moved that Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders), be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, finally we are at third reading of Bill C-350. My private member's bill would encourage accountability and responsibility in our federal offenders. The bill would help ensure that offenders are held accountable for the monetary debts they owe. I think we can all agree this should be done.
As we have heard in committee, Bill C-350 raises important issues about the way in which offenders are held accountable for outstanding debts.
The evidence is clear. The cost of crime is immense in our society, to the tune of $99.6 billion a year in both tangible and intangible costs. That is not $99.6 million, but $99.6 billion in tangible and intangible costs.
We have heard, loud and clear, from victims of crime, victims' families and victims advocacy groups that offenders must be held accountable. We have heard these calls and are responding to them with several legislative measures.
We have supported legislation to address vexatious complaints by offenders have overburdened the complaints and grievance system with frivolous complaints.
We have also introduced legislation to double the victim surcharge owed by offenders and to make the payment mandatory in every case and without exception. While making the victim surcharge mandatory fulfills another of our commitments, we have the proper structure in place to ensure that it is paid.
This is where Bill C-350 comes into play. It would ensure that in cases where an offender is awarded money by a final decision by a court or tribunal, it must first be distributed in priority order to fulfill outstanding debts to child and spousal support, restitution orders and victim surcharges and any other amount owed as a result of a court judgment before the remainder goes to the offender.
We have seen strong support for this legislation from committee witnesses, including the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. The ombudsman clearly illustrated what this legislation would mean for victims of crime. She said:
For victims of crime who have already experienced loss and trauma, the additional legal and financial burden of having to track down moneys owed to them as a result of a crime committed against them can simply be overwhelming. This cannot and should not be the reality. Victims do not deserve to be revictimized. It is for this reason that measures that encourage the enforcement of the payment of restitution by offenders to victims are a necessary and welcome step forward.
This then is really the aim of Bill C-350, to reduce the financial burden on victims of crime. Bill C-350 puts in place a structure that would ensure that a monetary award from the Crown is first directed toward the offender's financial obligations outside the penitentiary walls. In particular, it would ensure that offenders are fulfilling their family responsibilities by continuing to pay court-ordered spousal or child support, or by paying restitution orders and victim surcharges.
I would like to take a moment to recognize the great work done in committee. Its members carried out a thoughtful and thorough study of the legislation in a non-partisan way, and I am grateful for that. The amendments put forward and subsequently passed in committee have served to strengthen and clarify the original bill. The amendment made at report stage further strengthened the bill's mandate, as it adjusted the wording to ensure that common law spouses will be eligible to receive payments under the legislation.
The proposed bill addresses a very specific section of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, section 78, which addresses payments to offenders. We are proposing changes to the law to ensure that money owed to the offender is distributed to meet his or her financial obligations. Here it is important to clarify that we are not talking about all moneys. This legislation deals only with those specific cases in which an offender has successfully won a monetary award as a result of a final decision by a court or tribunal.
This could include a case against the Correctional Service of Canada or another federal department. When this happens today, the CSC or other federal department would pay out the reward directly to the offender.
Of course, offenders are already obligated to pay their debts while in prison. Under the recently passed Safe Streets and Communities Act, they must participate fully in a comprehensive correctional plan, which among things includes addressing their court-ordered obligations.
However, there is no law specifically ensuring that they honour these obligations. This legislation does just that and prioritizes child and spousal support. Sometimes the offenders' families are also victims. In many cases the children or spouses of the offender face the strain of having lost the income of their partner and perhaps even lack the basic necessities.
To promote accountability among the offender population and ensure that victims and families of offenders are not further burdened, Bill C-350 will set out in law a means of ensuring that offenders honour their obligations according to the set priorities for repayment.
In this case the award must be paid out in the following order of priority: first, any amount the offender owes as a result of a spousal or child support order; second, any amount the offender owes as a result of a restitution order; third, any amount owed as a result of a victim surcharge; and fourth, any other amount owed by the offender as a result of a court judgment.
At committee concerns were raised regarding how this system of repayment might work in practice. These were realistic concerns. Amended wording now clarifies and addresses these concerns.
First, as I mentioned earlier, it is now clear that this bill only applies to awards made as a result of a final decision of a court or a tribunal. It is also specifically noted that legal costs should be respected before the award is distributed. Next, the bill now specifically ensures that any moneys owing to the offender under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement is exempt from repayment under Bill C-350.
We have also addressed concerns that the debt repayment priorities under Bill C-350 would override debts owed to the offender under the Income Tax Act or the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. A provision now exists in the bill that will ensure that it will not conflict with these or other similar federal statutes.
Another key concern brought forward by witnesses at committee was that the bill was not entirely clear with respect to the role of the Correctional Service of Canada in the administration of this scheme. In other words, what is the CSC's role in collecting, maintaining and sharing information on offenders and their debt obligations?
Furthermore, the bill was silent on issues of privacy and the sharing of the offenders' information among other departments as needed. As now stated, the CSC will act as a repository of this information. In other words, the onus is on the creditor to provide the CSC with written notice of any debts owed by the offender as a result of judgments or orders, such as on child support payments.
In the event the offender successfully sues and wins a monetary award from another federal department or agency, the latter would need to consult with CSC to determine if the person were a federal offender. The CSC can then provide that department with information on any outstanding obligations of the offender.
Bill C-350 represents an important step forward in our progress to make offenders accountable and responsible to society. Is that not what going to jail is all about? It is about rehabilitating the offender. This Bill C-350 sends an important message to families, children and, most importantly, victims of crime that we have not forgotten about them.
I hope that all members of this House can see the value of and give me their support for my private member's bill, Bill C-350.