Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House this evening for the debate at second reading of a private member's bill. This bill was introduced by my colleague from Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans—Charlevoix, with whom I have had the pleasure, honour, and privilege of working since 2006. I commend her for choosing to introduce this bill.
The position of ombudsman for victims of crime was created in 2007 by our former Conservative government. Every weekend, I hear nostalgic people say that it was a good government and that they look forward to the Conservatives' return to office in 2019.
As is the case with the ombudsman for the Department of National Defence and the ombudsman for offenders, the correctional investigator, the mandate of the ombudsman of victims of crime primarily involves standing up for the rights and interests of those who need such representation. Unlike the other federal ombudsman positions, the ombudsman for victims of crime currently operates under a Justice Canada program. The ombudsman is therefore not independent of the department.
Bill C-343 mainly seeks to make the position of ombudsman for victims of crime equal to that of the correctional investigator, commonly known as the ombudsman for offenders. The correctional investigator falls under federal jurisdiction and is independent from the Department of Justice, unlike the ombudsman for victims of crime.
Not currently being independent of the Department of Justice, the victims ombudsman has to submit all annual reports to the department, not to Parliament. If the victims ombudsman includes a recommendation or a criticism in a report that reflects poorly on the Department of Justice, the department can remove it from the report whenever it wants, thereby nullifying one of the main reasons the victims ombudsman exists, which is to be a voice for victims of crime and represent their rights and interests in Canada.
For victims of crime, having a voice and fair, equitable representation in dealings with the Department of Justice is vital to their healing process, a process that is difficult for so many. Not only must victims survive horrible, unspeakable trauma, they must also, in far too many cases, fight for their rights every step of the way through the process. From reporting a crime to testifying in court, they have to be able to understand and internalize all the legal jargon, challenge rulings, and fill out innumerable forms properly just to exercise their right to get information. Theirs is a long and difficult journey even as they go through the rehabilitation and healing process.
The ombudsman's duties have evolved tremendously since the role was created in 2007, most notably with the adoption of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights in 2015. It goes without saying that the rights of victims of crime need to be respected. When they are not, the ombudsman for victims of crime needs to be able to enforce them adequately independently of the Department of Justice, especially when a problem arises that directly involves that very department.
The rights of victims of crime fall under four categories in the charter: the right to restitution, the right to participation, the right to protection, and the right to information. Every one of those rights is important. It is important that the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights be updated to make the ombudsman for victims of crime an officer of Parliament independent of the minister whose work the ombudsman is tasked with monitoring and assessing. I think that is clear, simple, and straightforward.
As hon. members might imagine, for a victim of crime, having their rights respected in an independent manner is a matter of survival. In Canada, our justice system has to be administered fairly and equitably for the entire population every step of the way. The rights of victims of crime should be equal to the rights of criminals, and ombudsman positions should also be equally independent. We are asking that victims have the same rights as criminals. That is not too much to ask in our country.
Unfortunately, here in Canada in 2017, that is not yet the case, either for victims' rights versus criminals' rights in the justice system or for the independence of each ombudsman position.
Making the victims' ombudsman as independent as the ombudsman for offenders would be a major step in the right direction. It would show victims that they matter and that every member in this House believes it is unjust, in 2017, for victims' rights to not always be considered as important as those of the criminals who destroyed their lives. It would send a message that this state of affairs needs to end and that we need to develop the necessary legislative tools to achieve that goal.
For victims, the passage of Bill C-343 will serve as a kind of legal recognition that the federal ombudsman for victims of crime is independent from the Department of Justice. This is of paramount importance to victims. The ombudsman will be better positioned to defend victims' rights and interests when they are filing complaints against federal departments, including the federal justice department.
For example, imagine for a moment a person who has been seriously traumatized as a result of a violent crime and whose fundamental rights, as set out in the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, have now been violated in the administration of justice. She wants to file a complaint against Justice Canada, but when she goes to the website of the federal ombudsman for victims of crime, she discovers that the ombudsman is nothing more than a Department of Justice official, or an extension of that same department towards which she is already feeling distrustful.
How would the victim feel when she thought she could get some help and find someone to properly represent her before the department?
Who can victims of crime turn to and who can they trust if they cannot even count on the independence of their ombudsman like our troops can with theirs and like offenders can, too?
A very important part of the work involves identifying the issues that affect victims of crime and making recommendations to the federal government so that it can make its laws, policies, and processes more responsive to victims' needs. The ombudsman must make criminal justice system staff and decision-makers aware of victims' needs and identify any systemic issues that have a negative impact on victims, issues that are sometimes caused by the Department of Justice.