Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to speak in the House. My hon. colleague from Hamilton Mountain gave a great and eloquent speech on the subject.
I, too, am very happy to rise today to give my thoughts on this private member's bill, Bill C-350, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders). Having given much consideration to it, I believe the legislation warrants enough consideration to be sent to committee for further study.
Using recent statistics, the cost of crime in 2003 was about $70 billion. What is even more shocking is that $47 billion of the costs were borne by the victims of crime. That statistic means that fully two-thirds of all costs of crime are paid by the victims. It is clear that we need to reduce these costs. The most obvious way for us to reduce them is to reduce the number and severity of crimes taking place in Canada. The problem is that the government's approach to reducing crime, in my opinion, is inherently flawed. If increased prison populations lead to decreased crime rates, then the U.S. would have a far lower crime rate than Canada, which is clearly not the case.
The government's omnibus crime bill contained a number of measures that New Democrats supported and were willing to fast track if they were separated from the more odious aspects of that bill. However, as is so often the case, the government was more interested in playing politics than in passing good public policy. The government rammed through the entire bill, which will massively increase the Canadian prison population without having any effect on crime rates, with limited debate and scrutiny.
While the government likes to talk about protecting victims, the bill did nothing in regard to the most important aspect of victim support, and that was ensuring that there were less victims of crime in Canada. It is good, however, to see that some members on the government benches are willing to take a more nuanced approach to dealing with crime and, more specific, with looking to help the victims of crime.
This bill would mandate that any compensation that would be awarded to an individual who committed a crime through a court settlement would not be immediately paid to the offender. Instead, any money owing in terms of child support, restitution to the victim of the crime, civil judgments or fines would be paid out of this award. Only once these outstanding debts had been paid would the court release the remaining funds to the offender.
New Democrats are committed to ensuring that the rights of victims are properly considered in all aspects of the criminal justice system. The victims ombudsman, which is supported on this side of the House, has had a lot to say on these aspects of the justice system. In a recent report, the ombudsman called on the government to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to include conditions ensuring that offenders complied with sentences imposed by the court, including restitution and compensatory payment of increased fines, and to authorize the Correctional Service of Canada to deduct reasonable amounts of income held to cover outstanding amounts corresponding to the specified compensation or increased fines.
In that sense, the bill seems to attempt to address those concerns. It is important to realize that the primary purpose of this compensation is to not punish them by taking away their money, but, instead, it seeks to acknowledge that crimes have an effect both on the victims of crime and on the offender's family and that, as such, offenders should be accountable to those groups. It is a shame, however, that the government did not include any of these provisions in its crime bill. It is very telling that it was excluded.
This bill, with its focus on victims and the families of offenders, is a step in the right direction from the party opposite. It is just a shame that it has to be pushed by a private member's bill and not by the government. Additionally, I believe we should ensure that the criminal justice system continues to focus on rehabilitating people who have committed criminal acts to ensure they are not trapped in the cycle of criminality.
By ensuring that offenders are required to honour these types of debts, the criminal justice system could go some way in fostering a sense of responsibility in offenders to meet their obligations toward the families, victims and the communities. Combined with adequate retraining and education programs, that could be a good way to ensure that rehabilitation would be given a central place in the criminal justice system.
However, some critics of the bill have argued that by forcing offenders to honour their debts before being paid compensation, we are treating offenders differently than we treat average Canadians. However, there is some precedence for forcing people to honour their debts to civil society. For example, courts can garnish the paycheques of individuals in order to ensure they make their child support payments. As a result of this, I do not think that it is unreasonable for parliamentarians to further study the possibility of the bill.
Critics have also argued that the bill may infringe on provincial jurisdiction. However, as I understand it, the bill would replace the previous private member's bill introduced by the same member on the same topic and then he changed some of the provisions in the bill to recognize the right of provinces to set priority of claims regardless of settlement. I look forward to hearing testimony at committee stage from legal experts to ensure that the changes made by the member are sufficient to overcome any worries regarding provincial jurisdiction.
Bills like these, which seek to ensure that offenders are accountable for their actions and that go some way to ensure the rehabilitation of offenders, are definitely a step in the right direction.
I truly look forward to further study of the bill at committee to ensure its viability and to further analyze its consequences.