Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to sponsor Bill C-43, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Criminal Code.
As the father of five children, public safety is a matter of great importance to me, and that is why I am proud to rise today to show that the government is honouring its promises to improve safety on our streets and in our communities, for all Canadians, and to ensure that victims have a voice in the justice system.
When the people of Glengarry—Prescott—Russell elected me for the first time, I told my constituents that our Conservative Party would do things differently in government, and that the appalling complacency of the former Liberal government would be coming to an end.
We said we were going to be tough on crime; we have kept our promise. We said we were going to make sure that people convicted of using firearms to commit serious crimes would get a sentence that reflected the heinousness of their actions; we have kept our promise. Unlike the opposition parties, which would like to keep claiming to protect Canadians with a useless and expensive firearms registry, we have taken concrete action against criminals who use firearms. We said we were going to give police the tools they need to do their jobs; once again, we have kept our promise.
Over the last three years, the government has honoured the commitments it made to protecting the safety of Canadians in their homes and their communities. We have fulfilled our commitment to help victims.
That is why I am very happy to have the opportunity to support this bill today. In addition to demonstrating our commitment, this initiative is supported by law enforcement representatives, victims’ rights groups and honourable members.
Bill C-43 proposes several fundamental reforms to corrections and conditional release to help ensure they continue to work the way they should in light of the changing nature of the offender population and the needs of victims.
Today, we know that many offenders entering Canada's corrections system arrive with histories of committing violent offences. Many offenders have gang or organized crime affiliations. An increasing number of offenders have serious mental health illnesses and nearly four out of five now arrive at a federal institution with a serious substance abuse problem. Many as well need to learn how to live as law-abiding citizens and might face the need to address their behaviours for the first time ever.
All of this requires a new approach to corrections and conditional release, one that will ensure that offenders get the help they need to rejoin society as law-abiding citizens, so that both our streets and our federal corrections facilities are safer places for everyone.
The amendments proposed in Bill C-43 will achieve this by enhancing offender responsibility and accountability, and by strengthening the management of offenders during their incarceration and parole. It will also achieve this by giving victims access to more information and by modernizing disciplinary actions.
All in all they reinforce and build on the work already underway to strengthen corrections and conditional release while also laying the foundation for a move toward a system of earned parole. They are also long overdue.
Some members of this House may know that as far back as 1998, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights created a subcommittee to review the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and recommend ways of improving it.
In its report, the subcommittee made 53 recommendations; one of the things it suggested was that the protection of society be the fundamental principle in all decision-making processes relating to the corrections and conditional release system, and that all efforts be made to ensure that offenders participate actively in their rehabilitation and reintegration. These were wise recommendations, that called for immediate action to be taken, and that is what our government is doing.
In 2007, our Conservative government established an independent committee to review the operational priorities, strategies and business plans of the Correctional Service of Canada, as part of our commitment to protecting Canadian families and communities.
The committee made 109 recommendations. Many of them are now being implemented, thanks to the $478 million that the government allocated in its 2008 budget. But we can do more, and that is what we are doing. The government is determined to achieve its objective, and that is why we are moving forward today.
Bill C-43 will allow us to implement a key recommendation in the 1998 report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and in the 2007 report of the independent review panel. This recommendation proposes to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to clarify that the protection of Canadians is the paramount consideration in the corrections and conditional release process.
Pursuant to the recommendations made in the two reports, Bill C-43 also proposes to ensure that the rehabilitation of offenders is a shared responsibility.
The amendments before us will require offenders to conduct themselves in a way that demonstrates respect for other people and property. As well, they will require all offenders to obey all penitentiary rules and conditions governing their release, while also actively participating in the setting and achieving of objectives in their correctional plans.
Since rehabilitation is a two-way commitment, Bill C-43 proposes amendments to ensure that a correctional plan is completed for each offender that sets out objectives for behaviour, program participation, and the meeting of their court-ordered obligations such as restitution to victims.
Amendments will also introduce new incentive measures to help promote offender participation in their correctional plan. As the 2007 independent panel report notes: “--if rehabilitation is to occur and truly be sustained, it must be shared between CSC and the offender”. That is what the amendments before us today will do.
As well, Bill C-43 will modernize the system of discipline in federal penitentiaries by, for example, addressing disrespectful, intimidating and assaultive behaviour by inmates, including the throwing of bodily substances. Anyone who has been a prison guard will say that the job is not easy. Prison guards will be pleased to learn that our Conservative government is standing up for them.
Bill C-43 also proposes to strengthen the management of offenders and their reintegration into society by allowing police officers to arrest offenders who appears to be in violation of their parole without a warrant and by excluding from accelerated parole offenders who are convicted of crimes such as street racing or luring a child over the Internet.
Police and other criminal justice partners have asked for these changes and our Conservative government is delivering on them. As a husband and father, I cannot emphasize enough how important this is to me and to families all across Canada.
Of course, the victims have been asking for a long time to have better access to information about offenders, and to play a more active role in the Canadian justice system.
Bill C-43 meets the victims' requests in a number of ways. For example, it allows them to obtain information on the reasons for a temporary absence or transfer, and on the offender's participation in programs and convictions for serious disciplinary offences. Families want to feel safe at home. It is unacceptable that they should live in constant fear that their victimizer could come back.
The right of victims to participate in National Parole Board hearings and to make statements will be put into law.
Moreover, in most cases, offenders will not be allowed to withdraw their parole application in the 14 days preceding the hearing date. The government is also setting up a national advisory committee to better inform victims of the policies and procedures that affect them, so that they can have better access to information and services that are of interest to them.
The amendments proposed by Bill C-43 are balanced and fair. They respond to the needs of victims as well as those of offenders who want to rejoin society as law-abiding citizens to lead useful and productive lives. They respond to the needs of staff in correctional facilities, all of whom have a right to expect a safe and secure work environment. They also respond to the needs of all Canadians who have a fundamental right to expect that the corrections system will work the way that it should work and that their safety and security is paramount.
I therefore urge all hon. members to give speedy passage to the bill before us today, so that all of us can continue to transform the corrections system into one that truly meets the needs of the 21st century.