House of Commons Hansard #29 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was industry.


Witness Protection Program ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.


Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

moved that Bill C-223, an act to amend the Witness Protection Program Act and to make a related and consequential amendment to another act (protection of spouses whose life is in danger), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I will begin my remarks today by stating that this is an exciting day for me. Although I have submitted private members' bills many times in the past six years, this is my first bill to be deemed votable.

Bill C-223, an act to amend the Witness Protection Program Act or the new identities act, as I have called it, attempts to accomplish one thing, to save lives.

In my remarks today I will address the problem of domestic violence in our society, the inadequacies of our present laws, the current new identities program and explain the initiatives proposed in Bill C-223.

Domestic violence is one of the most horrendous problems facing our society. It is my opinion, and that of the hundreds of women who have responded to this issue, that domestic violence is indeed a national problem deserving increased attention from parliament. I do not believe that we as parliamentarians have done enough to address the violence that all too often occurs behind closed doors. This is an issue that requires us to put aside our partisan ways and address the true needs of those in danger.

Just listen to these statistics. In 1996, 21,901 cases of spousal assault were recorded in a sample of 154 police departments across the country. In 1996, approximately 80% of victims of criminal harassment or stalking were women. Over half of all female victims of criminal harassment were harassed by ex-spouses or other intimate partners.

Between 1977 and 1996, there were 2,048 spousal killings in Canada. In over 56% of spousal homicides, investigating police officers had knowledge of previous domestic violence between victims and the suspects.

The process of eradicating domestic violence is not easy and I am fully aware that process will take some time. In the meantime, there are women and children in our country who live in fear for their lives. When I began to research this issue I was shocked by the lack of laws focused on preventing domestic violence and spousal abuse. Aside from anti-stalking laws and restraining orders, there are few remedies available. Most of the laws focus on punishment for crimes committed and are often too late for victims.

Such was the case for Mary-Lynne Miller from Dawson Creek in my riding. In February 1997 Brad Neuman, Miller's former common-law spouse while on probation beat her into a coma in her own apartment. Mary-Lynne suffered on the floor with severe head injuries for over 21 hours before getting medical attention. She remains in a coma to this very day.

One of Neuman's probation conditions was that he was to have no contact with Mary-Lynne Miller. Other than go into hiding, Mary-Lynne could not ensure her own safety and paid a heavy price. It was this case that really opened my eyes to the tragedy of domestic violence. Sadly, there have been thousands of others equally tragic.

In January of this year I was reading the Vancouver Province on my flight from Vancouver to Ottawa where I came across an article. The story detailed a maverick program run by bureaucrats in the Department of Revenue Canada, in conjunction with Human Resources Development Canada, to provide new identities for those people who find themselves in life threatening situations. It allows them to change their names and social insurance numbers in order to hide from an abusive spouse or former spouse.

The woman featured in the article had endured beatings, death threats and emotional torture. The new identities program helped her to relocate and get new documents. Unfortunately, her academic credentials were not transferable to her new identity nor was her resume. This meant finding any job she could in order to support herself and her child. When her husband caught her trail again she would have to run and start the same panicked process of self-preservation over again.

After reading this article I felt frustrated and motivated to do something. That is when I began to research this issue to seek out a solution. The result is the bill before the House today. Originally numbered C-494 in the first session of this parliament, I sent copies of this bill and background material to over 500 women's shelters and transition houses across Canada seeking feedback and their input.

What I got in return were letters of support; tragic, horrifying personal stories and petitions signed by hundreds of people in support of the bill. It was reassuring to know that those who deal with the brutality of spousal abuse on a daily basis endorse the principles contained in this bill.

This summer a woman contacted me after hearing about the bill. She came into my office in disguise to tell me firsthand the story of her abuse. She has been on the run from her former husband for over 10 years. She and her son live in a constant state of readiness to move. Just this fall her husband, through a private investigator, found them again. The threat of violence is so severe that her son's school was put on lock down to assure his safety.

She has been harassed, stalked, beaten, permanently disfigured and threatened with death. It is hard to believe that these are Canadian citizens living in such fear in this very country.

Without a new identify, this woman is positive that her former husband will kill her. Even though he has had several restraining orders filed against him there, is little that can be done until he decides to strike again.

As I mentioned earlier in my remarks, the new identities program is an ad hoc program providing assistance to those in need. However, the program is not well known and operates without a mandate or formal funding.

I would like to take this opportunity to recognize the tremendous service that the bureaucrats in these departments have undertaken. These individuals went far and beyond their job descriptions to help those in need. They exemplify the true meaning of the term “public servants”.

I believe that the witness protection program is the natural home for new identities. Women brought into the program will benefit from the expertise and knowledge of the RCMP who already relocate crown witnesses. All law enforcement agencies across the country are connected electronically, granting access to this program from the most remote reaches of Canada.

By bringing the new identities program under the Witness Protection Act, I believe we can do more for these women and their children. The Witness Protection Act defines protection as including relocation, accommodation and change of identity, as well as counselling and financial support.

This program is not for everyone. In fact the exact opposite is the reality. The new identities program is an escape of last resort for those who the law has failed and are in fear for their lives and the lives of their children.

I listed earlier the tremendous sacrifices undertaken to change one's identity. However, there are some in our society who would try to use such a program for ulterior motives. To ensure this does not happen there is a list of factors or criteria to be considered for admission into this program: the nature of the risk to the security of the person would be assessed; alternative methods of protecting the person without admission into this program would be considered; the nature of the injuries suffered by the person or the severe psychological damage inflicted by the spouse and any criminal history; the circumstances that cause the spouse to believe that their life is in danger would obviously be assessed; and, such other factors that the commissioner of the RCMP would deem relevant. I believe that the criteria are fair and will ensure that those who truly need the program will have access to it.

Canada is supposed to be the best country in the world in which to live. But for women living in fear from abusive spouses, it is a hell on earth.

I fully realize that according to the standing orders I can speak for 20 minutes when moving a votable bill. Certainly this is such a tragically vital bill I could not do the subject proper justice if I spoke all day. However, I believe in my heart that this issue is non-partisan and is of such a nature that I will limit my remarks in order to allow more members to participate in this important debate.

In closing, I call on all members to support this bill. It is but a first small step that we can take to provide protection to those most needing our help.

Witness Protection Program ActPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Brossard—La Prairie Québec


Jacques Saada LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Solicitor General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak on Bill C-223, an act to amend the Witness Protection Program Act.

As my hon. colleague said a few minutes ago, this bill transcends political issues and is totally non partisan. Our government wholeheartedly supports any measure to ensure the protection of people whose lives and sometimes the lives of their children are being threatened by a spouse or a former spouse. Nobody can really disagree with that.

This is an issue that this government has taken very seriously. A joint federal, provincial and territorial process has been in place for a number of years. It is called new identities for victims in life threatening relationships. It was developed under the leadership of Human Resources Development Canada.

In situations where there is no other viable alternative, this initiative offers persons in life threatening relationships the opportunity to change their identities to avoid serious or fatal harm. In short, it does what Bill C-223 seeks to do. But the new identities initiative does so in a manner which, I would submit, is more acceptable.

I will come back in a little while to the advantages of the new identities initiative compared with the provisions of Bill C-223, but first, I want to address in a broader way this issue of establishing new identities as a way to ensure the protection of victims of domestic violence.

Given new identities to victims of life threatening domestic violence is an extreme measure that, for obvious reasons, can only be used under exceptional circumstances and as a last resort.

New identities may ensure better protection, but do come with many problems. The people being given new identities must leave their community and break with their family and their friends. And where children are involved, things get a lot more complicated.

Nevertheless, although it is a matter of last resort, establishing a new identity is sometimes necessary. Since 1992 the joint federal, provincial and territorial new identities initiative has helped some 203 victims and is proving to be a very useful method of providing an additional measure of safety to those who are most at risk.

In a number of respects, Canada is at the very forefront of nations in its response to conjugal violence. The new identities initiative is one of the areas where we are at the cutting edge. I understand that International Social Services Canada has made inquiries and found no other similar initiative in any other country except for the beginnings of a slightly similar process in the United States. As such, Canada has much to be proud of.

That said, we can and must do more. Education, counselling, prevention and other social service measures are essential if we are to do away with family violence. When all else fails, we must take steps against the violent partners.

The federal, provincial and territorial partners have already worked on the development of a new identity program. There is always room for improvement, but we do not need to reinvent the wheel. We need to build on what is already established.

There are a number of unsettled questions. In particular, there is the need for more formal co-ordination of the new identities program, a process in which, I would remind hon. members, the federal, provincial and territorial governments participate.

We also need to examine the eligibility criteria and issues relating to mobility, as well as the matter of the financing of a fully operative program.

All these issues require consultation and co-ordination. The issue of responding to spousal violence is one that is a shared responsibility for governments at all levels.

I am pleased to report that officials are already examining possible improvements to the new identities initiative. This month a federal-provincial-territorial working group has begun consultations to address the very questions that I have just raised.

That brings me to the question before the House, that is Bill C-223, whose object is to amend the Witness Protection Program Act so that situations of family violence would come under it.

The witness protection program, run by the RCMP, is used to protect certain individuals who help in the application of the law. A perfect example is the case of witnesses asked to testify in trials involving organized crime. So, naturally, this program concerns specific situations linked particularly to the application of the law.

The process of establishing a new identity is a separate program run jointly by governments. It applies to situations and persons other than those who come under the witness protection program.

In essence, Bill C-223 would incorporate the security measures provided in new identities into the Witness Protection Program Act.

The issue before us is not whether we should seek to ensure that safety and security measures for victims of spousal violence are the best they can be. Similarly, the issue is not whether we should take steps to build upon processes such as new identities. The issue is what steps should be taken. My view is that Bill C-223 simply is not a proper step.

As I have indicated, there are a number of specific questions that must be addressed if we are to build upon the excellent initiatives that have already been developed. Bill C-223 does not answer the questions or address the issues that must be examined. For those, consultations are necessary. The process of holding these consultations has been put in place and is currently getting under way. Proceeding with Bill C-223 would undercut this important process.

I admit that one of the solutions that could be considered in order to increase protection for victims of domestic abuse would be to incorporate the new identities process into the Witness Protection Program Act.

However, it is clear from preliminary consultations with various interested agencies, including victims' rights groups, that including the protection of spouses in the Witness Protection Program Act is not the best solution.

Before any thought is given to this option, the complex underlying issues must be resolved, particularly as regards the services available to victims and the co-ordination of action by the federal, provincial and territorial governments.

I am saying that very sincerely. I respect the initiative taken by the hon. member. I share the objective that is pursued with this initiative. These goals are fundamental, but the importance of this issue makes it necessary that we not take hasty steps. We must consult with those involved. We must avoid imposing top down solutions that may undercut what has already been built. The working group now in place must be allowed to consider all the dimensions of the problem without being locked into one single solution. For these reasons I do not support Bill C-223.

Before I conclude, it is important to note that yesterday was the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and also the opening day of the white ribbon campaign commemorating the tragic killings of women in Montreal a few years past. It is so very fitting that we have had the chance today to address an issue as important as conjugal violence within this context.

Witness Protection Program ActPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gilles Bernier Progressive Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise again on behalf of the PC Party and my constituents of Tobique—Mactaquac.

Let me begin by stating that I have somewhat mixed reactions with regard to this bill. At first glance I felt that this was a very important bill and I had hoped for it to receive positive consideration from all members of this House. However after more careful review, it is evident that this bill is an attempt to enact legislation that already exists.

The PC Party supports the premise behind this bill. The PC Party has been consistent in its support of law and order, the protection of society and victims rights. Other than the specific reference to spousal protection, every other amendment already exists in the current legislation. If the Reform Party feels that it is necessary to amend the legislation and make specific reference to the protection of spouses, then we will not oppose it.

The bill itself will provide for the establishment and operation of a program to enable certain persons to receive protection in relation to certain inquiries, investigations or prosecutions and to enable certain spouses whose life is in danger to receive protection.

The proposed legislation, like that of the current legislation, will protect those in society who are willing to come forward and testify against offenders who have the means to exact retribution from their accuser, even from a jail cell. The special mention of spouses recognizes a common occurrence that has affected spouses of the accused in a negative manner.

Presently the criminal code states that we cannot force someone to testify against his or her spouse. Rightly or wrongly, one could argue that this is one of the more noble sections of the criminal code. Still the section has created problems for the justice system and the spouse of an accused offender.

In many cases the spouse of an accused offender often possesses the most intimate knowledge with regard to the accused. Such knowledge often includes information that police and prosecutors need to obtain a conviction, yet spouses cannot be compelled to testify against each other. This limitation for prosecutors can create real problems in securing a conviction.

Bill C-223 recognizes that there are spouses who are willing to testify against their partners. It also recognizes that the testimony of spouses is often required to bring some of the country's most notorious criminals to justice. It also recognizes that many of these criminals have the means at their disposal to intimidate their spouse through threats of bodily harm, harm to their children, et cetera. This intimidation can be initiated by the accused or by supporters of the accused. The intimate knowledge that spouses have can also be used to the advantage of the accused. The accused involved in these kinds of cases often possess knowledge of many effective scare tactics to use on their spouse.

In an attempt to correct this longstanding problem, the witness protection program was created. Its role is to provide protection, a change of identity and location in exchange for testimony against a dangerous criminal. This protection is offered to everyone, including spouses. This is the reason I question the need to make amendments for the inclusion of spouses. They are already included. If the House feels that such an amendment is necessary, our party will not oppose it.

With regard to witness protection, we do not know much about the program other than the basic facts. The RCMP does not provide any more information than is required under Bill C-78 which was passed in 1996. This legislation set out clear rules for witness protection but in the interests of safety, required only the disclosure of basic data.

What we do know is that in trials where witness protection is needed, the testimony often comes from victims of the accused. Thus, the disclosure of more than the basic data could place at risk the lives of these people.

The witness protection program is not much of a reward for helping to place a criminal behind bars. However, through the valiant efforts of the RCMP in this secretive operation, the witnesses in this program are at least safe from criminal retribution. In recent years, thanks to the Liberals' soft approach to crime and the gouging of RCMP budgets, all aspects of crime prevention have suffered. This includes the witness protection program.

As Canadians are seeing the proliferation of criminal gangs across the country and increasing high tech crimes, drug smuggling and money laundering, we know that it is no longer the individual criminal who must be stopped but the entire organization to which the individual belongs.

Under the Liberal government, Canada has become a favourite home for organized crime. As I stated previously, when dealing with a criminal involved in organized crime, one deals with the entire organization. If a witness were to come forward to testify against the accused, he or she may suffer repercussions from the entire organization.

Unlike in the movies, the organized crime groups of today do not subscribe to any code of honour. In many cases if a person agrees to testify against one of their members, they will do their best to ensure that the person does not make it to the courtroom. Without witnesses, there is no case.

I feel that Bill C-223 helps bring attention to this fact but it would be easier to simply deal with the problem under the current act. Bill C-223 will change the name of the witness protection program to the witness and spousal protection program.

Similar to the current act, Bill C-223 will promote law enforcement by facilitating the protection of persons who are involved directly or indirectly in providing assistance in law enforcement matters where the witnesses and spousal witnesses believe on reasonable grounds that their lives are in danger due to their testimony.

The term spouse will include a former spouse and a person who has cohabited with another person in a conjugal relationship for a period of not less than one year. We agree that the term spouse must be liberally applied so as to offer protection to all those who could be adversely affected.

We also recognize that there will be those who will attempt to enter the program but do not need this sort of protection. Thus, before a witness or a spouse can be placed in this program, they must be recommended by a law enforcement agency and the commissioner of the program must review the recommendation.

Finally, an agreement has to be made between the witness or spouse and the commissioner setting out the obligations of both parties.

These are all positive steps but they already exist in the current legislation.

In the specific case of the spouse, section 7 of the act is amended to allow for the consideration of the following factors to determine whether a spouse should be admitted to the program:

(a) the nature of the risk to the security of the spouse;

(b) the nature of the injuries caused to the spouse or the severe psychological damage inflicted on the spouse by the other spouse and the criminal record, if any, of the other spouse;

(c) the circumstances that cause the spouse to believe that the spouse's life is in danger;

(d) alternate methods of protecting the spouse without admitting the spouse to the Program; and

(e) such other factors as the Commissioner deems relevant.

These are all sensible recommendations that I feel will protect those who need protecting while eliminating from the process those who would abuse it. Once again, I must state that the current legislation deals with such criteria for people in general.

Accountability is built into the selection process as it was in the previous legislation for cases of refusal. In these cases the commissioner shall provide the law enforcement agency with written reasons to enable the agency or witness or spouse to understand the basis for the decision.

To sum up, I would like to thank the member for Prince George—Peace River for bringing the bill forward. I feel that it is a good bill as it indirectly brings light to the lack of funding from the federal government for matters of public safety. It reinforces the existing efforts of law enforcement to ensure that witnesses will not be intimidated while performing their public duty. We must ensure that criminals cannot exert a negative influence on our courtrooms and on our society in general.

Bill C-223 does not change the existing legislation. Yet if the debate shows that the House is in favour of specific spousal protection, the PC Party will have no problem in supporting the bill.

Witness Protection Program ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of Bill C-223.

I congratulate my colleague from Prince George—Peace River for taking a leadership role in this very important issue. Like many of us, he has seen the result of spousal violence and it is a very sad thing indeed.

My colleague has brought this bill forward because this issue is not formalized within the current statutes of the land and therefore, people are falling between the cracks. Furthermore there is not an opportunity for people whose lives are being threatened and whose children's lives potentially are being threatened to be aware of and access this type of program. That is the only reason this bill is being put forth.

If the government is really interested in this as it has expressed today, then members should stand in the House and say they will support and enact the elements of Bill C-223 so that people who are living in fear for their lives will be protected.

The ad hoc situation right now is okay, but it is not entirely acceptable. There is much more that can be done and the bill enables us to do it.

This is an issue of the protection of innocent people. If a spouse is in fear of his or her life, we cannot empathize with the person unless we have been in such a situation to express stark terror.

My colleague who spoke earlier in the House mentioned her friend who travelled all over the world to get away from a spouse who was terrorizing her. Indeed she feared for her life. She had to go to China. She had to go to other parts of the world. She could not use a credit card. She could not even make a phone call back home because there was no way she could be protected in Canada. What a sad reflection on our laws that they cannot protect people and their children who are being subjected to this type of terror.

I also draw attention to an important issue that needs to be told. It is politically incorrect to say so but I think we need to talk about it. I am referring to the fact that spousal violence affects men and women. Clearly there are women who are violated, but there are also men who are violated. It is important to put it in the context of a genderless issue. Spousal violence is wrong regardless of who happens to be on either side. A man or a woman can be a victim and the assaulter can be a man or a woman. We have to bear that in mind so that we establish a series of laws that will be fair regardless of gender and that the issue can be based on the people involved.

I would also like to speak about how we can deal with preventing spousal violence. We do not mention heading it off at the pass. Right now police officers have a very difficult time protecting a person at home who is terrorized and whose life is in danger. Does somebody's jaw need to be broken or does somebody need to be assaulted in an egregious fashion or even killed before the police act? Currently all too often we find that issues of spousal violence are swept under the carpet and that not enough protection is given to the spouse involved.

Shelters exist to protect people, in this case it is usually women, but they are underfunded and there are not enough of them to handle the situation. Furthermore the Reform Party believes that the courts and the system in place now do not do enough to protect that person whose life is terrorized.

I also draw attention to something very exciting that I learned about recently, the issue of victims rights. Premier Harris is often accused of being a conservative person, somebody with whom we would see eye to eye on many principles as a provincial Conservative in Ontario. He is accused of not really caring and being right wing.

The office of the Attorney General of Ontario has set up, with Scott Newark and Sharon Rosenfeldt, the first victims rights element of an attorney general's office in the country. No other province has one and it is possible that no state in the United States has such an organization. Mr. Newark and Ms. Rosenfeldt are out there trying to ensure that victims rights are an integral element in the court system of Ontario.

I hope the government will work with the Attorney General of Ontario and in fact spread that message across the country so that people living in other provinces and territories will have an opportunity to have access to the benefit of what is going on in Ontario. It is very exciting. It will formalize and put victims rights into the courts system so that victims will finally have a place in the system, will have their rights protected, and will have access to the care and treatment they require when they engage in the rehabilitation their souls require after being victimized. It is a very constructive program. I would strongly encourage the government to take a look at it and spread the word to the other provinces.

Another issue raised earlier by one of my colleagues was that of the RCMP. The province of British Columbia has a very serious situation on its hands. Right now there is a severe lack of RCMP officers, as there are in other provinces. This situation will only get a lot worse in the future.

The population of RCMP officers is aging. When we look at the demands placed upon them and our needs in the future, we will have a shortfall far in excess of what we have today. This is a serious situation. How can we hope to be able to enforce the law if we do not have enough police officers out there to do the job?

The solicitor general has spoken about this matter from time to time, but we have not heard any constructive solutions that will enable the RCMP to get the resources or have the numbers in its ranks to do its job. That is not happening now. We would be happy to work with members on the other side to make it a reality for all Canadians.

Another issue I want to talk about is Correctional Service Canada. A serious issue in British Columbia was recently brought to my attention. Because of cost cutting, I would imagine, many or most of the anger management counsellors, psychologists, and such attached to the prisons are being replaced with correctional officers who have one or two weeks of training. Correctional officers do an excellent job, a difficult task at that, but they are not counsellors.

We are cutting our noses off to spite our faces. If we do not allow the penal system to have the anger management counsellors, the psychologists and the drug rehabilitation experts who deal with the people once they are in jail and with those factors that contributed to their coming in front of the judicial system, then those released from jail will be worse off than they when came in. We will be releasing people who have a much higher chance of engaging in another criminal act, only to be put through the courts again. Not only is this utterly expensive, but it is also inhuman to the Canadian public. It is unworkable.

Again I ask the Minister of Justice to work with the solicitor general and to work with their provincial counterparts, particularly those in the province of British Columbia, to make sure that we reverse this trend and that the correctional system will have the capability of hiring those people who are an essential part of the rehabilitation process.

The last issue I would like to address is the issue of organized crime. The Reform Party has been pushing the government for many years to take some immediate and urgent action to deal with organized crime. More than half the crime in the nation is related in some way to organized crime. An example of smuggling people was raised earlier, which is attached to organized crime. In many cases in British Columbia it is attached to Chinese gangs.

We hardly heard anything from the government on the issue of how to deal with organize crime. Again I ask the Minister of Foreign Affairs to work with the Minister of Justice to call together other nations in the world suffering from a similar problem to develop a rules based method and a system of attacking organized criminal syndicates which are multinational in nature.

Also on the issue of crime prevention I bring to the attention of the minister the head start program, which is exceptionally good at preventing crime, and the work of the National Crime Prevention Council.

In closing, I compliment the member for Prince George—Peace River for putting together Bill C-223. Members on the other side mentioned that they were sympathetic toward it. We ask that the government act and act now before more victims show up on our doorstep.

Witness Protection Program ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Erie—Lincoln Ontario


John Maloney LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am please to have the opportunity to address Bill C-223, an act to amend the witness protection program. I acknowledge the initiative of the member for Prince George—Peace River in bringing the issue before the House for consideration.

The bill seeks to address the protection of spousal abuse victims under the witness protection program. There is no doubt that the victims of spousal abuse are in an extremely difficult and sometimes even life threatening situation.

As all of us are aware most of the victims are women. Often their children are involved as well. Addressing their needs and ensuring their safety have involved many agencies in our communities: government and social services, law enforcement, and as voluntary and non-profit organizations.

While the federal government has an important role to play in this regard, it is my view that the safety of victims of spousal abuse will not be improved by going forward with the measures under Bill C-223 at this time.

In order to explain why Bill C-223 is not the right initiative let me first say a few words about the Canadian witness protection program. The program is managed by our national police force, the RCMP. It has become an important weapon in the law enforcement arsenal of investigative techniques. Its primary use has been to protect witnesses who may be at risk because they assisted with police investigations.

When it was formalized into legislation in 1996, it was enacted as a federal government initiative in partnership with provincial and territorial governments and law enforcement organizations to combat organized crime. Historically witness protection programs are most closely associated with the investigation of organized crime. As most of us know, organized crime covers a broad range of criminal activity, including large scale drug trafficking, murder, serious assault, money laundering and extortion, and robbery. As often as not, these crimes go hand in hand with the use of fear and intimidation to ensure the silence of potential witnesses and informants.

However, witness protection today has a broader application. A disturbing trend in recent years has been the use of fear and intimidation by lone criminals. These people are willing to go to any length to avoid conviction or to extract retribution from witnesses. As a consequence there are a growing number of people who need protection as a result of their roles in cases that have nothing to do with organized crime.

To deal with this growing need for witness and informant protection in response to the increased enforcement priority placed on fighting major national and international drug trafficking organizations, the RCMP source witness protection program was started in 1984. It was the forerunner of the legislative program now in place.

The current program offers protective services to provincial and municipal police forces across Canada. While many of these police forces rely entirely on the RCMP for witness protection services, some of the larger police departments also have their own witness protection initiatives. Obviously not every witness qualifies for witness protection despite numerous serious assaults that take place in Canada each year. The RCMP and other police forces must exercise care and good judgment when deciding who is eligible for witness protection and who is not.

Over the years witness protection programs of the RCMP and other police departments have become highly effective enforcement tools against criminals who previously were able to use threats and violence against witnesses as a means to avoid prosecution and conviction. Witnesses and informants who assist the police are an invaluable asset to the criminal justice system and in many cases their testimony cannot be replaced by any other investigative means.

This is especially true in drug enforcement. Here the availability of the RCMP witness protection program has prompted informants and witnesses to come forward to assist the police and to testify in court against major national and international drug traffickers. These witnesses have provided crucial firsthand information to further investigations which otherwise would have been obtained at considerable cost in police resources, human or otherwise, or not at all.

Major police investigations often require the police to use a wide variety of investigative techniques. A witness protection program is one of the most sensitive of these techniques. Witness protection is not a cure for violent crime or organized crime, but it is an important tool that is being used for law enforcement investigations, one that has been of major help to police in fighting organized and serious crime in Canada. For that reason I do not think the special needs of the victims of family violence would best be addressed by simply tacking spousal safety measures on to this law enforcement program as suggested by Bill C-223.

Family violence is more than just a law enforcement issue. While enforcement certainly plays a role in addressing the problem, family violence is a problem that Canadians have also addressed through social services such as counselling to ensure the well-being of spousal abuse victims and their families. A response of this kind is not within the normal domain of a police administered witness protection program.

The federal government currently addresses family violence through a number of programs in place. In addition, the national strategy on community safety and crime prevention has funded several community programs to address the problem. The federal government has renewed its commitment to reduce family violence in Canada. The family violence initiative promotes public awareness of the risk factors of family violence and the need for public involvement in responding to it.

The initiative has strengthened the ability of the criminal justice system and the housing system to respond. It supports data collection and research and evaluation efforts to identify effective interventions. It is an initiative that marks a new stage in federal efforts to reduce family violence. The issue of family violence has been integrated into ongoing programs in many government departments. We have learned that the best way to address family violence is to support a common vision and a co-ordinated approach.

This does not mean, of course, that we can ignore the very real security issues that arise in spousal abuse situations. These issues must be addressed as part of a co-ordinated approach.

I am pleased to say that there is, in fact, a national initiative in place to assist certain spousal abuse victims. It has been developed with provincial and territorial partners under the leadership and co-ordination of Human Resources Development Canada. The initiative is called the “New Identities Program” and it is for victims of life threatening relationships.

This initiative allows a chance for abused spouses and their children to start new lives in greater safety and security. Various measures taken under this process are designed to help remove those at risk from the access of their abusers and to ensure that their safety and security is maintained. It is, of course, a measure of last resort, since removal of the victims can create hardships on the victims themselves. It is only used in exceptional cases where other safety measures have been or will be inadequate.

Our present day responses to spousal abuse can always be improved, but I believe that the specific measures under Bill C-223 are not the best way to do this. While the proposals in Bill C-223 may appear to offer a response to the immediate security concerns of spousal abuse victims, it may not best serve their interests when there are other more appropriate and viable alternatives possible. These alternatives, which build on what is already in place, must be pursued.

Among the possible alternatives is that some future connection to the witness protection program may be considered. However, the various alternatives must be fully evaluated together and should be allowed to evolve out of the current spousal security measures.

We should not predetermine a single choice and implement it through an unco-ordinated mingling of different initiatives. Let us not forget the role of the provinces and territories in this matter. Providing support for victims of family violence includes important elements falling under provincial jurisdiction.

Provincial consultation and co-ordination are absolutely vital to the success of additional efforts in this area. Of course, we also cannot forget the needs and concerns of those who would be directly affected, the family violence victims themselves. Establishing a new identity is only part of the solution and it cannot be considered separately from other needs.

Human Resources Development Canada is taking steps to improve the new identities program. It has established a working group that includes the provinces and territories to examine possible changes and suggested improvements in consultation with victims' groups.

The federal government is seeking to improve Canada's response to family violence. We do that through our family violence initiative. We do it through our national strategy on community safety and crime prevention and we do it through what Human Resources Development Canada is doing right now.

I believe our best option is to let existing programs and processes continue their excellent work. We should support those efforts currently under way.

Witness Protection Program ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.


Val Meredith Reform South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that the government talks about these interesting programs. It is interesting that the Liberals have shown such concern for children in the Speech from the Throne. It is interesting that the government professes to be so concerned about women's issues.

Yet, we heard the government member say “Let the programs do their job. They are working well”. I would suggest that they are not working well because people do not even know these programs exist.

There were three issues that surprised me when I became a member of parliament six years ago which concern the number of individuals who have issues they cannot deal with and who have no idea where to go.

The first issue was that when people are being harassed and threatened by Revenue Canada, they have no idea how to fight the taxman. It is very difficult for most Canadians to use the very expensive court process and legal process to fight their own government.

The second issue was the number of concerned fathers who came to my office because they had lost access to their children. The courts would not recognize that they had any right to continue to be fathers and to have access to their children.

The third issue was the number of women who came into my office with horrific examples of what they had to put up with, and there was no protection for them from spousal abuse. A number of women had tried to use the legal process. A number of women had gone to court to get restraining orders. They found, usually through a violent episode, that restraining orders really do not mean a whole lot. Those restraining orders do not allow anybody to protect them from somebody physically threatening their life or abusing them physically.

The courts are not in a position through restraining orders to deal with this. The police are not in a position through restraining orders to deal with this. There is nothing in legislation that gives the courts or the police a way to offer these women and children a way out.

I am sure that I do not stand alone as a member of parliament in having these women and fathers come into my office. Some of the situations that the women find themselves in are horrific. One woman came in who had been stabbed seven times by her previous spouse. The court would not find that it was attempted murder. He was charged and convicted of assault. She could not even have him incarcerated for a long period of time to give her some freedom from worrying about her life and the lives of her children, because it was becoming threatening to them as well.

I do not know how many members of the House have heard stories of women who are trying to remove themselves from these situations, who are trying to find safe havens. Having gone on a ride along with the RCMP I know they do their best in driving by these safe homes for women, the hostels that are set up so that women have a place to go when they leave their homes. They have to find safe havens for themselves and their children in circumstances of abuse. I know that the police try their best.

However, in Montreal an ex-spouse actually went into a hostel, into a women's shelter, and shot his wife dead, so even those shelters cannot provide a safe haven for women who are afraid for their lives.

We had an incident in Vernon, B.C. where a spouse not only murdered his wife, but her whole family. I believe there were seven or eight people whom he managed to wipe out in that one event.

I have to ask myself why the government cannot see that until we have specific legislation that the courts can refer to, that the police community can refer to, there will not and cannot be a safe haven for women who are trying to remove themselves from this constant threat of violence.

Can a government that professes to be so concerned about the children of Canada not realize that with these women are usually children, children who may have been abused by their fathers or mothers, and if not abused then they are certainly part of this threat of violence to their mothers, this threat of death to their mothers? These children are being uprooted and moved from community to community. They cannot stay in the same school for any length of time. They cannot keep the same friends. They may not even be allowed to have an association with their extended families. They live in a constant state of fear and mobility. For a government that is so concerned about the welfare of the children of this country, we would think that it would see the need to have some statutory protection, some vehicle by which the courts and the police community could direct women who are in such fear for their lives.

This is not something that women would do or that families would do for a lark. For people to give up their security within a family unit must be very, very hard indeed. They give up the stability of that history. They do not have a background to fall back on. They give up their identity. For people to give up these things for long periods of time cannot be easy. This is not something that would be abused. This is something that would be used as a very last resort by persons who have no other options.

I do not see why it should be so daunting for the government to consider a legislative remedy to protect women and children. Perhaps some men might be in the same position, but I think we all recognize that the majority of people who may find themselves in this position are women and possibly the children with them. I am sure that most members in the House have examples to support why this bill is badly needed by society.

As in most cases, the government is reluctant to take a bold step forward. It says that we cannot use the witness protection program because it is outside the limits and because witness protection is used to further the investigative arm of the police department. Why can that not be changed?

Why can the aspect of protection programs not be expanded to recognize that there are more people in society who may need protection, who may need identity changes and the start of a new life than people who are going to be ratting on someone in a court of law? Why can it not be expanded? The government has expanded other legislation to broaden its dimensions. Why can the legislation not be broadened?

We have heard that the government feels that the program, which is a joint program between the Minister of Finance and, I believe, human resources, is working just fine. I suggest that it is not working just fine. Most women who are afraid for their lives do not know about the program. How are they supposed to find out about it? The police do not even know about it.

I have talked to the prosecutor's office in Surrey. There are working groups that are trying to deal with this issue. I do not recall hearing this program mentioned.

The people who are trying to find an answer for women who are in distress and who are looking for a safe haven do not know about the program and the police departments are not aware of it. Therefore how can they refer families to it? How can the people who are looking for answers and help know about it?

If the government is serious about protecting the children and women who are fearful for their lives, then the government has the responsibility to do something about it. And it should not just study it for another 10 or 15 years.

Witness Protection Program ActPrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.


Eric C. Lowther Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will use the two minutes remaining to quickly clarify some of the things that were spoken about this afternoon.

There has been some discussion about whether or not we need this bill. Let me clarify what the hon. member from Prince George is attempting to to with the bill.

This bill on the RCMP witness protection program serves as a last ditch safety net for spouses in cases where counselling and criminal law measures have proved ineffective, with the result that their very lives are in danger. Special protection is allowed for witnesses who are in jeopardy because of involvement in police activity but interestingly enough, we do not have any vehicle for spouses to access that same protection. We can protect witnesses but not spouses who are subject to violent abuse. The addition in this bill would allow spouses to access that kind of protection.

I appeal to the House. We have heard some people say that we do need this bill and others say we do not need it. Clearly we do need it and I support the bill. The best thing we can do when this comes to a vote, which it will, is to pass the bill, get it into committee and get this clarified so that we do not leave the door open for more harm and damage to families and spouses.

Witness Protection Program ActPrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Calgary Centre will have approximately eight minutes when next the bill comes to the House.

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

It being 2.31 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday next at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2.30 p.m.)