Madam Speaker, what a pleasure, honour, and privilege to speak to this bill introduced by my colleague, the very patient and very committed hon. member for Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans—Charlevoix. Toward the end of my comments, I will have a chance to touch on the circumstances surrounding this bill, but especially the circumstances surrounding that member's commitment.
Bill C-343 seeks to establish the office of the ombudsman for victims of crime. It is not written anywhere, not in any bill, civil code or criminal code, but there is a principle of justice whereby justice must be served, but most of all there must be the appearance of justice. That is exactly what this bill is trying to do.
We acknowledge that there has been an ombudsman for victims of crime in Canada since 2007. However, as the hon. member who introduced this bill said so well, the ombudsman is an honourable person who is diligent, earnest and professional, but unfortunately is in a conflict of interests. Why? Because the ombudsman works under the authority of the Department of Justice.
Because of the painful situation they are in, victims of crime may understandably have grievances against the Department of Justice. As a result, the ombudsman, despite all of his good will and professionalism, as well as the thoroughness, intensity, and quality of his work, finds himself in a conflict of interest when it comes time to determine whether the Department of Justice did its job properly.
That is the spirit in which the member introduced the bill now before us. The bill seeks to ensure that the ombudsman is independent from every level of government, organization, and service that victims may be in contact with.
It is a bit like saying that the ombudsman will now report to judges. That would not work. If victims feel as though they have been mistreated by a judge, that would constitute a conflict of interest. It would also not work to have the ombudsman report to crown prosecutors, defence lawyers, or the prison service. The ombudsman needs to be completely independent since he protects victims of crime.
When I read the bill introduced by the member for Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans—Charlevoix, I was surprised to learn that this was not already the case because it just makes sense. How can the protector of victims of crime not be independent? It goes without saying that such should be the case. Therein lies the genius and the wisdom of this bill. It implements a fundamental principle of justice: independence.
We must protect that basic principle, and this bill not only protects it but literally enshrines it in the very definition of the ombudsman's role and, most importantly, puts victims of crime first.
As the member explained very clearly earlier, the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights recognizes four categories of rights: information, protection, participation, and restitution.
All four are very present in this bill, which will ensure that victims get relevant information when they feel they need help from the ombudsman. Protection is critical, and anyone who has been in contact with a victim of crime knows very well that the first thing they ask for is protection. Victims have already been victimized, and they do not want to be victimized again by the system or, worse still, by the person, people, or institution that victimized them in the first place. That is why this right is such a prominent part of the bill before us.
The bill will also ensure participation by all stakeholders, especially victims, and it includes the restitution element, which is very subjective, of course.
That is precisely why we need to have an office that will rigorously, but above all independently, handle the requests of victims of crime. In 2007, when a parliamentarian decided to introduce this bill, that was merely the beginning. It goes without saying that experience leads us to want to make changes, but when I hear the government's argumentation, I think it is unfortunate, perhaps even suspicious, with all due respect.
First of all, the Liberals argue that this is an insult to the current ombudsman, when that is not at all the case. On the contrary, we want to give the protector of victims of crime even more tools and powers so that the office can take meaningful action, and more importantly, remain independent. This is a fundamental part of our justice system.
Furthermore, contrary to what the government is suggesting, this will not require any additional money, since the ombudsman already has a team in place. With a budget of over $300 billion, the Government of Canada can certainly come up with the money needed to guarantee such a fundamental function, namely, the position of victims ombudsman.
The staff in the ombudsman's office are doing a fine job, but unfortunately, they are not independent, since they fall under the Department of Justice. We would simply need to put them somewhere else and change the name plate, which would not cost much. I am hardly exaggerating. Obviously this could be done. The cost involved should not be a concern.
Not to get too off-topic, but is it really the Liberal government saying we need to count every penny, the same Liberal government that is accumulating deficits 80% larger than it promised? The Liberals have no idea when the budget will be back in balance, yet they have the nerve to lecture us about spending. Let us take what they say with a grain of salt.
For all of these good reasons, we believe this bill should proceed to a clause-by-clause study so it can be improved in committee. The process itself demands it.
As I said earlier, it is an emotional experience for me to support this bill, because I have the privilege of being acquainted with its sponsor, the member for Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans—Charlevoix. She was first elected in 2006, and as luck would have it, I was working as a journalist at the time, assigned to cover the federal election. I was in the basement of a restaurant in what is now the riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent when I spotted this brave woman, whom I had met during the election. She was accompanied by her leader, the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, the member for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, the member for Lévis—Lotbinière, the member for Beauce, and the rest of the team. They were all having fun celebrating their victory.
I will never forget this woman who was at a table with at most four other people, and who had just been elected by her peers. That is the beauty of democracy. These people worked hard, ran for office, offered their services, and were elected.
Without getting too melodramatic, I would remind my colleagues that this member was defeated in 2011. It happens. I have not experienced that yet, but it could happen one day, although I am in no hurry. What I am trying to say is that a setback in politics is no reason to give up altogether. On the contrary, the member ran again. She faced the popular vote in 2015, and the people of her riding, Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans—Charlevoix, placed their trust in her, which is to her credit.
In closing, this is a good bill that guarantees the independence of the protector of victims of criminal acts. That office protects us, and we need to ensure the independence of that institution. The office, as it is proposed in this bill, guarantees precisely that, and also ensures that Canada enjoys not only justice, but also the appearance of justice.