Madam Speaker, I appreciate that the member for Compton—Stanstead has an interest in this particular bill. When my colleague read the portion from the throne speech, one could hardly say that it is a message of indifference. In fact, it is a message of compassion.
I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-343. The bill proposes amendments to the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act and would provide for unpaid leave for federally-regulated employees whose family members were victims of violent crime. It would also create a new EI benefit to provide temporary income support to eligible family members who take this unpaid leave.
Our government empathizes with those who have lost loved ones due to violent crimes or suicide. It can take a long time for anyone to fully heal from this kind of tragic loss. People need time to work through their stages of grief and to learn to cope. There is no particular magic formula for what is the right amount of time to deal with this kind of trauma or turns of events. That is especially true when grieving families are victims of violence.
What we need, therefore, is an approach that is flexible enough to meet the unique needs of families in these circumstances. We need an approach that is compassionate. We also need an approach that is as accessible as possible for those who need this kind of assistance. Looking after the needs of citizens who fall victim to violent crime is a priority for this government, has been a priority of this government and will continue to be a priority of this government.
As indicated in the remarks I made in the House on December 10, 2009, our government is concerned about the impact of violence on all Canadians. We are taking action in a manner that is balanced and fair. There have been several references to this bill indicating that this legislation is based upon legislation that was recently implemented in the province of Quebec. This legislation provides a strong example of how a government can support those who are suffering from a violent criminal act. It is my understanding that the Quebec legislation was largely due to the successful efforts of the Murdered or Missing Persons' Families' Association and, in particular, its past president, Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu.
Members may recognize his name as Mr. Boisvenu was named to the Senate by the Prime Minister on January 29, 2010. Mr. Boisvenu was recently part of the announced legislation to strengthen the National Sex Offender Registry and the National DNA Data Bank yesterday with the Minister of Public Safety, and just days ago, he helped announce legislative amendments to strengthen the way the young offenders system deals with violent repeat young offenders. We welcome him to the Senate and wish him every success as he continues to work on behalf of victims of crime to ensure they receive the support they deserve from every level of government.
The member for Compton—Stanstead is to be commended for bringing this issue before the House. We can all see the intent of this bill, which is to give comfort to families who are in a situation that can only be described as heartbreaking. That intent is laudable.
For any family member, the loss of a loved one is painful. It is almost unimaginable when that loss involves a child. I do not think any member of the House or any citizen of this country would ever expect a grieving family to simply carry on after a few days off. There needs to be more time to heal and a comprehensive plan to support these individuals as they come to grips with the impact this violent criminal act has had on their lives. I will be frank. We need to be broader in our approach than this bill permits.
Members on this side of the House understand the need to support victims of crime. This is why our government has had such a strong record of helping individuals whose lives have been fundamentally changed by violent crime.
It was our government that created the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. This position was created to better meet the needs of victims of crime in areas of federal jurisdiction. It was with great pride that in April of 2007, the Minister of Justice named Steve Sullivan as the first ombudsman. Victims can contact this office to learn more about their rights under federal law and the services available to them or to make a complaint about any federal agency or federal legislation dealing with victims of crime.
In addition to its direct work with victims, the office of ombudsman also works to ensure that policy-makers and other criminal justice personnel are aware of victims' needs and concerns, and to identify important issues and trends that may negatively impact victims. Where appropriate, the ombudsman may also make recommendations to the federal government.
It was our government that contributed $52 million to the victims fund to improve the experience of victims in the criminal justice system. This fund provides individual victims of crime with emergency funding to prevent undue hardship when there is no other source of financial assistance. It also provides funds for family members of homicide victims to assist them with the expenses incurred to attend early parole eligibility hearings or National Parole Board hearings. This is in addition to the support for NGOs that encourage the development of new approaches, promote access to justice for victims of crime, improve the capacity of victim service providers, foster the establishment of referral networks and increase awareness of services available to victims of crime and their families.
It is important to remember in the context of this debate the significant role provinces play, both in administrating the criminal justice system as well as providing supporting for victims of crime. This bill can only apply to federally regulated industries, which comprise around 10% of the Canadian workforce. That is why the provincial and territorial implementation component of the victims fund is designed to encourage implementation of federal, provincial and territorial legislation for victims of crime. This would include Criminal Code provisions, such as victim impact statements and testimonial aids as well as support for adherence to the Canadian statement of basic principles of justice for victims of crime.
However, our work is not done and we have committed to doing more. That is why the following piece was included in the Speech from the Throne:
Our Government will also offer tangible support to innocent victims of crime and their families. It will give families of murder victims access to special benefits under Employment Insurance. It will introduce legislation to give employees of federally regulated industries the right to unpaid leave if they or members of their families are victimized by crime. And our Government will introduce legislation to make the victim surcharge mandatory, to better fund victim services.
This is not a new commitment by our government. During the first hour of debate in the second session of this Parliament on December 10, 2009, I signaled the intent of the government to bring forward its own legislation to assist victims of crime and their families.
While there may be similarities between the broad direction the government has indicated and the member's bill, I do not wish to unduly get the member's hopes up. When I spoke to the bill in the second session of this Parliament, I indicated that the government cannot support the bill. That position has not changed. While we share a common purpose, there are significant details in this bill that will inadvertently increase the cost of such a program or have unintended consequences.
There is also a need for a more comprehensive approach to this issue. While having time off to grieve is essential, our government has taken a more participatory approach to the criminal justice system. We have worked across multiple departments to address the needs of those affected by crime. Without revealing any details of the coming government announcement, I can only say that the government's approach will be more encompassing when addressing the needs of family members.
The member across may question why we would not simply be able to amend her bill at committee. The problem is that the government's proposed changes would go beyond the scope of her bill, and once that scope is established at second reading, it would be procedurally impossible to amend it at committee stage. That is why it would make good sense simply to have this bill traded down the order paper or be defeated at second reading and to support the government's legislation when it is introduced in the House.
For these reasons, we cannot support the bill. I would urge all members of the House to put off consideration of the bill until the government has a chance to table the measures that were mentioned in the Speech from the Throne.
Canadians take great pride in being a society that cares for the most vulnerable and lends a helping hand to those who need it when faced with adversity. In that regard, there is much potential in the bill, but I would urge all members of the House to wait for the government's proposal to be introduced in its place.
Our government has deep sympathy for family members of victims of violent crime, and our legislation and legislative record demonstrate this. Not only are we providing victims of violent crime with the tools they need, we are also finding solutions to help protect our citizens from becoming victims of crime in the first place.