Mr. Speaker, it is always an honour for me to rise in the House and speak on behalf of the people I represent in Alfred-Pellan, in the eastern part of Laval.
I took the time to carefully study Bill C-644, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (failure to comply with a condition). After what was presented to us and what was included in the bill, and after discussing it with various experts in a number of fields—and I will talk more about that later in my speech—I unfortunately must oppose such a bill, for a number of reasons that I will go over here today.
First of all, by introducing this bill, the Conservatives have proven once again that they are more interested in scoring political points than they are in bringing forward really effective measures to improve public safety. The current system, as we know it, already allows for a return to custody when offenders violate parole.
What is more, the courts are already clogged up and can barely keep up with the cases submitted in a reasonable timeframe, which is hurting victims and undermining the entire justice system. Not only does Bill C-644 exacerbate that problem, but it could also prove to be extremely costly for Canadian taxpayers.
As I mentioned, the current system already allows for a return to custody of offenders who violate parole. Such violations include breaking a curfew, associating with a criminalized group, being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and so on. It is based on an individual risk assessment done for every offender by either the Correctional Service of Canada or the Parole Board of Canada.
I would remind the House and especially the member introducing this bill that conditional release is an integral part of the rehabilitation process and contributes to enhancing public safety. I am not the only one to say so. A number of experts in various fields, including people who work with victims groups, people who work with Correctional Service Canada, or other people who work along the way in the conditional release process all agree.
By disrupting the Parole Board of Canada's operations in this way and interfering with offenders' reintegration into society, this bill does absolutely nothing to improve public safety in Canada.
As I said, we on this side of the House took the time to consult a number of experts to ensure that we had good advice on this bill. A number of stakeholders support the NDP's position. I received an opinion from the Office of the Correctional Investigator, among others, expressing concerns about this bill. Furthermore, much like us, Steve Sullivan, a former federal ombudsman for victims of crime, the John Howard Society of Canada, the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers and the Association des services de réhabilitation sociale du Québec have serious concerns about Bill C-644.
I would like to talk about what some stakeholders who oppose this bill had to say. I spoke with the Association québécoise Plaidoyer-Victimes, which said that this bill will only complicate the system and burden everyone involved, especially the victims and their loved ones, who go through incredibly stressful and disappointing situations as a result of the slow process and the lack of consideration they face. The association is wondering how this bill will benefit victims and their loved ones. Unfortunately we cannot get a straight answer to that question.
I also took the time to meet with the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers. Although this is not being considered, this bill, as it is now, will have a direct impact on the officers' work. They have no idea how these new conditions will apply to their work. It seems that there will be a very significant impact on the procedures within Canada's correctional system and on the work of these corrections officers. They have some serious concerns and they also oppose this bill.
I also found it extremely interesting that the former federal ombudsman for victims called for better parole provisions and wanted the government to work on that. When he appeared before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, he said a number of things, including this:
I would encourage all members to understand, and I'm sure you all know this, that parole is actually an integral part of public safety.
We absolutely must not forget—for public safety and for the safety of the many victims all across Canada—that we need good laws.
The bill before us conflicts with everything we know about the parole system. We have to make sure that people reintegrate successfully. Unfortunately, what this bill proposes will just make things worse.
If I may refer to my notes, there are several other things I would like to mention. For example, various provisions of this bill suggest that it also conflicts with several UN conventions we have signed. What is more, it conflicts with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. All in all, what we have before us today is very serious.
In summary, I would have liked to see a more useful bill. If the members on the other side of the House really want to protect victims as much as they say they do, then could they propose concrete measures to truly ensure that victims are protected? Could they ensure that we have an effective conditional release system? It already is, as there are some extremely competent people working in that area. However, there is currently a very heavy burden in terms of timeframes. The system is often too slow and if the government really wanted to improve things, it should have invested its energy on improving conditional release measures.
I think that was all I wanted to say about this bill. As I will say again to the House, I will oppose this piece of legislation. I think that as the official opposition, the NDP did a very good job and held meaningful consultations on this bill. We consulted people from various sectors, including Correctional Service Canada officers who will be directly affected on the ground.
What is more, the people who represent victims across the country or who have done so in the past have some serious concerns about Bill C-644.
That is why I am with them, I am standing up for them, and I will oppose Bill C-644.