Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today in support of Bill C-39, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
Our Conservative government has been hard at work, delivering on our commitment to make our streets and communities safer for all Canadians, and to ensure that victims have a say in the justice system. Today, I am grateful for the chance to continue those efforts. Our government told Canadians when it was first elected that we would do things differently. We said we would get tough on crime. We have delivered. We said we would make sure that people convicted of serious gun crimes were given sentences that fit the nature of their act. We have delivered. We said we would give the police the tools they need to do their jobs. Again, we have delivered.
Over the last four years, this government has done what it said it would do to keep Canadian families safe in their homes and communities. We have done what we said we would do to help victims and ensure that their rights come before the rights of criminals.
I am therefore pleased to have this chance to speak to the legislation before us today, which would further strengthen this record, and which I know has the support of law enforcement officials, victims' rights groups, and all hon. members.
The bill before us today would strengthen the system of corrections and conditional release in this country in two important ways.
First, it would enhance offender responsibility and accountability, while strengthening the management of offenders during their incarceration and parole. It would also give victims access to more information and modernize disciplinary actions for offenders.
Second, the legislation before us would catch up with the seriousness of non-violent or white-collar crimes.
Let me address each of these in turn.
Bill C-39 would, first and foremost, amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to emphasize that the primary goal of corrections and conditional release is to protect the safety and security of Canadians. This is in line with key recommendations from the independent review panel that our government established in 2007 to review Correctional Service of Canada's operational priorities, strategies, and business plans. It is also in line with our commitment to put the interest and safety of law-abiding Canadians first in the justice system.
Specifically, the amendments before us today would require offenders to conduct themselves in a way that demonstrates respect for other people and property. In addition, they would require all offenders to obey all penitentiary rules and release conditions, while also actively participating in the setting and achieving of objectives in the correctional plans.
Since rehabilitation is a two-way commitment, Bill C-39 proposes amendments to ensure that a correctional plan is completed for each offender. The correctional plan sets out objectives for behaviour, program participation, and the meeting of court-ordered obligations, such as restitution to victims.
As well, Bill C-39 would modernize the system of discipline in federal penitentiaries by, for example, specifically addressing disrespectful, intimidating, and assaultive behaviour by inmates.
Bill C-39 also proposes to strengthen the management of offenders and their reintegration into society by allowing police officers to arrest offenders who appear to be in violation of their parole without having to wait for a warrant to be issued. Police and other criminal justice partners have asked for these changes, and our government is delivering on them.
Victims, of course, have long requested access to more information on offenders and a greater say in the justice system. Bill C-39 would deliver on this in a number of ways. The bill would allow victims to get information on the reasons for a temporary absence, an offender transfer, offender program participation, and any offender convictions for serious disciplinary offences.
A victim's right to attend and make statements at Parole Board of Canada hearings would also be enshrined in law, and offenders would in most cases be prevented from withdrawing their parole applications 14 days or less before a hearing date.
These proposed amendments 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 and lead useful and productive lives. They respond to the needs of staff in correctional facilities, who 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 it should, and that their safety and security is regarded as paramount.
The second set of fundamental requirements proposed by Bill C-39 relate to the current system of accelerated parole review.
As Canadians have been made painfully aware over the last few months, not all criminals carry guns. Their weapons of choice may be phony balance sheets or glitzy portfolios designed to deceive honest Canadians into handing over their hard-earned money, often their life savings.
Recently the Minister of Justice introduced legislation to impose mandatory jail time on so-called white collar criminals who commit fraud over $1 million. That legislation would also ensure that the courts will consider requiring these criminals to make restitution to their victims. This would build upon our government's other measures to ensure that the punishment fits the crime. But it is one thing to increase sentences; it is another to make sure offenders serve a portion of those sentences in custody before they are released into our communities to finish serving their sentences there.
Currently, many offenders are released through a process called accelerated parole review. First-time penitentiary inmates who have committed non-violent offences can access day parole at one-sixth of their sentences, and full parole at one-third of their sentences, through a test less rigorous than that required for regular full parole. Unless the Parole Board of Canada has reasonable grounds to believe that these offenders will commit a violent offence if released, they must release them into the community. This means that in some cases a serious fraudster, thief, or drug dealer, for example, can be sentenced to 12 years but actually be released into the community on day parole in just two years and fully paroled at four years.
The status quo gives the Parole Board no discretion in dealing with these cases. The test is whether an offender is likely to commit a violent offence. As a result, even if the Parole Board believes the offender is likely to commit another fraud or theft, or continue dealing drugs, it is compelled to release him and to try to manage him under conditions. In many cases, offenders who have been given what might sound like a proper sentence can be back on our streets not long after their crimes hit the headlines. This offends many Canadians' sense of justice. It undermines their faith in our justice and corrections system. Canadians want change and that is what our government is delivering.
Bill C-39 will abolish accelerated parole review and repeal the sections of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that govern the accelerated parole review regime. It will mean that offenders who commit non-violent or white collar crimes are put on the same footing as other offenders. They will be eligible for regular day parole review six months prior to full parole eligibility, and they will be eligible for full parole review after serving one-third of their sentences. Rather than benefiting from a paper review, they will be subject to an in-person hearing, and the test for whether they should be released will be whether they pose an undue risk of committing another crime.
With the legislation our government is proposing, serious crime will mean serious time for non-violent or white-collar criminals in the same way that it does today for violent offenders. Our government agrees with Canadians that the corrections and conditional release system should put public safety first. The punishment should fit the crime and the rights of criminals should not come ahead of the rights of victims and law-abiding citizens.
Taken together, the changes proposed by Bill C-39 will bring the Corrections and Conditional Release Act in line with the needs of law-abiding Canadians, who have the right to feel safe in their own homes. The bill will also help to ensure that victims can get justice and have a voice in the justice system. I therefore urge all members to work with our government to ensure that the legislation before us today receives the speedy passage it deserves.