Mr. Speaker, let me begin my comments by stating unequivocally that in spite of the comments often lobbed against us in this place by the government side, New Democrats have always defended victims' rights. We want them to have access to the services and support they need. We have fought, and will continue to fight, each and every day to help victims across the country get the funding, support, and resources they need to overcome the physical and psychological trauma that results from often unspeakable actions perpetrated against them by the most heinous of criminals.
We need to start by looking at a little bit of the history of this bill. The Conservatives promised to enact a Canadian victims bill of rights, or CVBR, as it is often called, in 2006. Sadly, it has taken more than seven years for this promise to finally come to fruition. It was not until the 2013 throne speech that the Conservatives finally made good on their pledge to victims, when they announced that the government would introduce a victims bill of rights to restore victims to their rightful place at the heart of our justice system.
Statistics about the cost to victims from crimes perpetrated against them are startling and underscore the urgency of creating a system that puts victims' rights at the fore of the criminal justice system. For instance, a study released in 2011 by the Department of Justice Canada found that the total cost of crime is estimated to be $99.6 billion a year, 83% of which is borne by victims.
For the nearly two million criminal incidents that were reported to Canadian police services in 2012, more than 450,000 primary and secondary victims sought victims' services that year alone. Given that a large component of victims' service providers make heavy use of volunteers, clearly more resources are needed to ensure that victims can access the services they require when they require them. Here, 72% of victims' services providers made use of volunteers. Obviously, these volunteers deserve kudos and applause for their commitment to assisting victims of crime. However, it also demonstrates a dire need in our community for resources specifically dedicated to the victims of crime and their families.
Let me be clear. New Democrats support this bill and any effort to improve the circumstances of victims of crime. However, New Democrats also feel that this legislation should go further. It certainly does not meet the expectations the Conservatives have been setting since 2006. For instance, the Canadian victims bill of rights would not designate legal obligations for other stakeholders in the judicial system. It would simply provide access to a vague mechanism to file complaints with various federal departments, agencies, and organizations that have a role to play in the justice system when victims have had their rights infringed.
Complaints directed at provincial or territorial organizations, including the police, the crown, and any victims' rights organizations, would be processed directly under the appropriate province's or territory's law. The practicality of this can certainly be questioned, and no specific funds have yet been attributed to the implementation of these mechanisms for examining complaints or for helping out the provinces in this regard.
The victims bill of rights also includes preclusive clauses stipulating that the new rights be enforced within reasonable means and that they avoid interfering with the discretionary powers of the police or the crown, causing excessive delays, compromising investigations and or proceedings, and bringing procedures to a standstill. In addition to this, the Canadian victims bill of rights would not confer third-party stakeholder or observer status to those who represent victims at criminal proceedings.
In sum, while it is nice to have principles and to propose bills and charters, this bill would fail to establish a legal obligation for judicial system stakeholders to implement these rights and the resources required to do so.
Quite simply, the Conservatives have yet again failed to articulate a holistic approach to an issue, and have simply chosen to introduce legislation that sounds good from a public relations perspective, but will not have the full impact that victims of crime are seeking.
Teresa Edwards, of the Native Women's Association of Canada, articulated this point exactly when she appeared before the justice committee proceeding on Bill C-32:
We have a long way to go, and I really hope this legislation is not just another piece of paper that the government can point to and say it's doing something about victimization. We really need to translate that into action.... I do want to see action. I want to see results, and I want to see measured, concrete steps of how it's actually going to impact the lives of aboriginal women victims, so that we don't have to keep coming here.
While not surprising from this government, the recommendations from victims and the associations that represent them, as well as those of specialists and professionals who testified at committee, were largely ignored by the Conservatives, who also voted down all of the NDP's sensible amendments to incorporate these views into the scope of the bill.
For instance, Sharlene Lange, the mother of a victim, testified before the justice committee that:
Beyond the sentencing stage of the process, the victims basically fall off the face of the earth. Rights need to go beyond the criminal process for this bill to even be a bill of rights.
Further, the very well respected former attorney general of Manitoba, Andrew Swan, voiced his concerns over the potential for the bill to be just a public relations exercise without the proper follow-through from the government, stating:
We don't want this to be an exercise where the federal government lays down some regulations, say they've done their job and then wash their hands of it.
He says that, if the government does not create a channel to make the bill enforceable, like Manitoba's support services office, then it is an empty gesture.
In conclusion, I would reinforce that New Democrats have been consistent in our support for victims rights. Being the victim of a crime can be incredibly traumatic, and our hearts go out to Canadians who are living through these experiences.
We believe that victims should be able to access support programs and have assistance as they navigate the justice system. It is critical that the government invest in victim services, crime prevention, and other smart solutions to keep our communities safe.
Finally, unlike the Conservatives, we want changes that will make a difference, not just proposals designed to get media attention.
As I am concluding, I just want to ensure that I said I am sharing my time with someone. I want to make sure I did. With that, I now look forward to the question and answer period.