Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of the motion put forward by my colleague, the hon. member for Surrey North. It might be worthwhile repeating its wording:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should direct the National Parole Board that any benefit of doubt in hearings and deliberations on parole shall go to the victim, the victim's family and public safety and not to the prisoner.
While the intent of Motion No. 139 is clear to me, I would like to expand on its objective for those who might criticize it for the use of the phrase "benefit of doubt". In that phrase we cam see both the strength and the reasonableness of the motion before us.
Criminal court proceedings are structured so that persons charged with an offence go free if it can be established that there is a reasonable doubt as to their guilt. It is pretty fundamental in our justice system. It is therefore only fitting in the case of an individual who has been found guilty and imprisoned that his or her parole application be refused if there is a doubt as to their ability to be reintroduced in society. In other words the benefit of doubt factor has already been addressed in good part.
Sadly there are those who would argue and try to convince us that is the way system works now. There are examples on examples that illustrate that people who so think have their heads in the sand.
In my colleague's own riding of Surrey North there are a few horror stories of criminals who have been released only to violently reoffend again. For example, a 10-year old girl was taken from her bed, brutally assaulted and murdered by a criminal who was out on conditional release. Another individual was killed in her own home by a person who was out on parole for a string offences including car theft. The list of tragic incidents goes on and on in communities across Canada.
The figures for 1994-95 show the following. Of those on conditional release 256 reoffended and were charged with criminal offences ranging from murder to armed robbery. Since 1987-88 and in almost any given year approximately 250 conditional release criminals have been charged with serious community offences. In 1989-90 alone 39 were charged with murder and 63 with sexual assault. Surely this gives us some pause to doubt that the system is working.
An article in today's Vancouver Sun read:
A man serving time for attempted murder was charged Wednesday with sexually assaulting a young female corrections volunteer while out on day parole. The woman, in her twenties, was alone in her home with Clinton Dale McNutt, 29, Monday when the alleged offence occurred, said the Abbotsford Police Constable-"We can't overstate how concerned we are about the whole parole system," he said. "Our concern is these people are out and our citizens can be put at risk".
That is what we are talking about here. Sometimes when we are pounding away on the justice system I hear members across the way saying that everything is fine and the justice minister is doing a great job. I think reality is the opposite to that. We on this side are heckled because we keep speaking out and pounding on the issue, particularly when we speak on behalf of victims.
In my riding and across the country it seems Canadians are tired of a justice system which puts the rights of criminals ahead of the rights of victims. It is as basic as that.
We get criticism from across the way. They will find out there in a couple of weeks knocking on doors. If they listen to what the people of Canada have to say they will get an earful. Ordinary people are saying it is not working. When Liberal members are on their doorsteps there will be no one to stop the constituents from saying what it is they think and feel about the government and the justice system.
I wonder if Liberal members will try to berate their constituents when they raise the topic of criminal justice during the campaign in the same way as the Prime Minister tried to tell a waitress from
Montreal that she did not read what she read and did not hear what she heard in relation to the government's promise to scrap the GST. So much for the criticism of members across the way.
What will we do? We would advocate a fundamental shift in who are seen as the real victims of crime. It begins with a change in the shortsighted National Parole Board definition of who is a victim, to one more much encompassing. Reform would expand the existing definition and define a victim as anyone who suffers as a result of an offence, physical or mental injury, economic loss, or any spouse, sibling, child or parent of the individual against whom the offence was perpetrated, or anyone who has an equivalent relationship not necessarily a blood relative. That is an important change in the definition of victim.
More important, Reform also recognizes the need to revamp the National Parole Board where the rights of victims in Canadian society are being well and truly ignored. Each of the following changes would need to be implemented by the government if Motion No. 139 is to have any meaning or significance.
First, the National Parole Board must be reformed to ensure that release conditions are enforced in favour of the victim whom I have just redefined, the victim's family and public safety, and not in favour of the offender. In fact it is not just on the parole board, our whole justice system needs this basic reform.
The parole board must be reformed and its responsibilities shifted to community merit release committees. The parole board must be reformed to ensure that sentences given to all violent offenders are served in full. The parole board must be reformed to ensure that dangerous offender status can be sought at any time during a criminal sentence and not just at the time of sentence. Finally, the parole board must be reformed to ensure that the parole is limited, earned and tightly monitored.
In conclusion, the motion before the House merits every consideration. I am saddened to know that the motion is not votable. If it were I would want members to know that I would certainly be voting in favour of it and thus allowing for a fresh start on criminal justice reform for all Canadians.