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