Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak on Bill C-489, a bill that proposes to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
I would like to begin by recognizing the member for Langley for his hard work in bringing this important bill forward.
I would like to start by commending the hard work done by the member for Langley to introduce this bill to the House.
Like others in the House, I am a relatively new member here. However, in the few years I have been the member for Okanagan—Coquihalla, I have already encountered the very challenging situation on which this bill proposes to take action. I suspect I am not the only parliamentarian who has encountered these difficult situations.
When a victim who has been violently sexually assaulted learns that the criminal responsible seeks to return to the very same neighbourhood where these crimes were committed, serious challenges arise. Likewise, when a child predator desires to return to a neighbourhood, there are similar challenges.
These are not hypothetical situations. In fact, there have been three such incidents occurring in my riding over the past few years. These situations re-victimize and create legitimate fear. In some situations, it is even worse. No citizens should be forced to live in fear within their own neighbourhood.
When these situations arise and fearful citizens meet with their elected representatives, they need our help. They need action. That is why I commend the member for Langley, as his bill creates new tools that would help find the solution to these challenging situations.
This bill would enhance the safety of victims, children and the public when an offender is released into their community. Specifically, the bill proposes to amend existing provisions that provide authority to impose conditions on offenders who are already subject to probation orders, conditional sentences, child sexual offender prohibitions, child sexual offender peace bonds and conditional release orders made pursuant to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which include parole and temporary absences from federal penitentiaries. These five different orders cover the vast majority of situations where criminal offenders are released into a community.
The amendments proposed in Bill C-489 would ensure that courts take into consideration the implications that contact could create between an offender and victims, their families and witnesses. As an example, some of the proposed amendments would create mandatory non-contact conditions, while others would create new legal tools for the court to impose similar conditions on a discretionary basis.
Currently, section 161 of the Criminal Code does provide sentencing courts with the discretion to impose post-release conditions on offenders convicted of child sexual offences. These conditions can include prohibitions from attending a public place such as a park, playground or community centre where children are present; seeking, obtaining or continuing any employment that involves being in a position of trust toward a child; having any contact with a child; and using the Internet. In contrast, Bill C-489 proposes to add two new conditions to this list that would allow a geographical condition restricting the offender from being within two kilometres of a home where a victim might be present without a parent or guardian, and the ability to prohibit an offender from being in a private vehicle with a child.
Bill C-489 also proposes important amendments to the list of mandatory conditions imposed upon an offender released into the community under a probation order, a conditional sentence order or a conditional release order made pursuant to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
In particular, it is proposed that sentencing courts or the Parole Board of Canada be required to prohibit offenders from communicating with victims, witnesses or other persons named in the order. This could also include a prohibition from going to any specified place.
What I view as important in Bill C-489 is that these conditions are considered mandatory. In other words, it becomes the default standard that in these situations offenders are prohibited from making contact with their victims.
However, Bill C-489 also recognizes that if exceptional circumstances exist, the court or parole board may choose not to impose them. In other words, there is still flexibility. However, the default standard is to protect the witness and not the offender. In these exceptional circumstances, the court or parole board would be required to provide written reasons for not imposing such a condition. This would bring increased accountability and transparency to the process.
Bill C-489 also proposes to amend peace bonds, as defined under section 810.1. Currently, peace bonds are court-imposed orders that are issued when there are reasonable grounds to believe that an individual may commit a child sexual offence. These orders may be in effect to a maximum of two years and can also be renewed. Currently, these orders contain conditions that a judge believes are appropriate in the circumstances to prevent an offender from committing a child sexual offence.
Bill C-489 proposes to add new discretionary conditions that could prohibit communication with a person identified in the order or prohibit going to any specified place identified in the order. These new conditions would not be mandatory, and as such, would maintain the current discretionary approach that could be used by judges in issuing these orders. Ultimately, I believe that the measures proposed in the bill would help to ensure victims were better protected from offenders.
There is no question that Bill C-489 would strengthen the tools of our justice system that could be used to prevent offenders released into a community from contacting victims or from travelling to other locations where such contact could occur. In other words, it would eliminate loopholes that can be exploited under our current system.
These proposals would also ensure that, by default, victims had protections that often can only occur under the present system after an unfortunate incident has occurred.
Victims of crime, their families and witnesses deserve this default level of protection from offenders. People deserve to feel safe in their communities. That is why I will be supporting Bill C-489 moving forward to committee for further review and study. I believe these amendments are important in helping to close existing loopholes and to better protect victims.
I sincerely believe that these amendments are essential to improving the Criminal Code's current provisions and ensuring better protection for the victims of crime.
I also believe that increased clarity and enhanced public safety provisions in the bill would be of benefit to offenders' long-term interests as well. The current system, in my view, allows too much potential for conflict and has too many loopholes. These amendments would increase public safety by better protecting the rights of victims and their loved ones.
I had the opportunity to teach martial arts professionally for 15 years. During that time I trained hundreds, if not thousands, of young persons to better protect themselves from child predators, to look out for themselves. One of the things I did during that time was to give them the tools to help protect them.
Recently, a child asked me if I missed teaching martial arts. I certainly do miss elements, but I am devoted to helping make sure children get the protection they need.
The member for Langley has put together some very important amendments that I feel would help close these loopholes and better protect these children. There are also the members for Kootenay—Columbia and for Brampton—Springdale. All of them have brought forward important amendments to help protect children.
I ask all hon. members to join with me and with the member for Langley and support these important changes that would help keep our families safe.