Parliamentary Career

October 19, 2015 -
  St. Catharines (Ontario)

Most Recent Speeches (Page 1 of 44)

June 19, 2019

Mr. Chris Bittle (St. Catharines, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to rise today and add my voice to the debate on Motion No. 229.

Before I do that, this may be my last opportunity to give a speech during this Parliament, so I want to thank my wife, Charlene, and my son and daughter, Ethan and Hannah. Hannah will be turning one next week, and Ethan will be turning three next month. They came after my election and do not know any different, but they make a great deal of sacrifices, like so many other kids of parents who work here on a daily basis. It is important to say thanks to remember them and those whom we leave back in our ridings to do this important work.

I also want to thank my constituents for this incredible honour of representing the people of St. Catharines here in this place almost four years.

Let me begin by first thanking the hon. member for Milton for bringing this motion forward. If there is one thing in this House that all of us can agree on, it is the importance of supporting victims and survivors of crime.

I would like to take a moment to recognize the dedication and tireless efforts of all those who work so hard to provide that support. We are all fortunate in this country to have a system in place that is there for people in their greatest time of need. That system spans different orders of government across different sectors. It offers programs and services that support victims of crime so that they can play an important role in the criminal justice system. It works to meet their needs and ensure that they do not suffer in silence. It encompasses professionals and volunteers who work with victims and survivors, helping them to get their lives back on track and making sure they are not re-victimized along the way.

I would like to take a moment to recognize the important work of Victim Services Niagara for the incredible work the people there in my home region do on a daily basis, and to recognize also the Kristen French Child Advocacy Centre. So many organizations across the country are working so hard and so passionately for victims of crime.

As part of that system, the federal government has an important role that includes support for victims of federal offenders, meaning those serving a sentence of two years or more. The Correctional Service of Canada, or CSC, strives to ensure that victims of federal offenders have an effective voice in the federal correctional and justice systems. Part of that involves providing them with information. Last year, in fact, victims received 160,000 pieces of information from CSC and the Parole Board of Canada.

That information is not automatically provided. Victims must register with CSC and the Parole Board in order to obtain that information about the offender who harmed them. However, the government has launched a victims portal to make that process easier. The portal provides a simple and secure way for victims to register and access information. It also allows them to submit information electronically for consideration in case management decisions. That includes victim statements, which can be submitted at any time during the offender's sentence.

In addition to the portal, victims are able to reach victim services officers by email or by phone. These officers can provide victims with information about CSC and the offender who harmed them. That includes information about correctional planning, decision-making processes and the progress the offender is making toward meeting the objectives of his or her correctional plan.

Victims are entitled to receive more than 50 types of notification. For example, victims can be notified of the start date and length of the sentence that the offender is serving. With respect to the motion before us, I would also point out that victims are already notified of the offender's eligibility and review dates for temporary absences or parole. That said, there could be room for improvement. Debates like this one certainly help us to shed some light on the issue of ways to support victims.

This debate is also taking place not long after the government took important steps forward in terms of how it communicates and engages with victims of federal offenders. On May 27, in conjunction with the 14th annual Victims and Survivors of Crime Week, the government announced a new victims outreach strategy.

The strategy has two main goals: The first is to improve public awareness about the information and notifications that the CSC provides to registered victims, and the second is to bring greater clarity to certain aspects of the corrections and conditional release system, including victims' understanding of sentence management and the offender reintegration process.

Specifically, the strategy will see the Correctional Service of Canada promoting the benefits of registration. CSC would also promote the information available to victims through the victims portal and the benefit of submitting a victim statement outlining the impact of the offence on them. CSC is working with federal partners in consultation with victims and survivors to develop new tools to let people know about the resources that are available. These tools include infographics videos and a social media campaign. That is just one recent step that the government has taken to support victims.

It has also proposed a new measure under Bill C-83, which is being considered by Parliament, to increase the participation of victims in the criminal justice system. If that bill passes and receives royal assent, victims who attend a Parole Board of Canada hearing will be allowed to listen to an audio recording of the parole hearing.

Right now, that opportunity is only available to victims who do not attend the parole hearing. It makes perfect sense to extend audio recordings to all registered victims because it would allow victims who did attend a hearing and found the experience difficult and traumatic to have a clear sense of how things transpired.

All of these measures are complemented by the government's National Office for Victims. The office provides a central national resource for information and support to victims of federal offenders. It can answer questions about the criminal justice, corrections and conditional release systems, giving victims a more effective voice. Last year, the office distributed more than 6,000 publications to victims of crime, victim service providers and the general public. The office also helped to point victims in the right direction by receiving calls, responding to email queries and referring Canadians for direct services.

Finally, I would like to note the support the government is providing to victims and survivors of the despicable crime of human trafficking.

Budget 2018 included federal funding of $14.5 million over five years and $2. 9 million per year after that to establish a national human trafficking hotline. Being from Niagara, I find this initiative to be incredibly important, because ours is a border community where so much of that crime occurs. Because so much trafficking occurs through that border crossing, it is important for my community to have those types of resources to combat this horrible crime.

I am pleased to report that the hotline was launched on May 29. It offers help and hope to victims and survivors 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and it is confidential.

Victims and survivors will be able to use it both to seek information and to receive the help they need to find safety and protection. This includes connecting them to local law enforcement, emergency shelters, trauma counsellors, transportation and other services and supports. The hotline will also forward information to law enforcement agencies so they can take action against the perpetrators.

This is only a sampling of the federal measures that are in place or on track to support victims of crime. There is always more we can do to make things work even better for them.

I am proud to stand behind a government that takes this issue seriously, that has already taken steps to improve the support system for victims and is committed to working with partners on further improvements to better serve the needs of victims and survivors of crime.

Again, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those involved in victim services. It is an incredibly difficult job to help people through the trauma they experience. We talk a lot about first responders and the important work that they do, but victim support workers provide a significant component of that, the next step that is too often forgotten about. The work is important to help get people on the right track, to help them move forward, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them.

Again, I would like to thank the member for Milton for introducing the motion and spearheading this important debate.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Parole System
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June 18, 2019

Mr. Chris Bittle (St. Catharines, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, last week, members of Niagara's Sudanese community marched to St. Catharines city hall to honour those killed in Sudan during increased violence and protests in the country. Many residents still have friends, family and loved ones in the midst of a brutal crackdown on political protesters bravely calling for change following decades of oppression from their government. They want what we have: a civilian-led government and a voice in their own future. They seek the basic human rights we all take for granted. The response from their government has been horrific violence, including killings and sexual assault. All of this was for doing what we are doing right now: making our voices heard.

My thoughts are with their loved ones and the people of Sudan. The perpetrators must be held to account for these atrocities. The Government of Canada stands with the people of Sudan. We are prepared to do whatever we can to support a civilian-led transition to a democratically elected government in Sudan.

We hear the Niagara Sudanese community, we stand with it and we stand with the people of Sudan.

Topic:   Statements By Members
Subtopic:   Sudan
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June 13, 2019

Mr. Chris Bittle (St. Catharines, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, anyone who is from St. Catharines should be listened to, and I appreciate that.

The current Information Commissioner, Caroline Maynard, noted that our proposed legislation is “definitely a better bill than what we have currently”. She said that her predecessor's call for changes has been responded to. She said, “I am really hoping that Bill C-58 will be passed.”

I am wondering if the member could comment on that and why that differs from the NDP's position on the bill.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Access to Information Act
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May 31, 2019

Mr. Chris Bittle (St. Catharines, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, it is good to see a steady hand back in the chair. I was concerned about the previous speaker who was sitting there, but order has been restored in the House. That is is the most controversial thing I may say in my speech, but I call it as I see it.

When I decided to run for politics, I had been working with a local organization for six years and was chair of that organization. It is called Quest Community Health Centre in St. Catharines and it provides primary health care to those who would not otherwise have access to it. It may seem that in a universal system of health care, everyone should be able to access primary care. We all have a health card in our pocket and we can get that level of treatment, but it was a surprise to me that it did not happen. Many people fell through the cracks and their primary source of treatment was the hospital, which is more expensive, less effective and leads to sicker people.

It gave me an opportunity over those six years to meet the clients at Quest Community Health Centre, those who had economic challenges, those who were homeless and living on the street, and those who had addictions, mental health or concurrent disorders. We talked a lot about the social determinants of health, meaning all of the factors in our lives that have an impact on our health. It is not just a matter of going to the hospital or seeing a doctor, because there are a lot of economic and socioeconomic factors that play into health.

One of the factors at the centre of all of our health is housing. Canadians across the country say that we need to do better on health, but we have to look at the socioeconomic factors around that. As I said, housing is one of those significant factors in that where we live within our community can almost determine what our life expectancy is. Those who are living in the urban centre of St. Catharines have a lower life expectancy than those living a mere 10 minutes away, where my family lives. That is shocking.

When we take the idea of housing as being at the centre of health care, we can apply it to so much more. We should be looking at housing as a centre of the debate on mental health, as a centre of the debates on poverty and the opioid crisis and the criminal justice system. There are no simple answers to any of these problems we are facing, but one of the easiest things we can do is to provide housing. This is what I brought forward.

In Niagara and this is true across southern Ontario, the wait lists for housing are staggering. It can take more than 10 years to find a single apartment through the Niagara region housing system. We should be shocked by this. We can say there is no cost to the taxpayer, but the costs of homelessness are huge. For all of the other issues I talked about, if we do not provide housing, the downstream costs are enormous.

It was exciting for me to go with that point through the election campaign, and I know my Conservative friends are very excited to hear about it, especially the member for Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Budget Implementation Act, 2019, No. 1
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May 31, 2019

Mr. Chris Bittle

It is disappointing that the member from Aurora is laughing at an issue of homelessness when this is a serious discussion.

We went door to door and said that housing is at crisis levels in our community.

It did not get there overnight. It was governments of all political stripes, federal, provincial, municipal, that abandoned their responsibilities under housing. They did not do enough, and that has led us to the housing crisis we now face. People are waiting a decade to find affordable housing. The vacancy rate in St. Catharines has fallen below 2%, which makes it a crisis level.

I was excited last week to go to a new development at 527 Carlton Street in St. Catharines. It is the first affordable housing development built in St. Catharines by Niagara Regional Housing since the 1970s. It is almost criminal that we have ignored a crisis like this for so long. Through the national housing strategy, the federal government contributed $7 million to this project.

It was wonderful to meet with the residents, many of whom have been waiting a long time. Many of them had been living in substandard housing. It was wonderful to talk to them and see smiles on their faces. It is wonderful to know that government can help.

We hear a lot about cuts. We have to cut. Government is spending too much. We have to cut, cut, cut. This is what government spending looks like: being able to look at constituents who are smiling because they now have a place to call home. This is fundamental.

The amendments we made at committee stage on the national housing strategy recognize the importance of housing to the well-being of all people in Canada. They reflect the key principles of a human rights approach to housing that requires a national housing strategy to focus on improving housing outcomes for those in greatest need.

The national housing strategy act would establish a national housing council, with diverse representation, including people with lived experience of housing need or homelessness, to provide advice to the minister responsible for housing.

The amendments we are bringing at report stage on the national housing strategy would further entrench the commitment already made on the accountability of the proposed federal housing advocate, ensure greater accountability, enhance the advocate's role in researching systemic housing challenges, and empower the national housing council and give it more freedom to report to the housing advocate and to report findings to the minister.

If we are going to address this housing crisis, we need all levels of government to come together. I am proud to work with my mayor, Mayor Walter Sendzik, and our city council. They are passionate about the housing strategy. I hope our provincial government steps up, but I am worried that it will not.

As I only have a couple of minutes left, I would like to touch on the issue of infrastructure, which is important to all of our communities. Our communities are all facing infrastructure deficits from money that was not spent. At the end of the day, if there are infrastructure deficits and there is no help from the federal government, it ultimately means higher property taxes and higher water bills.

My worry at home is a project that happens every few years. I am talking about the Canada Summer Games. Niagara won the bid. The federal government stands ready to commit and to build, but the provincial government is absent. It refuses to come forward for Niagara to develop sports infrastructure.

When it came to Red Deer, Alberta, which hosted the last games, it got $80 million when two Conservative governments worked together. I still hold out hope that the Ford government is listening and cares about Niagara and wants to see this project move forward.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Budget Implementation Act, 2019, No. 1
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