Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment.
Since this is my first speech in the House this fall, I would like to share with you my intention to adopt a new approach to make my comments more accessible to all my colleagues and the general public. Even if the Conservative government continues to evoke in me—and I will say it—a certain sense of disgust when it comes to its understanding of democracy, I intend to take measures to keep my vocal chords intact for the remainder of my mandate. This will make many of my colleagues, both on this side of the House and the other, quite happy. I just want to make sure that I still have a voice when the time comes for the NDP to take power in 2015.
That being said, let us come back to the subject at hand, which is Bill C-350, which amends the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, particularly with regard to the accountability of offenders.
The principle of accountability was introduced into the Criminal Code in order to make offenders aware of the harm they caused another person, the victim. Thus, it seems that, in an effort to make restitution for harm done, in the case before us today, the legislator wanted to give itself a way to recover amounts that should normally have been given to recipients that I would say are much more deserving, for lack of a better word.
This bill does not conflict with the Criminal Code because, here, the idea of compensation is not to further punish offenders by taking away amounts that are due to them but, rather, to develop in them a sense of accountability, which is already found in section 718 of the Criminal Code. This section talks about reparations for harm done to victims in order to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders—that great virtue of acknowledging the harm that they have done to victims.
In committee, the NDP asked whether this bill would really enhance the accountability of offenders and improve the rehabilitation process. The NDP also asked whether this bill is really necessary, given the small number of offenders who would be affected by it. We said that we would support comprehensive rehabilitation programs that reduce recidivism and make our communities safer. In that sense, the meaning of the word “victim” must be expanded because there are often collateral victims, entire communities that are affected and that have their histories marked by crime
Although the role of the legislator is not to replace the court, we note that we must address the measures put in place to recover the amounts that the Crown owes to the imprisoned offender and to define the concept of victim that I just mentioned.
We are supporting Bill C-350 at this stage, and we will continue to support it, even though we find it limited in scope, despite the proposed amendment. We are wondering and have some reservations about the mechanics, about the actual application of the bill. Unfortunately, this is not the first time the Conservatives have given us a recipe without knowing how to cook.
The ombudsman for victims of crime has made some recommendations. Among other things, he suggested authorizing Correctional Services Canada to deduct reasonable amounts from offenders' income so that they cover their unresolved responsibilities relating to fines or specific compensation. In fact, in addition to responsibilities to the victims, a number of offenders also have responsibilities to their own families, which are often negatively affected by the offences committed by their loved ones.
The NDP acknowledges that it is important for offenders to be more accountable and that the idea of ensuring that the money they receive following a court judgment to pay their unresolved responsibilities is very good, unquestionably.
We also support the order of precedence set out in Bill C-350 regarding any monetary amount awarded pursuant to a court ruling. More specifically, we are in favour of priority being given to the child or spouse support order. That is fundamental.
But have I understood correctly? Why is there no mention of common-law spouses or partners, as proposed in the amendment? Are they not part of today's family landscape, especially since statistics are increasingly taking them into account because there are so many blended families and families that live under the same roof? That is a fact, and the concept of a common-law spouse is really part of the demographic landscape of the 21st century. Or is some ideology being subtly incorporated into this bill?
I was talking about disgust earlier in my speech. Well, it is unfortunate that this Conservative government is not often inclusive in its actions and deliberately forgets people for whom some administrative measures would be useful.
We are also concerned about the fact that this bill will probably just fall under federal jurisdiction and that it might unintentionally work against the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders. These people will be put off and some will even go before the various courts. Some offenders actually have ways to challenge a decision.
Mr. Fineberg from the Canadian Prison Law Association had this to say about the bill:
Bill C-350 pits itself not only against provincial legislative and administrative efforts, it seeks to undermine Correctional Service Canada's own operations.
It is important to mention it.
According to the NDP, this bill is not the best way to make offenders accountable. According to the testimony of experts, an offender must be directly involved in determining the payment of compensation to victims and other financial decisions in order to develop his sense of responsibility. That is rehabilitation. With this bill, some decisions will be made for and imposed on offenders. In many cases, this repressive approach will only make them more angry and rebellious.
With this bill, section three of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act will be replaced by:
(c) encouraging the accountability and responsibility of offenders, with a view to ensuring that their obligations to society are addressed.
It is a lovely thought, but by only having a very small number of victims benefit from this bill, the very intent of this statement is lost.
The same act is amended by adding, after section 78, the following:
78.1 (1) In furtherance of the purpose referred to in paragraph 3(c), any amount owed to an offender as a result of a monetary award made to the offender by a final decision of a court or tribunal pursuant to a legal action or proceeding against Her Majesty in right of Canada, or an agent or employee of Her Majesty for any act or omission in the performance of his or her duties...
Only amounts owed by the Crown would be subject to the “obligations to society” rule. Once again, the legislator is quite shy about including the indecent amounts of money offenders sometimes collect while they are still incarcerated.
I would have liked to see the government present figures on the offenders who receive settlements as a result of a court ruling. But we do not have any, and we have no idea of the real effect this would have.
Instead of getting caught up in less important issues, the NDP thinks that the federal government should focus its efforts on crime prevention, as we said earlier, and rehabilitation, two key factors in reducing the number of offenders and reoffenders.
In conclusion, I repeat that I support Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act , albeit with reservations. However, like my colleagues, I urge the Conservatives to be fair and I invite them to work with my colleagues and me in the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security in order to find a satisfactory and constructive compromise.