House of Commons Hansard #41 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was sentence.


International Transfer of Offenders ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I know this is a passionate topic for the member.

This is not meant to change the justice system in either of the countries involved. The bill is basically for the transfer serious criminals. They need to have more than six months waiting in their sentences before serious criminals can be transferred from one country to the other.

The determination of justice, in whatever country it is made, will be carried out. This is to determine in which country the sentence will be carried out.

In Canada justice is often selected by a jury of peers, so the jury of Canadians decides the level of justice. Canadians as a whole determine the penalties in the justice system through the election of their parliamentarians who make the laws.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Judi Longfield Liberal Whitby—Ajax, ON

Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place between all parties and there is an agreement, pursuant to Standing Order 45(7), to re-defer the recorded divisions scheduled for Tuesday, April 27 from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is that agreed?

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-15, an act to implement treaties and administrative arrangements on the international transfer of persons found guilty of criminal offences, be read the third time and passed.

International Transfer of Offenders ActGovernment Orders

April 26th, 2004 / 12:05 p.m.


Paddy Torsney Liberal Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-15, the international transfer of offenders act, is very important legislation and one which responds to a number of concerns that I have heard from constituents about foreigners who are jailed in Canada and Canadians who are jailed in foreign jurisdictions. I have had many calls to my office over the years asking me why we keep prisoners from other nations in Canada and why do we not transfer them out and have their countries assume their costs.

We do have a system as we are party to number of treaties and administrative arrangements with international partners. If we look back at the period of 1978 to 2003, a total of 118 prisoners were transferred from Canada to a total of six nations. The overwhelming majority of these individuals, 106, were transfers to the United States. Over the same period 1978 to 2003, 1,066 prisoners were transferred to Canada from a total of 25 different nations. The overwhelming majority again, 836, were transfers from the United States. The other nations returning the most number of prisoners to Canada were Mexico with 54, Peru with 29, the United Kingdom with 31, and Thailand with 17.

What is the system that we have in place? We already have a system that enables offenders to serve their sentences in the country of which they are citizens or nationals. This bill would repeal and replace the Transfer of Offenders Act, which sets out the principles that govern the international transfer of offenders, and would authorize Canada to enter into administrative agreements for those international transfers of offenders.

The bill would also expand the class of offenders that may be transferred, expand the class of jurisdictions with which Canada may enter into transfer agreements and, very important, expand the number of individuals who have to consent to such a transfer. For instance, if the sentence were two years less a day, the province in which the person was sentenced would need to consent to the transfer.

To answer the concerns of my colleague opposite, the act would clarify the sentence calculation rules that apply to transferred Canadian offenders. Let us be clear that a transfer is not available unless the Canadian offender's conduct would have constituted a criminal offence if it had occurred in Canada at the time the Solicitor General received the request for a transfer.

The verdict and the sentence imposed by a foreign entity are not subject to any appeal or any other form of review in Canada.

Along with setting out the conditions for transferring offenders, the bill makes consequential amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

Canada has been a party to offenders treaties since 1978. There are 13 bilateral treaties and we accede to three multilateral conventions on the transfer of offenders, totalling some 60 sovereign entities.

With regard to the United States, the treaty between Canada and the United States of America on the execution of penal sentences applies not only to the U.S. federal authorities but also to all the states, except for Delaware and West Virginia.

The international transfer program is administered by the Correctional Service of Canada's international transfers unit, with the assistance of the consular services of the Departments of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

As I mentioned, Canada has several international multilateral conventions to which we are a party. One is the Council of Europe's convention on the transfer of sentenced persons. That entered into force on July 1, 1985 and applies now to some 53 states. It is primarily a treaty that is intended to facilitate the social rehabilitation of prisoners by giving foreigners convicted of a criminal offence the possibility of serving their sentence back in their own countries. As to the concern of my colleague opposite about victims, if we rehabilitate individuals we can prevent the further victimization of individuals here in Canada or abroad.

In the past there were some difficulties and there continue to be some difficulties in communications for some of the offenders, perhaps because of a language barrier or the absence of contact with relatives, which we know has a positive effect on those who are in prison. Sadly, too many of our prisoners have no familial contact, which increases their risk to reoffend when they return to society.

The transfer may be requested by way of this convention by either the state in which the sentence was imposed or the state in which the sentenced person is a national. The transfer is subject to the consent, as I mentioned, of those two parties, as well as that of the sentenced person. A condition of any transfer is that the acts or omissions on account of which the sentence has been imposed must constitute a criminal offence in the administering state, the state in which a person is a national.

Other conditions are that the sentenced person must have at least six months left on his or her sentence to serve and the convention sets out the procedure for enforcement of the sentence following the transfer. We have to be very clear, on the point of the member opposite, that we in fact have these sentences, that if it is a period of incarceration it continues, that if it is a period of probation it continues and that the terms are consistent.

I would remind the member for Prince Albert that judges know full well how sentencing works. I think we should be honest with Canadians. If judges impose a period of 10 years, they know that a third of that is definitely behind bars, a third of that is with probation and a third with some other kind of release. They know whether someone is a long term offender and they understand that the sentencing is indefinite. Judges are aware of the rules and to suggest otherwise is a bit inappropriate.

Whatever the procedure chosen by the administering state, a custodial sentence may not be converted into a fine and any period of detention already served by the sentenced person must be taken into account by the administering state. The sentence in the administering state must be no longer nor harsher than that imposed by the sentencing state but it has to be consistent.

All parties to this convention are obligated to inform sentenced persons of the substance of this convention so that people can make arrangements. Once a transfer has taken place, the enforcement of the sentence is governed by the law of the administering state only. That is the state to which the person is transferred.

While the administering state is bound by the legal nature and duration of the sentence as determined by the sentencing state, if that sentence is incompatible with the law of the administering state that state may adapt the sanction to the punishment prescribed by its own law for a similar offence. The administering state shall not aggravate by its nature or duration the sanction imposed by the sentencing state nor exceed the maximum prescribed by the law of the administering state. The sentencing state alone, and only the sentencing state, which is the case of someone being transferred out of Canada, has the right to decide on any application for review of the judgment but either state may grant pardon, amnesty or commutation of the sentence.

As I mentioned, Canada is party to two other multilateral conventions: the scheme for the transfer of convicted offenders within the Commonwealth, which came into place in 1990, with seven nations adhering; and the inter-American convention on serving criminal sentences abroad which came into effect in 1996. These agreements have been ratified or adhered to by nine nations. I assume those are the agreements by which we had prisoners moved from Peru.

Both of those conventions state that prisoners are not allowed to be moved between nations against their will and must be informed of the consequences of agreeing to such a transfer. The conventions have other requirements in common. One is that the governments of both the sending and receiving nations must agree to the transfer, which is a pretty important agreement.

In Canada, as I mentioned, for offenders who are sentenced to two years less a day, the approval of the relevant province or territorial government is required, along with that of the federal government. The convicted person must be a national of the receiving state. We cannot, for instance, transfer from Canada to France a German citizen. It would have to be a French citizen.

It is also a general requirement of eligibility that a prisoner shall be considered for transfer only after all appeals have been settled and he or she has no further legal matters pending.

A sentence may not be lengthened by the receiving state but the enforcement of the sentence is governed by the laws of the receiving state. For instance, if they do not have the same kind of Corrections and Conditional Release Act that we have, perhaps they have a 50:50 split or they have less than a third-third split, then they would be able to govern the sentence arrangement.

In both of these conventions, the sentencing state retains full jurisdiction to grant pardon, amnesty or commutation of the sentence.

Interestingly enough, in 2001 some 5% of all offenders under the jurisdiction of Correctional Service Canada were foreigners: that is 5% of all offenders in Canadian jails. This is an important point since we often hear about foreigners coming to Canada and committing crimes. In fact, only 5% of all offenders in the federal corrections system were foreigners.

The overwhelming majority of those individuals, who total 1,100 people, come from the United States. As I mentioned, we have transferred 118 prisoners from Canada to a total of six nations, the majority of which were transferred to the U.S. Over the same period we have transferred some 1,066 prisoners to Canada from 25 different nations.

That is a fairly conclusive description of what this act seeks to do: how we must have agreements from both our nation and the receiving nation and the prisoners themselves; how we have to exhaust all the appeals; and how the sentencing nation, in this case if we are transferring somebody out of Canada, has the power too decide on any application for a review of their judgment. In fact, either state may grant a pardon, amnesty or commutation of the sentence.

I am sure Canadians will remember the intense lobbying that took place over the Canadian individuals who were sentenced to jail in Brazil. There was an agreement, they were brought home and they are serving out the rest of their sentences in Canada.

I hope that all members of the House will support the bill and ensure that we are implementing the treaties and administrative arrangements on the international transfer of persons found guilty of criminal offences, and pass Bill C-15 forthwith.

International Transfer of Offenders ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, I want to say a few words on Bill C-15, the international transfer of offenders act.

I will give the House a bit of the background of the bill. The bill would allow Canada to implement treaties and administrative arrangements with other nations for the international transfer of offenders. The purpose of the act is to allow Canadians convicted abroad to serve their sentences here in Canada.

This legislation would close the identified gaps in the existing Transfer of Offenders Act and aims to ensure consistency with other legislative provisions. By allowing offenders to serve their sentences in Canada, we would ensure that the public's interest is also served, because offenders are gradually released into the community in accordance with an overall Canadian rehabilitation strategy rather than simply having offenders arrive in Canada at the end of their sentences without any checks on their reintegration into society.

The bill would permit Canadian offenders who face incarceration in foreign prisons, which may include unfamiliar and difficult situations, to serve their sentences in Canada, and vice versa. This function is crucial for Canadian nationals where foreign states do not accommodate Canadian standards of rights and rehabilitation. In a case where no transfer agreement exists between Canada and a foreign entity, the countries could nevertheless enter into an administrative arrangement and provide for the transfer of an offender.

The provisions of the act would apply to criminal offenders, including young offenders and mentally incompetent offenders. Consent to be transferred must be given by the offender, the foreign state and Canada. All three must consent before transfer is made. The act and the consent thereunder are governed by the Solicitor General of Canada.

This bill, which we are dealing with at third reading, has made some progress in the committee. An amendment presented by our NDP caucus passed in the committee by a seven to six vote when, before Christmas, the chair of the committee, who is now in cabinet, broke the tie in our favour.

The amendment adds the following to the list of factors the minister should consider when determining whether to accept the transfer of a Canadian offender:

(c) whether the offender has social or family ties in Canada; and

(d) whether the foreign entity or its prison system presents a serious threat to the offender's security or human rights.

Hopefully this will help guide the decision of the minister and create a more explicit link between the threat a foreign state or prison poses to an offender and the need to repatriate our own. It simply creates an explicit link where one is obviously implied in the spirit of the bill. It becomes explicit rather than just implied.

There are some additional arguments in favour of the bill. The NDP amendment passed by the committee will ensure that the minister would consider the humanitarian circumstances of an offender incarcerated in a foreign state. It would help to ensure that our citizens who are incarcerated abroad are going to have their safety and human rights taken into consideration when asking for a transfer.

The act maintains the integrity and values of the Canadian justice system and correctional system by transferring offenders back to Canada where these values prevail. Foreign nations often have different standards in their prison systems, which may be considered a violation of rights in Canada, or may do nothing, on the other hand, to rehabilitate the offender.

The act would give Canada custody of Canadian offenders abroad and would make Canada responsible for the enforcement of its own values. The act is also humanitarian in the fact that it would allow for foreign offenders to serve their sentences in their countries of origin if they wish and consent to do so.

Our main concern was addressed at committee, where an amendment was passed. The humanitarian spirit of the act should be applauded. These proposals would permit Canadian offenders abroad to be transported back to Canada where they can be detained and rehabilitated in accordance with the standards and principles of Canadian justice. It also would allow foreign nationals to serve their time in their home countries.

Since this proposed act is based on treaty negotiations, its benefits are mutual. The treaty negotiations and administrative arrangements contemplated by the bill would give equal protection and advantage to Canada and foreign states alike. This reciprocity has the added benefit of enhancing certainty and good faith in international relations and negotiations.

Bill C-15 should be supported for its humanitarian purpose, but we should not assume that the transfer of prisoners back to Canada necessarily results in humane treatment. We should not allow the government to pat itself on the back for too long, because we have our own major problems in our own Canadian correctional system. One need only think of the lack of correctional services and facilities for women or the lack of services and facilities for aboriginal people to realize that there is a great need for development of our own prison system in Canada.

Moreover, cases like that of Maher Arar--and of course there is going to be an inquiry into that case--demonstrate that we have serious problems not only in how we treat offenders but also in how we go about investigating and deciding who is an offender and who is not. Let us not rest on our laurels for too long. There is still a great deal more progress to be made.

Bill C-15 is a step in the right direction and, because of that, we will certainly be supporting the bill on third reading. We hope that it does have some real impact in terms of being a step along the road toward the reform of our correctional system.

International Transfer of Offenders ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's comments on the bill. The member raised the issue of the justice committee report. I noted that the very brief report simply makes one amendment to Bill C-33, which is the previous incarnation of this bill back in the second session of the 37th Parliament. It added that phrase on determining residency as well as paragraph 10(d), which states:

whether the foreign entity or its prison system presents a serious threat to the offender's security or human rights.

I think this is an excellent amendment, but it also raises the concern about our track record in negotiating with countries that do not share Canada's principles with regard to human rights. The issue in the bill that is most interesting to me is the whole aspect of human rights; the member raised the Maher Arar case and the fact that a Canadian citizen was deported not to Canada but to Syria.

I think the member is quite right in highlighting this. I wonder if he would like to comment a little further on the consequences of failing to defend at every opportunity the human rights of all, regardless of citizenship, and also to protect the human rights. I would like him to comment on whether or not there is any case in his view where the human rights of someone should be seconded or discounted for security reasons.

International Transfer of Offenders ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, the Maher Arar case is a very good case in point for why we have to be concerned about human rights. In that case, a Canadian citizen was deported from the U.S., not to Canada but to Syria. He languished in a Syrian prison and was tortured in that prison. Now we have a national public inquiry.

I just want to underline that this is why these treaties are important. We must have treaties that respect human rights for every single Canadian citizen or any citizen of the world, regardless of who that citizen is.

For the transfer of prisoners, for someone who may be watching, as I said earlier, under this bill there has to be an agreement by three parties: the prisoner himself or herself, the country in which the prisoner is in prison, and Canada. There has to be agreement by all three parties before that can occur.

We know that some of the conditions in some of the world's prisons are exceedingly bad and that some of the justice systems are very archaic in many prisons around the world. About 10 years ago today, I was in South Africa as part of a United Nations group that was observing the election in South Africa in the region of KwaZulu-Natal. One polling station was in a South African prison. Let me say that I would not want to wish that anybody spend any time in that kind of prison. We spent an hour or so in there observing that the voting practice was proper and so on. Some of those prison conditions are pretty deplorable and South Africa is by no means the worst of different countries in the world. Many years ago, I had a chance to visit a Chinese prison. Again, those were not exactly the kind of prisons that would be a model for the world.

I think this is a good bill. It is a step in the right direction. We must have a tough criminal justice system, but we also must have a system that respects basic human rights and basic decency in how we treat human beings.

International Transfer of Offenders ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I briefly want to speak on this bill entitled the International Transfer of Offenders Act.

Briefly, several questions have been raised about this bill in the House of Commons. For example, a bit earlier today, we heard a member of the Conservative Party of Canada say that, in his view at least, existing legislation on parole is extremely liberal.

In my opinion, that is the wrong approach here. Canadians need to know that the transfer of offenders at the end of their incarceration and their reintegration into society must be subject to supervision and, of course, be done gradually, so that they can then function like any other member of society.

This is not a western where the guy gets out of prison with his belongings strapped to his back, not knowing a soul, and is expected to be fully reintegrated into society and to never make another mistake, because he has already been incarcerated and certainly has no desire to repeat the experience. We all know that real life is more complicated.

When that person leaves, after being incarcerated with other prisoners and knowing little else but the prison system during his years in jail, there has to be a kind of transition into the same kind of life as all those who function in society.

How? It is done, of course, through parole. I want to mention certain statements and say that I disagree with the members opposite who are saying that there should be no more parole. That is ridiculous. I think that the prison system in general must include parole if, in the future, it seeks to rehabilitate individuals, and I hope it does.

Members should ask the question the other way around. We certainly do not want individuals to reoffend. Therefore, if we do not want them to reoffend, obviously, we want to rehabilitate them to ensure they do not act the same way in the future. This is already positive not only for them but also for society, because a crime is clearly a wrong done not to oneself, but to society in general. That is the definition of a crime.

That is why we should have the system we have. Is it perfect? Of course not. It would be ridiculous to say that it is. There is always room for improvement to reintegrate into society those who were offenders in the past and those who are on parole, while at the same time ensuring maximum public safety.

Clearly, this can be quite a difficult balance to maintain in society. Nonetheless, to members opposite who say that offenders commit all sorts of horrible crimes when they are on parole, I would say that first, the members tend to make a lot of unwarranted assertions.

Second, do those members not think that the rate of recidivism, since that is what we are talking about, would be worse if individuals suddenly left the penitentiary system from one day to the next, like the cowboy I described earlier with his backpack, no money and no idea where to go?

If offenders were so ill-prepared to reintegrate into society, then of course they would reoffend, if only to survive.

I am someone who believes that a parole system is essential to public safety. It does not reduce public safety, but can improve it greatly.

Let me get back to the matter at hand, the Transfer of Offenders Act. Some have asked why the Transfer of Offenders Act needs to be amended. The reason is this. Only technical amendments have been made to it since it came into effect in 1978. A quarter century later, there have been no substantive amendments. It goes without saying that, for better or worse, many things have changed in society and in international relations.

We are told that the amendments will provide a far more modern and complete framework for the negotiation of international treaties on offender transfer and the administration of transfers.

The hon. member for Burlington has just been telling us that, for the most part, these offenders come from the United States, that this is the country from which the highest number of offenders are transferred back to Canada. That is fairly normal, given the high number of border crossings between our two countries. Then, of course, there is the geographic proximity for trade, holiday travel and so on. So it is not unusual that the highest number would come from there.

The second country is Mexico, we are told. Once again, this is a favoured holiday destination for many Canadians. It is therefore not unlikely for crimes to be committed there, but I must admit I am surprised to learn that the third-ranking country is Peru. I did not know that were high numbers of Canadians incarcerated in Peru, and that many were repatriated to Canada under existing agreements.

Another question that has been asked on several occasions concerns the nature of the proposed changes.

In-depth consultations have been held and the legislation thoroughly examined. The amendments introduced in Bill C-15 can be placed in one of three categories, which I will list here. The first are amendments that reflect the traditional treaty principles that have developed over time. The second, are those that address the gaps in the Transfer of Offenders Act and are aimed at ensuring uniformity with other legislation. Finally, the last category of amendments contains proposals that would contribute efficiencies to the current process, thereby enabling it to operate as expeditiously and well as possible.

The NDP member who has just spoken has used the case of one Canadian incarcerated in another country as an example. An investigation has been carried out into this specific case, because it would appear that he was mistreated in the prison system of the country in question. On top of that, the individual in question was deported to that country even though he was in transit through the United States when arrested by U.S. authorities. All these are the specific circumstances in this case.

I do not know whether this bill could have improved that individual's situation. The underlying issue still remains, without a doubt.

Canadians want such a system to work well for the largest possible number of individuals wherever, of course, it applies.

There is also another issue. I am sure that a number of Canadians are already wondering whether the bill will help deport or extradite foreign nationals from Canada. Indeed, if a Canadian is incarcerated abroad and everyone agrees that this individual should be brought back to Canada, I am convinced that a number of voters want to know if this also means that the individuals who are imprisoned in Canada and who are citizens of other countries could go back to their country. This situation is already covered by the existing legislation.

The bill before does not have anything to do with deportation and extradition. These are totally distinct processes, which are managed by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration and by the Department of Justice. They have nothing to do with the bill before us. This bill replaces an existing act, but nothing is changed in this regard.

The bill will implement the treaties signed by Canada and other countries to allow Canadian or foreign nationals who have been found guilty and who are serving a sentence abroad to be transferred and to serve the rest of their sentence in their country of origin. The legislation applies to such cases, where people are incarcerated, but has nothing to do with deportation or extradition.

People wondered how many Canadians are being detained in jails abroad and would be eligible for a transfer to Canada under this legislation. I must say that I am always stunned by these figures because, as Canadians, it is hard to imagine that a large number of our fellow citizens are in imprisoned abroad.

As parliamentarians, we are usually informed of such situations when the parents of a young person incarcerated abroad come and ask us: “What can you do for my son?” This is typically what happens in our constituency offices. However, people often think that there is only one such case at a time in a riding. Unfortunately, the reality is different.

In fact, some 3,000 Canadians are being detained in foreign prisons. In fact, about 2,700 of them would be eligible for a transfer to Canada under the act. Each year, some 85 Canadians return home to serve their sentences. These are the approximate figures; I know a number of people wanted them.

We have also been asked how many foreign nationals are detained in Canadian penitentiaries—coming back to the question asked a while ago—and how many are eligible for transfer to their home countries under the act. On this point, we are told that there are about 1,000 foreign prisoners in Canada's penitentiaries. Under the act, nearly one third of them are eligible for transfer to their own country.

It is interesting to note that there are three times as many Canadians incarcerated abroad as there are foreigners incarcerated in Canada. How can that be explained? I do not know, but it is probably that Canadians travel a lot, and often work abroad in all kinds of fields. Of course, it is probably for these reasons that we see more Canadians in foreign jails than the opposite.

Every year, two or three foreign nationals are transferred to their own countries. That is not surprising. The number is quite small. Still, it is another reason for us to improve the act now before us, as this bill intends.

Now, as for public safety and rehabilitation, we have been asked why Canadian offenders should be transferred to Canada instead of finishing their sentences abroad before returning to Canada.

Some are asking this. Some members have learned of very sad cases of constituents imprisoned abroad, often in less than adequate conditions, sometimes in even worse conditions. Parliamentarians, when dealing with such cases, do not ask themselves such questions but others do. The answer to that question is obviously for humanitarian reasons, as I just described. It must also be recognized that Canadians incarcerated abroad are subject to extremely harsh conditions, making their lives very difficult.

I know that some people will say that the offenders should have thought of that before they committed their crime and so on. Of course, anyone committing a crime should first consider the consequences, not only of getting caught, but also the harm to society and individuals where the crime is being committed. Clearly, this is very true. Nevertheless, humans are not perfect and they make mistakes or missteps and must pay the price.

We do not want, however, to bring these people back to Canada to release them unconditionally. It is to allow them to serve the rest of their sentence in Canada. So, their sentence is not being erased.

I would like to come back to a question from a member of the Conservative Party of Canada. He asked how the Canadian public will be protected from criminals who are transferred to Canada. I told him that the purpose of the International Transfer of Offenders Act is to ensure that offenders do not escape justice. Back to what I was saying a little earlier, when a Canadian is transferred under a treaty, that person must serve the remainder of the sentence that was imposed abroad under the supervision of correctional authorities.

In other words, this is all part of the treaty. The goal is not to release these people when they arrive, but to respect the treaty and other countries by ensuring that the offenders serve the rest of their sentence.

The protection of society is ensured by the gradual and controlled reintegration of the transferred offender through our parole system, as I said at the beginning of my speech.

People wonder how much these proposals will cost the Canadian taxpayer. The answer is short: there is no additional cost.

Another question was raised: Will the amendments aggravate the problem of overcrowding in Canadian prisons? We know there is a problem. Moreover, many countries have this same problem. We are told not. The proposed changes should not increase the number of transferred offenders.

So there is an overview of the measures in the bill and the questions some people have. In conclusion, I ask all my colleagues to support Bill C-15, to vote for it so that it can take effect as soon as possible.

International Transfer of Offenders ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

London West Ontario


Sue Barnes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I would ask my colleague this. I have had occasion over the years where parents have come to my constituency office quite distressed. They are working parents in Canada, but they have a child incarcerated, often in the United States. To visit and see their child creates considerable hardship on the parents who often take time off work.

We know the support of family is ultimately one of the factors that helps people change behaviour. This is especially true when these are sentences that will come to an end at some point in time. However, the safety of the community is very important.

Has the hon. member had experience with this type of situation in his area?

International Transfer of Offenders ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are a number of interesting questions that come out of this.

The first proposition is that it is the criminal who committed the crime, not the rest of the family. Often what we are faced with are these terrible conditions where there could be, typically I suppose without making anything too stereotypical, a man somewhere in prison and the young wife and two or three children having to take the bus, for 25 or 30 hours, to see the incarcerated member of the family in a penitentiary someplace.

There are cases even far worse than that. I had a case in my constituency, which was quite well publicized in the media. An individual had a commercial difficulty with a partner in an African country. They got into a tiff over the value of, as it were, diamonds. Under the laws of that country, this constituted a crime. How the law was structured to achieve that, I was unable to understand. It seemed to me that they were debating the cost of the product and they got into this commercial rift. The individual was incarcerated for two years in a prison in West Africa.

I tried to negotiate with our embassy in the neighbouring country, because it was one of those countries where we did not have permanent staff. We have a consul there, but only on a part time basis because the individual does international cooperation projects. Therefore, the individual will go and visit in that situation.

First, this is a rather different case than the second part of the hon. member's question. This person did not seem to be much of a danger to anybody. Actually, he came back to Canada eventually and was freed right away. Had this individual committed another kind of offence by any measure where rehabilitation would have been, for instance, of the order before the individual was freed, he certainly would not have had it there. He was lucky if he could get a blanket where he was incarcerated. Had the individual been dangerous, he could have been dangerous when he got back because there was no treatment.

Second, on a humanitarian level, the kind of treatment the individual got over a dispute about a commercial transaction was something we would not do to the absolute worst criminals in our own country. It was so bad. I talked about it to the ambassador of that country. I do not want to name the person. My purpose here is not to offend anyone. The ambassador said to me that they did not have what he called five star accommodations for prisoners, and certainly they did not. However, to me, having a blanket does not constitute that, especially when it is a cold winter night or having certain basic things of decency, such as not having to sleep on the floor where there are infestations of rats and other kinds of roaches and whatever, especially in a climate in West Africa. I think one can see how terrible these things can be.

There are a couple of other cases I would love to describe and how these things should operate, but I want to leave an opportunity for other members to continue making remarks on the bill.

International Transfer of Offenders ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

London West Ontario


Sue Barnes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I wish to participate in the debate today because it deals with an issue of concern to some of my constituents, thankfully, a small portion of them. I am pleased today to participate in the third reading debate of the government's initiative to update the Transfer of Offenders Act. It has been quite some time since it has been updated.

The parliamentary Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights gave detailed consideration of the measures, and has returned Bill C-15 to the House for final consideration. I see nothing in the legislation that might delay its passage.

Before proceeding to the specifics of amending the Transfer of Offenders Act, I believe members of the House would indulge me for a brief reflection on the progress of the bill since its introduction.

It is gratifying to see and observe the spirit of cooperation that has brought us to third reading of Bill C-15. I am aware that some hon. colleagues opposite do not feel the same strength about humane treatment where offenders are concerned, but I think the vast majority in the House agree that this is not only right but necessary. However, the broad support of most of my colleagues in this place reflects several factors in relationship to the proposals contained in this legislation. First, there is recognition that the legislation is necessary. Second, the confidence of hon. members in the proposals put forward by the legislation is a fair indicator of the thoroughness of the consultative process that preceded the introduction of Bill C-15.

There is no doubt that all parties, with a stake in this area of criminal justice, were carefully canvassed. The bill reflects a broad range of inputs in numerous sensitive areas in such a way that the approbation of the House and the committee were forthcoming with neither delay nor, I am glad to say, rancorous debate.

I would like to thank the members and the chair of the standing committee for their timely review of the legislation and approval of the bill. This committee has had much business before it. It always has a busy schedule and all of that schedule is important.

There are those who would ask why we should concern ourselves with the circumstances in which offenders serve their sentences in lands foreign to them. I must point out that Canadians who offend abroad and those from foreign lands who are sentenced by Canadian courts are as worthy of humane treatment as are Canadian inmates punished in Canada.

We have laws, policies and practices applicable both at home and abroad that recognize that the deprivation of liberty should be the only penalty for an offence against society. Capital and corporal punishments are things of the past in most democratic countries and we, as Canadians, would support efforts to eliminate physically onerous penalties anywhere in the world.

Offenders come from communities and are our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters and our extended family. In Canada, almost one in ten citizens has some sort of criminal record. No right thinking individual would maintain that one in ten of his fellow citizens in Canada presents a continuing, serious threat to the community.

I have had parents come to my constituency office, trying to get a child back to Canada to complete a sentence that has been doled out in a foreign jurisdiction. It is a difficult situation, as my hon. colleague pointed out, not just for the offender but also for the extended family who are trying to support that member of their either immediate or extended family.

By the same token, it is not up to us to determine that a Canadian teenager convicted of drug abuse abroad, that might result in a fine in Canada, should serve a sentence of a number of years in an over-crowded jail with adults serving sentences for much more serious offences, and this does happen. Even if it were true that the offender apparently deserved the extent of the foreign sentence, is it up to us to decide that he or she should always serve time in an environment foreign to the individual in all ways, where nutrition, health care and attention to human rights may all be compromised in comparison to the Canadian correctional milieu?

I am not saying that our correctional milieu is without fault. There are some jurisdictions that have quite difficult positions, and I think I am being generous when I say that.

Do the families of our Canadians incarcerated abroad deserve to be deprived of their loved ones and kept in uncertainty as to their condition and whereabouts for the duration of their sentences? It is well known to practitioners in the areas of corrections and conditional release that offenders do far better upon release if they have the support within the community, both during and after their incarceration.

If we leave Canadians abroad for the full term of their sentences, we will welcome them back, untreated and not rehabilitated, as offenders to our own shores inside Canada. It is far better if they are returned to Canadian custody, to the support of their families and communities and eventually to supervised release. I think it is apparent to us that this latter course is a preferable course for our jurisdiction.

I agree that the community at large should be protected from the reoccurrence of criminal activities to the extent possible. The legislation before us contributes to that goal. It will provide the framework by which Canada can continue to treat its citizens humanely while ensuring that they are gradually and safely reintegrated into Canadian society. It is because of initiatives such as the one before us that Canada is a respected leader in criminal justice and corrections in the international community.

As pointed out by others in the House and in deference to those who promote “the law and order approach” above all others, it is recognized that the legislation contains principles that ensure that due deference is shown to the sentences handed down by any of the courts that may be involved. Each country receiving one of its nationals from a foreign correctional system is bound to respect foreign sentence as rendered to the extent that it is compatible with our own legislation. As with all other international agreements, any variance of this practice would soon lead to the disuse of the very mechanisms established by the bill before us.

Some hon. members opposite have asked if the bill is more concerned about offenders than victims. I heard that again this morning. As my colleagues have pointed out, we are considering a bill that is not only designed to implement transfer of offenders treaties, but also to assist in carrying out the correction principles and practices that are known to work.

Some hon. members find these measures unpalatable and that is most unfortunate. What is preferable? Transferring Canadian offenders back to Canada while under sentence so that they can be gradually reintegrated into our society under the supervision of correctional authorities or having a foreign state deport them at the end of sentence to arrive here without any controls? Our research has shown that the control on the offender is helpful to the safer reintegration into society.

I put that this option is by far the most sensible. Once offenders are transferred to Canada, correctional authorities carefully assess their needs and the risk to the public. Those who are eligible and can be safely managed in the community are released under supervision. Offenders, on the other hand, who pose a risk and cannot be managed in the community remain in incarcerated in Canada. This is not coddling offenders. It is realistic, it is appropriate and it is the responsible management of offenders in keeping with sound correctional principles and practices.

It does not make sense to incarcerate offenders beyond the point in the sentence that they can be safely reintegrated into society. In fact research indicates that the extension of imprisonment by itself does not contribute to public safety. Members opposite who favour penalties that would extend incarceration for reasons of deterrence should take heed.

Victims are not excluded from the process. An offender who wishes to leave Canada will have been convicted in open court and held at a penal institution. In both instances it is common for victims to make statements that will henceforth follow the offender as part of his or her record. A victim impact statement may influence sentencing or it may be germane to the administration of an offender's sentence in determining the security level of an offender's custody, for example. Those with an interest in the circumstances of how a foreign offender might be serving his or her sentence can make their view known for the record.

In the case of a Canadian offender wishing to leave a foreign penal system, local laws would prevail. Before the application is processed, we know that the foreign state has consented to the transfer. Presumably, if a mechanism exists for hearing victims' views, the state would factor that input into its decision.

There is nothing in Bill C-15 that would prevent victim participation at either end of the process. It seems to me that victim participation should be considered entirely relevant to the international transfer process, but by the time a transfer to or from Canada could be considered, victim input would have already been on the record. Therefore it is outside the process in this particular bill. I do not want to say that victims are not important in the system. That is not the case.

Although not directly related to the bill before us, it has come to my attention that an hon. member opposite has recently stated in the House that Bill C-16, the sex offender information registration act, does not have a retroactive application. Let me set the record straight. Bill C-16 is retroactive. It provides for inclusion in the federal registry all offenders previously convicted of a prescribed offence who were under sentence as of the date of coming into force of the legislation, as well as offenders registered under the provincial Ontario sex offender registry act. This is what all provinces and territories agreed to and that is what is provided for in Bill C-16. I just wanted to take a moment to clarify that.

In the case of the proposals we have before us today in Bill C-15, the government of the day, in recognizing the importance of implementing change in the area, and quite frankly for modernization since it has been since approximately 1978, proceeded to study options for reform and to present a government bill to the House. This bill proposes simple but comprehensive reform and results from a consensus of those with knowledge in the subject.

The justice committee was fully informed of the balancing of the various interests and alternatives considered before the objectives of the legislation crystallized. They were cognizant of the need to create an act and have acted accordingly. Bill C-15 in my opinion, and I hope in the opinion of many hon. members in the House, clearly promotes public safety by allowing offenders to resume productive lives in their home countries.

Therefore I do urge all hon. members of the House to help with the passage of this necessary and sensible legislation.

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1:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Fitzpatrick Canadian Alliance Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am sure the hon. member has studied the bill a lot more than I have, so I am seeking information and clarification.

The Supreme Court, on deportation of people who are alleged to have committed crimes in other jurisdictions, at different times has made rulings that it would not permit those deportations because the other jurisdictions' criminal sentencing processes might expose the people to cruel and unusual punishment.

In some of the jurisdictions, such as in the United States for capital offences, it is not unusual to have three consecutive life sentences imposed on an individual. That basically means the person will be in prison for the rest of his or her life without any right to parole. There are a lot of serious offences in other jurisdictions where the courts impose minimum mandatory jail sentences on convicted felons. That means nobody gets out of jail until he or she serves at least that minimum period of time. Some of those minimums are quite lengthy according to our liberal justice system in Canada which deplores those sorts of sentences.

Some members have said that the bill respects those sentences that were imposed in other jurisdictions and when the offenders came back to Canada, the sentences would be respected. I am assuming consecutive life sentences would be followed. Minimum mandatory jail sentences would be respected. Our system would not apply to them. I would like a yes or no answer to that.

I am also concerned about whether the committee has looked at what the Supreme Court of Canada might say on having those sentences enforced in a Canadian prison system. Would the court not make a ruling that it is unconstitutional because it is cruel and unusual punishment?

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1:10 p.m.


Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know the hon. member is asking me a serious question. The only thing is, I cannot speak on behalf of the Supreme Court of Canada.

What I know on the bill and what I believe to be exactly true is that a sentence may not be lengthened by the receiving state, but the enforcement of the sentence is governed by the laws of the receiving state. There has to be some comparability in the charges and the sections of the codes that we are dealing with. That is partially what this modernization is doing. It is trying to bring these bills up to date.

There are situations where what happens overseas in some countries is not a criminal offence here. There has to be some comparability in the situation. It is always in the parameters of this bill that to have a transfer occur, there have to be three consents: that of the offender; that of Canada, whether it is as the receiving nation or the sending nation; and that of the other jurisdiction.

In a situation here in Canada, if it was an offence where the sentence would be two years less a day whether it be in our provincial or territorial court system, we would have to go to the consenting mechanism there. This is not unilateral. It is a multi-party effort to make sure that everyone is in agreement. If it is a situation here, the receiving state has some regulations and rules to be followed if there has been consent.

I hope that clarifies the situation in some form. If it does not, I would suggest the member contact the officials in the justice department for even greater clarification. I could help facilitate that if he so wished.

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1:10 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wanted to add some input as a non-lawyer on Bill C-15. Members will know that the bill was reintroduced in this session of Parliament from the second session of the 37th Parliament. Formerly it was Bill C-33.

It would be appropriate to remind the House of the purpose of the bill. This enactment repeals and replaces the Transfer of Offenders Act, sets out the principles that govern the international transfer of offenders and authorizes Canada to enter into administrative agreements for international transfers of offenders.

The enactment expands the class of offenders who may be transferred. It expands the class of jurisdictions with which Canada may enter into agreements. It identifies who must consent to a transfer. It sets out how the foreign sentences of transferred young persons are to be enforced in Canada. It clarifies the sentence calculation rules that apply to transferred Canadian offenders and aligns them with those contained in other federal legislation. It also contains transitional provisions and makes consequential amendments to other acts, as is normally the case.

It is interesting that there are very few people who are speaking against the bill. In fact, what is happening is we are having an opportunity to speak about related areas, and that is always a good thing. Members will know that when this bill, formerly Bill C-33, went to the justice committee, it did the appropriate review. The justice committee has a good reputation of being rigorous in its review of legislation. It came back with a report on the bill, Bill C-33, with one amendment to the entire bill after doing a rigorous review.

That amendment was to clause 10 and added one additional clause. I will read that into the record because it touches on an area on which I would like to make a few comments. Clause 10 in the bill as reprinted states:

In determining whether to consent to the transfer of a Canadian offender, the Minister shall consider the following factors--

The first is whether the offender's return to Canada would constitute a threat to the security of Canada. That is understandable.

The second item is whether the offender left or remained outside Canada with the intention of abandoning Canada as his or her place of permanent residence. That is a fairly straightforward criteria.

The third was that the offender has social or family ties in Canada. That obviously is quite relevant.

The last item that was added by the justice committee and is now part of the bill we are debating today is clause 10(1)(d) which states:

--whether the foreign entity or its prison system presents a serious threat to the offender's security or human rights.

All of a sudden the context of human rights has become a matter for consideration. The justice committee agreed that human rights considerations should be taken into account with regard to the transfer.

Members started to talk about cases such as the Maher Arar case in which a Canadian citizen was deported, not to Canada from the United States, but to Syria. It is a very serious situation which occurred. Thankfully, Mr. Arar is now back in Canada and reunited with his family and friends, but very serious questions have arisen with regard to the human rights issues. Members will know that this matter will be before the courts as well. Not being a lawyer, I am not in a position to talk about the elements of the case, but simply from the standpoint of the human rights component which is now incorporated in the bill.

We are in a much different world than we were prior to September 11. There have been an enormous number of changes into how we have looked at our provisions in law, and in fact, the event of September 11, 2001, has spawned a substantial amount of legislation with regard to security and sovereignty issues.

The transport committee visited our counterparts with regard to issues flowing out of September 11. The United States had taken the position that virtually everything that anybody wanted, it was going to put into legislation. It was almost an overreaction and some would question whether or not there was an overreaction which may in fact have lead to not good laws. We say prayers as we start the House each day, that we make good laws and wise decisions.

If we react over the top, as it were, and ask all things that anybody could ever want to increase the safety and security, whether it be of airline travel or border protection et cetera, all of a sudden there are some questions that come to mind. In recent months I had a personal challenge of sorts in terms of my own nomination. During my nomination, one of the issues that came up within the community was in regard to the charter of rights and the human rights provisions provided thereunder, and the need for security concerns to be embraced as well.

We now have a question, when can human rights be discounted somehow by the need to protect the sovereignty or security of a country? I took a very strong position during the last few months. I could not think of an appropriate time when human rights should be somehow discounted or set aside for safety and security reasons. Within the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we have wonderful protection that Canadians have earned and that all residents enjoy.

The Maher Arar case was a dramatic example of where a person's rights were set aside under the guise of security reasons. I think that most Canadians, and most observers objectively would say, what happened was wrong.

In this particular bill we are talking about something slightly different. We are talking about the transfer of prisoners who are in one jurisdiction, but under certain circumstances could be transferred back to their own jurisdiction, their own home. What are the rules surrounding that?

There are a number of provisions within the bill. I found it interesting that it dealt with a wide range of items including special treatment for young offenders. It dealt with probation and a number of aspects that I would think that Canadians otherwise would not be very familiar with, but the principles still remain fundamentally sound.

In 2003, when Bill C-33 at the time came forward, the Solicitor General of Canada spoke to the bill. I would like to remind the House of a couple of things that the Solicitor General had to say.

He said:

The Transfer of Offenders Act serves an important public protection purpose. Offenders incarcerated in foreign states may be deprived of the opportunity to rehabilitate themselves in the absence of treatment programs in those countries, in the absence of a structured parole system, and in the absence of direct contact with family and friends in their home community. As a result, the chances of long term reintegration of these offenders, and ultimately of better public safety, are greatly reduced. This holds true even when offenders are incarcerated in a country with social standards and customs relatively similar to Canada's.

I thought that was a very interesting statement. I think that I understand and I am quite sympathetic to the reasons why.

But we can also understand how it is very easy for some to say that we are now talking about the best interests of someone who has been convicted of a crime. Members will, and have, in the debates that have occurred before, and again today, talked about victims. There is no question in my mind that the debate surrounding the rights of those convicted, and the rights of victims and families will always be an issue in Canada.

The Solicitor General spoke of rehabilitation. The previous speaker spoke very well about the need to show a rehabilitation balance so that when people are finished their sentence, they can reintegrate into society.

In some cases, where people are emotional about an event, about a crime that occurred, or about a victim's circumstances, it is really easy to say that we should forget about those who committed the crime, put them in jail, throw away the keys and we do not want to see them ever again. That usually tempers itself down and says the sentence is the sentence. Maybe we ought to consider having harsher sentences or longer sentences.

We can start talking about the faint hope clause. We can start talking about other conditional release programs. We can talk about probationary provisions. We can talk about every case where it is clear that the probationary system has let us down.

The expectations of Canadians should be to the highest possible standard. I wonder whether or not in times of emotion, never mind just the public at large, but even members of Parliament can be objective enough to say that our system should not be totally black and white. There has to be some flexibility built into the system. There has to be principles which allow people to rehabilitate themselves so that one day, once they have served their sentence, they can get back into society, and that they stop being a burden on society.

I heard members in this place argue that it costs so much to have someone in jail. This is awful. That is a problem. But the very next debate, we will have someone saying they are not away long enough. So how do we balance this?

The issue or the concept of public good has come up. Unfortunately, even that terminology has been jaundiced somewhat because the concept of the public good has been talked about in legislation dealing with child pornography. Is there a public good which is served by someone being in possession of child pornography? I would say absolutely not.

I have said it in many speeches in this place that the existence of children pornography must necessarily mean that a child has been abused and, therefore, by possessing child pornography, whether one is the creator or the perpetrator of it, one is a participant. Public good gives me some difficulty.

However, we do have a criminal justice system. There are people who do things which are wrong and contrary to our laws, some of them very heinous. We have just had the case of the young girl who was killed by her parents. They were found guilty of killing and dismembering the body of their child. The father has been sentenced to 25 years, without chance of parole. I think the mother has been sentenced to second degree murder, with a 10 or 15 year sentence.

Is it enough? Should those persons ever come out of jail? For some, I am sure that the answer will always be no. They took a life. They should never be able to enjoy what we have here in Canada.

However, what is the humane thing to do with people who commit crimes? For some, it is hard to understand and have compassion for them, other than the fact that they are human beings and as human beings we are all vulnerable. We are all weak by our very nature. We want our sentences to be tough; we want them to be fair, but we also want to deal with the situation about what happens once a sentence is finally discharged.

In the absence of capital punishment, which we do not have here, that means that members are either going to have to argue in favour of capital punishment and let us go that way, and see whether or not there is an appetite in Canada. If not, there must be a justice system which is based on rehabilitation, which acknowledges that people eventually come out of jail and that rehabilitation is better than simply incarcerating them and letting them rot in a cell until their time is done, and then throw them out into society without the tools that prepare them to be able to integrate and be safe themselves, and safe for others to be back in society.

This is a very difficult question. It is a question that I think will always be with us because there will always be heinous crimes. There will always be bad people out there out there who do bad things. However, should our laws continue to be directed at those who commit the most serious of crimes?

I recall that some years ago I gave a speech related to the crime of murder and sentencing. I do not remember the statistics specifically, but the incidents of murder committed by a family member against another family member was very high.

Murder is murder, but now we have to look at what happened and why, and what are the other reasons why things occurred. Those are taken into account by the courts and by the justice system as to what is an appropriate way to handle things.

Sometimes there are circumstances which take some understanding. I do not think very many people in this place have the training that people have in being judges, people who are involved in the parole system, and people who are lawyers and argue these cases and have eminent experience in how to deal with them. However, if we were to put all that wisdom together, I doubt it would be found in any one person in this place.

We acknowledge that. That is why we will be bringing in and discussing points on legislation, just as with this one, which are elements of a much broader picture.

What does our criminal justice system look like? I have looked at some of the debate that occurred back about a year ago, last April. I believe one of the points put forward by the member for Crowfoot when he was talking about clauses 13 and 14, concluded by saying:

--a Canadian citizen can go to another country, commit a crime, for which there could be a much more substantial penalty, and be transferred back home here to serve a much lesser sentence

I suppose technically and mathematically that may be the case where the sentencing provisions in one jurisdiction might be different than another. However, the principle of the law in this bill is that the sentence will be the sentence had the crime been committed within Canada. That is the principle, notwithstanding what the other jurisdiction may have.

Members must keep in mind that it will be very difficult to balance or to understand and equate two systems of justice, how they are arrived at and what the provisions are, whether or not there is any chance of parole, whether there is any chance of rehabilitation, et cetera. The systems are very different. I am sure we could think of many countries where in fact the provisions of the criminal justice system are quite different.

I am confident that the justice committee has done its job with regard to this bill and that there was the one amendment to clause 10(1)(d) that would provide this humanitarian element, which I think has been very appropriate.

Having listened to members, I have been reminded about their concerns and about the criminal justice system generally. However, with regard to the principle of the bill to permit where a sending country, a receiving country and the person who has been convicted of a crime and is serving a sentence all agree that this is an appropriate thing, and takes into account existing treaties, it would probably give us a better opportunity to expand those treaties to other countries where we have Canadians abroad.

I understand others have given the numbers. Generally, from what I have heard, the House believes that the principles are fundamentally sound. For that reason I will also be supporting this bill.

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1:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Fitzpatrick Canadian Alliance Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I must confess--and maybe I am misinterpreting the government members--that I am getting a mixed message about which sentence would be imposed, the foreign jurisdiction's sentence or the Canadian standard for that offence. I am given to understand from a previous speaker that we would respect the sentence imposed by the foreign jurisdiction, but if I correctly understand the member for Mississauga South, we would be using the Canadian standard. There seems to be some ambiguity about that.

I have another concern that I think is very, very important to consider and I would like the member to respond to it. We have the British criminal justice system process in Canada. We bend over backwards to make sure that people are not going to be incarcerated without having a very fair trial. We must prove every element of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt before we convict. We have a very elaborate appeal process to correct errors and mistakes in the process.

Despite that, let me say that I have a penitentiary in my riding of Prince Albert and I do talk to inmates from time to time. A large majority of them say they are victims of the justice system, that they are innocent, that they have been falsely convicted. I have often thought that for true rehabilitation one has to take responsibility for one's actions. One has to look in the mirror and say, “I did something wrong and I have to do something to change my ways”. However, I find that a large majority will not accept responsibility, even under our system.

There are a lot of countries with criminal justice systems or processes that are very different from Canada's. They have no concepts like the right to counsel, a fair trial, reasonable doubt and all of the rest of it. However, people are convicted under those systems. I wonder about them coming back to our Canadian system. Will our courts and our system start reviewing the process employed in those other jurisdictions to determine that these people were guilty of an offence? Will we be saying that they did not get charter protection, that they did not have a right to counsel, that they were not presumed innocent before they were found guilty and so on?

There are a whole lot of differences in the justice systems around the world. I just wonder what this act does in this area. When they come back here, are we going to use the Canadian standard to evaluate the process that these people were convicted under in other jurisdictions or are we going to accept it?

I would like to have clarification on the first point too, if I may.

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1:35 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the member has raised a good question. On the first one, let me quote from the Solicitor General's speech when he said:

When Canadian offenders are transferred to Canada to serve the remainder of the foreign sentence until warrant expiry, they arrive here under the supervision of the Correctional Service of Canada or of provincial correctional authorities who oversee their gradual and controlled reintegration into society.

I believe the question is--or at least between the speakers--about what happens in the case where there are not the same kinds of probationary provisions, let us say, or early release programs, et cetera. I think that to the extent there is still something going on, it may not be full incarceration for the full period; that may have been prescribed in another jurisdiction, so it is simply period. Even someone who has a life sentence, even in Canada, may not be in jail for life, but the provisions or the controls regarding them still continue for the rest of their lives. The member is quite right, though: it is the sentence as prescribed in the foreign jurisdiction, but it may not be in precisely the same form, i.e., incarceration.

As for the second part, this is, as I indicated in my speech, the whole question of whether we are preoccupied with the rights of an offender as opposed to the rights or the interests of victims and victims' families. I think the member will know that this bill in fact deals with the treatment of those who are convicted of crimes, either in Canada and who are going to be transferred back to their own home country, or vice versa.

However, should there have been in clause 10 an additional provision with regard to taking into account, let us say, a victim impact statement or victims' rights considerations? I think that is a very good question. The justice committee did in fact review the bill in its totality and came back with one amendment, which is simply with regard to whether or not the human rights of the offender were being appropriately protected.

At this point, I am not exactly sure why an amendment with regard to victims' considerations was not considered--if it was not--in justice committee. All I can say is that I understand the point. I cannot explain why it was not dealt with.

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1:35 p.m.


Sarkis Assadourian Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, on December 12, when the new government took over, one of the offices established by the Prime Minister was that of Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs with special emphasis on Canadians abroad. As hon. members will recall, I and the member of Parliament from Ottawa West went to Damascus to bring Mr. Arar home.

My question for the hon. member is, what impact will this have on the office of the parliamentary secretary, a job now being done by our colleague from the Pickering area? I wonder if there is any relationship he can see there with regard to transferring a prisoner here from overseas or from here to overseas. What job does he see for this new position established last year by the Prime Minister?

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1:40 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary position referred to is with regard to Canadians abroad who are in jeopardy or difficulty in another jurisdiction. As the member will know, there are cases where someone has been abducted or somehow or other taken into incarceration perhaps without having all the facts known by those who have taken them. I think that in the last case it was not even clear to the abductors what the nationality was of the person who was abducted. I think there was another case where it was not clear whether or not it was citizenship by landed status as opposed to born in Canada status and what the relationship was.

When there are questions--which can be very simple questions--that may affect the lives of individuals, it is very important that this position exists. I know that the parliamentary secretary has hopped on a plane and flown to Syria on a moment's notice to go there to advocate on behalf of Canadian citizens who have been in difficulty. I do not see any implications with regard to that position and the importance of that role with regard to the act. The act is with regard to those who have had due process of law in another jurisdiction and have been convicted of crimes. We are talking about where they serve their sentences.

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1:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Fitzpatrick Canadian Alliance Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, the more I think about this bill, the more questions I seem to come up with. There are things that happen in Canada that we do not consider crimes, while in other countries they are considered crimes. There are nations in the world where adultery is a serious offence or consumption of alcohol is a very serious offence. As well, participating in an abortion would be a very serious offence and one would be looking at serious jail time.

How does the bill deal with these sorts of offences for which somebody is serving a jail sentence for something that we would never consider a criminal offence in Canada? If the offender is transferred back to a Canadian prison, to our system, is the hon. member telling me the bill would still impose that sentence on a person? Let us use the example of somebody who is serving five years for committing adultery somewhere and is transferred back to Canada? Would we honour that sentence from that jurisdiction, that full five years or whatever it was?

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1:40 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the features that I identified in reviewing some of the debate on the bill, and even within the bill itself, is the element of flexibility. As I said in my speech, to compare the laws of the criminal justice system in another jurisdiction to those of Canada and the Criminal Code would be an enormous task. It would be an enormous task to somehow find that simple formula that is going to translate things.

I take some heart from the member's question. I would simply refer back to the representations of the Solicitor General when he spoke to Bill C-33, the predecessor bill of this one. He closed by saying:

...there is a clear need for legislative flexibility in Canada to further the humanitarian objective of transfers. There is a clear need for international cooperation in matters of criminal justice and there is a clear need for public protection with the safe and gradual reintegration of offenders into society.

In the minister's remarks, he goes on to enunciate that the process involved here with treaties, et cetera, has to do not so much with swapping identicals but rather with looking at and investigating and negotiating transfers that make sense from the standpoint of a humanitarian objective.

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1:40 p.m.


Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to indicate my support of Bill C-15, the International Transfer of Offenders Act. The amendments it contains will modernize the legislation in order to reflect the numerous changes that have taken place since it was enacted back in 1978.

The provisions of Bill C-15 will allow Canada to negotiate the transfer of offenders in a manner consistent with current international standards, and will provide a mechanism for cooperation in criminal justice cases.

In short, the International Transfer of Offenders Act will enable Canada to enter into treaties with other countries for the transfer of offenders. Under the terms of such treaties, Canadian citizens convicted and sentenced in another country may serve the rest of their sentence in Canada, while foreign nationals convicted and sentenced for crimes in Canada could return to their country of origin to finish serving their sentence.

I must point out that the provisions of the International Transfer of Offenders Act would apply only to those persons actually convicted of a criminal offence, and not to those in preventive detention awaiting trial or appeal.

As well, I should point out that transfers under this act would require the full consent of the offender, as well as that of the receiving state and the sending state. Without the full consent of those three parties, an international transfer cannot proceed.

Some people may wonder why we ought to be concerned about Canadian citizens who are incarcerated in a foreign jurisdiction. Why not leave them there to serve their sentence? Why not let them learn a lesson from their experience, and serve as a warning to others tempted to commit crimes while abroad?

To answer that, I would draw attention to two interdependent objectives of the International Transfer of Offenders Act: the humane treatment of offenders and public safety. The purpose of these objectives is to ensure the human rights of the incarcerated offender, as well as to confirm the concepts behind Canada's criminal justice policy.

These objectives recognize that the vast majority of offenders will eventually be released back into the community and that the best way of ensuring public safety, in the long term, is to prepare them for their eventual return to society as law-abiding citizens. I am well aware that there are some who would challenge the notion that Canada's approach to criminal justice, generally, and corrections, specifically, is effective in protecting Canadians from crime.

In this regard, I would point to public records showing a steady decline in crime rates across most of Canada. In addition, the success rates of offenders released from our penitentiaries while under supervision are available and speak very positively for themselves.

The International Transfer of Offenders Act would ensure that Canadians who are sentenced abroad and who elect to return to Canada while under sentence would be managed in accordance with the policies and programs proven to reduce the long term risk to the Canadian public.

During the debate on Bill C-15, we have become aware of the issues facing Canadians sentenced abroad, often under difficult conditions. I am referring specifically to factors relating to human rights, sanitation, health care and nutrition.

I am also referring to the added burden associated with the differences in culture and language and to the hardship of being far removed from friends and family. The International Transfer of Offenders Act would take into account these humanitarian considerations, while also protecting public safety by addressing the offenders' criminogenic factors before sentence expiry.

Nevertheless, we must be very clear. The International Transfer of Offenders Act is not based solely on humanitarian intentions. The treaties enabled by this act do not allow offenders to somehow evade justice. These treaties stipulate that the receiving state shall neither interfere with the finding of guilt nor lessen the sentence handed down by the sentencing state.

I noted earlier that the Transfer of Offenders Act dates from 1978, which is some time ago. Principles of good governance require that legislation be reviewed from time to time in order to evaluate its continuing relevancy and effectiveness.

Consequently, the Transfer of Offenders Act was the subject of broad consultation, which included over 90 private and public sector agencies. This consultation revealed strong support for the Transfer of Offenders Act. However, the consultations also revealed that the act could benefit from some amendments, which are included in Bill C-15.

The amendments introduced in Bill C-15 can be placed in one of three categories. The first type are amendments that reflect the traditional treaty principles that have developed over time. The second, are those that address the gaps in the Transfer of Offenders Act. Finally, the last category of amendments contains the proposals that would contribute efficiencies to the current process.

I would now like to cover the main points covered by these reforms in Bill C-15.

First, the purpose and guiding principles of the act are identified. This is an important feature of modern legislation, and it helps promote consistency within Canada's body of criminal law, namely the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. Specifically, the purpose of the new international transfer of offenders act is to, and I quote,“contribute to the administration of justice and the rehabilitation of offenders and their reintegration into the community by enabling offenders to serve their sentences in the country of which they are citizens or nationals”.

Second, the international treaty obligations and principles considered legally essential are included. These principles include those that ensure offenders have access to processes consistent with natural justice and due process. Enshrinement in the act of legally sound principles is necessary to ensure that the courts do not strike down the transfer process that could result in the unsupervised release of an offender into the community.

Third, eligibility criteria have been broadened to permit an increased range of Canadians to be transferred. Presently, young persons under probation, children, and mentally disordered persons are ineligible for transfer under the Transfer of Offenders Act. Amendments introduced in Bill C-15 would make these individuals eligible for transfer. This proposed amendment is in line with the humanitarian objectives of the new international transfer of offenders act.

Fourth, clarification on the decision-making provisions have been included where provincial consent is required for the transfer of offenders on probation, provincial parole, provincial temporary absence and for offenders under a conditional or an intermittent sentence.

Fifth, updated provisions are included that would result in the consistent and equitable sentence calculation for transferred offenders and would ensure the equitable treatment of transferred offenders when a pardon is granted or when a conviction or sentence is set aside or modified.

Sixth, reforms have been introduced to allow the negotiation of transfers on a case by case ad hoc basis between Canada and states with which Canada has no treaty or jurisdictions, or territories that are not yet recognized as a state, or other entities such as Hong Kong or Macao. In light of today's rapidly changing political landscape, this is a particularly relevant feature.

There is one last point related to the reforms introduced by Bill C-15. Most states are convinced in today's global climate of the need to work multilaterally and bilaterally to address criminal conduct in a way that is in harmony with longstanding principles of territoriality.In the absence of an instrument to enforce foreign laws, crime could be encouraged rather than prevented.

By working together through the transfer agreements enabled by the new International Transfer of Offenders Act, Canada would have the flexibility to work with a broad range of countries and other entities in matters of criminal justice in a way that would lead to public protection through the safe and gradual reintegration of offenders into society.

In conclusion, and for all the reasons I mentioned here, I ask my colleagues from all parties in this House to fully support this legislation.

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1:55 p.m.


Paul MacKlin Liberal Northumberland, ON

Mr. Speaker, in listening to the hon. member, it sounds like we are taking a very progressive step but we seem to not necessarily include all the countries of the world in this process.

Does the hon. member have any suggestions as to what we might be able to do to further advance the cause as it relates to other countries in the world that may not be specifically included through an international treaty?

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1:55 p.m.


Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned, the bill provides for flexibility in regard to territories and places that have not signed definite treaties with Canada so that there could be negotiations for their inclusion within the framework of the legislation as it evolves.

I gave the examples of territories such as Hong Kong and Macao that are now being included within the Chinese sphere versus their previous status as a British colony on the one hand and a Portuguese colony on the other. We have provided for the gradual inclusion of countries and territories that are not specifically bound with Canada by treaty.