Hon. Lorne Nystrom (Regina—Qu'Appelle, NDP)
Mr. Speaker, I want to say a few words on Bill C-15, the international transfer of offenders act.
I will give the House a bit of the background of the bill. The bill would allow Canada to implement treaties and administrative arrangements with other nations for the international transfer of offenders. The purpose of the act is to allow Canadians convicted abroad to serve their sentences here in Canada.
This legislation would close the identified gaps in the existing Transfer of Offenders Act and aims to ensure consistency with other legislative provisions. By allowing offenders to serve their sentences in Canada, we would ensure that the public's interest is also served, because offenders are gradually released into the community in accordance with an overall Canadian rehabilitation strategy rather than simply having offenders arrive in Canada at the end of their sentences without any checks on their reintegration into society.
The bill would permit Canadian offenders who face incarceration in foreign prisons, which may include unfamiliar and difficult situations, to serve their sentences in Canada, and vice versa. This function is crucial for Canadian nationals where foreign states do not accommodate Canadian standards of rights and rehabilitation. In a case where no transfer agreement exists between Canada and a foreign entity, the countries could nevertheless enter into an administrative arrangement and provide for the transfer of an offender.
The provisions of the act would apply to criminal offenders, including young offenders and mentally incompetent offenders. Consent to be transferred must be given by the offender, the foreign state and Canada. All three must consent before transfer is made. The act and the consent thereunder are governed by the Solicitor General of Canada.
This bill, which we are dealing with at third reading, has made some progress in the committee. An amendment presented by our NDP caucus passed in the committee by a seven to six vote when, before Christmas, the chair of the committee, who is now in cabinet, broke the tie in our favour.
The amendment adds the following to the list of factors the minister should consider when determining whether to accept the transfer of a Canadian offender:
(c) whether the offender has social or family ties in Canada; and
(d) whether the foreign entity or its prison system presents a serious threat to the offender's security or human rights.
Hopefully this will help guide the decision of the minister and create a more explicit link between the threat a foreign state or prison poses to an offender and the need to repatriate our own. It simply creates an explicit link where one is obviously implied in the spirit of the bill. It becomes explicit rather than just implied.
There are some additional arguments in favour of the bill. The NDP amendment passed by the committee will ensure that the minister would consider the humanitarian circumstances of an offender incarcerated in a foreign state. It would help to ensure that our citizens who are incarcerated abroad are going to have their safety and human rights taken into consideration when asking for a transfer.
The act maintains the integrity and values of the Canadian justice system and correctional system by transferring offenders back to Canada where these values prevail. Foreign nations often have different standards in their prison systems, which may be considered a violation of rights in Canada, or may do nothing, on the other hand, to rehabilitate the offender.
The act would give Canada custody of Canadian offenders abroad and would make Canada responsible for the enforcement of its own values. The act is also humanitarian in the fact that it would allow for foreign offenders to serve their sentences in their countries of origin if they wish and consent to do so.
Our main concern was addressed at committee, where an amendment was passed. The humanitarian spirit of the act should be applauded. These proposals would permit Canadian offenders abroad to be transported back to Canada where they can be detained and rehabilitated in accordance with the standards and principles of Canadian justice. It also would allow foreign nationals to serve their time in their home countries.
Since this proposed act is based on treaty negotiations, its benefits are mutual. The treaty negotiations and administrative arrangements contemplated by the bill would give equal protection and advantage to Canada and foreign states alike. This reciprocity has the added benefit of enhancing certainty and good faith in international relations and negotiations.
Bill C-15 should be supported for its humanitarian purpose, but we should not assume that the transfer of prisoners back to Canada necessarily results in humane treatment. We should not allow the government to pat itself on the back for too long, because we have our own major problems in our own Canadian correctional system. One need only think of the lack of correctional services and facilities for women or the lack of services and facilities for aboriginal people to realize that there is a great need for development of our own prison system in Canada.
Moreover, cases like that of Maher Arar--and of course there is going to be an inquiry into that case--demonstrate that we have serious problems not only in how we treat offenders but also in how we go about investigating and deciding who is an offender and who is not. Let us not rest on our laurels for too long. There is still a great deal more progress to be made.
Bill C-15 is a step in the right direction and, because of that, we will certainly be supporting the bill on third reading. We hope that it does have some real impact in terms of being a step along the road toward the reform of our correctional system.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: International Transfer of Offenders Act