I wanted to begin by saying that the government fully supports the intent of Bill . Ms. James brought forward this bill in order to give the commissioner the ability to stop an offender from making vexatious complaints or complaints that were not in good faith.
I did indicate during second reading that the government would propose amendments here at the committee stage to strengthen the bill, which is what this amendment would do. There are several things that it would do, so I'm just going to outline them so everyone knows what we're wanting to do.
We want to ensure that Bill is consistent with the existing act and regulations. This motion would amend Bill C-293 to ensure that the bill achieves its intended objective, which is to limit the number of grievances filed by vexatious and frivolous grievers and address the operational challenges, and that it's drafted in a manner that is consistent with the remainder of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
Right now for the CCRA, a very small piece of what it does is in legislation. The majority of what it does is in regulation, and I think we remember that Mr. Sapers referred to this as well. The majority of what this act does is not in legislation; rather, it's in regulation. When Ms. James introduced this bill, obviously she introduced it as legislation, as that is her only vehicle. What the government wants to be able to do is to continue and to see the results of this bill accomplished, but we want to see it being consistent with the way the act is written.
Under the existing legislation, the grievance process is outlined in the Corrections and Conditional Release Regulations—the CCRR, not the CCRA. This amendment allows for the process of dealing with frivolous and vexatious complaints to occur in the regulations that also govern the grievance process. The amendments ensure that Bill is consistent with the style of the existing grievance procedure as set out in the CCRA.
Currently, as I've said, the grievance process is laid out in regulation. We've heard references to that by some of the witnesses. The government believes that it should continue to be in regulation rather than in legislation.
Mr. Sapers, as I said, also seems to be of the same opinion. I recognize that in his testimony he didn't necessarily agree with what the bill is accomplishing, but he did reference that this being in a regulation as opposed to being in legislation makes more sense. He acknowledged in his appearance that an added “legislative burden” would make the administration of the grievance process more difficult and more expensive.
Our government recognizes this. That's why this amendment places the administration of the grievance process in regulation, not legislation. That's the first thing it does.
Secondly, the legislative amendment will give the commissioner the authority to prohibit an offender from submitting any further complaints or grievances, except by leave of the commissioner, if the offender has persistently submitted complaints or grievances that are frivolous, vexatious, or not made in good faith.
Without this amendment, the commissioner unfortunately would not have the authority to prohibit frivolous and vexatious grievers from filing an overwhelming number of complaints. That's why we want this to be enshrined in legislation but guided by the regulations. I'm going to go into the regulations so that we can all be assured that regulations will guide this process.
As well, the amendment would extend the timeframe for review of the vexatious complainant prohibition from six months to a year. We did hear testimony during the committee hearings that a six-month window would likely be operationally cumbersome for CSC, so the government believes that one year is probably more realistic than six months. It's a bit more workable provision.
Fourthly, the motion also provides that the commissioner would give written reasons to the vexatious complainant on the decision to either lift or maintain the prohibition. Again, this would be in legislation that would have to be written.
Corresponding amendments could be made to the Corrections and Conditional Release Regulations to give further precision to the administration of the vexatious complainant scheme in keeping with Ms. James' PMB, so again, regulation would be able to guide this process as it currently guides the grievance process. Again, as Mr. Sapers stated during his appearance, many of the changes contemplated would be more appropriately achieved through regulations.
I just want to give you an outline of what the regulations would entail so we can be assured that all of the things that would be in the legislated bill would now be in regulation.
The regulations would outline the duty of fairness and the obligation of the commissioner or the designate to inform the offender of the proposed prohibition and allow a reasonable opportunity to make representations in writing.
Regulations would also articulate the process for granting leave to file a grievance; for example, when it can be demonstrated that the grievance is not an abuse of process and that consideration be given to life, liberty, and the security of the person. That would be enshrined in the regulations.
In other words, even when an offender has been designated as a vexatious complainant, the scheme would still recognize that he or she may, in the future, have a legitimate grievance that should be dealt with. We wanted to make sure that this is in.
Regulations would also make clear that the decision of the institutional head to refuse leave is final and is not subject to the grievance procedure. Otherwise, it would unfortunately be an unending process. There has to be some finality, we believe, to the institutional head.
I also want to make sure that everyone is aware that all of the regulations are referred to the Standing Joint Committee on the Scrutiny of Regulations for review to ensure consistency. As well, they're made public. I think a committee would have an opportunity to look at those regulations if they so chose to.
In addition, this amendment would remove certain sections of the bill that don't make sense and would be unworkable and operationally challenging.
The items that are removed include proposed subsection 91.1(6), as it would add to CSC's burden and it's vague. Again, we think this should be addressed in the offender's correctional plan rather than creating a second separate plan. We heard testimony about that.
Also, proposed subsection 91.2(1) would likely result in an unintended consequence of even more burden on CSC. Given the cohort of offenders the bill is trying to address, the chances are that they would flood the system with additional material, creating an untenable paper trail for CSC. So again, the government does not believe that this is workable.
As well, proposed subsection 91.2(3) states that the “decision-maker may not refuse to hear a complaint or grievance...”. In our opinion, this would create and provide a loophole in the whole scheme, as offenders could argue that any unresolved grievance imposes adverse consequences. So we would like to have the process again laid out, whereby if there are legitimate grievances they would be heard, but the vexatious complainer would not be able to use this loophole to continue to make unending complaints.
Also, proposed section 91.3 is not necessary, as it already is implicit that anyone is entitled to apply for judicial review. We already know that. That's the right of every individual.
In closing, Mr. Chair, thank you for the opportunity to explain this. I'm sure we'll have some discussion.
As I said, during second reading debate, the sponsor of Bill stated:
||What are the exact changes proposed in my Bill...? In simple terms, the bill would allow the commissioner of Correctional Service of Canada, or his assigned representative, to designate an offender as a vexatious complainant. Once this has occurred, the offender would be held to a higher standard of proof for future claims.
With this amendment, we're being consistent with the sponsor's desires for what this bill would accomplish. Again, the primary thing we are doing is that we believe it should be in regulation, in terms of guiding it, and certain pieces should be legislated.
As everyone is aware, we have been feeling that this private member's bill is wrongly directed at a minor part of the problem with the overall complaints and grievance system. I don't believe this amendment addresses that question, which has been our main concern. However, the changes that are being made have some...or I guess one good thing: “written reasons”.
The amendment we were going to suggest to the existing system I think will apply, in any case, to your new proposed subsection 91.1(2). I will let Madame Doré Lefebvre talk about that in just a minute, but I believe we can....
The words we were thinking about adding previously were “taking into account the complainant's education and mental health”. So the way that you've rewritten the section, I think that amendment becomes in essence a subamendment to this amendment. I'll leave that to my colleague in a moment. The one good thing is “written reasons”, and we will accept that.
You talk a lot about regulations. However, regulations aren't in front of us now, and we have no guarantee that those who consider the regulations will have had the benefit of our discussion or the benefit of the testimony that we've heard before this committee. So with respect, it is a bit of a hollow promise, I guess I'll call it, to say that things are going to appear in the regulations when there is no guarantee that this would be the case. Obviously those who didn't have the benefit of the hearings in this committee, who originally drafted this bill, didn't reach those conclusions. I worry that those who weren't present might not also see the logic that we've seen here at the committee.
I believe originally the bill talked about applying a higher standard to future complaints from those who've been designated. This now appears to move this to simply closing off the possibility for one year for future complaints. One thing that Mr. Sapers said very clearly is that one of the problems in a complaints and grievance system is delay. So by taking one year to take someone out of the system, it may in fact increase pressures, increase problems, and cause that person to direct their anger or frustrations in other manners.
While I do understand that administratively one year might be better for CSC, I'm not sure it's better for a complaints and grievance process to have a ban placed on someone for an entire year. In that period of time, they might be moved from one institution to another. All kinds of things might happen in the period of a year that would change the circumstances dramatically for that person. So rather than seeing the one year as an improvement, I guess I would see it as making the situation potentially much worse for the person who had been designated.
I think for those reasons we would not support the amendment without taking into account what we wanted to do, which was to say that in making these decisions, if we're going to put this in legislation, we should mandate that the complainant's education levels and mental health be taken into account in making any of those decisions. That was the essence of the amendment we were going to propose separately.
I'll let Madame Doré Lefebvre talk about that, but I think that could apply to the new subsection 91.1(2).
I guess I'm seeking the guidance of the chair on whether we move a subamendment at this point.
I'll address a couple of concerns Mr. Garrison brought forward, and then I'll speak to the amendment. I think they're related.
First of all, we appreciate and understand that the opposition, while likely in agreement with stopping vexatious complaints, does not support this bill. We understand, as well, that this amendment wouldn't necessarily make them support the bill. On the government side, obviously, we're saying we support the bill; we want the intent of the bill to go forward, but we believe putting it into regulation, like the rest of the act, is more workable, and it's more of a logical step.
As for his concerns that there is no kind of a public process or oversight to the regulations, I would just reminder him that the regulations are all public. Again, they have to go through the committee on scrutiny of regulations. That's where they're looked at. They can be reviewed very closely there. As well, they can come back to this committee. I think that's important.
In keeping with that, we would disagree with the issue of mental health or education being enshrined in the legislation. Obviously, it's taken into account with every decision that is made. I know the commissioner testified that for every decision that is made for any reason concerning an inmate, mental health and those factors are taken into account, but I would not be supportive of that being enshrined in the legislation, really for the same reasons that we are making this amendment right now. We want to give the basic abilities within the legislation, but then be able to do the procedures in regulation, and these are details that might be better addressed in regulations.
There's just one more thing from Mr. Garrison, again on the six months versus one year. I want to make sure that everyone is aware that if this passes and if a commissioner says, “prohibit an offender from submitting any further complaint or grievance except by leave of the Commissioner”, the intent of that is not that the person could never put in a complaint within the next year. In fact, it's the opposite.
I'll just repeat this. The regulations would also articulate the process for granting leave to file a grievance—even within that one-year span—for example, where it's determined that the grievance is not an abuse of process and that consideration be given to life, liberty, and the security of the person.
So the intent would be, within those regulations, to make sure there's a clear and straightforward process so that there would still be an ability. As we talked about when we looked at this bill, even if someone had been designated a vexatious complainant, none of us wanted that to mean that person would never be able to make a complaint within that year, if there was a legitimate complaint to be made. So we want that, again, to be laid out in regulation, because that's the way the rest of the act has been laid out.
Unfortunately, we would not be able to support your amendment. We don't see that it should be in the legislation. But I hope that I possibly addressed some of your concerns.
Shall clause 1 carry? And I perhaps should have done that initially, but there may have been something consequential there, too.
(Clause 1 agreed to)
Shall the title carry?
Some hon. members: Agreed
The Chair: Shall the bill as amended carry?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall I report the bill as amended to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the committee order a reprint of the bill?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Thank you very much for that folks, and for the extra information that we gleaned from that. We will just invite Mr. Lauzon to come to the table. I don't even believe we have to adjourn, even for a short period of time.
You have the bill in front of you. Mr. Lauzon has drafted Bill C-350. First of all, today we are going to commence our study on Bill . We're hearing from the member of Parliament who's brought this bill before the House.
Our committee welcomes Mr. Guy Lauzon, MP from Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry in Ontario. We congratulate you for shepherding your bill thus far through the House, and also for being one of the fortunate that had their bills drawn early. We look forward to your comments as to why you drafted this bill and your reasons for it.
Thank you for appearing before this committee, Mr. Lauzon.
Thank you very much for having me, Mr. Chair.
I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you this afternoon.
To begin with, I'm very proud to speak to Bill , which will take a step in the right direction, I believe, toward increasing offender accountability and improving restitution measures.
Let me begin by saying I believe that Bill is simply common sense. This legislation will ensure that any monetary award owed to an offender as a result of a legal action or proceeding against Her Majesty in right of Canada will first be put toward financial obligations and not into the offender's pocket.
Bill does this by amending the wording in the purpose section of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which currently refers only to custody and supervision and rehabilitation and reintegration. The new wording will clarify that one of the purposes of the federal corrections system is the following: encouraging the accountability and responsibility of offenders, with a view to ensuring that their obligations to society are addressed.
The bill sets out the priorities for debt repayment in cases where an offender is owed a monetary award as a result of a legal action against the crown. This means in essence that an offender will first have to satisfy outstanding debts before collecting any award, which I think is pretty much common sense.
The debt owed to the offender would be paid based on the following order of priorities: first, to a spousal or child support order; second, to a legal restitution order, any victim surcharge order, and any person with a civil judgment against the offender. If any money remains after all these judgments are satisfied, then the balance would go to the offender.
A prime example of why action needs to be taken on this issue is the case of multiple murderer Gregory McMaster. Mr. McMaster has a long criminal history as an adult and as a youth, which includes charges of assault, weapons offences, burglary, and the murder of three Canadians and a Minnesota police officer.
Throughout his time in the correctional system, Mr. McMaster has filed four lawsuits resulting in monetary awards that have gone directly into his pocket, instead of toward fulfilling his obligations to society.
The case of Peter Collins also demonstrates why action needs to be taken on this issue. Mr. Collins murdered a police officer in 1983 and since that point has been serving his sentence in a Correctional Service Canada penitentiary. He filed a complaint against Correctional Service Canada at the Canadian Human Rights Commission, claiming that he was targeted in a discriminatory way by correctional staff who required him, per standard procedure, to stand during regular inmate counts. He claimed that due to a physical disability he is unable to stand for the mandatory counts and that staff continued to unfairly make him stand.
Mr. Collins was awarded $7,500 for pain and suffering and an additional $2,500 in special compensation by the CHRC. This compensation was awarded on the basis that staff behaviour was reckless and that they had knowledge of his disability. The monetary award went directly into his pocket.
Bill will correct that problem of offenders receiving a judgment and not using it to settle outstanding debts, by ensuring that any monetary award owed to an offender as a result of a legal action or proceeding against Her Majesty in right of Canada be put toward financial obligations, including child support and restitution orders.
Although they are often overlooked, spouses and children of offenders are also victims of crime. I can't stress that enough. I believe that the spouse, whether it's a male or a female in the family of an offender, is shamed and hurt. They're victims as much as the actual victim.
If the breadwinner of a family is convicted, that family's financial stability is suddenly gone. This could leave innocent children without food, a warm home, or clothing. These types of financial hardships can be extremely detrimental to children and to all victims. This is why it is only right that any monetary award be distributed to the offender's family as a first priority.
Secondly, these funds should be put toward any damages or injuries caused as a result of the offender's crime. Our government has always emphasized the importance of protecting the rights of victims, as opposed to the rights of criminals. This bill strives to add to our record of victims' rights.
Victims of crime can face years of physical and emotional distress. It is only fair that the recovery and stability of victims of crime is taken into account before issuing the balance of a financial award to an offender.
Ladies and gentlemen, I can speak to the emotional distress suffered by a victim of crime; I can't speak to the physical distress, but certainly the emotional. About 30 years ago, someone entered my home in Sudbury while our family was sleeping, came into my and my wife's bedroom, and stole my wallet off my dresser. Neither one of us woke up. I can't begin to tell you how traumatizing that is, when you wake up and realize somebody has invaded your privacy and stolen your money and you weren't even aware of that.
This was 30 years ago, but I can still remember the emotional distress that particularly my wife and my children, but I to a certain extent as well, went through over that incident.
Those were the days when we didn't lock our doors. I can assure you, as a result I certainly lock my doors now. I've lived that experience. None of us were physically hurt, but the emotional distress was certainly there.
Further, the property of victims is often damaged—in our case, there was no damage—during a crime, leaving them unable to afford the repairs.
This piece of legislation will ensure that when an offender receives a monetary award, any outstanding victim surcharge will be taken into account before the remaining balance is awarded to the offender.
The next two priorities, which also focus on supporting victims of crime, include payment of any victim surcharge orders in any outstanding civil judgments against the offender. Only after those priorities have been carried out will the outstanding amount be paid to the offender. This is a fair process. It is only fair that when offenders receive a monetary award while incarcerated that debts be paid before they are able to benefit from it.
This bill takes strong action to increase the accountability of offenders and improve restitution orders to protect spouses, children, and victims of crime.
Since elected, our government has taken action to provide Canadians with safe streets and communities. This bill actually builds on that. Not only do offenders need to be off our streets, they need to be held accountable for their actions. The bill holds them accountable, assisting in their rehabilitation.
Many offenders have never been responsible for a day in their lives. This will teach them that in society we have obligations and we need to meet them. The bill makes sure that their obligations to society are addressed. The measures proposed in this bill will help offenders take more responsibility for their rehabilitation by reforming them to be responsible members of society.
The emphasis that this legislation puts on offender accountability helps to correct negative offender behaviour, which is the ultimate goal of our correctional system. Measures that encourage offender accountability will ultimately prepare them for the responsibilities of life after prison and help them reintegrate into Canadian society. Paying their debt to society starts with paying outstanding debts owed to their victims.
As our government has stated in the House of Commons, we hope to amend the bill to add clarity regarding the role of the Correctional Service of Canada in the administration and operation of these provisions.
I welcome and look forward to seeing any amendments that come from this committee. Since introducing this bill, I've met with a number of victims and one advocacy group in my riding of Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry. For example, I met with a local association in my riding that goes to great lengths to help victims of crime. They support this kind of legislation overwhelmingly.
The message from this group, and from my constituents—from all constituents—is that the rights of victims need to be strengthened. By the way, as an aside, the rights of landlords also have to be strengthened. That's the thing I seem to hear, that the rights of victims and landlords are the rights that are most contravened.
They want to see offenders held accountable for their actions and mechanisms created to protect victims of crime.
As a government, we've listened to victims of crime and committed to delivering on our promise in the 2011 Speech from the Throne to support the rights of victims ahead of the rights of criminals. The passage of this legislation is another important step in accomplishing this.
I look forward to hearing from my colleagues and witnesses participating in the study of the bill.
And colleagues, I began my remarks by stating that Bill was simply common sense. I hope you agree, and I look forward to your questions and your comments.
Merci. Thank you very much.
It's so I can read my own writing.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, for those keen observations.
Thank you very much to the witness for attending the committee today and for your piece of legislation.
I do have a little bit of experience with the criminal justice system. I sat in courts in this land for probably four years through a plethora of different cases. I heard judges who dealt with restitution orders, etc., say how unlikely it was that the prisoner would ever be able to pay the restitution for a sometimes substantive crime.
But I look at this in a different light. I look at this also through your eyes to the victims, having been a victim of a crime yourself and having spoken to victims whose lives will never be the same. You mentioned there are different kinds of victims. We're dealing with people who don't generally have the same kind of social conscience as most of us, because most of us do not commit crimes and won't be in jail. They tend to not be good partners, fathers, mothers, etc., so to me this piece of legislation deals with deadbeat fathers, partners, and husbands.
This also deals with the people who commit white-collar crimes—people who cheat shareholders and employees, and while they are in jail they might just see the results of other investments. You know, the multi-millionaire who goes to jail, gets out, and then lives on his yacht while the people who invested in their fake company....
We heard in this committee in a previous Parliament how people have committed suicide, especially in Montreal—and I forget the specific case. So this also deals with that kind of individual where they have to pay restitution.
To my friends across the way who are always very worried about how this affects the perpetrator, I think they should be worried about how this affects the average Canadian who, through white-collar crime, may not be able to.... This enables the system through the Criminal Code.
Did you think about that, Mr. Lauzon?
Thank you. Mr. Lauzon. It's nice to see you here before the committee.
You mentioned white-collar crime. The victims of Earl Jones were constituents of mine, and he operated in my constituency so I know the impact that white-collar crime can have. Parents of friends of mine were defrauded, and a high school classmate of mine led the charge for the victims of Earl Jones. I introduced him to the lawyer who then helped him get money back from the government because the tax money that the government had was taxes paid on fictitious income. So I know all about that.
I agree with you that white-collar crime is a serious crime. I would say it's a non-violent, violent crime because it's technically a non-violent crime yet it causes violence to people and some people, as you say, commit suicide and commit violence to themselves. So it's a very special kind of crime. I think it's in a category of its own in some ways.
I think you brought up some interesting analogies between somebody who lives outside prison who hasn't paid their child support, and somebody in prison who hasn't paid their child support. For example, someone on the outside would get their driver's licence revoked, but presumably the inmate is not driving so that's not going to be a form of recourse.
I know it wouldn't necessarily be practical all the time, but if an inmate has received an award and has some child support or spousal support obligations, is it possible for the family to take the same action that they might take if the person were living outside the prison system and take that person to court? I wouldn't imagine that inmates are shielded from those kinds of legal actions, or maybe they are, I don't know.
I see your analogy with the driver's licence but when you're talking about other methods that people use with deadbeat dads who are not inmates, can these people take the same measures toward a deadbeat dad who's an inmate? Can they take that inmate to some kind of court to get payment?