Mr. Speaker, Bill C-240 seeks to address concerns about the incidence of offenders repeating violent offences, particularly sexual offences.
The focus of the bill is upon the identification and further detention of a select group of offenders who are identified after sentencing during their period of incarceration as presenting a continuing and substantial threat of harm to the physical or mental well-being of other persons.
Predicting violent behaviour is undeniably a highly valued goal in terms of achieving community safety. Attaining this goal is very elusive. Other speakers have addressed the wide variety of measures which have been tried or which are currently under way to deal with the protection of society from dangerous offenders.
There are, however, a number of obstacles to effectively carry out this highly laudable goal. Approximately 10 per cent of all crime can be called violent. The base rate for violent behaviour is therefore quite low. For example, given the fact that only 10 per cent of all crime is violent, if we were to predict that no one would behave violently we would be correct about 90 per cent of the time.
The crux of our problem is that no one is satisfied with even a 90 per cent rate of prediction. Research over the past decade has made significant strides in the prediction of violent behaviour.
Correctional Service Canada has been working hard at developing risk assessment instruments and has developed one of the better assessment and prediction tools in the world.
The major predictors of criminal and violent behaviour have been reasonably well identified in research. These predictors include criminal companions, a history of anti-social behaviour, anti-social attitudes, family problems, cognitive dysfunction and low educational and vocational achievement. Some of the items in this list can be assessed relatively easily through extensive and detailed individual histories. Some, such as cognitive dysfunctions, require sophisticated testing.
One of the better predictors relates to assessment of psychopathy which comprises many traits including callousness, manipulation, dishonesty, irresponsibility and persistent anti-social conduct.
There are childhood predictors of violent recidivism associated with difficulties in pregnancy, especially the addiction of mother to alcohol or drugs, early childhood problems such as temper tantrums, and being the victim of or witnessing abuse or parental conflict.
Various conduct disorders characterized by stealing, lying, fire setting, truancy, sexual aggression, violence, cruelty and running away from home are strongly related to violent recidivism.
The research seemed to suggest that there is an increasing ability to predict dangerous behaviour. Accurate identification of the highest risk offenders can be achieved by combining measures of psychopathic traits, demographic variables and criminal histories.
Although using such tools will optimize the accuracy of predictions, it will not unfortunately identify all persons who will commit violent crime after release from custody.
Attempts to refine the predictions even further will result in high numbers of people wrongly identified as dangerous persons. It will greatly increase the costs of such measures and will impinge upon the rights of the many individuals improperly identified.
One of the striking things about the predictive factors which have been associated with violent recidivism is that virtually all of them occurred years before the violent offence for which we are concerned. They were known or could have been known at the time of sentencing.
The Criminal Code contains extensive provisions for dealing with dangerous offenders. The definitions in these sections have evolved over time and have survived or have been modified by a variety of legal challenges. Since we are increasingly able to predict dangerous offenders, the tools for managing the kind of problem being addressed in Bill C-240 already exist within the Criminal Code.
What is needed to address the kinds of cases leading to the current expressions of public concern is better early identification and prosecution of the most dangerous offenders. The various jurisdictions involved in administering criminal justice need to carefully scrutinize cases of violent and dangerous offenders to ensure that the appropriate use of existing dangerous offender provisions are made.
Finding ways to identify and track high risk offenders from as early as possible in their contacts with the criminal justice system throughout their involvement with the law will enable prosecutors to better apply the dangerous offender provisions of the Criminal Code. Finally it must be recognized that some offenders will slip through the net of criminal justice prosecution.
For these individuals, better co-operation and co-ordination at the policy level, at the level of prosecutions, in the correctional domain and, most important, with mental health can provide effective solutions to dealing with high risk offenders without exposing our current, effective and tested tools to the risk of invalidation on charter grounds.
In closing it is important to recognize an unpleasant reality. It is ultimately impossible to identify in advance all those individuals who will commit heinous acts. Our long term interests are better served by more effective crime prevention.
I quote from the 12th report of the Standing Committee on Justice and the Solicitor General entitled "Crime Prevention in Canada: Toward a National Strategy":
The Committee accepts that crime will always be with us in one form or another and will require police, court and correctional interventions.
At the same time, it believes that our collective response to crime must shift to crime prevention efforts that reduce opportunities for crime and focus increasingly on at-risk young people and on the underlying social and economic factors associated with crime and criminality.
This comprehensive approach involves partnerships between governments, criminal justice organizations, and community agencies and groups.
And it situates the crime problem in a community context and sees its solution as a social question.