Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to add my voice to those of my colleagues in support of this crucial piece of legislation that we are debating.
The Safe Streets and Communities Act is comprehensive legislation that will go a long way toward meeting the government's commitment to Canadians that we will protect families, stand up for victims and hold offenders accountable. I am very proud to say that the government has received a strong mandate to deliver on that commitment.
Since first elected in 2006, the government has been taking action to keep families safe. We have been working to stand up for law-abiding Canadians and victims while holding criminals accountable as well as to protect the most vulnerable in society, especially children, from those who would want to do them harm. That is why I am so proud to speak to Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act.
The legislation before us continues the important work that we have started. It proposes important reforms to the Criminal Code, the State Immunity Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. As well, it proposes to enact the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act.
Bill C-10 addresses a significant number of law and order issues that affect our society. It is wide-ranging and touches on public safety, justice, as well as citizenship and immigration. It includes measures to make the safety and security of Canadians the primary concern when considering whether or not an offender should be transferred back into Canada. It includes measures so that victims of terrorism are able to file an action and seek justice against individuals who carry out terrorist attacks. It includes actions to strengthen the laws around pardons to ensure that repeat offenders of serious crimes and those who commit sexual offences against children are ineligible to apply for a pardon.
It includes provisions to increase the accountability and responsibility of offenders to ensure that they contribute to their own rehabilitation as well as measures that would enshrine in law a victim's rights to make statements at a parole hearing. It also includes reforms that in most cases would prevent offenders from withdrawing their parole applications 14 days or less before a hearing date thus saving victims from unnecessary travel and disruption.
Victims of crime have asked for these changes and the government is delivering them.
I want to point out that we tried to pass bills that would achieve these goals in the last Parliament yet time and again opposition members held them up with their soft-on-crime agenda. Thankfully, Canadians in the riding of Ajax--Pickering and across the country rejected the soft-on-crime mindset of the opposition and elected a majority of Conservative MPs.
The Safe Streets and Communities Act also includes measures that would get tough on child sexual offenders, crack down on illegal drug trafficking and improve the overall efficiency of our judicial system. For example, it proposes to help protect our kids from sexual predators by increasing penalties for sexual offences against children.
It targets organized drug crime by creating tougher sentences for the production and possession of illicit drugs for the purpose of trafficking, which speaks to the grave concern of all parents whose children are directly targeted by drug traffickers. It is a very important piece of the legislation in terms of protecting children from involvement in drug activities. Therefore, I am especially pleased to see that we are getting tough on drug traffickers. I would strongly urge all opposition members, especially those with children, nieces, nephews and/or young people in their lives who should never be involved with drugs, to support this piece of legislation.
The bill aims to protect the public by ensuring that violent and repeat young offenders are held accountable for their actions. Youth sentences would become more proportionate to the severity of the crime. Protection of society would be given due consideration when applying the Youth Criminal Justice Act. I believe parents across the country see this as an important piece of the legislation. It is best for parents to hold their children accountable by ensuring that the consequences match the action, whether minor or severe.
Thankfully, the bill would end the use of conditional sentences or house arrest for serious, violent and property crimes ensuring dangerous criminals would no longer be serving sentences from the comfort of their living rooms.
It also proposes to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to help protect foreign workers who could be at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking or exploitation, such as low-skilled and unskilled labourers. Combined, these measures provide new tools in our effort to build stronger and safer communities.
Last spring our government made a pledge to Canadians to rapidly move forward and introduce comprehensive law-and-order legislation that would strengthen our laws and courts while putting victims' rights at the forefront.
On May 2, Canadians gave us a strong mandate to continue working to build our economy and to focus on keeping our communities safe. We have listened to them and acted on our pledge by introducing this legislation.
In particular, I will spend some time discussing a measure that falls under the purview of public safety, that being the elimination of pardons for serious crimes. Canadians firmly believe that these measures are long overdue, as do I.
These amendments are a natural next step to further strengthening measures contained within the Limiting Pardons for Serious Crimes Act that our government passed last year, which received royal assent in June 2010. That act ensures that anyone convicted of a serious personal injury offence, such as manslaughter, will not be eligible to apply for a pardon before 10 years rather than five. This 10-year ineligibility period also applies to those who have committed a sexual offence against a minor and have been prosecuted by indictment.
For those convicted of a sexual offence against a minor and prosecuted by summary conviction, the ineligibility period for a pardon is now five years, whereas it previously was three. That act also provides the Parole Board of Canada with the discretion to determine whether the granting of a pardon would bring the administration of justice into disrepute. To make this determination, the Parole Board is now able to give consideration to the nature and gravity of the offence, the circumstances surrounding its commission and the information related to the applicant's criminal history.
Let me speak to what this legislation in Bill C-10 would do. First and foremost, it proposes to change the term “pardon” to “record suspension” as the word “pardon” implies that the government has forgiven the individual. We firmly believe that it is not the role of the government to forgive someone for his or her crime. That can only come from the victim or the victim's family, certainly not from the government.
Indeed, we are aware that it adds insult to injury when a victim discovers his or her offender has received a pardon. That is another reason why we have proposed changing the term to “record suspension”. In addition to being a more accurate and less offensive term to victims, we believe it better reflects how the legal system works. When an individual is granted a pardon, his or her record is not permanently deleted. Rather, it is sealed or, in other words, suspended.
We believe the term “pardon” is misleading and that replacing it with the term “record suspension” in this legislation would clarify that.
Another proposed amendment put forth in this legislation would require the Parole Board of Canada to submit an annual report to Parliament. This report would include statistics on the number of applicants applying for record suspension as well as the number deemed successful.
More importantly, we have proposed amendments regarding who can and cannot apply for a record suspension. We have seen agreement across the board on this issue from victims, victims' rights and community support groups, as well as other Canadians. Individuals convicted of sexual offences against children should never be allowed to apply for a record suspension. We are confident these reforms would be better for victims, would provide better protection for children, and would be better for our Canadian society as a whole.
The government is also proposing that limits be set on how many times offenders can be convicted of serious crimes before becoming ineligible for record suspension. The amendments propose that individuals who have been convicted of more than three indictable offences wherein they have received a sentence of two years or more for each offence be no longer eligible for record suspension.
I can assure the House that we have gone to great lengths to thoughtfully consider how this amendment would be interpreted and applied in the real world for real people.
It is defined in this way. A person who is convicted of more than three offences and receives a penitentiary length sentence of two years or more for each of these three or more offences would not be eligible to apply for a record suspension.
What does this mean in practice? It means that if an individual is convicted more than three times of a serious crime and sentenced to more than two years in jail for crimes such as a major drug crime or home invasion, that individual would not be eligible to apply for a record suspension.
Suffice it to say that an individual who is convicted of indictable offences on more than three occasions and has received a federal sentence for each has certainly demonstrated a pattern of behaviour that establishes a serious risk that he or she will commit grievous harm to members of our society. The government's view is that the risk and consequences of reoffending are so high that this person's record should never be sealed. We believe that this reflects the views of Canadians as well.
Our government has included these measures in Bill C-10 because we want to ensure that the consequences of truly serious criminal activity cannot be sealed with a pardon. The need to protect public safety must be our primary consideration at all times.
We recognize that not everyone agrees with the number of more than three. We believe that setting the limit at more than three offences, or put another way, four or more offences, is tough yet reasonable.
We have all heard of a young adult making a bad decision one night. That person could end up being convicted of multiple indictable offences. If that were to happen, that individual would have a record for life.
This provision accounts for that possibility. Disqualification would only occur where individuals have been sentenced to two or more years in custody on more than three separate occasions and not one bad night or week in which a number of indictable offences occurred. Therefore, a person making one bad choice would be eligible to seek a record suspension whereas a serious repeat offender would not.That is a very important distinction for the members of the opposition to comprehend and take into consideration.
While passing the Limiting Pardons for Serious Crimes Act in 2010 brought about positive changes, it was only a first step in strengthening Canada's pardon regime. We must now continue with the final steps to complete these important reforms.
These changes would ensure the Parole Board of Canada has the tools it requires to properly consider, order and deny where appropriate, record suspensions for ex-offenders.
These measures would ensure that offenders who have committed sexual offences against children will never be allowed to have their records suspended.
Most importantly, these changes would increase the confidence of Canadians in the corrections and pardon systems.
Our government made a commitment to continue to protect the safety and security of law-abiding Canadians. That is why they gave us that strong mandate on May 2. Canadians deserve to feel safe in their homes and neighbourhoods. We are working hard to ensure that they do.
This legislation is too important to be delayed any longer. We must make this a matter of high importance for the sake of victims and their loved ones. Our government has pledged to finish what it has started by moving forward with this bill.
I urge all hon. members on both sides of the House to support and pass this legislation. Let us work together to continue protecting Canadians and the law-abiding citizens that we represent.