Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate because it is of extreme importance to all of us. The previous member just said how important it is and I would agree with him, although there will be some areas, I suspect, where we may not be in so much agreement.
Today I will focus my remarks on offender accountability, a key part of Bill C-26, the tougher penalties for child predators act. Indeed, our government has always placed considerable focus on improving our criminal justice system in order to shift more accountability onto offenders. The fact is that most offenders will eventually be returned to the community after incarceration. As such, our correctional system is set up to provide offenders with proper treatment and support, as required, to help them work through rehabilitation and eventual reintegration into the community.
The Correctional Service of Canada has a comprehensive program in place that helps guide offenders toward the right pathway to address the needs that led to criminal behaviour, including programs that address substance abuse, violent behaviour, sexual offences and mental health issues, among many others. Ultimately, the bulk of responsibility for successful rehabilitation and reintegration must rest with the offender.
Our government has made a number of changes to respond to the concerns of victims. In particular, in 2012, the Safe Streets and Communities Act put in place a number of measures that focus on offender accountability by expressly requiring in legislation that every offender has a correctional plan. We have created an environment in which offender accountability is placed at the forefront.
From the moment offenders enter the federal correction system, it is made clear that they must follow a well-defined correctional plan that includes expectations for behaviour, as well as objectives for the program participation and for meeting court-ordered obligations such as restitution to victims or child support. This is done in collaboration with offenders, so they take part in building that program.
Before I go any further, I would like to inform the House that I will be sharing my time with the member for Okanagan—Coquihalla.
We have also modernized the current disciplinary system, creating new disciplinary offences for disrespectful and intimidating behaviour either toward staff or inmates. Once outside the institution, offenders are also expected to continue on the right path.
Peace officers can now arrest, without warrant, an offender who they believe to be in breach of a condition related to the offender's conditional release and offenders who receive a new custodial sentence automatically have their parole or statutory release suspended. We have recently taken further steps to assist in offender rehabilitation by supporting amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act regarding vexatious complaints. We now have a process in place that promotes offender accountability by encouraging inmates to resolve problems through appropriate means rather than burdening the complaint and grievance system with frivolous complaints.
We have introduced the drug-free prisons act, which would amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to provide the Parole Board of Canada with additional legislative tools to ensure that parole applicants who failed drug tests would be denied parole. Addressing offender behaviour while individuals are incarcerated is critical.
We have also reinstated the accountability of offenders act, legislation that, if passed, will require offenders to pay off any debts they owe to society before receiving any monetary award resulting from legal action against the Crown. Just as important is making it clear that offenders must continue to address their needs and make proper choices once they are released from penitentiary.
The parole system is set up to help offenders do just this, using the appropriate checks and balances and oversight of offenders, depending on their criminal history and risk to society. While we have taken action to strengthen the conditional release system, some gaps remain that need to be addressed. It is critical, particularly when we consider the risk to our children, that we ensure a child sex offender cannot find a loophole in the law that gives him or her an opportunity to commit another such devastating crime.
That brings me to the legislation at hand.
A key tool we have to ensure police are aware of the location and other information on convicted sexual offenders is the national sex offender registry. Administered by the RCMP and accessible by police forces across the country, the registry contains vital information about convicted sex offenders, such as name and address, where they work, their physical description, and absences from their residence for seven days or more.
A number of amendments to the Sex Offender Information Registration Act came into force in 2011 to ensure that the registry is a proactive law enforcement tool that contains the names of all registered sex offenders.
While it is an important law enforcement tool, there are some gaps found within the act that need to be addressed. Specifically, the rules surrounding travel notification must be tightened as they relate to international travel of registered sex offenders who have committed a sexual offence against a child.
As we have heard, Bill C-26 would accomplish this in a number of ways. It would require offenders who have been convicted of child sex offences to report trips of any duration outside of Canada, as well as to provide information about the exact dates of travel and where they plan to stay while abroad. All other registered sex offenders would be required to report all addresses or locations in which they expect to stay, as well as expected dates of departure and return for trips of seven days or more within or outside Canada.
It would allow for information-sharing between the Canada Border Services Agency and officials with the national sex offender registry. This would add a safeguard measure at our borders to ensure offenders are following notification procedures and registration requirements. Further, it could help make investigations of crimes of a sexual nature possible.
The bill would also create a new stand-alone legislation that would create a national database that would be accessible to the general public. That database would contain information about high-risk child sex offenders who have been the subject of public notification in a province or territory.
There are also several amendments proposed to the Criminal Code that would increase penalties for child sex offenders and, particularly relevant to our push for more offender accountability, they would ensure that any crime committed while an offender is on parole, on unescorted temporary absence, on statutory release, or under a conditional sentence order would be considered an aggravating factor in the determination of a sentence for a new crime.
All told, these proposed measures would create a much stronger system that would place another level of accountability on convicted sex offenders; a system in which offenders would live with the knowledge that border services officers would be alerted to high-risk child sex offenders who travel abroad; a system in which high-risk child sex offenders know that any public notifications released about them in a specific province would now be available to the general public right across the country.
All of these measures would serve to emphasize to offenders the importance of following all conditions and making the right decision in order to remain in the community.
They would also build in another layer of safety and security for citizens who worry about registered sex offenders living and working in their communities and travelling throughout the country, as well as abroad.
I am proud to support these efforts and I ask all members in this House to join with me in giving the legislation a swift passage.