Mrs. Karen McCrimmon (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate, and I would like to thank the hon. member for Milton for moving this motion.
The motion comes just short weeks after Victims and Survivors of Crime Week. Members may know the objectives of that week.
The first objective is to raise awareness across Canada about the issues facing victims and survivors. They and their families must be treated with courtesy, compassion and respect at all stages of the criminal justice process. Victims, survivors and their families also have an important role in helping to ensure that justice is done, that during the parole process, for example, reliable and relevant facts about parole can be made.
The second goal of this special week is to let victims and their families know about the services, programs and laws in place to help and support them.
The motion before us states that:
...the government should amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act prior to the next election, so as to provide victims with an explanation of how dates are determined for offenders’ eligibility for temporary absences, releases and parole.
I will point out that information about offender eligibility dates is provided to victims already, but it is always worth examining whether there is room for improvement.
That said, the government already provides victims with useful and timely information in a number of ways.
In fact, last week, the government announced an important new step, a new victim outreach strategy to ensure that more victims would be aware of the information available to them and the role they could play in the corrections and conditional release process.
There was a great deal of collaboration in creating this strategy. Correctional Services Canada worked with federal partners, including the Parole Board of Canada, Public Safety Canada's National Office for Victims and the Department of Justice Canada, in consultation with victims and survivors. The result is a suite of communication tools to inform the public and victims of the resources and services available to them. The tools include infographics, videos and a social media campaign.
Another way that victims can receive information is through the victims portal. The portal is a secure online service, available to registered victims to receive information about the offender who harmed them. They can submit information electronically, including their victims' statements. These communication tools help victims stay informed, engaged and empowered to make informed decisions.
The Public Safety Canada portfolio is also working to ensure that victims of federal offenders have a voice in the federal criminal justice system.
For example, there are now 8,000 victims registered with Correctional Services Canada and the Parole Board of Canada. They are entitled to receive over 50 types of notifications. Last year, they received 160,000 pieces of information.
Along with more avenues to obtain information and give their input, victims have access to resources such as dedicated victim service officers, who provide victims with information about correctional services and the offender who harmed them.
Victim service officers explain to victims how correctional planning works and how decisions are made. They provide victims with information on the offender's progress toward meeting their correctional plan. They advise when parole hearings are scheduled.
It is fair to say that the rest of the motion aims to ensure that victims are treated even more fairly and respectfully by our criminal justice system. For decades, Canada's criminal justice system has been getting better at attending to the needs of victims and survivors, whether it is a matter of providing information, delivering support, or simply showing empathy and respect.
When Correctional Service of Canada prepares an offender's case for a parole hearing, for example, it takes into account the concerns that victims have raised in their victim's statements. Last year, victims presented over 300 statements at parole hearings. We are also taking steps to make the parole hearing process less traumatic for victims and survivors.
Members may recall that as part of the implementation plan for the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, the National Office for Victims hosted consultations on the victims right to information, participation and protection in the corrections and conditional release system.
One of the early issues discussed at the round tables was the parole hearing process as legislated in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
Under its terms, victims unable to attend the parole hearing can have access to an audio recording of the hearing. At round tables held by the National Office for Victims, we heard that attending a parole hearing could be traumatic, such that afterwards many victims did not have a clear sense of what exactly was discussed.
Why not make the audio recordings available to those who have attended the parole hearing as well as those who could not attend? Why not enable them to listen again at a time and a place of their choosing?
That is one of the proposed amendments we have included in Bill C-83, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, to strengthen victims roles in the criminal justice system.
This is just one way we can increase the number of avenues through which victims can obtain information and participate in the processes of the criminal justice system. There is always more that can be done, but we continue to take steps in the right direction.
One of the most important things we can do is prevent people from becoming victims in the first place.
The national crime prevention strategy provides leadership on ways to prevent and reduce crime among at-risk populations and vulnerable communities. The strategy's goal is to mitigate the underlying factors that might put individuals at risk of offending in the first place.
The Government of Canada is making up to $94 million available over five years to develop inclusive, diverse and culturally adapted crime prevention projects right across Canada.
The national crime prevention strategy is another example of this government's efforts to reduce crime and by the same token, reduce the number of victims.
The government will continue to work with all our partners to support victims in every way possible.
Once again, I would like to thank the hon. member for introducing this motion and I look forward to continued debate on this very important topic.
Subtopic: Parole System