Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join colleagues in debating Bill , which is an amendment to the statute that governs the transfers of Canadian offenders outside Canada back into Canada and offenders in Canada who are not Canadian would be patriated to their own countries.
I debate this because I see some material difficulties with the in bill the way it is written. I do not want to prejudge the vote of the House, but should it go to committee for study, it is my hope that the remarks in the House will better inform the committee review of the bill.
There are three areas I want to address. The first is about the title of the bill. The second is about the degree to which the House may expand the ambit of discretion in the hands of, not the Governor-in-Council or not a tribunal, but one minister. The third is about charter compliance in relation to what is in the bill.
The first thing is the title. It is an act the amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act, but the government, for whatever purpose, has seen fit, in clause 1, to write the following, “This Act may be cited as the Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act”. I do not quite understand why the government would name it that. It could have named the bill, “making Canadians happy act”, or “making Canadians more contented”, or “making Canadians feel a little bit better”, or maybe “making Canadians like the Conservative Party of Canada a little better”.
If the title of the bill is to become an open-ended billboard for political rhetoric and advertising, then I think the House should put a stop to it. I have never seen this nonsense before.
If anybody is to put an end to it, it has to be the members in the House. I am pretty sure the Department of Justice did not decide to put a neon sign, billboard piece of advertising rhetoric in the title to a bill. It is actually bordering on the absurd. I have thought about it. This is a bit like the Orwellian Animal Farm thing that we could read about in fiction some years ago. If the government keeps repeating these little mantras, maybe people will start to believe it.
The first thing I think the House should do is strike the title of the bill, but our procedures do not allow us to do that at second reading. However, I would love to see a motion to do that, to at least strike out the political rhetoric and advertising in the title. I hope the committee, if it goes to committee, will strike this part of the title and state very firmly in a separate report that this type of playing, abusing, distorting, adulterating the clause 1 of a bill by throwing in a little political throwaway line is unacceptable to the House and it distorts our legislative practices here.
This is not the first bill where I have seen this, but it is the first bill where I have had a chance to get up and, in a material way, address it. It is unacceptable. Hopefully, if the bill comes back, we will not see this nonsense. The House should not be drawn into these silly, Orwellian, Animal Farm, political mantra insertions in our statutes.
Of course once we write it, it could be there forever. There it is, in all of our bills, “the making Canadians happy bill”, “the making Canadians content bill”, “the oh what a wonderful world it is bill”, “the do not forget to vote for us in the next-election bill”. This is silly, dumb, distorted, political thinking. It certainly is not part of the legislative arts. I really hope the committee that studies the bill will look at that.
Let us move on to something a little more substantial, and it is the issue of discretion.
A number of members have spoken about it and it is clear, on the face of it, that one of the purposes of the bill is to broaden the discretion of the minister in making decisions on offender transfers. Most of the changes take place with reference to Canadian offenders abroad who have applied to be repatriated to Canada. However, clause 3 of the bill applies to offenders in Canada being removed, on their own application, from Canada. There is an expansion even there because currently the wording is that the minister “must” take certain things into consideration. The wording being proposed here is the minister “may” take into consideration a certain number of considerations. That is just on the circumstance of offenders who are not Canadian, who are in Canada and as part of an application process involving their country have applied to be removed from Canada to serve the balance of their sentence in their country of origin or citizenship.
Let us go back to the issue of discretion in relation to Canadians abroad. As I look at the bill, it is pretty clear that the discretion made available by the House, because we are legislating this, to the minister, from a “must”, as in, “the minister must take a look at this consideration”, is moved to the word “may”, as in, “the minister may”. That means the minister does not have to take into consideration the items that are preceded by the word “may”.
In addition, we have the insertion of the words “in the minister's opinion”, which basically says that what really matters is the minister's opinion, one person's opinion on that consideration.
At the beginning, the bill refers to the goal of enhancing public safety. Nobody could object to that, but it is also a fact that the Sentencing Act, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Criminal Code all refer to and incorporate public safety as either the number one or a leading public policy objective in all of this. How could it be otherwise?
Having mentioned the word “may” and the insertion of “the minister's opinion”, we also have at the end, subsection (l), unbelievably having listed 11 separate factors and a number of sub-factors. These are considerations that the minister may take into consideration and, in relation to which, it is the minister's opinion that governs. Having listed all of those carefully, itemized with precision, the government now inserts a clause that says, “Any other factor that the Minister considers relevant”. Why do we not just drop all of the considerations and insert subsection (l) so the minister can simply, on his or her own opinion, “Any other factor that the Minister considers relevant”.
What a total, unmitigated abandonment of rule of law is this? If we pass this, why bother giving the minister a list of considerations and matters to take into consideration if at the end of it all we can simply say “any other factor that the minister considers relevant?” It is not whether it is relevant or not, it is whether the minister considers it to be relevant. Therefore, should there ever be case of someone, God forbid, second-guessing the decision of the minister, and we would never want to do that around here but maybe in other places people might, the minister can simply respond by saying that it is none of our business because the statute says that he or she can take into consideration any other factor that he or she considers relevant, for example, if a person has bad eyesight, or good eyesight, or is too tall the prison beds.
We will not bring back a seven-footer because we will have to build a special bed for him. Is that a relevant consideration? It is only in the mind of the minister that it matters. If the minister thinks that is a factor the minister considers relevant, then it counts. That is what we have been asked to pass and legislate. This is wrong. This is a default. This is an abandonment by the House of the issues that we consider relevant because we have already created the main list.
There are other considerations. Paragraph (g) states, “The offender's health”. What does that mean? The minister may take into consideration the offender's health. Does that mean good health or poor health or some aspect of health? Will the minister look at the person's DNA? A lot of DNA is being recorded and profiled now. It is recorded for all serious offenders in our country and in many other jurisdictions around the world. The DNA of the offender is taken and DNA profiles are fully capable, under proper analysis, of revealing health traits and propensities to certain bad health. Do we want the minister to have the total discretion to take into account that offender's health? In this case, we are talking about a Canadian offender who is outside Canada who has applied to come back and serve the balance of a sentence here in Canada.
There should be some parameters put on this. However, if the House were to go ahead and adopt the whole list, including item (l), any other factor the minister considers relevant, it really does not matter then. The minister can take into consideration the health, whether the offender has or does not have hair, height, weight, where he or she was born, and any other factor the minister thinks is relevant.
I hope in the end that these items will be dropped from the bill. I am pleading with colleagues in the House and the committee to seriously consider dropping some of these provisions or circumscribing them. However, at the very least, if Parliament does turn over to the minister additional discretion, whether it includes these things or not, I hope there can be a provision inserted in the bill that requires the minister to put these considerations in writing and to make them available to the offender whose application is being dealt with. It seems to be fair that these considerations, if relied on by the minister, are put in writing. Let us keep this in mind. There is no built-in review. It looks like the minister's say on this is final.
I mentioned the offender's health. Subparagraph (i) deals with whether the offender has accepted responsibility for the offence for which he or she was incarcerated. In the normal course, that sounds reasonable, but what about the case of offenders who say that they were never guilty and that it was a false conviction? Do we think there were ever any false convictions out there? In fact, we know there have been too many, which we all feel badly about. The ones we hear about are the convictions dealing with homicides. In those cases, the offenders are normally incarcerated for much longer sentences, for 10 to 20 years or life sentences. In those cases, when the offender, who has been improperly convicted, finally gets a chance to prove it and get exonerated, those are high profile cases because the offender has usually served quite a few years.
I do not have to list of those cases. However, those who have been exonerated should be able to go on with their lives without being mentioned in the parliamentary record.
What about all the other cases of people who have been falsely convicted of lesser offences where the sentences have been two, three, four or five years and they have been incarcerated in a foreign jurisdiction, even though they were plainly the wrong people? This section seems to be saying that in order for the minister to bring the person back, the person needs to have accepted responsibility for the offence for which he or she were convicted, including acknowledging the harm done to the victims and the community. How does that section deal with the matter of a false conviction? It does not and it should.
I will stop my review of the individual sections, but there is one more item I want to mention. Subparagraph (d) states:
whether, in the Minister’s opinion, the offender left or remained outside Canada with the intention of abandoning Canada as their place of permanent residence;
That is not a new provision, but the part that makes it “in the Minister's opinion” involves the extension of discretion, which I am concerned about. The reason that it is important in this case is that if there is a Canadian abroad, he or she has, under our charter, the right to return to Canada.
I am concerned here, legally, about this House legislating a ministerial opinion that would or could obstruct a charter right of a Canadian offender abroad to come back to Canada. This has charter implications and constitutional legality implications. I do not know whether that was noted.
I will now deal with the charter issue. In my view, these provisions are much too vague. They impose a degree of arbitrariness. Under our Constitution, we are not supposed to be subject to arbitrary measures. We have legal rights to life, liberty and the security of the person. We have the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned, which is applicable here depending on what is meant by imprisoned or detained. If we have the right under our charter not to be arbitrarily imprisoned or detained, which is specifically mentioned in the charter, then we do not have the right to write a statute that takes away the right not to be arbitrarily detained.
The allowance of the minister of these arbitrary discretionary rules removes that charter right. I would love to see the Department of Justice opinion that says that this provision and all these provisions are charter compliant.
The real issue here is whether Parliament will abandon the set of rules that we have had established for many years for offenders in favour of virtually a totally arbitrary decision in the hands of one minister of the government of the day, and not just of an apparent and alleged charter problem but real, material and incipient charter issues on the face of it.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today and speak to Bill . I am following some very excellent speeches on the part of other members in the House from the Liberal Party, the Bloc and certainly my party, the NDP.
Bill , keeping Canadians safe, is to amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act. This particular bill was introduced in the House on March 18, 2010, by the . It is almost identical to Bill , which received first reading during the second session of the 40th Parliament but died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued on December 30, 2009.
We get to the point again of the 's proroguing Parliament and having to reset the entire agenda, reintroduce all the bills and go through all the debates. Each time he prorogues the House, he sets back the Parliament in this country by a year or two in the process.
Bill amends the purpose of the International Transfer of Offenders Act as well as the factors for the minister's consideration in deciding whether to consent to an offender's transfer. This bill is all about transferring discretion. Under the old bill, there was a set procedure for bringing people back. It has worked well for 29 or 30 years in this country. As a matter of fact, not one person who has been repatriated has reoffended under the program. The government, for whatever reason, has decided it wants to transfer more power to the minister so the minister can decide who gets to come back.
Canada has been a party to treaties related to the transfer of offenders, as I said, since 1978. These agreements have been characterized as humanitarian in nature. They enable offenders to serve their sentences in their country of citizenship to alleviate undue hardship borne by offenders and their families and to facilitate their eventual reintegration into society, because at the end of their sentences, they will come out.
The argument that we and other parties have been presenting in the House over and over again is that, in the Canadian system, they will be subject to rehabilitation and programs. These programs are often not available in other jurisdictions. Most of the people being brought back under the program are in United States jails, and the United States does not have a very robust system for dealing with the rehabilitation programs and treating the prisoners.
The Transfer of Offenders Act came into force in 1978. It was modernized by the International Transfer of Offenders Act in 2004. The act enables offenders to serve their sentences in the country in which they are citizens or nationals. Generally speaking, the principle of dual criminality applies here, so that the transfer is not available unless the Canadian offender's conduct would have constituted a criminal offence in Canada as well.
A transfer can take place only with the consent of the offender, the foreign entity and Canada. It is the minister, currently defined as the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, who decides whether to consent to the transfer into Canada of a Canadian offender or the transfer out of Canada of a foreign offender, because it is a two-way street here. In making that decision, the minister is currently required to consider certain factors, such as whether a Canadian offender's return to Canada would constitute a threat to the security of Canada and whether that offender has social or family ties in Canada.
Once an offender is transferred, his or her sentence is administered in accordance with the laws of the receiving country. The Correctional Service of Canada notes in its international transfers annual report for 2006-07 that if offenders are not transferred, they may ultimately be deported to Canada at the end of their sentence without correctional supervision, which is very important, and without the benefits of programming.
I have a copy of that report. I want to take a moment to read the conclusion because there are many good elements to that report. It states:
An analysis of the information contained in this report doesn't only demonstrate that the purpose and principles of the International Transfer of Offenders Act have been fulfilled; it supports that the International Transfer of Offenders program is consistent with the Mandate of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) and it's Mission Statement in that the program contributes to public safety by actively encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens, while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control. It ensures that offenders are gradually returned to society and that they have the opportunity to participate in programming that targets the factors that may have led to their offence.
The reference to public safety is there. The government seems to suggest that it has to make these amendments because somehow it would enhance public safety, ignoring the fact that the transferees who come from the foreign jails are not coming out on the street. They are going directly to jail. They are not going to be a danger to public safety in Canada, because they are not going to be walking the streets. They are going to be in jail presumably being subject to programming efforts and proper supervision. When they are let out, they will be supervised through that process as well.
On the other hand, if they come out of the American jail after a period of time with no proper programming, then they are essentially time bombs. They are going to be coming back to Canada and they are not going to be supervised. Then they could be a threat to public safety.
That is exactly what we are trying to prevent. The government is basically on the wrong track. As we see with many of the measures it takes, it is all about the headline. That is all it really cares about, as well as what is happening with the poll numbers. It is not concerned about what works and what does not work.
As I have indicated before, the media in this country should take their jobs seriously on this issue and become more critical of the government and start writing headlines a little different from the ones the Conservatives are getting, headlines that say, “Conservatives wrong on crime”, “Conservatives do what doesn't work again”. If the government started getting headlines like that, then perhaps it would retreat a bit and not be so eager to keep putting Parliament and the public through this whole exercise of what it has been doing.
As I have indicated on several occasions, there are smart lawyers on both sides of the House. There are particularly good lawyers on the Conservative side of the House as well. I do not know how they justify doing things like this.
Just so people who are watching know the total number of transfers, a total of 1,351 Canadian offenders were transferred to Canada between 1978 and 2007. Therefore we are not talking about huge numbers. Of these, 1,069 or 79% of them came from the United States.
The other countries from which most Canadians were repatriated were Mexico at 59 offenders or 4.4% of the transfers; the United Kingdom, at 33 offenders or 2.4% of the transfers; Peru at 31 offenders or 2.3% of the transfers; Trinidad and Tobago at 20 offenders or 1.5% of the transfers; Thailand at 17 offenders or 1.3% of the transfers; Venezuela at 17 offenders or 1.3% of the transfers; Cuba at 16 offenders or 1.2% of the transfers; and Costa Rica at 14 offenders or 1.0% of the transfers.
Fewer than 10 offenders were repatriated from any other country. I think a lot of people would perhaps not be surprised with those figures, but in a way might be because I would think that a number of people would be thinking that people were being transferred from places like Turkey, and of course that does not seem to be the case.
The number of offenders transferred to Canada in the fiscal year has ranged from a low of seven in 1980-81 to a high of 98 in 2003-04. In 2006-07, 53 offenders were transferred to Canada, which was the lowest annual total since 1994-95, when 40 offenders were transferred. In the last 10 years for which statistics are available, 1997-98 to 2006-07, 768 offenders were transferred to Canada for a yearly average of 77.
So, we are not talking about a tremendous number here. These are reasonably small numbers, over a 30-year period. Of those 768 offenders, 313, 40% of them, were transferred to the Ontario region; 207, or 27%, transferred to the Pacific region; 200, or 26%, transferred to the Quebec region; 33 people, or 4.3%, transferred to the Prairies; and 15 people, or 2%, were transferred to the Atlantic region.
In terms of transfers from Canada, a total of 124 offenders were transferred out of Canada between 1978-2007. Of these, 106 offenders, 85% of them, were transferred to the United States. No matter which way we look at it, the transfers back and forth are overwhelmingly between Canada and the United States. Very small numbers exist on either side for countries other than the United States. Eight offenders, or 6.5%, were transferred to the Netherlands; three people were transferred to the United Kingdom; two were transferred to France; and one was transferred to each of the following countries: Estonia, Ireland, Israel, Italy and Poland. And 90 of the 124 transfers took place between 1978 and 1983.
Since then, transfers from Canada have generally taken place at a rate of one or two offenders per year; although there were three transfers in 1990-91, all to the United States, and four in 2006-07, one each to Estonia, France, Israel and Italy.
Now, in terms of the applications and denials, which is the reason behind the government bringing in this legislation in the first place because it had one or two cases where it was not happy with the results, in the last five fiscal years for which statistics are available, the international transfers unit of Corrections Canada received 1,314 applications for transfer. Of those, only 27%, 367, have resulted in a transfer, while 519, or 39%, were denied, and some applications are still being processed.
In one of the press releases that the government sent out, it brags about the fact that its number of approvals has been slashed. It is taking the small numbers of people who are involved in the transfer program, in the first place, and essentially cutting them down drastically. I have the statistics here. That is what the end result of this exercise will be.
When the minister wants and gets more discretion, the end result of that process will be that less people will be involved in the transfer and more people will be staying in the prisons in countries outside Canada, fulfilling their full sentence. Then they will be coming back to Canada without any kind of treatment or any kind of programs that would make them better candidates for integration and, I guess, less of a risk to public safety. When they come back from the United States with no training and no programs, they are not going to be supervised here, and then they are going to be a threat. They are going to be a public safety risk.
We are going to have the opposite effect of what the government actually wants. This is absolutely crazy. We want to have a system that shows results. We want to adopt practises that actually work.
I do not know how many times we have spoken in this House about how the American system, during Ronald Reagan's years, during the “three strikes and you're out” and the minimum sentences, produced a huge construction boom in the United States for prisons, many of which became private prisons so private entrepreneurs could make money. These prisons basically warehouse a huge number of prisoners. Guess what? The crime rate did not go down but instead went up. The U.S. economy is in such bad shape right now that the California governor is just letting people out of prison without having taken any programs, which will basically allow the prisoners to reoffend again.
The Conservative government obviously does not have any common sense. Why would it adopt a system that is 25 years old and has a bad track record? I do not know why the government would not canvass the world, find programs that actually work regardless of the country, send teams of people to study the program, and implement that program here. That is the sensible way to do it, but the Conservative government does not do things like that. The government picks programs that do not work.
In Manitoba we enforced the immobilizer program on insurance companies and provided it free to drivers. This program has cut the auto theft rate by 40% in about a year. We beefed up the crime prevention unit to concentrate on the 50 people who were stealing most of the cars. This program actually works and other jurisdictions are looking at copying what is being done there.
That is the kind of approach that the government should be taking toward criminal justice in this country, or any other program in this country. The Conservatives are ideologically bound to their American Republican cousins. They have taken the attitude that if it did not work in the United States then let us not make it work here. That seems to be their approach.
I do not know how we can get through to Conservative members. We are sitting in a minority government. With friends like Rahim Jaffer and others, the Conservatives will have a minority government forever. A majority government will probably never happen.
In their own minds, the Conservatives seem to think that they have a majority government. They keep pretending they have a majority government. They bring in bills that have no chance of making it through the House. We have to question why they would keep doing this. Then they prorogue the House and start over again. The public must be shaking their heads. I have asked people about this and some have come to the conclusion that the Conservatives are not actually tough on crime but are actually soft on crime.
There is a real lack of credibility and a real disconnect with the Conservative government and some of the legislative efforts that it makes. The programs in the system do not actually work.
I have become sidetracked once again. I have pages and pages of notes. I could probably speak for another hour on this subject, but I understand that my time is running out. Perhaps when members ask me questions I could make some more comments on some of the sections I missed in my speech. Having said that, I want to yield the floor to people who want to ask questions.
Madam Speaker, I have no hesitation in coming to the issue before us, a piece of legislation which I think is not even worthy of the debate this Parliament has undertaken.
Members will appreciate the fact that perhaps, unlike some of my colleagues in the House of Commons, I have spent a considerable amount of my career working to help Canadians in difficult situations get home. While all of those do not necessarily involve circumstances that are the most palatable, or something that on the surface may seem to be correct, appropriate and right, the reality is that my actions and those of my colleagues in the Liberal Party have always been governed by principle, by legislation that has been time honoured and treaties that have worked for Canadians as well as for our international reputation.
What the Conservative government is proposing today is really a deconstruction to facilitate more discretion for the minister to pick and choose who the minister wants to render or to bring home. The reality is that when we see this bill before us that refers to keeping Canadians safe, nothing could be further from the truth.
As many colleagues have mentioned already, when an individual is prevented by his or her government from coming returning home and getting proper rehabilitation, from a land in which the individual may have been guilty over there but not necessarily here, and in which the circumstances of the individual's incarceration does not lead necessarily to the individual's conviction here in this country, without reprogramming, without the opportunity to rehabilitate, we are opening up a Pandora's box and subjecting Canadians to certain harm.
On the question of harm, the Conservative government has not made the case for the bill. I truly believe it should not go beyond second reading for the simple reason there has not been one case with which the Conservatives can come forward on the question of recidivism. We do know that the government has spent a considerable amount of its time and the time of the courts dragging its heels preventing Canadians from coming home, forcing Canadians to hire lawyers and go to the Federal Court of Canada in order to get the government to act, to stand up for the rights of Canadians abroad.
Members will understand my surprise at this kind of arbitrary discretion given to the minister, not based on fact. It surprised me because the bill was introduced by the . Where is the ? This is a treaty of a transfer of offender. If I understand the role of the public safety minister, formerly known as the solicitor general, it is to ensure that there is an appropriate understanding between the two nations when it comes to a transfer. It surprises me that the , one of the proudest portfolios we have in our government, is mute, relatively silent, taking a back seat and, I would say, irrelevant in this process.
I want to talk a little bit about the experiences I have had with Canadians who have had difficulty returning home. I am not talking about the imbroglio years ago with which I had to become involved with respect to the return of someone like, for instance, Brenda Martin. The government, after dragging its legs, heels, whatever, decided at the last moment that it would spend $90,000 to bring her home, when all it had to do was press for the case. There is something far more important with that case as it applies to many others. I can cite for colleagues examples of where Canadians have found themselves in difficulty.
Often the transfer of offender treaty is a mechanism where we may disagree with the legal system of another country, but once the person's trial is over, the transfer mechanism can be triggered. This allows us a political but also a diplomatic way of ensuring the return of a person who has been ill-treated abroad because the person happens to be a foreign national, because the person happens to be Canadian, because the person has been subjected to shoddy police investigations there, where the person has been subjected to a rule of law in that country, good or bad, that may not, for instance, adhere to the principle, the concept, the very maxim of presumption of innocence.
This mechanism, agreed by most nations around the world, a transfer of offender treaty, has worked well for Canada since 1978. It was codified in 2004. It has helped Canadians and certainly improved Canada's standing internationally when it comes to reciprocal roles between nations. We do not always have to agree with the legal system of another country.
Let us understand why this legislation is here. Sine 2006, the Conservative government has taken upon itself to refuse to bring Canadians home. This is not done with a ministerial refusal but by finding excuses such as a CSIS review or subjecting a person to incarceration longer because the government cannot find a way of saying no, even though the approvals have happened to bring the Canadian back to Canada from the host country where the Canadian has been incarcerated. I will provide some examples.
Hundreds of Canadians can be detained or sentenced to incarceration in foreign lands. Of course, we know that some deserve to be behind bars, but there are other cases, as I have mentioned, that are not so clear-cut. A growing concern in recent years is that it seems when Canadians get in trouble abroad, there is often an automatic assumption by some officials and, yes, some politicians that the subject is guilty and should be left to his or her own fate.
This is a rather dim view that can be evidenced by the fact that the government approval rate of transfer of offender applications filed by Canadians serving sentences abroad has declined in recent years. It is down from 140 cases approved by Canada in 2005 to a low of 58 in 2006, 75 in 2007, and 108 in 2008.
I should point out that the slight increase in 2008 may be due to recent court rulings urging the government to lighten up on denying such requests. It is worth noting that in 2005 no transfer request was in fact denied. However, in 2008, 26 were refused and the refusals have drawn some attention and could support the view that the government is taking a new and rather heavy-handed approach to dealing with wayward Canadians.
In one court ruling a couple of years ago, Justice Kelen commented that the government should be taken to task on its transfer refusal. The court went as far as to state that contrary to the 's view, not everyone abroad constitutes a threat to national security. My goodness, there are 45,000 people incarcerated in this country. Are we to assume then that the minister thinks that all 45,000 are a threat to national security?
When we look at the facts underlying the reason the government has been motivated to bring this kind of legislation forward, they have nothing to do with what we are reading in it. It is not keeping Canadians safe. It is keeping Canadians in the dark. It is denying them a series of circumstances. It demonstrates to Canadians above all that the government is all about quick witty comments such as fairness at the gas pumps and keeping Canadians safe. It is a fraud. It is not true.
If the government is trying to go after a particular constituency to make a few people happy, that is great, but I can say that in my time I have dealt with people across the aisle, Conservatives, Bloc members, New Democrats, and when one of their constituents who may have supported them is in difficulty, there is never a question from a Liberal or most members of Parliament as to whether or not the person voted for a certain party before getting service. Giving discretion to the minister leaves us in a position where we are now going to subject the right of a Canadian to return, often in circumstances that are unbelievable, based on the whim of the minister.
We believe in the rule of law, not the rule of thumb.
It is extremely important for colleagues to recognize that this piece of legislation may be couched under circumstances that may allow the government to appeal to a particular constituency in this country. I can only say that I have met people who have been and are part of that constituency and it is a different thing when it is their son, their daughter, their aunt, their friend, their relative who is in difficult circumstances.
We have seen the government act in a way that is capricious and we cannot have a situation of picking and choosing Canadians we are going to help abroad. Nor is it lost on people how unseemly it is for individuals to have to take their cases to court because of a government that hides behind its royal prerogative to help or not to help.
The Conservatives campaigned a few years ago on a platform of standing up for Canadians. It is too bad they do not do it when it comes to Canadians abroad unless they are embarrassed into doing it, until they are forced to do it or because someone who happens to be well connected to their party made a phone call saying they ought to look at it.
There is the case of Mr. Kapustin, for whom the quite rightly went to bat, but there are hundreds of other Canadians like him. There is Brenda Martin. The went to see Bashir Makhtal in Ethiopia. It was very laudable, but there are hundreds of Canadians who find themselves now caught in a situation where the wants to use some undefined, unspecified and very arbitrary decision-making power that is contained in this legislation to choose who is and who is not going to get the chance to return home.
I cannot think of a better example of why parliamentarians exist, and that is to prevent the unchecked power of cabinet and of the executive to make decisions based upon circumstances ill-defined, certainly in legislation.
We have every reason to worry about this. Canadians travel for many reasons such as business, education, tourism and volunteering at work. They should not commit crimes whether they are here or whether they are elsewhere around the world, we know that. However, we know that some, unfortunately, will.
We also know that Canadians may be convicted in the context where the presumption of innocence is ignored, where prejudice against foreigners, human rights violations and unsavoury policing techniques lead to convictions of innocent persons. We also know that sometimes harsher sentences are imposed on foreigners than on nationals, and I have a number of examples of experiences with this. The possibility of serving the remainder of a sentence in Canada, in my view and I think the view of what we have seen in practice, may alleviate these perceived and sometimes real injustices.
Should Canadians have the right to be transferred? If, indeed, the conditions of incarceration amount to what would otherwise be considered matters of cruel and unusual punishment, in this case and as this legislation from the Conservatives proposes, should they be at the mercy of the minister's whim in the evaluation of such critical and crucial decisions? I think not.
I ask Canadians to look beyond this bill before us called . They should look at it and scratch back a bit of the surface. It is wonderful and we all want to be safe, but there is nothing that binds Canadians together more than recognizing that we believe in the ability of an individual to rehabilitate themselves.
We have an excellent correctional service system in Canada, of that I have no doubt. However, as I mentioned earlier, it is this transfer of offender treaty that allows many people, who would otherwise find themselves permanently in jail, incarcerated, tortured, deprived of the very basics of human rights because of a ministerial whim, to return to a country that has forsaken them.
This is not a question of making a point about good people and bad people. If they are jail in other countries, there is probably a very good reason for it. However, all too often we see there are extremely important examples of where people have been put in jail through no fault of their own.
What do we do with Mohamed Kohail, who just a few months ago was sentenced to death? That sentence, we hope, will be lifted at some point. What about William Sampson, a case which I was directly involved with, who was about to be executed? We worked with those countries and we worked to ensure that our relations with those other nations were paramount so that the life of the Canadian in this case, and we hope in the case of Mohamed Kohail, would be spared.
Canadians are languishing in jails around the world. The least they would expect is for Parliament to give a rubber stamp or a green light to a practice of saying that we may or may not like them, but we do not want to tell them why we may or may not like them.
My hon. colleague, the member for , raised a question about a particular case. I know the case very well because it was one of an individual who is bipolar and who had done something obviously wrong, but at the end of his time in prison, half his sentence was served, the American government and the State of Florida said that he could return to Canada, that they had no quarrel with it. However, the Conservative government that said, no, that it wanted to keep him there. It knew he was bipolar and that he had difficulty. It knew he did not get treatment while he was in that facility, but it did not want him back.
The right of a Canadian to return is a right that cannot be compromised or changed by judicial discretion or ministerial indiscretions, and that is of great concern to members of Parliament on all sides of the House.
If I sound passionate, it is because I back up what I say with action. I call on the Conservatives to back off on this nonsense. There is no reason to have this kind of legislation. When Canadians, who I think are extremely intelligent on these kinds of things, have an opportunity to look at it, they will not be fooled. They will not be fooled by “keeping us safe” when it is in fact tantamount to making Canadians unsafe.
People who return from torture and squalor in another nation and have been kept there because of the discretion of the minister will not come back programmed to go back into society. Let us understand this. They are not folks who have committed an offence in Canada. They get off the plane, the boat, the train or whatever the case may be and they go into the general public.
Where is our public safety there? The government has to be clean. It cannot confuse messages to be cute, trendy or trite when all it is doing is potentially subjecting Canadians to more harm, while at the same time damaging the lives of individuals who did no crime in Canada.
We understand the transfer of offenders treaty. People commit serious offences in another country. After a period of time, the country agrees, through treaty, to send them to serve out the remainder of their sentence in Canada. People who have committed serious crimes in other countries will have to serve the remainder of that sentence in the Canadian context, and that is very important to stress. They will at least be in a Canadian facility so they can be directed in a way that they can get back on the streets and rehabilitate themselves.
We do not have something like dungeons in our country. We do not torture people in our country. We believe in the ability of people to reintegrate into society at some point. That is, after all, why we call it corrections. By allowing the minister to do this through misadventure, and by supporting an ideology, which I think under scrutiny most Canadians would not accept, is wrong. It is flim-flam and it is not standing up for Canadians but rather trampling on Canadians.
In my time as a member of Parliament, dealing with some of these cases, I have often thought it interesting when I visit someone who has been in jail and has been tortured. It is interesting and depressing to know that the person has only one link to Canada and that is a Canadian citizenship. People fought for our liberties in the Boer War, the first world war, the second world war and the Korean War. What our young men and women are doing in Afghanistan today is making our country proud. I think the last thing on their minds would be to see us compromising our framework of legal, democratic bodies of law that protect Canadians at an instant.
For the members of the government on the other side who have proposed the legislation, it is not only flawed, but it sends the wrong message. It does not improve Canada's image and it does nothing to protect Canadians. It does not do a service to those men and women who have given their lives and continue to make our country proud on a number of fronts.
We should talk to our police about Canadians who have returned and the importance for rehabilitation through our correctional services. Every person has the ability to change. Some may not, but if they have not committed a crime in Canada, we should give them the benefit of the doubt. The facts bear out. How many Canadians have returned under the transfer of offenders treaty and offended? Not one.
The argument made to justify this legislation is false, it is misleading and it is a fraud. I would suggest to all members of the House that this does not deserve the debate in committee. There are only a couple of amendments, including changing “must” to “shall” and giving the minister discretion that, in his or her opinion, the person should or should not return.
I do not think that discretion should be given. I do not think there is a basis for it. I do not think there is an argument for it. Anybody who takes the time to really consider what has been offered here must recognize that the facts speak louder than political or ideological rhetoric. I am convinced that we should not only leave well enough alone, but that the problem is not evident. As my colleague just said a little earlier, it is not broken, so let us not try to fix it.
I look forward to questions from members of Parliament, but I want them to know one thing. I would stand up for any Canadian requested by any member of Parliament from any party. I am here to stand up for Canadians. This is not an ideological issue. The Conservatives should come to their senses.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be here today and debating Bill , to which the Bloc Québécois objects.
Before continuing, I would like to mention a practice to which this government increasingly resorts, even though it verges on the grotesque. The Conservatives have developed a habit of giving ridiculous names to bills instead of focusing on the legal nature of the bills. Our parliamentary tradition is to identify the real purpose of a bill, but the Conservatives are increasingly giving them subjective names in order to sway people's opinion.
People watching us on television can see what we are discussing today at the bottom of the screen. It is the Keeping Canadians Safe Act. The government is trying to imply that people who oppose Bill are also opposed to keeping Canadians safe. It is totally ridiculous.
There are more examples of this increasingly common practice in other items on today’s agenda, for instance Bill . I do not want to go into this bill right now but there is obviously already a very subjective twist in the title. We also have Bill . It is even more pathetic because they are trying to take advantage of our horror at the type of tragedy that befell young Sébastien, who was killed in battle. The title implies that anyone who honours Sébastien’s memory should support the bill and anyone who dares to oppose it is against honouring his memory. It is totally absurd.
We saw it as well in the budget. They talked about an act to stimulate economic activity in Canada, or some other aberration of the kind. Another Conservative bill was called the trafficking of minors act, even though the word trafficking did not appear anywhere in the bill. Honestly.
This practice must stop. I do not know whether the bill before us today will go to committee, or if the others will, but I hope the committees that study them will be more objective and will give them names that reflect the legal reality. Today, for example, we are discussing the . That is the real name of the act. People can agree or not agree, but that is what this bill is really about.
If this practice continues, things will get absolutely absurd. There will be a bill to make Canadians happy or put them in good shape and good health or some fine bill to make things better. This does not make sense and should stop. I find this practice, which comes to us from the United States, particularly detestable.
Members may well remember George W. Bush introducing the Patriot Act after the attacks of September 11. It was anti-terrorist legislation and the purpose was to imply to the senators and representatives voting on it that if they were opposed, they were not patriots.
This completely subverts the debate and, most of all, insults our intelligence. It implies that people are not smart enough to discuss the heart of the issue. They think they are going to simplify things by calling it the Keeping Canadians Safe Act and everybody will be in favour because it is about the safety of Canadians.
This is a dangerous gamble on the part of the Conservative government. I would rather appeal to the intelligence of people. I think we can discuss bills just fine without giving them grotesque names.
It starts as the Keeping Canadians Safe Act.
In future, if Parliament wanted to amend this legislation it would have to call it an act to keep Canadians even safer than the Keeping Canadians Safe Act currently does. You can see where this is going. It is utterly ridiculous.
I want to come back to Bill . The issue before us is the following. Under the current International Transfer of Offenders Act, what factors does the minister have to consider in determining whether to transfer a Canadian sentenced abroad to Canada or to transfer an American sentenced in Canada to the United States? I am giving the United States as an example, but obviously this applies to all countries.
The current legislation has a certain number of factors that the minister must take into account. He must, for example, take into account the person's health. He must ask himself whether the foreign prison system satisfies recognized principles of basic justice and rights for all. Has this system violated the basic rights of an individual and does it represent a risk to the individual's health and safety? For instance, has the individual been handed over for torture?
This is already in the act, but the government wants to make a change. The act would say that the minister, instead of having to consider all these factors, could consider them, but is not required to. Just imagine. He can look into whether the person incarcerated abroad is being tortured. He might like to know that, but then again he might not. Are the basic rights of the person incarcerated abroad being violated? The Conservatives may or may not be interested. They want the minister to have more discretionary power.
The Bloc Québécois obviously has serious reservations about this. We are already aware of the government's contempt for the rule of law and its contempt for our basic principles of natural justice. Leaving aside the government currently in power, what about a future government? We have to stick to the rule of law in place.
I will digress for a moment. This debate might seem a bit technical for many people at home, but there is something even more fundamental, which is our sense of justice. Do we want to continue to defend the rule of law and the system of natural justice? It is not easy; it is an ongoing battle, and it is intellectually challenging, since it is not necessarily what comes naturally for people.
Do we want to go back in time, to systems that slowly but surely become more and more arbitrary, subjective and inconsistent? Today's legal systems are sometimes complex. The public often believes that the system is costly and complicated and does not always work well. But if we look at the evolution of humanity, we have made incredible progress compared to what was done during medieval times.
People may tell me that is quite a stretch, but I think it is important to keep that perspective. In medieval times, people were tortured and imprisoned for no reason. The king made the decisions, and it was summary justice. Later, people realized that this did not help control crime, that human beings were too intelligent for it, and that we should develop systems to ensure independent justice with effective results.
At the time when certain countries first banned torture, it was not even on humanitarian grounds. They believed that if someone was tortured in order to get them to admit something, that person would always end up saying what the torturer wanted to hear. That is clear. If we want to convict someone, we can torture them and they will incriminate themselves. Does that really serve justice? Of course not.
Our western societies and those elsewhere in the world have developed a rule of law based on numerous principles. I will not list them all, but I will talk about those that I believe to be important.
First, there is the presumption of innocence. According to this principle, we assume that a person is innocent. It is too easy to accuse someone without any proof, to tarnish his reputation and interfere with his rights. We believe a person to be innocent until proven guilty, which is not easy. It tends to go against human nature. When a reprehensible and sordid murder has been committed and the police arrest someone, we want that person to go to jail and suffer. We say that we can sense that he is guilty.
A system has been put in place to curb that tendency and consider a person to be innocent until proven guilty.
The Canadian system also provides for the possibility of rehabilitation, which is important, and even fundamental. If we did not believe that a person can be rehabilitated, why would we hand out sentences other than life in prison? If we believe that someone will be a criminal their entire life, why release them? Our laws allow for different prison terms because we believe that a person can be rehabilitated at some point. We try to gauge that.
We believe that everyone has the same rights. The Conservative government often attacks this principle with an extremely unhealthy populism by saying that the opposition members—the Bloc Québécois, the Liberals and the NDP—are defending criminals. We are not defending criminals but defending fundamental rights and the fact that everyone should have the same rights. If they are not the same for everyone, then they are no longer fundamental rights. Defending the fundamental rights of a murderer is never very popular. However, fundamental and universal rights apply to everyone, even murderers and people who commit the most horrific crimes.
Under the rule of law, everyone is entitled to a fair trial before an unbiased judge or jury, in which the various parties have an equal opportunity to prove the guilt or innocence of the individual in question. These principles seem rather basic, but the government is undermining them more and more by meddling with the rule of law.
We believe that the powers of the executive branch and the judiciary should be kept separate. It is not up to us as elected officials, and especially not to ministers who are biased and have their own convictions, to determine who should be convicted or acquitted based on the law. Parliamentarians pass laws, but it is the judges and the judicial system that, separately, must enforce legislation and determine who has obeyed and who has disobeyed. Lastly, there must be a mechanism to correct cases of wrongful conviction.
Bill C-5 has only a few clauses. It might seem insignificant, but it could attack the principles I just talked about and could represent a considerable step back.
I have three examples.
Let us consider the case of Maher Arar. Hon. members will recall that this Canadian was deported on the strength of false information obtained by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canada's secret service. He was tortured abroad and finally returned home. A commission on the Arar affair completely exonerated Mr. Arar, proving that he had no connection with terrorism. The Canadian government did not apply the principle of the presumption of innocence in Mr. Arar's case. He did not get a fair trial. The separation of the judiciary and the executive was not maintained in his case. In fact, it was the executive that authorized his deportation, first to the United States and then to Syria. Today, the government is asking us to give it even more power. Is it so that the government can attack our system of natural justice even more?
Let us consider the case of Allen Smith, who was convicted of a series of murders in the United States. Admittedly, Mr. Smith is no choirboy, and defending him is not a very popular thing to do. But even without defending Allen Smith, we can defend people's basic rights. In Canada, we believe, or at least it is the position of this Parliament, that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment that goes against our belief in the right to life. If this is true in Canada, then it is also true in the United States. It would therefore be fair to ask the Americans to give this Canadian citizen the same treatment he would receive here, which would mean commuting his death sentence to life in prison. But the Conservative government could not care less about the principle of the rule of law, where everyone enjoys the same rights, or the principle of separation of the executive and the judiciary.
When questioned in the House of Commons, the government answered that, in its opinion, the crimes committed were very serious and that, therefore, it would not intervene. Since when is it up to the minister to assess the seriousness of the crime? That is something new in our system and it is deplorable. It is not up to the minister to make that assessment, but up to the courts, which must establish whether or not the person is guilty and decide on the seriousness of the crime and the appropriate punishment. Furthermore, it is the House that passes the laws to punish various crimes. It is not the minister who decides whether or not to apply them.
In the case of Omar Khadr, it is even worse. Without exception, all the principles I mentioned previously have been violated. Omar Khadr is a child soldier who was arrested seven years ago and is still imprisoned by the Americans. He has not yet been put on trial. He is accused of killing American soldiers and, despite a Supreme Court decision, the government refuses to ask for his return to Canada.
There is obviously no presumption of innocence in his case. Nor does he have equal rights. His cruel treatment, bordering on torture, has been contracted out to the United States. He has not had a fair trial after seven years of imprisonment. There is no separation between the executive and the judiciary. The government has told the House that, in its opinion, the crimes are serious and therefore it has decided not to intervene, as though it was up to the minister to decide. The possibility of judicial error was not examined in the least. The government absolutely does not want to hear about the possibility of rehabilitation if—I did say if—Omar Khadr is found guilty.
Since I mentioned the possibility of rehabilitation, I would like to close by saying that we have to keep in mind one thing about this bill: if this bill is passed, the number of Canadians serving sentences abroad will increase. These Canadians, once they have served their sentences, will return here and will not be ready to be reintegrated into society. In many cases, it would be better to return them to Canada and have them serve their sentences here so that they are in a better position to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society.
Madam Speaker, today I rise to share my thoughts on Bill , with my colleagues.
I want to begin by stating that my deepest desire is to see an environment that promotes safety everywhere in Canada so that all Canadians can be safe no matter where they are.
There are many ways to achieve that goal. Today we are debating one of those ways.
Bill C-5 would amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act. This bill would enable the government to request the transfer of Canadian prisoners serving sentences in countries other than Canada.
Bill C-5 is part of the Conservative government's extreme law and order agenda. The militant western Conservative base strongly supports this vision.
Make no mistake about it, this bill is an opportunistic attempt to garner votes. It seeks not only to protect Canadians, but also to get the law-and-order Conservatives re-elected at any cost.
According to the bill summary, one purpose of the bill is to enhance public safety. Clause 3 adds another objective to the Act:
The purpose of this Act is to enhance public safety and to contribute to the administration of justice and the rehabilitation of offenders and their reintegration into the community by enabling offenders to serve their sentences in the country of which they are citizens or nationals.
I think that if we add this new objective and give the minister discretionary powers with respect to factors he may take into consideration, the minister will be able to use public safety as grounds to deny as many requests for the transfer of Canadians incarcerated abroad as possible, thereby undermining all of the other objectives of the Act.
I will attempt to show that this bill will weaken public safety, not enhance it. Prior to this, the notion of public safety was, in practice, limited to terrorist threats and threats of war against Canada or against the general population.
In a Federal Court case, Getkate v. Canada (Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness), the judge had this to say about public safety:
—the Court also finds that there is no evidence on the record demonstrating that the applicant constitutes a potential threat to the safety of Canadians or the security of Canada. While the minister attempts to invoke the section as a means of demonstrating that the applicant poses a general threat to Canadians should he be returned to Canada, use of the phrase “threat to the security of Canada” has traditionally been limited in other legislation to threats of general terrorism and warfare against Canada or threats to the security of Canadians en masse. In the case at bar, while the applicant may pose a general threat to specific pockets of Canadian society should he re-offend, he clearly poses no “threat to the security of Canada” as the term has been interpreted in other legislation, such as the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act...or the Canadian Security Intelligence Services Act.... If the threat to Canada was the mere risk that the offender would re-offend, then such a consideration could be applied to every inmate seeking a transfer.
In this matter, the judge set aside the minister's decision.
Is this bill the minister's way of reacting to the judge's decision in the Getkate case? Is it an attempt to close the door to any judicial control over decisions? It is already very difficult for a judge to set aside a minister's decision.
I am not a legal expert but I know that, to be set aside, a ministerial decision must be found to be “unreasonable”. The burden of proof was very high for the individual and he had little chance of winning.
However, in the Getkate case, the judge set aside the minister's decision, despite all his discretionary power and the substantial burden of proof.
Bill gives the Minister of Public Safety a great deal of discretionary power and opens the door to abuse of power.
Under the current act, the minister considers four factors in determining whether to consent to the transfer of a Canadian offender. Those factors are: whether the offender's return to Canada would constitute a threat to the security of Canada; whether the offender left or remained outside Canada with the intention of abandoning Canada as their place of permanent residence; whether the offender has social or family ties in Canada; and whether the foreign entity or its prison system presents a serious threat to the offender's security or human rights.
Bill gives the minister some very important additional discretionary power. The minister may consider other factors. The bill does not say that the minister does or shall consider these factors, but that he may consider them.
These are the factors added in the bill:
(b) whether, in the Minister’s opinion, the offender’s return to Canada will endanger public safety, including
(i) the safety of any person in Canada who is a victim, as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, of an offence committed by the offender,
(ii) the safety of any member of the offender’s family, in the case of an offender who has been convicted of an offence against a family member, or
(iii) the safety of any child, in the case of an offender who has been convicted of a sexual offence involving a child;
(c) whether, in the Minister’s opinion, the offender is likely to continue to engage in criminal activity after the transfer;...
(g) the offender’s health;
(h) whether the offender has refused to participate in a rehabilitation or reintegration program;
(i) whether the offender has accepted responsibility for the offence for which they have been convicted, including by acknowledging the harm done to victims and to the community;
(j) the manner in which the offender will be supervised, after the transfer, while they are serving their sentence;
(k) whether the offender has cooperated, or has undertaken to cooperate, with a law enforcement agency; or
(l) any other factor that the Minister considers relevant.
This list includes everything but the kitchen sink. It is broad. It is a very significant power to put in the hands of a single person, especially when we know that the current government is a government of law and order whatever the cost. This is all very subjective and is an attempt to win votes.
We live in a democracy based on the rule of law where every decision must be fair and meet objective criteria.
I sincerely believe that when we entrust so much power to a minister in the absence of any objectivity, we may be abandoning Canadians to the whims of this government. When the public no longer knows how the government will handle requests, it may lose confidence in a system that is neither fair nor transparent.
I would like to read an excerpt from an article by Nathalie DesRosiers, professor of law at the University of Ottawa. Ms. DesRosiers was the dean of the faculty of law and she is speaking on behalf of the Civil Liberties Association about Bill , which preceded the current Bill before the unnecessary prorogation of last December:
Even if some Canadians believe that Ministers in Canada would never make decisions based on such sordid grounds as political contributions, there is the appearance that they may. Indeed, the lack of boundaries to such discretion prevent an analysis of whether a decision is fair, sound and wise, based on a consideration of all factors.
It also prevents any legal accountability. This, in my view, is going in the wrong direction. Although politicians certainly have the power to conduct international relations on behalf of Canada: they should want to exercise it in a way that is fair and transparent. The absence of rules prevents Canadians from knowing how they will be treated and exposes the government to charges of favouritism when they act or refuse to act. Indeed, when a white Canadian is repatriated speedily from Mexico while an Afro-Canadian is left in jail in Sudan, Canadians wonder whether the government is acting fairly and reasonably or in a racist manner. A stronger legal framework helps dispell such accusations and allow for more transparent ruling.
I believe we must not only avoid putting decision makers in positions that could lead them to abuse their power, but we must also avoid any appearance that they may have such power.
I would like to share with my colleagues the case of a young constituent from Hull—Aylmer, who is currently being detained in a penitentiary in Florida after being found guilty of crimes committed in the United States.
Mr. Speaker, since my presentation on this young resident could take several minutes, I suppose we should stop now so that you can proceed—