Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to thank my colleague, the member for Oxford, once again for his demonstrated commitment to supporting victims of crime. Whether it is his great work as a member of Parliament or his numerous years as a law enforcement officer, he has spent his life keeping Canadians safe.
It was this member who brought forward the bill we are discussing today, which would further strengthen victims' participation in the corrections and conditional release systems.
As all members of the House know, our Conservative government has taken strong action to support victims of crime. We believe that the criminal justice system must provide victims with an opportunity to have their voices heard.
Since 2006, we have established the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime to provide information on victims' rights and services for victims, to receive complaints, and to raise awareness of victims' concerns among policy-makers and in the justice system. We have also made the rights of victims a priority in our reforms to the justice system and have recently followed through on our commitment in the Speech from the Throne to introduce legislation to create a Canadian victims bill of rights.
Our government is determined to do more and will continue to listen to the concerns being raised by victims. Our commitment is that we will act on victims' concerns to ensure that we provide them with the support they need.
Simply put, an escorted temporary absence is a short temporary release of an inmate into the community under escort. There are two types of ETAs. These are rehabilitative and non-rehabilitative. As it stands now, ETAs for inmates serving minimum life sentences must first be approved by the Parole Board of Canada before being authorized by Correctional Service Canada. This scheme is found in the Criminal Code, which states that the Parole Board of Canada has to approve ETAs for inmates serving minimum life sentences from the start of a life sentence up until he or she reaches day parole eligibility.
Once an inmate reaches day parole eligibility, Correctional Service Canada's authorization of ETAs is no longer subject to the Parole Board of Canada's approval. In other words, if an inmate who is serving a life sentence is never granted parole, Correctional Service Canada remains the releasing authority for ETAs for the remainder of the sentence.
The Criminal Code also states that although the Parole Board has the authority to approve ETAs up until day parole eligibility, Correctional Service Canada has the authority to grant temporary absences for medical reasons, court proceedings, or coroners' inquests at any time in an inmate's life sentence. While the current regime works well in that almost all ETAs are successfully completed, we feel that it is important to consider the position of victims.
Prior to the introduction of this bill, we heard from victims that the Parole Board of Canada needed greater decision-making authority over these types of absences. During the study of the bill, committee members were given an opportunity to hear first-hand how the ETA scheme currently operates and what concerns members of the public have about the current system. Among the witnesses who appeared at committee were victims support groups and victims themselves, who shared their concerns about the current system and questioned why ETA releasing authority is transferred to Correctional Service Canada.
We heard from a witness who said that victims are asking for an open, transparent, and accountable system. On the point of accountability, we heard that the current ETA system does not go far enough in terms of adequate checks and balances. Victims believe that the power to grant ETAs more appropriately belongs within the Parole Board of Canada, through which it is felt there is increased rigour and accountability involved in making these types of release decisions. Our government wholeheartedly agrees.
Bill C-483 would do just what victims have asked us to do. It would give the Parole Board of Canada almost exclusive authority to grant ETAs to inmates who are serving minimum life sentences. That is the primary reason we support this proposed legislation.
That being said, our government felt it was important to introduce amendments at committee to ensure the sound application of the measures laid out in this proposed legislation. We are pleased that two government motions were adopted at committee stage. These motions would work in tandem to give the Parole Board of Canada greater authority over escorted temporary absences. The bill, as amended, would ensure that the Parole Board would maintain decision-making authority for ETAs after an inmate reached day parole eligibility. In other words, the amendment would ensure that decision-making authority for ETAs would not continue to be automatically transferred to Correctional Service Canada once an inmate reached his or her day parole eligibility date.
We have also ensured that Correctional Service Canada wardens would have limited authority to authorize ETAs for inmates serving minimum life sentences. Under the proposed scheme, if an inmate was never granted a rehabilitative ETA, or if an inmate was unable to successfully complete this type of ETA, the Parole Board would remain the releasing authority for the entirety of his or her custodial sentence.
By virtue of our amendments, the only time rehabilitative ETAs would be granted by Correctional Service Canada is if an inmate successfully completed a rehabilitative ETA after day parole eligibility. Only at that time would CSC be able to take over as releasing authority.
Although the proposed scheme would allow ETA releasing authority to be transferred to CSC in limited circumstances, we would also ensure that the authority could revert back to the Parole Board as needed. When would this occur? If an inmate failed to successfully complete an ETA authorized by CSC, releasing authority would go back to the Parole Board.
These amendments respect the spirit of the bill, which is to ensure that the ETA decision-making authority stays almost exclusively in the hands of the Parole Board of Canada. In addition to respecting the intended objective of the bill, the amendments would also ensure legislative harmony between the ETA scheme in the Criminal Code and the scheme we are proposing in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
The ETA schemes in both pieces of legislation would work together to ensure that the Parole Board had greater authority over escorted temporary absences for inmates serving minimum life sentences. The Criminal Code would continue to give the Parole Board authority to approve ETAs from the start of a life sentence up until day parole eligibility. Once at day parole eligibility, the ETA scheme we are proposing in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act would take over and would state that the Parole Board would continue to have decision-making authority over ETAs.
This bill builds on the strong measures we have taken to support victims of crime and to improve our federal correctional system. I hope that all members will support us in our goal to improve the rights of victims, and I ask for full support to pass this bill as amended.