Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-33, an act to implement treaties and administrative arrangements on the international transfer of persons found guilty of criminal offences.
On behalf of the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, in whose name I am making these comments today because he could not be present, we will support the bill in principle, but closer examination will have to take place on the bill.
As with all legislation that passes through the chamber, there is always room for improvement.
As a party, we have clearly stated that we are not opposed to the proposal in the bill and at this stage we can support it in principle. However we are cognizant of the fact that changes to the legislation will be needed. There can be no doubt that we will introduce amendments to the legislation at committee stage.
I am disturbed by the lack of consideration the government has given to victims of offenders. I would draw members' attention to clause 8 of the legislation which seeks to ensure the consent of those involved in a transfer.
Subclause 8(1) defines the parties involved as “the offender, the foreign entity and Canada” but it does not mention victims.
Once again the government has done everything possible to ensure the rights of the criminal but nothing to denote the importance of the victim.
All too often government seems more concerned with the incarcerated than with those who have suffered at their hands. At the very least, the minister should be directed to consider the wishes of the victims, or their families, when instituting the initial stages of a transfer.
Official recognition of those who have been wronged should be included in the bill, and the portion of the legislation that deals with consent actually presents the obvious opportunity to do so.
The general perception out there of our correction system is that it is soft on criminals, and this impression is not without merit. In fact, there have been a number of extremely high profile cases in which offenders have been released early on parole only to reoffend, committing the most heinous of crimes.
As of this time last year, the government was facing over 30 lawsuits based on cases where offenders had been released early only to reoffend almost immediately.
While this does not speak directly to the bill before us now, it should be put on the record that the government is willing to spend over $100 million a year on a long gun registry that does not save lives, yet remains remiss in establishing a victims' rights office.
Not only does the legislation completely ignore the rights of the victims and their families, but it allows the offender the ability to stop the transfer should he or she not wish to be moved.
Subclause 8(2) states:
A foreign offender—and, subject to the laws of the foreign entity, a Canadian offender—may withdraw their consent at any time before the transfer takes place.
This could present long term problems for our already overburdened correction system. It is hard to imagine someone facing a life sentence for murder in this country who would want to be transferred to a prison in a foreign land where the conditions of incarceration may not be as desirable.
When discussing this clause the minister stated:
The prospects for an offender's successful institutional adjustment, rehabilitation and community reintegration would likely be compromised if an offender were forced to transfer against his or her will.
Again I would draw attention to the fact that the government seems overly concerned with the rights of the offender. While all benefit when rehabilitation occurs, we have to recognize that in some cases the goal of rehabilitation is not attainable and we must therefore concentrate our efforts on the protection of society.
If we are to consider the rights of the offender, at the very least we should give equal weight to the rights of the victim and his or her family.
On the surface, setting up legislation that would allow for a quick transfer of Canadian criminals abroad to serve their time in our own institutions does not seem to be without its merit. I would like to draw to the attention of the House clause 33, which defines what a foreign entity is. The clause reads:
In sections 31 and 32, “foreign entity” means a foreign state, a province, state or other political subdivision of a foreign state, a colony, dependency, possession, protectorate, condominium, trust territory or any territory falling under the jurisdiction of a foreign state or a territory or other entity, including an international criminal tribunal.
What this clause does is attempt to define any and all entities which Canadian officials may or may not be interacting with in terms of seeking a transfer. This clause is defining the definition of acceptable authorities with which the Minister of Foreign Affairs can deal in terms of seeking a transfer. However, it is clauses 31 and 32 that compel the minister to act.
Clauses 31 and 32 essentially provide the minister with the ability to supersede the recognized authority of a sovereign state should he or she find a willing accomplice at a local or what we may term a municipal level, should that country not have an official agreement with our country.
To clarify that point, this legislation allows the Minister of Foreign Affairs to enter into an administrative arrangement with a foreign entity for the transfer of an offender in accordance with the act. The ability of one person to interact in an official capacity with another official from another country is one which should be closely looked at. Upon cursory examination, it seems this legislation gives the minister an unprecedented, unbalanced amount of power.
I cannot stress enough the importance the nature of the offence carries in terms of what is acceptable or unacceptable. In order to fully comprehend what it is that needs to be done, we will need to accept the societal norms or at the very least a sense of shared values in terms of sentencing duration. Justice in one country does not equal the same measure of justice in another country and this I do not believe to be transferable.
But while differences of opinion will ultimately vary, there are those who will be pleased that Canadians serving sentences abroad will now have the opportunity to serve out their sentences within the confines of our own system and with all of the rights afforded Canadians.
With the bill the government is attempting to introduce legislation that would allow Canadians convicted in jurisdictions such as Hong Kong to return to Canada to serve their foreign sentences.