Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Whitby. I am pleased to rise to speak to the measures that will be beneficial to victims of crime included in Bill C-75, an act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other acts and to make consequential amendments to other acts. The aim of the bill is to modernize the criminal justice system and reduce court delays.
As part of the criminal justice review, a round table for victims and survivors of crime was held in Ottawa in June 2017. During that event, a number of victims and survivors of crime expressed their concerns about the delays in the criminal justice system. These individuals emphasized that court delays and postponements have considerable negative repercussions on them and their families because of the continued stress and anxiety they feel in relation to the crime and the testimony.
Court delays can also negatively impact victims' mental health at a time when they are trying to put the experience of being victimized behind them. If victims have health problems or are quite elderly, long delays can also interfere with their ability to testify.
Every time there is a delay or an adjournment, victims have to reorganize their schedule, take time off work, or spend more money on help at home to look after children or elderly parents, for example.
During the round table, several victims of crime also said they were very worried about court delays and especially the repercussions of the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in Jordan. Specifically, victims are outraged when delays result in a stay of proceedings and the accused not being held responsible for their actions. For example, let's put ourselves in the shoes of parents whose child was murdered. Imagine the criminal proceedings against the accused being stayed because of delays. No wonder parents lose faith in the administration of justice.
I am therefore very pleased that the government introduced Bill C-75 in response to these concerns. In general, this bill sets out measures that will make the criminal justice system more efficient and will have positive outcomes for the victims. Bill C-75 also includes several specific measures to address the concerns of victims and survivors of crimes. In particular, it would make changes to preliminary inquiries, the reclassification of offences, and intimate partner violence offences.
At present, a preliminary inquiry is held if a person is charged with an indictable offence, chooses to be tried by the Superior Court, and asks for such an inquiry. This procedural step determines if there is enough evidence to send the accused to trial. Over time, the preliminary inquiry has evolved and become, among other things, a means for the accused to be provided with all the evidence against him or her. However, with the constitutional requirement to disclose evidence to the defence, preliminary inquiries are becoming less and less prevalent.
During the preliminary inquiry, the crown and the defence have the opportunity to examine and cross-examine witnesses and to assess their credibility. Although the cross-examination is an essential element that guarantees the right of the accused to a fair trial, having to testify first at the preliminary inquiry and then at the trial, sometimes several years after the offence was committed, can be particularly difficult for the victims.
The reforms proposed by Bill C-75 would limit the holding of a preliminary inquiry to offences punishable by life imprisonment, such as murder, committing an indictable offence for the benefit of a criminal organization or terrorist group, and kidnapping.
The other amendments would also strengthen the powers of the justice presiding at the preliminary inquiry to limit the issues explored and the number of witnesses. The proposed changes to preliminary inquiries would significantly reduce the number of offences for which victims are called to testify multiple times.
This will reduce the impact on vulnerable persons, such as victims of sexual assault, who are often re-victimized during cross-examination. What is more, the changes will shorten the judicial process, which will help reduce the prolonged period of stress and anxiety for victims.
Bill C-75 will improve Criminal Code provisions in order to make victims of intimate partner violence safer. A definition of “intimate partner“ for the purposes of the Criminal Code will be created and will specify that it includes former and current spouses, common-law partners, and dating partners.
If the accused has already been found guilty of violence against a domestic partner, the bill would reverse the burden of proof during the inquiry on the interim release for a new offence of violence against a domestic partner. The amendments would also allow police officers to impose a wider range of conditions on the accused in order to protect the victims.
The courts will have to consider the fact that an accused was charged with an offence of violence against a domestic partner in determining whether the accused should be released or should be kept in detention. Furthermore, the proposed amendments would specify that choking, suffocating, or strangling constitute aggravated assault, in order to address concerns that the criminal justice system has a tendency to underestimate the seriousness of these actions.
Finally, Bill C-75 would allow a higher maximum penalty for a repeat offender found guilty of an offence involving intimate partner violence.
As the Supreme Court stated in Jordan, delays exacerbate the suffering of victims and prevent them from turning the page. The reforms proposed by Bill C-75 would transform the criminal justice system, making it more efficient, effective, equitable, and accessible while protecting public safety.
The different measures that I spoke about today will be beneficial for victims and survivors of crime because they will shorten the process and reduce the number of times victims will need to testify, preventing prolonged stress and anxiety.
I invite all my colleagues to support this important bill.