Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to address Bill C-55 as amended by the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs.
I trust that all members have noted the significant amendment to the judicial restraint order provision, deleting references to electronic monitoring.
I want to emphasize to members the crucial importance of this bill. The Canadian public has told us without equivocation that it wants the government to devote its attention to violent criminals, to spend the criminal justice dollar where it will do the most good.
Bill C-55 responds to that demand by giving the police, prosecutors and judges new tools for controlling violent offenders. It might have been easier for the government to simply amend the Criminal Code so as to lengthen sentences for every kind of offence. For example, if we doubled prison terms for every offence or imposed mandatory minimum sentences for every crime, it undoubtedly would have an impact. Of course the courts would be clogged with trials, are penitentiaries would be bursting at the seams and federal spending on corrections would expand almost endlessly.
I do not believe that Canadians want such sweeping, unselective measures. They have told us they want well targeted laws that get tough with violent offenders.
The public response to Bill C-55 has been very positive. The government supports the new long term offender concept which, in combination with the existing dangerous offender law, gives prosecutors another way to achieve long sentences for sex offenders.
I would like to briefly list the major innovations contained in Bill C-55. Each of these changes improves the criminal justice system's ability to target high risk offenders. Along the way I will
mention three of the amendments contained in the standing committee's report.
Bill C-55 improves the dangerous offender procedure contained in part 24 of the Criminal Code by requiring that a judge impose an indeterminate sentence in each case where a dangerous offender finding is made.
Previously it was possible in exceptional circumstances for the court to impose a limited period of incarceration, although such sentences were rare. In foreclosing that option we are not really limiting the alternatives available to the court. An indeterminate sentence is fully justified when we consider that the prosecution will have proven in a special hearing that the offender has shown a pattern of repetitive behaviour and the likelihood of causing death or injury to other persons or causing severe psychological damage on other persons through failure in the future to restrain his behaviour.
Bill C-55 also changes the date of the initial parole review of a dangerous offender from the third year of incarceration to the seventh year. It is important that offenders be eventually considered for parole. The fact that we are locking these offenders up indefinitely does not remove the need from a legal perspective for having a review of their dangerousness, but there never was any magic in conducting the first parole review after only three years. In fact, experience has shown that dangerous offenders are never released after such a short time.
A review at the seven year point seems more reasonable and more in line with the parole eligibility of violent offenders who otherwise receive long sentences of fixed duration. By the way, Bill C-55 would continue the provision for subsequent parole reviews every two years.
Another innovation created by this bill is the extension of the period during which the crown may bring a dangerous offender application. The proposed section 753(2) will allow the prosecutor to give notice to the offender of a possible intention to make a dangerous offender application within six months. It is quite possible that new victims or witnesses may come forward after trial who will show the true extent of the offender's criminality and whose evidence can fully establish the pattern of past brutality required to meet the dangerous offender standard. This new clause gives the crown the flexibility it needs to put together its case in the aftermath of a trial and sentencing.
A balance has been struck by the drafters of this provision. We have heard proposals to amend the Criminal Code to allow the dangerous offender application at anytime during the sentence or perhaps during the last year of sentence. Quite simply these models would not survive a constitutional challenge, a charter challenge, but this new window of opportunity is workable. It applies for six months beyond the conviction and sentencing.
It is circumscribed by rules that respect the rights of the defendant. For example, the prosecution must show that the new evidence has emerged that was not reasonably available at the time of sentencing and thus the crown has to exercise due diligence in the first place in marshalling evidence. Only when new relevant evidence appears can the delayed dangerous offender application be launched.
Bill C-55 also removes the requirement that two psychiatrists testify at every dangerous offender hearing. A few witnesses before the the standing committee criticized this change in the law as though it somehow impinged on the rights of the defendant or reduced his ability to defend himself. This change does not reduce the ability of the defendant to introduce expert evidence and call evidence. The Criminal Code and the Canada Evidence Act continue to apply. All this amendment does is avoid the requirements for two psychiatrists to appear at every hearing. Unfortunately there is a shortage of qualified available forensic psychiatrists in some parts of Canada. In fact, in many dangerous offender cases both sides end up agreeing that one psychiatrist should testify.
The long term offender sentencing category is at the centre of Bill C-55. This is a new measure. It not only enables the prosecution to seek extended controls over various kinds of serious sex offenders, but the procedure set up by Bill C-55 is linked to the dangerous offender process so that in many cases a long term offender finding may result as an alternative when a dangerous offender application does not succeed. It is worth taking a moment to explain the interaction between the two procedures.
Let us assume that we are dealing with a case of aggravated sexual assault involving an offender with a history of violent offending. Upon conviction for the individual offence of aggravated sexual assault the crown can seek from the court a remand for assessment by experts. This assessment with serve both purposes, either a dangerous offender application or a long term offender application. Hopefully the assessment will invoke the skills of psychiatrists, criminologists and others who can come up with a sophisticated assessment of the risk posed by the offender.
Once the assessment report is filed the prosecution can then decide which kind of application to make, but the crown has flexibility. This is the important point. Even if a dangerous offender application fails, the court can still find the offender to be a long term offender, provided of course that the criteria are met. In effect the court can say that the threshold for a dangerous offender finding is not satisfied but the same evidence supports a long term offender finding.
Alternatively, the court can move quickly to bring a second hearing on top of the long term offender issue and accept more evidence.
I would like to highlight one of the amendments contained in the standing committee's report. The Criminal Code already provides for input by victims of crime in criminal proceedings, either by personal testimony or through victim impact statements. It will certainly be important to hear from victims during the dangerous offender hearing. However, as I mentioned, when a dangerous offender finding is not made the judge may proceed with a second hearing on the long term offender issue. This could impose a hardship on crime victims if they have to testify again at a second hearing. Therefore the amendment explicitly states that any evidence already given by a victim or a victim's family at a dangerous offender hearing is also deemed to have been received at the subsequent long term offender hearing.
The long term offender idea has received broad support. During the standing committee hearings it was supported by the Canadian Police Association, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime and the victims rights group CAVEAT, among others.
It targets sex offenders. It essentially goes after that group of offenders just below the dangerous offender level. These are sex offenders who are likely to receive serious prison time but who perhaps do not warrant an indeterminate sentence.
Under Bill C-55 proposals they will indeed get their usual sentence of incarceration but in addition, and when found to be long term offenders, the court will order up to ten years of additional supervision in the community. Only when the offender has completed his penitentiary sentence, including parole, will the long term supervision period begin.
The long term offender criteria requires on the one hand that the court find that there is a substantial risk that the offender will reoffend, on the other that there is a reasonable possibility of eventual control of that risk in the community.
Are we trying to be optimistic and pessimistic at the same time? Let me point out again that the offender will get the usual sentence for imprisonment for his crime. The additional long term supervision period allows the national parole board and the correctional service to control the offender's gradual transition back to community life. The provision is intensive and the long term offender who breaches any of the conditions of the court's order can be pulled back into custody, not to mention charged with the newly created offence of breach of a long term supervision order.
The third pillar of Bill C-55, which is admittedly controversial, is the new judicial restraint order to be added to the Criminal Code as section 810.2. I remind my colleagues of the purpose of this new measure. This restraining order is modelled on the existing section 810.1 which was designed to prevent offences against children.
This new order is designed, somewhat more generally, to prevent serious personal injury offences. Despite the controversy swirling around this measure, its underlying principle has been clear from the beginning. The goal has always been to prevent violent incidents, to establish in a court of law the risk presented by certain individuals and to command those individuals to keep the peace and be of good behaviour; in other words, to meet the standard of conduct that is expected of them as participants in society. Conditions may be attached to these orders in much the same way that conditions are attached to probation orders or to other peace bonds.
A lot of newsprint has been devoted to the question of electronic monitoring in section 810.2. The original bill envisioned electronic monitoring controls being imposed as a condition attached to the judicial restraint order but only where the court thought it would be appropriate and where such programs are available. In case some of my colleagues think that electronic monitoring is an abstract idea or science fiction I invite them to look at the facts. Several Canadian provinces use electronic monitoring in conjunction with supervision to manage probationers and other offenders.
British Columbia, for example, has 350 offenders in its program at any one time. These programs are expanding. Call it what you want, a control mechanism, a monitoring device, a crime prevention tool, electronic monitoring programs have their place.
However, concerns have been expressed about the capacity of the criminal justice system to use the technology appropriately and with sufficient moderation in the context of restraining orders. The most common use of technology has been to ensure that the offender remains in his or her home and only leaves the premises according to a set schedule.
We are all familiar with the concept of electronic bracelets being applied to offenders. The standing committee, after hearing a number of witnesses, concluded that we should be cautious in the use of such technology in situations that are entirely preventive. In other words, electronic monitoring, as presently used by Canadian provinces, curtails liberty to some extent. We should be careful in applying it where the subject is not actually convicted of any offence.
The reprinted bill deletes all explicit references to electronic monitoring in connection with the proposed judicial restraint order and I believe that this significant change should satisfy the critics of the legislation.
To summarize, Bill C-55 as amended, delivers on the government's commitment to strengthen the law to control sex offenders. It is solidly based on three years of work by the federal-provincial
task force. It is supported by the provinces which ultimately have the responsibility of prosecuting these offenders.
Police support this bill. The standing committee supports it and has introduced amendments to improve it. I commend this bill to my colleagues.
I just want to add that the bill presents another significant step forward in the efforts of the government to make our streets and homes safer places to be. The Minister of Justice has introduced significant reforms to criminal justice. As well, the Solicitor General has introduced a number of reforms. More reforms have been introduced to the criminal justice system, more steps have been taken to toughen up the criminal justice system than have ever been taken by any single government in the history of our nation.
This is something of which we can be very proud. This particular effort is the result of collaboration between the federal government, the provinces and hearing submissions from the many interested parties. I wish to thank all those who have been involved in the process.
As a number of commentators have indicated, the bill is the most significant improvement and change in the Criminal Code in dealing with violent offenders that has been introduced in decades. Of that we can be very proud. I commend the Minister of Justice for his efforts, those on the standing committee who have put forward some intelligent, common sense amendments and for all the hard work that has been put into this bill, a lot of people deserve credit. We commend it to the Canadian people.