Mr. Speaker, it is always an honour for me to address the House.
On May 17, 2012, the government introduced Bill C-37, which amends the Criminal Code provisions on victim surcharges as currently set out in section 737.
I have listened to many of the speeches given by my colleagues on both sides of the House, but mainly on this side, since few government members have spoken about this bill. I trust the judgment of my hon. colleague from Gatineau, who was the first to say that we would be supporting this bill at second reading. I also respect her legal experience. For my part, I worked for quite some time as a special constable, for I have always had a special interest in saving lives and keeping the people in my community safe.
At the beginning of this Parliament, I was our party's public safety critic. I care deeply about the safety of my fellow citizens. Now while debating this bill, it is our duty as legislators to ensure that victims of crime have the support they need.
Many people here have pointed out the lack of funding for programs and services offered to victims, and like my colleague, I am very concerned about this. That is why I will vote in favour of this bill, for we in the NDP support many of the recommendations made by the ombudsman for victims of crime, many of which are addressed in this bill. Furthermore, we have always supported increased funding for programs and services offered to victims of crime.
Bill C-37 amends the Criminal Code sections dealing with victim surcharges. A victim surcharge is an additional penalty imposed on offenders at the time of sentencing after they have been convicted of an indictable offence. This bill doubles the amount of victim surcharges and makes them mandatory for all offenders.
The surcharge would be the equivalent of 30% of any fine imposed on the offender at sentencing. Currently, the surcharge is 15%. If a judge does not impose a fine with the sentence or if no fine applies, then the surcharge would be $100 for summary offences and $200 for indictable offences.
Judges will be able to impose a higher victim surcharge if circumstances warrant and if the offender has the means to pay it. This provision is interesting because it leaves room to adjust the fine, but especially because it gives judges discretionary power in cases where this might apply. These fines will be collected by the provincial and territorial governments and allotted to the programs and services for victims of crime. These fines are not supposed to end up in the consolidated fund of any province or territory. We must ensure that this will indeed be the case.
A number of my colleagues have also mentioned that the programs and services are severely underfunded and that the precarious finances of these organizations often jeopardize the success of their mission. Crimes have considerable socio-economic repercussions on victims, including funeral costs, the need for psychological counselling and lost revenue. There are many repercussions for the families of victims of crime.
The statistics say it all. In 2003, crime cost roughly $70 billion, $47 billion of which was assumed by the victims. In other words, the victims assumed 70% of the cost. In 2004, a study estimated that the pain and suffering of the victims was in the neighbourhood of $36 billion. That is huge and, unfortunately, the victim surcharge is not going to fully cover this cost, but it will help.
Did the government do its homework and use the best possible tool for maximizing the funding for these organizations? That remains to be seen, and I hope we can determine that when we study the bill in committee.
This bill could contribute to funding these organizations and if that is the case, then I am most pleased. If it also—although I have my doubts—helps make an offender accountable and prevents recidivism, then just like the government, I will be very happy. But make no mistake, this is not a magic solution. The provisions in Bill C-37 will not solve all the problems, but they will be another good tool to help provide funding to the organizations.
We should not, however, expect that the impact of this bill will be significant enough to dissuade a person from committing a crime, as some members mentioned in their remarks.
This is where policies and programs on crime prevention and offender accountability come into play. Since the beginning of this parliament, the Conservatives have introduced many justice bills involving mandatory minimum sentences. Yet, they have done very little in the way of crime prevention and offender rehabilitation.
That is why, when I was a member of the Standing Committee on Public Safety, I endorsed a balanced approach to crime and rehabilitation, as did my other colleagues. It is important to invest in prevention and rehabilitation in order to minimize the chances of people committing a first offence or reoffending. We must not focus all our efforts on punishment. The Conservative Party's vision of this concept is rather shameful.
For the Conservatives, punishment solves all problems. There are so many factors that lead to crime that we must take a multi-faceted approach to dealing with it. Poverty, unemployment, inadequate housing and low levels of education are all factors that contribute to a rise in crime. A preventive approach must address all these problems in order to achieve effective results.
It is also important to have intelligent corrections legislation and policies accompanied by rehabilitation programs that help to reduce recidivism. It is everyone's duty, as a community, to help victims of crime and to do everything possible to prevent people from becoming victims of crime.
The bill also contains provisions regarding offenders who are unable to pay the fine. Under Bill C-37, these people can participate in a provincial fine option program. These programs allow offenders to pay their debts by earning credits for work done in the province or territory where they committed their crime. I think this is a worthwhile approach because it could get offenders involved in their communities and make them feel accountable, which will greatly contribute to their rehabilitation.
However, the government will have to regulate these programs, since they must be fair and equitable, in light of the sentence, and must be standardized across Canada. I hope the government has done its homework, and we will be able to check that once the bill is sent to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. We must not blindly rush into this, since these programs do not currently exist in all the provinces and territories. What happens when a program does not exist? This is a legitimate question that my colleague raised during the first debate.
If a province must create a new program, it will require funding to do so, and once again, like with Bill C-10, the government may end up passing the bill on to the provinces. Has the government consulted the provinces about this? Will the provinces once again be on the hook for financing the government's crime agenda? I would like a clear answer to that question.
The bill will eliminate the court's ability to exempt the mandatory surcharge if undue hardship to the offender or the dependants of the offender would result from payment of the surcharge. I have some concerns about this provision. The bill indicates, in order of priority, the debts that the offender will have to pay, and support payments are at the top of the list.
In conclusion, like my colleagues, I have a number of concerns about Bill C-37, but I support the spirit of the bill and some provisions that deserve to be studied more carefully in committee. A number of the questions we asked the government have not yet been answered, and we think that they deserve to be discussed in committee. We must talk about the proposed elimination of the judge's discretionary power to decide whether paying a surcharge would cause undue hardship to the offender or dependants of the offender. I think that discretionary powers for judges are very important and that we must protect their autonomy.