Mr. Speaker, I am pleased and honoured to rise today to address Bill C-243, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act which proposes the establishment of what is referred to as the office of victims ombudsman of Canada.
I was indeed honoured to second them motion by the hon. member for Nickel Belt. I know the member has given a great deal of thought to the bill, and I recognize his efforts to address an issue that is of concern to members of the House.
The government could not be more serious about addressing the concerns and needs of victims, improving the services available to them and enhancing the crucial role victims play throughout each stage of Canada's criminal justice system. In recognition of these responsibilities and the more general responsibility for improving public safety in all Canadian communities, all aspects of the criminal justice and corrections systems are under constant and rigorous review by the government.
Whereas many aspects of the criminal justice deal in objective determinations of fact, dry debates concerning the interpretation of statutes or logical considerations related to policing and corrections, the situation of victims is a unique element which touches the heart in a very profound way. Whether one has been a victim of a serious crime, is acquainted or related to a victim or is merely exposed to their stories by way of the media, their stories are often deeply poignant.
At some point, I am certain that most members of this hon. House have communicated with constituents on this issue, be they victims of crime or third parties who seek to further the cause of victims, and have personal experience regarding how heart-rendering the plight of victims can indeed be.
However, I am pleased to state that there has been in the last 15 years or so a growing awareness of victims' issues. A lot of it is by the onus of the victims themselves and their collective efforts. A good deal of progress in this area has been made at the federal level as well as the provincial and territorial levels as a result of cross jurisdictional cooperation.
In this regard, I would like to take this opportunity to commend those outside of government who tirelessly dedicate themselves to advancing the interests of the victims. They have proved themselves to be invaluable partners in developing the initiatives that have been introduced thus far and in the important work that continues on this issue, which I would like to address before turning to the merits of the bill before us today.
A major step forward was taken in 1989, when amendments were made to the Criminal Code to allow for victim impact statements, for victim fine surcharges and to improve restitution in compensation measures. Three years later, in 1992, another important milestone was the recognition of the role of victims, when Parliament enacted the Corrections and Conditional Release Act or CCRA. This act replaced the Penitentiary Act and the Parole Act and became the primary legal framework governing the federal corrections system, guiding the operations of the Correctional Service of Canada and the National Parole Board. The enactment of the CCRA marked the introduction of legislatively mandated victim participation in the corrections and conditional release processes.
Since the CCRA came into force in 1992, a number of initiatives have been adopted to respond to the calls of victims and their advocates for case specific and general information. For example, the National Parole Board has appointed community liaison officers and the Correctional Service of Canada has appointed victim liaison coordinators at their respective regional offices, community parole offices and correctional institutions. These officials provide victims with excellent services, such as information about offenders of interest and about the correctional system in general.
Moreover, to address recommendations as set out by the report of the all party Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, entitled “Victims Rights: A Voice, Not a Veto”, Bill C-79, which was brought into force on December 1, 1999, amended the Criminal Code: to ensure that victims are informed about the opportunities to prepare and read a victim impact statement if they should choose to do so; to require police and judges to consider the safety of the victims in all bail decisions; to expand protections for young victims and witnesses testifying at trial; and to require all offenders to automatically pay a victim surcharge, that is an additional monetary penalty, intended to increase revenue for provinces and territories to expand and improve victim services.
When the Corrections and Conditional Release Act was enacted on November 1, 1992, it contained a stipulation that a comprehensive review of the act be undertaken after five years. To address this obligation, the solicitor general of the time released the consultation paper entitled--