Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in this debate and to follow the remarks of the hon. member. She obviously has a great deal of insight into this issue.
It is fair to say it is a very significant and timely issue when we are speaking of victims rights. Sadly our news is often filled with tragedies involving victims. I speak of most recently the Kosovars who find themselves displaced because of an extremely cruel and malicious government. I speak of the victims in the Littleton, Colorado tragedy and those in Taber, Alberta. I speak of victims like Sheldon Kennedy. I speak of victims like those in the Toronto Maple Leaf Gardens scandal.
Our news is often filled with heart-wrenching tragedies that surround victims and their lives. There is certainly a highlighted need for legislative initiatives that address these types of issues.
As is stated in the report itself and in its title which is quite appropriately “A Voice, Not a Veto”, victims are not looking to upset the balance that has to exist and the implicit degree of fairness that the scales of justice represent. The victims are not looking for an ability to overturn the rights of presumption of innocence or in any way to offset the entire justice system in terms of how they deal with an accused person in the first instance.
There is a need however that victims have to seek recognition and at times retribution from those who prey upon them. I feel this legislation moves forward but does not go as far as it possibly could or should. However it takes a significant step forward and there is that recognition that is ever present and ever important in our justice system.
We have seen in many instances the prosecution of cases that take a tremendous amount of time. Delay is often described as the deadliest form of denial. Victims need to have an assurance that justice will be done in a timely fashion and in such a way that they feel the state has intervened appropriately and in a way that is compassionate and understanding not only of the strict, sanitized, sterile legal necessities, but of those humane aspects that are involved in criminal activity and victimization. There is a need to give that assurance and the legislation makes strides in that direction.
The Progressive Conservative Party wholeheartedly supports this legislation. We were active in the round table that took place last summer. We were active at the committee with respect to the study of this legislation. Numerous witnesses gave their testimony in a very forthright and succinct way. They cried out for change and cried out for a law that will perhaps streamline our justice system.
There is the ever present need to get away from lengthy bureaucratic and sometimes cumbersome language that pollutes our Criminal Code and much of the legislation we deal with particularly when it comes to matters of criminal justice. Because of the lengthy delays that are often involved, justice in the end is denied if it is not brought forward.
That is what members of the opposition and members of the Progressive Conservative Party were trying to do when amendments were moved this morning. I resent in some way the suggestion that it was anything other than a sincere attempt to improve this legislation. There was no disingenuous intent whatsoever in trying to define the language that will eventually be in the hands of the courts and the prosecution and the defence. It was simply an attempt to simplify and to put a more succinct definition forward when it comes to the implementation of some of the changes we will see as a result of Bill C-79.
There is one other glaring omission that I have to point out with respect to Bill C-79. It is the refusal of the Minister of Justice and the government itself to acknowledge the need for a victims ombudsman office. The office would be modelled on that of the correctional investigator.
I find it more than perverse that we have an office budgeted for the sole needs and protection and furtherance of criminals who are currently paying their debt to society incarcerated behind bars. I am not saying they do not need that protection at times, but we do not have a similar office set up for those who are victimized by those same individuals who are currently incarcerated. I find that an affront to everything that is true about our justice system.
There has been some discussion about the need for this and although I believe the Minister of Justice does have some sensitivity and fairness to this and although I believe the late Shaughnessy Cohen also supported the government's moving in this direction, we have not reached that point. I believe it was a missed opportunity under this legislation.
Politicians sometimes get bogged down with the legalities and politics of an issue and forget the human side. As an overall statement it is fair to say that the debates surrounding this legislation both in committee and here on the floor of the House of Commons have been fairly non-partisan in nature.
Bill C-79 is an attempt to give recognition to and to change and enhance some of the current laws, particularly when it comes to issues such as victim impact statements. As has been previously enunciated by other members, these statements are a very important part of the healing process and a part of the codified recognition victims play in a courtroom. It is an opportunity for them to speak directly to the judge, to all present, and equally important, to the accused. At the end of the day when a conviction has been rendered on the perpetrator in the matter, it is an attempt for the victim in some small way to put into words what the victim's ordeal has been. I suspect that for many this is a very important part of the healing process.
With all of that said, there are other problems in the justice system we are currently aware of that impact directly on victims. Some of those problems stem from areas outside of this particular legislative scheme.
I am speaking now of the difficulty within Correctional Service Canada. We know a very dangerous and insidious plan has been put forward and perpetrated on an unsuspecting public. I am talking about the 50% release plan that was dreamed up by some genius to see that 50% of the current inmate population is released back into society by next year.
It is a very dangerous thing when quotas are put in place and targets are put forward. One would suspect this to override the existing legislative safeguards, the existing criteria to be met in the decision on whether a person will be released from incarceration, particularly when one looks at the degree of violence and often the lengthy accumulation of a violent record that it takes for a person to eventually be found incarcerated in a federal institution.
I realize that is somewhat outside the gamut or the scope of what we are discussing today but it is something I find to be extremely alarming. It impacts on victims. We know the victim's plight does not end after a conviction has been rendered. It does not end after the person who has preyed upon the victim has been incarcerated. It continues.
Unfortunately there is an unbreakable link between a victim and the person who has perpetrated violence or some form of an injustice upon them. That link remains. It is not one the victim asked for or certainly desired but it is there and it is often lifelong and life altering.
Victims are spouses, children, parents, siblings and those not only affected in a direct physical way by the violence but the members of a family who are often left suffering in the wake of a direct attack on a loved one. They can also benefit from victims services and improvements in legislation that can impact directly on the delivery of victims services.
I refer to my comments about the need for a victims ombudsman office where direct information could be disseminated to victims, to those persons in need of information. It has been pointed out time and time again that one of the real downfalls of our justice system is our inability to get this information into the hands of those who need it most and those who wish to be informed and those who wish to be forewarned of the release of a person from incarceration.
With proper amendments, improvements could be made to this bill. However because of the need to bring it forward with the steps that have been taken, the Conservative Party will be supporting this bill when it comes to a vote in the House.
Our party certainly supports the entrenching of the victim surcharge that will be brought about as a result of this legislation. The fact that there will be financial compensation will never fully compensate a person for a crime that has been perpetrated, but it will at least be some recognition that a crime has been committed which has impacted upon a person. Although it does not compensate for the emotional and sometimes physical harm, it is a recognition that there is a loss. Sometimes a dollar figure will not be adequate but at least it is a recognition.
It is the hope of the Conservative Party, in fact I suggest the hope of all members, that this money will not be eaten up or misdirected in terms of cumbersome administration, but that the legislation will ensure that the money is in the hands and the pockets of those directly affected by criminal activity.
There is much to talk about in the area of victims and victims rights and the ability to bring victims into a system that is often very insensitive and sometimes very sterile when it comes to the approach taken to those who are most directly affected. However, in the interest of balance and the interest of protecting the integrity of the system, one has to be very leery of putting too much in motion. I am sometimes reticent to say that because this is a very emotional issue.
We heard testimony time and time again before the committee from victims themselves, from parents, and from those affected by the perpetration of crime. There is no denying that it is a very emotional issue. However, in the courtroom there is an attempt to sometimes remove or ignore the emotion in the interest of getting to the truth of the matter and moving a case through the court in perhaps a more timely fashion.
I would not say the bill was the brain child of any one particular person or any one party, but Shaughnessy Cohen's name is very closely associated with this government initiative, and rightly so. She worked as a crown prosecutor in the city of Windsor and was obviously an advocate of victims. It is very important that her name be inextricably attached to this legislative initiative.
The position of my party with respect to victims has been unwavering. In 1997 the election platform of the Conservative Party proposed the creation of a victims charter of rights. This is again not a new initiative, not something that one party can claim ownership of, but it is a recognition that certain inalienable rights have to be entrenched in our law to ensure that victims are protected.
There are very positive aspects of the bill with respect to the publication of the name of a victim or witness. Those initiatives are there for the protection of identity. They make very clear that victims oftentimes are in great jeopardy if their names are known publicly or published through some form of media. Protection and the ability to put into the hands of the court the tools to protect those whose names if published would be vulnerable is a very important initiative.
There is a great deal of jargon associated with the practice of law. Victims need information, particularly in matters such as parole ineligibility or eligibility and court proceedings. There is a significant effort now to ensure that the victim is given basic information on where they sit in a courtroom, what the proceedings mean, and what certain references and legal terms mean.
Victims services throughout the provinces will be enhanced by some of the initiatives in Bill C-79. In the constituency of Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough in my home province of Nova Scotia there are those who are currently involved in victims services. There are working very diligently and will be very thankful for this legislation. I am speaking of individuals like Judy Whitman, Coreen Popowich and many others involved in the furthering of victims rights.
This evening in Nova Scotia I am attending a fundraising event for the Tearmann society located in New Glasgow. It is a home for battered women. Once again I will be very pleased to bring word on the bill moving forward through the House in the fashion we have seen.
I do not have any further negative comments to make other than the fact that the legislation before us today is long overdue. The provinces have some concerns with respect to the consultation process, but we understand like others and like those who have spoken previously that any step forward is seen as a positive step. It is something that we do not intend in any way to hinder. We are trying to move it forward as quickly as possible.
Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario have increased the funding to victims services. If there is any other shortcoming it would be that the government has not necessarily provided the significant resources required for the implementation of some of the programs that will stem from the legislation. As well, the federal government should now be perhaps looking specifically at funding some of these programs and avoiding duplication with the provinces, which is again something that all of us would be very reticent if we did not point it out.
The Young Offenders Act has been revised and the new youth criminal justice act will be coming into effect at some point, I suspect in the fall of the coming year. It is very important that there be an attempt made to ensure that these two pieces of legislation work in unison. I am speaking now of the areas of victims services and their administration and the costs associated with victims who are preyed upon by violent youth.
Sadly, without getting into a long diatribe about the new youth criminal justice system, I am reticent to say that much of the need that has been identified time and time again in the shortcomings of the old youth justice act will not be met by the new legislation.
With respect to victim surcharges and with respect to the identification and protection of victims, these legislative initiatives will attach to the new youth criminal justice system and must be viewed in a positive light.
We have heard a number of graphic examples not only in the House but through the media. At committee level we have heard horror stories about individuals who were crying out for the attention and protection of this place through legislation: the courts that inevitably interpret and decide much of the law and our law enforcement agencies and our frontline workers like children's aid and social services, those tasked with the very weighty and sometimes extremely difficult task of delivering services. It is somewhat sad that we do not see a greater emphasis and a greater amount of priority placed on individuals on the frontline and in the trenches of the administration of laws such as Bill C-79.
To its credit the government has brought forward the legislation through the co-operation of members of the House and members of the committee. There are very positive initiatives that come from it. I know that victims advocates and victims themselves will be benefiting from the legislation when it becomes incorporated.
The Conservative Party of Canada continues in its commitment to furthering the rights of victims, to furthering the rights of those who are downtrodden in our justice system generally and are looking for positive change, in a non-partisan fashion.
I congratulate all those who have been involved in moving the legislation forward. We look forward to continued attempts to bring forward these types of positive initiatives. I caution the government that if this is not happening, through the diligence of this party we will try to bring these matters forward to ensure that Canadians get the protection they need, deserve and should expect from their government.