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House of Commons Hansard #147 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was commissioner.

Topics

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, let me begin, as many others have done, by congratulating you on your appointment as Deputy Speaker. I am very proud to see you in the Chair and I congratulate you.

In his remarks, my colleague from Hamilton Centre correctly referred to the tendency the government has to remove judicial discretion in much of Canada's criminal law.

From my perspective, victim surcharges are often very appropriate, and certainly supporting victims and initiatives that support victims of crime has a lot of merit in our justice system.

Does he agree that the knee-jerk reaction of the government is always to tie judges' hands by imposing mandatory minimum sentences, pretending that somehow that is getting tough on crime, often creating unintended consequences? Does he agree that the solution in the case of a judicial sentence that appears inappropriate or does not respect the principles of sentencing is to go to the court of appeal to seek to have that sentence changed instead of consistently taking away judicial discretion, as it is seeking to do in this bill?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

In 30 seconds, the member for Hamilton Centre, please.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is not fair. It takes me that long to clear my throat.

Let me just quickly say that I agree with almost everything my friend said. I cannot answer the last part. That really is kind of a legal procedural question as to where its next step ought to be in the system.

However, let me just say that I do think, in this particular case, it is going to be very difficult for the government to argue that discretion should be removed in one part and yet remain in a piece of legislation where it is already there.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, Housing; the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, Housing; the hon. member for Terrebonne—Blainville, Youth.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to tell you how proud I am to see you in front of the House today and to be making my first speech with you in the chair.

I am going to begin by saying that I am very pleased to be back here today. I would like to greet all my colleagues and just say to the people in my riding how happy I was to spend so much time with them this summer in La Pointe-de-l'Île. I will be back soon, on the weekend.

And now let us talk about Bill C-37. More than ever, Canadians need a government that thinks about their interests and is focused on enacting legislation to help them. I would very much like to add my voice to that of my colleague from Gatineau and say that regardless of our ideology and the party we belong to in the House of Commons, we are here to pass bills that will improve the situation of Canadians and make our society a better one for our children and for us all.

Working together is a fundamental principle for the team in the NDP. It would be nice to have a government that wants to listen to us and try to improve its own bills. That is how a parliament operates. There has to be co-operation among the parties. I would like to say that I am very disappointed in the attitude of the government members who have sat silent in their chairs for several days while the opposition extends a hand to work with them. But they refuse, if only to ask us questions, to rise in the House to show their interest. If this bill was so important to them, why do they sit silent in their chairs, staring stone-faced at their computers and their BlackBerrys? Why are they not even looking up to listen to what I am saying to them now?

I appeal to them today to do this. I am going to make a speech now, and I would like the government members to listen to me. Perhaps they will take some of my recommendations and go back to their leader’s office with them, to look at the bill again. It would be something for us today, to see the Conservative government, which has been in power for six years now, act like a government, listen to the opposition, and learn some lessons from it.

Let us move on to Bill C-37, the Increasing Offenders’ Accountability for Victims Act, which amends the Criminal Code. This is a fine example of a bill that calls for all-party participation. As my colleague said earlier, we have one of the best judicial systems in the world; it is recognized everywhere. It is important that this be said.

It will be my pleasure to table the articles I have read in a number of American criminal law journals, where even Republican senators and governors of Texas criticized the Conservative government, saying this was not the way to go. They tried it; they adopted the same policy as the Conservatives, and it cost them millions of dollars. Their prison population exploded and they were unable to handle the situation. The government of Texas is even in the process of revising its policy to try to imitate the policy that Canada has so valued for years.

This is my first question for the government: why does it want to destroy our criminal justice system, a system that every other country would like to have?

My second question is about the principle of doubling the surcharge. The principle of imposing a surcharge on an offender to fund justice programs such as crime victim assistance programs is an honourable one, and we are not disputing it.

However, the government should perhaps take another look at some of the provisions of the bill. For example, there is an order in which an offender’s debts are paid. Support payments come first, the money paid to victims under a restitution order second, and the surcharge third.

If a judge loses the discretion to determine whether a criminal has the ability to pay, someone is going to be sent into debt. I understand that the intention is to fund programs because we do not have enough funds, but could the government not reach into the billions of dollars in tax credits it gives companies to fund these programs, instead of sending more Canadians into debt?

My second question is for the government. Are offenders, who are Canadian citizens, born in Canada, with Canadian parents, considered to be Canadians? Are they in a different class? Is the government telling us that there are two classes of citizens now, one composed of victims and the other of offenders?

Forgive me; I know the Conservatives are probably outraged at my comments, but to my mind, victims are the priority. A victim is someone we should take care of, but it is the government that should look after that. We should not be shifting the burden onto other people, who have probably been the victims of their social situation, of their poverty. We can talk about aboriginal people. In some ridings, there are no rehabilitation programs and no money to combat poverty. They do not even have police or the chance to have a system like ours.

My third question is: are we creating another class of citizens? Are there Canadians that the Conservatives are willing to recognize as Canadians, and aboriginal people, victims and criminals? The government is dividing Canada, the better to rule it, so that people are confused about its policies. That is not what we need now. We need a government that lives up to its responsibilities today and helps not just victims, but also the people who may be victims of their social situation, of their poverty.

Some of my colleagues have said how widely poverty is recognized, internationally, as a causal factor in crime. If the government wants to lower the crime rate and make our streets safe, why not tackle the problem at the source and help the people who are living in extreme poverty? That would be a good lesson to learn for the people in the government sitting in front of their computers and reading who knows what articles making who knows what claims.

We are here to work together to help Canadians. I refuse to have the government tell me that victims, offenders, aboriginal people and women are not all in the same class. We have been hearing this same thing for six years. Aboriginal people, offenders, victims, women, whoever: they are all Canadians. They all deserve to have every one of the government members stand up for their interests. We are not here to judge; we are here to solve problems and make our society a better one. We are not here to divide people and create classes; we are here to unite people.

I can see some of the government members laughing at my speech. Apparently, they think that what I am telling them today is a laughing matter. They are laughing at my speech. I can hardly wait to see if any Conservatives will have the nerve to stand up and ask me a question, if only for the purpose of showing that they care about Canadians. I would be more than happy to answer.

I will close by pointing out that what the government is trying to do is download the burden to the provinces by telling them that if they do not have a program to help offenders pay the surcharge, they should come up with one because the federal government is not about to give them any money. I am ready for questions from my colleagues, particularly my government colleagues.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, the record needs to be really clear. We have heard this rhetoric now a dozen times today, that members of the Conservative Party, the government side, are not standing up and commenting in debate.

If my hon. colleague, who I have tremendous respect for, would check Hansard, she will see that I spoke for 20 minutes yesterday and have been up multiple times today, as have other members of the party. Their rhetoric just needs to end. We are tired of hearing it. It does not serve any purpose.

What we have heard from members on the opposition side every time they lead debate is 5 to 10 minutes of discussion about lack of debate, and parliamentary process discussions and lessons on how to debate properly. They attacked a Liberal government of years past for its inaction. They have completely dodged the issue. We have had members of the opposition not even answer questions that have been asked.

I would urge the opposition members when they engage in debate to actually use good, common sense and debate the topic at hand and not spin this into some kind of parliamentary lesson or refuse to answer the questions. It is no wonder we are not engaging in fruitful debate; it is because they are not answering the questions. They have not done so at all today.

The opposition members are the ones pretending they have the high ground here and being holier than thou every time they get up to speak. Quite frankly, on behalf of all Conservatives, we are tired of it and I think most Canadians are tired of it too. I thank the opposition members for wasting everyone's time. We appreciate it.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will repeat what I said because some people did not hear me. I would like to tell my colleague that I have plenty of respect for him and that he is an excellent soccer player. I enjoy playing soccer with him.

However, I have to point out that the member did not ask me a question. How can he claim that members of my party do not want to answer questions when the government has not asked us any actual questions?

The ball is in his court: if the member is absolutely certain the government has information, we would sure like to see it. To date, the government has provided no facts, no studies, no research that would give us reason to support this legislation.

Is there a proven connection between imposing a surcharge on someone who is probably already living in poverty and lower crime rates?

If the government has information, please, do share. To date, no government member has provided any information that would answer the questions.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île on her speech. I agree that the government is often uninterested in parliamentary debates. However, it may be interested in the question I have for my colleague or my suggestion for her.

In her speech she referred to some of the failures of the Republican policy on criminal justice. I share her concerns about the fact that the government is basing programs, policies and bills on ones that have proven to be failures in certain U.S. states, such as California and Texas.

Could my colleague elaborate, for the benefit of everyone, on her concerns that the government seems to be inspired by policies that have failed in certain U.S. states?

What are her concerns for the future of the Canadian justice system in light of the Conservative government's blind faith in its American idols?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Beauséjour for the question.

I remember passing an article on to him regarding some Republican governors and senators who had shared their opinions with criminal law journals.

I would go even further and say that, for the Conservatives, national defence is a secret, criminal justice is an ideology, and poverty is an invention of the opposition. In fact, for the Conservatives, everything they believe is real, but they never want to share the facts with us. The Conservatives were found in contempt of Parliament, because they refused to hand over budgetary information in relation to their criminal justice policy.

They are worse than the Republicans, because at least the Republicans will co-operate with the Democrats. Since the Conservatives have a majority, they do not care what the opposition thinks or what Canadians think. The Conservatives seem to think that criminals, victims, women, families, children and aboriginal people are not Canadians and are second-class citizens. The Conservatives have chosen their cause: to defend their cronies. I can assure this House that their choice is not in the best interest of Canada or Canadians.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say that I will be sharing my time with the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan. Before I begin, I also want to congratulate you. I am very glad that you are there. Your wisdom and experience in the House will serve you well as you guide all us members from all parties.

As you know, the NDP supports this bill at second reading so that it can be sent to committee. Bill C-37 amends provisions of the Criminal Code to double the amount of victim surcharges. The government is trying to take an existing surcharge and double it, to increase what victims will receive. We support the principle of this bill, and as I just said, we want it to be sent to committee.

In light of what my colleague just said about what goes on in committee, I hope that once this bill makes it to committee, the members from each party will listen to the witnesses and will consider their concerns and everything they have to say and use what they hear in order to amend the bill. I say that because, with this majority government, the Conservatives sometimes do not want to listen to what witnesses have to say and it becomes an exercise in futility. So I hope, since everyone more or less agrees on what this bill entails, that we will truly be able to study it and find the best solutions for victims.

I would like to give a little context. What does this mean? A victim surcharge is an additional sanction imposed during sentencing on an offender who is found guilty. It is collected and retained by provincial and territorial governments, and helps fund programs and services for victims of crime in the province or territory where the crime was committed. We are asking those responsible to financially support victims. That is fair and good. This bill seeks to increase how much money is raised.

First, Bill C-37 would amend Criminal Code provisions governing the amount of the victim surcharge, doubling it from 15% to 30% of any fine imposed on the offender. If no fine is imposed, the victim surcharge will be $100 instead of $50.

This bill also removes the court's ability to waive the victim surcharge if the offender demonstrates that it would cause him or his dependents undue hardship. Judges will still have the freedom to order a higher victim surcharge if they believe that doing so is justified under the circumstances and if the offender is able to pay. Also, Bill C-37 would make it possible for offenders who are unable to pay the surcharge to participate in a provincial fine option program.

All of the pieces are in place. For example, we supported several recommendations from the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, such as this one, and we are in favour of enhanced funding for programs for victims of crime. That being said, we have some concerns about this bill that should be reviewed in committee—the committee's study is very important—particularly with respect to removing judges' discretionary power to decide whether paying the surcharge would cause undue hardship.

The NDP believes that this bill restricts judicial discretionary power and independence.

Even though this does not have anything to do with the bill, I want to emphasize the fact that this Conservative bill would limit judges' power. That means that any decisions made would be political decisions instead of practical decisions made by judges every day of the week. That is one of our concerns. When the committee begins its study of this bill, I hope that it will give judges that discretionary power because they should have it.

That is something we want to talk about. We also want to talk about repealing the undue hardship clause and about the clause to double the amount of the surcharge, which could be a problem for low-income offenders.

For example, members have already pointed out that some offenders have no or low income. How will we solve that problem?

However, this is offset by the fact that the bill gives people the option of paying off their fine by working through the various fine option programs offered by several provinces. The balance provided in this bill needs to be examined further in committee hearings in order to ensure that the bill is indeed appropriate, particularly for the provinces and territories that do not yet have such programs in place.

The provinces' and territories' requirements must be taken into account. Even though this legislation is federal, given that it is administered in the provinces and territories, the wishes and requirements of provincial and territorial governments must be taken into account. I hope this aspect will be examined carefully at committee.

Some of the organizations that support our position include the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Elizabeth Fry Societies and the John Howard Society.

It is perhaps worth mentioning that the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime has been fighting for quite some time for better funding of services for victims of crime.

In 2003, crime cost about $70 billion. Victims paid for about $47 billion of that, or 70%. A 2004 study estimated the pain and suffering of victims at $36 billion. In addition, a significant number of eligible victims do not claim compensation, often because they do not even know that they are entitled to it.

Once the bill is enacted, it is essential that victims know that they are entitled to compensation. I will stop here. I am ready for questions.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to get the member's thoughts about taking away judges' discretion as to whether an individual is able to pay the type of fine that would be applied through this particular bill. Does the member believe that it is best to leave that discretion with the judicial system? In his opinion, is that in the best interests of our communities?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, yes it is very important that we leave that discretion to judges. I also mentioned earlier in my speech that lately, with all this legislation, we have been slowly taking away this discretion.

It is interesting, Mr. Speaker, that you are in the chair now, that in your former capacity as justice critic how many times over the past years I have talked to you about this, and the message I got from you, an experienced lawyer and critic, is that it is very important that judges retain this discretion. If I retain anything from you in all our years of contact, it is that judges need to have this discretion.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, we have heard a bit of discussion around the discretion being taken away from the judges. To be accurate, what is being presented is the victim fine surcharge being levied at 30% of the fine but the fine amount would still be determined by the judge and at the discretion of the judge. Is that the member's understanding of this legislation?

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I wish the member for Yukon well over in that corner. He used to sit over here and now he cannot follow my lead on standing up for votes anymore.

Yes, that is how I understand it. However, the point I am trying to make is that it is important that we allow judges to retain that discretion and this should be discussed in committee. It is my hope that when the bill is polished and it becomes law, there will be this discretion for judges to ensure they have that final say in what happens to these folks.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, a big thank you to my colleague for his very thoughtful speech. My comments are for him. He pointed out some problems with this bill. We will vote in favour of the bill to send it to committee.

The member for Yukon repeated a few times that judges still had discretionary power. I would like to bring him back to that topic. With Bill C-37, judges will no longer have any discretion regarding the surcharge, as it was set out in subsection 737(5). This provision enabled a judge to not impose a surcharge if the offender had shown, for very specific reasons, that he would be unable to pay it.

Unless they have a completely different bill, that is what this bill will do. That is one of the fundamental questions we will ask in committee. I encourage the members opposite to reread their own bill. I would like to hear from the member who just spoke about this issue.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, first, I thank my colleague for all of the work she has done on the justice file. It is not an easy file and I respect what she has to say about the nuances of these bills. I thank her for her comments. I have not carefully studied this bill. I am very happy that she had the opportunity to clarify this bill. I thank her very much.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to add my congratulations to you for assuming the chair. I have been fortunate enough to work with you over the past eight years and I always appreciated the even-handedness and fairness you brought to the work we have done in the House.

I want to thank the member for British Columbia Southern Interior for splitting his time with me. He is a tough act to follow, but I have a couple of points I would like to make in addition to what he raised.

I also want to acknowledge the very good work that the member for Gatineau has done in providing us with the analysis on the bill.

As other members in the House have pointed out, Bill C-37 proposes to amend the provisions of the Criminal Code on victim surcharge, article 737, in order to double the amount that offenders must pay when they receive their sentence, and make that surcharge mandatory for all offenders.

As a number of other speakers in the House have pointed out, the bill also proposes to limit some of the discretion that judges have by removing the ability of a court to weigh the victim surcharge if the offender can show that paying the surcharge would result in undue hardship to either himself or herself or his or her dependants, which is the repeal of article 737(5). However, as others have pointed out, the judges would retain the discretionary power to increase the victim surcharge if they believed that circumstances so warranted and that the offender were able to pay. This is article 737(3).

I will focus on the particular aspect of limiting judicial discretion. Our critic from Gatineau has recommended that we send the bill to committee for further review and possible amendment. It is this section of the legislation that is troubling.

I am the aboriginal affairs critic for the NDP and I will focus on the impact on aboriginal offenders. I will be quoting from a report called “Good Intentions, Disappointing Results: A Progress Report on Federal. Aboriginal Corrections”. The reason I quote from that report is not only that it comes from the Office of the Correctional Investigator, but it has very good statistics about why we should be concerned about limiting judicial discretion in imposing this surcharge.

Most of us in the House recognize that First Nations, Métis and Inuit are some of the poorest of the poor in our country and they are seriously overrepresented in the correctional system at the federal level and also at the provincial and territorial level. Of course, my focus is on the federal level.

In the executive summary of this report it outlines some of the challenges for aboriginal offenders. It indicates:

A young and rapidly growing aboriginal population presents important challenges and opportunities for Canada. Should they not be taken up however, the impacts will be felt throughout the youth and criminal justice system, including corrections.

With the Aboriginal population much younger than the overall Canadian population and experiencing a higher growth rate, the problem of aboriginal over-representation in corrections continues to worsen rather than improve.

The offending circumstances of Aboriginal offenders are often related to substance abuse, intergenerational abuse and residential schools, low levels of education, employment and income, substandard housing and health care, among other factors. Aboriginal offenders tend to be younger; to be more likely to have served previous youth and/or adult sentences; to be incarcerated more often for a violent offence; to have higher risk ratings, to have higher need ratings, to be more inclined to have gang affiliations, and to have more health problems, including fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and mental health issues.

The last part is particularly important in the context of the bill, because we have a population that first has had a history, and I have some other statistics, of reoffending. We would have First Nations, Métis and Inuit coming into the system and constantly being reassessed a surcharge.

We often have people coming into the system from severely disadvantaged backgrounds, so their ability to even pay this surcharge comes into question. The point around judicial discretion was that in the past, a judge could take into account some of these circumstances I just outlined.

The report goes on to talk about some of the statistics. It says that the aboriginal population is growing quickly, representing a greater percentage of the Canadian populace, increasing by 20.1% from 2001 to 2006. The aboriginal population is also much younger than the overall Canadian population. It says that in 2006, the median age of the total aboriginal population was 27 years, which was 13 years lower than the median age of non-aboriginals.

It says that Statistics Canada predicts that the aboriginal population aged zero to 14 will grow from 6% of all children in Canada, in 2001, to over 7.4%, in 2017. Similarly, by 2017, the population of aboriginal youth adults aged 20 to 29 years will have increased from 4.1% to 5.3%.

It goes on to say that with the aboriginal population much younger than the overall Canadian population and experiencing a higher growth rate, the problem of aboriginal overrepresentation in corrections continues to worsen rather than improve and that aboriginal overrepresentation has grown in recent years. Between 1998 and 2008, the federal aboriginal population increased by 19.7%. Moreover, the number of federally-incarcerated aboriginal women increased by a staggering 131% over this period.

In 2007 to 2008, it says that 17.3% of the total federal offender population was aboriginal, compared with being 4% of the Canadian adult population.

We can see from those numbers about this very serious overrepresentation of first nations, Métis and Inuit in the federal correctional system. It says that they represented 19.6% of those incarcerated and 13.6% of those on conditional release, or parole and for women, this overrepresentation is even more dramatic. Thirty-three per cent, that is one-third, of women in federal penitentiaries were aboriginal.

I have some other statistics if I can get to them and talk about the fact that many times aboriginal women are imprisoned because of domestic violence. They end up reacting to a situation where they are in very unsafe homes and then they end up in prison. By removing judicial discretion, we are penalizing these women further who often are the sole providers of their young children and so on.

It says that of those offenders admitted to federal jurisdiction in 2007-8, 49.4% of aboriginal offenders were under the age of 30, compared with 38.6% of non-aboriginal offenders and that the median age of aboriginal offenders in prison was 30 compared with the median of 33 for non-aboriginal offenders and so on.

Part of the reason that these statistics are important is not only do we have an overrepresentation in the correctional system, but we also have young offenders who often have not had an opportunity to establish themselves in their community. Therefore, they often have not got a strong track record of employment.

I heard a member say it was only $50.00. In many cases, for young aboriginal offenders, $50.00 is an enormous amount of money. Often times they are supporting young children at home as well because the birth rate is very high for our young aboriginal people.

I just want to reiterate the fact that I have been talking numbers and data, but we have to continue to look at the context.

I mentioned earlier the intergenerational trauma, residential school abuse, the ongoing poverty, lack of housing, lack of education, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and so on. These are all really important issues to consider.

I had mentioned earlier that there were some interesting statistics, in terms of aboriginal people who were incarcerated and whether they were serving their first sentence in federal correctional system. In fact, the percentage of aboriginal people with no previous convictions between 2001 and 2006 ranged between 3% and 5%. Therefore, only 3% to 5% of the people admitted to the federal correctional system had no previous offences.

I talked about that revolving door and about the fact that people would continue to have to pay every time they were readmitted to a federal correctional system.

The final point I want to make is this. Were first nations, Métis and Inuit consulted in the development of this bill?

The Teslin Tlingit is one example of a first nation that has a self-governing agreement. It has a justice agreement in place. It has the authority under its self-government agreement around administrative of justice. Therefore, what would be the impact of limiting judicial discretion on some of the first nations that have these self-governing agreements? This has been answered anywhere. That is important when we continue to negotiate these self-government agreements and encourage first nations to take the authority, to take the ground on administering their own justice agreements.

I look forward to further conversations on this bill when it gets referred to committee and, hopefully, some of these issues will be remedied.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's speech was very informative. What I think it underlines is the difference in visions between that side of the House and ours with regard to the importance of social determinants of crime. The other side of the House has a simplistic idea about choice and context in crime. Members on that side think somehow bigger sentences will solve crime. There has been long-standing literature that points to the opposite and that socio-economic determinants of crime need to be addressed.

My question is with regard to the discretionary power of judges and the link between that power and social determinants.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, we need an approach that looks at victims' rights, ensuring that victims are protected and have compensation and why people commit crimes in the first place.

There was a meeting earlier today in which someone was talking about fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. A question I posed to people in the correctional service was what kind of testing actually took place on people in prison who may have FASD, and there was no testing. We talk about social determinants of health. We talk about a significant percentage of the population that people suspect are in the federal penitentiary system. What programs and services are we offering in order to prevent people from getting into a life of crime? What are we doing to work with people and their families who may have FASD?

On this whole issue around social determinants and health, one would expect we would have a comprehensive approach that looks at preventing people from going to prison to begin with, dealing with them while they are in prison so they are rehabilitated when they come out the other end and also working with victims and their families to ensure they are adequately supported when a crime is committed.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the words of my colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan, who spoke very eloquently about the limiting of judicial discretion not being a principle that she supported and that aboriginal overrepresentation was something about which she was concerned. There is no evidence the bill would deter crime or reduce aboriginal overrepresentation. We heard her colleague make the point that this represented a different vision than the NDP Party's vision with respect to prevention and the social determinants of crime.

Given that the NDP is planning to send the bill to committee, which essentially means agreement to the principle of the bill, though some changes are being asked for, I would like to know from the member what the basic foundational principles are of the bill that she is in agreement with to allow her to vote for sending it to committee.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, recognizing it is important to look at how victims are impacted and how we can support victims and their families is the kind of principle of which New Democrats have spoken in support. We have encouraged the government to invest more in programs and services for victims and their families.

I suggest there are probably not many people in the House who, in some way or other, have not been touched by people who have been victims of crime, whether it was a break and enter or something far more serious. Our hearts go out to those families. We know the pain and suffering they have to go through in order to recover from whatever crimes have been committed against them. It is a very serious question.

This is not a black and white question. The question is how we support victims and their families and prevent people from going into the criminal justice system to begin with. If we bring those two things together, we will probably have a much more holistic approach to the criminal justice system.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I join with others in congratulating you on your elevation to the chair as deputy speaker. It is appropriate, and I congratulate you and your party, the official opposition, for putting you there. For all of us, I guess it is overwhelming that you are up there for all the right reasons.

Today we are talking about Bill C-37. This debate has been going on now for a few months, and we have picked it up after the summer constituency break.

On April 24, the Minister of Justice introduced Bill C-37, an act to amend the Criminal Code, increasing offenders' accountability for victims act, in the House of Commons and it has been given first reading.

The summary, as handed out by the Library of Parliament, states that a victim surcharge is an additional penalty imposed on convicted offenders at the time of sentencing. Bill C-37 would amend the Criminal Code to change the rules concerning victim surcharges. The surcharge would be 30% of any fine imposed on the offender. Where no fine is imposed, the surcharge would be $100 for offences punishable by summary conviction and $200 for offences punishable by indictment. In addition, the judge would retain the discretion to impose an increased surcharge where the circumstances warrant and the offender has the ability to pay. Some of those I will touch on in just a few moments.

Let us talk about many aspects of this legislation. We have talked quite a bit about some of the root elements of crime in this House. A lot of people think we talk about the economy, but we have probably talked as much if not more about crime during the last three years, and I have voted for some of the bills proposed to us. I felt they were reasonable and that the amendments to the Criminal Code were justified for reasons and circumstances we have before us today.

However, in looking at the situation, the base root of all crime, poverty, is one of the major issues. My colleague from Charlottetown was quite eloquent in his speech yesterday and he brought some of these factors out. I would like to reiterate some of those factors because I believe they bear repeating.

In times past, we confronted great challenges, not with slogans and silly appellations for parliamentary bills but by deploying our best and brightest in search of facts that would lead to meaningful and realistic solutions.

The growing gap between those who have and those who have not, the persistence of poverty and its relation to crime are real and present danger to social cohesiveness in Canada.

We cannot afford to stand aside and do what we are doing, which is little.

He also came up with a recommendation that I support.

We cannot dismissively say that poverty is a provincial matter...

This is something that has been brought out quite a bit in the House, and I believe it to be right. Although some areas of concern, most notably health care, education and housing, are dealt with mostly by the province, that does not mean we cannot further a national dialogue on how we go about dealing with issues such as poverty.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the current government has a poverty reduction strategy that is being held up as a solid example of how we can reduce elements of poverty within our society. It has been carried out over many years in Newfoundland. It started with a strategic social policy and now we have this poverty reduction strategy, which is a strong element in reducing poverty rates within the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Many elements brought out in this poverty reduction strategy deal with specific instances where people find themselves wrapped up in elements of crime and in front of courts and judges. In many cases, the judges are given discretion as to what to do. In some cases, some of the laws we have need to be reformed to give the right sentence to a particular crime.

When we take all these elements of reforming our laws, whether it is through the Criminal Code or others, we have to encapsulate it into the narrative, and the narrative is about poverty reduction. That is the first part of it.

The second part of it is aid to victims of crime. The element we are talking about here tries to address that. Principally, it was a good start, but we sort of went off the rails as we proceeded further. Some of the circumstances that brought the legislation forward may have been justified at the time, but the end results will dictate that it will not be the case. The main thrust of the bill will not be fulfilled in many cases just by imposing these particular fines or fees.

Therefore, as my hon. colleague from Charlottetown mentioned yesterday, we should strike a royal commission on poverty in Canada. Elements of that should include addressing causes of crime and how we address victims of crime, as well as those who perpetrate the crimes. This should be done through the lens of reducing poverty, such as the poverty reduction strategy we currently have in Newfoundland and Labrador.

With the greatest respect to my colleagues on the other side, it is not right or just for any prime minister from any political party to suggest, as our current Prime Minister does, that poverty is a provincial problem, end of story. That is a very strong argument to be made in this House because it furthers the dialogue. Certainly we cannot just extricate ourselves from a particular debate because it has to do with health care and health care is a provincial issue. As a matter of fact, we are the authors, and we certainly are the enforcers, of what is called the Canada Health Act. The same goes for child care as well as aspects of education, whether secondary or post-secondary.

We certainly can further the dialogue when it comes to these elements of provincial jurisdiction. For example, I have been a strong advocate for stronger sentences and stronger action to reduce human smuggling. We certainly have made attempts in the House to come down heavily on people who perpetrate the crime of human smuggling, and rightly so. However, let us look at the other aspect of human smuggling, the victims. We do not address that in the House. Why? It is because many people say it is provincial jurisdiction. It is, because of one of the elements that was brought in many years ago. The Conservative minister of the day said he would make it easier for victims of human trafficking from outside of Canada to remain in Canada to deal with their situation. However, unless we create a dialogue among the provinces and territories about health care providers, because they provide the ultimate care to victims of human trafficking, we become ineffective in dealing with victims of international human trafficking. The provinces would not recognize these people because they do not have a particular health card. We have to look at that element of aiding people who are victims of human trafficking, but it is not discussed and it should be, as another part of it.

I do not mean to derail from the topic we have right now, but I just wanted to point that out under the narrative of why we need to further a national dialogue that may place itself into provincial jurisdictions. That is a strong element that we should deal with in the House and I do not think we are doing it. The authors of this bill may have wanted it to be that way, but from the dialogue we are receiving in the House, and seeing the debate in the House, that is not happening.

Going back to poverty, that is the particular issue. Homelessness was talked about today. Many people would ask why we should deal with that, because the provinces do. We should all deal with it, to further that dialogue.

There are many causes, but the root cause of many of crimes do deal with poverty, and the numbers would dictate that. I will get to that in just a moment.

In a recent article in one of our leading newspapers, anti-poverty advocate and Conservative senator Hugh Segal said the following:

While all those Canadians who live beneath the poverty line are by no means associated with criminal activity, almost all those in Canada’s prisons come from beneath the poverty line. Less than 10 per cent of Canadians live beneath the poverty line but almost 100 per cent of our prison inmates come from that 10 per cent. There is no political ideology, on the right or left, that would make the case that people living in poverty belong in jail.

These are strong words from a Conservative senator with a vast amount of experience as a former clerk of the Privy Council and so on and so forth, and author of many articles about this and other issues that concern Canadians. I think these words are crystal clear and certainly his assertions are correct.

More than 70% of those who enter prisons have not completed high school; 70% of offenders entering prisons have unstable job histories. Four of every five arrive with serious substance abuse problems. Sending more people to prison, appearing tough on crime, or enacting legislation that is punitive at its core is not going to solve the problem of crime in Canada.

Again, the intentions are to look after the safety and security of victims, or certainly the well-being of victims in this particular case, and principally it may have started out that way. Some of the ideas put out there by some of the Conservative speakers made a lot of sense.

No one has any less compassion for a victim of crime than anyone else in this House. I do not think it is germane to this debate who has more or less compassion for a victim of crime. However, it has to be done effectively and it has to be done so that it counts.

In closing, I have one other quote from Senator Segal:

In a modern, competitive and compassionate society like ours, these numbers are unacceptable.

In this particular case there are many reasons why supporting these particular measures would not find be effective. Provincial and territorial victims services are funded in part by a federal victims surcharge under the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code. The surcharge would be 30% of any fine, and $100 on a summary conviction.

Currently offenders who can demonstrate undue hardship may request that the victim surcharge be waived. The proposed amendments to the Criminal Code would make a victim surcharge mandatory for all offenders. That is what the government is trying to do. However, the removal of the undue hardship defence signals a lack of concern for the particular situation of individual offenders and a lack of faith in judges or our justice system, as other speakers brought out.

Therefore, the effectiveness of this is called into question, despite the government's efforts to be true and certainly to rectify the situation for victims.

Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

If the member wishes to complete his speech, he will have approximately seven minutes when the debate resumes.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private member's business as listed on today's order paper.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-309, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (concealment of identity), as reported with amendment from the committee.

Speaker's RulingPrivate Members' Business

September 18th, 2012 / 5:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

There are nine motions in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-309.

The Chair has been informed by the sponsor of Motions Nos. 1, 2 and 6 that they will not be proceeded with.

Motions Nos. 3 to 5 and 7 to 9 will not be selected by the Chair as they could have been presented in committee.

There being no motions at report stage, the House will now proceed without debate to the putting of the question on the motion to concur in the bill at report stage.