Mr. Speaker, like so many of my colleagues, I am happy to be able to speak today with respect to my colleague's private member's bill, Bill C-489, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (restrictions on offenders).
I am proud to support this bill. It is another great piece of legislation that has been brought forward either by our government or members of our government who bring forward what I like to describe as, in many cases, common sense and practical solutions to some of the issues that are facing our criminal justice system today.
It reminds me of a couple of other pieces of legislation that we have brought forward, for example, when we brought forward the issue with victim surcharges. Part of the problem in that case was that judges were not imposing the surcharge, and when they did not, they were supposed to give written reasons. We found out that 90% of the time that surcharges were not imposed, the judges did not actually give written reasons. We made it mandatory that those victim surcharges would be put in place.
This bill would continue to support our agenda to make sure that our streets and communities are safe for all Canadians. It does it in a couple of meaningful ways, and I will go into that as I speak about it.
In a quick summary, the bill would ensure that sentencing courts and parole boards more regularly impose conditions when appropriate to prohibit specific types of contact between offenders and their victims. It proposes that such conditions be imposed to protect witnesses and other individuals who need similar protection.
Again, I say these kinds of things that are being brought forward just make sense. If we asked the average person if there should be conditions to prohibit types of conduct between offenders and victims, people would say, “Yes, that makes sense”.
I am not surprised that in many instances the opposition and opposition members would suggest this bill is not necessary, because the current law already provides that this could take place, but that is the problem. These conditions are not being put in place in many circumstances.
That is the same issue as the victim surcharge issue. For example, in this case, prohibition orders always include three mandatory conditions. These conditions are to keep the peace and be of good behaviour, of course the promise to appear when required, and to notify the court or probation officer in advance of any change of name or address, or any change of employment or occupation.
A sentencing court may also impose any of the optional conditions that are set out in subsection 732.1(3) of the Criminal Code, which includes drug and alcohol prohibitions, restrictions against travel, weapon prohibitions, requirements to support dependants and community service conditions.
The list of mandatory and optional conditions does not include conditions that restrict contact between offenders and victims. This is what I go back to when I say these reforms are such common sense things. One would think that would be at the top of the agenda, restricting contact between the perpetrator of a crime and the victim of a crime. Sentencing courts are also not required to provide reasons when they do not choose to do that. I would submit that makes absolutely no sense when we take a moment to think about it.
Lastly, subsection 732.1(g.1) provides a residual condition under which a court may impose reasonable conditions that are desirable for protecting society and for facilitating the offender's successful reintegration into the community. It is only pursuant to this residual provision that a sentencing court has the authority to impose a condition that would limit contact between the victim and the offender, or prevent the offender from moving across the street from the victim. It is a residual provision.
This is why a reform like this is so absolutely necessary. There are some examples in the case law where sentencing courts have imposed conditions restricting contact between offenders and their victims. For instance, in the case of R v. Horton, the offender, a G20 demonstrator, was made subject to a condition of non-contact with a named police officer who was a victim of the offender's actions.
That said, the appellate decision on the use of this provision underlined the problems with respect to its use in limiting contact between offenders and their victims. Specifically, the courts may refuse such conditions if by their nature they act against the successful reintegration of the offender. This is upside down. This is topsy-turvy. This is what we are talking about. We are putting the rights of the person who perpetrated a crime ahead of the rights of a victim. These imbalances need to be addressed in our justice system.
The Supreme Court of Canada stressed that in order for the probation order conditions to be lawful, they must not offend the objectives of protecting society or the successful reintegration of the offender. It is saying both are important and have to be given due consideration. Two Supreme Court of Canada cases, R. v. Proulx and R. v. Shoker, were very clear about this principle. There must be a nexus between the condition imposed, the offender's behaviour, the protection of society and the successful reintegration of the offender into society. We are trying to reinstitute that balance to make sure that the victim and protection of society is going to be back in that equation. However, as I said, the offender's interests supersedes the rights of the victim and the protection of society, and that is exactly what we are going to address with this legislation.
A good example of this can be found in the decision of R. v. Rowe, where the Ontario Court of Appeal found that a condition directing a repeat domestic violent offender to stay out of the province of Ontario for the duration of the probation order would be an obstacle to the successful reintegration of the offender, a repeat domestic violent offender. That kind of an order is an obstacle to reintegration. What about the obstacle to the victim? That is what we are trying to put back into focus. This is a problem that makes relying on the existing provision difficult and why we need this reform.
As I stated before, the courts are not required to provide reasons for not imposing such conditions, so we do not even know if that condition was considered by the judge or why the judge considered it and did not impose it. These are the kinds of problems that we have with the existing legislation. As a result of this, non-contact conditions simply fall through the cracks, and victims are asking why no one thought about them, why are they falling through the cracks? These are important reforms.
Bill C-489 proposes a real sound solution to the problem that we are talking about. I go back to this again. What I say often is that it is common sense. When explained to average people on the street that we are making this kind of a change, they are shocked that the law did not provide for this before. They cannot believe it. The justice committee is studying some of the changes to not criminally responsible, and we let them know what some of the changes are. People cannot believe that the changes that we are proposing are not already in existence now.
Bill C-489 proposes to amend the probation provisions to make it mandatory for the courts to impose non-contact conditions, unless there are exceptional circumstances not to do so or unless the victim or other individuals mentioned in the order consent. This is going to give more protection, more mental protection as well, to victims. Imagine that a perpetrator continues to be in contact with a victim of domestic violence. The victim will ask why some kind of prohibition order was not put in place.
Many of the concerns I have identified are applicable to other orders. This is why Bill C-489 proposes that the same types of conditions be mandatory for conditional sentence orders imposed by sentencing courts and for all conditional releases imposed by the Parole Board of Canada.
This bill would also require courts to consider imposing such conditions in all child sex offender peace bonds. This just makes sense. It is a reform that we absolutely need to move forward with.
Victims, their families and witnesses need the protection of the courts and parole authorities when an offender is released into the community. We have to get this done; it is going to provide more safety and ensure that witnesses and victims are protected.
This legislation is consistent with our government's commitment to putting victims' rights back on the agenda. That is why I am proud to support the bill.