Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Nickel Belt for his hard work for victims. The points he made earlier about what he would like the government to do have been duly noted. We will work with him on those items.
I am pleased to join in the discussion of private member's Bill C-243, proposing the establishment of an ombudsman for victims of crime.
I think that this debate would be well founded by setting the context for this proposed alternative.
To this end, I will briefly set out the current state of victims in our criminal justice system with reference to recent history. In particular, I shall refer to the area of corrections where victims can participate in the administration of the sentences of those offenders who are of interest to them.
I must emphasize that the majority of victims do not seek intimate involvement in the circumstances surrounding a trial, conviction, sentencing and eventual release of the offenders who have wronged them. Many choose, instead, to leave justice to the justice system. They do not request additional information or ask that they be allowed to participate by giving information about an offender. That does not mean that those who do wish this type of approach should not be considered and considered very seriously.
The movement to provide more inclusive processes for victims of crime who do maintain an interest in the outcome of cases has gained momentum in Canada over the past decade.
In 1992, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act recognized the interests of victims and introduced entitlements relating to corrections and conditional release.
Victims could, on request, receive certain information about the offender who had harmed them. They could attend National Parole Board hearings as observers and they could receive copies of board decisions, including the reasons for the decision. The act also recognized the value of information that victims could provide to decision makers for risk assessment and conditional release consideration. Subsequently, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights issued two reports dealing with victims' issues.
In October 1998, the first, entitled “Victims' Rights: A Voice, Not a Veto”, addressed the significance of the interests of victims and supported their greater involvement with the corrections and conditional release. It recommended a number of changes to the Criminal Code of Canada and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
The government enacted a number of amendments to the Criminal Code in June 1999 in what hon. members will remember as Bill C-79. However, changes to the corrections legislation were left in abeyance pending the report of a parliamentary standing committee then conducting the five-year review of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
The standing committee report on its review of the correctional legislation was tabled in May 2000. Entitled “A Work in Progress”, the report found the Canadian federal correctional system to be basically sound. Where the need for improvement was noted, victims' issues were addressed as a priority.
Six recommendations were made to enhance the involvement of victims in corrections and conditional release: advise victims of inmate transfers; provide victims with information on offender program participation, institutional conduct and new offences; prevent unwanted communications from federal inmates to victims; allow victims to read a prepared statement at National Parole Board hearings; allow access for victims to the audio tapes of National Parole Board hearings; and establish a national office to provide information, investigate complaints and report findings.
In November 2000, in response to the standing committee, the Ministry of the Solicitor General, now Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, set out a comprehensive strategy based on consultation and involvement of all relevant stakeholders, with particular emphasis on victims and their advocates. This strategy provided balance, addressing the respective needs, concerns and privacy rights of both victims and offenders.
The response acknowledged that the portfolio, through its correctional agencies, was not the sole or primary service provider to victims. Rather, Correctional Service of Canada and the National Parole Board are key partners with other orders of government and community based groups that must work collaboratively to coordinate and provide improved information and services for victims.
In building the strategy, the government recognized the input of victims collected in 39 consultation sessions across the country, which indicated that victims wanted more access to information earlier in the process and more opportunities to be heard and to provide information. It recognized that these things could best be achieved with an approach that sought to understand and address the underlying needs that created victims' requests and interest. In this context the response was founded on an open, citizen-centred approach that emphasized timely information and assistance for victims.
The Victims Policy Centre at the Department of Justice was consulted in the preparation of an integrated model for service delivery. The response was therefore consistent and complementary with the ongoing endeavours of the Department of Justice.
In March 2001, the Department of the Solicitor General, as it then was, in collaboration with the National Parole Board and the Correctional Service of Canada, conducted national consultations with victims of crime and victim service providers. Eight meetings were held in major cities across Canada. The report of these consultations, “National Consultation with Victims of Crime: Highlights and Key Messages”, was released in August 2001.
The National Parole Board also held 31 sessions in smaller communities to seek input on how best to implement the proposed changes to the corrections and conditional release processes so they would be of greatest benefit to victims.
During the consultation process, victims told the government that they wanted a voice, a real say, in the justice process, not to be vengeful but rather to create fairness and to have their concerns considered in decisions that would have an impact on their safety, their families and their community.
In addition, they expressed a wish to be treated with respect in all dealings with the criminal justice system and its individual representatives. Victims reinforced the need for comprehensive victim centred information, information on their specific case, information regarding how the criminal justice system worked generally and information about where to obtain help and counselling.
I again congratulate the member for Nickel Belt. Our government has responded in the past to the needs of victims. There is more to be done. We look forward to working with the member in his initiative. We all share the same objective, that victims deserve our attention, they deserve the right to information and they deserve the right to participate in the justice system. As a government, we will strive to do that.