Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to continue the debate on BIll C-37.
Before I was interrupted for members' statements, I was trying to give some background information on Bill C-37.
I said I wanted to talk about three main points. I had reached my third point, which is this: if the offender in question is not able to pay the victim surcharge, Bill C-37 allows that individual the opportunity to participate in a provincial fine option program. I knew very little about such programs, so I consulted the Department of Justice website, where I found the following definition:
The federal victim surcharge (FVS) is a monetary penalty imposed on offenders convicted or discharged of a Criminal Code offence or an offence under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The underlying purpose of the FVS is to provide a rational link between an offender's crime and his or her accountability to the victim, as well as provide financial support to victim services. Provincial and territorial governments are responsible for collecting the surcharge, which is used to provide programs, services and assistance to victims of crime within their jurisdictions.
What happens when offenders cannot pay the victim surcharge? Some territories and provinces have a fine option program that allows offenders to volunteer and help communities by giving their time. It seems like a very good idea, on paper. It is worth studying.
Participating in a fine option program is possible; however, my research shows that the program does not exist in every province and territory.
The first thing I would ask my colleagues on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is to determine what will happen in the provinces and territories where this program does not exist.
What will happen to offenders who cannot pay and who cannot participate in a fine option program?
What options will they have? Will a fine option program be established in every province and territory? I do not know how that could be done, because these programs are set up in provinces that have agreements with the federal government. We will have to see what can be done in that regard. That is one of the questions I have about this bill. It will be interesting to study it further in committee. It will also be very important to decide how to address this rather important problem with Bill C-37.
I am also concerned about what will happen with low-income offenders. Previously, there was the possibility of applying the undue hardship clause, but Bill C-37 will eliminate this option.
The Victims of Crime Research Digest points out that some provinces and territories have a fine option program that, as I mentioned earlier, may have some weaknesses. At present, the judge can decide whether or not the offender can pay the fine, which is good. Now, the government is thinking of eliminating judicial discretion. We should take a closer look at this because, in this case, judges working in the Canadian penal system will lose some of their powers.
Once again, I think that this is something that should be studied in greater depth. A number of experts should be invited to the committee to tackle the issue and explain to us what can be done.
Many people have ruled either in favour of or against this bill. There are also people who feel the same way we do about the bill. Earlier in my speech I mentioned the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. Sue O'Sullivan is the ombudsman and I have already met with her.
I have a great deal of respect for her and for the work that she does. I also have a great deal of respect for the information that she provides in committee, be it on justice matters or public safety. She has a very simple way of explaining the information and making it very accessible. She also has a very balanced take on our system. I very much respect her vision and her approach to her work.
In one of the last meetings of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security in the previous parliamentary session, she talked about the need to balance our criminal justice system and our justice system in order to have the least number of victims. For instance, when we met with her, we talked about programs for offenders inside penitentiaries, as well as the importance of their reintegration into society to ensure that they do not reoffend. At the same time, she ensures that our correctional system works well so that Canada has fewer or no victims. I greatly appreciate this balanced approach. We therefore share her vision.
The Elizabeth Fry Society has raised a rather interesting point. The organization asked how this bill would serve disadvantaged aboriginals who, from the outset, do not have the means to pay.
This raised some concerns because, as we know, aboriginal people are already overrepresented in our Canadian prisons right now. The number of aboriginal people who were incarcerated in a federal penitentiary increased by 28.1% from 2000 to 2010, and it is expected that the current aboriginal baby boom will cause the number of aboriginal offenders to rise still further. This information can be found in a document published by Public Safety Canada. I believe that we also have to consider this issue. I once again urge my colleagues who sit on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to really pay close attention to what is said by the experts who come to speak about these issues. What will we do about these people?
Aboriginal poverty is nothing new, but it is a growing and worrisome problem. It has to be a concern. We know that, in addition to being overrepresented in our prisons, too many aboriginal people are living in poverty in Canada. The truly sad statistics speak for themselves. For example, among first nations, one in four children live in poverty, and over half of aboriginal people are unemployed.
Overcrowded housing is also twice as common among aboriginal families than among all other Canadian families. According to a recent government study, over half of Inuit families live in overcrowded homes. Sometimes up to 20 people are living in a three-bedroom home. This is clearly a problem.
I am going to try to conclude my remarks about Bill C-37 quite quickly. As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, we will support this bill at second reading so that it is sent to committee. It is extremely important that we consider this issue. The door is open to offer more help to victims.
I hope that all my colleagues in this chamber will support this bill because it is important that we study it in committee. It is important to see what we can do to improve it. I hope that the government will be open to some amendments because, as I mentioned, this bill does have some small shortcomings, such as the fine option programs. What will we do about people who have low incomes?
What about the first nations, which are under-represented and whose members are, unfortunately, often poorer than the rest of the Canadian population?
I trust in our parliamentary system to examine this issue with all of the seriousness it deserves. I hope that we will be able to find a balance with Bill C-37 in order to better represent victims and to position them well in our penal system, in the Canadian legal system.
I leave this in your hands and I am ready for questions and comments from my colleagues.