Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak at report stage today in support of Bill C-32, the victims bill of rights act. This bill would change how victims are to be treated by the criminal justice and correction systems in Canada. It acknowledges their suffering and recognizes that they too have rights that must be respected.
The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights heard testimony from numerous witnesses who described the importance of this legislation. Many shared their own difficult stories of victimization and expressed their appreciation for the changes that the Canadian victims bill of rights would bring to other victims who will follow.
The committee also heard from those who provide victims with much needed services. They too offered their support for the bill, explaining that the rights contained in the Canadian victims bill of rights and the accompanying amendments to the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act would improve the experiences of victims.
The victims bill of rights presents a completely new approach for victims of crime in Canada. There have been many questions about how the bill would actually work and how it would be implemented. This is understandable given its transformative nature.
I would like to take the opportunity today to address three issues that were the subject of discussions at the standing committee: the definition of victim, the steps that we will take to ensure awareness of the rights created in Bill C-32, and the enforceability of those rights.
Regarding the definition of a victim in Bill C-32, the committee heard from witnesses who felt that the definition was overly broad, as well as those who felt that it was not sufficiently inclusive. Concern has been expressed about how a definition of victim in federal legislation would co-exist with the definitions of victim found in provincial and territorial victim legislation. We also heard questions about why the bill contains more than one definition of victim and what each purports to do.
As members will know, Bill C-32 includes the new Canadian victims bill of rights and proposes amendments to four federal statutes. The Canadian victims bill of rights portion of Bill C-32 includes a broad definition of victim. This definition recognizes the various kinds of harm that an individual may suffer as a result of an offence, even if the offence were not committed against him or her personally. The definition acknowledges that individuals other than the direct victim can be victims of an offence. All the rights included in the Canadian victims bill of rights can be exercised by a direct victim, as well as others who have suffered harm, such as family members.
The bill would also amend the definition of victim in the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to ensure that those definitions align with the definition of victim in the Canadian victims bill of rights.
The first part of the proposed definition in the Criminal Code recognizes the same forms of harm that a victim of an offence may suffer as the Canadian victims bill of rights does. Under this part of the definition, only a person who has had an offence committed against him or her is a victim for the purposes of most Criminal Code provisions.
The second part of the Criminal Code definition includes individuals other than the direct victim for the purposes of certain Criminal Code provisions, including the victim impact statement provisions. This is consistent with established case law that recognizes secondary victims for the purpose of these provisions.
The Canadian victims bill of rights would not apply to Canadians who are victims of offences committed outside of Canada, over which Canada is not exerting extraterritorial jurisdiction. This is because the rights under the Canadian victims bill of rights all relate to the various stages of the Canadian criminal justice process, from the investigation and prosecution of an offence through to the conditional release process. For example, a victim's right to present a victim impact statement, to have a court consider making a restitution order against an offender, or to request information about an offender can only apply to offences processed through the Canadian criminal and corrections system. It is not possible for Canada to extend those rights to people or to criminal justice processes within another country's jurisdiction.
We have also heard concerns about differences between the definition of victim proposed in the Canadian victims bill of rights and those found in provincial and territorial legislation. Each province and territory has enacted its own victims of crime legislation with its own definition of victim. Some provinces and territories have multiple definitions for various purposes, such as eligibility for specific services or financial benefits programs. I note that this problem of various definitions of victim did not arise with Bill C-32 but is a result of the evolution of victims services in each jurisdiction.
It is simply not possible to have one definition of victim at the federal level that would incorporate absolutely all the different definitions of victim that exist at the provincial and territorial levels. Rather, the bill seeks to create a definition that is inclusive and that recognizes all the different forms of harm that victims may suffer as a result of an offence. These include physical or emotional harm, property damage, and economic loss. Most provincial and territorial definitions include similar elements in their definitions.
I will now turn to the issue of ensuring that victims are able to exercise their rights under the act.
The justice committee heard from witnesses who questioned how victims would be made aware of their new rights under the act. This is a very fair question. All the rights in the world will not benefit victims if they do not know about them.
A Government of Canada website will be developed making information on the Canadian victims bill of rights available to all Canadians. During last year's consultations, numerous stakeholders stressed the importance of a one-stop shop for victims to access information. The Government of Canada website will meet that need.
The committee also heard from several aboriginal groups that are concerned that aboriginal victims would not be able to exercise their rights in the same way as other victims. They noted the disproportionate impact of factors such as poverty, marginalization, and lack of safe housing for aboriginal victims and explained that they would therefore need extra support in order to fully exercise their rights in a Canadian victims bill of rights.
The government recognizes that every victim is different and has different needs. That is why budget 2014 committed to providing funding to the provinces and territories to assist with the implementation of the bill. The government recognizes that the provinces and territories will play a crucial role in the effective implementation of the bill and has been working with them through various fora—such as the meetings of the federal, provincial, and territorial ministers responsible for justice and public safety—to address the implementation issues
We need to continue to work with our provincial and territorial partners to ensure that the Canadian victims bill of rights brings about the changes in the criminal justice and corrections systems that we have promised victims.
I will turn now to the issue of enforceability.
Some have criticized Bill C-32 as nothing more than a statement of principle because they believe the enshrined rights to be unenforceable. This is simply not true.
The victims bill of rights includes a remedial scheme to address an infringement or denial of a victim's rights under the act. This is what distinguishes Bill C-32 from many provincial or territorial victims acts that have been found to be just statements of principle. Under Bill C-32, every federal department, agency, or body involved in the criminal justice system would be required to have a complaints mechanism in place that would review complaints and make recommendations to remedy any infringement or denial of a victim's rights under the act, and they would be required to inform victims of those recommendations. If victims were not satisfied with the recommendations made by the department, agency, or body, they could then raise the issue with an oversight agency where one exists, such as the RCMP public complaints commission. If no oversight body exists for a particular department, agency, or body, a victim could seek the assistance of the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, whose mandate includes reviewing concerns regarding noncompliance with legislation or established policies.
Complaints regarding a provincial or territorial agency, including police, the crown, or victim services, would be addressed in accordance with the applicable provincial or territorial legislation. In order to improve the remedies available to victims, the government will provide a limited amount of funding through the victims fund for provinces and territories to enhance or establish complaint bodies for victims of crime.
I hope members of all parties will join me in supporting the victims bill of rights to ensure that victims of crime in Canada receive the recognition and protection that they deserve.