Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-32. It is a bill that I suspect will receive unanimous support of the House of Commons, and there should be no one surprised in regard to that. Legislators as a whole, whether at the national level or at the provincial level, truly want to do whatever is possible from a legislative perspective and outside of legislative perspectives to ensure that we can bring more justice and express more sympathy and so forth to victims of crime.
The right to information, the right to protection, the right to participation, and the right to restitution are rights that we hear a great deal about whenever we talk about victims. I would like to add some thoughts dealing with the legislation and, if time permits, to cite some concerns I have specifically with respect to Winnipeg North in regard to gang activities, which are not unique to Winnipeg North. Gang activities occur in many other municipalities and areas across the country, and there is an important role that the government needs to play in dealing with that issue.
It is worthy of note that the Liberal Party will be supporting Bill C-32, and that should come as no surprise. We have worked with other political parties in the past in recognizing the importance of victims and in wanting to make sure we do whatever possible in having a legislative agenda to deal with the issue.
Even though the government talks a great deal about being the great defender of victims and victims' rights, if we get down to the details, we find that the government has really not done all that well and that there is more it could have done. Because of its general attitude in bringing forward legislation, we could have been able to accomplish a whole lot more.
I say that because in 1988, had the federal, provincial, and territorial ministers of justice actually endorsed the Canadian statement of basic principles of justice for victims of crime. That was back in an era of Progressive Conservatives, under Brian Mulroney and Kim Campbell. They demonstrated the need to be able to work in co-operation with different stakeholders, and in particular with the different levels of government.
In 2003, after a considerable amount of discussion had taken place among federal officials, provincial officials, and other stakeholders, the original statement of basic principles of justice for victims of crime was changed and modified, and again I emphasize that it was through working with other jurisdictions that a great deal was accomplished. Ultimately it was to promote fair treatment of victims and to have that reflected in federal, provincial, and territorial laws, policies, and procedures. That was done because the different entities were working together.
I suspect that a greater sense of agreement and co-operation among the different levels helped put the necessary funding and resources in place to ensure that it was possible not only to talk about changes but to act on those changes. I will refer later in my comments to the resources.
A reference in the preamble to the 2014 victims bill of rights notes that some very basic principles were identified back in 2003. They were intended to be promoted so that there would be fair treatment for victims. As I said, those would then be reflected through laws, policies, and procedures.
I would like to list all eight of them: first, victims of crime should be treated with courtesy, compassion, and respect; second, the privacy of victims should be considered and respected to the greatest extent possible; third, all reasonable measures should be taken to minimize inconvenience to victims; fourth, the safety and security of victims should be considered at all stages of the criminal justice process and appropriate measures should be taken when necessary to protect victims from intimidation and retaliation; fifth, information should be provided to victims about the criminal justice system and the victim's role and opportunities to participate in criminal justice processes; sixth, victims should be given information, in accordance with the prevailing laws, policies, and procedures, about the status of the investigation; the scheduling, progress, and final outcome of the proceedings; and the status of the offender in the correctional system; seventh, information should be provided to the victims about available victim assistance services, other programs and assistance available to them, and means of obtaining financial reparation; and eighth, the views, concerns and representations of victims are an important consideration in criminal justice processes and should be considered in accordance with the prevailing law, policies and procedures.
I was here when the minister introduced the legislation. He indicated at that point what a wonderful hallmark it would be to pass Bill C-32. There is no doubt that Bill C-32 is a step forward, as we acknowledge, and that is why we support the legislation. However, it does not deserve the type of applause the Minister of Justice has envisioned for it. There are many shortcomings in the legislation.
Since the Conservatives formed government in 2006, not much legislation has materialized putting victims first, despite what we hear on a weekly basis in the House of Commons. In other words, there is vast room for improvement. One might say that as a member of the Liberal Party, it is easy for me to make that statement, but let me refer to some recommendations in the recent report by the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime on the victims bill of rights legislation based on discussions with stakeholders at that office's April 13 forum.
To quote federal ombudsman Sue O'Sullivan from May 2014, she stated in reference to the bill:
...the Bill fails to fully address the breadth and depth of victims’ needs and concerns. As the Bill moves through the Parliamentary process, I will be pushing for further change to strengthen the Bill and I encourage all Canadians to do the same.
Of the nearly 30 recommendations the ombudsman made to the Government of Canada for inclusion in its bill, only 4 have been fully addressed, and another 10 have only been partly addressed, which really suggests that there is a great deal of room for improvement.
I looked at the report by that office and it is fairly extensive. If members look at the nine recommendations made for the victims bill of rights, each of them has specifics. Let me provide a couple of examples.
The first recommendation talks about the victims bill of rights being enforceable and usable. It states:
Critical to have the rights of victims enshrined in law and enforceable, accessible for victims.
The concept of justice expanded from an exclusive focus on convicting individuals of crimes to include a full response to the needs of victims; justice is seen to be done when the offender is held accountable and the victim restored to the maximum extent possible.
Should include accessible knowledge through data collection and dissemination (with privacy considerations) to enable the community to monitor and evaluate equality, progress and effectiveness.
In this report, there are nine recommendations. I just made reference to one of them, which consists of a series of suggestions. Each recommendation, in fact, has a series of suggestions. There is a lot in here, including about voice and standing; the right to information, financial protection and support, psychological support and resources; limiting opportunities for offenders to profit from crimes or to re-offend; equitable, respectful, and individualized treatment; the inclusive definition of victim to include anyone in Canada harmed by crime; and integrated, accessible and simple services and resources with minimum standards across the country. These are all points in which there are actionable points that follow each one of the eight recommendations that I just listed. The point is that there is so much more that we could have done to improve the legislation.
The Liberal Party critic, the member for Charlottetown, has done a phenomenal job in making sure that our party's perspective is espoused and talked about. He has represented us exceptionally well at the committee stage and, in fact, made numerous attempts to make changes or bring forward amendments to the legislation.
I would like to quote some of the thoughts expressed by the member for Charlottetown with regard to one specific presentation that he heard in committee. This particular individual was Maureen Basnicki, a Canadian whose husband was killed in the 9/11 attacks. At committee, she explained that she had experienced difficulty in accessing victims services because her husband was murdered by a terrorist outside of the country. She urged us to extend any lawfully available domestic rights to Canadian victims of crime that occur outside of Canada.
I would like to share some her testimony with the chamber. She stated:
...perpetrators of crimes are still demanding their rights as Canadian citizens when they've been successfully prosecuted for crimes outside the country, and I want to bring balance to this. This is not a new step. It's new for Canadians, perhaps, but other countries do this, many other countries. Most other countries do.
After listening to Ms. Basnicki, the member for Charlottetown, on behalf of the Liberal Party, introduced an amendment to capture her unfairly overlooked constituency, even though reference was made to it in the report. The Liberal critic suggested granting domestically available victims benefits to Canadians who have experienced serious personal injury crimes outside of the country or whose family members have been murdered outside the country.
What do members think happened at committee? A wonderful, valuable amendment, something that was referenced in other forms by different stakeholders, was voted down by the Conservatives for apparently no good reason, other than that the Liberal Party had brought forward the amendment, perhaps.
The member for Charlottetown introduced other amendments. Some of those amendments were based on the Canadian Bar Association's recommendations on Bill C-32.
One of the interesting ones that received a great deal of discussion was with regard to plea deals and what happens when there is an admission of guilt compared to deals where there are attempts to come up with a plea bargain. There was some clarity introduced in making sure that the system would be more efficient and fairer to victims. Again, the government rejected them.
There were many other amendments brought forward, including allowing victims of crime in Canada to file victim impact statements and to make restitution claims without being present in Canada, so as to avoid the expense of having to return here. Another was returning court discretion on the timing of restitution payments, since restitution orders may interfere with the victims' enforcement of civil orders. There was also one preserving court discretion to disallow a community impact statement if someone unjustifiably purported to speak on behalf of a community. There were more amendments as well.
However, the government is so partisan at committee that even if there is a legitimate amendment that would improve the legislation, it has a standard default position in response. If it is not a Conservative amendment, the government will not vote in favour it. As a result, we are failing to recognize important amendments that would make the legislation that much better.
This is where I believe the government needs to be held to task. Yes, it is passing legislation. As I said, we will support this legislation, but we must indicate to Canadians' that the government consistently fails to recognize worthy amendments that would improve legislation. As a result, it is Canadians who are paying the price because of the Conservatives' attitude when it comes to passing legislation in the House of Commons and their complete disregard of amendments that would improve legislation.
At committee, it was interesting. This is something else that the member for Charlottetown wanted to make reference to. The Grand Chief asked us to alter Bill C-32 to “better reflect the unique circumstances and needs of first nations persons who are victims of crime”. In short, he asked us to extend the principle of the Supreme Court's Gladue decision, which extends special historic consideration to aboriginal offenders' and victims' side of the question. The Grand Chief recommended, and we did introduce, amendments to address that issue, at least in part. Again, the Conservatives turned them down.
There were concerns regarding restorative justice, and if time permits, I will take the opportunity to deal with that toward the end of my comments.
The bottom line is that the government has been afforded the opportunity—are you telling me that my time is up, Mr. Speaker?