Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to enter the debate on Bill C-33, the international transfer of offenders act.
The founding purpose of the Transfer of Offenders Act , or TOA, is essentially humanitarian. It authorizes Canada to implement treaties with other nations for the return of offenders to their countries of citizenship while still under a sentence for a conviction in a foreign state.
The TOA allows Canada to enforce foreign sentences of Canadian offenders transferred to Canada. This is particularly important where foreign standards of justice and conditions of confinement impose severe hardships on Canadians.
The Transfer of Offenders Act came into force in 1978 following a United Nations meeting at which member states agreed that international transfers were desirable in light of increasing global mobility of individuals and the need for countries to cooperate on criminal justice matters.
The act is based on the humanitarian principle of returning foreign offenders to their home countries to serve their sentences. It authorizes the implementation of international transfer treaties for this purpose.
Since the act's proclamation, Canada has ratified bilateral treaties with countries such as the United States in 1978, Mexico in 1979, Peru in 1980, France in 1984, Bolivia in 1985, Thailand in 1988, Venezuela in 1996, Morocco in 1998, Brazil in 1998 and Egypt in 2000. Negotiations are ongoing to enact treaties with many other countries.
Under the act Canada is also a party to three multilateral conventions, the Council of Europe Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, 1983, the Scheme for the Transfer of Convicted Offenders within the Commonwealth, 1990, and the Inter-American Convention on Serving Criminal Sentences Abroad, 1993, which allow for transfers between Canada and over 40 countries.
Canadians incarcerated in foreign countries often find themselves facing serious problems coping with local conditions. Cultures are different. There are language barriers. Diets may be poor and there can be inadequate medical care and rampant disease in prisons.
In some countries it is even common practice for the family to be responsible for providing food, clothing and items for personal hygiene. A Canadian serving a sentence under such conditions would be doubly punished by not having access to the basic necessities of life.
Consular officials provide all the assistance they can, but their ability to help is often limited to ensuring that the offender's rights under local laws are protected. Clearly, some of these jurisdictions in some of these places are rural and there may not necessarily always be consular officials close at hand. That is another reason people would find themselves very much isolated in a foreign country.
In addition, offenders imprisoned far from home are isolated from their families and access to the communities to which they will one day return.
The legislation before us today updates the 1978 legislation. It brings it in line with established treaty principles and recognizes current international conditions. In the years since the legislation was passed, only minor technical amendments have been made. But as we all know, the world has changed and we have obligations to ensure that our laws keep pace with the new realities.
At the same time, these proposals will ensure that Canadians who are transferred under the TOA and related instruments will be treated fairly and equitably, according to Canadian values and legal principles, while not being allowed to escape accountability for their offences committed on foreign soil.
To this end, principles that are now expressed only in treaties will be captured in the international transfer of offenders act to ensure that they are respected in future treaties and in individual cases.
One of these principles is the non-aggravation of a sentence. A transfer cannot be used to increase the punishment that has been handed down by a foreign court. Treaties generally provide that the receiving state shall not interfere with a finding of guilt and sentence imposed by the sentencing state. Where modifications in sentence administration need to be made in order to comply with domestic legislation, on no account must the transfer result in aggravation of the length of a sentence. This legislation will reflect this important obligation.
Another important principle is dual criminality. That means an offender can only be transferred if the act for which he or she is sentenced is considered to be criminal both in the country where he or she is convicted and in Canada. We do not incarcerate people in Canada for certain things that are considered illegal in other countries. One example would be adultery. While hardly admirable behaviour, we in Canada do not imprison people for adultery. We would therefore not imprison someone who was found guilty of adultery in another country.
This legislation also clarifies issues related to consent. All parties to an international transfer must consent. The country where the person was sentenced has the right to be aware of how the sentence will be served. The receiving country must of course consent to take over the administration of a sentence. In Canada this also means that where a sentence is to be administered by provincial authorities, they must consent as well. The offender has the right to consent to be transferred to his home country knowing how that sentence will be administered.
This brings to mind another critical element, which is ensuring that offenders are aware of their right to access a transfer. Foreign citizens must be informed of the existence of an international transfer treaty between Canada and their country of origin. This legislation will require that correctional authorities inform foreign national offenders of their rights under any treaty.
This legislation serves two purposes. It is humanitarian and it also helps to protect the public. Being humane to offenders is not universally accepted. But I would remind everyone of the outcry that takes place when we realize that Canadians are being ill treated due to harsh conditions in the prisons in many countries not as enlightened or as fortunate as we are in Canada.
To enhance its humanitarian nature, the legislation will extend the scope of possible transfers to include young offenders serving community sentences. The current act allows for the transfer of young offenders in custody, but not ones serving community sentences, whereas adult offenders serving both types of sentences may be transferred. This is an anomaly which will be addressed by this legislation.
In addition, the proposal will allow for transfer of children under the age of 12. In many countries children can be held criminally responsible at very young ages. This legislation will allow a child to be returned to Canada but, in keeping with Canadian values and standards, such a child would not be imprisoned.
A further expansion will allow for the transfer of mentally disordered offenders. In this case they could be returned to Canada and dealt with by the mental health system.
These categories of offenders are not currently covered, but we need to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens have the opportunity to be repatriated to Canada.
Recognizing the role of the provinces in dealing with these categories of offenders, the legislation ensures that they have the right to consent to such transfers. Consultations took place with all provinces and they agree with the amendments that are being proposed in this legislation.
An important aspect of the proposals is the recognition that people may be incarcerated in areas where treaties do not currently exist. This legislation will allow the transfer of offenders on an ad hoc basis.
This is important as the negotiation of a treaty may take years and we do not want our citizens languishing in harsh conditions of confinement far from their homes and families while a treaty is being negotiated. To deal with these situations, the international transfer of offenders act will permit the negotiation of an ad hoc arrangement on a case by case basis with a foreign state to allow transfers to take place.
This legislation will allow for transfers to take place with countries or regions that are not recognized as states, such as Taiwan and Hong Kong. The dissolution of the USSR and Yugoslavia highlight the problems in dealing with territories or jurisdictions not yet recognized as foreign states. Several years may pass before the jurisdictions are firmly recognized as foreign states. In the interim, Canada cannot enter into a treaty with them. Canadians incarcerated in these jurisdictions and vice versa are not eligible to apply for an international transfer.
I mentioned earlier that the purpose of the act included public safety. I would like to speak to that issue for a moment.
By allowing offenders to serve their sentences in Canada, they can be gradually released into the community under supervision and control with appropriate assistance and support. Otherwise these offenders would simply be deported at the end of their sentences and arrive in Canada without our having any authority to monitor or control their behaviour.
What happens if the transfer treaty is not used is that the foreign state will often deport the offender back to their country of origin, in that case Canada, at some point. The offender will arrive in Canada and there is no record of his or her conviction nor any legal means of ensuring that he or she is required to serve the balance of the sentence either in an institution or in the community.
By using a transfer, the offender returns to Canada to serve the sentence here. Correctional authorities will have the ability to carry out the foreign sentence in accordance with the way all other sentences are administered here. It also allows us to ensure the safe reintegration of the offender back into the community under supervision.
A Canadian offender returned to Canada will be subject to the same conditions as all other offenders, including having access to treatment programs that will reduce the risk of future reoffending and thus protect our citizens. Canada is well respected for its treatment programs in federal institutions, many of which are accredited by an international panel. This is surely preferable to having someone dumped back in the country with no resources to assist their adjustment back into society.
As I noted, Canada has concluded a number of bilateral treaties and multilateral conventions on the transfer of offenders. In the United States, in addition to the federal authorities, 45 states accede to transfer of offender treaties with Canada. These proposals will enhance Canada's ability to cooperate internationally in the area of criminal justice, particularly with regard to sentence enforcement.
This is not a one way street. Just as Canadian offenders can return to this country to serve their sentences, foreign nationals can also be returned to their countries to serve their sentences. Again, this will allow them to serve their sentences in a place that is culturally appropriate to them and to have access to their families and communities.
This is good legislation that meets important needs. It will bring the existing legislation up to date and reflect important principles of transfer treaties. It will allow Canada to respond to the needs of its citizens who are convicted in other countries and must serve sentences in sometimes extremely harsh conditions.
As I mentioned, while the legislation is predominantly humanitarian, it also serves an important public safety role by requiring offenders to serve out their sentences ordered by a foreign court within Canada.
It is very important that the parole system and those kinds of extensions of the correctional service system are utilized. The statistics are very clear in Canada that offenders who do not go through that process escape monitoring, which sometimes leads to serious consequences for some of our citizens. I think it is important for that to be the foundation of the legislation.
I also ask members to think of the families of those who are incarcerated outside of Canada. The hardship faced by offenders serving sentences in foreign countries is only surpassed by the hardship faced by the families who must worry about their survival.
I urge the speedy passage of the legislation.