Mr. Speaker, it is with some trepidation that I rise today to speak to Bill C-32, An Act to enact the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights and to amend certain Acts. I say trepidation because I have an unlimited respect and admiration for the resilience of victims of crime. That is why we, as Canadian parliamentarians, do not have the right to mess things up by making victims believe or hope for options that the law would not offer them.
I have to say at the outset that I will support this bill at second reading so that it can be considered in committee, where numerous experts who are much more qualified than I am will give us their insight. We will then be able to improve this bill, which, by many accounts, already has flaws that we must address before it becomes law. It would indeed be embarrassing to pass Bill C-32 only to see it fail to reach its goals.
I must admit that the Conservatives' strategy makes me uneasy. It took them eight years to put forward such a flawed proposal, but, during all that time, they tried to score political points by holding press conferences and photo ops.
The NDP, however, has always supported victims' rights. We will continue to consult victims' groups and specialists to determine how to really help victims. If creating a victims bill of rights is indeed the right approach, and if it is to be more than simple lip service, then it must be properly backed up with the resources it needs. At this point in the debate, Bill C-32 still makes no mention of funding. The devil may be in the details, but it seems to me that resources are more than mere details. I am legitimately concerned that the bill will be just for show, a simple list of principles, rather than the outcome of a genuine desire to support victims.
A good number of people who work with victims share my concerns. Steve Sullivan, the first ombudsman for victims of crime, has accused the Minister of Justice of not living up to his promises. In a CBC interview on April 3, he said that the bill itself was fine, the main problem being that the Minister of Justice had failed to live up to his promise to put victims at the heart of the justice system. He expressed some concern that many victims would only read the headlines rather than taking the time to read the actual bill, which would lead them to believe that the system has fundamentally changed when in fact it has not.
We are just as concerned as Mr. Sullivan is, and we will do everything we can so that the bill achieves the stated goals.
I could quote dozens of other people who worry that, as it is now, Bill C-32 does not seem able to meet expectations.
Our job and main objective in committee will be to make sure that the Canadian victims bill of rights fits into the Canadian judicial system, meets victims' expectations and responds to the recommendations they made.
For the people who are watching us, I would like to summarize the recommendations in nine simple and easy-to-understand points: enforceable and usable; integrated, accessible and simple services and resources with minimum standards across the country; inclusive definition of victim to include anyone in Canada harmed by crime; equitable, respectful and individualized; voice and standing; right to information; financial protection and support; psychological support and resources; and limited opportunities for offenders to profit from crimes or reoffend.
I agree this is an ambitious agenda. At first glance, we must recognize that the proposed bill of rights meets some of these requirements. For example, it broadens the definition of a crime victim and it codifies the right of victims to information, protection, participation and restitution.
However, this bill of rights does not create legal obligations for other stakeholders in the judicial system. It simply provides access to a vague mechanism to file complaints with various federal departments, agencies and organizations that have a role to play in the justice system when victims' rights are infringed.
As with many other Conservative bills, this bill seems to lack the means to fulfill its ambitions. It seems that no specific funds have yet been allocated to implement these complaint mechanisms or help out the provinces. The bill of rights also contains limitation clauses stipulating that the proposed rights have to be exercised in a reasonable way.
“Reasonable”, that is the kind of weasel wording that causes confusion and that, unfortunately, is a trademark of the Conservatives. They used the same kind of wording in other bills. I could, for instance, mention the concept of “suitable employment”, which creates a major headache in the implementation of the new employment insurance system. The Conservatives seem to be masters at including deliberately undefined and confusing weasel words allowing the government to renege on its commitments as soon as things heat up.
This is why we hope that the bill will be thoroughly studied, clause by clause, in committee under the eyes of experts who are much more qualified than your humble servant. I will support this bill at second reading mostly so that we can study it thoroughly.
We sincerely hope that partisanship will give way to an effective and determined effort to seek the best solutions possible so that we can offer victims more than hope, namely the means to take action and the resources to do so.
Mr. Speaker, I had promised to follow up on some testimonies from people who expressed their concerns about Bill C-32. I am therefore keeping my promise so that we can be prepared to find answers for the issues we are considering in committee.
I would like to quote Mrs. Lori Triano-Antidormi, the mother of a murder victim and psychologist. While going through her own tragedy, she helps other victims overcome hardships. Here is what she told us: “This bill will create false hopes for victims.” Let us hope that we will be able to allay her fears about that.
The Association québécoise plaidoyer-victimes also welcomes the bill. The Association points out, however, that the bill of rights will be effective only if the mechanisms giving the victims recourse when their rights have been infringed upon are truly accessible, and if we allocate the resources to make that happen.
A more scathing comment came from Mr. Frank Addario, a criminal lawyer. He said:
The Conservative government's agenda is to position itself as tough on crime, even though it knows its measures have little real-world effect.
As you can see, these quotes show a wide range of perspectives. While everyone wants to give the government the benefit of the doubt, hoping that the bill will materialize and really meet the expectations that it created, there is also some degree of skepticism and concern. These three examples really highlight the challenge we are facing and the government's responsibility to be open and responsive to suggestions at the committee stage.
If the past is any indication, it does not bode well, as the Conservatives have often proven unreceptive, even closed-minded, when their proposals or methods have come into question.
I sincerely hope that, when it comes to Bill C-32, our empathy for the victims' tragedies will bring us together as compassionate human beings, rather than divide us into different camps based on our party's colours.