moved that Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, I am proud to rise today to speak on behalf of my private member's Bill C-350, which brings forward important offender accountability measures. This important legislation will encourage the accountability and responsibility of offenders with a goal of ensuring that their obligations to society are addressed.
It should come as no surprise to any hon. member of the House that our Conservative government firmly believes in holding offenders to account and providing victims of crime with better support.
We have said from day one that we are committed to supporting victims and to taking their concerns seriously. That is one of our highest priorities and we have delivered on that commitment in a number of ways, particularly through legislative changes relating to pardons and parole. We have passed legislation that repeals the faint hope clause, meaning that offenders who commit murder are no longer eligible to apply for full parole prior to the parole eligibility date fixed by law. We have passed legislation that allows judges to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods for individuals convicted of more than one first or second degree murder.
We have taken the concerns of victims of white collar crime into account by passing legislation that imposes tougher sentences for fraud, and we have passed legislation to end accelerated parole review that applies to those who commit white collar crimes.
This past September, we were proud to introduce the safe streets and communities act, which includes measures that hold offenders accountable and supports victims. Of note, we have proposed that offenders must play a larger role in their own rehabilitation and reintegration programs, that pardons be renamed by the more appropriate term “record suspensions” and that the right of victims to attend and make statements at parole hearings are enshrined in law.
We have made great progress over the past six years. We have listened to the concerns of victims and we have acted on them, but we are not done yet.
That is why I am proud to speak to Bill C-350, which would take another step in the right direction toward increasing offender accountability and improving restitution measures.
My goal is straightforward. In simple terms the bill would ensure that any monetary award owed to an offender as a result of a legal action or proceeding against Her Majesty in Right of Canada would first be put toward financial obligations, including child support and restitution orders. The reason for this is to teach these individuals, some of whom have never had a responsible day in their whole lives, that in society we have obligations, and we are meant to meet them.
Let me tell hon. members what that means in real terms.
First and foremost, the bill would add wording to the purpose section of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that refers to encouraging the accountability and responsibility of offenders and ensuring that their obligations to their fellow Canadians are addressed. The addition of these words will put an increased focus on offender accountability as a key purpose of a correctional system that actually corrects criminal behaviour. It will drive our correctional system to reform these criminals into responsible and accountable citizens.
Second, Bill C-350 proposes important changes to how debts owed to offenders are distributed. It is extremely difficult for victims and their families to understand why we would allow an offender to receive a monetary award when they themselves are struggling or are waiting for financial restitution from the offender as a result of a civil law suit. The proposed amendments will help rectify this issue when it involves a payment by the Crown. This is another measure to ensure that offenders will be held accountable for fulfilling legally owed debts.
The bill states that any award owed from a legal judgment against the Crown will be paid on a pro rata basis in the following order of priority: the first priority is that the debt must be put toward spousal or child support orders.
When we think of victims, we often think only of the individuals or families directly harmed by the offender's actions. The bill before us addresses the needs of an often overlooked group of people, those innocent individuals who are indirectly impacted by the offender's actions, such as the offender's spouse and children, the families of the offenders.
If an offender is a bread winner in the family, the line of income and financial stability is suddenly gone when the offender is sent to prison. The resulting financial hardship and instability can have immediate and detrimental effects, particularly on children. An unemployed mother whose spouse is convicted and incarcerated for a crime could suddenly struggle to provide the basic necessities for her children: a warm home, food, clothing and other essentials. It is only reasonable that debt owed to the offender by the Crown should first provide for these vulnerable individuals.
The next priority is to pay any restitution for damages or injuries caused by the offenders as a result of their offence. Just as importantly, and falling in line with our focus on supporting victims, the next two priorities include payment of any victim surcharge orders and any outstanding civil judgments against the offender.
Victims can face years of recovery as a result of physical injury or emotional distress. The bill would ensure that the recovery and financial stability of the victims of crime would be taken into account before issuing the balance of a financial award to an offender. It is only after these priorities are addressed that an outstanding amount would be paid to the offender.
This is a fair process. We have heard from victims of crime advocates who tells us that any step toward improving offender accountability and victim restitution is a step in the right direction.
Bill C-350 would go a long way toward increasing the accountability of offenders and ensuring that better restitution measures are in place for not only the victims but the spouses and children of those offenders.
I believe the bill is good legislation. Canadians want and deserve to feel safe in their homes and communities. That means offenders need to be off our streets. It also means that offenders must be held accountable for their actions. Canadians will not stand for a system that allows an offender to file spurious lawsuits or court actions and then be rewarded for this prior to them making their debts whole.
With this bill, our government continues to create a system of justice and public safety that meets the high expectations of Canadians, and that takes into consideration the concerns of victims of crime.
This legislation is simply common sense. What it says is that when an offender is incarcerated, there is a reason the person is incarcerated. Why should the offenders family suffer, why should the victims suffer and why should the offender, who is incarcerated, reap financial rewards when the victims, both spousal or children, or a direct victim of the offence are hurting? This tries to right that wrong.
I urge all hon. members to support this important legislation, with amendments. We will welcome amendments on this legislation.