Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to speak to Bill C-489. However, I definitely do not share the enthusiasm of my colleague who has just spoken.
I will explain that. I have had the honour of serving on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and having the opportunity to examine various private members’ bills brought forward by Conservative members. I will not pretend that it has not been somewhat dismaying to see the Conservatives’ remarkable talent for transforming gold into lead, using some process of alchemy that completely exceeds my powers of comprehension.
I sound like I am teasing or trying to make a joke about it, but we must always be very careful when we embark on amending the Criminal Code. This is fundamental, because the Criminal Code is very complex and has very wide application. Amendments can sometimes create more complications than solutions, at least when they are made without due care and attention.
However, I have to say that the bill introduced by the member for Langley is in fact very important. What is particularly worthwhile about it is that it potentially offers some real measures to protect and support victims of crime. That is what my New Democratic colleagues on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights will be looking at very closely. I have absolutely no doubt of that.
We cannot deny that the bill is relatively promising. What concerns me, first, is the marketing job being done by the member for Langley and his colleagues. By focusing attention on the protection of minors, they are pandering to their political base. They are tugging at people’s heartstrings and then trying to score an easy goal in an area like this.
This is a very debatable approach. However, compared to a number of bills proposing Criminal Code amendments that were very punitive and went down the road of lengthening sentences for criminals, without a thought for victims, this is something innovative and different. As I said, it is promising, from what I have been able to see of it.
First of all, we will have to see what the effect of this bill is and what problem it will remedy. I am going to cite a case in Quebec City that received a lot of media coverage, the case of police officer Sandra Dion, who was a victim of a violent crime. She was assaulted with a screwdriver and was very traumatized. The worst thing is that Ms. Dion learned that the offender who had savagely attacked her, and who has psychiatric problems, was potentially eligible to live in a halfway house in Quebec City near her own home. This distressed her enormously. She reacted by moving to Ottawa for a few days. In fact, she came to try to meet with members and make them aware of her case, particularly members of the party in power. Her efforts met a somewhat disappointing fate.
However, based on her testimony and her case, and other similar cases, we can perhaps hope to improve the bill or at least determine whether it covers her situation. If not, we should improve the bill so she will have a way of getting what is needed so she can have some assurance of her safety and some influence over the situation and the release of the assailant who savagely attacked her.
I should note that Ms. Dion was in fact able to use the existing system to ensure that the authorities who supported releasing her assailant did not send him to the halfway house that had been planned, because it was not equipped to handle him, given his very significant medication needs.
As I said, I will support the bill at second reading because I have confidence in the work that will be done at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
I would nonetheless like to share some concerns with my colleagues. When I was a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I observed the Conservative members' very bad knee-jerk response as they sought to limit the powers of the judges and other authorities who carry out decisions.
I understand that some decisions made by the courts can sometimes be difficult for the public to understand, and decisions can seem out of sync with the media reports of a case, which unfortunately often do not tell the whole story.
Our justice system is predicated on the presumption of innocence. Obviously, it then provides for justice to be done, both for the complainant and for the defendant. If we do not maintain that balance, what confidence can all of the parties involved, not to mention the general public, have in our justice system?
When we too readily do an injustice, and do it repeatedly, it may offer a false sense of security, and that can lead to a great many problems in our society. There is nothing worse than an innocent person having to suffer the stigma associated with a charge and the impossibility or serious difficulty of restoring their good name or being able to shed all of the suspicion they have been tarred with.
To come back to the accused persons who are affected by the bill, we must never forget that every case is unique, although the law tries to cover all cases. One of the ideals is to make rules and provisions that apply generally and allow for some individualized interpretation or involvement by judges, with the help of the justice system and the lawyers, both for the Crown and for the defence. Instead of easily applying a strict rule that is inappropriate in some cases, the judgment of justice system experts can be applied in an individualized manner.
That is something that will have to be investigated and ascertained when the bill goes to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I cannot emphasize that enough. I am in fact confident that my colleagues on the justice committee want to take a good look at this aspect, and I am going to watch the proceedings very closely.
To conclude, I cannot emphasize enough that, as I said at the outset, what is most worthwhile about the bill brought forward by the member for Langley is that it opens the door part-way to concrete measures that will potentially assist victims of crime in order to provide them with support. I think this is really the point we have to focus on. We have to hold onto that so we can find common ground, so we can propose a bill that will amend the targeted provisions in fairly and efficiently and genuinely protect the public interest.
I will hold onto that thin ray of hope.