May 10, 2013 -- Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to be standing here to speak to important amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that I proposed in Bill C-479, an act to bring fairness for the victims of violent offenders.
I would first like to thank the Minister of Public Safety and Senator Boisvenu for their public show of support this week for this legislation. I appreciate their commitment and I am encouraged by their ongoing leadership to help bring about the fairness we are seeking for victims.
Strengthening the voice of victims of violent crimes and the proposed increased time between parole hearings are two aspects of this bill that act on the changes that victims, their families and advocates like the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime have urged for many years. It is time to bring these to fruition.
Let us be clear. We are talking about instances of violent crime. I do not think words can ever adequately describe the repulsiveness of these crimes. They are heinous, are often calculated and always senseless.
It is an honour for me to be speaking to this bill today. I do so on behalf of my constituents and, tragically, thousands of Canadians like them, as well as the sacred memory of their loved ones. From the time I was elected in 2006, I have had many constituents share their concerns about the imbalance between the victims and the perpetrators in our justice system. However, my dedication to pursue this kind of legislation was galvanized when my constituents asked me to attend a Parole Board hearing with them in 2010. They wanted their federal representative to see first-hand what the process was like and the voice given to the victims, primarily through the victim impact statement.
When I agreed to attend, I knew it would be an emotional experience. I was hoping it would also be an educational experience. It was for sure. However, I do not think I could ever have begun to prepare myself for the raw emotion in that room that day. As long as I live, I will never forget it. Before even uttering a word, my constituent started to weep. The memories of a crime committed over 30 years previously came flooding back and the tears were endless. It was a grisly triple murder: her sister, niece and nephew had been brutally murdered by her sister's husband. After killing his wife, this violent criminal suffocated his two young children, a six-year old and a five-year old. The murderer meticulously concealed the bodies in the waterways of Hamilton, Ontario.
My constituent wrote her first victim impact statement on the eve of the funeral. Over the years, she and her family insisted on attending the Parole Board hearings to ensure the voice of victims was heard. They felt an incredible burden, a duty as a family. It was the least they could do to honour the victims: their sister, their daughter, their grandchildren, their niece, their nephew.
What struck me like a ton of bricks was the re-victimization of having to deliver the statement over and over, year after year. It was so cruel, so frustrating and so unnecessary. I watched the family endure the same process again in 2011. Again, the triple murderer was denied parole.
This experience inspired Bill C-479. I set about talking to victims, advocates, law enforcement officials, lawyers and others to ask what could be done.
Beyond the whole issue of re-victimization, I discovered that provisions in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that may have made sense in the 1970s no longer reflected modern technology and the respect and dignity our system ought to afford victims.
From the work my office and I have done in preparation for the introduction of this bill, and the experts we have consulted, this bill has a sound legal and constitutional foundation. I believe it will have broad support as well.
In tabling Bill C-479 in February, I proposed nine changes to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. They include: extend mandatory review periods for parole whereby if a violent offender is denied parole, the Parole Board of Canada would have to review the case within five years, rather than the current two years; increase the period to within five years in which the Parole Board of Canada must review parole following the cancellation or termination of parole; emphasize that the Parole Board of Canada must take into consideration the victims and the needs of the victim's family to attend hearings and witness the proceedings; and, require that the Parole Board of Canada consider any victim impact statement presented by victims.
One would think that this is already the case, that it is a bit of a no-brainer. However, the bill is necessary to enshrine in law the victim's voice.
Other straightforward changes proposed in Bill C-479 to protect and support victims include requiring the Parole Board of Canada to provide the victim, if requested, with information about the offender's release on parole, statutory release or temporary absence, and to provide victims with information about their offender's correctional plan, including progress toward meeting its objectives.
This is one of the things that Constable Michael Sweet's family, after 30 years of silence, requested.
I would like to remind members of Michael Sweet's story so that they can understand the family's depth of feeling with regard to these changes.
In the early morning hours of March 14, 1980, brothers Craig and Jamie Munro entered what was then George's Bourbon St. Bistro in downtown Toronto for the purpose of committing a robbery.
Both men were high on drugs and armed with guns. At the time, Craig Munro was on mandatory supervision from a penitentiary sentence for a previous gun-related offence.
The brothers gathered all of the people inside into one place. However, one of the victims managed to successfully flee. Once out on the street, he flagged down a passing police cruiser.
Constable Sweet—who, by the way, is no relation to me—who was 30 at the time, entered the restaurant and was immediately shot twice.
Then began a 90-minute standoff between the Munro brothers, with their hostages, and police.
The police later stormed the restaurant, and both brothers were shot and captured.
During the standoff, Sweet was conscious and slowly bleeding to death. He begged his captors to let him go to the hospital. He had three young daughters and he wanted to be with them at home. While Sweet pleaded for his life, they laughed and taunted him.
All three men were transported to the hospital after the police broke in. Craig and Jamie made full recoveries; Sweet died a few hours later.
I should note that many of the changes I am proposing in Bill C-479 have been enacted by our Commonwealth colleagues, such as Australia, New Zealand and the U.K.
I believe one of the fundamental responsibilities of the state is to keep our citizens safe. Violent offenders have committed unspeakable crimes. Families have suffered losses that are forever.
I hope these changes will help bring a measure of comfort to my constituents and thousands of other Canadian families who have been victimized in this way, people who have had their loved ones taken during the prime of their lives and who have lived with that pain day after day. The last thing they need is another gut-wrenching re-victimization through a parole system.
In closing, please allow me to read a few public comments from people impacted directly by violent crime.
Quoted in The Toronto Star is what a victim had to say about extending the review period:
Families have already been victimized once. They shouldn't have to be victimized every two years. Having to face a loved one's killer and to read what he did to her and how her death has affected our lives is something nobody should ever have to do once, never mind twice. We are asking the federal government to increase the time to five years, for a parole review instead of two years.
She also said:
We're asking the federal government to increase the time to five years [for a parole review], instead of two years.
Writing about Clifford Olson, a journalist in the Vancouver Province noted a few years ago:
Olson, 70, who seems to take pleasure revictimizing the families of those he killed, is automatically eligible for parole every two years until the day he dies.
A victim in a Toronto murder case commented that as difficult as it was to write the victim impact statement, it was also frustrating that she was required to submit the statement 30 days in advance so that the convicted murderer could read it, because the victims are not allowed to see the murderer's material in advance to find out what he wants to say.
Finally, an editorial on March 2, 2012, in my own hometown newspaper, the Hamilton Spectator, stated:
But the PBC has a responsibility to victims of crime. For those victims, the parole board is virtually the only source of information about the status of the person who committed the crime against them. Some local victims of crime don't feel well-served by the board. That must change.
Bill C-479 would give the Parole Board of Canada the tools it needs to do just that.
I look forward to the discussion with all members of this House on Bill C-479, this act to bring fairness for victims of violent offenders.