Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to be here today to speak in support of Bill C-10, the safe streets and communities act. Our Prime Minister, our justice minister and, indeed, our government has led on this important issue and I think we have done a great job on this.
At first the title of the legislation may appear broad, and indeed it is, but for a good reason. The measures contained within this legislation cover a range of provisions that will protect families, stand up for victims and hold offenders more accountable. The safe streets and communities act is part of the government's commitment to deliver on that mandate and meet it effectively and in the best interests of Canadian families.
I will just review some of the proposed amendments in the legislation that would make our communities safer. The first one is by extending greater protection to the most vulnerable members of society, as well as victims of terrorism.
Another one is further enhancing the ability of our justice system to hold criminals accountable for their actions. What a concept, actually holding criminals accountable for their actions.
A third item is helping to improve the safety and security of all Canadians. I am not sure why the opposition would be so opposed to something like that.
The safe streets and communities act would better protect children and youth from sexual predators, increase penalties for organized drug crime, end house arrest for serious crimes, protect the public from violent young offenders, eliminate pardons for serious crimes, enshrine in law a number of additional key factors in deciding whether an offender would be granted a transfer back to Canada, increase offender accountability and support victims of crime, support victims of terrorism, and protect vulnerable foreign nationals against abuse and exploitation. I am not sure why the opposition would actually be opposed to any of those measures as we are trying to work in the best interests of Canadian families.
As we have heard from my hon. colleagues, the provisions in the legislation are comprehensive. There are several measures that fall under Public Safety Canada. These include: giving victims of terrorism the ability to seek justice against individuals that carry out a terrorist attack; eliminating pardons for those who commit multiple serious crimes or sexual offences against children; and putting in place a system wherein offenders have more responsibility for their own rehabilitation.
It also includes changes to the International Transfer of Offenders Act, which I will return to in just a moment.
It proposes changes to laws that fall under the responsibility of the Department of Justice, including helping to protect children from sexual predators by increasing penalties for sexual offences against children, as well as creating two new offences that take aim at conduct that could facilitate the sexual abuse of a child, such as luring. I know my hon. colleague, the member for Niagara Falls, has done a great job and has been a great champion on these things.
The bill also targets issues such as organized drug crime and, in the use of conditional sentence or house arrest for serious crimes, making amendments to ensure that violent and repeat young offenders are held accountable for their actions. It would also protect foreign workers who are vulnerable to falling into exploitation and trafficking.
These are all bills that Canadians have seen before, some going back as far as 2007.
Our government kept working in a minority government to get these bills passed and now we are taking strong, decisive action in the form of the safe streets and communities act.
I am very hopeful that we will see the support of all the hon. members in the House as we work to keep Canadian families safer.
In the recent Speech from the Throne, we pledged:
Our Government will defend the rights of law-abiding citizens, and it will promote Canadian values and interests at home and abroad.
Canadians know that our government is a government of action, and when we say that we will do something, we do it. We made a pledge that we would reintroduce a comprehensive law and order legislation within a hundred siting days of the new Parliament and, with this bill, we are following through on that pledge.
The Speech from the Throne also stated:
The Government of Canada has no more fundamental duty than to protect the personal safety of our citizens and defend against threats to our national security.
This statement is at the heart of our efforts to strengthen our law and our court systems. It is the spirit and intent that is woven into this important legislation that we have passed since 2006 that gives our law enforcement better tools and resources, that address violent and gun crimes, that protects our children and other vulnerable citizens and that ensures that offenders serve sentences that match the severity of the crimes being committed.
The statement also guides our government's decision to invest in crime prevention programs for youth in disadvantaged communities. I know that has been a concern of the opposition, and it has been mentioned that money should be spent on programs. Well, here it is. That is why the next phase of Canada's economic action plan includes the investment of $7.5 million annually to renew the youth gang prevention fund.
This statement was top of mind when we developed the comprehensive legislation before us today. While this legislation covers several provisions, I will take my time today to talk about a specific element of Bill C-10, the section that will amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act.
Before we go further, let us take a brief look at the history of this legislation.
As hon. members well know, Canada has been a party to international treaties related to transfer of offenders since 1978. By numbers, we have signed 14 bilateral treaties and 3 multilateral conventions with more than 60 countries to allow for the transfer of offenders.
There are many technical factors to take into consideration in transferring an offender. For example, the offender has to be serving a sentence for being involved in an activity that would also be punishable as a crime in Canada. As well, in most cases the offender must have at least six months remaining in his or her sentence, and there must be a consent of all three parties: Canada, the nation where the offender was sentenced, and the offender.
The initial legislation was modernized in 2004, and now, in the interest of public safety, the time has come to amend it again so that we can ensure Canadians feel secure in the decisions the government makes to bring offenders back to Canada.
I am happy to have the opportunity today to talk about what this amendment will and will not do and to set the record straight on a number of fronts. The legislation before us today proposes important amendments to the International Transfer of Offenders Act in order to help ensure that the commitment to protecting the safety and security of Canadians, which I know all of us share, is taken into account when considering the offender's request for transfer.
I would like to underline the two important components of the legislation before us and discuss them in further detail shortly.
Let me first briefly discuss what Bill C-10 will do.
Hon. members will know that under the present rules, the Minister of Public Safety is required to take several factors into account when considering an offender's request for a transfer. These factors include consideration of whether the offender's return to Canada would constitute a threat to the security of Canada; whether the offender left or remained outside Canada with the intention of abandoning Canada as a place of permanent residence; whether the foreign entity or its prison system presents a serious threat to the offender's security or human rights; and whether, in the opinion of the minister, the offender will, after the transfer, commit a terrorism offence or criminal organization offence within the meaning of section 2 of the Criminal Code.
The proposed Bill C-10 keeps those factors in place. The minister will still be able to consider these factors, as well as several others that are itemized in the existing act.
What Bill C-10 does do, however, is expressly stipulate that one of the key purposes of the International Transfer of Offenders Act is to protect the safety of Canadians. It means that the greater good of Canadians, and not first the good of the offender, is given its rightful place.
The bottom line is that Canadians want a justice system that works, and they also want a corrections system that effectively balances the rights of victims and law-abiding citizens. That is what the proposed amendments that our government has introduced will do.
The legislation our government has introduced recognizes that public safety should be a stated purpose in the determination of all offender transfer requests. Under the proposed amendments, the act's purpose would now read:
The purpose of this Act is to enhance public safety and to contribute to the administration of justice and the rehabilitation of offenders and their reintegration into the community by enabling offenders to serve their sentences in the country of which they are citizens or nationals.
This means that public safety is placed at the forefront of the decision-making process, which is exactly where it belongs. The proposed amendments will also help to protect the safety of family members and children. It will do that by stipulating in legislation that the minister may consider whether a transfer will endanger the safety of a family member or of a child. This would apply in the case of an offender who has been convicted of an offence against a family member or who has been convicted of a sexual offence involving a child.
As well, Bill C-10 would include additional factors that may be considered in assessing requests for the transfer back to Canada, such as whether an offender has participated in a rehabilitation program.
There are omissions in the current legislation as it now stands. That is why Bill C-10 is an important bill. Bill C-10 would protect the safety and security of Canadians by clearly recognizing in the legislation itself that public safety considerations are at the centre of all offender transfer requests.
Under the proposed amendments, Bill C-10 would also give the Minister of Public Safety more flexibility in the decision-making process itself. I have heard reference made to the fact that Bill C-10 provides the minister with too much discretionary authority to consider any factor he or she would like. I would like to remind all hon. members, however, that while it is non-explicit in the existing act, the courts have stated that the minister may also consider and refer to factors other than those listed in the existing section 10 as long as they are linked to the purpose of the act.
I have also heard reference made to the fact that the minister would no longer be compelled in the legislation to consider a list of factors, but “may consider” any or all itemized factors if appropriate. Some have suggested the change from “shall consider” to “may consider” in Bill C-10 puts too much discretion at the hands of the minister. This is not the case. In fact, all decisions would still need to be reasonable and rendered in accordance with the purpose of the act.
As hon. members may well know, the courts have called for more transparency in decision-making. Bill C-10 answers this call by enabling a clear articulation of the pertinent considerations in each case. The proposed amendments clearly articulate the factors that may be taken into account when considering a request for transfer, based on the unique facts and circumstances of each case.
In addition, to ensure that public safety is a principal consideration in offender transfer requests, Bill C-10 would also provide for the consideration of other factors, many of which are in line with other reforms currently under way within the corrections system. These other factors would include whether, in the minister's opinion, the offender is likely to continue to engage in criminal activity after the transfer; the offender's health; and whether the offender had refused to participate in a rehabilitation or reintegration program.
In addition, Bill C-10 notes that the minister may consider whether the offender has accepted responsibility for the offence for which he or she has been convicted, including acknowledging any harm that has been done to victims and to the community; the manner in which the offender would be supervised after the transfer while serving the remainder of his or her sentence in Canada; and whether the offender has co-operated with, or has undertaken to co-operate with, law enforcement.
To sum up, the basic principles of the International Transfer of Offenders Act would remain intact, but the amendments we are proposing today would enhance the act by ensuring that public safety is stated in law as an integral part of the decision-making process for the transfer of offenders. It would put in writing that the minister may consider factors such as the safety of family members and our most vulnerable, our children, before granting a transfer of another offender back to Canada. It would also bring greater transparency and responsiveness to the decision-making process.
These are sensible changes. Tthey are balanced and they are fair. Therefore, I urge all hon. members to vote in favour of the legislation before us today and to work with the government to ensure its speedy passage.
Once again, to summarize what this legislation is about, the proposed amendments are about greater protection to the most vulnerable members of our society as well as victims of terrorism.
It is also important that we look at holding criminals accountable for their actions and trying to improve the safety and security of all Canadians. I do not what hon. members or, quite frankly, Canadians would not support that.
The safe streets and communities act is about protecting children and youth from sexual predators, increasing penalties for organized drug crimes, ending house arrest for serious crimes, protecting the public from violent young offenders, eliminating pardons for serious crimes, enshrining in law a number of additional key factors in deciding whether an offender would be granted a transfer back to Canada, increasing offender accountability, supporting victims of crime, supporting victims of terrorism and protecting vulnerable foreign nationals against abuse and exploitation.
I heard questions in previous rounds about minimum sentencing, why that seemed to be a problem and that experts talked about that. I do not know why we would oppose minimum sentencing, certainly as it relates to the exploitation of children. I believe minimum mandatory sentencing would be important to keep those violent criminals behind bars.
Once again, I encourage all members of the House to support Bill C-10.