Mr. Speaker, I also want to say a few words to Bill C-19 which is before the House this morning.
We have to take a look at the corrections system and the whole judicial system in Canada to ensure we have tough enough legislation to protect the country, its citizens and victims, yet have a fair balance that would justly punish those who deserve punishment and try to rehabilitate those who can be rehabilitated.
Our party believes that we have to do whatever we can to have safe communities. We believe the safety of communities must be the focus of a criminal justice system. A New Democratic Party government would support safe communities through the following things.
We believe in proportionate sentences. We believe in safe and humane custody for both offenders and correctional workers. We believe in addressing the needs of the victims of crime and in the effective restoration of offenders to the community as productive citizens.
New Democrats reject the approach of the American justice system which has often created a costly gulag that promotes punishment over rehabilitation, often to the disadvantage of the poorest segments of society.
We believe that the sentences pronounced by our courts must reflect Canadians' intolerance for crime, especially violent or hate-based crime, while providing offenders with a fair opportunity to redeem themselves and to contribute to our society.
We value the important role of the correctional system in protecting our communities from dangerous criminals. Some people are simply so violent that they must be isolated from society until such a time as they can be safely reintegrated. We believe that when offenders are released on parole, the public should be assured that they will not reoffend in a violent fashion.
We support the right of correctional workers to safe and healthy working conditions in an often stressful and dangerous working environment. We believe that the correction system should target inmates who abuse the system by terrorizing other inmates and staff and by profiting from the introduction of drugs into our institutions.
We believe that the victims of crime will only achieve healing if they are fairly compensated for the harm they have suffered, if they can overcome the trauma and the fear that they experienced, and can effectively participate in a criminal justice process related to the offenders who have hurt them.
We believe that our correctional system can and should address the real needs of most offenders so when they will return to our community, as the vast majority do, they can live lawful and productive lives.
We believe that the level of infectious diseases in prison is a growing danger to offenders, to staff and to the community. This must be addressed in an urgent and common sense fashion.
We believe that federal prisons should not serve as warehouses for people with mental health problems. Rather, there should be a proactive effort, both in institutions and in the community, to treat pathologies that lead to crime.
We believe that the serious disadvantages suffered by aboriginal offenders, especially aboriginal women, who are under a federal sentence must, at long last, be addressed by more than just pious pronouncements.
We believe, as has been determined by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, that women offenders require specific measures to meet their specific needs, and that Correctional Service Canada should be made accountable for this.
We believe that measures to improve the vocational skills of inmates and to strengthen their family relationships have often proven effective and that these approaches should be encouraged.
We believe that more effective oversight mechanisms are necessary to ensure that our correctional system complies with the rule of law as has been recommended by a host of outside experts in recent years.
We also believe that the ultimate goal of a criminal justice system is to bring all the participants together in order to restore the relationship between offenders and communities.
New Democrats would support safe communities by adopting some of the following measures.
We would provide about $50 million in new funding for initiatives geared to the communities so that they may provide occupational and other community support to released offenders. Communities have the special knowledge and the skills necessary to plan and implement effective community reintegration.
We would commission a judicial inquiry to examine systemic racism in the correctional service and address the obstacles suffered by aboriginal offenders.
We would create a deputy commissioner position for aboriginal offenders within the correctional service. This official would be directly accountable to the commissioner of corrections for all matters related to the custody and reintegration of aboriginal offenders.
We would ensure that the deputy commissioner for women of Correctional Service Canada would possess the authority to ensure that the specific needs of women offenders would be met at an early date.
After a broad but timely consultation, we would legislate a federal victims charter of rights to address the needs and prerogatives of victims.
We would establish rules for the fair compensation of victims of crime that would figure prominently in our negotiations with the provinces on transfer payments and the criminal justice field.
We would provide adequate funding to ensure that victims would be able to attend, observe and make statements at all release hearings for offenders, even where the offenders had been transferred to other regions of the country.
We would create a parliamentary commissioner for victims who would fulfill an ombudsman function for victims and report annually to Parliament.
We would ensure that staffing levels and security systems in institutions were at a level that would ensure safety and security.
We would implement severe consequences for inmates who abused the system by endangering the safety of others and by bringing drugs into institutions.
We would provide special legislation to address the special safety and health needs of corrections staff and to provide timely redress for complaints regarding hazardous institutional situations.
We would legislate an independent inquiry with authority to recommend solutions to Parliament for every case where an offender on parole or other form of release commits a crime involving serious bodily harm or death.
We would provide $50 million for new mental health initiatives in institutions and in the community.
We would provide $20 million for community restorative justice programs in order to permit the reconciliation of offenders and the people with whom they would be living.
We would address infectious diseases and the substance abuse conditions that would lead to these both as a security and health problem, and we would take the harm reduction measures that have been shown to work, for example, increased access to education, peer counselling, relapse programs, safe tattooing and needle exchanges.
We would also make the prisoners' ombudsman, the correctional investigator, an officer of Parliament in the same way the chief electoral officer is an officer of Parliament today and has been for a number of years. As an officer of Parliament, that would enable the correctional investigator to take significant cases in dispute before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which would be provided specific legislation to deal with these disputes.
Finally, we would institute a remedy for circumstances where correctional authorities were determined to have “intentionally interfered with the integrity of a sentence”, as recommended by the inquiry into the events at the prison for women, which of course is the Arbour inquiry.
Those are some of the things we would do and we recommend them to the government of the day.
Bill C-19 amends the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Criminal Code. It comes out of a subcommittee on justice. It was tabled in the House of Commons in May of 2000. It has taken the government almost four years to respond to the committee on justice.
We have a bill today which really has five objectives. The government wants to tighten up the accelerated parole review process. It wants to streamline the temporary absence process. It wants to review all statutory release cases. It wants to give victims the right to make a statement at a parole board hearing. Finally, it wants to permit the conditional release of all terminally ill offenders on humanitarian grounds before their scheduled parole dates.
As suggested by the justice committee report, the CCRA is in need of reform. Increasing victim participation in the parole process is good because victims are all too often shut out of the criminal justice process entirely. Adding a structured program to temporary absences is excellent as it furthers the goal of rehabilitation through our correctional aims.
In conclusion, my main concern is that this does not begin to address the real problems in our corrections system, the problems that I mentioned earlier, such as infectious diseases, drugs, the abuse, the lack of resources and the facilities that are aimed at not only women but at aboriginal people as well.
We must also be careful not to be overzealous. We must keep in mind that our goal is to build a safer society by rehabilitating offenders and not just locking them up forever and throwing away the key.
That is what I believe the bill falls short on. I recommend to the House the points that I made earlier in my comments.