Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand in my place and speak to this important piece of legislation.
The pipeline safety act is another example of our government's commitment to protecting both Canada's economy and the environment. Our government knows that the two do go hand in hand.
As Canadians know, our government is dedicated to creating jobs, economic growth, and long-term prosperity for everyone across this great land. That is our first priority. However, we also recognize that jobs and economic growth cannot come at any price. As the Minister of Natural Resources has said repeatedly, no project will proceed under our plan for responsible resource development unless it has been proven safe for Canadians and for the environment.
In fact, we have spelled it out very clearly as a commitment in our Speech from the Throne:
Our government believes, and Canadians expect, that resource development must respect the environment. Our Government's plan for responsible resource development includes measures to protect against spills and other risks to the environment and local communities.
The pipeline safety act is one more example of our government's promise made, promise kept approach to governing. I would like to read two more sections from our throne speech, because they outline the necessary action we promised to take on pipeline safety:
Our government will: Enshrine the polluter-pay system into law; Set higher safety standards for companies operating offshore as well as those operating pipelines, and increase the required liability insurance.
With Bill C-46, we are delivering, just as we promised and just as Canadians would expect from their government. I am truly proud of that. We are doing exactly what we said we would do.
Specifically, this new legislation for pipeline safety focuses on prevention, on preparedness and response, as well as on liability and compensation.
As the Minister of Natural Resources said when he launched this debate, the amendments in this act send a clear message. The Government of Canada will ensure that Canada's pipeline safety system is world class, that first nations are involved in pipeline safety operations, and that taxpayers are protected. These are fundamental responsibilities for a federal government, and we are fulfilling our obligations fully and directly.
I am also pleased to see that members opposite have agreed that Bill C-46 is another important step in our efforts to ensure that Canada is a world leader in pipeline safety. As the member for Hamilton Mountain said, “I would be less than honest if I did not acknowledge that the amendments appear to be a step in the right direction”.
Moreover, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley said, “This may sound strange, but I have looked forward to some version of such a bill for many years”. It is strange, since New Democrats are completely opposed to all form of resource development. However, we appreciate that they recognize an excellent piece of legislation when they see one.
Just as important, it appears that all sides of this chamber have finally acknowledged that Canada's energy sector is the key engine driving our economy. The oil and gas industry alone contributes almost 8% to our gross domestic product. It employs 360,000 Canadians directly and indirectly, and it generates more than $23 billion annually in government revenue to help pay for social programs like health care, education, and infrastructure.
At the same time, pipelines are crucial to the safe transport of oil and gas across our country and to markets beyond our borders. As we have heard many times during this debate, Canada has an enviable record on pipeline safety. Of all the oil and product transported through about 73,000 kilometres of federally regulated pipelines in Canada, 99.999% of it has arrived safely.
My colleague from Nanaimo—Alberni captured this point very well with a reference to his home province of British Columbia. He said:
We had a pipeline going through Burnaby for more than 60 years, and most people in Burnaby did not even know it...
As my colleague for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry said:
...most homes in Canada are heated with natural gas, all of which is delivered by pipelines, but Canadians do not need to give it a second thought because it all happens so safety and seamlessly every single day.
Canada has a reputation for building and operating pipelines safely. This is one of our country's many strengths, and our government is determined to keep improving upon this record. That is why we have already implemented other important measures. For example, we gave the National Energy Board new authority to levy administrative monetary penalties and additional resources to increase its inspections and audits each year. As a result, oil and gas pipeline inspections have increased by 50% a year and comprehensive audits of pipelines have doubled.
The pipeline safety act would move those yardsticks even further. I would like to highlight a few examples. At the top of the list is the proposal to enshrine in law the polluter pays principle, to ensure that polluters would be held financially responsible for any costs and damages they cause. The legislation would also introduce absolute no-fault liability and require companies operating pipelines to hold minimum financial resources for incident response. For companies operating major oil pipelines the requirement would be set at $1 billion. As well, the pipeline safety act would, in exceptional circumstances, provide the NEB with the authority and resources to take control of incident response and cleanup when a company is unable to do so. Also, the new legislation would expand NEB authority to recover costs from industry for that backstop.
Furthermore, we are working with aboriginal communities and industry to enhance the participation of aboriginal peoples in all aspects of pipeline operations, from planning and monitoring to responding to incidents. This would ensure that aboriginal peoples participate fully in related employment and business opportunities.
These are all right and good measures. They are perfect examples of how our government is leading the way in protecting the well-being of Canadians, our communities and the environment. They also remind us of how safety standards can and should be enhanced as technologies evolve and regulations are improved.
The pipeline safety act delivers on all of these fronts. It ensures that Canadians keep setting the bar when it comes to the safe transport of oil and gas. I urge all members to support this valuable piece of legislation.
Before we go to resuming debate, I would like to make a clarification. On the 15-minute time that is allocated to members, the maximum time in that 15 minutes for debate and/or a speech is 10 minutes. Normally in that 15-minute slot, one could take up to 10 minutes for remarks but the remaining 5 minutes would be left for questions from members of their particular caucus.
My apologies to the hon. member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry. In the last iteration, we may have been off sync in terms of what we were doing.
Mr. Speaker, first I would like to take the time that you have generously given to me to say two words that we do not hear often enough in this chamber: “thank you”.
It is with humility that I would like to thank the members of Parliament and the House of Commons staff for all their kind words of encouragement over the past few weeks and months.
I wish to say a very special thank you to the members for Barrie, Brant, Burlington, Don Valley East, Kitchener—Conestoga—right here behind me—Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, Mississauga South, Okanagan—Shuswap, Sarnia—Lambton, my seatmate, Saskatoon—Humboldt, Scarborough Centre, Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, Vancouver South, Willowdale, and Winnipeg South Centre, and to the very dedicated vice-chair of the veterans affairs committee for carrying my duty in this chamber and in committee.
Also, thank you to the citizens of Orleans and my friends and family for their visits, their encouraging words and their prayers. Their support and assistance has helped me to feel better and to get better. I thank them from the bottom of my heart.
Even in the most difficult times, I made an effort to be in this House and to vote, as it is our duty to do. Voting is a fundamental Canadian right. It is a symbol of our identity. It is the oxygen that keeps our democracy alive.
In many countries, much blood has been spilled and many diplomatic efforts have been made to establish democracy and the right to vote. It is our way of saying yes or saying no to the type of society that we want to build. Canada is a model of modern democracy around the world.
Developing democracies call on Canadians when they want to ensure that their elections are free and fair. Our sense of duty and our expertise give us international credibility in election monitoring.
Between 2009 and 2013, the Canadian International Development Agency, with the assistance of CANADEM, deployed more than 800 Canadian election observers in bilateral missions and 30 multilateral missions in more than 20 countries.
These observers went to Haiti, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Senegal, and many other nations.
Because I participated in one of these missions, I have a keen interest in this subject.
In 2004, I was assigned by CANADEM to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to co-chair a team of international observers during the rerun of the second round of the presidential elections in Ukraine. The other co-chair was a Swiss engineer. We were sent to Dnipropetrovsk.
It was an exhilarating experience. I was able to see first-hand that Canada is synonymous with democracy and freedom. However, that which does not evolve is doomed to disappear. We can continue to be proud. We can continue to improve things.
We will continue to be a model of democracy around the world only if we allow democracy to evolve. The separation of powers is a basic component of our system.
Consistent with separating the administration of the law and its enforcement, the fair elections act proposes that the commissioner be under the authority of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
In a hockey game, would we ask the owner of the Ottawa Senators to referee a game between the Sens and the Canadiens?
Our Minister of State for Democratic Reform said it well: the referee should not be wearing a team jersey.
Canada's government, which I support in this House, proposes that greater independence be given to the person with the power to conduct investigations and enforce the law.
The fair elections act will make our legislation more stringent, clearer and easier to follow.
It would protect Canadian voters from fraudulent and misleading calls by setting up a mandatory public registry. We want to establish a new public registry for mass calling.
Telephone service providers involved in voter contact calling services, and any individual or group that uses these providers would have to register with the CRTC.
We also propose that the fines for preventing or trying to prevent someone from voting be 10 times higher. Under this legislation, anyone convicted of impersonating an election official would face a jail term. These penalties would be more severe for individuals who deceive people out of their votes.
According to the Neufeld report, identity vouching procedures are complicated and have a 25% error rate. That is one in four. This problem is threatening our democracy, and we must take action, and so we propose to put an end to vouching.
The fair elections act would also require Elections Canada to tell Canadians which pieces of identification will be accepted at the polling station so that they know what to bring with them.
Thirty-nine different pieces of ID can be used to prove a voter's identity.
In addition, the voter information card would no longer be considered valid identification.
Elections Canada must also inform voters which pieces of ID are valid and would be accepted at the polling station. These cards contain incorrect information one out of six times.
The show Infoman highlighted the problems with voter information cards during a segment called the “Elections Canada two-for-one special”.
To prevent the more powerful elements in our society from drowning out citizens’ voices, we would ban the use of loans to sidestep donation regulations.
Some people have used unpaid loans to evade donation limits and make larger donations.
As elected representatives, we must stay clear of this type of pressure.
That is why we insist on standardized and transparent reporting for political loans.
In addition, candidates and political parties that have exceeded the ceiling on election expenses, would see their reimbursements reduced, and we would maintain a total ban on loans by unions and businesses.
I am pleased to say that Marc Mayrand, the current Chief Electoral Officer, lives in Orleans, as does his predecessor, Jean-Pierre Kingsley.
While Mr. Mayrand does not seem to support this brilliant bill produced by the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, his predecessor appears to. Mr. Kingsley gave it an A minus, indicating that it is a good bill.
When I received an A minus, I did not ask for a rewrite—
Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to thank my colleague from Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry for everything he has done to make our streets safer.
Unlike the Liberal leader, our government is not afraid to introduce minimum sentences to protect the most vulnerable and to deal with pedophiles.
In the case of people who are deemed not criminally responsible, if they are a threat to society, we will ensure that they are deemed high-risk and are behind bars in order to protect honest people, families and victims.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Prince Edward—Hastings for his insight into this important bill. As the chair of the public safety committee, he has some very important views to add and his comments earlier, being a former police officer.
It is a pleasure to have an opportunity to speak about this issue of grave concern to our Conservative government and to all Canadians: the use of drugs in our federal prisons.
As hon. members know, our government has a robust agenda in place to strengthen the laws so offenders are held accountable for their actions and to increase the voice of victims in the criminal justice system. To this end, since 2006 we have supported significant crime prevention programs and invested in a wide range of support services for victims of crimes and passed laws to ensure that sentences match the severity of the crime. We have also committed to bringing forward legislation and a victims bill of rights that would enshrine the rights of victims in law. The legislation before us, the drug-free prisons act, would build on this work.
Notably, it brings back to us one of the key parts of our crime and public safety agenda; that of increasing offender accountability. This push to hold offenders accountable for their crimes forms the basis of much of our correctional programming. This is apparent in the many bills we have introduced and passed.
Offender accountability is a prominent feature in many elements of the Safe Streets and Communities Act, which received royal assent in March 2012. In that comprehensive bill, our government made a number of changes to increase penalties and to place the onus on offenders to succeed in their own rehabilitation and reintegration into the community.
We introduced measures ensuring violent and repeat youth offenders would be held accountable for their actions and that the protection of society would be of paramount consideration.
We ended the use of house arrest and conditional sentences for those offenders convicted of serious and violent crimes. We made it the law that federal offenders would have expectations for their behaviours and objectives for meeting court ordered obligations, such as restitution to victims or child support.
We modernized the disciplinary system, creating new offences for offenders who had disrespectful and intimidating behaviours toward correctional staff.
We made certain that if authorized to be outside of an institution before the end of their sentence, offenders would be expected to continue on the right path. We did this by providing police officers with the power of arrest without warrant of an offender who appeared to be in breach of any condition related to the condition of his or her release.
We made it the law that offenders who received a new custodial sentence would automatically have their parole or statutory release suspended.
We changed the laws so those who committed serious crimes, like sexual offences related to a minor, would be no longer eligible to apply for a record suspension.
We ensured that the Parole Board of Canada could proceed with a parole review, even if the offender requested to withdraw his or her application within 14 days without a valid reason, thereby ensuring that the process would be serious and respectful of victims who planned to attend the hearing.
These are common sense measures that Canadians want and commitments that we are delivering on.
In the last session, a private member's bill put forward by my hon. colleague, the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, was introduced to ensure that offenders would be held responsible for paying their debts to creditors, such as victims with restitution orders, when they received payment from the Crown.
We recently saw the coming into force of the Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act which would double the victims' surcharge that offenders must pay and would ensure that the surcharge was automatically applied in all cases.
It is clear that we have made progress in increasing offender accountability for a wide range of crimes and in a wide range of situations.
The importance of offender accountability applies equally to the topic at hand: drug use in federal prisons. Our government has taken decisive steps to remove drugs from our federal penitentiaries. In 2007, the Correctional Service Canada, or CSC, adopted a transformation agenda to address areas of concern within our correctional system. Among those areas was that of eliminating drugs from institutions. A consistent national approach was implemented to manage who and what was entering our institutions. New search and surveillance technology, including additional drug protection dog teams, allows for better screening and detection.
Furthermore, the national anti-drug strategy of CSC works within a zero tolerance policy that takes a multi-prong approach to tackling drug and alcohol use, including urine testing, administrative consequences and disciplinary actions.
In particular, urinalysis has been a key focus of the CSC and plays a role in the legislation before us. The use of random and required urine testing is seen as a critical tool in an institutional setting. It holds offenders to account, providing a strong deterrent to drug use.
Of course there are well-defined circumstances in which the CSC can use these tests. First, there are the reasonable grounds for testing, such as finding drugs or drug paraphernalia in a cell. Second, the offender must undergo drug testing in order to participate in a particular institutional program. Third, it is part of a random drug testing program used by the CSC.
Random resting is both fair and effective and an excellent method to helping keep offenders accountable for their actions in prison. The test is random and an inmate who is using drugs cannot plan ahead to ensure he or she is clean the day of the test. Furthermore, if offenders refuse to take the test, they can be subject to the same sanctions or infractions they would receive if they had failed the test.
CSC has recently increased its random monthly testing to help ensure every offender is tested every year and now tests 10% of the offender population every month, up from 5%. With this increase in random testing, the CSC will have more information at its fingertips to monitor an offender's progress and to measure our efforts to create penitentiaries free of drugs.
The legislation before us proposes two amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which will empower the CSC and the Parole Board of Canada to use this urine test data to ensure offenders are held to account. Bill C-12 would stipulate in law that the Parole Board could cancel an offender's parole if the offender failed the test or refused to take a urine test in the same period between being granted parole and physically leaving the penitentiary. It would also emphasize in law the Parole Board's ability to set specific abstinence conditions on offenders as part of their parole conditions. Any evidence of drug use could result in the Parole Board cancelling an offender's parole.
We believe these are reasonable expectations of offenders to take responsibility for their actions and be held accountable for those actions. We believe this legislation can help us create a safer environment in our prisons. While many members seem to support more drugs in prisons, Canadians are not fooled. Canadians elected a Conservative majority government that was tough on crime, and we will crack down on drugs in our communities. That is exactly what we are doing, and we will continue to do that.
Mr. Speaker, first let me commend the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry for bringing this legislation forward in the House. He always works very hard for his constituents. He is one of the people who, after I was first elected, was very helpful in helping me better understand the role of a member of Parliament and how things work in this place.
This is a great bill that the people in my riding of Oak Ridges—Markham are very excited to have me support. It adds to the many great positive pieces of legislation that we have brought forward to protect Canadian families and individuals. It is another reason why Canadians know that they can put their faith in those of us on this side of the House to always look after the rights of hard-working, law-abiding Canadians.
The NDP has put forward an amendment and I want to say a couple of things on the record about that. I know that while the NDP amendment aims to reconcile the potential discrepancy in definition of a spouse between the French and English versions of the bill, I note that it is limited to only child, spouse and conjugal cohabitant support orders. The problem with this is that it may actually exclude other forms of family law orders established by provincial law, such as parental support.
The reason why the amendment by the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry is far superior is that it would achieve a better resolution. It relies on the language of existing federal legislation to make sure that this loophole is closed. I applaud the member for putting that amendment forward because that is what parliamentarians always try to do, to bring forward private member's legislation in the House. This government is very well known for consulting with and listening to Canadians and making sure we have the opportunity to truly respect the will of Canadians. We make the changes that are necessary to do that. I applaud the member for doing that.
The member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry's amendment would ensure better consistency with both federal and provincial laws. For those reasons, I cannot support the NDP's amendment and will be supporting the amendment by the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry. I will take a quick moment to thank the hon. member for bringing this bill forward. It is very important and another example of how this government and members on this side of the House are working every single day to make sure our communities are protected. Hard-working, law-abiding Canadians can count on this government to make sure that we do everything possible to keep communities safe.
I will be supporting the amendment by the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry because of the things I have mentioned.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise and speak to this bill. From the outset, I recognize the noble intention of the sponsor of this bill, the hon. member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry. We can see a sincere desire to increase the accountability of those who have been found guilty of a crime against society. However, I feel that the bill applies to very rare and specific cases, but that does not mean that it is not commendable. It simply means that its impact on the prison population will be rather limited.
That being said, it will certainly bring some tangible assistance to an offender's family, for example. I look forward to studying the two proposed amendments. At first glance, those amendments seem very similar, but, according to the hon. member who just spoke, there are some rather significant differences. So I am going to examine the two amendments to try to draw the appropriate conclusions. We are all rowing in the same direction and we want the same thing. We just have to find the most effective way to reach our common goal.
Will the bill increase the accountability of offenders who have successfully taken legal action against the federal Crown for a crime they were a victim of and who have received an amount of money as compensation? Perhaps. There are always some small miracles in life, including in the prison system, I am sure. That is one of the two objectives of the bill. The bill seeks to help those who are victims of crime, both the victim of the act committed, and the person, for example, whose parent committed the crime, was sent to jail, and was thereby unable to provide for their spouse or children.
Generally speaking, making a human being accountable has to do with developing a sense of respect for other human beings. This starts with planting a seed that helps us recognize our responsibility for the well-being of another human being, often the well-being of a loved one. It is more of a journey than a one-time thing. It is a journey, a path that leads to having an open mind and a sense of duty; it can even lead to feeling satisfaction from helping another person.
As I said, that does not mean that an inmate required to give the amount received in compensation to one of his family members could not, all of a sudden, develop a sense of responsibility. This sense of responsibility is generally developed through programs given in Canadian penitentiaries. These programs are recognized worldwide. For decades, Canada has developed very effective inmate programs. These programs have been successful, according to experts not just in Canada but around the world, experts who have seen fit to adapt the programs in their own countries.
It is mainly through these programs that an inmate will develop a sense of responsibility. So we need to continue to focus on these programs, such as the CORCAN program, which everyone is familiar with. CORCAN is a business that reports to Correctional Services Canada and is run within the prisons themselves. This business builds cabinets and all kinds of very marketable things, which gives the inmates a sense of well-being and responsibility. So we need not to forget about these programs.
The purpose of the bill is obviously very noble, and it is a step in the right direction, but we need to continue to focus on rehabilitation through programs that are well-funded by the federal government.
A number of objections to the bill have been raised. For example, what happens if an offender wins his case against the Crown? He gets his money, the money goes to his family, and at some point in the future, it turns out the person was not guilty and was incarcerated for a crime he never committed. What happens then? Yes, the money would have been given to his family. That does not mean he wants the money back. Anyway, he would probably take the government to court and would probably get back the money that had been taken away after he was compensated the first time around. Practically speaking, I do not think that this is a problem even though the bill does not address this possibility.
However, it is possible that the bill could be struck down because it encroaches on provincial jurisdiction. We know that all matters relating to property, such as firearms management, fall under provincial jurisdiction. So there could be legal action at that level. Also, as we heard from one of the witnesses who appeared before the committee when we studied the bill, someone could try to have the legislation struck down because it involves expropriating the property of a Canadian citizen, even if that is done for a good cause. We will see whether the threat of that kind of lawsuit materializes.
That being said, the government must make absolutely sure that, when it creates a bill, that bill can stand up to attempts to strike it down based on the Constitution or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If not, we will see what we saw yesterday when, for the third time, a judge struck down a government crime bill because it was not drafted properly to begin with. In the long run, that could result in injustice.
Madam Speaker, understanding and respecting the Standing Orders and traditions of the chamber, I know it is not proper and not accepted to make any reference to the whereabouts or absence of a particular member in the House. I would ask the Speaker to check Hansard on this. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment had referenced that I was commenting on the absence of a member from the House. When I spoke about the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry and the regional minister from P.E.I., it was about their absence on the file and the fact that people in their ridings were losing jobs, not any reference to their absence or physical whereabouts in the House.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to the same private member's bill, Bill C-350, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders). The bill would require that any monetary amount awarded to an offender pursuant to a legal action or proceeding be paid to victims and other designated beneficiaries.
I believe my colleague, the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, proposes this measure in good faith and attempts to tackle—
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-350, a private member's bill introduced by the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry regarding the accountability of offenders.
This is an important topic. Canada has in the order of about 40,000 prisoners presently, which represents a very small share of our population. Although it sounds like a large number, it is less than 1% of our population. About 15,000 of these prisoners are in federal custody while the remainder are in provincial penal systems. Our incarceration rate is in line with, or slightly lower than actually, incarceration rates from many of Canada's peer countries, with an exception. It is far less than a third of the rate of incarceration in the United States.
In addition, the crime rate in Canada is actually decreasing, including the severity index for violent crimes. Even so, it seems that the government intends to greatly expand our prison system. Under the government's planned changes, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, last year, estimated that the cost of running of our prisons could grow to $9.5 billion annually in 2015-16. That is up from $4.4 billion in 2010, which is more than double. That could require the construction of up to a dozen new prisons. Mr. Page found that the numbers could be twice as high in the provincial system as well.
I can only see our prison population ballooning even higher than the Parliamentary Budget Officer's estimates with the legislation introduced recently by the government, such as Bill C-10. We could see any number of people convicted and sent to jail for five years for just circumventing digital locks to listen to their purchased CDs on their iPods or copying their DVDs onto their laptops, for example. Who knows how many people might be sent to jail when their cell phone locations are scanned by the authorities and they happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, going home from work through an area where a protest breaks out.
With these and other changes from the Conservative government, including mandatory minimum sentences, I expect to see our prison population in this country growing and growing under the government.
This raises questions. How are taxpayers expected to pay for so many Canadians in jail when the federal government is running a steep and rapidly growing deficit and our provinces are struggling financially as well? Surely the government is aware that we would have a hard time paying for megaprisons and megaprison populations while trying to balance the books.
Does the Prime Minister intend to burden we taxpayers, our taxpayers, our constituents and the provinces with so many prison costs that he will just throw up his hands in a few years and say that we cannot possibly afford it anymore and that the prison system needs to be privatized.
This would fit in lockstep with his overall philosophy of allegedly creating smaller governments and privatization. However, it could have catastrophic consequences for Canadian society. If incarceration itself becomes a profit centre when the Conservatives privatize the jails, it will be in many corporations' best interests to send more people to jail for longer and keep them there.
That means that our goals as a society will have changed from rehabilitation and good outcomes for citizens to one of maximizing the incarceration rate, a growth industry. A well-funded private prisons lobby could emerge to keep pressure up for ever-harsher laws. They could lobby to ensure that many more people cease to be productive members of society, no longer paying taxes but instead left rotting in prisons or being criminalized even further there.
To me, this is a disturbing picture of Canada's future if we continue down the government's path. We can see how badly that road has worked out for the United States of America. In the early 1980s, privatization of prisons took off in the U.S. with the war on drugs and harsher sentencing. States could no longer afford to run their prison systems and so companies starting taking over more and more prison services and eventually entire prisons. Incarceration skyrocketed, doubling every decade from less than half a million in 1980 to over two million by the year 2000.
Our neighbours to the south now have by far the highest incarceration rate in the entire world. They have the largest prison population on earth. With less than 5% of the world's overall population they have almost a quarter of the world's adult prison population. We have all heard about the extraordinary incarceration rates of African Americans and other visible minorities in the U.S.; entire generations thrown in jail. Are we going to replicate that failed system here in Canada?
I cannot begin to detail the tragic social costs that come when incarceration becomes a profit-making enterprise. Sadly, this was all for nothing. U.S. statistics show that cost savings promised to the taxpayers by privatized prisons simply have not materialized. It is no wonder that states such as California and Texas are now backpedaling on privatized prisons.
For Canada, this is a very real possibility given the crime agenda advanced by members on the other side of the House. Statistics Canada found that 93% of Canadians are satisfied with their personal safety, so most do not live in fear of crime or criminals. Perhaps they should start worrying about some politicians as being costly to their welfare.
This private member's bill takes on a new importance in light of all of this. If we are to have so many more people in prison, then we need to make sure that families and others surrounding them do not pay more of a price than they need to. The aim of this bill is to make sure incarcerated people are held to account for their actions financially with respect to victims and families. That is a laudable goal.
As my colleagues have discussed, it mandates that family members and victims to whom the offender owes money would be compensated first from any financial gains awarded to that offender by a court settlement. I support an underlying presumption in the bill that the principle of accountability and learning accountability is important in the rehabilitation process of all inmates.
My colleagues on this side of the House and I believe it is important to rehabilitate offenders, not harden them and offer criminal graduate degrees. Part of that rehabilitation involves meeting obligations to others. It is taking responsibility for debts owed.
I also see a welcomed item in this legislation, and that is child support. Children of offenders should not be punished for their parents' crimes. All too often they are. They often fall through the cracks. Children whose parents have been incarcerated face unique difficulties. Aside from the sudden separation from their caregiver, sometimes their only caregiver, these children have to deal with fear, depression, anger and guilt. They are often moved around from caregiver to caregiver. They are at higher risk of failure in school and delinquency. They are often left in poor circumstances financially as well. I am glad to see that Bill C-350 counts child support as a priority for repayment of debts.
I know that this version of the legislation has been tweaked from a previous iteration to take into account not just child support but also respect for the jurisdiction of the provinces as well. I am very happy this seems to signal an openness to improvements so that the bill may pass with broad support from all parties. It gives me hope that we can improve things for Canadians if and when the bill passes in the other place. I know from personal experience that all too few private members' bills actually end up becoming law. I wish the member luck with his legislation.
To sum up, the bill has merit in that it seeks to help victims and families. I support this private member's bill going to committee for further consideration.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to the bill moved by the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry.
However, I am rather ambivalent about it because, although we agree that prisoners ought to be accountable and we agree with the recommendations of the Ombudsman for Victims of Crime who talked about some of these issues and suggested that the Corrections and Conditional Release Act be amended to ensure that offenders who fill their court ordered sentences, including restitution, and victim fine surcharges and also the suggestion that there be authorization for the Correctional Service of Canada to deduct from an offender's earnings while in prison reasonable amounts for the restitution or victim fine surcharge orders, some of this can be done by regulation. In fact, there is no need to change the act to do that at all.
I am curious that the member did not address that. I want to talk about the government's talk about victims. Who are we talking about? We are talking about somebody who has successfully sued Her Majesty the Queen on the basis that there was something committed against them. It specifically refers to any debt owed to an offender as a result of a monetary award made by a court, tribunal or agency proceeding against Her Majesty the Queen or any agent employed by Her Majesty the Queen in the course of performance of his or her duties.
Who are we talking about? Are we talking about a prisoner who has been abused by some agent of Her Majesty the Queen who then successfully sues Her Majesty the Queen and is entitled to a monetary award? I do not know how many people there are like that. Perhaps the member can address that in his closing remarks. Are we talking about two? Are we talking about 10? Are we talking about hundreds of people? Is there really any purpose for the bill? Is there anything to be gained by this? It only deals with people who sue Her Majesty the Queen.
The member referred to spurious lawsuits. If it were a spurious lawsuit against Her Majesty the Queen, it would not be successful. It would be thrown out of court. I do not know what the evil is that is being corrected. However, I do agree with certain aspects of what the member said in that, yes, if an offender has obligations to his family, which is supported by a court order in the case of spousal support, child support or the other items listed, they would get the money before the offender would. However, I think that is already provided for by the law of the provinces referred to by the member for Lac-Saint-Louis and as noted by the parliamentary officers who advise on legislation.
I think there are some problems with this. The notion is not a bad one. I do not know whether it can be amended at committee to allow for deductions from offenders' pay to cover court restitution orders or to cover the other ones that are mentioned here, whether it be spousal support, the business dealing with victim fine surcharges, for example, or restitution orders. These are things that surely should be able to be handled by a different sort of amendment that authorizes deductions of those items from payments due to an offender.
The member is on the right track when it comes to trying to find a way to ensure that offenders who are receiving money while in prison can have deductions made to look after these matters, but we should not build it around what he has done in saying that this is for people who successfully sue the Crown for some action taken against them by an officer of the Crown in the performance of his or her duty. That obviously means somebody committed something against the prisoner who might be considered a victim of a civil tort.
The bill is a bit misguided in that sense but there may be something that can be done with it. New Democrats are not saying that the bill does not deserve further consideration in committee but we need listened carefully to what legal experts told us about jurisdiction. In my province, there is a judgment enforcement act that deals with the issue of priorities as to who gets what money from a court judgment. It may be that this legislation could override that and that is something that needs to be further examined.
There is a bit of a mix-up in terms of what the member has suggested. I would like to know, in terms of his own research, why he feels this bill is necessary. Are there hundreds and thousands of people incarcerated who are receiving monetary awards on claims against Her Majesty the Queen? How many are we talking about? Is this a problem that needs to be solved in this way or would we be better off looking at the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to ensure that the provisions in sections 76 to 78 ensure that payments may be deducted. Subsection 78(2) states:
Where an offender receives a payment [or income]...from a prescribed source, the Service may
(a) make deductions from that payment...in accordance with regulations made under paragraph 96(z.2) and any Commissioner’s Directive....
That seems to me to be the place where we ought to be looking because that is the provision of the act that allows for deductions to be made from any prisoner's income.
I have listened to the member and I do not agree with his statement that the government is concerned about victims because, if it were, it would have listened to the victims who testified before the public safety committee on Bill C-19. They were concerned about the wholesale lack of protection that would be left if the bill were to pass through the Senate because of all the other measures that were taken away, along with the so-called long gun registry. It did not listen to them. It did not listen to the victims and families of École Polytechnique who testified. It also does not seem to be interested in reinstating support for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Boards across Canada, some of which have shut down due to lack of federal support.
Victims are going without the compensation that was available previously during the 1990s. In fact, I represented a large number of victims of sexual abuse at a particular orphanage in St. John's. We went to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board on a regular basis to get support for counselling and what was available under the Criminal Injury Compensation Act. However, that act no longer exists. There are no criminal injury compensations in my province anymore because of lack of funding and federal support.
We do not hear anybody on the other side say that we should get back on track with criminal injuries compensation. Maybe I am putting something in their ears over there. Maybe they should ask the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Justice why they are not supporting criminal injury compensation in Canada, which used to be the case with previous governments. We do not talk about what we are doing for victims. We talk about what we are doing to offenders.
The biggest worry I have is that many of the things being done to offenders within Bill C-10, for example, would lead to more hardened criminals, less rehabilitation and more crime as a result. When people are not rehabilitated when they are in prison, when they are released they will be more likely to offend, which will lead to more victims. They have the wrong end of the stick when it comes to the approach the government is taking.
New Democrats will support this bill at second reading, allow it to go committee where we can see if something can be done with it that fits the jurisdiction and the Constitution and that can provide for deductions being made from prisoners' incomes to meet some of the objectives that the member suggests.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of Bill C-350, which addresses crucial changes to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act as it relates to the accountability of offenders.
I would like to thank the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry for his hard work on behalf of victims of crime.
Before I begin, I would like to take a moment to briefly review what the bill is all about. Bill C-350 is about putting more focus on offender accountability and restitution. It will do this through two key changes.
First, the bill would amend the wording in the purpose section of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which currently refers only to custody and supervision, and rehabilitation and reintegration. The new wording will clarify that one of the purposes of the federal corrections system is the following:
encouraging the accountability and responsibility of offenders, with a view to ensuring that their obligations to society are addressed.
Second, the bill sets out the priorities for debt repayment in cases when an offender is owed a monetary award as a result of a legal action against the crown. What this means in essence is that an offender will first have to satisfy outstanding debts before collecting any award. The debt owed to the offender would be paid on a pro rata basis and in the following order of priority, to amounts owing, pursuant to the following: a spousal or child support order; a legal restitution order; any victim surcharge order; and any person with a civil judgment against the offender. It is only after all of these priorities have been addressed that any outstanding amount from the monetary award would be paid to the offender.
While our government supports the rights of offenders to be treated humanely, we also believe that offenders must be held accountable for the debts they owe. Learning how to do this is an important part of their rehabilitation.
This legislation would ensure that crown debts are distributed with these obligations in mind and ensure that priority is given to victims and the spouses and children of these offenders.
At its core, the bill is really about supporting victims and holding offenders accountable for their legal obligations. That is why our government is pleased to support this legislation, with some minor amendments. When the bill reaches committee stage, we recommend amending it to add clarity regarding the role of the Correctional Service of Canada in the administration and operation of these provisions.
Our government is wholly committed to supporting victims and ensuring that the justice system takes the consideration of victims to heart, and I am proud of our impressive track record. For example, we have committed $52 million to enhance the federal victims strategy to better meet the needs of victims. We have created and provided ongoing support to the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime as an independent resource for victims. We have provided support to the National Office for Victims at Public Safety Canada to give victims a greater voice in the corrections and conditional release process, and to help them access the services that they need.
These are only a few examples of how our government has dedicated itself to supporting victims of crime.
Just as important, we remain committed to making sure that offenders are held accountable. Because more needs to be done, our government included offender accountability measures as part of our safe streets and communities act that we introduced in September 2011. Bill C-10 contains measures that will help to enhance offender responsibility and accountability while strengthening the management of offenders during their incarceration and parole. It would also give victims access to more information about the offender who has harmed them and modernize disciplinary sanctions for offenders. Under that proposed legislation we would amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to emphasize the need for offenders to conduct themselves in a way that demonstrates respect for other people and property.
As well, the proposed changes would require all offenders to obey all penitentiary rules and conditions governing their release, while also actively participating in the setting and achieving of objectives in their correctional plan, including their behaviour, program participation and meeting their court-ordered obligations such as restitution to victims. This ties directly to the legislation that we are discussing today.
Another element of offender accountability found in our safe streets and communities act is amendments to modernize the system of discipline in federal penitentiaries by addressing disrespectful, intimidating and assaultive behaviour by inmates, including the throwing of bodily substances.
The safe streets and communities act also delivers on the issue of victim support. Victims have limited information about an offender's life in prison. They do not know whether offenders are taking part in rehabilitation programs, if they are absent from the institution temporarily or are being transferred to a minimum security facility. Yet victims deserve to have access to as much information as they reasonably can about the offender, and Bill C-10 would enshrine in law their ability to take part in parole hearings and to be kept better informed about the behaviour and management of offenders.
Clearly, the measures proposed in the safe streets and communities act will work in tandem with Bill C-350, the legislation we are discussing today.
Just as clear is the message we are hearing from victims and advocacy groups across this country. They are asking us to move swiftly to strengthen the rights of victims. They are asking us to make changes to our laws to improve the accountability of offenders, and they are asking us to create mechanisms that support victims of crime.
I spoke earlier of our ongoing financial support programs, like the National Office for Victims and the federal victims strategy. While we have made progress, much work still remains to be done.
In the 2011 Speech from the Throne, we reiterated our intention to move swiftly ahead with efforts that support victims, that give our law officers better tools and that support crime prevention programs. That is what we told Canadians we would do, and that is exactly what we intend to do.
Today I am very pleased to support the bill with our proposed amendments, and I call on all hon. members to ensure its speedy passage.
I would remind all members to direct their comments through the Chair and not directly to sitting members.
The hon. member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry.
Mr. Speaker, throughout the day, we have heard a lot about the so-called strong mandate of the government to get rid of the long gun registry. Of course, the Conservatives only have a small majority in the House, but 65% of Canadians, I understand, want to keep the long gun registry. They believe it performs a valuable public service.
Does the member agree with that statement? Or does he agree with the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry who very excitedly, a few minutes ago, was saying that people want to get rid of the registry and that they elected them and so the government should get rid of it? Or should the Conservatives listen to the will and the voices of lots of Canadians other than those who continue to write them letters and cheer them on?
Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the remarks by my colleague from Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, and I congratulate him. I believe he has taken a position that is in keeping with that of our government, namely that we do not interfere in areas of provincial jurisdiction when it comes to the extraction, processing and use of natural resources.
The same goes for agriculture, for example, where we support supply management. Frankly, the NDP does not have a position on that.
Today's debate once again demonstrates that the NDP has taken a position that is counter to the interests of our regions by advocating the elitist policies of its leadership. This position is completely out of sync with the prevailing view in Canada, a country rich in natural resources.
I would like to hear what my colleague has to say about that.
The electoral district of Stormont--Dundas--South Glengarry (Ontario) has a population of 99,764 with 75,244 registered voters and 214 polling divisions.
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