Madam Speaker, I am proud to voice my support for the bill the hon. Minister of Public Safety has placed before the House.
As hon. members are aware, just a few weeks ago Canadians were shocked to learn that someone who had been convicted of sex offences against children had been granted a pardon.
The pardon granted to Mr. Graham James revealed what millions of Canadians and this government judged to be a number of unacceptable flaws in the Criminal Records Act. An editorial published by the Victoria Times Colonist shortly after the news of that pardon became public stated very clearly what many Canadians were feeling.
While it means well, the legislation flunks the most basic of tests. It fails to make morally relevant distinctions. It impedes vital police work. It imposes the most lax of standards on officials. And it offends our sense of propriety.
Perhaps needless to say, those are very serious failings, unacceptable in a country that prides itself on fairness and balance of its justice system. The bill before us today, Bill C-23 will bring the proper balance to the Criminal Records Act.
Bill C-23 will put public safety where it belongs, at the forefront of all decisions. Under Bill C-23, the word “pardon” would be replaced by “record suspension”. The bill would have the power to deny a record suspension if, for example, investigative evidence showed that granting one would bring the administration of justice into disrepute. This bill would allow the board to consider a wide range of factors in making its decisions.
I am sure hon. members will agree that this is the way the system should work. Our justice system is based on fairness and balance. The National Parole Board cannot make decisions that are fair and balanced if it does not have the tools it needs.
To ensure offenders have every opportunity to demonstrate that they can benefit from a second chance, Bill C-23 will extend the waiting period before an offender can apply for a record suspension. For summary offences, the period would be lengthened to five years from three years, and for those convicted of an indictable offence, from five years to ten years. In other words, record suspensions would be granted only to those who have fully demonstrated that they have earned a second chance. This is as it should be and Bill C-23 would make it so.
Bill C-23 would also ensure that the Criminal Records Act recognizes what Canadians recognize, that some offenders simply should not have their records suspended. There are cases where the insult to our sense of propriety or the risk to public safety is simply too great to justify a record suspension.
A person convicted of more than three indictable offences has demonstrated a pattern of behaviour that invites the question, can a potential risk to the public safety posed by a suspension of that person's criminal record be justified? In the opinion of many Canadians and of this government, the answer is no.
The pardon system was created to recognize the right of an offender to have a second chance, to start over with what amounts to a clean slate, but the right to a second chance must be balanced against the need to protect public safety, which must be the primary consideration at all times.
Bill C-23 will provide that assurance by making anyone convicted of more than three indictable offences ineligible for a record suspension.
As for offending our sense of propriety, in the words of an editorial in a recent edition of the Ottawa Citizen:
Sex offenders who prey on children are a special class of criminal. It's one thing to let them out of jail when they've served their time, but it's wrong to pretend all is forgotten. Certainly, the children who are victimized will never be allowed to forget.
That is why Bill C-23 would make anyone convicted of a sexual offence against a child ineligible for a record suspension.
We have seen and heard the response from the victims of Mr. James and other sex offenders who have been granted pardons under the act. They feel, quite rightly, that insult has been added to injury.
Legislation should not do further harm to those who have been harmed already. As underscored earlier, by replacing the term “pardon” with “record suspension”, Bill C-23 will help to show our respect for the victims of crime and the physical and emotional injuries they may have suffered. This is the very least we can offer to the victims of crime and I urge all members to support the quick passage of this bill.
I have listened to the previous speakers. We have learned from them and we have heard them say that they support parts of this bill, that it should go before the committee for further study. We have just heard that we need to sever parts of the bill to accommodate other members' feelings with regard to parts of the bill that are good and parts of the bill that need study. We also heard from other members who said that they have already tried to solve the problem and they did not quite do it, so now the government has come back with additional regulation.
It is important for Canadians to understand that criminal law and laws are like society. They change and they grow. They need change and they need refinement, and like most of us in real life, we react to things that happen around us. The government has a legislative agenda when it comes to public safety in our country and this is one of those pieces of legislation that addresses the need for Canadians to understand that the criminal justice system must work for them.
I believe that this piece of legislation does just that. It balances the need for people to have their records suspended so they can get on with their lives, but also the need of society to feel that public safety, that their safety and the safety of their children and their loved ones, is being taken into account by this House. I believe this piece of legislation goes a long way toward achieving just that.
I welcome the co-operation of all members, especially the members of the public safety committee and the members of the justice committee who will be looking at the legislation that has come before this House, so that they can look at it with a view to how their constituents really feel as opposed to: “How do I feel?" or “How does my party feel?”
In the coffee shops around this country, when we talk about the situation with Mr. James and the situation, as has been mentioned, with Karla Homolka, this is the kind of legislation that they not only ask for, but quite frankly they demand.
I look forward to the co-operation of other members to ensure that this legislation sees speedy passage.