moved that Bill C-489, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (restrictions on offenders), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon for seconding this motion.
I am honoured to stand here and speak on my new Bill C-489, which is also called the “safe at home bill”. I do so on behalf of my constituents in Langley and other young victims who have lived in fear of their offenders. I am in awe of their bravery and courage to fight for the rights of future victims.
In my riding of Langley, two brave families lived in constant turmoil when the sex offenders of their children were permitted to serve house arrest in their neighbourhoods. In one case, the sex offender served a sentence right across the street from the victim, and in the other case, right next door. That is outrageous.
Neither child felt safe in their home or their neighbourhood, which is the very place where they should feel the safest. Their doors were locked and the blinds were kept closed. Every time they saw the sex offender the entire family was re-victimized. The families lived in continual turmoil as they watched the offenders possibly looking for an opportunity to reoffend or hurt somebody else. Their homes in the neighbourhoods that they had loved were now places they dreaded because their attackers were there. One family could not take the stress any more, which forced them to move out of the neighbourhood they had spent so many years loving.
One mother came to my office and asked me, “Why should we have to move from our home when we are the victims?” That is a good question. Everyone should have the right to feel safe in their home, and victims of sexual assault should be no exception.
This is why I brought forward Bill C-489, which I believe meets these important concerns head-on. If passed, the bill would help to ensure the safety of victims and witnesses from convicted offenders. It would enhance the level of confidence that victims have in the justice system as well as help them feel that the justice system is hearing and responding to their concerns. The bill would achieve these objectives by proposing a number of amendments to the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
Bill C-489 would prevent offenders, when released from prison, from contacting victims or witnesses. Specifically, the bill proposes that when an offender is convicted of a child sexual offence, the sentencing court would be required to consider imposing a specific geographic restriction of two kilometres from any dwelling in which the offender knows or ought to know that a victim may be present as well as a condition prohibiting the offender from being alone in any private vehicle with a child under the age of 16. Efforts to prevent contact between offenders and their victims should serve to increase public safety and victims' confidence in the sentencing process.
The bill would also require courts to impose conditions in all probation orders and conditional sentencing orders prohibiting an offender from communicating with any victim or witness, or from going to any place identified in the order. Although these conditions would be mandatory, the court could decide not to impose them if the victim or witness consented or if the court found exceptional circumstances, in which case written reasons would be required to explain the findings. I believe this would enhance public safety and confidence in the justice system by helping to ensure that victims and witnesses would not be contacted by offenders upon their release into the community except in exceptional circumstances or where the individual consents.
The bill also proposes to amend recognizance or peace bonds against individuals when there is a reasonable fear that they may commit a future child sex offence.
Specifically, the bill proposes to amend Section 810.1, peace bonds, to require a court to consider imposing conditions prohibiting the defendant from contacting any individual or going to any place named in the recognizance. As with the proposed probation and conditional sentence order amendments, the court could choose not to impose the conditions in the peace bond where there is consent of the individual or where the court finds exceptional circumstances. This amendment would also lead to enhanced public safety for victims and witnesses.
Lastly, Bill C-489 proposes to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, or the CCRA, to require decision-makers under that act to consider similar conditions. I would like to consider this amendment a bit more fully.
Currently under the CCRA, Parole Board of Canada tribunals and correctional officials are authorized to impose conditions on an offender when the individual is being released into the community under parole, stat release or temporary absence orders. This type of gradual and supervised conditional release into the community prior to the expiration of sentence is intended to help ensure public safety and successful reintegration of the offender into society. This is especially true where the offender has been imprisoned for many years and will have difficulty re-entering society without a carefully planned and monitored release strategy that includes tailored conditions and specialized programs that the offender must abide by at all times.
According to the 2012 Conditional Services of Canada annual report, there are currently about 22,000 offenders under the authority of the federal corrections system. About two-thirds of these offenders were convicted of a violent or sexual offence. About 38%, almost 9,000 offenders, are at any given time under active supervision in the community by corrections officers. All 9,000 of those offenders are required to abide by a mix of mandatory and discretionary conditions imposed by the authority of the CCRA. If offenders breach their conditions, they are subject to disciplinary measures, including having their conditional release revoked and being required to serve out the remainder of their sentence in prison. As the CCRA is currently structured, Section 133 provides the authority of the Parole Board of Canada, for example, to impose at its discretion any type of condition that meets the two objectives of conditional release. The first and primary consideration is public safety.
The second consideration is the successful reintegration of the offender into the community. Section 133 also references the regulations of the CCRA regarding mandatory conditions of release. Under this legislative authority, Section 161 of the regulations prescribes a number of specific conditions that must be imposed for all offenders in the community under conditional release, such as reporting as required to their parole officer, not possessing any weapons and reporting any changes in their address or employment, among other things.
While it is not uncommon for the Parole Board of Canada under the current regime to exercise its discretion to impose conditions prohibiting contact between offenders and victims when released, the point is that these are not mandatory conditions nor are these conditions that the Parole Board of Canada is required to consider under the current Section 133. I spoke earlier about the two cases in my riding of Langley where the victims and their families felt that their welfare had not been taken into account when these decisions were made by the Parole Board of Canada.
One of the objectives of Bill C-489 is to respond to these types of concerns. It proposes new mandatory conditions prohibiting the offender from communicating with any identified victims or witnesses and from going to a place identified in the condition. This objective is entirely consistent with the government's initiatives that have provided a greater emphasis on safer communities in general and victims in particular.
As with the bill's other proposed amendments, the releasing authority would not have to impose the condition if there were exceptional circumstances or if the identified individual consented. These two exceptions would ensure that the provision is flexible enough to accommodate the types of circumstances that would undoubtedly occur in practice.
Where the releasing authority does find that exceptional circumstances do exist, reasons for making that finding must be provided in writing explaining how it came to that conclusion. I believe this requirement would ensure that victims and witnesses better understand the Parole Board's decisions.
I expect that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights will want to fully consider this bill and its operational impacts to ensure that it operates as intended and that its objectives are fully achieved.
Public confidence in our justice system is important. It pains me to hear from victims of crime that they have to speak out to say that they have been forgotten and that the justice system does not consider how sentencing affects them. This is a gap that Bill C-489 seeks to address and I believe it hits the mark.
I hope by tabling this bill that this House and this government will act to enhance public safety by holding criminals accountable, by enhancing the voice of the victims and by making victims feel safe in their homes and neighbourhoods. I ask for support from the hon. members in the House in helping to get the bill passed into law so that young victims and their families can feel safe at home and in their neighbourhoods.