Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak in favour of Bill C-39, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
The legislation before us today follows through on a number of changes identified by the Correctional Service Canada's 2007 independent review panel report entitled, ”A Roadmap to Strengthening Public Safety”, to strengthen our correctional system.
The government has made strides to respond to the 109 recommendations in the panel's report. Most of these recommendations fall into five broad categories: first, increasing offender accountability; second, eliminating drugs from federal prisons; third, modernizing physical infrastructure; fourth, elimination of statutory release; and, finally, moving toward earned parole. Many of the recommendations also relate specifically to the concerns of victims.
Our government responded to the recommendation to eliminate drugs from prisons by announcing a new anti-drug strategy. This strategy allows the Correctional Service Canada to significantly expand the drug detector dog program at all federal prisons and institutions. It also increases security intelligence capacity in institutions and their surrounding communities and purchases security equipment for maximum and medium security federal prisons, while also enhancing perimeter security around those institutions.
The government is also taking action to tackle gangs in our prisons, a presence that significantly contributes to the use of drugs.
Bill C-39 builds on and expands our reference to respond to these recommendations by affirming our commitment to the rights of victims, increasing accountability of offenders and ensuring that first-time or non-violent offenders do not get off with a proverbial slap on the wrist. We continue to view the protection of law-abiding Canadians and the rights of victims as the priority of our justice system, and rightfully so in my submission.
I will begin by addressing some of these issues with some detail, beginning with how this legislation recognizes the role played by victims and also how it provides victims with better information.
While it has been the case that victims can attend parole hearings, this practice will now be enshrined into law. This legislation also provides the Parole Board of Canada and Correctional Service with the ability to better inform victims with information such as the reasons for an offender transfer and, where possible, notification when offenders are moved to minimum security. In addition, some forms of institutional behaviour by the offender, such as serious institutional infractions, may be reported along with the reasons for any temporary absences from correctional facilities.
Victims have told us time and time again that this is the type of information they require and our government is responding by providing it to them.
We are expanding the ability to notify victims from those who are the direct victims of the offences to also include guardians or care givers of dependent victims who are deceased, ill or otherwise incapacitated with the same information that the victims themselves would otherwise receive.
Under the current legislation, when an offender withdraws his or her participation 14 days or less before a parole hearing, the National Parole Board can formerly and currently not proceed with the review and make a decision. However, Bill C-39 would put an end to needless travel by victims to attend these hearings that are often cancelled at the last minute. Once again, we are responding to the requirements of the victims of the criminal justice system.
Offenders will often waive their parole hearing, but under the proposed legislation, victims will be able to request information on the reasons an offender gives for waiving a parole hearing.
To ensure that victims have an opportunity to provide input into policies and procedures associated with victim services, a national advisory committee on victims has been created. This complements additional proposed reforms and improves the information available to all victims. Taken together, these changes will bring the interests of the victims to the forefront.
Effective rehabilitation and eventual reintegration should be a shared responsibility between correctional workers and the offender. As such, offenders must be held accountable for their criminal behaviour and also for their rehabilitation. In keeping with this recommendation from the independent review panel report, the following legislative changes will specifically require offenders to: first, behave respectfully toward other persons and property; second, obey conditions of release and all prison rules; and third, ensure that offenders are more actively involved in setting out and achieving the goals achieved in their respective correctional plans.
The legislative changes contained in Bill C-39 would formalize expectations for offender behaviour, program participation and fulfillment of any court ordered financial obligations such as restitution to victims as part of their correctional plan.
These legislative changes respond to the needs of staff in correctional facilities, all of whom have a right to expect a safe and secure work environment. Employees of Correctional Service Canada are hard-working and fine public servants and they deserve and ought to expect a safe work environment. They also respond to the needs of all Canadians who have a fundamental right to expect that the corrections systems will work the way that it ought to work and that their safety and security is paramount.
The legislation would allow police officers to arrest, without warrant, an offender who appeared to be in breach of any condition of conditional release. This responds to the police concerns with respect to the current requirement of contacting parole officers prior to making an arrest for an apparent breach. Police officers, too, are fine, hard-working and dedicated public servants and this amendment to the legislation is in direct response to lobbying efforts on behalf of police officers and their respective bodies.
Under the current system, accelerated parole review allows non-violent, first-time offenders to access day parole at one-sixth of their sentence and automatic full parole at one-third of their sentence. For these offenders, rather than a hearing the process for considering release is simply a paper-based review. However, Bill C-39 would change all this by removing this form of review from the Corrections and Conditional Release Act so that all offenders, whether they are first-time fraudsters or sentenced for violent assault will follow the same review process.
The tests for granting parole will no longer be whether they are likely to commit a violent offence. As with all parole reviews, Parole Board members will consider the risk that the offender may present to the society if released and determine if and to what extent that risk can be managed in the community.
The Parole Board of Canada will continue to hold the protection of society as the overriding consideration in any release decision. Whether convicted of fraud or assault, offenders will be eligible for regular day parole review six months prior to full parole eligibility and full parole review after serving one-third of their sentence.
This change is an important first step toward another of the review panel's recommendations, specifically that of earned parole. I listened with great interest and I am happy to hear that my friends in the Bloc Québécois are advocating toward some system of earned parole.
The legislation would also enhance the capacity of the Parole Board of Canada. The Parole Board of Canada bears a tremendous responsibility for making very important and very difficult decisions regarding conditional release. Accordingly, the CCRA will be amended to do the following. It will increase the number of full-time board members. It will make it possible to directly appoint part-time members to the Appeal Division. It will clarify the provisions in the CCRA that conditional release decisions are consistent with the protection of society. Finally, it will enshrine into law the practice of automatically suspending the statutory release of offenders who receive a new custodial sentence.
Cumulatively these legislative reforms will set into motion the good work that was contained in the 2007 independent panel report and are a key step in transforming and modernizing the federal corrections and conditional release system. These reforms would further ensure our streets and communities remain safe for everyone and this should be a goal for all members in this honourable House.
The legislation is part of this government's stand on behalf of all Canadians who want the rights of law-abiding people to be respected and to come first. After all, we all want the same things that honest, hard-working Canadians want for themselves and their families, and that is simply a safer country, a country where criminals do not get off with a slap on the wrist but, instead, are held to account and have to face the full weight and consequences of their actions and real difficult changes to their lives before rejoining society.
This is appropriate and that is what our government was elected to do. This is why we are putting forth multiple pieces of legislation to protect Canadians, such as Bill C-39, and we will continue to do so. I ask all hon. members to vote in favour of the bill.