Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleagues, who contributed a well-informed and different point of view to fuel debate on Bill C-37, the Increasing Offenders’ Accountability for Victims Act.
Let us review the provisions of Bill C-37, which have been discussed at considerable length already. The bill proposes to amend provisions of the Criminal Code concerning victim surcharges in order to double the amount offenders must pay when they are sentenced. The bill also makes the surcharge mandatory for offenders.
This morning, we heard a moving account from the member for Vaudreuil Soulanges, and it made a deep impression on me. Unfortunately, in discussing this bill, we are also talking about victims. It cannot be avoided, because victims are the ones who are the most affected and who suffer the most from such events.
We heard the account by the member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges this morning, and I would like to add something else.
Yesterday evening, I was having supper with my family, who told me that bus drivers are often assaulted. Someone this happened to personally told me that a person had got on the bus and punched them in the face. The person in question was simply angry because the bus did not pull up to the stop quickly enough, which sometimes happens when a car is in the way, for example.
There have been several assaults of this kind in our province. Bus drivers are attacked at the end of their shift. These people feel powerless, as the member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges demonstrated clearly this morning.
People feel powerless when they are attacked, first of all because they do not expect things like that to happen to them. People also do not expect offenders to do things like that, because it is not part of our upbringing to be assaulted and to have to be on the defensive. People believe they live in a safe country.
This bill proposes to amend Criminal Code provisions in order to double the victim surcharge. Needless to say, we support this. The surcharge would increase to 30% from 15% of any fine imposed on the offender. Where no fine is imposed, the surcharge would be $100, up from $50, for summary conviction offences. It would increase from $100 to $200 for indictable offences. This section is somewhat complex, but in short, the fines are being doubled.
These amounts are significant. Particularly as those who receive them to assist victims are often community groups. In Quebec, they are called Centres d'aide aux victimes d'actes criminels, or CAVACs, and there are equivalent centres across Canada. They are often groups that intervene to provide assistance to victims.
People often do not know that such a system exists and that they can contact a CAVAC if they are victims of a crime.
The CAVACs are funded as follows. They receive funds that are generated in part by offenders, and contribute them towards the activities conducted by groups that provide assistance to victims of crime.
The NDP members will be supporting this bill, but they have reservations. They would like it to be re-examined in committee, simply because judges are not being allowed to impose sentences that may vary, as needed and depending on the person before them. Once again, this is something that comes up in many of the bills I have seen recently in the House.
Many offenders live in poverty. These are criminal groups or individuals with records. In some cases mental illness is involved, but not necessarily. For example, these people may be dropouts who have lived on the street with nothing and who systematically resist integrating into our society, because it does not suit their values. They want something different and they want to make their own laws.
We must intervene and educate them; this is important.
I would like to remind the House of something. In 2003, crime cost about $70 billion, $47 billion of which was borne by victims. That figure represents 70% of the total cost. A 2004 study estimated that the cost of the pain and suffering suffered by victims was in the region of $36 billion. It is truly important to understand the victims, and the NDP will continue to support families in this regard.
Many eligible victims very rarely seek compensation, one reason being that they do not know these services exist. The member for Vaudreuil—Soulanges said this again this morning. He did not know that there might be a system like that. The system also helps to reassure the victim and lets them know these measures exist and sometimes helps them cover various expenses. When a person is a victim of violence, they are scared, they do not take the same routes they used to, they are afraid to get on the bus or go out in a car, afraid of being accosted even when they are walking on the street, and so on. We have to offer these people services, and that has a social cost. Often, the victims do not even think of asking for anything.
Our concerns relate to the elimination of the judge’s discretion to decide whether paying a surcharge would cause undue hardship. In Quebec, and I imagine things are the same in the other provinces, although I have not checked, judges sometimes decide to require a person to do community service when they do not have the means to pay the surcharge in question. These surcharges are important, because they largely fund the assistance provided for victims. They may even cover up to 100%.
Sometimes, when a person is unable to pay the surcharge, they are required to perform community service. It must be open to the judge, at their discretion, to decide that the young person in question will have to approach a community group, and the group will have them do painting, wash windows, and so on. An entire system is in place to help the young person. I say “young person” because young people are often the ones on whom surcharges are imposed, in the case of petty crimes committed by gangs, for example, as the member for Vaudreuil—Soulanges described this morning.
It is important to retain community service. The measure would be too punitive it if were applied in its simple form. That is why we are asking that this bill be referred to committee. We will then be able to examine it and fix some of its flaws. We hope the surcharges will not be disproportionate to the offender’s ability to pay.
I will support this bill at this stage of the legislative process in the hope that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights will take all the time it needs to examine it, meet with stakeholders and perhaps amend certain aspects that need to be reconsidered. This bill is good for families, but it could be even better and at the same time preserve the right, the power and the flexibility that are needed for making the best possible decisions.