Mr. Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I wanted to add some input as a non-lawyer on Bill C-15. Members will know that the bill was reintroduced in this session of Parliament from the second session of the 37th Parliament. Formerly it was Bill C-33.
It would be appropriate to remind the House of the purpose of the bill. This enactment repeals and replaces the Transfer of Offenders Act, sets out the principles that govern the international transfer of offenders and authorizes Canada to enter into administrative agreements for international transfers of offenders.
The enactment expands the class of offenders who may be transferred. It expands the class of jurisdictions with which Canada may enter into agreements. It identifies who must consent to a transfer. It sets out how the foreign sentences of transferred young persons are to be enforced in Canada. It clarifies the sentence calculation rules that apply to transferred Canadian offenders and aligns them with those contained in other federal legislation. It also contains transitional provisions and makes consequential amendments to other acts, as is normally the case.
It is interesting that there are very few people who are speaking against the bill. In fact, what is happening is we are having an opportunity to speak about related areas, and that is always a good thing. Members will know that when this bill, formerly Bill C-33, went to the justice committee, it did the appropriate review. The justice committee has a good reputation of being rigorous in its review of legislation. It came back with a report on the bill, Bill C-33, with one amendment to the entire bill after doing a rigorous review.
That amendment was to clause 10 and added one additional clause. I will read that into the record because it touches on an area on which I would like to make a few comments. Clause 10 in the bill as reprinted states:
In determining whether to consent to the transfer of a Canadian offender, the Minister shall consider the following factors--
The first is whether the offender's return to Canada would constitute a threat to the security of Canada. That is understandable.
The second item is whether the offender left or remained outside Canada with the intention of abandoning Canada as his or her place of permanent residence. That is a fairly straightforward criteria.
The third was that the offender has social or family ties in Canada. That obviously is quite relevant.
The last item that was added by the justice committee and is now part of the bill we are debating today is clause 10(1)(d) which states:
--whether the foreign entity or its prison system presents a serious threat to the offender's security or human rights.
All of a sudden the context of human rights has become a matter for consideration. The justice committee agreed that human rights considerations should be taken into account with regard to the transfer.
Members started to talk about cases such as the Maher Arar case in which a Canadian citizen was deported, not to Canada from the United States, but to Syria. It is a very serious situation which occurred. Thankfully, Mr. Arar is now back in Canada and reunited with his family and friends, but very serious questions have arisen with regard to the human rights issues. Members will know that this matter will be before the courts as well. Not being a lawyer, I am not in a position to talk about the elements of the case, but simply from the standpoint of the human rights component which is now incorporated in the bill.
We are in a much different world than we were prior to September 11. There have been an enormous number of changes into how we have looked at our provisions in law, and in fact, the event of September 11, 2001, has spawned a substantial amount of legislation with regard to security and sovereignty issues.
The transport committee visited our counterparts with regard to issues flowing out of September 11. The United States had taken the position that virtually everything that anybody wanted, it was going to put into legislation. It was almost an overreaction and some would question whether or not there was an overreaction which may in fact have lead to not good laws. We say prayers as we start the House each day, that we make good laws and wise decisions.
If we react over the top, as it were, and ask all things that anybody could ever want to increase the safety and security, whether it be of airline travel or border protection et cetera, all of a sudden there are some questions that come to mind. In recent months I had a personal challenge of sorts in terms of my own nomination. During my nomination, one of the issues that came up within the community was in regard to the charter of rights and the human rights provisions provided thereunder, and the need for security concerns to be embraced as well.
We now have a question, when can human rights be discounted somehow by the need to protect the sovereignty or security of a country? I took a very strong position during the last few months. I could not think of an appropriate time when human rights should be somehow discounted or set aside for safety and security reasons. Within the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we have wonderful protection that Canadians have earned and that all residents enjoy.
The Maher Arar case was a dramatic example of where a person's rights were set aside under the guise of security reasons. I think that most Canadians, and most observers objectively would say, what happened was wrong.
In this particular bill we are talking about something slightly different. We are talking about the transfer of prisoners who are in one jurisdiction, but under certain circumstances could be transferred back to their own jurisdiction, their own home. What are the rules surrounding that?
There are a number of provisions within the bill. I found it interesting that it dealt with a wide range of items including special treatment for young offenders. It dealt with probation and a number of aspects that I would think that Canadians otherwise would not be very familiar with, but the principles still remain fundamentally sound.
In 2003, when Bill C-33 at the time came forward, the Solicitor General of Canada spoke to the bill. I would like to remind the House of a couple of things that the Solicitor General had to say.
The Transfer of Offenders Act serves an important public protection purpose. Offenders incarcerated in foreign states may be deprived of the opportunity to rehabilitate themselves in the absence of treatment programs in those countries, in the absence of a structured parole system, and in the absence of direct contact with family and friends in their home community. As a result, the chances of long term reintegration of these offenders, and ultimately of better public safety, are greatly reduced. This holds true even when offenders are incarcerated in a country with social standards and customs relatively similar to Canada's.
I thought that was a very interesting statement. I think that I understand and I am quite sympathetic to the reasons why.
But we can also understand how it is very easy for some to say that we are now talking about the best interests of someone who has been convicted of a crime. Members will, and have, in the debates that have occurred before, and again today, talked about victims. There is no question in my mind that the debate surrounding the rights of those convicted, and the rights of victims and families will always be an issue in Canada.
The Solicitor General spoke of rehabilitation. The previous speaker spoke very well about the need to show a rehabilitation balance so that when people are finished their sentence, they can reintegrate into society.
In some cases, where people are emotional about an event, about a crime that occurred, or about a victim's circumstances, it is really easy to say that we should forget about those who committed the crime, put them in jail, throw away the keys and we do not want to see them ever again. That usually tempers itself down and says the sentence is the sentence. Maybe we ought to consider having harsher sentences or longer sentences.
We can start talking about the faint hope clause. We can start talking about other conditional release programs. We can talk about probationary provisions. We can talk about every case where it is clear that the probationary system has let us down.
The expectations of Canadians should be to the highest possible standard. I wonder whether or not in times of emotion, never mind just the public at large, but even members of Parliament can be objective enough to say that our system should not be totally black and white. There has to be some flexibility built into the system. There has to be principles which allow people to rehabilitate themselves so that one day, once they have served their sentence, they can get back into society, and that they stop being a burden on society.
I heard members in this place argue that it costs so much to have someone in jail. This is awful. That is a problem. But the very next debate, we will have someone saying they are not away long enough. So how do we balance this?
The issue or the concept of public good has come up. Unfortunately, even that terminology has been jaundiced somewhat because the concept of the public good has been talked about in legislation dealing with child pornography. Is there a public good which is served by someone being in possession of child pornography? I would say absolutely not.
I have said it in many speeches in this place that the existence of children pornography must necessarily mean that a child has been abused and, therefore, by possessing child pornography, whether one is the creator or the perpetrator of it, one is a participant. Public good gives me some difficulty.
However, we do have a criminal justice system. There are people who do things which are wrong and contrary to our laws, some of them very heinous. We have just had the case of the young girl who was killed by her parents. They were found guilty of killing and dismembering the body of their child. The father has been sentenced to 25 years, without chance of parole. I think the mother has been sentenced to second degree murder, with a 10 or 15 year sentence.
Is it enough? Should those persons ever come out of jail? For some, I am sure that the answer will always be no. They took a life. They should never be able to enjoy what we have here in Canada.
However, what is the humane thing to do with people who commit crimes? For some, it is hard to understand and have compassion for them, other than the fact that they are human beings and as human beings we are all vulnerable. We are all weak by our very nature. We want our sentences to be tough; we want them to be fair, but we also want to deal with the situation about what happens once a sentence is finally discharged.
In the absence of capital punishment, which we do not have here, that means that members are either going to have to argue in favour of capital punishment and let us go that way, and see whether or not there is an appetite in Canada. If not, there must be a justice system which is based on rehabilitation, which acknowledges that people eventually come out of jail and that rehabilitation is better than simply incarcerating them and letting them rot in a cell until their time is done, and then throw them out into society without the tools that prepare them to be able to integrate and be safe themselves, and safe for others to be back in society.
This is a very difficult question. It is a question that I think will always be with us because there will always be heinous crimes. There will always be bad people out there out there who do bad things. However, should our laws continue to be directed at those who commit the most serious of crimes?
I recall that some years ago I gave a speech related to the crime of murder and sentencing. I do not remember the statistics specifically, but the incidents of murder committed by a family member against another family member was very high.
Murder is murder, but now we have to look at what happened and why, and what are the other reasons why things occurred. Those are taken into account by the courts and by the justice system as to what is an appropriate way to handle things.
Sometimes there are circumstances which take some understanding. I do not think very many people in this place have the training that people have in being judges, people who are involved in the parole system, and people who are lawyers and argue these cases and have eminent experience in how to deal with them. However, if we were to put all that wisdom together, I doubt it would be found in any one person in this place.
We acknowledge that. That is why we will be bringing in and discussing points on legislation, just as with this one, which are elements of a much broader picture.
What does our criminal justice system look like? I have looked at some of the debate that occurred back about a year ago, last April. I believe one of the points put forward by the member for Crowfoot when he was talking about clauses 13 and 14, concluded by saying:
--a Canadian citizen can go to another country, commit a crime, for which there could be a much more substantial penalty, and be transferred back home here to serve a much lesser sentence
I suppose technically and mathematically that may be the case where the sentencing provisions in one jurisdiction might be different than another. However, the principle of the law in this bill is that the sentence will be the sentence had the crime been committed within Canada. That is the principle, notwithstanding what the other jurisdiction may have.
Members must keep in mind that it will be very difficult to balance or to understand and equate two systems of justice, how they are arrived at and what the provisions are, whether or not there is any chance of parole, whether there is any chance of rehabilitation, et cetera. The systems are very different. I am sure we could think of many countries where in fact the provisions of the criminal justice system are quite different.
I am confident that the justice committee has done its job with regard to this bill and that there was the one amendment to clause 10(1)(d) that would provide this humanitarian element, which I think has been very appropriate.
Having listened to members, I have been reminded about their concerns and about the criminal justice system generally. However, with regard to the principle of the bill to permit where a sending country, a receiving country and the person who has been convicted of a crime and is serving a sentence all agree that this is an appropriate thing, and takes into account existing treaties, it would probably give us a better opportunity to expand those treaties to other countries where we have Canadians abroad.
I understand others have given the numbers. Generally, from what I have heard, the House believes that the principles are fundamentally sound. For that reason I will also be supporting this bill.
Subtopic: International Transfer of Offenders Act