Mr. Speaker, I am very privileged to rise today to speak in support of private member's Bill C-489, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (restrictions on offenders), introduced by my colleague, the member of Parliament for Langley.
I want to begin by congratulating the bill's sponsor for the work he has put into this very important piece of legislation. I believe it is entirely consistent with our government's commitment to making our streets and communities safer for Canadians and to better meeting the needs and concerns of victims.
The bill's objective is clear. It proposes to enhance the protection of victims and witnesses and to prevent their re-victimization when an offender is released into the community. It addresses concerns expressed by victims and witnesses across Canada that they should not have to feel threatened by the prospect of an offender watching them, following them, phoning them, or attempting to contact them in any way once they are released into the community. The bill meets this objective by targeting existing provisions that currently provide authority for conditions to be placed on offenders after they have been convicted of a criminal offence, or in some cases, if there is reason to believe that they will commit a child sexual offence.
Generally speaking, the purpose of these types of existing conditions is to ensure public safety and the successful reintegration of the offender into the community. They are imposed at various stages of the process, such as at sentencing; for child sexual offender prohibition orders, probation orders and conditional sentence orders; just prior to release from prison on parole or conditional release orders; and before someone is charged, but there is a reasonable belief that he or she may commit a child sexual offence while under a peace bond.
Statistics Canada data indicates that about 105,000 or more orders per year may be affected if Bill C-489 becomes law. Our government will be supporting the bill while proposing amendments to ensure clarity and consistency and to take into account recent Criminal Code amendments.
I would like to take a few moments to consider the first order Bill C-489 proposes to amend, section 161 of the Criminal Code prohibition order. Under this section, at the time of sentencing an individual convicted of a listed sexual offence against a child under the age of 16, the court must consider imposing listed prohibitions, such as not attending public parks, school yards and other places where children are often present. While the current provision makes it mandatory for the court to consider these conditions, the court retains the discretion not to impose the order. The prohibition order takes effect upon the offender's release into the community and can last up to the lifetime of the offender.
First, the bill would require the court to consider imposing a geographical condition restricting the offender from being within two kilometres of any dwelling house in which a victim could reasonably be expected to be present without a parent or guardian. Second, it would require a court to also consider prohibiting the offender from being in a private vehicle with any child under the age of 16 without a parent or guardian.
It is possible, however, that this two-kilometre limit may be challenging to implement, something I believe the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights should consider when it studies the bill.
I also agree that a child sexual offender should not have unsupervised access to a child. In fact, members will recall that the Safe Streets and Communities Act amended section 161 of the Criminal Code by adding two new conditions: prohibiting the offender from having any unsupervised contact with a child under age 16 and prohibiting the offender from having unsupervised use of the Internet.
The bill before us would also amend both the probation and conditional sentence provisions of the Criminal Code by prohibiting the offender from communicating with the victim, witnesses or any other person identified in the order or from going to any place specified in the order.
These proposed new conditions would be mandatory whenever a sentence included a probation or conditions sentence order, with two exceptions. First, the court could choose not to impose the condition if the identified person in the order consented. Second, the court could decide not to impose the condition where it found that exceptional circumstances existed. In the latter case, the court would be required to provide written reasons explaining this decision.
This proposed approach would provide the court with some flexibility, which I believe is needed. It is possible, however, that requiring written reasons for declining to make the order in exceptional circumstances may have some impact on the day-to-day operations of the courts. I am also aware that similar provisions exist elsewhere in the Criminal Code and instead require reasons to be stated on the record. This, too, is something I believe the justice committee will no doubt take into consideration and look at when it is studying the bill.
The bill also proposes to include similar conditions for section 810.1 of the Criminal Code, recognizing orders often referred to as peace bonds. These are imposed where it is reasonably feared that the defendant will commit one of the enumerated sexual offences against a child under the age of 16. The bill proposes to amend this provision to require the court to consider imposing a condition prohibiting any form of communication between the defendant and any individual named by the court, or prohibiting going to any specified place, unless the named individual consents or unless the court finds, as I mentioned, exceptional circumstances exist to permit such contact.
I agree that the court must consider these types of conditions, and I look forward to this proposal being reviewed in more detail at the committee to ensure that the provision will function as the sponsor of the bill has intended.
Finally, the bill would also provide the authority for imposing specific types of non-contact conditions under conditional release orders pursuant to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which includes parole orders, statutory release orders and orders for temporary absence from federal penitentiaries. Specifically, the bill proposes to amend section 133 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to require the Parole Board of Canada or other releasing authority to impose conditions that prohibit contact with a witness, victim or other specified person, or from going to specific places unless there is consent or there are exceptional circumstances for not doing so. For the same reasons I have already mentioned, I do support the proposal in Bill C-489.
The sponsor of the bill, the member for Langley, has explained why he introduced the bill, namely because the safety and well-being of victims in his riding were not being taken into consideration. Indeed, if it is happening in his riding, we know it is happening in other parts of the country.
The victims were not being taken into consideration when decisions were being made regarding the release of offenders into his community. I agree that Bill C-489 responds to these concerns and would help to enable victims, their families, witnesses and other individuals to feel safe in their homes and in their communities when these offenders are released back into the community.
Moreover, the bill is consistent with our government's commitment to make Canada's streets and communities safer by holding violent criminals accountable and by increasing the efficiency of our justice system. It is also very consistent with our government's commitment to giving victims of crime a stronger voice, one that can be heard, listened to and given consideration in our criminal justice system.
We support Bill C-489. I look forward to other members of the House supporting it. We can study it further in committee.