Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today and speak to Bill C-5. I am following some very excellent speeches on the part of other members in the House from the Liberal Party, the Bloc and certainly my party, the NDP.
Bill C-5, keeping Canadians safe, is to amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act. This particular bill was introduced in the House on March 18, 2010, by the Minister of Public Safety. It is almost identical to Bill C-59, which received first reading during the second session of the 40th Parliament but died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued on December 30, 2009.
We get to the point again of the Prime Minister's proroguing Parliament and having to reset the entire agenda, reintroduce all the bills and go through all the debates. Each time he prorogues the House, he sets back the Parliament in this country by a year or two in the process.
Bill C-5 amends the purpose of the International Transfer of Offenders Act as well as the factors for the minister's consideration in deciding whether to consent to an offender's transfer. This bill is all about transferring discretion. Under the old bill, there was a set procedure for bringing people back. It has worked well for 29 or 30 years in this country. As a matter of fact, not one person who has been repatriated has reoffended under the program. The government, for whatever reason, has decided it wants to transfer more power to the minister so the minister can decide who gets to come back.
Canada has been a party to treaties related to the transfer of offenders, as I said, since 1978. These agreements have been characterized as humanitarian in nature. They enable offenders to serve their sentences in their country of citizenship to alleviate undue hardship borne by offenders and their families and to facilitate their eventual reintegration into society, because at the end of their sentences, they will come out.
The argument that we and other parties have been presenting in the House over and over again is that, in the Canadian system, they will be subject to rehabilitation and programs. These programs are often not available in other jurisdictions. Most of the people being brought back under the program are in United States jails, and the United States does not have a very robust system for dealing with the rehabilitation programs and treating the prisoners.
The Transfer of Offenders Act came into force in 1978. It was modernized by the International Transfer of Offenders Act in 2004. The act enables offenders to serve their sentences in the country in which they are citizens or nationals. Generally speaking, the principle of dual criminality applies here, so that the transfer is not available unless the Canadian offender's conduct would have constituted a criminal offence in Canada as well.
A transfer can take place only with the consent of the offender, the foreign entity and Canada. It is the minister, currently defined as the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, who decides whether to consent to the transfer into Canada of a Canadian offender or the transfer out of Canada of a foreign offender, because it is a two-way street here. In making that decision, the minister is currently required to consider certain factors, such as whether a Canadian offender's return to Canada would constitute a threat to the security of Canada and whether that offender has social or family ties in Canada.
Once an offender is transferred, his or her sentence is administered in accordance with the laws of the receiving country. The Correctional Service of Canada notes in its international transfers annual report for 2006-07 that if offenders are not transferred, they may ultimately be deported to Canada at the end of their sentence without correctional supervision, which is very important, and without the benefits of programming.
I have a copy of that report. I want to take a moment to read the conclusion because there are many good elements to that report. It states:
An analysis of the information contained in this report doesn't only demonstrate that the purpose and 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 it's 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. It ensures that offenders are gradually returned to society and that they have the opportunity to participate in programming that targets the factors that may have led to their offence.
The reference to public safety is there. The government seems to suggest that it has to make these amendments because somehow it would enhance public safety, ignoring the fact that the transferees who come from the foreign jails are not coming out on the street. They are going directly to jail. They are not going to be a danger to public safety in Canada, because they are not going to be walking the streets. They are going to be in jail presumably being subject to programming efforts and proper supervision. When they are let out, they will be supervised through that process as well.
On the other hand, if they come out of the American jail after a period of time with no proper programming, then they are essentially time bombs. They are going to be coming back to Canada and they are not going to be supervised. Then they could be a threat to public safety.
That is exactly what we are trying to prevent. The government is basically on the wrong track. As we see with many of the measures it takes, it is all about the headline. That is all it really cares about, as well as what is happening with the poll numbers. It is not concerned about what works and what does not work.
As I have indicated before, the media in this country should take their jobs seriously on this issue and become more critical of the government and start writing headlines a little different from the ones the Conservatives are getting, headlines that say, “Conservatives wrong on crime”, “Conservatives do what doesn't work again”. If the government started getting headlines like that, then perhaps it would retreat a bit and not be so eager to keep putting Parliament and the public through this whole exercise of what it has been doing.
As I have indicated on several occasions, there are smart lawyers on both sides of the House. There are particularly good lawyers on the Conservative side of the House as well. I do not know how they justify doing things like this.
Just so people who are watching know the total number of transfers, a total of 1,351 Canadian offenders were transferred to Canada between 1978 and 2007. Therefore we are not talking about huge numbers. Of these, 1,069 or 79% of them came from the United States.
The other countries from which most Canadians were repatriated were Mexico at 59 offenders or 4.4% of the transfers; the United Kingdom, at 33 offenders or 2.4% of the transfers; Peru at 31 offenders or 2.3% of the transfers; Trinidad and Tobago at 20 offenders or 1.5% of the transfers; Thailand at 17 offenders or 1.3% of the transfers; Venezuela at 17 offenders or 1.3% of the transfers; Cuba at 16 offenders or 1.2% of the transfers; and Costa Rica at 14 offenders or 1.0% of the transfers.
Fewer than 10 offenders were repatriated from any other country. I think a lot of people would perhaps not be surprised with those figures, but in a way might be because I would think that a number of people would be thinking that people were being transferred from places like Turkey, and of course that does not seem to be the case.
The number of offenders transferred to Canada in the fiscal year has ranged from a low of seven in 1980-81 to a high of 98 in 2003-04. In 2006-07, 53 offenders were transferred to Canada, which was the lowest annual total since 1994-95, when 40 offenders were transferred. In the last 10 years for which statistics are available, 1997-98 to 2006-07, 768 offenders were transferred to Canada for a yearly average of 77.
So, we are not talking about a tremendous number here. These are reasonably small numbers, over a 30-year period. Of those 768 offenders, 313, 40% of them, were transferred to the Ontario region; 207, or 27%, transferred to the Pacific region; 200, or 26%, transferred to the Quebec region; 33 people, or 4.3%, transferred to the Prairies; and 15 people, or 2%, were transferred to the Atlantic region.
In terms of transfers from Canada, a total of 124 offenders were transferred out of Canada between 1978-2007. Of these, 106 offenders, 85% of them, were transferred to the United States. No matter which way we look at it, the transfers back and forth are overwhelmingly between Canada and the United States. Very small numbers exist on either side for countries other than the United States. Eight offenders, or 6.5%, were transferred to the Netherlands; three people were transferred to the United Kingdom; two were transferred to France; and one was transferred to each of the following countries: Estonia, Ireland, Israel, Italy and Poland. And 90 of the 124 transfers took place between 1978 and 1983.
Since then, transfers from Canada have generally taken place at a rate of one or two offenders per year; although there were three transfers in 1990-91, all to the United States, and four in 2006-07, one each to Estonia, France, Israel and Italy.
Now, in terms of the applications and denials, which is the reason behind the government bringing in this legislation in the first place because it had one or two cases where it was not happy with the results, in the last five fiscal years for which statistics are available, the international transfers unit of Corrections Canada received 1,314 applications for transfer. Of those, only 27%, 367, have resulted in a transfer, while 519, or 39%, were denied, and some applications are still being processed.
In one of the press releases that the government sent out, it brags about the fact that its number of approvals has been slashed. It is taking the small numbers of people who are involved in the transfer program, in the first place, and essentially cutting them down drastically. I have the statistics here. That is what the end result of this exercise will be.
When the minister wants and gets more discretion, the end result of that process will be that less people will be involved in the transfer and more people will be staying in the prisons in countries outside Canada, fulfilling their full sentence. Then they will be coming back to Canada without any kind of treatment or any kind of programs that would make them better candidates for integration and, I guess, less of a risk to public safety. When they come back from the United States with no training and no programs, they are not going to be supervised here, and then they are going to be a threat. They are going to be a public safety risk.
We are going to have the opposite effect of what the government actually wants. This is absolutely crazy. We want to have a system that shows results. We want to adopt practises that actually work.
I do not know how many times we have spoken in this House about how the American system, during Ronald Reagan's years, during the “three strikes and you're out” and the minimum sentences, produced a huge construction boom in the United States for prisons, many of which became private prisons so private entrepreneurs could make money. These prisons basically warehouse a huge number of prisoners. Guess what? The crime rate did not go down but instead went up. The U.S. economy is in such bad shape right now that the California governor is just letting people out of prison without having taken any programs, which will basically allow the prisoners to reoffend again.
The Conservative government obviously does not have any common sense. Why would it adopt a system that is 25 years old and has a bad track record? I do not know why the government would not canvass the world, find programs that actually work regardless of the country, send teams of people to study the program, and implement that program here. That is the sensible way to do it, but the Conservative government does not do things like that. The government picks programs that do not work.
In Manitoba we enforced the immobilizer program on insurance companies and provided it free to drivers. This program has cut the auto theft rate by 40% in about a year. We beefed up the crime prevention unit to concentrate on the 50 people who were stealing most of the cars. This program actually works and other jurisdictions are looking at copying what is being done there.
That is the kind of approach that the government should be taking toward criminal justice in this country, or any other program in this country. The Conservatives are ideologically bound to their American Republican cousins. They have taken the attitude that if it did not work in the United States then let us not make it work here. That seems to be their approach.
I do not know how we can get through to Conservative members. We are sitting in a minority government. With friends like Rahim Jaffer and others, the Conservatives will have a minority government forever. A majority government will probably never happen.
In their own minds, the Conservatives seem to think that they have a majority government. They keep pretending they have a majority government. They bring in bills that have no chance of making it through the House. We have to question why they would keep doing this. Then they prorogue the House and start over again. The public must be shaking their heads. I have asked people about this and some have come to the conclusion that the Conservatives are not actually tough on crime but are actually soft on crime.
There is a real lack of credibility and a real disconnect with the Conservative government and some of the legislative efforts that it makes. The programs in the system do not actually work.
I have become sidetracked once again. I have pages and pages of notes. I could probably speak for another hour on this subject, but I understand that my time is running out. Perhaps when members ask me questions I could make some more comments on some of the sections I missed in my speech. Having said that, I want to yield the floor to people who want to ask questions.