Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak in support of Bill C-15, which is the international transfer of offenders act.
The amendments introduced in Bill C-15 would modernize the Transfer of Offenders Act to reflect the many changes that have occurred since this legislation was proclaimed in 1978.
The provisions contained in Bill C-15 would allow Canada to negotiate the transfer of offenders in a manner consistent with current international standards and would provide a mechanism for cooperation in criminal justice matters.
To elaborate, the Transfer of Offenders Act allows Canada to implement treaties with other countries for the transfer of offenders. Under the terms of these treaties, Canadians convicted and sentenced in a foreign jurisdiction would be allowed to serve the remainder of their sentences in Canada. Similarly, foreign nationals convicted and sentenced for crimes committed in Canada would be permitted to return to their home country and to serve the remainder of their sentence there.
I should make it clear that the terms of the act would apply only to individuals actually convicted of a criminal offence and would not apply to individuals held in remand or detention, awaiting trial or appeal. In addition, I would like to note that transfers, pursuant to the Transfer of Offenders Act, require the full consent of the offender, as well as the receiving and the sending state. Without the full consent of all parties, an international transfer cannot proceed.
Some might wonder why we should occupy ourselves with the plight of Canadians who find themselves incarcerated in a foreign jurisdiction. Why not let them stay there and do their time? Why not let the experience be a lesson to them and a warning to others who might be considering criminal activities while abroad?
To those who would respond in this way, I would draw attention to two interrelated objectives of the transfer of offenders act, namely, public safety and the humane treatment of offenders. These objectives, which derive from Canadian criminal justice policy, 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.
To those who take this view, I would point to public records showing a steady decline in crime rates across most of Canada. At the same time, I would invite critics of Canada's criminal justice policy to examine the impressive success rates of offenders released from our penitentiaries while under supervision. These results are a product of sound, evidence based policies and programs for the treatment of offenders, and clearly they work. The Transfer of Offenders Act ensures that Canadians sentenced abroad and who elect to return to Canada while under sentence will 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 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 Transfer of Offenders Act responds to these humanitarian considerations while protecting public safety by addressing the offender's criminogenic factors before sentence expiry.
Let us be clear. The Transfer of Offenders Act is not based on some well-intentioned but misguided humanitarian notion. The realities are that Canadian offenders sentenced abroad would in all probability be deported back to Canada following the end of their sentence without any supervision and lacking the benefit of rehabilitation programs.
The treaties enabled by the Transfer of Offenders Act do not allow offenders to somehow evade justice. These treaties allowed by the act stipulate that the receiving state shall neither interfere with the finding of guilt nor lessen the sentence handed down by the sentencing state.
At the outset, I noted 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.
Pursuant to this review, there was 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. First are amendments that reflect the traditional treaty principles that have developed over time. 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.
Allow me to cover the main points covered by these reforms in Bill C-15. First, the purpose and the guiding principles of the act are identified. This is an important feature of modern legislation. 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 proposed new international transfer of offenders act is:
to 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.
Next, 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.
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.
Clarification on the decision making provisions has been included where provincial consent is required for the transfer of offenders on probation, provincial parole and provincial temporary absence and for offenders under a conditional or an intermittent sentence. Also, updated provisions are included, which will result in the consistent and equitable sentence calculation for transferred offenders and will ensure the equitable treatment of transferred offenders when a pardon is granted or when a conviction or sentence is set aside or modified.
As well, 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 states, or other entities such as Hong Kong or Macao. I would just note that in light of today's rapidly changing political landscape, this is a particularly relevant feature.
There are other primarily technical amendments introduced in Bill C-15, which will strengthen the provisions of the current Transfer of Offenders Act, but time does not permit me to elaborate on them.
However, 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 with others through the transfer agreements enabled by the new international transfer of offenders act, Canada will 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, let me say that Bill C-15 builds on a proven and effective correctional policy, a policy that delivers public safety by treating offenders fairly and humanely during their period of incarceration and by preparing them for their eventual safe reintegration into society. As such, the reforms introduced through Bill C-15 demonstrate Canada's enduring commitment to maintaining public safety and a willingness to work cooperatively with our global partners on criminal justice issues.
Finally, I would like to thank the members of the standing committee for their perseverance and responsiveness in the examination of Bill C-15 throughout their deliberations and for presenting a bill that is worthy of support within the House.