House of Commons Hansard #30 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was veterans.


Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members


The House resumed from April 16 consideration of the motion that Bill C-5, An Act to amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.


Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, when the Prime Minister of Canada went to China in 2009, he said that he would teach the Chinese government about human rights. He said:

And so, in relations between China and Canada, we will continue to raise issues of freedom and human rights, and be a vocal advocate and an effective partner for human rights reform, just as we pursue the mutually beneficial economic relationship desired by both our countries.

But Bill C-5, An Act to amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act, which we will be opposing, makes it clear that the Prime Minister and the members of his government have nothing to teach the Chinese government. Allow me to explain.

Under the current International Transfer of Offenders Act, when the Minister of Public Safety agrees to a request for transfer back to Canada of a Canadian imprisoned abroad, he shall consider a number of factors, including whether the offender constitutes a threat to the security of Canada, if he has social or family ties in Canada, if he is truly a resident of Canada, what is his state of health, and so forth. In the case of a young offender, what is best for the youth is the main consideration when making a decision.

There is another key factor, set out in paragraph 10(1)(d) of the existing legislation, and that is “whether the foreign entity or its prison system presents a serious threat to the offender’s security or human rights.” Bill C-5 replaces the term “shall” with “may”. Therefore, the minister “may consider”.

Consequently, it would be up to the minister to decide whether or not to take into account threats to the human rights or to the security of the Canadian citizen being held abroad. He would no longer be required to consider the human rights. He could, if he so wished.

That means that if a person is held abroad for committing any crime, even drug trafficking, they must remain in that country even if the minister knows they are being tortured. If that country engages in torture, the minister could, arbitrarily, decide not to consider this factor for any number of reasons.

The minister can make such a decision for a variety of reasons. It may be because the offender is homosexual or does not belong to the same church as the minister. The minister may consent to the transfer. Who knows, maybe the offender's father is a big party backer. That is the power that comes from “may” rather than “shall”.

Anything is possible when an arbitrary decision is made. Even the craziest reasons can come into play. Maybe the offender once ran for election against the minister and plans to run again. There is the potential for serious demagoguery.

Making arbitrary decisions that affect people's basic rights and security could lead to situations that are unacceptable and completely absurd. For example, a 20-year-old Canadian woman—this is a hypothetical but quite plausible situation that could happen anytime—might have to serve a lengthy sentence abroad for attempting to smuggle drugs. She might be held in extremely difficult conditions. She might be raped by her guards and suffer all kinds of abuse. And the correctional service and another government organization could tell the minister that this makes no sense.

This person should be returned to Canada because the living conditions in the country in question are dangerous and pose a threat to her physical and mental well-being. But with this bill, the minister could decide quite arbitrarily not to take this information into account. He could sign on the dotted line and refuse to bring the offender back to Canada, saying that her return would endanger public safety. He could also wait a year or two before giving an answer, just as he does now. It is just as serious, but that is another story.

What is most serious is that making the decision arbitrary not only helps feed rumours about a government, but opens the door to abuse, corruption and collusion.

I seriously doubt that this government wants to enhance public safety with Bill C-5, because the current international transfer law is based on balanced criteria under which the courts can exercise appropriate oversight over the minister's decisions. The minister must consider certain factors. When there are controls in place, checking is done. Case law shows that judges have ruled that the minister was wrong or right.

With this bill, the government appears to be looking for a way to prevent the transfer of more prisoners, probably because it is of the simplistic belief that keeping these people in prisons outside of Canada will better protect the public. Unfortunately, in many if not the vast majority of cases, we would be fooling ourselves if we thought that keeping Canadian prisoners overseas was a good way to protect Canadian society. In the end, the majority of them come back to Canada. They are Canadians. We cannot revoke their citizenship. Who knows—maybe they are planning to introduce a bill to revoke criminals' citizenship. These people are Canadians and they will come back. What condition will they be in when they do? Will they have taken part in programs?

The truth is that very few countries offer programs. In Canada, however, the correctional system offers a lot of programs. Right now, programs get 2% of the funding they need. I think we should increase funding for federal programs provided by the Correctional Service of Canada to 10%. Our system looks pretty good compared to those of other countries. However, the truth is that these programs are underfunded. When we compare ourselves to other countries, we see that at least people here may have access to programs provided by the Correctional Service of Canada.

It is highly likely that Canadian prisoners incarcerated in countries that do not offer such programs will be dangerous when they return to Canada. I have been to countries where the prison system is utterly antiquated and where people are crammed together in rooms. There are all kinds of prison systems in the world. We cannot expect that prisoners will have access to good rehabilitation programs. Individuals who return to Canada may or may not have had access to programs. They will be dangerous when they come back here. They will not have been rehabilitated, and they will not be monitored by the Correctional Service of Canada.

When prisoners are transferred, the Correctional Service of Canada takes responsibility and monitors them until the end of the sentence. What we have now are people who come back here after serving their sentence and are not monitored at all. Which is the better way to protect society? The answer is self-evident. Which is the better way to protect offenders? Yes, there is some ideological conflict here. Protecting society requires prisons and a certain degree of repression, but that is not all it takes. Rehabilitation, prevention and many other strategies are critical to protecting society, and they all require funding.

Many experts now say that international transfers already enhance public safety because they help ensure that offenders who would not have had access to rehabilitation will automatically have access by entering the federal system in Canada. As a result, these people, instead of being deported without having received any rehabilitation, will be sent to our system where they will have access to all of that.

The 2006-07 report from Correctional Service Canada stated that offenders who are not transferred are usually deported to Canada at the end of their sentence, without correctional supervision and without the benefit of programs. Therefore, international transfers play a key role in rehabilitation, and ultimately in protecting the public.

Let us be clear: the sole purpose of this bill is to give more discretionary power to the Minister of Public Safety, regardless of which government is in power. The bill will enable a public safety minister to do whatever he or she wants. That has nothing to do with protection. In fact, if the Conservatives are telling us that they want to strengthen this legislation for more protection, then they should not remove the words “shall consider”. They should be left as they are. They could add some criteria, but they should not remove the word “shall”; it should be left.

We see how this government treats Canadians and Quebeckers abroad, so we have to wonder: do we want to give this government more discretionary power? Would it not be risky to give any government more power? A government already has a lot of power, so would giving it more increase the risks?

Here is an example. Ms. Mohamud is a 31-year-old Canadian citizen who went to Kenya to visit her mother. She was unable to return to the country because she was accused of having stolen a passport. She was told that it was not hers. Eventually, after a long fight, this woman was able to prove her innocence. She is currently suing the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, the former minister of public safety, the member for York—Simcoe, and the current Minister of Foreign Affairs for $12 million. Furthermore, the Minister of Foreign Affairs is accused of intentionally or negligently failing to conduct a competent investigation of Ms. Mohamud's case, and he is also accused of intentionally defaming Ms. Mohamud by implying to reporters that she was dishonest, that she was not who she said she was, and that she had committed criminal misconduct.

Are we supposed to trust people like this? Impossible. We cannot give them carte blanche. It does not matter who the minister of public safety is, now or in the future. They should not be given discretionary powers when physical safety or human rights are at issue. That is fundamental.

This bill paves the way for arbitrary decisions in terms of respect for human rights—and that is a threat to democracy—and opens the door to possible corruption or collusion.

If this bill is passed, the minister of public safety, no matter who it is, could decide that certain factors are more important than others when determining if someone should be transferred, all without having to take into consideration the individual's physical safety, health, family ties in Canada or basic rights. The minister could, as the bill states, take into consideration any factor he considers relevant. This leaves the door wide open.

This could lead to all sorts of problems: those who donate to political parties could be subject to a different standard of justice than other people, and the minister would have full rein to justify his decisions.

It will be impossible to prove cases of collusion or corruption because the minister will have the right to do whatever he wants and establish any criteria that he considers relevant.

If the government really wants to rid the international transfer system of all partisanship and collusion, it only has to ensure that the minister has the duty to take into consideration the criteria established in the legislation. And, yes, I said “duty”.

In closing, I asked myself a question. I asked myself why this law needs to be amended. According to most of the literature, this law works well and does a good job at protecting society, even more so because the minister has the duty to take this criterion into consideration.

The minister currently has some latitude in deciding whether or not to transfer someone. And if we look at case law, the Federal Court has backed most ministerial decisions. The best example is the De Vito case in which Justice Harrington of the Federal Court agreed with the minister's decision, even though the RCMP and Correctional Service Canada recommended that he be repatriated.

So why should we change a piece of legislation that works? Perhaps the government is trying to ensure it has the authority to eventually refuse to repatriate the child soldier Omar Khadr, if he is ever tried and sentenced. The United States wants to send him back to Canada, but the government does not want him here. But with this, if he is tried and sentenced, it will become a matter of international transfer. The Canadian government has already trampled this young man's rights, as the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized, but I have a feeling this bill will seal his fate.

Helping someone whose life is in danger is a fundamental principle for Quebeckers. This right is enshrined in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. The government's Bill C-5 flies in the face of the fundamental values of Quebeckers. This bill is completely consistent with the Conservatives' anti-human-rights ideology.

In any case, we watched as the Conservatives gladly cut several programs that allow people to fight for their rights. All United Nations member countries have signed the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In fact, although the French title speaks of the rights of “Man”, I believe that women are people too, so “human rights” is better, but that is a different argument. As everyone knows, enforcing and recognizing these rights is problematic in a number of countries. It all lies in the ability to say either “I must” or “I cannot”.

I think the Prime Minister is leading Canada towards becoming that kind of country. In fact, he is working hard to do so, and is doing a good job of it.

I cannot wait for the day when we separate from Canada and we can create our society without the shackles of Ottawa, build a country that reflects our values, a country that knows how to defend the rights of all members of its population without exception, without arbitrary decisions, without collusion and most importantly, in a very humane manner.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.


Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, this is just another bill in a long list of Conservative crime bills that show more of a desire for publicity over substance.

For 30 years the transfer of prisoners has occurred in this country in very small numbers. Very few are being rejected. The fact is that people who are brought from other countries go right to jail in Canada where they get into proper rehabilitation programs. If we were to leave them in jails in other countries, they would come back to Canada eventually and they would have had none of the training and rehabilitation they would have received had they been in Canada.

This is all window dressing on the part of the government with an eye on improving its position in the polls. We have to expose that for what it is. Having said that, all bills can be improved in committee and I do not have a problem with that. However, we should be exposing what the government's real intention is. There really is not a problem to be fixed in the first place. The system is working reasonably well but it is another situation that the government can take advantage of for short-term publicity gain.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.


Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC

Madam Speaker, I have to agree with my colleague. That is just what I have been saying over and over again as I watch this government's justice and public security measures: they have just been for show. In short, I would say that its only achievement—if I can call it that—has been prorogation.

A number of justice and public security bills were on the table. They were very important to the government, but then we had prorogation. To date, not many have been brought back. However, the government is serving up leftovers and making a big show of it. It wants the people to believe that it is working on ensuring public safety.

Yesterday in committee we heard from Mr. Sullivan. He told us very clearly that the government took imaginary action against the so-called criminals. The witness did not use the word “imaginary”. That is my word. The government has done nothing for the victims. The witness was unable to give me a percentage for comparison. If we were to make the comparison for him, we would see that the government was putting more emphasis on sentencing. Its crime bills have never amounted to much. The government is unable to get things done.

It likes to blame the media or the opposition. However, it was neither the media nor the opposition that prorogued Parliament. It was the government.

The government is just warming up the leftovers of its so-called tough on crime legislation. It is not tough at all, because these bills do not amount to anything. These bills are supposedly going to strengthen something, but in fact, they provide nothing but rhetoric about punishment. These bills do not punish intelligently; they are intended to punish for punishment's sake. To punish intelligently, we could send people to prison to rehabilitate them, for instance. The Correctional Services' budget for such programs is 2%.

They are going to build prisons, but not implement any programs. They are going to abolish prison farms. They are not going to provide anything for the victims but they are going to put people in prison.

If this keeps up, soon the Conservatives will reinstate the death penalty. That would solve their problem and it would cost less. They are going to lock people up and throw away the key. It is not clear whether they can or want to pay for the lethal injection. Maybe they will consider a bullet to the head, which costs only 35¢. Such is the government's policy.

The worst part is that the government will not admit it. It quietly introduces bills to try to get its ideology through. It does not even have the courage to face the issues. I challenge the government to do so.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.


Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the member for her fine speech and the great work that she does in the public safety committee.

From reading the international transfers annual report for 2006-07, I have noticed that over the last 10 fiscal years, 26.9% of the people requesting a transfer requested a transfer to Quebec. Offenders are asked when they apply for a transfer to indicate their region of choice on their application. I also noticed that from 1996 to 2006, an average of 22 offenders a year requested a transfer into Quebec. However, in 2006-07, the very first year of the current Conservative government, that number was cut in half. Only 10 transfers of offenders from outside the country were approved to transfer to continue to serve their sentence in Quebec.

I wonder if my hon. colleague has any comments on the current government's approach to the rehabilitation of offenders. I also wonder whether or not she questions the government's commitment to Canadians being able to serve their sentences in a jurisdiction like Quebec where they might get better rehabilitation than they would in a prison in the United States, Colombia, or one of the Conservatives' other favourite countries in the world that they think we should be dealing with.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.


Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question. He, too, does very good work on the committee.

When an offender requests a transfer, he does so to be closer to his family. The underlying principle of reintegration programs is to allow individuals, once they have served their sentence, to have ties that help them return to society as law-abiding citizens. To do that, they must have support. They need a family to help them. They need friends, a job, housing, there must be something waiting for them when they get out.

When we look at these figures we realize that Quebeckers ask to go home to serve their sentences. Ontarians do the same thing and return to their province—their nation—not just because they will have access to programs that will help them be better citizens, but also because they will have access to community support.

Some offenders have children. They do not want to stay in Colombia for 15 or 20 years. They want to see their children again and it would be cruel not to allow that. Children should not pay for their parents' mistakes. They must not pay for them. They are also victims. The offenders' spouses are also victims. There must also be some compassion.

My colleague gave the example of an offender held in Colombia or any other country that disregards human rights. Whatever crime that person has committed, he will serve his sentence in Canada. An international transfer does not mean that a prisoner hops a plane at government expense and comes home to frolic in the fields. It means that the Correctional Service of Canada picks the offender up at the airport and places him in an institution where he will have access to programs.

But programs are not treats, and they are not put in place just for fun. Programs are put in place so that criminals, offenders and inmates can become law-abiding citizens. Are they set up just for humane reasons or out of charity? They are mainly there to protect society. That is key.

One hundred inmates who have not had access to a program are far more dangerous than 100 inmates who have been transferred and have had access to a program. That is key.

I would like to remind the House about something that the current Minister of Public Safety inadvertently talked about in committee when answering a question from a party colleague. Referring to international transfers, he said that people wanted to come to Canada to serve lenient sentences. But who are these people? They are not Colombians; they are Canadians. They want to come home to serve their sentence, and they have the right to do so.

The Conservatives talk about lenient sentences, but they did not even want to do away with the possibility of release after serving one sixth of a sentence. So what are they talking about? The minister says that inmates can be released after serving one sixth of their sentence here. But that is the Conservatives' fault. If they had just done away with that possibility, there would not be a problem anymore.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.


Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the New Democrats on Bill C-5, An Act to amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act. By way of background, Bill C-5 is virtually identical to former Bill C-59, which was introduced in November 2009.

When Parliament prorogued, Bill C-59 died before it received any debate in the House. It was one of a suite of criminal justice bills, 17 as a matter of fact, which bills were actually killed by the government when in December last year it chose to prorogue Parliament and hold up much of the legislation that Canadians want and hold up the debate on many of the issues that ought to be debated.

Bill C-5 contains amendments to the International Transfer of Offenders Act. It would be helpful for all members of the House to consider the history and background of this act. Canada has had legislation providing for the international transfer of offenders both from Canada and into Canada since 1978. The International Transfer of Offenders Act was enacted in 2004 and replaced the old Transfer of Offenders Act.

The act essentially provides a mechanism for a foreign national imprisoned in Canada to apply for a transfer to his or her home country to serve the remainder of his or her sentence. Similarly, the act provides a mechanism for a Canadian citizen imprisoned abroad to apply for a transfer back to Canada to serve out the remainder of his or her sentence here in Canada.

As I said, the old act and the current act together have been in force for over three decades in this country. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives have been in power and overseen the administration of this legislation. Liberal governments and Conservative governments have overseen the transfer and repatriation of Canadian citizens back to Canada.

Between 1978 and 2007, which is the most recent year for which comprehensive statistics are available, 124 foreign nationals were transferred out of Canadian jails, and 1,351 Canadian citizens were transferred back to Canada.

The purpose and principles of the act are quite clear. The current purpose of the act is defined in section 3, which states:

The purpose of this 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.

The Correctional Service of Canada has a website dedicated to the International Transfer of Offenders Act. This website gives more detailed background about the principles underlying the international transfer mechanism. I will quote from that. It states:

Canadians incarcerated in foreign countries often find themselves facing serious problems coping with local conditions. The most common problems involve culture shock, isolation, language barriers, poor diets, inadequate medical care, disease and inability to contact friends and family....In some prison systems, the offender's family is even expected to provide food and financial assistance. The purpose of these agreements is humanitarian to enable offenders to serve their sentence in their country of citizenship, to alleviate undue hardships borne by offenders and their families and facilitate their eventual reintegration into society. Once transferred, the offender's sentence is administered in accordance with the laws of the receiving country.

In the case of offenders, Canadians coming back to Canada, that means serving their sentences in accordance with sentencing principles of Canada. I want to emphasize that those are not my words that I just read. Those are the words of the Correctional Service of Canada. That is the description by the people we entrust, who have expertise in carceral policy in this country. It has been the policy of this country for 30 years. These are the principles the government seeks to change by this very flawed, poorly conceived, unjust and totally ineffective legislation.

Let us consider the current process for a transfer application under the act. For a transfer of a Canadian citizen to take place, the offender must consent to the transfer, the country where the offender is currently imprisoned must consent and the Canadian government must consent. Let us be clear. This requires tripartite agreement of all of the actors and it requires them to agree in every particular case, without which the transfer application will not proceed.

The Minister of Public Safety is then designated to review all applications for offender transfer. The present act specifies the factors that the minister shall consider when evaluating an offender's application for transfer. In section 10, four criteria are outlined. Let us consider whether these criteria are appropriate.

First, the minister must consider whether the offender's return to Canada would constitute a threat to the security of Canada. Right there, the national security of Canada is four-square in front of us as a criterion that must be considered. Second, the minister must consider whether the offender left or remained outside Canada with the intention of abandoning Canada as his or her place of permanent residence. Again, this is not a provision for fair-weather Canadians who then want to seek the protection of Canada. This is for Canadians who happen to be abroad when a criminal offence is committed by them.

Third, the minister must consider whether the offender has social or family ties in Canada. Fourth, the minister must consider whether the foreign entity or its prison system presents a serious threat to the offender's security or human rights. These four criteria have been applied successfully and well by every government in this country for over 30 years. However, the current government suddenly has problems in applying these criteria.

I will pause here to say one thing. My research indicates that not one offender, who has been granted a transfer back to Canada to resume and serve his or her sentence, has ever reoffended. I think that the changes proposed by Bill C-5 will reveal to all Canadians and members of the House how poorly this bill is conceived. Bill C-5 seeks to add the words “to enhance public safety” to the purpose of the act. I am going to come back and talk about that in a minute because of course everybody is in favour of public safety.

The act currently states that the minister shall consider the factors that I just outlined. Bill C-5 would change this to read “the Minister may consider the following factors”. Bill C-5 also seeks to add the phrase “in the Minister’s opinion” to the existing factors laid out in the act. Bill C-5 would also add seven new factors, once again that the minister “may” consider.

I am going to stop there to say that the Conservatives have taken a judicial, legal process under a statute of Canada and have essentially said that the only Canadians who can be transferred back into this country, who have been convicted abroad, are people that the minister wants. That is it. There is no judicial way to challenge that. There is no legal way that a person could compel the minister to consider certain factors. It is whatever the Minister of Public Safety wants.

That is bad public policy and I would say that whether the minister of public safety was a New Democrat, a Liberal, a Bloc Québécois member or a Conservative. It is wrong.

There is a saying that we use in law schools to describe completely arbitrary law. We say that justice is measured by the length of the chancellor's foot. It might be six inches, eight inches or 10 inches. Nobody can ever tell because it is whatever is subjectively in the mind of that chancellor.

This is exactly the kind of legal thinking that typified our system 300 years ago, much before we had concepts like human rights, due process or rule of law. I would not expect the government to understand that, considering some of the legislation I see coming out of it.

These are some of the factors that the minister may consider: whether the offender is likely to engage in criminal activity in Canada, the offender's health, whether the offender has participated in rehabilitation programs, the manner in which the offender will be supervised after this transfer, and whether the offender has co-operated with police.

Let me stop here and say a couple of things. Think of this in terms of public safety. Say we had a Canadian serving a sentence in a Pennsylvania prison, much like David Radler, the person involved who was convicted and testified against Conrad Black. By the way, he applied under this legislation and was approved by the government to come back and serve his time in Canada. I did not hear the government complaining when a multi-millionaire applied under the International Transfer of Offenders Act and was granted the ability to come serve his time in Canada. I heard not a peep from the government.

However, if a person applied from Pennsylvania and came to Canada, that person would be coming here directly to jail. There is no public safety component to that. If that individual is serving time in a U.S. prison, that individual would continue to serve the time in a Canadian prison. There is no public safety aspect whatsoever. That individual is not coming back to this country to actually re-enter society. That individual is coming back to Canada to re-enter penitentiary.

One might say that people are going to be released into custody. This the major flaw and absurdity of the bill. When those people finish their sentence in Pennsylvania, the first thing the United States is going do is deport those offenders back to Canada and Canada has no choice but to receive them. So those people are coming back into Canadian society at the conclusion of their sentence no matter what. I will talk in a minute about how foolish that is and how this act actually makes Canadians safer by having those people transferred to a Canadian jail.

I want to talk about public safety because public safety is important. New Democrats agree that enhancing public safety should be given consideration when considering any piece of legislation that comes before the House. However, in this case the government has not presented one iota of evidence that public safety is being compromised under the current act. Nothing. But I have heard the public safety minister as well as members of the public safety committee say that they do not care about statistics, they do not care about the facts. They think they can define what are good criminal penal laws in this country by what they think or feel as opposed to the data.

It is important to remember that Canadians transferred back to Canada under the act are not being released immediately into the community and again, they are returning to serve out their prison sentence in a Canadian correctional facility.

I mentioned earlier why I think that public safety is enhanced by granting prisoner transfers. Offenders who serve their sentence in Canada will be subject to the oversight of a parole officer, released with conditions that must be followed ,and can have their rehabilitation and reintegration into the community carefully planned and monitored. The offenders who are sitting in a Pennsylvania jail or a Mexican prison have none of those things.

Offenders who serve their time in a foreign jail often have no rehabilitation, no programs, no substance abuse programs, no mental health programs, often nothing. In fact, often it is the case that they do not even speak the language of the country in which they are imprisoned.

Most importantly, Canada has no record of offenders who are not transferred back to this country, when they are released from a foreign jail and come back to Canada. They will come back to this country and we have no criminal record. We have no record of them serving time in prison. They will come back and they will be treated as a first offender if they do ever commit a crime in Canada.

Whereas, if they are transferred to a Canadian prison, we will have records. It will not be the criminal record. We will have records of them being in a penitentiary and then of course again, when the offenders are released into the community we can actually spell out the conditions of that release and supervise them. So it is actually less safe to pass this legislation. The Conservatives are endangering Canadians by passing this legislation because it will result in fewer people who are being approved for transfer.

I want to talk about whether there is actually a problem to be fixed here. The act is working. The Conservatives are trying to build a narrative that says that Canadians are being endangered because the Conservatives do not have enough power to deny applications for transfer. Again, I will trouble them with the facts.

From 2002-07, under both Liberal and Conservative governments, 367 applications for transfer were approved by the ministers involved and 24 were denied. So 367 times both Liberals and Conservatives decided to bring an offender back to Canada. Of those 24 denials, 3 offenders applied for judicial review of the minister's decision. One case was a denial based on the fact that the offender had spent 10 years in the United States and was deemed by the minister to have abandoned Canada as his or her place of permanent resident. So the federal court judge made a ruling stating that the court should not readily interfere with the discretionary decision of a minister and held that the minister's findings were not unreasonable.

Another case was a denial because the minister held that the prisoner had been identified as a member of a criminal organization and that the transfer would threaten the security of Canada. In that case, the CSC gave advice to the minister that the transfer would be highly beneficial and that the individual would not constitute a threat to the security of Canada. Nevertheless, the judge held that the decision of the minister was reasonable and the denial was allowed to stand.

Of the three denials, two cases were challenged and the minister's discretion was upheld. In the third case, the minister again made a denial on security grounds. The judge in that case, however, found that the decision of the minister was made with disregard to the “clear and unambiguous evidence” presented by the government's own officials. In this case the judge referred the decision back to the minister for re-determination.

The government points to this one case where a judge has overturned a ministerial denial, and on this basis it says, “Oh, we need to tighten the law”.

There was another case reported earlier this year, however, that I think is probably more revealing of the government's true feelings on this. This is where the judge did order a reconsideration of ministerial denial. In this case four individuals were convicted together of a single crime. Two of the individuals had transfer applications approved, but one was denied despite the unanimous recommendation of senior government officials.

The judge ruled that the minister's decision was inconsistent and arbitrary, and he gave the minister another 45 days to explain and justify or to reconsider the decision. This seems to me to be a very appropriate balance and a fair ruling, and yet the government continues to argue that it needs changes to this act.

I think this is the case, that the government wants to act arbitrarily and the current legislation prevents it from doing that. There has not been any case made that there is any reason to depart from the current scheme of the act, other than the government wanting to politicize the process and hand pick whoever it wants to come back into this country.

Again, the problem with Bill C-5 is that it does not strengthen the act, it shreds it. It does not strengthen the guidelines for the minister, it essentially eliminates them. Bill C-5 dictates that the minister may take certain facts into consideration, but then again he or she may not.

In the current act, the factors are presented as objective standards that can be evaluated by officials and, in the rare cases where it is necessary, ruled upon by a judge.

Now this opens up the process to bias. It does away with transparency and accountability. It allows the minister such wide-ranging discretion to ignore criteria completely and use his or her own subjective opinion as the test as he or she deems appropriate. That is wrong because it replaces an established law-based process with a politicized subjective one.

We might ask whether the government can be trusted to exercise discretion fairly. For New Democrats, this question of trust must be answered, unfortunately, in the negative. The government has demonstrated it cannot be trusted with unfettered power, whether it is the power to prorogue Parliament, or to hire and fire watchdogs and oversight officials, or to approve George Galloway, a British member of Parliament coming into our country and exercising his right of free speech as opposed to Ann Coulter who made derogatory and racist comments about many individuals.

We know what the government will do. It will exercise its political ideology instead of acting as fair and judicious public officials in this country.

With this bill the government proposes that the minister should be given absolute power and absolute discretion over who to bring back to Canada and who to leave overseas. It will do away with the judicial avenue for review by framing the minister's decision in such discretionary terms that it would be impossible for anyone to successfully argue that the act had been violated.

I want to ask, how do other countries feel about this? Because Canada has agreements with many countries for the reciprocal transfer of offenders. This is not just a Canadian plan. This is a program that involves dozens and dozens of countries. I suspect that if we ask other countries how they feel about the government wanting to essentially restrict the international transfer of offenders, which works beneficially for citizens of all countries, I would bet that those countries would express their displeasure to the government.

I want to talk a little bit about the politicization of justice because that is what I think the government is doing. If members go outside the Supreme Court of Canada or any court in this land, they will see a statue of the scales of justice with a blindfold on the statue, the goddess of justice. That is there for a reason. It is because justice ought to be objective and blind. It needs to have fair rules and fair law-based processes that apply to everyone equally, and not to allow judges to hand pick and not be accountable for their decisions by writing the rules that say it is whatever they think it is.

I want to end with a quote from the International Transfers Annual Report 2006-2007, which states:

In the 29 years since the first international transfer took place with the United States, there has been a steady increase in the number of agreements in place with foreign countries...increasing the number of applications received for processing...and of the number of offenders transferred to and from Canada. It ensures that offenders are gradually returned to society and that they have the opportunity—

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Perhaps the hon. member can complete his comments in response to questions and comments.

The hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.


Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I commend my friend for his eloquent and passionate speech however misguided it might have been.

I have a couple of specific questions.

The current legislation talks about “threat to the security of Canada”. I am sure my friend knows, because of his research, that this phrase has been interpreted to apply only to terrorists. Is he not concerned that this is too narrow a definition? Should public safety also apply to offences that happen domestically in breach of our own domestic laws?

Would he also not agree with me that the absence of victims, the safety of any person in Canada who is a victim as identified in section 2(1), or the family of a victim, or the safety of any child in the case of an offender who has been convicted of a sexual offence involving a child are glaring omissions from the current legislation, all of which would be remedied by Bill C-5?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.


Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, the short answer is absolutely not. I will say this again. Bill C-5 would add this factor to the act, “whether, in the minister's opinion the transfer will endanger public safety, including the offender's victim, family or any child in cases where the offender has committed a sexual offence involving a child.

Once again, I do not know if my hon. friend listened to what I said. The offender in the foreign prison is coming back to society anyway. This amendment does not change that fact. The only question is whether anybody in the House wants that person to come back to our country treated, have any programming, or subject to any conditions. Under my hon. colleague's premise, the offender would be granted the transfer, would stay in the foreign prison, would come back to this country to go right after the victim and we would not even know it.

I know my friend is a learned counsel. I would think he would stand and tell the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety that this is a bad law. That will endanger victims in this country.

Again, this is what the 2006-07 report from the government said:

An analysis of the information contained in this report doesn’t only demonstrate that the purpose and the principles of the International Transfer of Offenders Act have been fulfilled; it supports that the International Transfer of Offenders program is consistent with the Mandate of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) and its Mission Statement in that the program contributes to public safety by actively encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens, while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control [is being met].

Those are the facts.

The definition of national security has not been restricted to terrorists. I quoted from a case earlier where a member of a criminal organization was barred entry under that by the minister and that was upheld by the courts.

I believe the protection is in the act.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.


Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, I listened intently to the hon. member's speech and to the question from the hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert.

I gather the member supports sending the legislation to committee for an Extreme Makeover, as the television folks would say. I do not think he had time to flesh out what he might think this over-discretionary “any other reason the minister may take into account” means.

It seems to me that with the existing protocol, with the additional reasons, which we may or may not agree with, it is the catchphrase “may any other factor” that troubles us on this side of the House. We cannot imagine any other factors. Is it not the point that all of the presumed, existing and potential factors be put in the legislation so lawmakers can understand what discretion the minister may use? Discretion to be used has to be carefully guarded and defined.

I ask him to blue sky, or black sky, or whatever that might be about what those other reasons may be. I also want him to answer clearly whether his party will vote to send the legislation to committee.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.


Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, again, the question strikes at one of the major flaws with this bill, which adds a section to a bill that says to a minister that he or she may consider any other factor that he or she considers is advisable. That is simply bad law. It is a bad statute. It is a bad way to implement any kind of public regime. We may as well just say that the people who can apply for transfers back to this country are Canadians whom the minister thinks should. I would ask any of the lawyers in the House how we would challenge such a decision if that were made.

The government has a history of not protecting Canadians abroad, and the prime example is young Omar Khadr. He has sat in a foreign prison when every other country has repatriated their foreign nationals who have sat in that illegal dungeon on Guantanamo Bay. However, the Conservative government will not return Mr. Khadr back to our country to be tried or dealt with in some fashion here. This person has not been tried yet, has not been convicted, yet for years and years has sat in a jail cell, probably tortured, in fact undoubtedly tortured.

This is the kind of discretion that the government wants to give the minister. Frankly, not only should this government absolutely not have that kind of discretion, no responsible government in Canada should have that kind of discretion.

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.


Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the critic has done a terrific analysis of the bill. I question the government's commitment to victims. It talks a lot about victims' rights and about how it supports those, but even its own victim's advocate, whom it appointed three years ago and whose contract will not be renewed, indicated last night that he thought the government was not doing what it could for victims, that it was more concerned with sentencing than it was with the rights of the victims. I wonder whether the government even consulted with victims and their groups with regard to the legislation.

How is the government helping victims by leaving criminals untreated in a foreign country? When they come back on their own, which they will eventually, how does that help the victims?

Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.


Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, Mr. Sullivan, the outgoing ombudsman for victims, said quite clearly yesterday that victims were very interested in the rehabilitation of the offender. In fact, they want to be informed of it. They want to be alerted to it. It is key to their healing that the offender, in their eyes, will not reoffend. This legislation is counter to that.

Mr. Sullivan also pointed out that longer sentences, which is what the government seems to be pursuing as a plank in its criminal justice program, did very little for victims. Those are not my words. Those are the words of its appointed ombudsman for victims, who has done a great job speaking up for victims in our country.

The New Democrats, and I cannot say it more clearly, are a party that supports the rights of victims more than anybody. Our party, more than any, has championed the rights of the most vulnerable, the most marginalized of every type in our country for a long time.

Let the nonsense end here. For any party to stand in the House and say that we do not care about victims is just false and not true.