Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-15, the International Transfer of Offenders Act, at third reading stage. After second reading and consideration in committee, this bill has received strong support from all members who have taken part in this debate so far. Now is the time to move on to the third and final stage.
The current Transfer of Offenders Act came into force in 1978, following a United Nations meeting where member states agreed that international transfers were desirable because of increasingly greater mobility and the need for countries to cooperate on criminal justice matters.
Since 1978, only technical amendments have been made to this act. Policy issues relating to international transfers have expanded due to Canada's greater experience with treaties and legislative amendments brought about by the Corrections and Conditional Release Act in 1992, Bill C-41 on sentencing in 1995, and Bill C-45 on sentence calculation reform in 1996.
Bill C-15, which we have before us for third reading, would modernize the legislative framework authorizing the implementation of treaties, including multilateral conventions on the international transfer of offenders. I am particularly proud to sponsor this bill because of its objectives relating to public safety and the humanitarian objectives it will advance.
The purpose of this bill concerning the transfer of offenders and related treaties is essentially humanitarian. Canadian citizens are often imprisoned in countries where they are unfamiliar with the language and culture. Furthermore, it is not unusual for the places where they are held to fall short of even the most rudimentary Canadian standards for health, hygiene and safety. The isolation felt by Canadians in these difficult conditions of detention adds to the hardship they face, especially without regular contact with family and friends. Awareness of these conditions also causes suffering to the offenders' families in Canada.
This legislation has another important goal. It will contribute to protecting Canadian society. For offenders who are serving prison terms outside Canada, rehabilitation may be impossible. Often, the countries where they are imprisoned do not have any treatment programs or parole systems. In addition to this shortfall, there is the lack of direct support by family and friends, which is often the key to reintegrating offenders into society. This lack of programs and support reduces their chances of long term rehabilitation, and this has an impact on public safety. That is why it is so important to be able to repatriate Canadians.
The International Transfer of Offenders Act will also contribute to the administration of justice. Canadian offenders who are returned to Canada must serve their foreign sentences right to the end. When they arrive in Canada, they come under the authority of the Correctional Service of Canada, or a provincial corrections service, which is responsible for their gradual and controlled reintegration into society. This solution is preferable to deporting offenders to Canada at the end of their sentences. If they are deported, they arrive here with no correctional monitoring and no help in reintegrating into society.
Most states recognize the importance of cooperation in criminal justice matters.
The states enforce criminal laws and sentences to dissuade people from committing illegal acts. However, offenders do not escape justice by purging the remainder of their foreign sentence at home. The international transfer of offenders program allows countries to do this.
In its consideration of this legislation, the government consulted 91 private and governmental organizations. These consultations and consideration confirmed the need to clarify and update the current Transfer of Offenders Act, which, as I mentioned, dates back to 1978.
This resulted in proposals to amend the legislation that would reflect traditional international treaty principles, close identified gaps, ensure consistency with other legislative provisions, and improve efficiencies of the transfer of offenders.
For example, Bill C-15 would integrate a clause stipulating that the purpose of this new legislation is to contribute tothe administration of justice, the rehabilitationof offenders and their reintegrationinto the community by enabling them toserve their sentences in the country of whichthey are citizens. This important characteristic would clarify the intended purpose of this legislation. It would contribute to the interpretation of the legislation and to ensure parliamentary endorsement of the approach and policy behind legislation.
The voluntary consent of the offender to his transfer is also a key principle which, in reality, serves as the foundation for Canada's participation in the international transfer of offenders. This notion is based on the traditional humanitarian objectives of treaties. This is a critical notion, because the prospects for an offender's successful rehabilitation and reintegration would likely be compromised if an offender were forced to transfer against his or her will.
Foreign states may also be less inclined to approve a transfer on humanitarian grounds if the offender has not willingly consented. This is why Bill C-15 would reflect this important principle.
To ensure truly informed consent, the bill provides that Canadian authorities must explain to offenders how they would serve their sentence upon their return to Canada. In this context, the bill also provides that Canadian authorities must give to any foreign offender who asks for a transfer to his country of origin information provided by that state and describing how the offender would serve the rest of his sentence in that country.
The current Transfer of Offenders Act does not provide for the transfer of young offenders who are on probation. This omission is not compatible with the provisions of the act. Indeed, the act authorizes the transfer of adult offenders who are on probation, or who are serving a term of imprisonment. Bill C-15 would correct this inconsistency by making young offenders who are on probation eligible for a transfer.
The current Transfer of Offenders Act does not provide for the transfer to Canada of children who may be serving a sentence abroad. Bill C-15 would correct that by authorizing the transfer to Canada of children of Canadian origin who are under 12 years of age and who are being detained abroad. The bill also provides that, following their transfer to Canada, children would not be detained under the terms of their foreign sentence. Instead, they would be covered by the legislation dealing with the well-being of children in the relevant province or territory. This is an illustration of the humanitarian nature of the bill.
These provisions would broaden the scope of the offender transfer system and advance the primary objective of this legislation.
At this time, Canada may enter into a treaty for the transfer of offenders only with recognized foreign states. Recent international events such as the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. and Yugoslavia highlight the need for a transfer mechanism for Canadians serving sentences in jurisdictions not recognized by Canada as foreign states.
In these cases, a considerable amount of time must pass before the jurisdictions are formally recognized as foreign states. Consequently, Canadians incarcerated and serving sentences in these jurisdictions do not have access to the international transfer process when a treaty does not exist between Canada and a foreign state or when one has been negotiated but ratification is still years away.
In all these cases, there may be compelling reasons to return an offender to the home country. That is why Bill C-15, clause 31, which is a major clause in this bill, provides for the negotiation of administrative arrangements with a foreign entity or non recognized state, in order to render the transfer system more sensitive to the international situation. It would allow Canada to transfer its citizens back home under the authority of Correctional Services Canada, which would be responsible for the gradual and controlled reintegration of these offenders into Canadian society.
Most offenders benefit from transfer agreements. Although the number of entities having signed and ratified treaties or conventions on the transfer of offenders is still limited, it is increasing. Serving a sentence in a foreign country adds to the seriousness of the sentence and often denies the offender access to the correctional programs and community support that are essential to his reintegration. It is not in society's best interest for things to continue this way.
The Transfer of Offenders Act and the treaties and conventions implemented by that act have achieved their goal and continue to play an important role in Canada's international relations. Major progress has been achieved in prisoner transfers. Every year, about 85 Canadians are transferred to Canada under a treaty or a multilateral convention for the transfer of offenders. Since 1978, more than 1,000 Canadians have been repatriated and more than 100 foreign offenders transferred to their country of origin. Once again, while these numbers are not large, they will surely increase once this bill is in place.
I would like to highlight the need for more flexible legislation to advance the humanitarian objective Canada has in mind with this bill on the international transfer of offenders. The need for more cooperation between countries as far as criminal justice is concerned is obvious, as is the need to protect the public by reintegrating offenders into society safely and gradually, and with proper monitoring.
Bill C-15 would meet all these needs by reflecting the traditional principles of international treaties, remedying detected shortcomings and ensuring consistency with other legislative measures. This bill would contribute, among other things, to expanding the system to a wider range of offenders and including more entities within the category of those with whom Canada could enter into transfer agreements.
For all these reasons, I urge hon. members to support Bill C-15 at third reading.