Mr. Speaker, I would like to enumerate some of the goals of the justice system, because it is important that we place legislation dealing with criminal offences and so on within the context of the principles that guide the justice system. We could say that the point of the justice system is, first, to reinforce acceptable norms of behaviour; second, to protect society from those who have proven that their actions can cause harm; and third, to ensure that only the guilty pay for their crimes and that the innocent are not convicted. These seem to be, in general, the overriding goals of our justice system, a system that has evolved slowly but surely over centuries.
It turns out that because the justice system is focusing on these three principles, often the interests of victims are ignored, albeit unintentionally. Bill C-489 would attempt to provide some assistance to victims.
Bill C-489 would deal mostly with sexual offences, though not exclusively, as I understand it. Sexual offences create a unique kind of vulnerability among the victims. They are a unique kind of violation compared to, for example, car theft or house break-ins when individuals are not at home. Both of those crimes create a terrible sense of vulnerability as well, but we are talking here of sexual offences and the particular sense of vulnerability they create.
I agree with the hon. member that the interests of victims of sexual crimes have often been overlooked in our criminal justice system. Liberals support the intent of Bill C-489. We are not certain that the bill would bring about meaningful progress in all cases for victims or prospective victims of sexual crimes. I say “prospective” victims, because the bill would also deal with recognizance orders, where an individual has not committed a criminal act but poses a threat to another person.
We support sending the bill to committee to ascertain its merits in attaining a goal that, obviously, we all share in this House.
I understand that the bill is motivated by the MP for Langley's particular experience with some victims in his riding. In fact, the member stated:
[A] sex offender...was permitted to serve House arrest right next door to his young victim. In another case, the sex offender served House arrest across the street from the victim. In both cases, the young victims lived in fear and were re-victimized every time they saw their attacker.
Obviously, that situation, which the hon. member for Langley described, leaves all members in disbelief and with a view that something should be done.
Bill C-489 would introduce two prohibitions through amendments to two laws. Number one, it would amend the Criminal Code, and number two, it would amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
In terms of Criminal Code changes, as I understand it, the bill would deal with subsection 161(1) of the Criminal Code, which allows conditions to be placed on offenders who receive conditional discharges for sexual offences. This discharge is sometimes granted in cases where the offence carries no minimum sentence and a maximum possible sentence of less than 14 years. In this case, as I understand it, the accused would not have a criminal record if all of the conditions imposed as part of the conditional discharge were respected.
Bill C-489 seeks to add to the list of conditions that may be imposed by a judge. This is a very specific list, and as I understand it, the judge cannot impose conditions beyond this list. It is important that a specific point be made in adding this condition, because it is not something the judge could impose if he or she saw fit. We are talking about the condition that an offender must be no closer than two kilometres from the house where he or she knows or ought to know that the victim is alone. Similarly, another condition would be that the offender would not be allowed to be in a private vehicle with any person under the age of 16 without his or her guardians' consent.
It is important to note that the list of possible conditions in this instance is finite. There is no flexibility here for the judge to impose other conditions beyond those listed. Therefore, this is the only place where adding conditions might make sense, since it gives the sentencing judge the ability to prohibit the offender from living near the victim. As I said, it is important to specify the condition, because there is no latitude for the judge to impose it.
In the bill there is also a restriction on contacting victims. I am not sure if it pertains to those who have committed sexual offences. The bill extends the list of conditions the court must, or shall, prescribe for offenders on probation.
At the moment, section 732.1 of the code has two sets of conditions. One set is conditions the judge shall impose. The second set is conditions the judge may impose.
In this case, the bill would add a new “shall” condition. The court would have to impose this condition on an offender, for example, who is on probation or is under a conditional sentence. If it chose not to impose the condition, the court would have to explain, in writing, why it was not choosing to add this condition.
We understand the intent of this part of the bill. What I would say is that, at the moment, the list of possible conditions for probation orders and conditional sentences both include “such other reasonable conditions as the court considers desirable.” In other words, in this case, the judge has the latitude to impose conditions that are not specifically prescribed on a list. Presumably, the court could already order offenders not to have contact with their victims or not to visit certain places, if it saw fit to do so.
The point I am trying to make is that unlike the first amendment, about staying within two kilometres of where the victim would be residing, in this case, we have to ask ourselves if this particular amendment to the Criminal Code is necessary, given that the court already has the latitude to impose this condition.
I congratulate the hon. member for bringing this bill forward. I know that he is attempting to address a very serious flaw in our criminal justice system. I look forward to discussing and studying the bill at committee so that we can see and understand the extent to which the bill achieves its stated goals.