Mr. Speaker, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to Bill C-19 introduced by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety.
I would remind the House that, when this bill was first introduced in the House on June 4 of last year, it was known as Bill C-40. It died on the Order Paper when Parliament was prorogued on November 12. We now want to reinstate it and refer it to committee before second reading.
As we know, a subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights made a number of recommendations in its report entitled “A Work in Progress: The Corrections and Conditional Release Act”. All 53 recommendations contained in this report were approved by the standing committee. The government then accepted 46 of these recommendations, the majority of which were implemented internally by the Correctional Service of Canada and the National Parole Board.
We now have before the House the responses to some of the recommendations yet to be implemented. These responses were gathered in a bill, because they need to be officially approved before they are implemented.
Before going over some of the proposed measures, let me give you an indication of the efficiency of this legislation and of its impact on public safety.
Since the Corrections and Release Act came into force, the crime rate has dropped to its lowest in 20 years and keeps decreasing. It is important to note that, for the same period, the number of inmates in Canada has practically stopped increasing.
Also, the number of prison sentences is declining while public safety measures are on the rise. For instance, according to Statistics Canada, 8,914 criminal offences were reported to police in 1996, compared to 7,590 in 2002. Therefore, the number of inmates in federal prisons has decreased from 14,100 to 12,600, for a total decrease of 1,500.
I could also point out that the success rate of offenders on conditional release continues to be excellent. During the past year, over 99% of temporary absences, 84% of day paroles, and over 75% of full paroles encountered no problems. That shows that the legislation is working very well overall.
Countries all over the world respect Canada for the integrity and efficiency of its criminal justice system because, while on the one hand, it protects its citizens by ensuring that offenders are kept and supervised in safe and humanitarian conditions, on the other hand, it prepares offenders for their reintegration into society as law-abiding citizens.
The provisions of Bill C-19 will make it possible to increase the effectiveness of this act and respond directly to the concerns expressed by citizens. Bill C-19 is designed to tighten up the provisions relating to the accelerated parole review process, as it is called in the act. The current provisions apply only to offenders who are serving their first federal sentence and who have been convicted of a non-violent crime, and allow them to be released on parole at the earliest date possible, provided it is unlikely they will commit a violent offence after their release.
The bill will tighten up these provisions in a number of ways. First, offenders sentenced for the following criminal acts will be added to the list of those already excluded from the accelerated process: criminal organization offences, child pornography, high treason, sexual exploitation of a person with a disability, causing bodily harm with intent in certain cases, and torture.
Second, parole under this process will no longer be statutory. The National Parole Board will use much more stringent tests. Each case will be subject to an individual review and decision by the Board. Moreover, the bill will ensure that, when reviewing the cases of offenders eligible for accelerated parole review, the National Parole Board take into account the likelihood of re-offending in general, versus the likelihood of committing violent re-offending, as is the case under current legislation.
Finally, the APR provisions will increase the ineligibility period for day parole for offenders serving more than six years, if those offenders are serving a first federal term for a non-violent offence.
So these are proposals to be added to what is already in place; they will improve the legislation. The bill will ensure society is better protected through provisions on statutory release.
Offenders serving a sentence for a determinate period, that is anything shorter than a life sentence or a sentence for an indeterminate period, who have not been on day parole or full parole, benefit from statutory release with supervision after they have served two-thirds of their sentence.
However, offenders who, in the opinion of Correctional Services, are likely to commit another offence causing death or serious harm, may be sent before the board for examination with a view to continuing incarceration or imposing special conditions.
The concept of statutory release is based on research which has proven that the best way to protect society is to implement a gradual, structured release program before the end of the sentence, rather than a release without transition at the end of the sentence.
The bill before us today will tighten up the provisions relating to statutory release in a number of ways. First, it will require the service to examine all cases with a view to their eventual referral to the national board.
Second, Bill C-19 will require Correctional Service Canada to refer to the National Parole Board the case of all offenders who have committed a sexual offence involving a child and all those who are likely to commit an offence causing death or serious harm, so they can be kept in prison until the end of their sentence.
The tightening of provisions relating to the accelerated review or statutory release of offenders, which I just outlined, will inevitably have an impact on the number of cases the board will have to review.
That is why this bill increases the maximum number of board members from 45 to 60.
Another provision in Bill C-19 concerns victims of crimes. Our opposition colleague from Langley—Abbotsford addressed this subject.
The bill will give victims the legal right to make a statement at parole hearings. Now, we could discuss the amendments proposed earlier by our opposition colleague.
Currently, victims are authorized to make a statement only under a board policy. Now, this will become a legal right. The measures proposed, which I have just briefly touched on, directly respond to many recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Justice. They follow up on almost all the improvements recommended by this committee.
The protection of society continues to be the guiding principle of the correctional process, as indicated in the bill's first principle. This legislation will continue to be closely scrutinized by the Standing Committee on Justice, the media, Canadians and, of course, the opposition parties.
The government remains open to any suggestions to improve the correctional process and is committed to making the necessary changes in due course.
We have the opportunity to take concrete action, once again, to further improve this system. For this reason, I urge my hon. colleagues to support Bill C-19 without reservation.