Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to participate in the discussion of the government's initiative to update the Transfer of Offenders Act. It is somewhat surprising that we are continuing to debate on this matter, as the proposals appear to be both necessary and straightforward. Nonetheless, I have reviewed the speeches of the hon. members opposite to see if the concerns they have raised are valid. Those that are well founded could be instructive to the parliamentary Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in conducting a closer examination of these measures when we pass them along.
As I have said, Bill C-33 is also important and necessary but routine legislation. Transfers between Canada and other countries are not numerous. Every year about 85 Canadians are transferred to Canada under a treaty or a multilateral convention for transfers of offenders. However, the comfort that transfers provide to offenders and their families and the greater opportunity that is given to offenders to be safely and gradually reintegrated into their communities by being allowed to serve their foreign sentence in their home country cannot be denied. It will impact upon the international correctional and criminal justice communities in positive ways in which we as Canadian legislators can take pride.
The proposals continue the spirit of the original Transfer of Offenders Act in applying the rule of law in a balanced way. The new act will respect foreign laws and practices while holding up an example of fairness and humanity. It will not, I must emphasize, alter the Canadian correctional system. Members of the official opposition seem to see any initiative involving corrections as a threat to their blanket, get tough approach to all offenders. While the measures currently before us have nothing to do with the administration of sentences in Canada, these hardliners insist, against all evidence provided by thorough research, that longer sentences served in more punitive conditions will somehow turn offenders into productive citizens.
In their recent remarks, they appear to be saying that it would be somewhat beneficial to society if Canadians who are convicted of offences abroad are forced to serve out their sentences in foreign jails where conditions may be inhumane. I must ask them how exactly the denial of transfer of offenders to the Canadian system, where they may benefit from programming, guidance and family support, would better serve Canadians than the return of these offenders, uncontrolled and untreated at the end of their foreign sentences.
The proposed bill maintains most of the purposes and principles of the Transfer of Offenders Act as proclaimed in 1978. Upon due consideration, it might be seen that it is more comprehensive than its predecessor in dealing with a variety of circumstances not foreseen when the original statute was drawn up.
It is apparent from the remarks that my hon. colleagues are confusing extradition and deportation with transfers under the Transfer of Offenders Act. That is why I think that at this juncture it is important to explain the differences.
Extradition can be defined as the giving up of a person by a state where he or she is present at the request of another state where the person is accused of having committed or has been convicted of a crime. International law has developed this procedure as a means of extraditing fugitives from justice to the requesting state to be tried or punished for crimes they have committed against its laws.
Extradition to or from Canada is carried out under the Extradition Act. In most circumstances, extradition is not an alternative to transfer under the Transfer of Offenders Act. The person is not necessarily an offender or a foreign citizen of a country where he or she is present, but rather is simply wanted by another jurisdiction for the purpose of criminal proceedings or enforcement of a sentence.
Deportation involves the removal of a non-Canadian citizen from Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. A non-Canadian citizen serving a custodial sentence in Canada for a crime committed in Canada may be deported to his or her country of citizenship if the requirements of the act are met.
Additionally, the offender cannot be deported until the sentence is completed or deemed completed by the way of release on full parole or statutory release. This process is an alternative to the proceedings under the Transfer of Offenders Act. However, unlike offenders transferred under the Transfer of Offenders Act, deported offenders are not subject to the Canadian sentence upon return to their country of citizenship. As such, risk management and gradual reintegration of the offender into the home community do not apply to deportation cases. This is why transfers of offenders under the Transfer of Offenders Act are generally considered preferable to deportation.
The Transfer of Offenders Act came into force in 1978. Only technical amendments have been made to the act since that time. There was a need to identify substantive issues and find ways to address them.
As a result, federal officials carried out consultations with 91 private sector and government agencies and then conducted a thorough review of the Transfer of Offenders Act. The review and consultations gave rise to proposals to amend the act that would incorporate traditional international treaty principles, close identified gaps in the act and ensure agreement with other legislative provisions and improve efficiencies.
All treaties that Canada has signed reflect the principles of verified consent. For example, most treaties include a standard provision that requires the sentencing state to give the receiving state an opportunity to verify, prior to the transfer, that the offender's consent is given voluntarily. This is important because, as I said earlier, the prospects of an offender's reintegration into the community would likely be compromised if he or she did not willingly transfer. This is why Bill C-33 would set out the requirement that all reasonable steps be taken to determine whether an offender's consent has been given voluntarily.
Also, treaties signed by Canada reflect certain obligations which are considered essential from a legal perspective. For example, treaties generally include a requirement that countries inform foreign nationals in their respective jurisdictions of the existence and substance of a treaty. This duty is linked to the principles of natural justice and is fundamental to give effect to the treaty. Without knowledge about a treaty, the offender would not be in a position to request a transfer to his or her home country.
Currently, there is no legislation to compel Canada to meet this obligation with respect to foreign citizens sentenced in Canada. To address this gap, Bill C-33 would require that a foreign offender under federal or provincial jurisdiction be informed of the existence and substance of an international transfer treaty between Canada and the offender's country of citizenship.
The rule of dual criminality is satisfied where an act is criminal in one state and has the same general qualification in the other. This is the rule of customary international law and a requirement of most treaties signed by Canada because the enforcement of a foreign sanction for an offence that does not exist in Canada such as adultery could violate essential constitutional principles or contravene protected fundamental human rights. Bill C-33 would set out dual criminality as a condition of transfer.
Continued enforcement, which is recognized in most transfers of offenders treaties, is a method used to make foreign sentences compatible with domestic ones. It is an administrative procedure which allows continuing the enforcement of a foreign sentence in the receiving state according to its domestic laws. This means that although the receiving state is bound by the legal nature and duration of the foreign sentence, the receiving state's conditional release rules apply to the offender. For example, an offender serving a determinate foreign offence in Canada could be eligible for parole after having served one-third of the sentence. Bill C-33 would explicitly incorporate this important procedure in the new international transfer of offenders act.
Currently, there is no legislation requiring that a foreign offender in Canada be informed of the decision not to grant his or her request to transfer to his or her home country. It is vital that the offender be advised of the reasons of a negative decision and given the opportunity to present observations to have the decision reversed. By setting out this requirement, Bill C-33 would ensure consistency with the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, the common law “duty to act fairly” and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
No provision is made in the current Transfer of Offenders Act or any other Canadian statute for the international transfer of persons adjudged not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder or unfit to stand trial. Bill C-33 would address this issue by authorizing the negotiation of administrative arrangements with the authorities of a foreign state for the transfer of mentally disordered persons to and from Canada. This change would also further the humanitarian purpose of the transfer of offenders scheme, and provide an example of enlightened practice to other countries. Further, Bill C-33 would ensure that due deference is shown to our provincial partners by making it clear that their consent would be required in all cases under their jurisdiction over mentally disordered persons.
The harshness of imprisonment is greater for citizens incarcerated overseas. At times, correctional systems abroad are ill-adapted to advance the goals of reintegrating foreign offenders into society. In many instances, foreign states cannot accommodate basic needs such as the practice of religion or family contacts.
The government is making every effort to obtain humane treatment for its citizens incarcerated abroad. Such efforts are consistent with the policy of protecting and promoting human rights in Canada and the international community. By providing for the negotiation and implementation of administrative arrangements in addition to regular treaties, Bill C-33 would further contribute to the promotion of human rights. Moreover, there is no doubt that by broadening the category of states and non-state entities with which Canada could transfer offenders, Bill C-33 would better serve the objectives of public protection through rehabilitation and cooperation between states in the enforcement of sentences.
There are many facets to these measures that I have characterized as straightforward. There are other aspects of Bill C-33 to explore but I believe that we have been quite thorough in our consideration of the proposals, and should now leave these matters to the parliamentary standing committee.