House of Commons Hansard #96 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was veterans.

Topics

Bill C-18—Time Allocation MotionAgricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Bill C-18—Time Allocation MotionAgricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Bill C-18—Time Allocation MotionAgricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Bill C-18—Time Allocation MotionAgricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Bill C-18—Time Allocation MotionAgricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Bill C-18—Time Allocation MotionAgricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #166

Agricultural Growth ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I declare the motion carried.

It being 5:52 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

moved that Bill C-479, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (fairness for victims), be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I say this every time, but it is indeed an honour to stand here at third reading stage of Bill C-479 to make these important and necessary amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

In the time since the chamber debated the bill at second reading, the Prime Minister launched the first ever Canadian victims bill of rights in early April. I am proud that Bill C-479 works in concert with this historic piece of federal legislation to better protect victims of crime and give them a much stronger voice in our criminal justice system.

In addition, I would like to acknowledge the ongoing and dedicated leadership of the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness when it comes to victims' rights. The Canadian victims bill of rights is just one of many initiatives on which they and their ministries are working.

I extend special thanks to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, the member for Scarborough Centre, for all of her support at the committee process and in readings of Bill C-479 in the House.

I also thank the members who sit on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security for all their comments, questions, and interest. I appreciate every one of them.

I would especially like to thank the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Sue O'Sullivan, for her frank advice before and during the crafting of Bill C-479. We are fortunate to have such an experienced, dedicated, and caring Canadian leading this office as our ombudsman. It has been a pleasure to get to know her better over the past couple of years through the process of this bill. I salute the good work she does, and I know the provisions of Bill C-479 will help in the work she and her office do on a daily basis. I would also encourage all of my colleagues to go to the office's website and watch the videos of the victims and their stories. It is very educational about what victims have to endure presently in the process they go through in regard to parole hearings.

As we consider Bill C-479 for third and final reading in the House before it moves to the other place, please allow me to recap what this bill would do. Bill C-479, an act to bring fairness for the victims of violent offenders, would make nine changes to modernize the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, so it can better protect and support victims of violent offenders. Let me please summarize this.

The bill would extend mandatory review periods for parole. This means that if an offender convicted of a more serious violent offence is denied parole, the Parole Board would have to review the case within five years rather than the current two years.

It would increase the period to within four years in which the Parole Board must review parole in cases of cancellation or termination of parole for an offender who is serving at least two years for an offence involving violence.

It would require that the Parole Board take into consideration the need for victims and victim's families to attend a hearing and observe the proceedings.

It would require that the Parole Board consider any victim impact statement presented by victims.

It would require the Parole Board, if requested, to provide victims with information about the offender's release on parole, statutory release, or temporary absence, as well as provide victims with information about the offender's correctional plan, including progress toward meeting its objectives.

It is important to remember Constable Michael Sweet, and again I remind the House that he is no relation to me. It is important to remember that case because he was brutally murdered by two brothers and they were sentenced for this terrible, heinous crime. There was only one thing Michael Sweet's family asked for. Their plea was simple. They said that the offenders committed the crime in public—in other words, they killed the father and husband of the family in public—they were tried in public, and the family simply said the Corrections and Conditional Release Act should be changed so that it would be known publicly that offenders were making some effort to be rehabilitated and become contributing citizens.

I do not think that is too big a request.

It also matters a lot to victims and families who have gone through a tremendous ordeal only to be re-victimized by the process. We have discussed many examples during the course of debate on the bill, so let me make three points as we embark on this hour of debate.

In the cross-country public consultations held by the government that led to the introduction of the Canadian victims bill of rights, which I have previously mentioned, the overwhelming and clear message was that victims of crime want increased participation in the criminal justice system. I would submit that Bill C-479 would do exactly this.

We know we must pay particular attention to instances of violent crime, crimes that are heinous, repugnant, calculated, and senseless. I would also submit to members in this House that Bill C-479 would do exactly this.

It is victims of violent offenders who we are looking to help and support with this bill.

The statistics on violent offences in this country that I cited at the bill's second reading are alarming. These are contained in the Sampson report of December 2007.

Nearly 60% of all people serving sentences of less than three years, at the time this report was done, had histories of violence, and one in six had known gang or organized crime affiliations.

To make real and meaningful change for victims and families of victims whose lives have been turned upside down by these violent offences, we must do two things well: strengthen the voice of victims of violent crime by providing additional support to victims in the parole process; and give the Parole Board of Canada the tools it needs with regard to review of detention periods with the option of increasing the time between parole hearings for violent offenders.

I would repeat to my colleagues in the House that we want to give the option, discretion, and tools to the Parole Board so that, case by case, it will know when to engage those tools we would give it through this bill.

Once again, I would submit to members in the House that Bill C-479 would do exactly this.

As I have acknowledged before, in developing a well-researched and well-thought-out bill, my office and I spoke numerous times with the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Ms. Sue O'Sullivan, and her office. Her testimony before the standing committee was certainly compelling.

I am pleased that some of the recommendations of her 2013 report, “Meeting the needs of victims of crime in Canada”, have been acted upon in Bill C-479—in particular, the rights of victims to good communication throughout the system, the use of technology in victims' statements presented at Parole Board hearings, and ensuring the parole process is more accommodating to victims' needs.

However, I also believe this bill has a sound basis when I look at other jurisdictions that are doing similar things.

As I noted before the standing committee, the Victims' Rights Act of New Zealand, instituted in 2002, has been a model for the world. Under the corresponding provisions of the New Zealand Parole Act of 2002, rights of victims are also enshrined, much as is being proposed in Bill C-479. Similarly, the basis is support and respect for victims.

In 2009, the New Zealand Ministry of Justice launched an extensive public consultation to further enhance victim support within its justice system. One of the areas it looked at, which is echoed in Bill C-479, is the modernizations I propose to reflect with the use of technology through video conference and links to oral statements delivered in regional offices via telecommunication.

This is expressly addressed to ensure victims have a strong voice in the process, but also to mitigate the re-victimization of victims and their families. The Victims of Crime Reform Bill, introduced to the Parliament of New Zealand, includes this provision.

The New Zealand victims of crime reform bill also included improvements to the victim notification system, again similar to the bill we have before us today. It would allow Canadian victims increased access to information about how offenders are progressing with their correctional plans and pertinent documents.

Aside from New Zealand, our friends in other great western democracies are also looking at these issues. The report by Ms. O'Sullivan and the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime looked at U.S. legislation, both at the federal and state level. Also, the United Kingdom's code of practice and the 2012 European directives on victim support and protection were also studied.

Once again, this underscores that Bill C-479 is both timely and appropriate.

Before closing, I would again like to acknowledge the hard work and many long hours of my staff in bringing this bill through each stage of the House of Commons process. I dearly appreciate their work.

In closing, I would like to conclude where I began when I first introduced Bill C-479.

As the House knows, I have attended Parole Board of Canada hearings with my constituents who are victims of a very violent offender. I have attended them on three such occasions now.

This is the case of Jon Rallo, who to this day still denies the triple murder he committed, the gruesome triple murder of my constituent's sister, niece, and nephew. The body of her nephew has never been found. It is believed to have been disposed of in waterways around the Hamilton area.

The most compelling moment each time has been when my constituent asks Mr. Rallo the same question in her victim impact statement at each hearing:

Why did you kill our family? What did you do with your son?

She never gets a response. The offender sits stone-faced. He feels no remorse. This is something the parole board noted carefully in its last decision before denying him full parole in 2013.

However, since he may reapply for parole again next year, we may go through the same reading of a similar impact statement, and the tears and emotion from the family that inevitably accompany them will happen again.

I think I need to mention just once more that because of the duty these families feel to their loved ones who have been murdered, part of the re-victimization is something that they shoulder, but we should do everything we can legislatively and by regulation to make that re-victimization as minimal as possible.

Watching it in person, I can say it is as dramatic an example of re-victimization as there ever could be. This is what motivates me to see Bill C-479 through to fruition. Let us get on with the job.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to start by expressing my thanks to the member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale for the work he has done in bringing this bill in front of us.

He has certainly been very dedicated to this issue, very dedicated to his constituents, and has gotten this bill to this stage in the House of Commons to make some significant improvements in the rights of victims in our system. I congratulate him for that.

I also congratulate the member for being willing to listen in committee, willing to listen and make improvements to the bill. The bill we have has been slightly amended to the point where we on this side of the House are very comfortable in supporting the bill.

My question for the member is around how we let victims know about the rights they now have in the system and the changes we are making. That is one of the things I have heard, that lots of victims do not realize the rights they have now, and now we are making some changes.

I wonder if the member has given any thought to how we can make sure victims realize they have some new rights and new possibilities within the legal system.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his very kind words and for his very constructive question.

I would hope that part of the informing process would be our collective efforts in the 308 ridings across the country. When I first launched the initiative, I did not know that the timing would be the way it was or the magnitude of the victims bill of rights, but since it complements the victims bill of rights quite well, I believe that part of the government's initiative will be to communicate that, and aspects of this bill will go along with it, hand-in-glove.

Since my colleague has raised it, I will be communicating on this specific question with the federal victims ombudsman's office to see exactly what tools it has. I am certain it will make sure victims know about this, as part of its mandate. Certainly, I will make sure I deliver any information it needs, so that it can push this information out and that victims will know all about it and can access their new rights that the bill provides.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Scarborough Centre Ontario

Conservative

Roxanne James ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale for bringing this very important legislation forward to improve victims rights throughout the parole process.

The member talked about victims feeling re-victimized. Being a member of that committee and the parliamentary secretary, I can say we heard from a number of victims. They brought stories forward of having to appear before parole hearing after parole hearing, sometimes less than two years apart. One witness said it was almost six months in between each hearing. It actually brought me to tears in that particular committee meeting.

I want to thank the member for bringing this legislation forward. It is important that the member mentioned that, by putting forward this legislation, we are not actually mandating that the period of review is now five years in between. It is actually an extension and an option for the Parole Board of Canada to hear these particular cases.

I just wonder if the member could comment on that and reiterate how important this legislation is for victims, to ensure that we are not re-victimizing them again and again.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's great question affords me the opportunity, in case there is ever any misunderstanding in this regard, to say that we thoroughly agree and understand that the parole process is part of the rehabilitative process for offenders to go through to be integrated into society. The best thing that can happen to people who are convicted of crimes and institutionalized is they come out rehabilitated and become contributing Canadian citizens. I want that to be clear.

The premise of the provisions in the bill is to give the Parole Board of Canada the tools so it can make judgments when offenders apply for parole. If offenders have been working diligently through their correction plans and want to make amends, want to be contributing Canadians, and want to ensure there is a large space between them and those who were victimized so they feel safe, then I think the Parole Board is professional enough that it will make the right decision and conduct the reviews early. For those who want to continue their victimization and behaviour, the bill would give the Parole Board the tools to decide not to conduct reviews until five years later.

That is the purpose and intention of the bill. I sincerely trust that the professionals with Parole Board of Canada will follow the spirit, as well as the letter, of the law.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in favour of Bill C-479 at third reading. As I said just a few minutes ago, we believe Bill C-479, as amended, contains important improvements in victims' rights.

Once again, I would like to thank the member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale for his efforts to bring this improvement to victims rights before the House and to third reading, where it now seems assured to pass.

There are many provisions in the bill which would be of clear benefit to victims. Indeed, some of these have already become a normal part of the practice in the corrections and parole system. However, we agree that it is a good idea to entrench these rights for victims by placing them in legislation.

These rights include: the right of victims or members of their family to be present at parole hearings; the right of victims to have their statements considered by the Parole Board of Canada in its decisions regarding offender release; expanding the manner in which victims' statements can be presented at parole hearings through the use of technology, among other things; and requiring that the communication of victims' information be considered by the board. In other words, the victims would have a right to see what the board has looked at, so they can understand how that decision has been made.

Also, they include making it obligatory to provide transcripts of parole hearings to victims and their families, and making it mandatory to inform victims when an offender is granted a temporary absence, or parole or is released at the end of their sentence.

These are all good things, but there is one area in which we remain disappointed. That is the unwillingness of the government to go further in a very important area. We were surprised to see the government reject an amendment from our side, which would have expanded victims' rights in a proposal that would have allowed victims to choose other means of observing parole hearings than appearing in person.

We believe victims have the right to observe parole hearings by video or teleconferencing if they so choose. Strangely, with the way things work right now, victims only have the right to observe those hearings by video or teleconference if Correctional Service Canada has banned them from appearing in person.

It is a strange quirk in the rules. If victims have made threats or been disruptive and Correctional Service Canada says that they cannot attend the parole hearings, they are then allowed to attend by videoconference or teleconference. We believe this right should be extended to all victims.

There are many good reasons why any victim might not want to make use of the right to observe in person. Some victims would prefer not to be in the same room as the offender, whether out of fear or revulsion.

It would also allow those victims who would otherwise have to travel to attend a hearing. Perhaps an offender has been transferred across the country and a hearing is in British Columbia and the victims live in Ontario. If they could attend by video or teleconference, they would not incur travel costs and they would not have to take time off from work.

Hearings far from home have become a problem for many victims. Again, we believe that if we extended them the right to choose to attend by videoconference or teleconference, it would be an important improvement.

We remain concerned about one aspect of the bill, which is the provision that was just mentioned by the member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale in his answer to the question from the parliamentary secretary. This is the provision that would give the Parole Board the discretion to extend the interval between parole hearings for those convicted of very serious crimes.

We have no problem with this provision when it is applied to those serving life sentences. In fact, we proposed to amend the bill to do just that. However, there is a risk that lengthening the discretionary period between reviews for those serving shorter sentences may inadvertently remove incentives for offenders to participate in rehabilitation programs.

In other words, if offenders are told that their hearings have been put off for four years, what would their incentive be, when they are in the corrections institute, to enter into those rehabilitation programs?

Again, for those serving shorter sentences, it may inadvertently increase the number of people who leave custody without supervision upon their warrant expiry. In other words, if they are told that their hearings have been put off for three years and their warrants expire in three years and six months, they would have no incentive. They would not participate and they would get out without any of that very necessary rehabilitation.

How do we avoid that happening? Obviously, we support the bill, because we believe we could avoid that if there were a well-funded Parole Board. The Parole Board would be able to avoid these unintended consequences.

However, we have a Parole Board which is now suffering from restricted funding and so there will be the tendency for the Parole Board to be forced to extend the interval between paroles simply as a question of resources. It will have other things it has to do by law and therefore if the interval allowed, and we call it discretion, is longer, then it will inevitably become longer if it does not have adequate funding. As we have seen with the Conservatives in power, quite often we have underfunding of very important public services, and the Parole Board is one of those.

Finally, we remain concerned with process, and that is the process of making extensive changes to the Criminal Code of Canada and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act through multiple bills proceeding through different paths through Parliament on different timetables. The sheer volume of the changes that have been made by different bills often considered in different committees risk legal errors and omissions as well as unintended consequences. Some bills go to the justice committee, some go to the public safety committee where I sit.

For instance, in the case of Bill C-479, the public safety committee did not have the advantage of seeing the text of the government's victims bill of rights, Bill C-32, and now it will go to the justice committee where the members of the justice committee will not have the benefit of having heard the witnesses and the testimony that we had in the public safety committee on very closely related issues. Again, we think there is a potential problem by having multiple private members' bills as well as a government bill on victims' rights all going through the House of Commons with different paths and different timetables.

This piecemeal approach also means that sometimes important issues never end up in front of the House. What readily comes to mind is the question of how we address other needs of victims other than their needs in conjunction with the legal system.

Therefore, improving victims' rights with regard to the legal system is important. As I said, for that reason we have supported bills like Bill C-42 and the bill in front of us now. However, victims have other important needs like compensation for losses they may have suffered, financial help with time off work, counselling or help with other expenses necessary to get their lives back on track. Neither Bill C-479 nor Bill C-482 have tackled this question and Bill C-32, the victims bill of rights, suggests the answer can be found in simply expanding the rights of victims to restitution.

The problem that we on this side of the House see is that unfortunately very few victims will ever be able to recover anything through the restitution process because of the obvious fact that most offenders have few resources. This was a point that I tried to raise last night in the late night debate on the victims bill of rights. When I tried to put forward the need to discuss a better alternative, which has the potential to treat all victims fairly and equally, I was nearly shouted down in the House. It may have been the late hour that caused some of the rambunctious responses on the other side of the House, but it again illustrates the problem of doing these things piecemeal through the House of Commons.

What I wanted to put forward briefly was the idea that what we really needed was federal leadership on an adequate compensation plan for victims through criminal injuries compensation funds. The Conservatives try to slough this off, saying that it is a matter of provincial jurisdiction. Yet one province, Newfoundland and Labrador, and all three territories, have no such program and in the other nine provinces the criminal injury compensation funds have very low caps on the amount of compensation available to individual victims. In some cases, this is as low as $5,000. If we think about it, $5,000 will not go very far in trying to cover things even like lost wages.

As I said before, no party in the House has a monopoly on a concern for victims, but we sometimes have different approaches to the problem. We have been supportive of these attempts to expand victims' rights through the legal system, but we believe there are other needs of victims that also need equal consideration. As well, we have argued all along that one of the most important things we in the House can do is adopt programs and ensure that corrections programs do not contribute to further victims in the future. A well-funded corrections system is an important part of not having further victims in the future.

Therefore, we are looking for a balance in our approach to public safety, where we can build safer communities through having punishment in place but also having adequate rehabilitation.

As my time draws to a close, let me conclude, once again, by stating the support of the New Democrats for strengthening victims' rights in the legal system. However, I would urge all members to consider the other important issue, the thing that victims also need, which is well-supported programs in order to help them put their lives back in order.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I too congratulate the member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale on bringing forward this legislation and getting it to this stage. I do expect it to pass in the House. The Liberal Party will be supporting the bill at this stage.

I want to draw on a couple of points that were mentioned by the NDP member who just spoke. He indicated there were amendments by opposition members—and very good amendments, I believe—that did not get the consideration that they should have at committee.

I agree with the member that video conferencing for victims was a sensible request. It would reduce cost and reduce stress on victims from having to appear in the same room with an offender. Turning down that amendment was a mistake.

The other point the member raised, which I will also not elaborate on, is that at the end of the day, public safety is key. If offenders, because of the longer time between hearings, find themselves unable to enter a rehabilitation program, that is a dilemma in terms of public safety. It could increase the risk of those offenders reoffending when they get back into society.

Given that the key element of the legislation, namely that the discretion of the parole board to conduct its tasks would not be infringed, it is our intention to support the bill.

The intent by the mover to ensure that victims of crime are considered remains. This was the cornerstone of previous Liberal initiatives and came into strong focus with the 2003 Canadian Statement of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime that was negotiated between federal and provincial governments at that time.

The problem with this legislation, as with many private members' bills coming forward from government members relating to public safety, is the extent to which the government, through Department of Justice lawyers, has had to intervene to amend the legislation to bring it into line both legally and constitutionally.

The trouble begins in part with the statements at the beginning, when the legislation is brought into the House. I see it this way. This legislation was brought in and went to committee. Witnesses came before committee based on the original bill. They were supportive of the original bill because it proposed to do a, b, c, and d in terms of victims rights. After the hearings were over and the witnesses left town—and I have said this with previous bills—legal counsel with either the Department of Justice or Public Safety Canada came in and made a number of government amendments that, in my view, substantially changed the legislation. As a result, the bill has ended up not being the same as it was when the mover of the bill talked about it at the beginning.

Even at report stage, the government is still trying to clean up the bill in an effort to bring it more in line with what is legally acceptable. By my count, the government introduced and passed nine amendments to what was originally a seven-clause bill. This ensured that the legislation would be in conformance with the legal requirements of any legislation.

It should be noted, for example, that the legislation now before the House does reinforce the idea that the requirements for Correctional Service of Canada, or in this case the Parole Board, to disclose certain information to victims related to offenders are not requirements without limitations. The power of the Parole Board to use its discretion has remained with the provisions of the act and within Bill C-479.

One of the concerns that has arisen is the contradictory nature of private members' legislation that is related to the government's tough on crime agenda and that comes from government members. I have raised this issue in the House and at committee. It relates to government members having a somewhat confused agenda. I cannot understand it. My colleague as well previously mentioned that there needs to be more coordination with the government itself in terms of legislation coming forward.

Why does the Minister of Justice not coordinate all these interests and private members' bills in a substantive way? That way, they would perhaps not be in conflict with one another, and the government would also be less likely to see legislation turned back by a superior court.

The principle behind Bill C-479 was to reduce the number of Parole Board hearings to which victims would be subjected. During the course of testimony before the public safety committee, it was emphasized that this legislation was necessary to minimize the re-victimization of victims.

The House needs to understand, and rightly so, that we heard some pretty sad stories from victims before the committee. When they have to prepare victim impact statements, go to a Parole Board hearing—sometimes practically without any notice—and then have to do it again in two years, it is the re-victimization of victims.

However, as members will find out later in my remarks, it appeared that the intent of the bill was to change that period to five years. That did not really happen at all. There is the possibility it could go to five years, but it could also remain at two. It is at the discretion of the Parole Board.

My concern, as I stated earlier in my remarks, is that victims who came before the committee actually believed that it would be five years. It is not so now. It could be two or it could be five or it could be four. It is at the discretion of the Appeal Board. The intent and the stated fact of what the bill would do did not really happen.

However, we then have the contradiction that I also want to mention. The principle of Bill C-483 was to increase the number of Parole Board hearings related to escorted temporary absences, thus creating further hearings to which victims would be subjected.

On the one hand we have a bill that is trying to reduce the number of Parole Board hearings, and on the other hand we have another bill in contradiction to that, trying to stretch them out.

The question victims and victims' organizations should ask themselves is straightforward: since government members speak to each other, why do they not coordinate this in a substantive way so that we have an overall strategy that works in harmony rather than in conflict?

Let me close by saying that my concern with this process is that when the bill is presented, it states one thing, but then, after the witnesses leave town, justice lawyers come in and amend it. We then have a substantively different bill, one that does not do what backbench Conservatives claimed in the first instance it would do. We have seen this on several bills now.

However, there are some good points in the bill. It is a step forward, and at the end of the day we will support it. However, I want to tell victims that it is not all they were told it would be in the beginning.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Scarborough Centre Ontario

Conservative

Roxanne James ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure today to speak about our government's unyielding determination and commitment to support victims of crime in our country.

As members of the House know, we recently took a big step forward in this regard with the introduction of Bill C-32, the victims bill of rights act. This particular legislation, developed and designed to respond to the long-standing concerns of victims of crime would, for the first time, enshrine in law four important rights: the right to information, the right to participation, the right to protection, and the right to restitution.

In fact, many of the concerns expressed earlier by the opposition parties are actually addressed in this particular bill. It is also historic in that it would transform the way in which the criminal justice system interacts with victims of crime. Quite simply, but also quite profoundly, the victims bill of rights act would ensure victims have a greater voice in the criminal justice system. We are grateful for the support we have seen for that legislation and we look forward to further debate about its many merits.

However, today we are here to discuss Bill C-479, the fairness for victims act. It is yet another example of our government's strong commitment to standing up for the victims of crime. It would build on the significant action we have already taken in this regard, including the victims bill of rights act and many other initiatives put forward since we came to power in 2006.

Not only have we instituted and permanently funded the federal victims strategy, but we have also passed several legislative measures to strengthen the parole process and give a greater voice to victims. Indeed, with the passage of the Safe Streets and Communities Act in 2012, we enshrined in law a victim's right to present a statement at parole hearings and ensured a victim's access to timely information from the Correctional Service of Canada about offenders' transfers.

Additionally, we have put in place measures so that the Parole Board can proceed, with some exceptions, to a decision even if an offender withdraws a parole application within 14 days of the scheduled hearing. Before our changes, a victim would have been inconvenienced travelling to a hearing that did not even take place.

Bill C-479 is also in line with the promise our government made to keep Canadians and their families safe. As ever, we remain focused on tackling crime and creating a fair and efficient justice system. Our government has continually placed the interests of victims ahead of those of criminals, and I would hope that the members opposite will start to support these important measures. I am pleased to hear today in the House that both parties will be supporting it.

I would like to take this opportunity to once again commend the hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale for his tireless work for victims and for bringing this important legislation forward.

As members know, there were some amendments adopted at report stage. We are confident that we now have before us the best legislation possible for the good of all victims. We thank members for their support in getting this legislation to where it is today.

Let us discuss the ways in which it would modernize the Corrections and Conditional Release Act as well as how it would help victims.

First I would like to speak to the changes we have proposed in regard to mandatory review periods for parole for offenders convicted of violent offences, including murder. When such offenders are denied parole, the Parole Board is currently required by law to review their case every two years. This legislation would now extend this period of review from two to five years.

We have also proposed to lengthen the mandatory parole review periods when parole is cancelled or terminated for offenders serving at least two years for an offence involving violence. It would increase this mandatory period to within four years in which the Parole Board must review parole, and for later cancellations the mandatory period would be increased to five years.

Why is this so important to victims? Let us not forget that many of them participate in hearings. If we pause and reflect for a moment and try to imagine the anxiety and distress that victims might feel leading up to the process of a Parole Board hearing, it becomes clear why a longer period of time between these hearings is desirable. Indeed, giving victims a longer period of time in which to rebuild their lives and heal from their ordeals is a reasonable, measured change that we can offer them. When we studied the bill at committee and heard from victims who chose to attend hearings as a duty to honour the lives of the loved ones they had lost, this was one of the most critical changes in their minds.

The bill would also require the Parole Board to take a number of further steps to better accommodate victims and respond to their needs.

For example, it would require the Parole Board to provide victims and their families another means to observe hearings remotely if they have not been permitted to observe in person. Similarly, it would obligate the Parole Board to take into account any victim statements presented, especially when considering what conditions may be appropriate to ensure the safety of the victim. We know, because this government has listened to victims, that many wish to lend their voices in a more significant way during this process. These changes would allow this to happen.

Finally, it would obligate the Parole Board to provide more information to victims. This is important, because here again, we have heard from many victims that they want and need to be more informed about a number of issues that relate to the offender. With this bill, we would have an opportunity to allow for some of this information to be provided where it made sense to do so. For example, if a transcript of the parole hearing were available, it would be provided to the victim, barring third-party information and any portion of the hearing that was not open to observers. Similarly, upon the victim's request, it would also provide information within 14 days of the offender's release, where practical, about the date, location, and conditions of an offender's release on parole, statutory release, or temporary absence, but only when it was clear that there would be no negative effect on public safety.

Simply put, this bill would improve the parole process for the sake of victims, making it more compassionate and responsive. I am proud of our government's track record in supporting victims and their families as they navigate the criminal justice system. We are getting closer to where we need to be. We are a government of action. We have listened to victims and their families and to advocates. We have consulted directly with them and have made sure that their concerns are reflected in the legislation and measures we have introduced. We have listened, and we have acted through the federal victims strategy, through the Safe Streets and Communities Act, through the victims bill of rights act, and now through the fairness for victims act. This bill would help us continue on this path and take one more step toward a system that helps victims heal and rebuild.

I once again would like to thank the members opposite for their support, and I urge all other members in the House to support this important piece of legislation.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to have another chance to speak to Bill C-479. I think this is a very important bill, and I am glad we had a chance to talk about it in committee. I would like to thank the Conservative member who introduced this bill.

The witnesses who appeared before the committee were very interesting. We heard from some victims who, sadly, have been affected by what is going on with the Parole Board and the way parole hearings work. Many of them shared their very personal stories, and there were certainly some touching moments in committee. We also heard from Sue O'Sullivan, the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, who appeared once again to provide her enlightening perspective. We really appreciated that.

The only other witness we should have heard from was a representative of the Parole Board, but unfortunately, the board was unable to testify. That is really too bad because the Parole Board people are the ones who will have to implement Bill C-479 and comply with the new requirements in the Criminal Code. We really missed the Parole Board's testimony in this debate. The committee meetings went well except for the fact that we were unable to get testimony from the Parole Board.

As the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca mentioned, we proposed an amendment, but the Conservatives rejected it. I was quite surprised by that. We proposed an amendment so that victims could observe parole hearings through means other than attending in person. There are various reasons for that. Victims sometimes do not want to be in the same room as a perpetrator or inmate, or they would have to travel to be there. They may have to travel from one end of the country to the other. For example, if the offender is a francophone woman, she could be being held in Joliette because there are not a lot of prisons for women. Meanwhile, the victims might live in Vancouver or New Brunswick. The victims could have to do a lot of travelling.

We therefore tried to present a completely reasonable amendment to resolve this issue. We proposed that victims be able to attend these hearings by videoconference or teleconference. The Conservatives rejected the amendment.

I was surprised by that, particularly since Sue O'Sullivan, the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime and one of our witnesses, had this to say in committee:

Our recommendation is that every victim or family member who wants to attend a parole hearing should have a choice and an option about how they wish to attend. That can be in person, or they may choose to attend by video conference or by another use of technology.

Other witnesses said much the same thing, but I do not want to spend too much time on that. We decided to follow the advice of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime and other witnesses who appeared before the committee. Unfortunately, the Conservatives opposed our amendment. This is a flaw in Bill C-479 that we could have addressed earlier in the debate.

Bill C-479 also responds to certain recommendations made by the former ombudsman for victims of crime and many of the recommendations made by Ms. O'Sullivan regarding the right of victims to attend parole hearings. We are happy to see that.

The NDP supports enhancing victims' rights. We think that is very important. These rights can be enhanced through various channels.

The NDP supports greater victim involvement in the parole process. That is extremely important.

We support a number of the recommendations made by the former ombudsman and the new one, and we are working to make our communities safer. One way to do so is to develop a parole process that enables offenders to safely reintegrate into society, in order to reduce victimization.

That brings me to my next argument. Everything we have here today is good. It is also good that the government has introduced a Canadian victims bill of rights. However, every witness we heard from in committee told us that if we want to reduce victimization, we need to focus on rehabilitation, programs and investments in our prisons. We need to ensure that there are good programs in place and that offenders are not released unless they are rehabilitated and prepared to reintegrate into society.

Reducing victimization also means developing good public safety policies. For example, Public Safety Canada is focusing its efforts on reaching out to kids between the ages of 5 to 18 to prevent them from getting caught in the vicious cycle of crime and street gangs.

The government needs to step up and adopt public safety measures. It should not be cutting essential services, such as rehabilitation services for offenders. It must invest in our youth to ensure that kids do not get caught in the vicious cycle of crime.

One of the witnesses we heard in committee was Arlène Gaudreault of the Association québécoise Plaidoyer-Victimes, who does incredible work in Quebec. She condemned the fact that we did not have enough time to study a whole aspect of victims' rights as important as attending parole hearings. She made a lot of recommendations during her testimony. She thinks we unfortunately did not have enough time to propose amendments or implement them. I wanted Ms. Gaudreault to be heard today in this debate.

Bill C-479 looks good on paper, but money will be needed in order to implement it. People will have to travel in order to attend parole hearings. Unfortunately, the Conservatives voted against our amendment to allow people to attend by means of videoconferencing or other technologies. In addition, because this is a change in the process, additional funds will be needed.

I hope that the Conservative government will follow these recommendations. The parliamentary secretary was very much in favour of this bill, but frankly, the Conservative government has to put up the money.

Massive budget cuts have been made at the Department of Public Safety and in all the departments. I understand that. However, if we want to set up a process for victims, then we must put words into action and invest the necessary money to ensure that victims get the good service they deserve. They have suffered enough. The least we can do is provide them with suitable service.

Again, I am pleased to support the bill of my colleague across the way. I am also very pleased to say that the NDP is in favour of a fair and equitable process for victims.

It is very important to use rehabilitation and reintegration to ensure that there are fewer victims and that our communities are safer for everyone.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

June 4th, 2014 / 6:50 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

The hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale will now have his five minutes of reply.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with great gratitude and emotion that we come to the final minutes of debate on this bill in the chamber. For me to bring forward these right and necessary changes on behalf of all victims, including, not least, my constituents, has been a great privilege and honour.

As all members of this House know, the process for private members' bills is a long journey. There are many steps and it can take years. This one has been no different.

I am proud that the bill builds upon the good work of ministers and the government since 2006.

I am grateful that the bill builds on the Canadian victims bill of rights that the Prime Minister announced in April, which would provide for victims the tools that a couple of my opposition colleagues said Bill C-479 was deficient of.

I am gratified that the bill would strengthen the voice of victims, provide additional support to victims, and give the Parole Board of Canada the tools it needs to ensure re-victimization is reduced and, in some cases, even mitigated.

I strongly believe all these things are worth fighting for.

I will not belabour the point. I thank all members for their support and interest. Once again, I reiterate three key points. One is that this is about the worst kind of offenders: violent offenders. This is about giving victims a stronger voice and role in the process, something we have heard time and again in public consultations, in letters and emails, and calls. This is about giving the Parole Board of Canada tools.

Please allow me to close, as I have before, with the words of The Hamilton Spectator editorial from March 2, 2012. It sums up the decision before us now, the decision that the victims of Jon Rallo, the victims of Clifford Olson, and the family of Constable Sweet have been calling for, for years.

...the PBC also has a responsibility to victims of crime. For those victims, the parole board is virtually the only source of information about the status of the person who committed the crime against them.... some local victims of crime don’t feel well-served by the board. That must change.

Indeed, that must change. With the vote of this House on Bill C-479 we will be a good part of the way saying it will change.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent OffendersPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-31, Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1, as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

Speaker's RulingEconomic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

There are 272 motions in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-31.

Motions Nos. 162 to 165 will not be selected by the Chair, as they were defeated in committee.

All remaining motions have been examined and the Chair is satisfied they meet the guidelines expressed in the note of Standing Order 76.1(5) regarding the selection of motions in amendment at the report stage.

The motions will be grouped for debate as follows.

Group No. 1 includes Motions Nos. 1 to 12.

Group No. 2: Motions Nos. 13 to 160 and 166 to 272.

The voting patterns for the motions within each group are available at the table. The Chair will remind the House of each pattern at the time of voting.

I shall now propose Motions Nos. 1 to 12 in Group No. 1 to the House.

Motions in AmendmentEconomic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 1Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

moved:

Motion No. 1

That Bill C-31 be amended by deleting the short title.

Motion No. 2

That Bill C-31 be amended by deleting Clause 24.

Motion No. 3

That Bill C-31 be amended by deleting Clause 25.

Motion No. 4

That Bill C-31 be amended by deleting Clause 27.

Motion No. 5

That Bill C-31 be amended by deleting Clause 28.

Motion No. 6

That Bill C-31 be amended by deleting Clause 35.