Mr. Speaker, as my other colleagues have said, we will be supporting this bill but do have reservations about it.
I agree entirely with my colleague from Trois-Rivières when he says that sometimes the government portrays things only in black and white, pitting good against evil and not seeing all the shades of grey that might exist in the middle.
I would like to share a story. I was actually a victim of crime, so I have a personal take on this issue. In 1997, I was 25 years old and had just returned to Victoria, B.C. from a year of teaching English in South Korea. One night shortly after I got back, I think it was a few weeks later, I was at a friend's house party, someone whom I had gone to art school with. It was a peaceable party with art students and we were having a good time that night.
Around midnight two gentlemen came in. They were skinheads. I would estimate one was about 200 pounds, wore a white power t-shirt, was bald and had a lazy eye that went one way. He was not exactly the kind of guy that one would start a friendly conversation with.
Now the host of the party was uncomfortable. She wanted these gentlemen to leave. I took it upon myself that night to tell these gentlemen they were not welcome at the party and that they would have to go. Everything was fine, as they seemed to get the message and they were going to go. I was standing by the door, and as the two gentlemen were leaving one of them gave me what was called a sucker punch. He punched me in the head. He had a spike ring on and left a scar by my eye.
I was bleeding and in shock. The police came and arrests were made. Basically, as I was getting cleaned up in the bathroom downstairs, I realized that I had been physically assaulted. I immediately gave the police my witness statement.
After that, I waited. I waited in fear. I changed my look. I shaved my head. I did not want this guy to find me, because he was out on parole. I had just returned from a foreign country where I had been for a year. I was having trouble navigating the system at the time because I was experiencing reverse culture shock.
I want to add that I could have looked at the man who assaulted me as evil, but I had actually seen him in the neighbourhood quite a bit before I went to Korea and knew that he had a baby at home. I knew that his financial situation was not that good, because I saw him and his wife and his baby going to social services quite often, I guess to get their social services cheque. They were not exactly in a good situation.
The neighbourhood that we lived in was North Park, where I lived on Mason Street at the time. It was a rough-and-tumble neighbourhood. I can say that we both shared one thing at the time because we were both poor. I had used the bulk of the money I had made in South Korea to pay off my student loan, which was quite burdensome. Therefore, in some ways we were both victims of poverty, but he much worse. I had a university education, and I do not think he had even finished high school.
In that situation the damage was much more psychological for me than economic, and so throwing money or a fine at the fact I had been physically assaulted was not going to change anything. I also doubt that Dennis would have been able to pay that.
I experienced a loss of income because I was a stress case after that happened. At the time I refused or was in denial about being labelled a victim. I knew victim compensation existed, but I refused to take on that label.
I see now that I clearly was the victim of a crime, but I do not know if a fine would have necessarily put a salve on the problem I had. I know other people who were assaulted that night by the same two gentlemen did take the victims compensation they were offered. I chose not to.
As I said, we support the bill because we support victims of crime and their families and are following the recommendation of the Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, but we have reservations about the bill itself.
After having been assaulted I trusted the judge and the decision he made. He let one of the gentlemen go because he had seen that he had done quite a bit of work to distance himself from white supremacist groups, whereas he gave a bit of a harsher sentence to the other gentleman who had a record.
I trust judges' discretion. They have studied and thought about the concept of justice. Therefore, I would be more comfortable letting judges decide what is best rather than mandating a judge to do something. It is an insult to our judicial system to impose certain measures on them when they are in the best position to judge.
The other issue we are concerned about is the downloading of costs. I am wondering whether that has been looked at sufficiently and if all provinces and territories are ready to take on the costs that will effectively be downloaded onto them by this legislation. With the other bills that have touched on the Criminal Code for certain political purposes, we have seen costs downloaded onto the provinces. We have serious questions about that. We know that downloading of costs can put undue pressure on the budgets of provincial and territorial governments.
The other thing I really want to point out from my story is that we can say that there are criminals and victims and that criminals are evil and victims are good. In my case as a victim of assault, I agree that the actions of the gentleman who assaulted me were not acceptable in society. However, throwing money at the problem would not have solved the fact I had been victimized by assault. It was not going to change my psychological stress. It was not going to repair the damage that had been done. We cannot just throw money at a problem and expect that everything will be solved.
At committee I would question whether we have invested enough money in services to help victims. I know that the government wants to help victims and their families, but I would hope it would tone back its rhetoric in using this issue as a political issue and look at the issue more from a compassionate point of view and the experience of victims and to understand that not every story of every victim is the same, and not every story of every person who commits a crime is the same. These are complex issues. These people have complex stories and it is too easy for us here in this place to caricature victims and criminals. For example, I am always amazed by the kidnapping of young Kienan Hebert and how the father reached out to kidnapper and how they found forgiveness together.
There are different ways we can deal with crime and victims, and we have to take a more compassionate approach rather than turning it into a political caricature of white hat cowboy, black hat cowboy, good and evil. There is a lot more to be said and it is much more complex.