Mr. Speaker, in recognition of National Volunteer Week I want to congratulate the thousands of volunteers in my riding of Yukon for all their help.
The second previous speaker in this debate suggested that the government had no agenda with regard to Bill C-15. It is fairly ironic that party would suggest such. The reality is that party has no agenda. That is why those members are frightened to go to an election.
Since we came back after Christmas, those members have had very few questions with regard to taxes, debt, foreign aid, or social programs. They have had few questions with regard to helping businesses. They have had few questions with regard to anything.
That party has no agenda. The media is finally realizing that the king has no clothes. The Conservative Party has no platform or policies. When we ask the ex-progressive conservatives to name one single policy that the new combined party has adopted, they cannot name one. They have the old polices of the Alliance. Because no one can agree, how can they put a policy program forward to the public? I sympathize with the difficult problem they will have in coming up any kind of policy. I am sure they will not have any questions in question period and will keep trying to avoid an election until they come up with some kind of policy.
The throne speech contained very vibrant policy. Once again they could not ask questions about it in question period or criticize it because it was popular. There was a whole section on social programs for aboriginal people. There were three different initiatives included for disabled people. Early childhood education was also included in the throne speech. Also included was the broad theme of the new economy in the modern world which included initiatives in learning, skills, and innovation.
The third broad topic on the agenda that those members say we do not have is increasing Canada's place in the world. This includes increasing our foreign aid and our role in both Afghanistan and Haiti.
There is also the important new bill regarding Africa. Canada is the first country in the world to deal with the tricky regulations and patents of multinational drug firms, which will make it possible for people with disease in Africa to receive more relief than they otherwise would. Other countries agree that Canada has taken a leading role in the world. We received feedback from people in my riding and from other ridings about that bill and made important amendments to it to ensure that it would work and be effective.
With regard to environmental contamination, the government has included a contaminated sites bill, which will involve the biggest expenditure in the history of Canada. How can those members say the government has no agenda?
The government included in the Speech from the Throne very creative initiatives relating to the voluntary sector. We have added to our research agenda. We have provided a new deal for communities by giving them relief from the GST. We have formed new partnerships, not only with municipalities, but with the aboriginal people, as members saw on Monday with the historic meeting with aboriginal people.
I do not think the Conservative Party should suggest that the government does not have an agenda when it has been unable to demonstrate in question period all year that it has one. It has been unable to demonstrate that it has anything new from the old Alliance party. We would appreciate it if those members would refrain from making such ironic and inaccurate statements.
We are debating the transfer of offenders act today. In fact we have debated a number of acts all week so I do not know how the Conservative Party can say that we have no agenda. The House has been full. We debated the Westbank self-government agreement. We debated the Tlicho land claim and self-government agreement. We debated a number of smaller bills in between. Today, there are four or five bills waiting. The financial institutions act is waiting for discussion.
I do not know where those members could possibly have dreamt up the idea that the government has no agenda. If they would be a little more cooperative, we could get a lot farther in our agenda. If they would like to challenge that statement, I could tell them the number of times they have used obstructionist methods since Christmas which have actually delayed our agenda. They obstructed good bills which would help Canadians and wasted several days of Canadians' time by delaying them. I will not go into more of these until they challenge that assertion.
On the Transfer of Offenders Act, this act provides for the implementation of treaties with other countries for the international transfer of offenders. The purpose of the act and the treaty signed between Canada and foreign states is essentially humanitarian. It allows for Canadians convicted and detained abroad under difficult conditions to serve their sentences at home, and for foreign nationals to return to their home countries.
The Transfer of Offenders Act serves public protection purposes. It allows offenders to serve their sentences in Canada and to be gradually released into the community. Otherwise, they would simply be deported at the end of their sentences.
For Canadians, primarily their highest priority is not revenge, it is rehabilitation. What they would like to see is that they will be safe in the future, and that the person will no longer reoffend. We obviously do not have all the answers yet because of the high rates of recidivism. It involves a very thought out process in the treatment of offenders, reintroducing them into various stages of society, halfway houses, and training to ensure that it is not a huge, impossible leap back into society. We want them to integrate slowly and effectively, under more and more reduced supervision, so that we can protect Canadians and ensure that they are safe when they ultimately have their total freedom.
That would not happen without the Transfer of Offenders Act. What would happen is that the person convicted of a serious crime in another country would serve whatever the length of the sentence was in that country. A number of countries do not have any rehabilitation programs, education programs, or reintegration into society programs because the offenders are not even of the society into which they are going to have to reintegrate. They would be dumped back into Canada the day they got out of prison as hardened offenders. Then, we would all be at risk.
By allowing Canadians to be transferred back, they can go through our system. We can help them out through training programs that are relevant in Canada, in social support, in anger management training, in interpersonal relationship training, and all the programs that they would need to successfully reintegrate into society.
Then they can go into partial reintegration with probation, with halfway houses or whatever the system feels would be most effective to ensure that under partial supervision they could slowly integrate under careful, watchful eyes, and take remediation steps. This way Canadians will be safe. That is one of the advantages of the Transfer of Offenders Act.
This act is in place today, but we are talking about some amendments. There have been no major amendments since its proclamation in 1978. Only technical amendments have been made to it, and substantive issues were identified. We did some consultation, and through those consultations these issues were documented. We put out a consultation document in 1997. There was then a comprehensive review which revealed that the Transfer of Offenders Act was in need of modernization and clarification.
The consultation was fairly broad. There were 91 private sector and government agencies consulted. Overall, the majority of the agencies responded to the consultation document, reacted favourably to the consultation questions, and expressed support for the proposals set out in the document.
I want to outline what some of these proposals were. To make it easier to understand for people watching at home who may have just tuned in, I am going to break them down into different categories so they are easier to follow.
The first category contains proposals that reflect the traditional treaty principles in order to broaden the act out and have a better description of those principles of the treaty that it is meant to fulfill. We are going to incorporate a purpose clause and principles, such as non-aggravation of sentence, dual criminality, adaption and continued enforcement that support the legislation's purpose.
The second thing we are going to do is add a new information sharing requirement. The person designated by the minister and the authority responsible in the province or territory for the administration of prisons would have the duty to inform a foreign citizen under its jurisdiction of the existence and substance of an international transfer treaty between Canada and the country of that person's citizenship.
We can understand how people would feel in a foreign country where they did not understand the language. In some countries people would probably be treated very badly after having committed a crime. Some countries do not have full human rights, where one would have no idea of the jurisprudence. That is difficult even in Canada, if one is not a lawyer, but imagine how difficult it would be for someone to understand the laws of another country if for some reason a person ended up, rightly or wrongly, in one of their jails.
Under those circumstances, how would people know what their rights are? How would one know, especially a first time offender who has no experience with the legal system, that there is an international transfer treaty?
We have to guarantee Canadian citizens their rights so that they know that such a treaty exists. We must put that into the law so that they have those rights and it is mandatory that they be informed of their rights.
Canada has the highest standards of human rights. We want to ensure that all our officials in those prisons and institutions are aware of the treaty and of their obligations to tell the prisoners who are residing temporarily in our institutions of their right to be transferred home so that they can start their healing, reparations, reintegration, and move toward being a safe citizens back in their own country.
The next category of amendments is related to new provisions regarding the consent to transfer. For example, foreign offenders in Canada could withdraw their consent to the transfer at any time before the transfer takes place.
Perhaps foreign offenders, for whatever reason, may determine that they would be in danger and may not understand the full consequences of being transferred, but for whatever reason, they would have the right to not have to take that transfer, up to the time when the transfer is made.
The next category of gaps in the Transfer of Offenders Act is a set of proposals to ensure consistency with other legislative provisions. These are more housekeeping tools to ensure the legislation fits in with other legislation.
These proposals would include provisions for the transfer to Canada of young offenders who are on probation, children under the age of 12 years, and the transfer of mentally disordered offenders.
It would add provisions requiring explicit provincial consent for the transfer of Canadian and foreign nationals who are under probation, provincial parole, provincial temporary absence, conditional sentence or intermittent sentence.
As our esteemed colleagues from the Bloc pointed out, it is very important that when there are services that are under provincial jurisdiction, the province should have to provide its consent if it is going to have new costs, new customers, new inmates, or people it has to place on parole or probation throughout its system. This would include all the accompanying remedial activities that could occur which we talked about earlier in this debate.
The third item under this category of consistency provisions will be to incorporate a provision requiring that offenders be informed of the minister's reason for not consenting to a transfer.
Therefore, if prisoners ask for a transfer and it is denied, they will feel they were denied their human rights. They could feel they were segregated for one reason or another. They need to know why the transfer was denied. Of course, there may be legitimate reasons. There could easily be legitimate reasons why one country would not allow the transfer of an offender, either out or into its country. However, the offender has every right to know what those reasons are. One cannot stand accused of a crime or accused of something, or denied a right without being told why this right is being denied.
The fourth provision is under the block of revisions that are to ensure consistency with other legislative provisions. They are provisions to clarify the sentence calculation rules and align the Transfer of Offenders Act with the Criminal Code, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and other legislation, such as the Youth Criminal Justice Act. In more recent times, some of these acts have been amended, so we have to make the clarification to ensure that the Transfer of Offenders Act matches the other acts in the system.
The fifth item under this group of identified gaps is to ensure consistency with other legislation. It involves adding a new provision to reflect the legal requirement that Canada must take appropriate action upon being advised by a foreign state that it has taken compassionate measures in respect of an offender's conviction or sentence, such as setting aside the conviction or reducing the sentence.
The sixth item under this category of ensuring consistency with other legislative provisions is to incorporate a new provision that would ensure that unless the court declares the transfer of an offender invalid because he or she is not a Canadian citizen, the sentence would be enforceable in Canada. Also, where the transfer is declared invalid, the minister would notify the Minister of Justice for possible extradition and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration for possible removal of the offender from Canada.
The seventh proposal in closing the identified gaps of the Transfer of Offenders Act and ensuring consistency with other legislative provisions would be to include the considerations for transfer, which are currently set out in the regulations, into the act. This would give more permanency and make it much harder to change. It could not be changed as easily and would give more certainty to those involved.
The last set of proposals that would improve efficiencies include the following. It would remove the reference to schedule and the schedule from the Transfer of Offenders Act. The item is a technical amendment. It would add provisions to allow for administrative arrangements for the international transfer of mentally disordered persons and offenders detained in countries or regions that are not recognized as states, such as Taiwan, Hong Kong or states with which a treaty is not in force.
There are many communities around the world, such as Taiwan and Hong Kong that Canada, although it does not have official formal relationships, with which Canada has excellent diplomatic relationships. We have excellent trade. We have friendships. We have many relatives and immigrant families that have come from those parts of the world and they have close interaction with Canadians and our culture. It is one of the things that makes Canada so exciting and culturally diverse.
There is a lot of interaction among these communities in the world. Because of that, of course, these provisions, which apply to the countries with which we have treaties and other countries of the world that have this legislation, should also apply to these areas where we have a very large amount of interaction, of flow, of interpersonal family connections and friends. Just for efficiency, we would want those provisions of the act to apply.
In summary, I would like to say that looking at this act and making sure that it works well is in the interests of everyone, so that primarily offenders get back to society with the best and safest conditions possible for those other people in society.