Madam Speaker, I want to begin by congratulating my colleague on all her hard work on this bill.
I am pleased 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. This bill has been sponsored by the member for Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans—Charlevoix. It seeks to establish a new office for the federal ombudsman for victims of criminal acts.
As I am sure all members know, there is already an Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. It has been in place since 2007, and Sue O’Sullivan has very capably undertaken the role of federal ombudsman for victims of crime since 2010. The new office proposed by Bill C-343 would entail a drastic expansion of the role, mandate, and powers of the federal ombudsman for victims of crime.
While I support the need for a federal office for victims of crime, I cannot support this new, proposed office for the following three reasons.
First, the bill would require additional resources, beyond those currently provided, to establish a new department for the victims ombudsman. This issue was raised on a point of order by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons on May 12, who reminded us that section 54 of the Constitution requires that bills that appropriate any part of the public revenue must be recommended to the House of Commons by the Governor General. Standing Order 79(1) similarly prohibits the House from passing any bill that requires the appropriation of funds without the support of the Governor General. He also noted at the time that the bill would attempt to circumvent the requirement for a royal recommendation by tying it to a coming into force clause. Bill C-343 would establish a new office, which, according to precedent, may require a royal recommendation.
The second reason, unfortunately, I cannot support the bill is that it would make the federal victims ombudsman an agent of Parliament. Agents of Parliament have broad powers they are able to exercise at their own discretion. They do not require the approval of parliamentarians for their actions, and there is no avenue for members of Parliament or senators to direct their activities.
There are currently only eight officers of Parliament whose roles include the Auditor General, the Chief Electoral Officer, and the Privacy Commissioner.
The sponsor of Bill C-343 states that the bill would make the powers of the victims ombudsman equal to those of the correctional investigator in terms of independence and accountability to Parliament. This is, in fact, incorrect. The correctional investigator is not an agent of Parliament. Rather, the correctional investigator is appointed by the Governor in Council.
While the sponsor has noted that the responsibilities of the victims ombudsman have evolved since the coming into force of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, this does not justify elevating the victims ombudsman to the position of an agent of Parliament who would enjoy largely unrestricted independence. The victims ombudsman is already able to provide a second level of review for alleged infringements of victims' rights under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights once the internal complaints mechanisms of federal departments have been exhausted. A new agent of Parliament should not be created without first undertaking a rigorous analysis, and unfortunately, in this case, such an analysis has not been carried out.
The third reason I cannot support Bill C-343 is that it proposes new and unrestricted investigatory powers and an overly broad mandate for the victims ombudsman. The bill's proposed mandate would allow the ombudsman to investigate complaints against any federal department. The ombudsman's current mandate allows for investigations of complaints related to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, or CCRA, as it is known, and the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. This is in keeping with the limited number of statutes and programs for victims of crime at the federal level due to the constitutional division of powers. This is also in keeping with the powers of other ombudsmen.
The overly broad mandate proposed by Bill C-343 raises concerns regarding an overlap between the mandate and duties of the victims ombudsman and other federal ombudsmen or oversight bodies. For example, the Canadian Armed Forces has its own ombudsman. Similarly, the victims ombudsman currently does not have the authority to review complaints regarding the RCMP, as this is the responsibility of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission. It would be unwise to create a regime that could undercut or interfere with other oversight bodies that already exist.
As I mentioned, the bill's sponsor states that Bill C-343 is modelled on the correctional investigator, who is responsible for investigating and addressing complaints of federally incarcerated offenders. The investigatory powers granted to the correctional investigator are necessary due to the nature of the complaints being investigated, which can include allegations of mistreatment and human rights violations. The need for such broad investigatory powers does not exist for the victims ombudsman, who operates in a substantially different context. The role of the victims ombudsman is closer to that of other federal ombudsman, such as the veterans ombudsman, who does not have the power to compel documents or sworn testimony.
Our government is committed to a criminal justice system that keeps communities safe, protects victims, and holds offenders to account for their actions. Our government's ongoing support for the victims ombudsman is one such example of this commitment. However, I cannot support this bill for the significant substantive and procedural reasons that I have just highlighted.
Any proposals for changes to the ombudsman's mandate should be informed by evidence, rather than speculation. I am not aware of any evidence, such as an evaluation of the office of the victims ombudsman, that demonstrates any shortcomings in the current mandate of the ombudsman or that officer's ability to carry them out. In fact, as the numerous reports released by the ombudsman's office shows, the ombudsman's mandate has allowed for a broad range of work in the criminal justice and corrections systems in order to effect change for victims of crime since the office was first established in 2007.
I am also unaware of any evidence supporting the need to grant the ombudsman the additional discretion and independence that comes with an officer of Parliament position.
I am also unaware of any evidence supporting the need to grant the ombudsman the additional discretion and independence that comes with an agent of Parliament position.
An evaluation of the office of the victims ombudsman would allow for a measured consideration of the need for changes to the ombudsman's mandated powers. It would also allow for a careful assessment of the office of the victims ombudsman's current arm's-length relationship with the Department of Justice in order to determine if further independence would be required. In the absence of an evaluation of the current office, there is insufficient evidence to support a broad expansion of the ombudsman's mandate as proposed in the bill.
For all those reasons, in spite of all of the work of my hon. colleague, which I began by commending at the outset of my remarks, unfortunately we on this side are not able to support it. I would encourage all my colleagues to vote the bill down.