Mr. Speaker, it is never an easy thing to talk about a subject that concerns people who have been the victims of crimes such as violence or sexual assault. I can very clearly imagine the victims’ frame of mind.
Although the legislation permits a certain level of control over the accused or the person convicted of a crime, the restrictions with regard to the victim are not enforced immediately. At the moment, these restrictions are the responsibility of wardens, the Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada, and the Parole Board of Canada.
Bill C-489 makes it mandatory to impose certain provisions, which until now have been imposed on an ad hoc basis. This should help the victims of crime feel safer while at the same time giving them the tools they need to know what is happening with their attacker once the sentence has been handed down. Unlike other measures that have resulted from the Conservatives’ “tough on crime” mentality, I must admit that the bill is just common sense and it should be allowed to continue its course. I will therefore support the bill at second reading.
That said, I recommend that the government hold all the necessary consultations—I repeat, all the necessary consultations—and listen to what all those involved have to say, in order to draft legislation that is truly appropriate.
I am in favour of the bill because I fully support measures that promote fairness and protect victims. I approve of this measure in the same way and in the same spirit as I would approve of subsidized housing, for example. It is a social justice issue. It goes without saying that some victims of crime have suffered immeasurably. My desire to help them arises not from sensationalism, but from the point of view of a world where everyone is treated fairly. From this perspective, it makes sense to try to offer greater peace of mind to those who have lived through difficult and disturbing events.
That being said, the NDP will consult with victims’ groups in order to find out whether Bill C-489 really responds to their needs or whether it will only apply in rare cases. We have an opportunity to listen to them and draft a bill that is based on fact. We must seize this opportunity at any cost, and work together with the citizens of this country.
In addition to listening to what victims of crime have to say, I would also like to ensure the bill is scrupulously constitutional. Bill C-489 has all the elements for success, but we know that there is a weakness in terms of clause 1, the clause amending subsection 161(1) of the Criminal Code.
This reservation comes from the clerk of the Subcommittee on Private Members' Business, who expressed concerns about the constitutionality of such a measure, one of his reasons being because the offender is expected to know the address of the victim’s residence. It should be noted that the committee nevertheless deemed the bill votable. It is surely not a shortcoming that is impossible to correct, and I am convinced that we will be able to clarify the matter before third reading.
In order to give the victims of crime the best protection we can, I think it is important to consider these few reservations. We have before us an opportunity to improve Bill C-489 and give Canadians a bill that lives up to their expectations.
Furthermore, it is interesting to mention the point of view of Michael Spratt, of the Criminal Lawyers' Association of Ontario. In Mr. Spratt's view, Bill C-489 may be difficult to enforce in its current state, because it may lead to disproportionate measures.
This bill is quite restrictive because of the mandatory nature of the measures it puts in place.
In addition, there are already provisions that impose a minimum distance of 100 metres between the criminal and the victim, and others that prohibit contact between those on probation and their victims. We know that it is not always a simple matter to ensure this is respected.
Mr. Spratt concluded that Bill C-489 would be difficult to enforce in small communities, as well as in urban areas, as the distances are smaller. In his view, the fact that the bill could technically be used in an extreme way in the case of relatively minor offences threatens its constitutionality.
These are interesting issues that have been brought forward by someone who knows what he is talking about. We will therefore have to consider the bill in greater detail and ensure that everything is correct. After all, if the Conservatives are defending the constitutionality of an institution as antiquated as the Senate, surely they will not have any problem refining Bill C-489.
I will not go as far as to say, as Mr. Spratt did, that the bill is a disproportionate response to very specific cases, but this is my own opinion. I think that there is in fact room for providing better protection for victims of crime. For instance, the bill could allow victims to have more information about the stages in their attacker's correctional process.
It may well be very worrying for a victim to be unaware of what is happening to the person who caused him harm, once the sentence has been handed down. Will the offender be getting out of prison soon? What is his behaviour like? Has he begun the rehabilitation process? For a person who has suffered enormously from someone else’s actions, it may be reassuring to believe that it is possible to correct deviant behaviour.
Furthermore, this is the underlying principle of our correctional system. I am pleased to see that the Conservatives all believe that a person can change and correct his behaviour, as it partly opens the door to many options that the core of their “tough on crime” approach obsolete.
In conclusion, I would like to say that I support Bill C-489 at second reading because I believe we must help victims of crime for the simple reason that it is fair to do so. However, I urge the House to listen carefully to the recommendations made by those who are the most affected by considering the recommendations made by groups representing victims of crime.