues including the need for additional services for victims, the information needs of victims, how such services can be funded and whether additional Criminal Code amendments are necessary.

The Minister of Justice has already discussed several options with provincial attorneys general but has also noted that further information would be gathered by the standing committee. That consultation process would assist the minister in refining many of the options under consideration.

It would be appropriate that this motion to establish a commissioner be referred to the standing committee. The committee has an opportunity to hear from the real experts regarding what victims need and expect from the criminal justice system and what is currently being provided.

The committee has already received information about the range of services and legislation already in existence in the provinces and territories. With this background and context the committee is in the best position to assess the benefits and feasibility of establishing the position of commissioner.

The hon. member's proposal is not novel. The Minister of Justice has already indicated her interest in establishing a federal office for victims of crime. The minister has discussed the establishment of such an office with her provincial colleagues who have indicated their support for a complementary federal role and co-ordination mechanism to among other goals bring about improvements to the criminal justice system to benefit victims of crime and to ensure they receive the information they need. This option of the establishment of an office for victims may achieve many of the same objectives as the hon. member suggests regarding a commissioner.

Hon. members should also be aware that the Minister of Justice wrote to the chair of the standing committee expressing her interest in the review of the role of the victim in the criminal justice system and seeking its input on several specific options including the establishment of an office. I will quote from that letter:

In addition to Criminal Code amendments, I have been considering several non-legislative options including the establishment of an “Office” for Victims of Crime within the Department of Justice. I have discussed the establishment of such an Office with my provincial and territorial colleagues and have received their support for this initiative. An Office for Victims of Crime would be mandated to, among other things, ensure the victim's perspective is considered in the development of all criminal law policy and legislation. The Office would co-ordinate all federal victim initiatives and facilitate federal-provincial-territorial initiatives. In general, it would be a centre of expertise domestically and internationally and a point of contact for information about the role of victims of crime in the criminal justice system. The Standing Committee may wish to explore the benefits of such an Office for Victims of Crime.

The Minister of Justice has recognized that the standing committee's review provides an opportunity to canvass a wide range of views regarding a wide range of victims issues. I would submit that consideration of the motion should also await that review process or even become part of it.

The minister's letter to the standing committee also acknowledged the work done by a joint federal-provincial-territorial committee that includes all the provincial and territorial directors of victims services. That group has gathered information about existing programs, services and legislation in Canada and meets regularly to address issues of concern and to propose necessary solutions.

That type of federal-provincial-territorial initiative and co-operation is essential when addressing the needs and concerns of victims within the criminal justice system because governments have to work together. This co-operation must be encouraged and formalized. The office proposed by the Minister of Justice would be a means to ensure ongoing federal-provincial-territorial collaboration, consultation and co-operation.

In the discussions of the Minister of Justice to date with victim advocates, service providers and many experts in their field a common theme emerges. Crime victims and witnesses need information and do not know where to turn for information when they get caught up in the criminal justice system.

They do not want to be told that their problem is somebody else's job or in some other jurisdiction. In addition, most believe it is the government's responsibility to assist them. There are already many valuable programs and services but there continue to be some gaps in making Canadians aware of those services.

Therefore there is a need to focus on how we as a government can develop a centre point of contact for victims and a network of information providers. The Minister of Justice has already launched a process to work closely with the provinces on this issue and does not intent to set up an expensive, cumbersome bureaucracy.

With respect to the issue of victims rights I have some reservations about the federal government role. We should not suggest to Canadians that a special charter and special legislation are needed depending on the situation they find themselves in. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides us all with equal benefit and protection under the law. Moreover, criminal law and criminal procedure are properly set out in the Criminal Code.

Another concern relates to the jurisdictional responsibilities of the provinces, territories and federal government. The provinces and territories have enacted legislation to address a variety of so-called victims rights relating to the fair treatment of victims, the provision of information and services, and related issues.

Federal legislation can address only matters of federal jurisdiction. Another major consideration in developing rights legislation is how breach or violation of these rights can be effectively enforced. Most victims rights legislation provides no remedy. Real improvements require the willing participation of all players in the criminal justice system. Let us hear their views on what an effective role for the federal government might be.

Earlier I referred to the federal government's role in enacting criminal law. I do not need to remind the House of many of the Canadian Criminal Code amendments passed by the government which respond directly to the concerns of crime victims.

For example, there is the gun control legislation, Bill C-68; the crime prevention strategy; the national information system on child sex offenders; sentencing legislation; amendments to the Criminal Code to permit collection of bodily samples for DNA analysis, Bill C-104; the restriction of the defence of extreme intoxication; and Bill C-55 amendments regarding high risk offenders.

I could go on and on with the examples. The Minister of Justice also indicated that further Criminal Code amendments will be proposed following receipt and review of the standing committee's report to respond to recommendations made by victims advocates and by the federal-provincial-territorial working group on victims and crime.

Commissioner For The Rights Of Victims Of CrimePrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Chuck Cadman Reform Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in support of Motion No. 386 proposed by the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough.

While I am in support of the concept of creating a position of commissioner for the rights of victims of crime with a role similar to that of the correctional investigator, I have some reservations and some concerns.

The official objective of the office of the correctional investigator is to act as an ombudsman for the federal corrections service.

It is to ensure an independent review and investigation of problems of federal offenders related to the decisions, recommendations, acts or omissions of the commissioner of corrections, his servants or agents, in relation to the administration of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. In simple terms, his office is the complaint department for federal inmates.

We may from time to time question the validity of some of these complaints, but that is another issue.

As has been said by many, there seems to be a definite inequity in our justice system when for years we have had an advocate for offenders but not for victims of crime. This inequity only adds to public scepticism that we appear to be far more interested in the rights of criminals than we are in the rights of the law abiding and the innocent.

Mr. Ron Stewart has occupied the correctional investigator position for a number of years and Canadians have indeed been fortunate to have his independent management. He has never been hesitant to publicly criticize the government for its failures and deficiencies. Obviously, he has not been a political patronage appointment who merely goes through the motions on behalf of the interests of government.

I am concerned that Canadians feel confident that any such commissioner for the rights of victims of crime retain similar independence. The position must go to an individual who will do the job for Canadians and not merely for the government.

As I have said, Mr. Stewart has shown an independence. For years now he has been boldly reporting correctional failures. However, there is one glaring shortcoming and that has to do with the power or, more precisely, the lack of power of his position.

Each year he reports many of the same faults and inadequacies and each year the government fails to properly remedy the problems. It will do us little good to have an independent commissioner for the rights of victims of crime unless we also have a mechanism in place to ensure that investigations and reports are acted upon.

It does little good to continually have recommendations being made without some legislative requirement to act upon those recommendations and some form of accountability.

Assuming we provide the proposed commissioner for the rights of victims of crime with the full independence to do a proper job and assuming we appoint someone who will have the intestinal fortitude to take on the government as necessary, we would then have to consider the mandate of that position.

What responsibilities would be assigned? Would they include the ability to investigate national parole board or correctional service decisions whereby individuals are released from our institutions only to violently reoffend within days?

There have been a number of recent incidents. The parole board decided that armed robbery with a gun was not a violent offence because no shots were fired. It granted parole and the offender promptly went out and killed three people.

Another killer was paroled, but nobody bothered to tell the woman he moved in with about his past, and he killed her.

A man is given statutory release, despite warnings that he is a high risk to commit violence, and 50 days later he participates in the torture and the murder of a young man right here in Ottawa.

At present the departments of corrections and parole investigate themselves when their decisions are called into question. I do not know whom this government thinks it is fooling, but this conflict of interest certainly does not add to the credibility and trust of our citizens in the process. Obviously, we need an independent review. Perhaps this office could undertake that responsibility.

The motion suggests a role similar to that of the correctional investigator. It is noted that the budget for the correctional investigator is in excess of $1 million per year. In 1996 he had 17 people on staff. I would hope that something similar to this might be allocated to a victim's advocate, especially if the office gets involved in investigating the actions of other departments.

I am concerned that the justice minister, who has stated that she is open to this development, may be just making a token gesture toward victims to make it appear that the government is interested in their issues. If an office is to be created, it must be set up correctly and it must have a meaningful role within our justice system. A token effort, another bureaucracy or another opportunity to reward the faithful with patronage plums will certainly not satisfy our citizens. It will only add to their angst and disenchantment with the criminal justice system in general.

The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is presently reviewing the victim's role in the criminal justice system. We have already heard that victims have different rights depending on which province or territory they come from. We need universal standards so that all Canadians obtain the same rights.

Perhaps the proposed commissioner's office could be assigned the responsibility to lobby and co-ordinate toward common benefits right across the country. It could also be utilized to provide national education programs to our citizens so that everyone is advised of what assistance and resources are available to victims of crime.

It could also be used to advise and assist the government to make appropriate amendments to our laws to provide improved rights to victims. It could become the resource centre for our various victims groups. There would appear to be a multitude of opportunities for such an office.

As I have stated, the standing committee is studying the issue. There will also be a forum on victims' rights next week and I am sure we will obtain input on what is desired by Canadians.

The motion of the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough only proposes the creation of the position. Should the government see fit to accept the proposal, the nuts and bolts will of course have to be hammered out as to what the commissioner will be set up to do.

I support this motion even though I have some reservations and concerns. The idea certainly has merit, but it must be set up properly. The motion suggests a role similar to that of the correctional investigator and, while the correctional investigator's independence is valued, I am sure we can propose an even better operation.

There must be some teeth provided to the office of the commissioner of the rights of victims of crime. It will do little to set up an office, proceed with annual reporting to parliament as to its activities and recommendations, and forget to include some form of accountability toward acting on those recommendations.

I thank everyone for the opportunity to speak to this worthwhile endeavour. I also thank the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough for proposing this motion. It is unfortunate that this motion has not been deemed a votable item. Therefore, I propose a motion to this House for unanimous consent to make Motion M-386 votable.

Commissioner For The Rights Of Victims Of CrimePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Does the hon. member have unanimous consent of the House to make this a votable item?

Commissioner For The Rights Of Victims Of CrimePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members


Commissioner For The Rights Of Victims Of CrimePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members


Commissioner For The Rights Of Victims Of CrimePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Madam Speaker, Motion M-386 reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government of Canada should create the position of Commissioner for the Rights of Victims of Crime, with a role similar to that of the Correctional Investigator.

Just reading the motion immediately indicates the seriousness of this matter. In light of what the victims of crime go through, I feel this is a subject that merits our attention, and that we must look at what is done in other Canadian provinces, Quebec among others, since I am a Quebec MP.

As we know, the victims of crime are affected in a number of ways: physically, psychologically, materially and socially. They and their families therefore have specific needs. Victims must be treated fairly and humanely by the criminal justice system. It is important for them to be informed of their rights and of how to ensure they are recognized, of developments in their case, and of their obligations.

Victims do need help in dealing with their situation, but where I am not in agreement with the hon. member tabling this motion, and with the Reform Party, is on the demand for national standards for these matters.

Since the Bloc Quebecois and Quebeckers have been calling for certain things for years, and since we have invested considerably in the social field for the past 25 or 30 years, you will understand that, in a matter such as the one being addressed today, we cannot start at the same point as western Canada or the Maritimes.

This is not because we have any particular pretensions, or feel we are better than anyone else. It is because this matter has already been addressed in Quebec by the National Assembly, and I believe most sincerely that the results indicate that the provinces are better placed to deal with the creation of such bodies or the appointment of such commissioners.

In fact, at this very moment, the matter of victims' rights is being addressed in a parliamentary commission. There, a representative of the government of British Columbia said more or less what Quebec has been saying for years. British Columbia has, perhaps, a little less experience than Quebec in this particular area, but I must say that B.C. impressed me with everything it is doing to help victims. There are no doubt other provinces, too, but I have not heard of them to date. However, British Columbia like Quebec says the provinces are in the best position to deal with this problem.

Quebec has a law on this issue. It is the act respecting assistance for victims of crime. It may be found in c. A-13.2 of Quebec's revised statutes. I will not read it to you because it is fairly long, but I will point out what it concerns.

Naturally it contains a definition of a victim and a criminal act. Dependent persons are also defined. It sets out treatment for victims and their rights. It provides that victims must be informed of their rights, of the application of the law and, where public interest requires and permits it, be informed of the police investigation, and of the charges laid. They are entitled to medical assistance, naturally. They are entitled, and this is mandatory, to co-operation from the authorities.

In addition, Quebec has an office for the assistance of victims of crime. This office is funded in large part from surplus fines and fines the legislator allows to be charged to attackers found guilty.

In Quebec, we have an approach the Conservative member would like to have applied to the country as a whole. As the Reform members were saying earlier as well, national standards must be established to ensure that everyone is treated equally.

We must not get involved in this. I say things must be left alone because this is a matter of provincial jurisdiction. The Canadian Constitution establishes the administration of justice as a provincial matter. I do not believe the government should interfere in this area of jurisdiction.

As far as Quebec is concerned, I have never yet heard anyone calling for this sort of intervention there, because we have the act respecting assistance for victims of crime and more importantly the office to assist them.

I am not saying there is not room for improvement. Everything can be improved, including the office for the assistance of victims of crimes. However, any improvement is the province's responsibility. Conversely, if the federal government has money it does not know what to do with, as the member from British Columbia mentioned, and wants to invest in this area of jurisdiction, I see no problem. It would simply be a matter of transferring this money, which comes from the taxes paid by Canadians and Quebeckers, to the provincial legislatures, so that they could invest it where necessary to improve victims' rights. In the case of Quebec, the money could be used to help the Bureau d'aide aux victimes d'actes criminels.

In conclusion, we oppose the motion as drafted. The Bloc Quebecois cannot support such a motion. In Quebec, we already have the Bureau d'aide aux victimes d'actes criminels, and the province adequately fulfils its responsibilities regarding victims' aid.

If the federal government wants to invest—as seems to be the case—in this area of provincial jurisdiction, it should do so through the Quebec National Assembly and the other provincial legislatures, so that the government of each province, including Quebec, can invest where it wants, to help victims of crime directly.

Commissioner For The Rights Of Victims Of CrimePrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Madam Speaker, I have a few very brief remarks to make on behalf of members of the New Democratic Party to indicate that we support the motion put forward by the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough. It states:

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.

We support such an initiative. We believe it recognizes the need for greater services for victims of crime and recognizes their rights and role in the judicial system.

The correctional investigator has a mandate to investigate independently complaints from inmates and to report upon the problems of inmates that come within the responsibility of the solicitor general. The function of the correctional investigator, as was noted by the member from the Reform Party who spoke a few minutes ago, is that of an ombudsman for federal corrections and to clarify the authority and responsibility of the office within a well-defined legislative framework.

The specific function of the office is to “conduct investigations into the problems of offenders related to decisions, recommendations, acts or omissions of the commissioner of corrections or any person under the control and management of or performing services for or on behalf of the commissioner that affect offenders either individually or as a group”.

A central element of any ombudsman's function in addition to independence and unfettered access to information in conducting its mandatory investigations is that they act by way of recommendation and public reporting as opposed to decisions which are enforced.

The authority of the office within this legislative framework lies in its ability to investigate thoroughly and objectively a wide spectrum of administrative actions and present its findings and recommendations initially to Correctional Service Canada. In those instances where the CSC has failed to address the office's findings and recommendations, the issue is referred to the minister and eventually to parliament and the public through the vehicle of an annual or a special report.

We in this caucus believe that creating a position of commissioner for victims' rights based on the similar role outlined for the correctional investigator will be an important first step in addressing the needs and concerns of victims in our court system. A victims' rights commissioner will help to ensure that victims of crime receive the fair, dignified treatment they deserve in the system and will prevent them from being revictimized by the system.

In conclusion, we support the motion and trust that the government will give it serious consideration.

Commissioner For The Rights Of Victims Of CrimePrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough will have five minutes to conclude the debate. It is understood that at that time after the member speaks the debate will have terminated.

Commissioner For The Rights Of Victims Of CrimePrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Madam Speaker, I am encouraged by the remarks of my colleagues on both sides of the House. I have some concern for the comments expressed by the parliamentary secretary. We do certainly bring this motion forward in good faith.

There is certainly a spirit of co-operation that is existing now within the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Although the issue of victims generally is before the committee, this motion was brought forward at a time when there was not a certain date. Certainly there was no attempt by anyone to do work that would be duplicitous. This motion is simply an opportunity to express on behalf of the House that this is an intention this House has, that we want to see brought forward within our justice system an office that would officially recognize and be designated with the task of improving the participation of victims within our current justice system.

The issue is going to be discussed on a national forum level in the coming week. As has been suggested, this will be an opportunity for those major stakeholders, those players within our justice system, to speak at this forum. They will have the opportunity to speak to the minister herself, to speak to members of the department who hopefully will be charged with the task of drafting a victims bill of rights or tasked with the setting up of an office similar to that which is proposed in this motion.

I do take the hon. member's comments to heart that there has been an expression by the minister. I am very encouraged by that and I think all members of the House should be encouraged by that expression. The only comment or reservation I have about hearing that is that time is running. There has been an opportunity placed before the House to express that we want to see this happen. We want to see it done, to use the minister's own words, in a timely fashion. We hope that this is going to occur.

Victims across the country are going to be encouraged. They will look at this as an initiative that will allow them fuller participation, a greater voice. Through this forum they will be given an opportunity to communicate directly with the minister and those in her department who will hopefully bring these types of legislative changes to the forefront in the very near future.

I appreciate the opportunity I have been given this morning to discuss this issue. I take to heart the comments of members on both sides of the House. I am very rejuvenated by the expression of the non-partisan approach that will be taken in the very near future on the issue of victims' rights.

I look forward to seeing this issue brought to fruition in the very near future. There can be no greater good come from this debate this morning than to see these types of changes brought about. Those who find themselves in the unfortunate position of being victims will be given a greater ability to participate and hopefully see that justice is done in this country.

Commissioner For The Rights Of Victims Of CrimePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would be grateful if you would seek unanimous consent to suspend the House until noon and then we would proceed to Government Orders.

Commissioner For The Rights Of Victims Of CrimePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Is there consent to proceed in this fashion?

Commissioner For The Rights Of Victims Of CrimePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members


Commissioner For The Rights Of Victims Of CrimePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Before doing that, there being no further members rising for debate and the motion not being designated as a votable item, the time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired. The order is dropped from the order paper.

Commissioner For The Rights Of Victims Of CrimePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Thibeault)

As agreed to, the sitting is suspended until noon.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11.52 a.m.)

The House resumed at 12.0 p.m.

SupplyGovernment Orders

June 8th, 1998 / noon


Eric C. Lowther Reform Calgary Centre, AB


That, in the opinion of this House, federal legislation should not be altered by judicial rulings, as happened in the redefinition of the term “spouse” in the Rosenberg decision, and that, accordingly, the government should immediately appeal the Rosenberg decision.

Mr. Speaker, the first part of this motion is to call all who believe in a representative democracy in our country to come to its defence. The case referred to in the motion is just one more example of a court ruling that is undermining the voice of Canadians in the democratic parliamentary process.

The Rosenberg decision is a good example for today because it is current and, as we will detail, it is clearly contrary to the statements and positions taken by the leaders of this House and the members collectively. It is also a timely example because if the federal government would act it can protect the legislative process and ensure the voice of the people is not ignored.

Am I being too strong or melodramatic when I say that increasingly judicial rulings are undermining democracy in this country? On the contrary, I know there are many who believe I am not stating the situation strongly enough.

My colleagues and I are confident that members will join with others in the House who are calling for specific steps to be taken not only in the Rosenberg case but in defence of the democratic process in general.

During the course of today's debate members may hear the term judicial activism. This recently coined term refers to rulings by judges which go well beyond the intent of the law and in fact substantively change the law to the point where judges have taken on the role of legislators or law makers as opposed to simply interpreting and applying the law.

To my knowledge this type of activity by some judges is relatively new but an increasingly prevalent phenomenon in Canada. Prior to 1982 there was an understanding that under the Canadian bill of rights we all had inherent rights unless they were limited by a particular legislation. In addition, certain rights would receive protection from government interference or intervention in the lives of our citizens.

With the constitutionalization of the charter of rights and freedoms in 1982 some judiciary have taken greater power than warranted or authorized.

Today as in the Rosenberg case which I will examine more closely in a moment and in many cases like it, laws constructed and reviewed by the people's elected legislators in the House have been struck down or changed based on the courts' inconsistently applied charter rights arguments.

In the Schachter case in 1992 the supreme court decided that judges could rewrite statutes by reading into the legislation. Effectively in this case the supreme court read into the Constitution its ability to read in words into specific legislation. This right was not and has never been explicitly given to the courts in either the charter or the Constitution.

When an increasing number of unaccountable, unelected judges read in new wording into legislation that has been debated and passed by duly elected parliamentarians, a warning bell of a free and democratic society must ring loudly. Today we are sounding that alarm. There are a number of cases I could quote from to illustrate the point I am making. I have a list of them here but for the sake of time I trust that my peers will refer to many of these examples. I will move on to a specific example. If up until now anyone has not clearly grasped the concern we have, an examination of the Rosenberg case will bring some clarity to the issue. It will serve as an illustrative example.

The Rosenberg case concerns the federal Income Tax Act which specifically stated “words referring to a spouse at any time of a taxpayer including the person of the opposite sex who cohabits at that time with the taxpayer in a conjugal relationship”. The Ontario Court of Appeal which heard the Rosenberg case decided to add words or read words into the law made by parliament. The law will now read “words referring to a spouse at any time of a taxpayer including the person of the opposite sex or same sex who cohabits at that time with the taxpayer in a conjugal relationship”.

As in some of the other examples I referred to, this case with the court's redefinition of spouse to include same sex relationships is a significant change to the law. If this undemocratic, unaccountable change to the law is allowed to stand, at least 40 other federal statutes which utilize the term spouse will be affected. With the reading in of the definition of spouse marriage itself is automatically redefined to include same sex conjugal relationships because the definition of marriage in the law is dependent on the definition of spouse.

Did the people of Canada have a say in this? No. Did parliament? It is interesting that parliament has clearly expressed itself on this issue which is why this example is so illustrative. In the 35th parliament Motion No. 264 was proposed. It proposed the legal recognition of same sex spouses. Parliament spoke clearly by defeating the motion with 52 in favour and 124 against legal recognition of same sex spouses. This is the collective voice of the Canadian people defending the validity of the current Canadian law which Canadians have shaped through the democratic process. The judges in this court have ignored that and have independently done exactly what parliament by almost a three to one margin said not to do.

What can be done? In the short term the federal government can defend Canadian law in the court and appeal the Ontario court ruling. This would protect the democratic process and our fundamental freedoms from a court that is making its own law. The ruling came down in the Rosenberg case on April 23, 1998. The federal government has 60 days to appeal before the law is effectively locked in. This means the federal government has two weeks left to launch an appeal. Time is running out. Will it appeal? What is its position? Doing nothing, as it has, would suggest that it supports how and what the court is doing.

Perhaps we can get some insight into what the government will do from responses given to constituents by the justice ministers of the Liberal government. I will quote from two letters that were sent to constituents by the justice ministers in the 35th and 36th parliaments. The first is dated April 24. The current justice minister told a constituent the following: “Thus the definition of marriage is already clear in law in Canada as the union of two persons of the opposite sex. Counsel from my department have successfully defended and will continue to defend this concept of marriage in the court”.

The justice minister went on: “The issues of benefits for same sex partners have been before the courts and tribunals for some time now. I continue to believe that it is not necessary to change well understood concepts of spouse and marriage to deal with any fairness considerations the courts and tribunals may find”.

I have a similar letter that quotes almost verbatim the same things from the justice minister in the 35th parliament.

From the sound of these letters one might be hopeful that this Liberal government will actually defend Canadian law and the process. But allow me to now quote from Hansard a question asked of the same justice minister a few days ago in the House. The question put to the justice minister at that time was: “Does the justice minister believe it is right for unelected judges to make changes like this, or should those changes be made by this parliament, by the elected representatives of the people of Canada?”. I should point out this question was referring to the Rosenberg case.

I will not read the whole answer of the justice minister, but the key part is the last sentence: “In the Rosenberg case the judiciary was doing what it was constitutionally obligated to do, interpret and apply the law”.

What I point out here is that this issue needs some clear leadership. What this illustrates is one message to a concerned constituent but when it comes forward in the House of Commons we hear a very different response from the one she sent to that concerned constituent. Two opposite positions in a five week period. What is the government's position on this?

I hope, as do many of my colleagues, that this government might start with this case and follow through on its own commitment to Canadians and demonstrate to those judges who are changing the law, who are acting outside of their job description, that it must stop.

In spite of the conflicting messages from the justice minister we are hopeful and we are asking for the Liberal government to wake up, stand up, grab hold of the reins of government and defend the democratic freedoms and the integrity of the legislation process in this land.

We have some excellent, dedicated men and women in our court system in Canada, people of high integrity who give a great deal of energy to the cause of justice in these difficult times. I have quotes from many of them here today and many of them are concerned about the very crux of the motion we are debating here today. But perhaps in honour of his recent passing it would be best to quote from the very succinct Mr. Justice Sopinka who wisely stated what every judge should know and what every Canadian expects: “The court must be conscious of its proper role in the constitutional make-up of our form of democratic government and not seek to make fundamental changes to the longstanding policy on the basis of general constitutional principles in its own view of the wisdom of the legislation”.

The problem of some judges and courts becoming unaccountable, unauthorized legislators, or what some call judicial activism, is a growing one in Canada. But Reformers believe it is a problem that can be addressed if there is the political will to do so. Reform has addressed this issue. In Reform's new Canada act which was recently published and is being made available across Canada, a specific section is included on how the supreme court can be made more accountable and it details a process to ensure that those appointed have the correct judicial philosophy and qualifications to maintain order within Canadians institutions.

Finally allow me to return to the motion on the floor. This most critical motion simply calls for the federal government to take steps to protect Canadian law and the role of parliament. There is a two week window on this particular case within which it can act.

We encourage and call upon the government on behalf of all Canadians to give a clear signal that law and order will be maintained in the land and our democratic institutions will be secure. For the health of our democracy I urge every member of this House, in fact I think every member of this House is obligated to support this motion and require that the government finally take a correct firm position to maintain our freedoms and the integrity of the democratic process.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Philip Mayfield Reform Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that what we are talking about here is based upon tradition and history.

I am reminded that our system did not just get thought about and invented by a handful of people as they came together. The history of our parliamentary and judicial systems goes back to a time when there were kings who had absolute authority. It is a very interesting history. The English people began to push and encroach upon the authority and the power of the crown and out of that the process of parliamentary democracy evolved to the point where we have it today.

I find it paradoxical. We are talking about parliament in Canada beginning to lose its power to the supreme court and at the same time I read in the papers that the English system is working toward eliminating or reducing the power of those who sit in the House of Lords by virtue of their birthright. I find it interesting that we are in a position now where we have a government that is very critical of following the American example yet the American example is one in which the supreme court has the authority to change, amend and erase laws. We have followed this.

Has my hon. colleague given any thought to the long term consequences of this erosion of parliamentary authority at the hands of the supreme court?

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Eric C. Lowther Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the question. Yes, I have given thought to it, as have many members of this House and many Canadians right across the country.

This type of writing into the legislation is already affecting many aspects of the Canadian legal system and the laws we are governed by. I have before me a number of other rulings that have been made by the courts that are inconsistent with the intent of the legislators. There is no check on this process. I can refer to one or two of these. I could go through many of them but let me pick one.

Many people in B.C. are aware of the 1997 Delgamuukw decision. The court ruled that native land title to 23,000 square miles of northwestern B.C. was never extinguished. This decision dismantles provincial and federal sovereignty. It invalidates common law in place since 1846. It undermines jurisdiction over territories subject to land claims, including 80% of B.C.'s land base.

There are other cases. At the other end of the country, let us go to P.E.I., a beautiful place I recently had the opportunity to visit. In the 1994 Prosper decision the court overthrew a drunk driving conviction because the Prince Edward Island government had not provided a 24-hour legal aid hotline for a person such as the driver in this case. Chief Justice Lamer said provincial governments must suffer and endure the consequences, that is his quote, if they fail to respect the rights of the accused.

I could go on with a number of these cases. These kinds of rulings are totally destructive outside the democratic process that we have enshrined here in Canada and which men and women 50 years ago died on the battlefields to protect.

I am very concerned as are many of the members of our party. It is long overdue that we bring some check back into the courts to make sure they are consistent with legislation. It is the very reason why in Reform's new Canada act we have addressed this specific issue, that in supreme court and other court decisions there is some review process to make sure that the intent of legislation has not been violated by certain courts that have taken on a proactive or what some call a judicially active approach to writing in laws, of writing in intent into the legislation.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Werner Schmidt Reform Kelowna, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think I understood what the member was talking about when he talked about the supremacy of parliament and the judiciary. Can he explain a little more clearly exactly what the relationship would be between parliament and the judiciary? The demarcation seems to be becoming a little greyer. It seems as though the judiciary is moving into the role of parliament and parliament is moving somewhere on this issue but nobody knows exactly where.

Traditionally it seems to me that the judiciary was to be independent of parliament. It was somehow to stand alone and be able to take an arm's length view and say “This is what the legislators thought. This is what they enacted. This is what they wanted the government to be and this is how the people ought to be governed”.

Can the member clearly differentiate between the role of parliament on the one hand and the independence of the judiciary on the other?

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Eric C. Lowther Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to respond to that question.

The hon. member is correct in pointing out that parliament, the democratically elected representatives of the people, has a primary obligation to debate and shape the laws which will govern the people. The voices of all Canadians are reflected in this House. One of the things I have always been appreciative of is the debate that goes on both here and in committee. The laws that come out of here are the compilation of what is the expressed will of Canadians. That is the role of this House.

As far as the judiciary is concerned, it has the role of interpreting and applying the law. What we are seeing in Canada is an extra component added to that under the charter of rights banner. Judges have actually taken it upon themselves to change legislation or read into legislation. They have given themselves the power to do this. Not all judges agree with this. In fact in my talk I quoted Justice Sopinka, recently deceased, and there are number of other justices whom I could quote as saying that this is not right.

Let us look at the words of the previous justice minister in the 35th parliament. He himself said in this House that the courts should not make policy or rewrite statutes. That is the role of parliament.

What amazes me today is that two consecutive justice ministers in this Liberal government have made these strong statements. Yet when we have a case before us, and many of the others I have referred to, that clearly violates what they are saying publicly and in letters to their constituents, they take no action. It is almost as if they endorse what the courts are doing. This is something that confuses me personally. I am hoping that in the course of today's debate when positions are put forward they will be moved to defend the role of parliament and also the role of the courts.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Philip Mayfield Reform Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

Mr. Speaker, there is one other element I would like to ask my colleague about.

It occurs to me that since I have become a member of parliament, the people I represent have a very definite view about the laws and that those laws are to represent them in a whole variety of ways.

What I am concerned about and what I would like to ask my hon. colleague is what does he see as the consequence of what I would consider the illegitimate degradation of the law by those who do not represent the people but who have been appointed by someone and they see their responsibility to something besides the Canadian people? What does he see are the consequences of the supreme court changing these laws?

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Eric C. Lowther Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, the key consequence is that people begin to see that the laws of the land and the rulings of the courts are out of step with where they are at and where they are at as a Canadian people. This is a cause for concern for Canadians right across the country. They are feeling more and more that there is confusion within the courts and that the court rulings are not consistent with their priorities, values and culture. That is a grievous concern for us.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Madam Speaker, it is with great honour that I rise to speak against the Reform motion today.

As a family physician I do not pretend to be an expert on where the law and the state divide. I only know that we have to make sure that our parliament does not impinge on the way in which the law is interpreted and applied.

In the Rosenberg case Judge Abella decided that the sexual orientation of surviving partners can in no way be seen as any more relevant to whether they should be entitled to income protection their partners have paid for than would be their race, their colour or their ethnicity. She went on to say that discrimination against homosexuals in pension arrangements serves no “pressing and substantial government objective” and permits “intolerance of the constitutionally protected rights of gays and lesbians. As such it is discriminatory and cannot be viewed as justification for a constitutional violation”.

It is interesting that the ruling says “aging and retirement are not unique to heterosexuals” and that “courts do not operate by poll”.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I apologize for interrupting the hon. member. I remind her that in this discussion it is not permitted to name judges.