Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this motion, just another in a series of extraordinary justice legislation that has been brought forward by this government to restore balance to our justice system. I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the good people of Oak Ridges—Markham.
I want to take a moment to commend the hon. members who have already demonstrated their support for Bill C-59 and are ensuring that these important changes receive quick passage into law. Those hon. members are showing their commitment to ensuring the safety and security of our communities.
All offenders must be held accountable for the crimes they commit. Bill C-59 is all about accountability, about offenders serving appropriate sentences for the crimes committed. That is what we call justice.
Bill C-59 would ensure that all offenders will be treated equally, regardless of the nature of the crime they commit, when it comes to eligibility for parole. Currently, there is a distinction made between crimes committed with or without violence. Parole, in cases of non-violent crime, is presumptive, meaning that the Parole Board of Canada must automatically release the offender into the community under supervision unless it has reasonable grounds to believe that the offender will commit a violent offence if released.
That does not seem fair to me. Fraud and white-collar crimes must not have been committed with violence but the victims are harmed nonetheless. Lives are ruined, entire life savings are lost and the physical, psychological and emotional harm resulting from these crimes can be equally as devastating.
Can we honestly say that justice has been served when an offender who has received a sentence befitting the crime walks out of jail well before the sentence has been served? In essence, many victims are essentially re-victimized by the relatively short amount of time that offenders spend behind bars for their crimes.
Canadians have spoken loud and clear. They are outraged that the rights of offenders seem to be put ahead of the rights of law-abiding citizens. Our government is listening and we are taking the necessary action to crack down on crime and stand up for those who have been victimized. We are ensuring that victims' voices are heard and that their concerns are being addressed. Bill C-59 is just one step in that direction.
Our government has already introduced several initiatives that demonstrate our commitment to victims' rights. The federal victims strategy was introduced in 2006 to improve the experience of victims of crime in the criminal justice system. Since its creation, the government has committed over $50 million to this strategy. We created the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime in 2007 to ensure that the federal government meets its responsibility to victims of crime.
Under our leadership, the truth in sentencing law was passed, which eliminates the two-for-one credit that offenders receive for time served in custody prior to sentencing. We have gotten tough on organized crime, including drug crime, with stiffer sentences and we have passed the Tackling Violent Crime Act, which better protects Canadians from those who commit serious and violent crimes.
In addition, we are facilitating access to EI benefits for family members of victims of crime and the right to unpaid leave for workers in federally regulated industries. The victim surcharge is also being made mandatory to provide better financial support to victim services.
There are several more examples I could give that demonstrate that this government is making victims' rights a priority, but now I want to turn to the accelerated parole review challenges, the very rights that we are working so hard to uphold. By allowing accelerated parole review to continue operating in the justice process, we are, in essence, undermining the rights of victims and trivializing the suffering that they may have suffered at the hands of their offenders.
The current system of accelerated parole review grants parole to offenders convicted of non-violent offences after serving only one-sixth of the sentence and full parole after serving just one-third. This means that a white-collar criminal who has received a sentence of 12 years would actually spend very little time in jail. With accelerated parole review, these offenders can be back in our communities on day parole in just two years and be on full parole in just four years.
The current system requires that the Correctional Service of Canada refers the case of offenders eligible for APR to the parole board. This is done before the offender's day parole eligibility date so that they can be released into the community as early as possible. Parole hearings are not held in these cases, as there is no requirement for the parole board to hold a hearing to determine whether offenders eligible for APR may be released on day parole and full parole.
I, like most Canadians, would expect that the decisions around parole for white collar criminals would entail more than a simple paper exercise. It does not work that way for violent offenders, so it should not work that way for fraudsters either. They should not simply be let out on day parole after serving one-sixth of their sentence, as they essentially now often are.
Other offenders must convince the parole board that they will comply with the law and the conditions of their release. These offenders must make their case at an actual hearing. Unfortunately, as it now stands, white collar offenders do not actually have to explain to anyone why they should be granted parole. They only have to go through a paper review with the parole board.
Compounding the problem, the parole board has no choice but to grant parole to an offender who is entitled to APR, except in those instances where the parole board believes the offender may commit a violent offence before the sentence is up.
This situation is unlike the one facing other offenders and, thankfully, Bill C-59 will put a stop to it.
Let us think about the current scenario again because it offends both me and many of my hon. colleagues in the House. Under the present law, only the prospect of an offender committing a violent offence will prevent that criminal from receiving automatic parole.
Those fraudsters, the ones who may have duped many and literally destroyed lives, will not be denied parole and will only serve a fraction of their time behind bars. Without grounds to believe a violent offence will be committed, the Parole Board of Canada simply has no other choice but to grant parole.
The special treatment afforded to these offenders has to end. All other offenders are subject to a very different standard, one that instills, rather than undermines, confidence in our justice system. Right now, for all other offences, the parole board has set criteria to guide its approach in deciding whether they grant or deny parole.
In these cases the parole board will assess whether an offender poses an insurmountable level of risk to commit any type of an offence if released. If that risk exists for any type of offence, parole is denied.
Let us not miss the importance of that principle; it is one that warrants repeating. With the troubling exception of white collar offenders, all other offenders are not granted parole if the parole board is convinced that any type of offence will be committed once a person is released, whether violent or not.
There are no justifiable grounds for the existing exception for white collar criminals. These are the offenders who have bilked many, washing out entire savings and crippling lives in the most extreme cases. These offenders must no longer enjoy the different standard they face under the current law. The scales of justice seem unfairly tilted in their favour.
This government has made it quite clear that it will not put the rights of any offender ahead of the rights of others. We will stay committed and remind ourselves of a few clear cases where these white collar criminals have benefited from the current APR system. These are cases that make us all question whether justice is being served.
The parole board simply does not have the discretion is so sorely needs in these cases. Bill C-59 would bring about that change, which is why I stand here in the House and turn to my hon. colleagues and ask them to ensure timely passage of this bill.
I for one feel compelled to see the changes proposed in Bill C-59 put into place so that we put victims first. In my riding of Oak Ridges—Markham, we have certainly not been immune from the scourge of white collar crime. Indeed, not long ago a fraudster was at work within my community. After being convicted of her crime, she spent very little in jail and was released back into the community and was quickly found to be in violation of her parole. The police had to track her down and put her back in jail.
I know this person's victims. They are from my small home town of Stouffville. I see the stress they have faced. As this continued to be in the local papers, I watched the person who committed these acts flaunting our current system. It is absolutely positively unacceptable that we have a current justice system that would allow people who commit this type of crime to walk our streets after serving only one-sixth of their sentence.
However, this speaks to the many different things that this government has done.
Of course, when we came into office in 2006, we found a criminal justice system that was tilted not toward the victims but more toward the perpetrators of these crimes. Since then we have been rebalancing our justice system. The Minister of Justice, the Minister of Public Safety and this government have focused on restoring balance to the justice system so that the victims of these crimes can feel that the government is truly working on their behalf to give them a system of justice they can be proud of and so that Canadians can understand that the government will always stand for them and the rights of victims before those of criminals.
There are so many different programs and justice bills that we have brought forward. We have Bill S-10, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, Bill C-4, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act and Bill C-39. As I said, it is part of this government's focus to restore people's confidence in their justice system.
However, when we talk about Bill C-59, it is sometimes forgotten that it deals with incredibly serious crimes. There are fraudsters out in the communities who are seeking vulnerable people in a lot of instances and taking advantage of them and their life savings, the things they have worked so hard for their entire lives. Yet there are fraudsters out there who are doing this and who have no shame. Then the victims are victimized again when a court pronounces a sentence and then the person is released back into the community after serving only one-sixth of their sentence. That is clearly unacceptable to the people I represent in Oak Ridges—Markham. That should be unacceptable to every single member of this House.
It is unconscionable that we have had delays in getting this bill passed and have been spending so much time at committee on what should be a common sense bill. The people from my riding have been calling me and asking why it is taking us so long to deal with this. They do not want to hear about delays. They do not want to hear about the stalling tactics the opposition have been using to try to thwart the bill being passed. They want us to get it done and get it passed so that people will pay the price for the crimes they have committed. They do not want us to make a distinction that would have us treating the criminals better than the victims. They do not want to be re-victimized. They want to know that this government and the Parliament of Canada will stand up for victims' rights ahead of criminals. That is what this bill does; that is what all of the legislation we have brought forward does.
It is interesting that before the government operations committee, we had the head of the Correctional Service of Canada. He was asked if he had the resources required to keep convicted criminals in jail longer so that they could serve the sentences they had been given by the people of Canada. He of course said that he could continue to provide one of the best criminal justice systems in the world, a system that has been looked at by other nations as an example. He talked about the savings that he has been able to find within the correctional service by computerizing scheduling and finding other efficiencies so that he could put that money into keeping offenders in jail longer.
Therefore, I am pleased to support this. I hope that all of my opposition colleagues will join with the government in passing this bill so that the Canadian people can feel confident that the government, and Parliament and the people they elect are putting them first.
When I was asked to speak on this bill, the first thing that came to mind was the individuals in Stouffville who were victimized by this unscrupulous person who took them for thousands of dollars and was later found back on the streets with the exact same group she had used to abuse these people and take their money.
People call me and talk to me and send emails asking how this can be allowed to happen in Canada. How can we allow these victims to go through this time and time again? Why should their names be in the paper again? Why should they be re-victimized? Why can members not get their act together and pass this bill?
Canadians, the people in my riding of Oak Ridges—Markham, find it completely unacceptable that this bill has been stalled and delayed. They have sent me a very clear message to get the bill passed, get it through Parliament and start focusing on all the other crime legislation that has been brought forward in this House to restore balance to our criminal justice system. I am proud that I can do that, and I will be working with colleagues, at least on this side of the House, to make sure that all of those criminal justice issues are brought forward.
The delays to this particular piece of legislation and all of the legislation that we have been trying to get through this House speak to the sad reality of some individuals on the opposition benches who think more of their entitlements than they do of the people of Canada. If we were truly putting the Canadian people first, we would have passed this bill. We would not have spent a full day debating and talking about how we could delay this bill. It would have gone through committee.
In the government operations and estimates committee last week, we had an opposition witness who was talking about some of the crime legislation we had brought forward. It is something that stuck in my head as the father of two beautiful girls. The opposition was very happy with the group of witnesses before the committee. These witnesses did not support this government's agenda to keep violent criminals in jail. They did not support this government's agenda to keep white collar criminals in jail. They did not support our agenda to rebalance the Young Offenders Act. The opposition thought they had a great witness who would counter all of the arguments for keeping violent criminals in jail, but when the member for Peace River asked the witness whom the opposition had been so happy to bring forward, “Do you believe that people who rape children should be put into prison?“, that witness said, “Not necessarily.”
I know that members, at least on this side of the House, had to take a step back and make sure that the person truly understood the question. The member for Peace River asked again to make sure the witness has understood the question. The answer came back the same: “Not necessarily”.
Imagine having to go back to a riding and trying to explain that there are people in this House who support groups and organizations that do not feel that somebody who rapes or victimizes a child should necessarily go to jail. I can say that as a father of two, I found that completely unbelievable. I still find it unbelievable. It was testimony from a witness brought forward by the Liberal Party of Canada. It was jammed through committee in such a quick rush; they had to have this witness in front of the committee and now I know why.
When it comes to standing up for victims of crime, we can never rely on the Liberals to stand up for the victims. They will always find a way to stand up for the criminals, whether it be the member for Ajax—Pickering or others who tour our prisons and talk about how upset they are that the criminals are so demoralized in prison because they have a government that is getting tough on crime.
I can assure the residents of Oak Ridges—Markham that they have a member of Parliament who will always stand up for them. They have a member of Parliament who will always stand up for the victims of crime. I implore the opposition to once and for all vote the way their constituents are asking them to vote. Get tough on crime and do the right thing for victims.