Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join colleagues in debating Bill C-5, which is an amendment to the statute that governs the transfers of Canadian offenders outside Canada back into Canada and offenders in Canada who are not Canadian would be patriated to their own countries.
I debate this because I see some material difficulties with the in bill the way it is written. I do not want to prejudge the vote of the House, but should it go to committee for study, it is my hope that the remarks in the House will better inform the committee review of the bill.
There are three areas I want to address. The first is about the title of the bill. The second is about the degree to which the House may expand the ambit of discretion in the hands of, not the Governor-in-Council or not a tribunal, but one minister. The third is about charter compliance in relation to what is in the bill.
The first thing is the title. It is an act the amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act, but the government, for whatever purpose, has seen fit, in clause 1, to write the following, “This Act may be cited as the Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act”. I do not quite understand why the government would name it that. It could have named the bill, “making Canadians happy act”, or “making Canadians more contented”, or “making Canadians feel a little bit better”, or maybe “making Canadians like the Conservative Party of Canada a little better”.
If the title of the bill is to become an open-ended billboard for political rhetoric and advertising, then I think the House should put a stop to it. I have never seen this nonsense before.
If anybody is to put an end to it, it has to be the members in the House. I am pretty sure the Department of Justice did not decide to put a neon sign, billboard piece of advertising rhetoric in the title to a bill. It is actually bordering on the absurd. I have thought about it. This is a bit like the Orwellian Animal Farm thing that we could read about in fiction some years ago. If the government keeps repeating these little mantras, maybe people will start to believe it.
The first thing I think the House should do is strike the title of the bill, but our procedures do not allow us to do that at second reading. However, I would love to see a motion to do that, to at least strike out the political rhetoric and advertising in the title. I hope the committee, if it goes to committee, will strike this part of the title and state very firmly in a separate report that this type of playing, abusing, distorting, adulterating the clause 1 of a bill by throwing in a little political throwaway line is unacceptable to the House and it distorts our legislative practices here.
This is not the first bill where I have seen this, but it is the first bill where I have had a chance to get up and, in a material way, address it. It is unacceptable. Hopefully, if the bill comes back, we will not see this nonsense. The House should not be drawn into these silly, Orwellian, Animal Farm, political mantra insertions in our statutes.
Of course once we write it, it could be there forever. There it is, in all of our bills, “the making Canadians happy bill”, “the making Canadians content bill”, “the oh what a wonderful world it is bill”, “the do not forget to vote for us in the next-election bill”. This is silly, dumb, distorted, political thinking. It certainly is not part of the legislative arts. I really hope the committee that studies the bill will look at that.
Let us move on to something a little more substantial, and it is the issue of discretion.
A number of members have spoken about it and it is clear, on the face of it, that one of the purposes of the bill is to broaden the discretion of the minister in making decisions on offender transfers. Most of the changes take place with reference to Canadian offenders abroad who have applied to be repatriated to Canada. However, clause 3 of the bill applies to offenders in Canada being removed, on their own application, from Canada. There is an expansion even there because currently the wording is that the minister “must” take certain things into consideration. The wording being proposed here is the minister “may” take into consideration a certain number of considerations. That is just on the circumstance of offenders who are not Canadian, who are in Canada and as part of an application process involving their country have applied to be removed from Canada to serve the balance of their sentence in their country of origin or citizenship.
Let us go back to the issue of discretion in relation to Canadians abroad. As I look at the bill, it is pretty clear that the discretion made available by the House, because we are legislating this, to the minister, from a “must”, as in, “the minister must take a look at this consideration”, is moved to the word “may”, as in, “the minister may”. That means the minister does not have to take into consideration the items that are preceded by the word “may”.
In addition, we have the insertion of the words “in the minister's opinion”, which basically says that what really matters is the minister's opinion, one person's opinion on that consideration.
At the beginning, the bill refers to the goal of enhancing public safety. Nobody could object to that, but it is also a fact that the Sentencing Act, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Criminal Code all refer to and incorporate public safety as either the number one or a leading public policy objective in all of this. How could it be otherwise?
Having mentioned the word “may” and the insertion of “the minister's opinion”, we also have at the end, subsection (l), unbelievably having listed 11 separate factors and a number of sub-factors. These are considerations that the minister may take into consideration and, in relation to which, it is the minister's opinion that governs. Having listed all of those carefully, itemized with precision, the government now inserts a clause that says, “Any other factor that the Minister considers relevant”. Why do we not just drop all of the considerations and insert subsection (l) so the minister can simply, on his or her own opinion, “Any other factor that the Minister considers relevant”.
What a total, unmitigated abandonment of rule of law is this? If we pass this, why bother giving the minister a list of considerations and matters to take into consideration if at the end of it all we can simply say “any other factor that the minister considers relevant?” It is not whether it is relevant or not, it is whether the minister considers it to be relevant. Therefore, should there ever be case of someone, God forbid, second-guessing the decision of the minister, and we would never want to do that around here but maybe in other places people might, the minister can simply respond by saying that it is none of our business because the statute says that he or she can take into consideration any other factor that he or she considers relevant, for example, if a person has bad eyesight, or good eyesight, or is too tall the prison beds.
We will not bring back a seven-footer because we will have to build a special bed for him. Is that a relevant consideration? It is only in the mind of the minister that it matters. If the minister thinks that is a factor the minister considers relevant, then it counts. That is what we have been asked to pass and legislate. This is wrong. This is a default. This is an abandonment by the House of the issues that we consider relevant because we have already created the main list.
There are other considerations. Paragraph (g) states, “The offender's health”. What does that mean? The minister may take into consideration the offender's health. Does that mean good health or poor health or some aspect of health? Will the minister look at the person's DNA? A lot of DNA is being recorded and profiled now. It is recorded for all serious offenders in our country and in many other jurisdictions around the world. The DNA of the offender is taken and DNA profiles are fully capable, under proper analysis, of revealing health traits and propensities to certain bad health. Do we want the minister to have the total discretion to take into account that offender's health? In this case, we are talking about a Canadian offender who is outside Canada who has applied to come back and serve the balance of a sentence here in Canada.
There should be some parameters put on this. However, if the House were to go ahead and adopt the whole list, including item (l), any other factor the minister considers relevant, it really does not matter then. The minister can take into consideration the health, whether the offender has or does not have hair, height, weight, where he or she was born, and any other factor the minister thinks is relevant.
I hope in the end that these items will be dropped from the bill. I am pleading with colleagues in the House and the committee to seriously consider dropping some of these provisions or circumscribing them. However, at the very least, if Parliament does turn over to the minister additional discretion, whether it includes these things or not, I hope there can be a provision inserted in the bill that requires the minister to put these considerations in writing and to make them available to the offender whose application is being dealt with. It seems to be fair that these considerations, if relied on by the minister, are put in writing. Let us keep this in mind. There is no built-in review. It looks like the minister's say on this is final.
I mentioned the offender's health. Subparagraph (i) deals with whether the offender has accepted responsibility for the offence for which he or she was incarcerated. In the normal course, that sounds reasonable, but what about the case of offenders who say that they were never guilty and that it was a false conviction? Do we think there were ever any false convictions out there? In fact, we know there have been too many, which we all feel badly about. The ones we hear about are the convictions dealing with homicides. In those cases, the offenders are normally incarcerated for much longer sentences, for 10 to 20 years or life sentences. In those cases, when the offender, who has been improperly convicted, finally gets a chance to prove it and get exonerated, those are high profile cases because the offender has usually served quite a few years.
I do not have to list of those cases. However, those who have been exonerated should be able to go on with their lives without being mentioned in the parliamentary record.
What about all the other cases of people who have been falsely convicted of lesser offences where the sentences have been two, three, four or five years and they have been incarcerated in a foreign jurisdiction, even though they were plainly the wrong people? This section seems to be saying that in order for the minister to bring the person back, the person needs to have accepted responsibility for the offence for which he or she were convicted, including acknowledging the harm done to the victims and the community. How does that section deal with the matter of a false conviction? It does not and it should.
I will stop my review of the individual sections, but there is one more item I want to mention. Subparagraph (d) states:
whether, in the Minister’s opinion, the offender left or remained outside Canada with the intention of abandoning Canada as their place of permanent residence;
That is not a new provision, but the part that makes it “in the Minister's opinion” involves the extension of discretion, which I am concerned about. The reason that it is important in this case is that if there is a Canadian abroad, he or she has, under our charter, the right to return to Canada.
I am concerned here, legally, about this House legislating a ministerial opinion that would or could obstruct a charter right of a Canadian offender abroad to come back to Canada. This has charter implications and constitutional legality implications. I do not know whether that was noted.
I will now deal with the charter issue. In my view, these provisions are much too vague. They impose a degree of arbitrariness. Under our Constitution, we are not supposed to be subject to arbitrary measures. We have legal rights to life, liberty and the security of the person. We have the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned, which is applicable here depending on what is meant by imprisoned or detained. If we have the right under our charter not to be arbitrarily imprisoned or detained, which is specifically mentioned in the charter, then we do not have the right to write a statute that takes away the right not to be arbitrarily detained.
The allowance of the minister of these arbitrary discretionary rules removes that charter right. I would love to see the Department of Justice opinion that says that this provision and all these provisions are charter compliant.
The real issue here is whether Parliament will abandon the set of rules that we have had established for many years for offenders in favour of virtually a totally arbitrary decision in the hands of one minister of the government of the day, and not just of an apparent and alleged charter problem but real, material and incipient charter issues on the face of it.