Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleagues for their customary support. Today, I am pleased to be speaking to An Act to enact the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights and to amend certain Acts.
I should point out that we will be supporting this bill at second reading. That said, we are not giving the government a blank cheque, that is for sure. We are supporting this bill so that it can be studied properly in committee and so that we can hear from experts, witnesses and perhaps even victims. We want to amend this less-than-perfect bill. We will support it so that we can work together to improve the situation.
We clearly want to provide victims of crime with tangible support. However, for that to happen, we need to be sure that this bill of rights is not just empty rhetoric. I personally have never been a victim of crime, but I can put myself in a victim's shoes. I know it would not be fun.
A responsible government that promises such measures to victims of crime—people who have gone through difficult experiences—should implement those measures properly, by listening to experts. People on the front lines also need to be able to implement them.
I should also point out that we have been waiting for the government to do something about this for eight years. I say “we”, but of course I mean that victims, too, have been waiting for the government to do something. The government promised in 2006 to give us this bill of rights. Why did victims have to wait eight years? For that whole time, they have not had these tools, they have not had any help coping. It is appalling that they were made to wait so long.
Ministers held press conferences and photo ops and promised all kinds of things, but they never actually did anything. Now we have something, but as I said earlier, we really have to make sure that this is not just pie in the sky and that it will really be done. In the meantime, victims are still waiting. The government cannot keep human beings waiting so long when these are such serious and sensitive issues.
Another problem with this bill is that it creates no legal obligation for people working in the justice system to implement the rights that are being given to victims. The government is setting up a system, but it is not making sure that anything will really happen and has told us nothing about how it is supposed to happen. Will this law just gather dust while they talk about how we have a bill of rights? That is what I am afraid of. I wonder about that.
Does the government really care about victims, or did it just introduce this bill to look good? We will find out what the government's real intentions are when we look at this bill in committee. Will the government not just hear from experts but really listen to them? Will it take all of this into consideration? I will give the government the benefit of the doubt, but I sure am looking forward to finding out what it is going to do with all this.
I would like to talk about some of the highlights of Bill C-32. First, it broadens the definition of “victim” to include individuals who have suffered property damage, physical or emotional harm or economic loss. It also clarifies the fact that the spouse of a victim can testify if the victim is dead or incapable of acting on their own behalf if the conjugal relationship has lasted for at least one year, of course.
It is still a good improvement and it is important that it be implemented.
The bill also changes the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to permit victims to see a photograph of the offender at the time of his release, because his appearance may have changed, for example.
It can be difficult for victims to know that their attacker is free to walk the streets when they do not know what he looks like or where he has ended up. The bill also allows victims to obtain information about the offender, his progress in relation to his correctional plan, and his release date and conditions of release.
In my opinion, victims have a right to this information, and this really must be implemented and enforced.
The bill also makes this interesting improvement:
The enactment amends the Canada Evidence Act to provide that no person is incompetent, or uncompellable, to testify for the prosecution by reason only that they are married to the accused.
Bill C-32 also creates a mechanism that allows victims to file a complaint with federal and provincial departments if they feel that their charter rights were violated. Here again, we see that there is no legal obligation for stakeholders to put all this in place. Will this really be done and will victims really be able to file complaints with departments without having to fill out a ton of paperwork and take serious legal action?
We know that victims of crime are sometimes vulnerable and have difficulty coping with the situation. Will the government really help these people to do what needs to be done? I look forward to seeing that happen.
Finally, the bill also codifies the right to make a restitution order and specifies that the victim surcharge must be paid within the reasonable time established by the lieutenant governor of the province in which it is imposed.
I would like the government to specify what constitutes a “reasonable time”. I know it is a small detail. However, it is not a small thing for victims because a reasonable period of time could be two years, five years or even six months. I think it is important for victims to have that information.
In any case, we can hardly say no to this bill. We support it because victims need a bill of rights to protect them. However, we question some aspects of the bill. The necessary resources for implementing these measures have not been included in the bill, and I want to see those. I want to see how the government is going to implement this bill, who is going to work on it and how. That is what we need to see in this bill.
We are going to hear from experts in committee, and I truly hope that the government will consider what they have to say because, unlike us, they work in the field. We will see whether the government is open to real consultation or whether it plans on imposing a bill unilaterally and without consultation, just to look good. We will also see whether this bill really meets the needs identified by experts and victims.
I will gladly answer any questions.