Mr. Speaker, I would like to start this evening by thanking Lisa Freeman of Oshawa for the creation of this bill. I have known Lisa now for many years, and her public advocacy, which has led to this bill being introduced today, cannot be overstated.
Before I delve into Lisa's story and her contributions to this bill, I want to make it clear that I will not be mentioning the name of the man who took the life of her father in 1991. It is our job not to give notoriety to people willing to take the innocent life of another.
Lisa's father, Roland Slingerland, was brutally attacked and murdered in 1991. Lisa was but a mere 21-year-old at the time, and she was tasked with identifying her father after the attack. As a result, the murderer was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for 25 years, the standard practice for violent crimes such as this one.
However, 20 years into that sentence, the man responsible for tearing Lisa's life apart became eligible for early parole, for reasons that were never made clear to Lisa or her family. She was not told what her father's murderer had done to earn the possibility of early parole. She was not told why the Parole Board was considering releasing the murderer who had taken away the life of an innocent man, her innocent man. She was not told why her government would provide leniency to a criminal more than deserving of his punishment.
The fact is that Lisa Freeman was never even given a single piece of justification for why her country's justice system was willing to turn its back on the people it is designed to protect.
In the Criminal Code's current state, there is no legislation that requires the Parole Board to provide any reasoning to victims and victims' families for why the criminal who committed a crime against them is eligible for early parole. Many pieces of legislation protect the rights of victims. As this House knows, there is quite literally a Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, for the sole purpose of ensuring that the protection of victims' rights remains a top priority for the justice system.
However, the laws that we currently have on the books simply do not provide the right of victims to know: the right to know why those who have harmed them are eligible to be released. When a court of law convicts an individual, the justice system is not just punishing or rehabilitating a person; it is providing justice on behalf of the victim, too.
However, when a convicted felon not meant to be even eligible for parole for another five years is provided with the opportunity to walk freely in public, it is not fair to the victim's family to be kept in the dark as to why or how.
Another example of victims in Canada not having the right to be informed is the fact that Mr. Slingerland's killer was transferred to a prison in British Columbia that was only 10 kilometres from the home of Lisa's sister. Lisa was not made aware of this transfer until 24 hours after it occurred.
This is just another example of Lisa being in the same situation that many others find themselves in every day: uninformed. Since then, the killer has been transferred to a minimum-security prison on Vancouver Island. This facility has even been nicknamed “Club Fed” because of its lax restrictions on inmates.
This sheer institutional injustice influenced Lisa to become an outspoken advocate for victims' rights, specifically regarding the rights of victims to know why those who have inflicted pain upon them and the public as a whole are eligible to be released. She has not only been an outspoken advocate in my community on victims' rights, but has even gone so far as penning her own book to speak about her experiences throughout the entire Parole Board process, titled She Won't Be Silenced.
It is people like Lisa Freeman who make Canada the greatest country in the world. In the face of utter shock at the early parole announcement, she took a stand to ensure that other people just like her would never have to face the same treatment, the same neglect and the darkness that she was forced to endure as a result of the Parole Board's sudden and mysterious announcement.
I would like to take the time to read aloud a statement made by Lisa regarding this private member's bill: “Families such as mine are plunged unasked into unfathomable situations, and then further demoralized and re-traumatized by the actions of a government: i.e, the Parole Board of Canada, Correctional Services Canada, institutions that say they are supportive of victims of crime, which is, at best, an illusion.
“After dealing with Corrections since 2011, when I questioned why my father's killer was granted multiple day passes a full four years before his parole eligibility date, I quickly tired of the scripted lip service and virtue signalling of the Correctional Service of Canada, which purportedly assists victims but in reality does the opposite.
“Under the guise of rehabilitation, victims of crime often have to stand back and watch while violent offenders exercise their rights, which, as most victims of crime find, is nothing more than a mockery of justice and basic common sense. It was a quick realization on my part that any access to rights by the offender was in fact taking away from my rights, which has been proven time and time again.
“It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that victims of crime are treated with dignity and respect and to provide timely and accurate information in a transparent manner. With this legislation, it will avoid providing a sense of false comfort. Families like mine and indeed families coast to coast who find themselves trying to navigate the system at what is already a very trying time deserve more—and for the very least they deserve accurate information.”
It is because of Lisa Freeman that I stand here in the House today to speak to this private member's bill that is proposing amendments to the Criminal Code that would ensure that all victims and their families are aware of how parole dates and eligibility are determined, because the current laws on the books fall short in doing so.
While getting tough on crime, in my opinion, is key to creating a safer Canada, victims of crime—especially of violent ones, such as the murder of Lisa's father—must not be forgotten. In every criminal case, the two opposing sides are the Crown and the defence. However, it is right and just that the victims not be forgotten. They are the ones who truly suffer at the hands of criminals. In cases such as Lisa's, victims suffer not only at the hands of criminals but also at the hands of the government when they are kept in the dark.
The Parole Board grants 79% of day parole requests it comes across. For victims of crimes committed by people eligible for early parole, it is only logical and compassionate that they be made aware as to how those who have harmed them have a very high probability of being released into the public before the end of their sentence.
This is truly a non-partisan issue. Providing a reasonable explanation is not only logical but feasible as well. At this time, when the Parole Board determines a convicted criminal's date for parole eligibility, it sends a document to the victim who was harmed by the criminal's crime. All that is required under this bill is that the Parole Board clarify why the specified date for parole eligibility was chosen. The potential financial and procedural considerations are very limited, verging on non-existent.
This legislation would require that information regarding review and eligibility for all forms of parole be communicated in writing to the offender's victims. As such, victims and families would not have to feel uninformed about those who have harmed them. An explanation of how the dates for parole eligibility are determined would also be required in the written documentation. It is a simple matter of transparency. Victims deserve accurate and timely information regarding the parole process.
For every day we do not pass legislation on transparency for parole decisions, another victim and another family have to come to the realization that their government has neglected them.
This bill would avoid providing the sense of false comfort that comes to victims when they are misled about parole eligibility. Its purpose is to make Parole Board procedures more transparent and more accommodating to the rights of victims and their families.
This legislation has been applauded by advocates as giving a stronger voice to victims of crime. They will no longer be drowned out by the focus on the convicted. This legislation offers victims the ability to fully understand how and why the justice system is making decisions on their cases.
It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that victims of crime are treated with the utmost respect and dignity. To this point, the government has failed to protect the most vulnerable. It is about time this House takes a step forward to fix that situation.
In closing, above all, Canadians who have suffered as a result of an offender's action do not deserve to be re-victimized by the parole system. The current parole system is guilty of failing to be transparent. It is the duty of lawmakers in this House to repair the broken system. That is why I stand today. I call on my colleagues in this House to support this bill.
I would also like to thank my colleague, the member for Milton, for spearheading this initiative to provide transparency for the most vulnerable in our judicial system. It has been an honour to work with her, and this private member's bill is evidence of her hard work for her constituents and all Canadians.