Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-343, an act to establish the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal Acts and to amend certain Acts.
The NDP has proudly and always has been a strong advocate for victims' rights. I therefore support the bill because it seeks to better support those victims on the road to healing. By ensuring the independence and the long-term existence of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal Acts, the bill places a priority on the rights of the victims. No matter what government is in power, it is victims who will be recognized.
The Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Criminal Acts, an act which was created in 2007, is an institution under the auspices of the ministry of justice. The important and declared purpose of this institution is to help victims of crime and their families. Its mandate has evolved ever since, notably with the introduction of the Conservative government's Victims Bill of Rights, Bill C-32, in 2014.
At that time, we supported the victims bill of rights bill, which sought to ease the burden for the victims by granting them this set of rights, although some experts argued that it would not meet all the needs of victims. As was made clear by a significant number of witnesses during the 2014 committee study, victims had to be put first. Much remains to be done in that regard.
This is all the more important given the current legal context and the implications of the R. v. Jordan decision. Timelines on unreasonable delays for trials have been imposed, up to 18 months in the lower provincial courts and up to 30 months in superior federal courts.
In the wake of this decision, many charges related to violent crimes have been stayed. This is notable in the case of a man accused of killing his wife, a father accused of child abuse, and a sexual assault of a toddler in a daycare centre. This brings to light the abysmal lack of resources in our justice system, and its terrible consequences. It underlines the necessity of appointing more judges, of creating more courtrooms, and of providing the system with adequate resources. If not, many other charges, like those already mentioned, will be stayed due to unreasonable delays.
We must put ourselves in the victims' skin to understand how terrifying and disheartening it must be to learn that an offender escapes justice. The government must come to realize the additional emotional trauma and stress it can cause people victimized by crime, and the urgent need for those victims to have access to a legal system that allows justice to be done. The government must act accordingly. Victims must be confident that their government is there to help and support them in this difficult and often bewildering journey.
However, despite these pressing needs, the previous government and current government did not do their best to address the situation. Quite the contrary, they contributed to the deterioration of our justice system while they were in power and when they were in opposition.
Although the former Conservative government introduced strong criminal laws as well as the Victims Bill of Rights, it also slashed police budgets and undermined police resources. Moreover, the actual delays on trials are nothing new. This situation has been a reality of the system for decades. These deficiencies are the result of years and years of neglect and cuts to our judicial system.
The former Conservative government could have done something to prevent the present chaos when it was in power. Why did it not give the judicial system the resources that were needed? Why, instead, did that government cut resources drastically? I am, however, pleased that one of the members of that previous government has seen fit to at least partially redress that neglect by introducing Bill C-343.
For their part, the Liberals' justice agenda is equally insufficient. It is under the current Liberal government that charges for sexual assault and first degree murder are being stayed. What is the government doing to ensure that those accused of these crimes are brought to trial? The government has been very slow to address this situation. However, it must act now and deal with the crisis to ensure that no more charges are unfairly stayed or withdrawn. Quite simply, the government must adequately fund the justice system. This is a priority, or at least it should be.
Why the government feels it does not need to adequately resource our justice system is a mystery. Does it regard Canadians as the lumpenproletariat? Notably, it could make a real and important difference by appointing more judges and by providing sufficient resources to our courtrooms. Proper funding is essential. It is crucial if we are to have any chance of bringing hope to victims and bringing those accused of violent crimes to justice. It is the only appropriate response if we are to truly respect those who have suffered, their families, who have likewise suffered, and our communities. We need to bring them a sense of closure and a sense that the system has served them well.
In addition to providing proper resources to our justice system, everything must be done to ensure that victims are offered adequate support on the road to healing and recovery. Bill C-343 seeks to promote the better provision of help and services for crime victims. This, of course, is very much in keeping with the values of the NDP.
I am sure members are aware that since the federal ombudsman for victims of crime operates as a program under the Department of Justice, it is not necessarily independent. This is a problem. Freedom from political interference is exactly what the proponent of the bill presently before us wants to address. The intent is to strengthen the office of the ombudsman by upgrading this position from a program and making it equal to that of the correctional investigator.
For instance, the ombudsman is currently required to submit the annual reports to the Department of Justice rather than to Parliament. Therefore, no matter what is said, in the event the department does not agree with a recommendation or is concerned about a criticism from the ombudsman, it can remove it from the report. This goes against the fundamental goal of the institution. How can the ombudsman be the voice of the victims it serves if its recommendations are at risk of being removed?
To make absolutely sure that the ombudsman can effectively represent victims and their rights, the position has to be independent and accountable directly to Parliament. This is crucial to better protect the rights of victims and to prove to all victims that they matter. Therefore, I strongly recommend that Bill C-343 go to committee, where its effects can be examined and where there can be a discussion in regard to how to better strengthen the role of the ombudsman. However, this does not change the fact that the Liberal government must take immediate action to amend the current crisis.
We must always bear in mind that the road to healing after suffering a great trauma is very difficult. The experience of victims of crime can be very painful and arduous when they become caught up in the justice system. By testifying in court, and when sometimes having to challenge a ruling, they have to relive the terrible crimes they experienced. This is often complicated by added administrative barriers and difficulties, notably the problem of understanding the legal jargon and the necessity of filling out form after form. This is the reason it is critical to the healing process that the voices of those who have suffered be truly heard and that their rights be truly respected. We must ensure that their road to healing is as seamless as possible.
By passing bill C-343, we can show victims that we support them. This is something we, as parliamentarians, must take seriously. Every party must be committed to the well-being and healing of victims. Action must be taken now out of respect for those people. They need to know that their needs will always be addressed, that real and just action is possible, and finally, and most importantly, that victims will be treated fairly in Canada's justice system. I would hope that the latitude is given to the ombudsman to make that so.