House of Commons Hansard #21 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was insite.


Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is the whole issue. These people have no concern for the victims. This is about the victims having some rights in the system. They are worried about the criminals, about their getting out and getting out quicker.

The Parole Board system functions now with people for up to three years outside of the release date. If they have no concern about the victims, I do not know what their concern is. They have to have concerns about victims and the families.

These people do not seem to understand that this puts those folks at a terrible stage in their lives. They have already lost a loved one, then they go through it over and over again.

This is about victims. It is not about the criminals.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Scarborough Centre Ontario


Roxanne James ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Oxford for bringing this very important piece of legislation forward.

On this side of the House, as the member has mentioned, we want to put the rights of victims first. He is doing this with this particular bill with regard to escorted temporary absences.

In the member's opening remarks, he did mention Kim Hancox-Spencer. I am just wondering if he can comment on whether Miss Hancock-Spencer supports this legislation, and whether he has had an opportunity to speak to other victims of crime or the families of victims of crime. How are they feeling about this particular piece of legislation? Do they think this is actually going to address some of their concerns?

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, Ms. Hancox-Spencer's husband was a murder victim. He was a police officer in Toronto.

I have spoken with her. She is very adamant about this whole issue. It is about being fair to victims and letting them be a part of the system. Currently they are part of the system up to a certain point and then they are cut off. That does not seem right to her, and it does not seem right to other victims with whom we have talked.

This is about victims' rights. It is not about the rights of criminals.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak on Bill C-483, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act with respect to escorted temporary absence. The bill has been brought forward by the member for Oxford, I think with very good intentions, but as is often the case, I have many reservations about these kinds of private members' bills.

My first concern is that the bill is part of a pattern we have seen in this Parliament of the introduction of bills that more properly ought to be government bills. Government bills differ from private members' bills in many ways. One of those is in how much scrutiny and how much debate they receive in the House. An even more important way they differ is in the kind of scrutiny they receive before they even arrive in the House. Therefore, as a private member's bill, Bill C-483 escapes any scrutiny with regard to its conformity with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

My concern here is not just about the protection of fundamental freedoms, although I do have that concern, but it is also about the stability and certainty we need in our legal system if we want to make sure that the rule of law can actually function. If we pass measures that are likely to be eventually overturned in the courts, or even if the outcome of this measure is endless litigation, then we add a significant challenge to our legal system. How can people know what the law is? How can even defence attorneys or prosecutors be certain that the actions they are taking will actually end up being upheld in court? Without that kind of scrutiny, when something comes forward as a private member's bill, we risk creating instability in the legal system over the long term.

My second concern is that we have had a large number of private members' bills introduced, which were actually government bills masquerading as private members' bills, and they all sought to amend the Criminal Code and/or the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, piecemeal. What we have is a number of different bills making a number of different changes to a very complex Criminal Code and a very complex Corrections and Conditional Release Act. Therefore, quite apart from the dangers of inadvertently adopting contradictory provisions as we deal with these bills, we have another problem. We have a certain danger that we will adopt changes to the Criminal Code or the Corrections and Conditional Release Act without waiting to see the results of the preceding bills that we have already adopted. We have not even seen what has happened or what is going to happen with some of the changes we have already made, and now we are changing the bills yet again. It raises a problem with rule of law. It raises a problem with knowing the certain consequences of what we are doing here in the House.

My third concern is that the ideas for these Conservative private members' bills are often ripped from sensational headlines. They are based on cases that, by their nature, outrage or concern the public and all of us. They forget that these cases, which are so outrageous and sensational, are often news precisely because they depart from the norm, because they are outrageous and unusual.

Therefore, in attempting to fix the law based on the exceptions that are represented by these extreme cases, we do run the risk of throwing out the baby with the bath water. We may have some things that are operating, as in the case of escorted temporary absences, with a 99% success rate, so we focus on the 1%. These cases are tragic and probably could have been prevented through some other means, but we throw out the whole system, which has been working very well to help rehabilitate people and get them back into society successfully.

I acknowledge that the bill does attempt to address two real concerns. One is the sensitivity of the families of victims of murder when they see someone who has been convicted of this very serious crime released from custody, even if only on a temporary basis. That is something we are sensitive to on this side of the House. It is something we feel needs to be addressed.

The other concern that is real is the safety of escorted temporary absences, both for the public and for corrections staff. The bill, unfortunately, does not really address that concern in its provisions.

For those reasons, New Democrats will be supporting Bill C-483 at second reading. There are legitimate concerns here and we think that in committee we can find the right measures to address these concerns. What we have to do is make sure we do not confuse escorted temporary absences with parole. On the other side, there is an unfortunate tendency to use a phrase that describes escorted temporary absences as “parole by the back door”. The previous minister was very fond of talking about this. Escorted temporary absences are not a form of parole. They are a way in which we test whether offenders are ready for staged and supervised reintegration into the community.

The way we find out whether they handle increased freedom and the way we can find out how they react to being out of custody is through escorted temporary absences when there is someone with them to observe and prevent the negative consequences that might occur. As I said, it is about the staged and supervised reintegration into society that is the real purpose of escorted temporary absences.

This leads me to something the member for Oxford did not mention, which is public safety. He talked about victims quite sincerely, and I believe that. I share that concern, but there is another concern here about not having future victims. We need to have a corrections system that functions to ensure we reintegrate people into society and we do not create problems for other families in the future.

There is a wide range of reasons why escorted and unescorted temporary absences are granted to those in custody. This bill would not affect most of those, but it is important to note how these temporary absences are used. They are often used for rehabilitation programs, including drug and alcohol treatment which is not available in the institution the person is in. This is a particular concern with the very large number of people that we have in our prisons with alcohol and drug addictions.

The temporary absences are also used for significant family events, like terminal illnesses or funerals. They are also used for interesting things that people might not think about, like job interviews for positions after release from prison. If we want people successfully reintegrated into society and they are in prison, how can they get a job? An escorted temporary absence to a job interview might be an important part of that reintegration into society.

Sometimes the absences are used for training that is not available in prisons. When people get out, they need skills to earn a living, support themselves and not be a further burden on the public. Sometimes these temporary absences are in structured situations where people get the training they need. Again, this is very important to public safety after they get out of prison.

There are a wide variety of legitimate reasons which, in fact, contribute to public safety and prevent future victimization by preparing inmates for more successful reintegration into all of our communities upon their release.

What am I worried about in the bill? I am worried about the proposed solution. It is not the concerns. As I have said, we share those concerns. However, as I asked the member for Oxford earlier about the proposed solution, can the Parole Board actually deal with each and every application for an escorted temporary absence from nearly 3,000 inmates in custody at the present time? Do we have the personnel to do this? Do we have the financial resources?

The Parole Board, as I mentioned in my question, now has a backlog of 20,000 pardon applications. It has said that it will not clear these applications until the end of 2015. It has had to hire 1,000 temporary workers to try to attack the problem of pardons.

Why are pardons important? Pardons are important because they are the way that people can get employment after they have completed their sentences and want to be reintegrated into the community. That pardon part, of course, does not apply to those convicted of murder. There is no such thing in Canada. Life in Canada actually means life under supervision.

The Parole Board is already dealing with these other applications and it has had its budget cut by $3 million in this current fiscal year.

It is important to remember that the Correctional Service of Canada reports that 99% of temporary absences are completed successfully.

There was a letter published in the Montreal Gazette in July, when this bill was introduced, written by Peter Huish, who is the Chaplain-Coordinator of the Montreal area. He is the person who organizes work with those who are being released from prison and he has a very intimate knowledge of what happens with both escorted and unescorted temporary absences. In his letter, he emphasized the “significant contributions to effective eventual parole” that escorted and unescorted temporary absences play in our system. This is someone who works with offenders every day, in and out. He also emphasizes that the vast majority, in fact almost all, of these are successfully completed.

What do we need to ensure that the small number are successfully completed? The corrections system needs more resources for the security reviews that the wardens rely on before making those decisions.

What do need to ensure that those escorted temporary absences are safe for the public and the corrections staff? We have had a reduction of resources, meaning that many times, an offender who would need two people on the escorted absence, because of the complexity of the absence or travel involved, is instead escorted by a single corrections officer. Therefore, it is a question of resources in the corrections system that would take care of most of the security.

We on this side do share the concerns that families of victims have about escorted temporary absences. We share the concerns that corrections officials have about single accompaniment in these absences. In committee, we will be proposing that this bill be amended significantly. We need to hear from victims. We need to hear from those who work with offenders.

We believe a solution may be found in having the Parole Board make the initial determination on whether an offender is eligible for temporary absences, then leaving the specific decisions on individual absences to the wardens. This would allow victims to be heard in the parole system, as the member for Oxford suggested. I hope he is willing to consider that this may be the solution to the problem he is trying to solve without placing that undue burden on the Parole Board and without inadvertently eliminating an important part of our system, which helps reintegrate prisoners into society.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I usually say that I am pleased to speak on a bill, but if I am being honest, I am not really pleased to be speaking on Bill C-483 in the fashion it has come forward. My colleague who just spoke mentioned some of those areas.

When the member for Oxford started off, he gave a great rendition of the Safe Streets and Communities Act and the government's tough on crime agenda and all of that. It sounds wonderful when it is talked about that way. However, what are we doing dealing with all these private members' bills coming up one by one? Where is the discussion within the government caucus? Do they not discuss these matters?

I mean, we are talking about the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. We are talking about very complicated pieces of legislation.

My colleague who spoke earlier talked about the different rules for private members' bills, and it is true. With this kind of mishmash of private members' bills coming forward from the Conservative backbench, we could be complicating the justice system and could end up with results we do not want.

I have a list of private members' bills. There are some 16 related to the Criminal Code that are all coming forward as private members' bills. Let us be honest. Why are they using these bills, like this one from the member for Oxford? It is a real concern. I agree with the concern in terms of the victims, but why is it not coming forward as a comprehensive piece of legislation from the Government of Canada?

Is what we are really seeing from members on the backbench over there, in collusion with the government, a bit of a farce? Are Conservatives having private members come up with bills so they can tout what they have done for victims at home?

The parliamentary secretary got up a moment ago, and it sounds as if she is fully in favour of this proposal. Well, why did it not come forward as a piece of government legislation? This parliamentary secretary is close to the minister. Why did it not come forward as a well-thought-out piece of legislation?

My concern is with the process. If this place is going to work effectively, then the government itself should come forward with legislation such as this in a well-thought-out fashion that is comprehensive, not piecemeal.

I am getting a little heckling, but it is all right. They can heckle, because I know that sometimes the truth hurts.

I think that is what we are seeing from government backbench members in collusion with the government. They are bringing forward bills so they can showcase themselves at home on all they are doing for criminal justice, when really, the government has failed in its responsibility to do it in a comprehensive way.

In terms of this particular bill, we will, regardless of what I have said, support it going to committee for examination. It is our expectation that we may be able to get some answers from the member for Oxford at those committee hearings.

On the issue of severely limiting the ability of individual wardens to grant such temporary releases, I think the committee process will enable us, as members, to raise questions and allow the member to provide evidence to demonstrate a clear need that requires such legislative changes.

My colleague who spoke before talked about the victims, and the member for Oxford talked about the victims. I know that he tries to paint us as not there for victims and being there for the offenders. Nothing could be further from the truth. However, how can it be done in a way that actually enhances public safety and protects the interests of victims?

We are certainly not as likely to do it in this piecemeal approach that we see by the Government of Canada. This is not really a private member's bill. It is a Government of Canada bill by the back door.

The targeting of only those convicted of first and second degree murder in the legislation implies that both in terms of the number of offenders involved and the likelihood of their early release represents a threat to the community. Is that the case? I am asking the member upfront now. Could he provide us some evidence in that regard? We need to hear it.

I have not heard any evidence. I raised this question. Could the member provide us with evidence where offenders have indeed committed an offence when they are released under the escorted temporary release? He did not answer that question. He just went on his attack that we did not like victims. It is not the way to do legislation.

There is no argument that the temporary release programs for all offenders must be well managed and that only those offenders who have met a certain set of criteria should be eligible for such a program. I really do not disagree with the member that the victim's family should have a right to be heard, but I do not necessarily agree that this is the way to do it.

The legislation, as I have said, is not supported by evidence indicating an abuse of the escorted temporary release program, which would justify these kinds of legislative changes.

What remains to be seen is to what degree the legislation is actually addressing an issue, or whether, as I indicated earlier, it is an example of the Conservative Party playing to its base and trying to create an issue. That seems to be where we are at.

The government members had the opportunity in 2011 to seek amendments such as this in Bill C-10, the so-called Safe Streets and Communities Act, but they failed to bring them forward at that time and they certainly failed to bring forward all these other 16 that are on here that are private members' bills. Why was it not done in a comprehensive way?

What C-10 did provide for, according to the legislative summary, was for “The Commissioner of the CSC, Correctional Service Canada, to make rules regarding the circumstances in which the institutional head may authorize escorted temporary releases and work releases”.

Even the former minister of public safety appeared content with the new restrictions imposed with respect to temporary absences when he testified before the justice committee on October 6, 2011, not that long ago.

The question remains this, and I asked the member to come forward to committee with this: what significant public safety issue is being addressed with Bill C-483? Is there any?

I will not go through all the areas for which escorted temporary releases are granted, but indeed, as others before me have said, we are concerned about the families and we have to find a way of addressing that. However, I do not think the approach to find the way to address that is to haphazardly, through private members' bills, change the Corrections and Conditional Release Act or the Criminal Code. It needs to be done in a more comprehensive way.

We just dealt with a private member's bill at committee. It was amended extensively. That work should have been done by the Department of Justice. It should have been done by the government as a whole, showing leadership to make the criminal justice system better in terms of protecting victims' rights and enhancing public safety.

That is my concern, that we are seeing these private members' bills come forward as if they are playing a game when the real issue is, yes, victims' rights and public safety, and the government should be showing the leadership to do so.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Scarborough Centre Ontario


Roxanne James ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin my remarks by once again thanking the member for Oxford for bringing forward this common sense proposal.

His law enforcement background clearly provides a wealth of experience, which contributes to practical solutions to keep Canadians safe. His efforts with the bill would give a voice to victims and their families. Victims have long demanded that more be done to ensure that their rights come before the rights of criminals. Giving victims a stronger voice is a key priority for our government, something we clearly laid out in the Speech from the Throne.

Since we were first elected in 2006, our Conservative government has taken steps to end the imbalance created in our justice system by the previous Liberal governments, which replaced bars with a revolving door. Shockingly, Trudeau-era solicitor general, Jean-Pierre Goyer, said that they have decided from now on to stress the rights of criminals rather than the protection of society. That is shameful.

Is it any surprise that the victims of crimes and their families have felt that they are an afterthought in the current justice system? Unlike the Liberals, our Conservative government has listened to the concerns of victims and we have clearly acted. We have pushed ahead with common sense reforms to right these past wrongs. We have done so because we believe that victims have a role to play at the heart of the justice system. Strengthening the justice system to support victims of crime requires us to tackle the issue of crime from all angles, and this is exactly what we have done. We have made significant investments in crime prevention programs to keep at-risk youth out of gangs, and we are providing police with the tools and resources they need to do their jobs.

In many cases, helping our police means bringing in new laws that give them improved powers to investigate crimes, make arrests and keep criminals off the streets for appropriate amounts of time. We have passed laws to ensure that those who break the law are held accountable for their actions, where sentences match the severity of the crimes committed. We have also brought in a number of measures that emphasize offender accountability, from enshrining correctional plans into law to ensuring prisoners cannot withdraw their parole application at the last minute, and ensuring that prisoners are paying for their own room and board.

While I could speak for hours about all of our Conservative government's accomplishments, the bill we are here to talk about today relates to escorted temporary absences from prison. More specifically, it is about ensuring that only the Parole Board of Canada has the power to release prisoners except in very limited circumstances.

Currently, for prisoners serving indeterminate sentences, the authorization for ETAs, or escorted temporary absences, falls either to the Correctional Service of Canada, CSC, or the Parole Board of Canada, depending for the most part on how much of his or her sentence a prisoner has completed. Aside from some minor exceptions, the Parole Board is typically in charge of approving escorted temporary absences from the start of the sentence until the prisoner reaches day parole eligibility.

After that point, the Correctional Service of Canada takes over for all prisoners serving indeterminate sentences for the remainder of their sentence, in other words, until the day they are granted parole and conditionally released into the community. As the member for Oxford has said, we continue to hear calls from victims of crime who feel that decisions on these absences should remain with the Parole Board, rather than an unaccountable official. Victims want assurances that violent offenders who are serving time for murder are only granted escorted temporary absences after a rigorous process of checks and balances similar to that used to grant parole.

The legislation before us was born out of those concerns. It proposes changes to the current system that aim to alleviate this stress and help victims of crime feel greater confidence in the escorted temporary absence system. Under the proposed legislation, the Parole Board would be granted almost exclusive authority for making decisions on escorted temporary absences for first- or second-degree murders. Our Conservative government supports the intent of the proposed legislation. We will introduce amendments at committee to address some concerns regarding duplication and operational considerations.

We are ensuring that the concerns of victims are respected, and that the corrections system actually corrects criminal behaviour. I applaud the member for Oxford for bringing forward Bill C-483. I believe that the bill would continue to move us in the right direction. This is just one more example of how our government is working hard to support the victims of crime.

In the coming months, we will push forward with more initiatives and legislation, with the same determination we have shown in the past seven years. We will do everything in our power to ensure that public safety comes first. This is what Canadians have asked us to do, and this is what we will continue to do.

We will support this legislation, with amendments, and I hope that just for once, the NDP and Liberals will support this legislation that puts the rights of victims first.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Jean Rousseau NDP Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-483 deals with an extremely delicate matter. On this side of the House, one of our main concerns is having a free society, a great place to live where neighbourhoods and streets are peaceful and safe. We are quite concerned about public safety.

This bill affects victims, the families of victims, the correctional system and conditional release under the justice system. It is a very delicate subject.

We have before us Bill C-483, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (escorted temporary absence). This bill has parameters and limits that sometimes are quite broad and other times are narrow.

We are convinced that this amendment of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act has merit. However, there are certain problems because the Conservatives are once again using a private member's bill to develop and spread their repressive ideology. Once again, rehabilitation is not a consideration.

There are certainly cases in which parole and supervision are not options. However, in some cases, people are sincere and should perhaps be supervised. They should be supervised after the first offence, however, before they commit first degree murder. These are people who may have a lengthy record, but they could be rehabilitated and reformed so that they can reintegrate into society. Many people are sincere, but are they in an environment where they are receiving the supervision they need? That is the question.

This is the fourth time in one year that we are seeing a private member's bill designed to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. These are sensitive topics. The government is the one that should have introduced a bill to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

The system has its positives and negatives. For many years, successive Liberal and Conservative governments have made cuts to human resources, financial resources and infrastructure.

That is why we could have used more than an hour at second reading to discuss this bill in the House. It would have been worth spending more time discussing a reform of the corrections system and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

Nevertheless, the NDP will support this bill at second reading, because we believe in the principle of having the Parole Board of Canada making the initial decision about whether a detainee should be allowed a temporary absence before being paroled.

However, it is not realistic to require the board to make all of the decisions regarding these absences, which could be granted to 2,880 detainees, to be exact. That is why I said that the Parole Board of Canada will be short of time and resources.

In reality, since the Conservative government took power, it has made some draconian budget cuts to all sectors of correctional services. Corrections officers have been repeatedly trying to update their old terms of employment, since the environment is changing. I wanted to say, “evolving”, but that is not true.

The prison system is not evolving. Serious and violent crime is on the rise, as are all sorts of other crimes. More and more people are being imprisoned for terrorist activities, and there are more and more crimes related to cyberbullying. Crimes are increasingly varied and serious and affect several segments of society.

The corrections system is in constant flux. People who work in the system should be given an environment, the financial resources and the infrastructure to be able to do their job. The same is true for the Parole Board of Canada. Clearly, it does not have the necessary resources to carry out the tasks in this bill.

The Conservatives cannot continue slashing the parole board's budget while asking it to do more. As a result of other legislation passed by the Conservatives, the backlog of pardon applications to the Parole Board of Canada has reached 20,000, and they would like to do more. I do not know how many years it would take to process 20,000 applications. Clearly, the board is not able to keep up with everything being asked of it. If this bill is not amended, it will not work, and implementing it will be impossible.

I talked about the critical importance of rehabilitation. I would like to share a story with you. It took me a while to decide whether to share this story because it is about a family I am close to that lost a loved one who was murdered by a repeat sex offender. Nobody ever took a real interest in that offender, so he ended up committing several crimes. The whole time he was in the system, he never had a chance at rehabilitation. It ended with murder.

That person did not have a chance to use the resources available in the justice system, to get therapy, to get the kind of supervision he needed to reintegrate into society. Not even once. It ended with murder. A family's loved one was murdered. For all intents and purposes, life for the victim's family is over. After something like that, people can never get back to normal. I am not talking about the victim or the prisoner; I am talking about the victim's family. After such a tragedy, family members lose their bearings and life no longer has any meaning.

However, in a modern, industrialized and prosperous society, it would have been quite easy to provide resources for rehabilitation, whether to address recidivism with regard to alcohol, drugs, spousal abuse, sexual offences or cyberbullying. Governments are not coming to grips with the situation.

Rather than coming up with bills containing more repressive measures, we must address rehabilitation and education. It would just be a matter of engaging with people on the ground before it is too late. However, here we have yet another bill that takes away decision-making authority from prison wardens. They do an exceptional job with the resources they have. They are there on the ground and they are capable of making decisions. This power is being taken away from them and given to the Parole Board of Canada, which is already overloaded.

As I said, the goal of the bill appears very noble, but it will be impossible to make it work on the ground. The resources available at the moment make that impossible.

I am asking the government to co-operate. Then, when the bill goes to committee after second reading, I am asking the government to accept the amendments, be they from the NDP or from the Liberal Party.

People who have worked on the ground have suggestions that will make the bill easier to implement, so that the society we live in can be safer for everyone.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before I recognize the hon. member for Pickering—Scarborough East to resume debate, I will let him know that there are only about six minutes remaining in the time allocated for private members' business for this evening. I am not sure if he will need all of that time, but if he does, we have six minutes. Of course, he will have his remaining time when the House next resumes debate on the question, should he need it.

The hon. member for Pickering—Scarborough East.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, thank you for this opportunity to speak in the House today in support of Bill C-483, a private member's bill that proposes to amend the current scheme for escorted temporary absences.

I would like to begin by explaining the purpose of these types of absences and why we have them as part of the conditional release process. Later on, I will explain who has the responsibility for authorizing escorted temporary absences and when.

The purpose of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act is simply to correct criminal behaviour. Escorted temporary absences, when used sparingly and appropriately, can help to meet that goal. They help reconstitute prisoners by allowing them to participate in programs that may not be offered inside prison walls. Escorted temporary absences are typically the first type of conditional release prisoners may be granted. Escorted temporary absences are usually very short. The prisoner is typically only out of prison, under escort, for a few hours.

In reviewing an application, the safety of the public is the paramount consideration in deciding whether to authorize a prisoner's escorted temporary absence. The level of security required during the absence is determined by the level of risk the prisoner poses to the community. For a high-risk prisoner, a correctional officer and the use of physical restraints, such as handcuffs and leg restraints, would be deemed necessary to ensure public safety.

In this instance, the absence would only be granted for a required absence such as for a medical appointment or a court proceeding. A prisoner's behaviour while on an escorted temporary absence assists the Correctional Service of Canada in determining whether or not he or she would be a good candidate for parole.

Now I would like to take a few moments to explain who has releasing authority for these absences and at which point in a prisoner's sentence these absences may be granted.

To begin, releasing authority for prisoners serving life sentences is set out in section 746.1 of the Criminal Code. The Criminal Code gives the Parole Board of Canada authority to approve absences from the start of a sentence up until the prisoner reaches day parole eligibility.

For those serving life sentences, day parole occurs when prisoners are within three years of being eligible to apply for full parole. Currently, at this point, the Correctional Service of Canada takes over responsibility to grant short escorted absences for the remainder of the life sentence, or until the prisoner is released on parole. After that point, in other words, after the day parole eligibility date, the releasing authority moves to Correctional Service of Canada for the remainder of the life sentence. This is how decisions to authorize escorted temporary absences to prisoners serving life sentences works today.

Victims have expressed concerns about how decisions on escorted temporary absence applications are being made and they have asked for more involvement in the decision-making process.

I would like to tell the House about Kim Hancox-Spencer. She is a woman who lives in my riding, who had to suffer the unthinkable tragedy of losing her husband, a Toronto police officer, to a cold-blooded killer.

After that fateful day in August 1998, she found herself a single mother with nowhere to turn. Some 14 years into the life sentence of her husband's killer, Kim received a letter from Corrections Canada that said, “This letter is to notify you that the warden of this [prisoner]'s institution has authorized four additional escorted temporary absences” and “we will not be notifying you every time this prisoner leaves the institution”.

This was granted by the warden despite the fact that the Parole Board of Canada ruled that the prisoner was not ready to go on temporary absences.

We are here to protect the safety of the community and the safety also of the prisoner. I heard that many of my colleagues are concerned about how prisoners are reintegrated into society. However, if they are not ready to go into society, they represent a problem for society and for themselves. This type of ignorance of the rights of a victim of a horrific crime is nothing short of shameful.

Let us listen, in her words, to how victims and their families are often abandoned by the current process. She said, “You end up reliving it over and over again.... No one told me about this”. She goes on to say that this temporary absence scheme is “...absolutely a loophole...”. On this side of the House, we are here today to close this loophole.

Our government has made a number of changes to our laws to address a wide range of victims' concerns and to ensure they are given a greater voice in the corrections and conditional release systems. Chief among these measures is our guarantee of a victim's participation in Parole Board hearings, which can be found in the Safe Streets and Communities Act.

Bill C-483 proposes to grant the Parole Board almost exclusive decision-making authority for escorted temporary absences. Ultimately, the goal of Bill C-483 is to give the Parole Board greater authority over escorted temporary absences for murderers.

Our Conservative government is pleased to support the efforts of the member for Oxford.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Pickering—Scarborough East will have four minutes remaining, should he wish it, when the House next resumes debate on the question.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has expired. The order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

It being 6:31 p.m., the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:31 p.m.)