Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of Bill C-620, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (parole review and victim impact statement).
I want to congratulate my hon. colleague from Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale for his initiative and hard work in drafting a piece of legislation that is well-founded, important, and sound.
Essentially, the New Democratic Party's position will be to support this bill at second reading. We look forward to examining it in more detail in committee. New Democrats support expanding the rights of victims. We will examine this bill to ensure that the proposals are, in fact, crafted in such a way that the goal can be achieved. Reading the bill at face value as it is currently written is well on its way to achieving that goal.
This bill would do three things. First, it would increase the period within which the National Parole Board must provide a further review of parole in the case of offenders serving sentences for offences involving violence. This would increase to four years the length of time that the National Parole Board must provide a further review of parole from the current two years.
Second, it would increase the period within which the National Parole Board must provide a further review of statutory release for offenders who cause death or serious harm to others. This bill would increase the review to two years from the current one year.
Third, this bill would create a right for victims to present victim impact statements at National Parole Board hearings and would amend the act to ensure that in the event a victim cannot or chooses not to attend a parole hearing, the victim may use any commonly available form of audio or video format to make a statement, in addition to a written statement. It would also allow victims increased access to offender documents related to an upcoming parole hearing.
In short, the latter provision in particular would give victims a greater role in the criminal justice system. It would allow them to know what progress their offender have made. To be informed of exactly what is going on with that offender is a long overdue and important provision.
The fact that this bill recognizes that victims want to play a role in the parole process, want information about what is going on with their offender, and want to participate and have their voices heard if they so choose, is thoughtful and sensitive. The fact that this bill would provide for victims to send victim impact statements to parole hearings if they are uncomfortable being in the presence of their offender or because it is economically prohibitive for them to attend is sensitive, and a wise and thoughtful improvement to the law.
I want to talk a bit about the importance in our justice system of making sure that the voices of victims are heard. Steve Sullivan, the former victims ombudsman, testified in the public safety committee in which I participated. We heard some very important information from Mr. Sullivan about what victims really want. They want information, they want to participate, and they want to know that their voices are heard in the process. It is crucial to the healing of victims and for justice that the impacts on victims are actually part of the process in the beginning, the middle, and the end.
Hearing the voices of victims is a crucial part of preventing recidivism. Offenders must know the impacts of their actions and the harm they cause. In order for offenders to have a better chance of not reoffending, having to accept responsibility for their actions is an important part of offenders healing and not reoffending.
We all know that restorative justice provisions give closure to victims knowing that the offenders have heard them and, when it is successful, that offenders take responsibility for the harm they have caused. It can actually work to heal the damage caused in many circumstances.
I also want to talk about what else we heard Mr. Sullivan say because he spoke on behalf of victims who have given him a lot of input. He told us as parliamentarians that victims also want better programs in prison, not because they are trying to coddle offenders but because it is important for them to know that while in prison, the offender is getting the kind of programming that will make him or her less likely to reoffend. Victims are afraid. Once victimized, they are afraid it will happen to them again. So victims have a stake in the criminal justice system in a way that many people do not.
According to Mr. Sullivan, victims want to know that the offender in prison has received programming. They want to know that the offender is receiving rehabilitation measures. They want to know that others will not be victimized by the same offender, and that they themselves will not be victimized again. Victims want to know about an offender's progress in prison and about the offender's attitude in prison. They want to know whether or not offenders have accepted responsibility for their behaviour.
Victims care that offenders get treatment for addictions and mental illness. Up to now the government has refused to acknowledge that aspect of what victims want. I want to encourage the government to pay attention to victims' expressions in that regard and start putting resources into those areas because that is what victims want in this country.
I want to give the House a couple of quotes from Mr. Sullivan. He said:
By focusing solely on sending people to prison longer, we're not serving the majority of victims of crime out there. We have to broaden our perspective of meeting victims’ needs and sentencing might be part of that, but it’s a very small part for most victims.
Mr. Sullivan was saying that a government that pursues a narrow policy of simply elongating sentences is not actually listening to victims and providing the comprehensive services that victims need. Victims need healing services. They need counselling services. They want information. They want input. They want their voices to be heard and they want to know that the government puts resources into making offenders accountable for their actions and helping offenders actually recover and not reoffend.
Mr. Sullivan said:
I'm sure the committee has had debates about the value of the government's bills and their approach. I'm not here to speak about that...That's a debate you'll have in Parliament.
He also said:
It should not be considered as a way to meet the needs of victims. I spent the entire day today with victims groups and with victim service providers yesterday, and that didn't come up at all as a way to meet the real needs. Every day we hear from victims, asking how we get those issues solved. That's just not part of the equation in most cases.
I want to talk about a couple of constituents in my riding of Vancouver Kingsway, whom I met with recently, Norm Au and Iliaz Ali. These two Canadians live near the Nanaimo sky train station. They are community block watch participants and are routinely victims of crime. Near the Nanaimo sky train station is a neighbourhood that is victimized regularly by drug dealing, prostitution, vandalism, and theft.
These brave constituents come out of their neighbourhoods, watch their neighbourhoods, and try to protect and support each other. They phone the police when they see crimes being committed. What these people need and have asked for is better community policing at sky train stations. They want to see more community policing generally and better signage. They want to know that when they call the police and are observing a crime in progress, there will be an immediate response.
These are the kind of provisions that victims in this country really want to see.
Once those people have committed a crime and they have gone to jail, it is after the horse has been let out of the barn. These people want crime prevention and community policing. That is what the government needs to be doing.
The New Democrats are calling on the government for more community policing, more crime prevention resources, and more programs to deal with mental illness and addictions in our communities, which we all know are some of the major root causes of criminal behaviour. We will not make progress in our efforts to reduce crime in this country if we do not start addressing mental illness and addictions.
Even the previous minister of public safety acknowledged there are people in prison who ought not to be there because it is not appropriate as they are sick individuals. Yes, they have committed crimes and should pay for those crimes.
However, we are fooling ourselves if we think that simply locking people up for longer will do anything to reduce crime in this country.
I applaud the hon. member for his bill. The New Democrats will support it.