House of Commons Hansard #251 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was terrorism.


Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Élaine Michaud NDP Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, like many of my colleagues, I am rising in the House in support of Bill S-9 on nuclear terrorism.

This bill would amend the Criminal Code in order to add the criminal law requirements found in two international treaties designed to combat nuclear terrorism around the world.

The two treaties in question are the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, the CPPNM, and the 2005 International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.

These international conventions require the signatory states to improve the physical protection of their nuclear facilities as well as the use, storage and transport of nuclear materials. The states are also required to create new criminal offences for acts of terrorism, among other things.

These treaties show that the international community is willing to work together to combat the threats against countries all around the world.

Unfortunately, we are seeing an increasing number of nuclear threats around the world, whether we are talking about Canada, the United States or other countries.

In the past, for example, at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in 2010 and in Seoul in 2012, Canada committed to be legally bound by these conventions and to ratify them.

In 2005, Canada signed the two United Nations treaties, but since then, the Conservatives have unfortunately done nothing.

Bill S-9 would pop up on the order paper from time to time, when they were trying to fill some holes to avoid prorogation. Now, as we approach the end of the session and there are still a few weeks to fill, Bill S-9 is back.

This is an extremely important issue, but Canada has dragged its feet when it comes to honouring the promises and commitments we made to the international community.

Despite everything, I am happy that we are having this debate in the House and that we can maybe move forward with legislation to better protect Canadians and people in other countries, as well as have better relations with the rest of the international community.

At present, we are still unable to keep our promise to ratify those treaties because we do not have a legislative provision in the Criminal Code that criminalizes the offences contained in the two treaties we are discussing today.

If Bill S-9 were passed, it would allow Canada to finally fulfill its international obligations by amending the Criminal Code, which in turn would then meet the requirements of international conventions that the Prime Minister has clearly said he wants Canada to endorse. It is time to keep that promise and to finally achieve the desired result of ensuring everyone's security.

The bill on nuclear terrorism we are debating today includes 10 clauses that would create four new offences under part II of the Criminal Code, as well as other amendments that are consequential to these four offences.

They have already been described at length in the House. I will not go over all the legislative provisions contained in this bill. However, it is extremely important that we make these amendments to the Criminal Code.

The NDP firmly believes in the importance of promoting multilateral diplomacy and international co-operation, especially on such an important issue as nuclear terrorism. This is not the kind of file that we can shove into a drawer and come back to when we have more time or at a more opportune moment. It is something that must be dealt with fairly quickly.

Canada signed these treaties back in 2005. A number of years passed before some measures were taken in order to get the wheels turning. That is what I find disappointing about the whole process.

There is something else that I find quite unfortunate. Once again, the Senate was given the responsibility of introducing a bill that is of vital importance.

It should not be the role of the unelected chamber. Still, I have to say that I appreciate the technical work that was done here. It was painstaking and detailed work. The senators even managed to correct at least one shortcoming in the bill. That effort is appreciated. However, I still believe that this bill should have been introduced initially in the House of Commons, which is where we should have been debating it from the start. Of course, we have the opportunity to do so now, but it is getting to us a bit late.

Despite the procedural shortcomings, Canada still has a responsibility to the international community, and we really need to take action. We have to get serious about domestic and international nuclear security, and we have to co-operate more with other countries on strategies to fight nuclear terrorism.

Unfortunately, threats in today's world are increasing in number and diversity. It can be difficult to predict what tragedy may happen if radioactive or nuclear material were to fall into the wrong hands. Small amounts of this material can cause absolutely unbelievable damage. That is why it is so important to pass Bill S-9 and ensure that the steps we are taking here, in Canada, truly meet our needs.

Aside from creating new offences for nuclear terrorism, threats and so on, what I find interesting and important is that the treaties address various aspects of transporting and storing nuclear material, be it nuclear waste or something else. Canada is a significant producer of medical isotopes. We still use nuclear material that is highly enriched, which creates large quantities of waste that must be disposed of safely.

There are ways to deal with that. I do not think that the materials currently used to make our medical isotopes should still be used. There are alternatives that would produce good results. In the meantime, we need to commit to reducing the quantity of waste we produce from medical isotopes and find better ways to store it. Canada already does this relatively well, but we can always do better and ensure even better protection for the people within our borders.

Some of my colleagues also mentioned the closure of the Gentilly-2 reactor in Quebec, which highlights the importance of proper storage of nuclear materials and proper disposal of waste. Given the closure of that reactor, we need to ensure that we really can dispose of radioactive materials safely when they can no longer be used, in order to ensure that they do not fall into the wrong hands and do not affect the health of Canadians.

I am sure everyone remembers what happened with Bruce Power, an Ontario company, in 2011. It wanted to transport 16 nuclear reactors down the St. Lawrence River and then on to Sweden to decontaminate them, bring them back here and then bury them. It stirred up a great deal of controversy at the time. Mayors of the cities and towns along the river opposed it, and the company had to change its plans. In fact, people were worried about the precedent it would set, about the transportation of this kind of waste increasing considerably on the river, thereby potentially putting our health at risk. Once again, we cannot always predict what will happen with this kind of transportation.

These are all issues that we need to address as parliamentarians. We had the opportunity to do so with Bill S-9. It is critically important that we pass this bill and I hope it receives unanimous support.

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Questions and comments. Resuming debate.

Is the House ready for the question?

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Some hon. members


Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Some hon. members



Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Some hon. members


Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Some hon. members


Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 45, a recorded division stands deferred until Tuesday, May 21 at the ordinary hour of adjournment.

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I ask that you see the clock at 1:30 p.m.

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Is that agreed?

Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Some hon. members


Nuclear Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members’ Business

1:20 p.m.


David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

moved that Bill C-479, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (fairness for victims), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to be standing here to speak to important amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that I proposed in Bill C-479, an act to bring fairness for the victims of violent offenders.

I would first like to thank the Minister of Public Safety and Senator Boisvenu for their public show of support this week for this legislation. I appreciate their commitment and I am encouraged by their ongoing leadership to help bring about the fairness we are seeking for victims.

Strengthening the voice of victims of violent crimes and the proposed increased time between parole hearings are two aspects of this bill that act on the changes that victims, their families and advocates like the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime have urged for many years. It is time to bring these to fruition.

Let us be clear. We are talking about instances of violent crime. I do not think words can ever adequately describe the repulsiveness of these crimes. They are heinous, are often calculated and always senseless.

It is an honour for me to be speaking to this bill today. I do so on behalf of my constituents and, tragically, thousands of Canadians like them, as well as the sacred memory of their loved ones. From the time I was elected in 2006, I have had many constituents share their concerns about the imbalance between the victims and the perpetrators in our justice system. However, my dedication to pursue this kind of legislation was galvanized when my constituents asked me to attend a Parole Board hearing with them in 2010. They wanted their federal representative to see first-hand what the process was like and the voice given to the victims, primarily through the victim impact statement.

When I agreed to attend, I knew it would be an emotional experience. I was hoping it would also be an educational experience. It was for sure. However, I do not think I could ever have begun to prepare myself for the raw emotion in that room that day. As long as I live, I will never forget it. Before even uttering a word, my constituent started to weep. The memories of a crime committed over 30 years previously came flooding back and the tears were endless. It was a grisly triple murder: her sister, niece and nephew had been brutally murdered by her sister's husband. After killing his wife, this violent criminal suffocated his two young children, a six-year old and a five-year old. The murderer meticulously concealed the bodies in the waterways of Hamilton, Ontario.

My constituent wrote her first victim impact statement on the eve of the funeral. Over the years, she and her family insisted on attending the Parole Board hearings to ensure the voice of victims was heard. They felt an incredible burden, a duty as a family. It was the least they could do to honour the victims: their sister, their daughter, their grandchildren, their niece, their nephew.

What struck me like a ton of bricks was the re-victimization of having to deliver the statement over and over, year after year. It was so cruel, so frustrating and so unnecessary. I watched the family endure the same process again in 2011. Again, the triple murderer was denied parole.

This experience inspired Bill C-479. I set about talking to victims, advocates, law enforcement officials, lawyers and others to ask what could be done.

Beyond the whole issue of re-victimization, I discovered that provisions in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that may have made sense in the 1970s no longer reflected modern technology and the respect and dignity our system ought to afford victims.

From the work my office and I have done in preparation for the introduction of this bill, and the experts we have consulted, this bill has a sound legal and constitutional foundation. I believe it will have broad support as well.

In tabling Bill C-479 in February, I proposed nine changes to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. They include: extend mandatory review periods for parole whereby if a violent offender is denied parole, the Parole Board of Canada would have to review the case within five years, rather than the current two years; increase the period to within five years in which the Parole Board of Canada must review parole following the cancellation or termination of parole; emphasize that the Parole Board of Canada must take into consideration the victims and the needs of the victim's family to attend hearings and witness the proceedings; and, require that the Parole Board of Canada consider any victim impact statement presented by victims.

One would think that this is already the case, that it is a bit of a no-brainer. However, the bill is necessary to enshrine in law the victim's voice.

Other straightforward changes proposed in Bill C-479 to protect and support victims include requiring the Parole Board of Canada to provide the victim, if requested, with information about the offender's release on parole, statutory release or temporary absence, and to provide victims with information about their offender's correctional plan, including progress toward meeting its objectives.

This is one of the things that Constable Michael Sweet's family, after 30 years of silence, requested.

I would like to remind members of Michael Sweet's story so that they can understand the family's depth of feeling with regard to these changes.

In the early morning hours of March 14, 1980, brothers Craig and Jamie Munro entered what was then George's Bourbon St. Bistro in downtown Toronto for the purpose of committing a robbery.

Both men were high on drugs and armed with guns. At the time, Craig Munro was on mandatory supervision from a penitentiary sentence for a previous gun-related offence.

The brothers gathered all of the people inside into one place. However, one of the victims managed to successfully flee. Once out on the street, he flagged down a passing police cruiser.

Constable Sweet—who, by the way, is no relation to me—who was 30 at the time, entered the restaurant and was immediately shot twice.

Then began a 90-minute standoff between the Munro brothers, with their hostages, and police.

The police later stormed the restaurant, and both brothers were shot and captured.

During the standoff, Sweet was conscious and slowly bleeding to death. He begged his captors to let him go to the hospital. He had three young daughters and he wanted to be with them at home. While Sweet pleaded for his life, they laughed and taunted him.

All three men were transported to the hospital after the police broke in. Craig and Jamie made full recoveries; Sweet died a few hours later.

I should note that many of the changes I am proposing in Bill C-479 have been enacted by our Commonwealth colleagues, such as Australia, New Zealand and the U.K.

I believe one of the fundamental responsibilities of the state is to keep our citizens safe. Violent offenders have committed unspeakable crimes. Families have suffered losses that are forever.

I hope these changes will help bring a measure of comfort to my constituents and thousands of other Canadian families who have been victimized in this way, people who have had their loved ones taken during the prime of their lives and who have lived with that pain day after day. The last thing they need is another gut-wrenching re-victimization through a parole system.

In closing, please allow me to read a few public comments from people impacted directly by violent crime.

Quoted in The Toronto Star is what a victim had to say about extending the review period:

Families have already been victimized once. They shouldn't have to be victimized every two years. Having to face a loved one's killer and to read what he did to her and how her death has affected our lives is something nobody should ever have to do once, never mind twice. We are asking the federal government to increase the time to five years, for a parole review instead of two years.

She also said:

We're asking the federal government to increase the time to five years [for a parole review], instead of two years.

Writing about Clifford Olson, a journalist in the Vancouver Province noted a few years ago:

Olson, 70, who seems to take pleasure revictimizing the families of those he killed, is automatically eligible for parole every two years until the day he dies.

A victim in a Toronto murder case commented that as difficult as it was to write the victim impact statement, it was also frustrating that she was required to submit the statement 30 days in advance so that the convicted murderer could read it, because the victims are not allowed to see the murderer's material in advance to find out what he wants to say.

Finally, an editorial on March 2, 2012, in my own hometown newspaper, the Hamilton Spectator, stated:

But the PBC has a responsibility to victims of crime. For those victims, the parole board is virtually the only source of information about the status of the person who committed the crime against them. Some local victims of crime don't feel well-served by the board. That must change.

Bill C-479 would give the Parole Board of Canada the tools it needs to do just that.

I look forward to the discussion with all members of this House on Bill C-479, this act to bring fairness for victims of violent offenders.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members’ Business

1:30 p.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale for introducing Bill C-479. This bill seems to address many of the recommendations made by the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime.

The hon. member touched on the analysis he had done of his bill before introducing it. When it comes to private members' bills, more so than with government bills, I am always a bit concerned when they are introduced that they may not be consistent with the charter. Mind you, we should also be concerned about the bills introduced by the government, considering its approach to things.

I would like the hon. member to elaborate on the type of research he conducted or the analyses he had done of his bill, specifically with regard to the provision on the cancellation of a parole review hearing if an offender has repeatedly refused to attend previous hearings.

Did he really determine whether this was consistent with the charter, to see if there is a problem on that level? Is the hon. member reasonably sure about that?

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members’ Business

1:30 p.m.


David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, all of us here in Parliament have access to the lawyers who are drafting these bills. I actually tabled a bill in the last Parliament that died on the order paper. We spent the last couple of years making sure that these bills were constitutionally sound, were legally sound and were reasonable, as well.

I believe that the member is talking about the vexatious habit of scheduling them and then cancelling them.

Again, I want to make sure members know that this just gives the Parole Board of Canada discretion. I think there are very good people on the Parole Board of Canada, and they need the tools to have that discretion. Whether it is the case the member asked about or a case of it being within five years, it does not mean that a review will not happen before then. It just means that they have up to five years to schedule such a review. It gives them the discretion. Many of them have great experience, which I have witnessed myself at a Parole Board hearing, and are able to determine what the best course of action is.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members’ Business

1:35 p.m.

Portage—Lisgar Manitoba


Candice Bergen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for introducing this bill and for being the kind of member of Parliament who stands up for his constituents and does not just talk about it. He really has put action to his words.

I want to follow up on my colleague's question on the issue of offenders cancelling their hearings. Could my colleague address how his bill would deal with that and what the problem has been? I think many Canadians do not know that offenders can cancel their parole hearings on very short notice and that it can have a horrible effect on victims. I wonder if my hon. colleague can explain that situation and why his bill is going to address that.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members’ Business

1:35 p.m.


David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question. I half spoke to the answer.

When a victim is going to go to one of these Parole Board hearings, it is months of getting the emotional fortitude it is going to take to go there. People review their victim impact statements, often with the entire family that was affected. As they get ready to do this, sometimes it is communicated to them that the whole thing has been cancelled, which is another huge emotional trauma for them, only to be scheduled at a later date and cancelled again.

It is painful enough for the victims to have to endure this process. They do this because they have a duty to the victim who was either killed or dealt with violently in some other way. They should not be re-victimized because someone wants to use the system in a way it was never intended to be used. The system is really a rehabilitative process for the convict and for ensuring the security of Canadian citizens.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members’ Business

1:35 p.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, again, I want to thank the hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale for introducing Bill C-479, which the NDP will support at second reading. I must admit that we will support it without much reservation.

Not only does the bill talk about helping victims, but, in practical terms, it will achieve the desired effect. Sometimes in the House, we hear grand speeches, great oratorical rhetoric from the government benches. It gives the public the impression that the government is doing something, when in fact it is not. It does a little bit here and there, but does not necessarily achieve what we are looking for.

That cannot be said about this bill. Of course, we have to take a good look at it, because I rarely write a blank cheque, especially not when it comes to the Conservative government's bills. I would like for us to study the bills in committee, go over them in greater detail, and ensure that we come back to the House at third reading with bills that make sense.

We think it is safe to say that the bill is legal and consistent with the charter and the Constitution. Regardless of the political side of the matter, it achieves the desired effect and even if it does not achieve the desired political effect, it makes sense.

The bill finally truly addresses the issue of victims. Anyone who has practised law and who has been inside Canada's courthouses from coast to coast has noticed some very specific things, above and beyond the money that the justice system costs and the financial burden that many victims face.

According to the government, Bill C-37, with regard to the surcharge, will solve almost all of victims' financial problems. However, when we dig a little deeper, we realize that, once again, this is only a drop in the bucket when it comes to what victims need. What do victims tell us on a regular basis? What does the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime tell us? What recommendations did she make at the time?

In her 2010 report, among others, she recommended that the federal government shift the burden of responsibility to provide information to victims under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act from victims to the Correctional Service of Canada and the National Parole Board.

The member opposite's bill addresses part of that recommendation. It responds to the recommendation to give victims the right to attend National Parole Board hearings through the use of available technologies such as video conferencing.

It also responds to the recommendation to take into account the needs of victims when it comes to the timing, frequency and scheduling of parole hearings. However, these are not the only things that the ombudsman asked the federal government to do.

The Minister of Justice is on a tour of Canada to try to talk to victims. I thought that he had done this quite awhile ago and that he had a good idea of victims' needs. I can give him some suggestions that could be included in a possible charter.

Clearly, this type of bill could set out fundamental principles that show the respect that Canadians and the Government of Canada have for victims' needs, including during court cases and trials.

The problems are not limited to parole. They are sometimes related to the trials themselves, which can often seem to go on forever. We can implement all the measures we like under Bill C-479, Bill C-489 or any other bill, but if we do not resolve the problems related to accessing justice and awaiting trial, then victims will remain victims for a long time yet.

Not only are they victimized during sentencing and at parole hearings, for instance, but they are also victimized in the very process of reaching a verdict. This is a fundamental problem.

Often they are not even fully aware of what is going on. Sentences are negotiated between Crown attorneys and defence lawyers. Victims—who may have been summoned three, four, five or even 10 times during some exceptionally long trials—could find themselves back at square one. On top of that, they are told they have to appear before the parole board, which also takes time, and they are asked to stand in front of the person who victimized them. Thus, they are victimized all over again.

With government bills, whether they come from the back benches, the government itself or the Senate, a piecemeal approach is often taken, when a comprehensive approach is required. It always breaks my heart a little, because I have so much respect for our justice system. I also have a very hard time seeing how the public perceives its judicial system. Yes, it definitely has some flaws, but we are trying to correct them. Basically, every time we correct just one little thing, we open up a new Pandora's box and create imbalances. That is the problem.

In the context of Bill C-479, I do not think it is unreasonable to ask my colleague to clarify these changes, like the one to revisit parole reviews for offenders serving a sentence of less than two years.

We need to keep in mind that these are vile offences, as he said. When it comes to violent offences, some victims and their families may prefer not to attend parole hearings. Some victims, for example rape victims, should not be called to appear at all, not even through videoconference. Some of them need to completely close themselves off from that part of their lives. We need to be very respectful of that, while giving those who want to speak the opportunity to do so, since that is what some people need. They want to face their aggressor. For them, it is a way to get over the events of their past.

There is so much we can do to support victims if we really want to and if we go beyond talking. I believe that words revictimize these people, because words seem to promise solutions to their problems. In the end, however, five or 10 years later, they will realize that nothing has changed.

As for the surcharges suggested in the bill, they are peanuts. They will only add a few tens of millions of dollars to our coffers. Let us look at the numbers. I did not come up with them; Senator Boisvenu did. He enjoys showing up everywhere to remind us of these numbers, and rightly so.

In 2003 alone, crime cost $70 billion. Victims assumed 70% of the cost of crime, or $47 billion.

Professor Irvin Waller appeared before the committee when we were studying Bill C-37, which the government bragged about at length as the solution, the way to do the right thing for victims. The government set aside about $16 million in the budget for victims.

Professor Waller said that it did not mean much. The government should work with the provinces and fund a study on the remaining gaps between services and needs. All these things have been recommended. All the government has to do is decide to act.

I think victims deserve a little more respect from their government. The government should move from words to action. It should do more than just pretend and hold press conferences for the fun of it. We need to try to find lasting solutions that get to the heart of the issue of justice system accessibility, first and foremost. We need to ensure that trials take place much more quickly than they are now.

Some provinces, including Alberta, think the answer is more judges. Let us make that happen. We need to, if we believe in a system of justice, law and order that works and that respects victims.

I thank my colleague opposite for his bill. The NDP will study it carefully in committee, and we will be proud to support it at second reading.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members’ Business

1:45 p.m.


Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, as a rule we must analyze legislation such as Bill C-479 through the prism of the important overriding objective of ensuring the long-term public safety of Canadian society, and that means being smart about crime. We must also measure such legislation against the criterion of whether it harms or helps victims or, if neutral, whether more could be done to support victims.

It is worth mentioning, and it has been mentioned before in the debate today, that private members' bills do not obtain charter scrutiny as do bills that originate in the Department of Justice; although doubts have recently been planted that even government bills may not be benefiting from rigorous vetting through the prism of adherence to charter principles.

Liberals support sending Bill C-479 to committee precisely to better understand how it meets the above criteria.

Bill C-479 would make changes to specific aspects of the conditional release system in Canada. However, first it might be wise to briefly enumerate the kinds of conditional release available in this country. They are escorted and unescorted temporary absences, day parole, full parole and statutory release with supervision.

The bill deals more specifically with full parole for violent offenders, namely, for crimes cited under schedule 1 of the Criminal Code. In Canada, once an offender has served one-third of his or her sentence or seven years, whichever is less, he or she becomes eligible to apply for parole. Generally the offender's parole request is considered at a parole hearing before the Parole Board of Canada.

The bill, as I understand it, would not change the modalities and rules governing the initial parole request but rather the consequences that flow from being denied parole, which itself is seen as an indicator that the offender has not made progress toward rehabilitation.

Currently, as I understand the system, an offender, even after being denied parole, can reapply for parole on an annual basis. However, the Parole Board is not obliged upon review of the case to grant the hearing for as long as two years after the initial parole refusal.

The goal of the bill is to spare victims and their families the nightmare of attending repeated parole hearings. It is no secret that there are offenders who definitely are not on the road to rehabilitation but who wish to trigger repeated parole hearings for no other reason than to torment victims. I believe it is at these types of offenders that the bill is aimed.

Offenders serving time for schedule 1 offences, the most serious and often violent offences, whose parole is refused because they are not progressing under their rehabilitation plan would no longer automatically be eligible for a hearing two years after their initial parole refusal, as at present; rather, under the bill, the Parole Board of Canada would be permitted to deny a hearing for as long as five years after the offender was initially denied parole, even if he or she applied annually.

The bill attempts to clarify and reinforce victims' rights in other ways. I understand the member has developed the bill as a result of attending a parole hearing for an offender who was serving a sentence for multiple murders. This must have been a life-changing experience for the member, and there are no doubt elements of the bill rooted in the wisdom gained from that experience.

Bill C-479 would codify a number of existing practices that assist victims in various ways. Bill C-479 adds a declaration that every effort must be made to allow victims or victims' families to attend parole hearings. Currently the Corrections and Conditional Release Act does not contain a provision dealing with attendance by victims; they have to apply. However, I should mention that they are rarely, if ever, refused attendance at a hearing, as far as I understand.

Bill C-479 would also allow victims or their families to view a hearing via a one-way closed circuit connection, should they not be permitted to attend or they would prefer viewing from a distance where they would not need to be in the same room as the offender. Currently in a parole hearing victims may present a statement describing the harm done to them or loss suffered by them as a result of the offence, although this is not a right in law, as I understand it.

If they are not in attendance, the statement may be presented by way of audiotape or videotape, accompanied by a written copy of the statement. The bill seeks to entrench the consideration of victim impact statements in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. The bill would also allow the victim impact statement to be submitted in writing only, rather than the current prescribed formats of videotape or audiotape accompanied by a written statement.

The bill would also give victims the legislated right to access certain information about the offender. As I understand it, victims would be able to register to receive information automatically. Certain on-request information would be automatically provided if the bill is passed, such as the conditions attached to the conditional release. Also, the information that victims could request would include information relating to the offender's treatment plan and progress toward the plan's objective.

Finally, it would be mandatory for the victim or family to be notified at least 14 days in advance of their offender receiving any form of conditional release, as well as being informed of the offender's destination upon release.

This bill appears to have many positive aspects, and I look forward, as do my other colleagues no doubt, to examining the bill in committee and also to examining the way the parole system works. It is very complicated, complex and technical. This would be an opportunity to better understand that system and to understand how it could be made fairer for victims. It looks like this bill would go a long way toward that.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members’ Business

1:50 p.m.

Portage—Lisgar Manitoba


Candice Bergen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity today to rise and speak in support of private member's Bill C-479, which was brought forward by my colleague, the member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale.

I want to thank and commend my colleague for his strong commitment to placing the needs, rights and interests of victims ahead of criminals and for introducing this bill that would further strengthen victims' rights in this country. The bill includes measures that are in keeping with our government's strong commitment to support victims of crime and ensure that they have a strong voice in the justice system.

While we have made some very good progress over the past seven years to meet these commitments, we know that more work needs to be done. That is why the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada recently outlined the next phase of the Government of Canada's plan for safe streets and communities.

Through this plan, our government will take further action in the following areas:

We will tackle crime by holding offenders accountable for their actions. This includes bringing forward legislation to further toughen penalties for child sexual offences and to better understand the risks posed by known child sex offenders.

As well, we have introduced Bill C-54, not criminally responsible reform act, which would better protect the public from accused persons who have been found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder. Such legislation would ensure that public safety is the paramount consideration in these cases.

We also moved ahead with further measures to enhance the rights of victims by introducing legislation to implement a victims' bill of rights. This legislation would serve to further enhance the government's commitment to victims of crime by entrenching their rights into law at the federal level.

I want to again thank my colleague, because he mentioned this important piece. It is one thing to talk about victims' rights, but they need to be enshrined in federal law. My colleague's bill will move forward on this as will what our government is doing to support victims of crime.

Finally, we will increase the efficiency of our justice system by looking at measures to make our justice system more efficient through the “Economics of Policing” study.

Members may recall that the hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale introduced a similar bill in 2011. He has been very committed to this cause and continues to be.

Since 2011, we have passed into law the Safe Streets and Communities Act, which included these important measures to enhance the participation of victims in the justice system and to increase offender accountability. As such, Bill C-479 proposes some important changes to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, also known as the CCRA.

I will now look at how Bill C-479 would amend the CCRA. First, private member's Bill C-479 proposes to extend mandatory review periods for parole. For example, if a violent offender is denied parole, the Parole Board of Canada would then be obligated to review the case within five years rather than the current two years. Again, we have heard today the impact that would have on victims. Rather than having to come back every two years and relive the horror and tragedy of what they or their families went through, the bill would extend that period to five years.

The bill also proposes to hold detention reviews every two years rather than annually. Again, this considers the rights and interests of victims and what they go through when they are unfortunately re-victimized every time they have to go through this. This would not only affect offenders who are not ready to be released into the community at their statutory release date, at two-thirds of the sentence, but would also put victims' interests into the equation.

The second set of changes to the CCRA proposed in Bill C-479 relates to the attendance of victims and members of their families at parole review hearings.

There is no magic formula for healing from the traumatic experience of violent crime. There is no single set of counselling, time or things that can happen after one is victimized. There is no magic formula that can fix the pain and tragedy victims have gone through. Each victim, each family member, is affected differently and will cope in a unique way. With this in mind, Bill C-479 proposes to give more weight to the needs of victims in the justice system.

Specifically, Bill C-479 proposes that if victims are denied the opportunity to observe the hearings in person, they could follow the hearings by teleconference or one-way closed-circuit feed, again another way that the government and the Parole Board could show victims that their voices matter. Currently, there can be distance and time and it can be very difficult for victims to attend hearings, yet they want to see it or be a part of it. This bill would give them the opportunity to follow hearings by teleconference or one-way closed-circuit feed.

The bill would provide useful tools. However, we need to strike a balance between theory and practice. Therefore, there are some minor amendments to make it easier to implement this and we expect amendments would be required for this part of the bill.

Currently, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act gives victims the right to certain basic information about offenders and criminals. At the same time, it gives the Parole Board of Canada and Correctional Service Canada discretion to provide additional information if the interests of the victims clearly outweigh the privacy concerns for the offenders.

Bill C-479 proposes to expand the rights of victims ahead of the rights of criminals in order for information to be shared about offenders. Specifically, it would make the release of certain information mandatory rather than discretionary. This information would include the date, if any, when an offender would be released on either unescorted or escorted temporary absences. As well, a victim would be informed of any of the conditions attached to an offender's unescorted temporary absence, parole or statutory release and the reasons for any unescorted temporary absences. In addition, a victim would be informed of the destination of an offender when released on unescorted temporary absence or parole or statutory release. Again, one would assume this has already taken place, but it has not, and those are some of the provisions that the bill would provide.

Obviously, it is important for victims to have all this information well in advance of an offender's temporary release. Bill C-479 proposes that the chairperson of the Parole Board of Canada discloses this information at least 14 days before an offender is released. The bill would further provide victims with information about offenders' correctional plans, including progress toward meeting their objectives and providing transcripts of parole hearings, if they are produced. Should the bill be referred to committee, we would again seek to move certain amendments to ensure that any necessary public safety safeguards would be in place for the sharing of this information.

Again, I would like to commend my colleague for his strong commitment to victims and for introducing this bill to further strengthen the rights of victims. The changes proposed in Bill C-479 bring greater fairness to the justice system for victims. This is in keeping with our government's commitments and I am proud to indicate that we will be supporting this important legislation.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members’ Business

2 p.m.


Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-479, introduced by the member opposite. The NDP stands behind initiatives that promote fairness for victims of crime, as well as their families and their communities, which are often collateral victims.

We will study this bill at length in committee to ensure that it meets their needs.

This bill amends Part II of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. Bill C-479 seems to respond to some of the recommendations that the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime made in 2010.

In her report, the ombudsman suggests that we adopt some of the principles set out in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The Declaration of Principle in the YCJA states that:

3(1)(d)(ii) victims should be treated with courtesy, compassion and respect for their dignity and privacy and should suffer the minimum degree of inconvenience as a result of their involvement with the youth criminal justice system,

(iii) victims should be provided with information about the proceedings and given an opportunity to participate and be heard,

The ombudsman found that the Corrections and Conditional Release Act must reflect the same principles. It remains to be seen, during our study in committee, whether Bill C-479 makes this law consistent with these principles in an effective and balanced manner.

The Corrections and Conditional Release Act was enacted in 1992. It was the first federal statute governing corrections and conditional release that officially recognized the victims. Bill C-479 seems to respond to two things the ombudsman considered.

I would like to address the first aspect of the question. In her report, the ombudsman pointed out that victims do not automatically receive information on offenders during the release process. In order to access that information, victims have to figure out for themselves how to get the information and how to register with the National Parole Board. Just imagine how very difficult it must be for a victim who has been severely traumatized to navigate through this red tape.

The ombudsman indicated that the registered victim-to-offender ratio is still quite low. There are over 20,000 offenders currently in federal custody, approximately 70% of which are serving sentences for violent crimes. Yet just over 6,000 victims are registered to receive information on fewer than 4,000 offenders.

It is impossible to determine whether the victims who are not registered chose not to be or whether they were simply unaware of their rights. Representatives from the parole system and the ombudsman think one of the primary obstacles of getting victims to sign up is that there is a lack of information.

The National Parole Board should take the initiative to give them this information and should automatically communicate with victims to inform them of their right to receive information. The proposed amendment in Bill C-479 would make it mandatory to provide transcripts of a parole review hearing to victims and members of their family and the offenders, and to provide victims with the information under consideration by the board during the offender's review.

I would like to talk about the second important aspect. In her report, the ombudsman pointed out that we must take the concerns of victims into account during decisions pertaining to the release and supervision of an offender.

Many victims have expressed concerns about an offender being released on parole when they live in the area. In some cases, this fear prevents victims from asking for information because they fear reprisals should the offender become aware that the victim is interested in the case.

Furthermore, according to the ombudsman, victims want to know that the information they provide will be considered. In light of that, Bill C-479 is designed to make it easier for victims or their family members to attend parole review hearings and for their statements to be taken into consideration in decisions regarding the offender's release.

The amendment to the act would also ensure that victims are informed if an offender is to be released on temporary absence, parole or statutory release.

Bill C-479 would also allow for the cancellation of a parole review hearing if an offender has repeatedly refused to attend, or waived his or her right to attend, previous hearings.

We are sensitive to victims' concerns. We will examine Bill C-479 carefully to ensure that it addresses the demands made by the ombudsman for victims of crime.

However, we have some concerns. First, we want to ensure that the bill does not in any way violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Can my colleague opposite confirm that he has done his homework and that he has verified that Bill C-479 complies with the charter and the Constitution?

Second, Bill C-479 should have been a government bill. I wonder why the Conservatives are using a private member's bill to push the government's agenda, which has always been focused on victims' rights.

Why did the Minister of Justice not introduce Bill C-479 himself? Why did the member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale take up this cause?

Third, private members' bills must assess and cost the changes they propose. They must assess the impact on the provinces and territories, especially with respect to parole boards. They must also provide proper compensation, if required.

Did my colleague opposite consult the provinces when drafting this bill? Can he tell what the bill will cost? Which level of government will pay these additional costs?

In closing, if our concerns are addressed in committee, and if there is clear proof that the bill respects the victim and judicial independence, I will be pleased to throw my full support behind this bill.

For that reason, we support the bill at second reading and its referral to committee for more in-depth study.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members’ Business

2:10 p.m.


Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to continue the debate on Bill C-479, an act to bring fairness for the victims of violent offenders, a bill which I support, with amendments proposed by the government.

Let me begin by commending the hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale for his tenacity in fighting for the rights of victims. The predecessor to this bill was introduced into the House of Commons during the previous Parliament and was debated for an hour prior to dissolution, yet the hon. member has held fast to his vision and deserves our admiration and respect for his hard work in bringing the bill forward.

Today's debate is an opportunity to reflect on the traumatic impact of violent crime on its victims and what our government is doing to support our victims and what more we can do.

I will not pretend to fully understand the harm that violent crime inflicts on a victim. Only those who have survived such a terrible experience have the right to speak of it. However, I have met with victims of crime and I have seen the toll of emotional trauma and the desire for meaningful participation in the justice system. They spoke because they needed to be heard. Giving voice to their experience empowers them because they are determined to gain control over their lives.

Our government is listening. Our government is committed to keeping our streets and communities safe and supporting victims, which includes strengthening legislation, protecting victims rights, tackling crime and ensuring fair and efficient justice. All of these will have a positive impact on the victims of crime and their families.

When our government was elected in 2006, we pledged to Canadians that we would work hard to address the needs of victims of crime and their families. I am proud to say that we have made significant progress. The National Office for Victims, Public Safety Canada is helping victims gain a greater voice in the corrections and conditional release process. It is helping victims get access to the information and services they might need.

Apart from the physical and emotional trauma of violent crime, victims may also carry a financial burden. Worries about money adds stress to families at the worst possible time. That is why, last November, our government announced a new income support program to ease the financial burden on parents who were struggling to cope with the death or disappearance of a child.

Even as we are helping victims of crime, we are working hard to prevent these crimes from happening in the first place. In our high speed culture it has never been easier for young people to go astray. If we can address the risk factors early, we may well prevent young people from falling in with the wrong crowd. One of the strategy's programs, for example, is the youth gang prevention fund. On the one hand, the fund helps communities develop programs to help youth at risk to make better choices and avoid criminal behaviour. On the other hand, it works with families that have been victimized. I am proud to note that in 2011 alone, our government funded 138 community-based crime prevention programs through this strategy. All told, these programs reached 16,000 youth at risk.

I have highlighted our government's support for victims of violent crime and our efforts to reduce the chance of violent crime occurring in the first place. We are also helping victims at the legislative level. Over the past seven years, our government has introduced and passed compelling and comprehensive changes to our legislation, changes that support crime prevention, that give police the tools they need to fight crime and increase offender accountability.

The centrepiece of our approach is the Safe Streets and Communities Act, which received royal assent last March. As part of the significant overhaul of our justice system, the act provided greater support for victims of crime. Victims are entitled to be kept better informed about the behaviour and management of offenders. An act of violence can touch many people. That is why the Safe Streets and Communities Act expanded the definition of a registered victim. This definition now includes the guardians and caregivers of dependents of victims who are deceased, ill or otherwise incapacitated.

Our government has tilted the justice system back to where it should be. Through our steady approach, we are strengthening legislation, protecting the rights of victims, tackling crime and ensuring justice is fair and efficient.

Private member's Bill C-479 would complement our drive toward making the justice system work better for victims of offenders. It proposes changes to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that would complement the Safe Streets and Communities Act by: modifying parole and detention of review dates; facilitate victims observing hearings; and expanding the rights of victims to have access to information about the offender.

As we have heard, our government will seek to move minor amendments should the bill be referred to a committee for study.

I believe private member's Bill C-479 is important legislation that would support the rights of victims. I urge all hon. members to join me in supporting the bill before us today.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members’ Business

2:15 p.m.


Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to use these four minutes to speak to this bill we will be supporting.

I am always interested in speaking on issues related to public safety and victims' rights.

Today we are debating an important bill that seems to follow up on recommendations from the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, which tabled a report in 2010 in an effort to move towards greater respect for victims in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

The recommendations contained in that report seem to be reflected in this bill. One recommendation was to shift the burden of responsibility to provide information to victims under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act from victims to the Correctional Service of Canada and the National Parole Board.

Another recommendation was to give victims the right to attend National Parole Board hearings through the use of available technologies such as video conferencing.

In addition, it was recommended that victims be given a stronger voice in the timing, frequency and scheduling of parole hearings.

We support the initiatives set out in this bill, which promote fairness for victims. We will study the bill in detail to ensure that it addresses as many of their needs as possible.

I find it curious that this government often uses backbenchers to introduce these types of bills, instead of having the department do it, which is how it should be done. During this Parliament, we have noticed that a large number of public safety and justice bills have been introduced by backbenchers, which is not customary.

In 2007, the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime organized a round table where participants identified the fact that the Corrections and Conditional Release Act did not contain any provisions on how victims of crime should be treated. This law dictates how offenders should be treated, but it does not include any provisions about how victims should be treated.

One participant remarked that the Corrections and Conditional Release Act embodies the principles that govern the treatment of offenders—that is, decisions concerning offenders must be clear and fair—but there is no law that sets out principles for the treatment of victims. The participants suggested that the same principles should apply to victims.

The observations of the round table participants corresponded to the findings of the National Consultation with Victims of Crime conducted by the Solicitor General of Canada in 2001. The Corrections and Conditional Release Act only mentions the release of information to victims and communications with them.

In her report, the ombudsman for victims of crime indicated that, in order to ensure that victims have legitimate rights within correctional and conditional release systems, the laws must clearly indicate how they are to be treated, and these laws must be applied.

That is what the hon. member wanted to do by introducing this bill, and I thank him for this initiative, which I still think should have gone through the Department of Public Safety. Still, it is an important step toward defending victims' rights, and we thank him for that.

I will support his bill at second reading.