Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to speak to Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
The purpose of this bill is to make offenders accountable so that they fulfill their obligations to society by establishing an order of priority for the disbursement of any amounts received as a result of a court decision.
According to the bill introduced by my colleague opposite, the order of priority of disbursement of amounts will be received by an offender following a court decision. That order will be established as follows: any amount owing as a result of a spousal or child support order; any amount owing to a victim as a result of a restitution order; any victim surcharge; and any other amount owing as a result of a judgment awarded by a court. Any amount remaining after all payments have been made is paid to the offender.
The NDP supports this bill. We recognize the fact that it is important to enhance the accountability of offenders and that the idea of ensuring that offenders use the amounts received as a result of a court decision to fulfill their outstanding obligations is very good in principle.
However, we do not believe that this bill is the best approach for ensuring the accountability of offenders. In order to develop a sense of accountability, an offender must participate directly in decisions related to the payment of restitution to victims and other monetary decisions. The offender should therefore be involved in the process.
In meetings of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, we heard the testimony of experts who share our opinion. We therefore wonder whether this bill will really enhance the accountability of offenders and the rehabilitation process since it will affect very few offenders.
The accountability of offenders is an extremely important step in an offender's reintegration into the community. By imposing accountability on offenders, we could weaken their chances of reintegrating into society, which is why it is important to let the offender participate in monetary decisions.
The NDP advocates comprehensive rehabilitation programs that reduce recidivism. This will make our communities safer.
We have some concerns about this bill, which could have a negative effect on such rehabilitation and reintegration measures, given the limited resources available to offenders, particularly those who are serving short sentences.
Another concern we have about this bill relates to the lack of clarity regarding federal and provincial jurisdictions. In fact, the focus of the bill comes under provincial jurisdiction. In reality, the provinces have jurisdiction over contracts and related private law matters, including the order of priority of debts.
Unfortunately, we did not manage to get testimony in committee about the matters of constitutionality that could have helped us shed some light on the subject. I think that the help of constitutional experts would have been useful, in order to ensure that this bill is really something that falls under federal jurisdiction.
Despite these important questions that unfortunately went unanswered, the Conservatives refused to study this bill further, limiting the number of meetings to just four.
So we can understand that there are still a lot of questions and concerns about this bill.
We understand the good intentions behind Bill C-350, and we also understand the importance of offender accountability and rehabilitation.
Fortunately, we managed to get two major amendments by working with our colleagues from all the parties: one exempted from the bill funds received through the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and the other slightly reduced the responsibility of Correctional Service Canada for administering this bill by putting more emphasis on the measures taken by the creditors.
With this last measure, we can anticipate a decrease in red tape and move on to the implementation of Bill C-350.
So that the bill is consistent with the reality of a number of Quebec families, I would like to put forward an amendment, which reads as follows:
That Bill C-350, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing lines 6 and 7 on page 2 with the following: “result of an order made by a court of competent jurisdiction requiring the payment of support in respect of a child, spouse or person who cohabited with the offender in a conjugal relationship for a period of at least one year;”
At present, Quebec's Civil Code does not allow common-law partners to request support payments for themselves, which is not the case in the rest of the country. This does not apply to the responsibility for child support, which is the same across the country, but only to spouses and common-law partners.
The issue was raised in the highly publicized case in Quebec of Lola versus Éric, which is pending. In November 2010, the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled in favour of Lola stating that the Quebec rules were discriminatory as they did not allow common-law partners to ask for support payments. The justices of the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled that this section is unconstitutional and contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The issue of common-law partners affects 1.2 million Quebeckers.
According to the Quebec justice department, in the Quebec Civil Code, the legislator voluntarily decided to not give common-law partners the same rights and responsibilities as married couples or couples in a civil union, no matter how long they have lived together, in order to respect the decisions of those people who have chosen this form of cohabitation.
The Conservatives are clearly showing that they do not respect the differences that exist in Quebec concerning the rights of couples in a civil union or marriage and couples in a common-law relationship. In Quebec, 34.6% of couples are in a common-law relationship, which is a significant portion of the Quebec population. Yet, the Conservatives refuse to take this into account.
Fortunately, the NDP is here to ensure that Quebeckers are properly represented in the House of Commons. It is all too easy for the members opposite to forget that the Quebec Civil Code contains certain provisions that do not exist in other provinces.
Clause 2 of this bill, as it is currently written, prevents Quebeckers who have been living in a conjugal relationship for at least a year from receiving this money. Although the aim here is to make offenders accountable and ensure that they pay support payments for any children or spouse they have, this ignores a good portion of Quebec households and favours couples that are married or have civil unions, even though common-law partners in the rest of Canada would be entitled to this money.
In conclusion, I believe that this bill has good intentions regarding restitution for victims and holding offenders accountable. However, I still have a number of concerns regarding federal and provincial jurisdictions in relation to this bill, as well as its feasibility and effectiveness.
As the correctional investigator, Howard Sapers, pointed out to the committee, the issue raised by Bill C-350 is very important. Part of an offender's reintegration should include the repayment of debts to the best of his ability. However, Mr. Sapers expressed concern that the proposed approach would be both impractical and, unfortunately, ineffective.
It would have been good to examine this bill more carefully in committee, and to not have had just four meetings about this important bill, in order to eliminate concerns about jurisdiction and to address the issue even more directly, to ensure the offender directly participates in his reintegration process into society and to ensure that victims and families benefit.
It is very important to adopt my amendment so that this bill reflects the differences in Quebec that affect many Quebec families. I noticed that my colleague who introduced this bill also introduced a similar amendment. However, if we compare the two amendments, we can see that there are some differences. I would like each of my colleagues in this House to take the time to look carefully at the differences between the two amendments and to see that we must absolutely protect common-law spouses in Quebec.
As I mentioned, 1.2 million Quebeckers could unfortunately suffer. As I was saying, the amendment proposed by the Conservatives needs some clarification. Simply removing the reference to child or spouse causes a problem, since support orders can apply to people other than children and spouses. For example, in Ontario, they can apply to parents. Therefore, if the text is amended as such, the French version would not at all be the same as the English version.