Victims Bill of Rights: Second Reading

June 4, 2014

Bill C-32 – the Vitcims Bill of Rights – is currently at second reading in the House of Commons.

There are certainly some major issues with the bill – I wrote about some of those issues on this site in April.

It appears that someone is reading what I write.  Last week NDP MP Philip Toone quoted from my post during debate in the house.  

Here is what Mr. Toone said:

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the excellent member for Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier.

    We have before us a bill that is supposed to expand victims’ rights. It is a step in the right direction to improve the lot of victims. With all due respect, and contrary to what the member for Don Valley West just mentioned, the NDP believes in victims’ rights. We always want victims to have real rights, not meaningless rights.

    The problem with this bill is that some aspects are bogus, starting with the fact that it took a year to hold a consultation. Several recommendations were put forward during that year but, unfortunately, just four of them were included in the legislation.

    The government wants to establish a new process so that victims can assert their rights, but they will have to go through a process created by the provinces. Once again, the government is going to ask the provinces to spend money on a federal bill. If this legislation is really going to create a victims bill of rights, resources should be allocated, but that is not provided in the bill before us.

    The bill is supposed to expand victims’ rights and the definition of “victim”. This is a good idea in itself. It deserves a debate in committee after second reading. This bill amends the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to permit victims to see a photograph of the offender at the time of his release. Once again, at first glance, this seems to be a very good idea. It must be examined in committee so that we can hear experts on this issue. I think most experts will fully agree on that provision.

    The bill also seeks to amend the Criminal Code to ensure the court informs victims of any agreement reached between the accused and the prosecutor, once a guilty plea is accepted. I am looking forward to hearing experts on this aspect, because it deserves a great deal of attention. Legal experts will have a lot to say on this issue. I believe this bill warrants the attention of the House and of the experts. I hope some witnesses will have a lot to say about this.

    The bill amends the Canada Evidence Act to provide that no person is incompetent, or uncompellable, to testify for the prosecution by reason only that they are married to the accused. This changes a fundamental aspect of our system and it also deserves a lot of attention. Until now, it was always presumed that a person did not have to testify against his or her spouse. I am looking forward to hearing the experts on this provision.

    I am going to quote Michael Spratt, who said:

    Bill C-32 also amends sections of the Canada Evidence Act dealing with spousal incompetence compellability. Historically the Crown could not compel (force) an accused’s spouse to testify. This is no longer the case. Under bill C-32 no person is incompetent or uncompellable to testify for the prosecution because of marriage. The new legislation does not, however, remove spousal privilege – found in section 4(3) of the Canada Evidence Act

    A spouse still cannot be forced to testify about spousal communications.

    Here is the interesting point, “They can however be forced to testify about all other manner of issues–including issues that may impact on the sanctity of the spousal relationship”. As Mr. Spratt points out, “It is unclear what this has to do with victims rights”.

    To continue the quote, it states:

    It is interesting to pause to note that: It is also unclear why the government did not amend the wording of section 4(3) of the Canada Evidence Act. This section speaks of ‘husband’ and ‘wife’…

    I would like to come back to this. I am a bit disappointed and discouraged that our Canadian laws still make reference to marriage as being between a man and a woman. I thought that was already resolved: a marriage can be between two men, two women or a man and a woman. Once again, we see that Canadians laws unfortunately have not been amended to reflect the new reality that has existed for many years.

    I hope that the government will take this opportunity to amend the act to reflect the reality of the times. Society has evolved, and unfortunately, the House seems to have a very hard time evolving at the same time.

    Let us get back to the bill. I look forward to hearing what the experts have to say about the fact that spouses will now be able to testify against each other. This could fundamentally change the relationship between married couples. This deserves to be studied.

    Another provision in this bill would create a mechanism to enable victims to file a complaint with federal and provincial departments for a denial of any of their rights under the bill of rights. This could be at the provincial or federal level, but most rights fall under the jurisdiction of provincial courts.

    If victims file complaints through a new mechanism, this will create a new bureaucracy, largely at the provincial level. Furthermore, there is nothing in the bill about funding for this bureaucracy. We have to assume that the province will once again have to find its own resources to pay for something imposed in a federal law.

    It is wrong to think that the provinces have unlimited amounts of money to spend. The federal government is once again offloading a responsibility onto the provinces without providing any funding. That is unfortunate. We see this too often in this House, and we are seeing it in the bill we are debating tonight.

    I hope that the government will examine the situation carefully and provide funding for the bill of rights it is proposing today. It does not mean much to create a bill of rights that does not include funding, especially for the less fortunate victims. These victims do not have the means to exercise their rights. An inaccessible right is an illusory right.

    In a previous Parliament, this same government eliminated a program that gave victims recourse under the charter. That is very unfortunate, because once again, if a charter bestows rights that are inaccessible for financial reasons, those rights are completely illusory.

    We in Canada believe in our charter as well as in the bill of rights being debated today, but the fact remains that no money means no rights. It is a well-known fact. When it comes to asserting their rights, underprivileged people need more support than privileged people.

     This bill does not go far enough. I hope that expert witnesses will point that out in committee and suggest improvements to the bill.

    One of the last points I would like to mention is that the bill will codify the right to make a restitution order. It will also “specify that the victim surcharge must be paid within the reasonable time established by the lieutenant governor of the province in which it is imposed”.

    We see that, ultimately, the governor in council will get to decide what is a reasonable time. Although that is not unacceptable, there is some detail lacking. I hope the committee will clarify that issue.

    I would also like to add that many people have publicly shared testimonials about this bill. I planned to discuss a press release issued by the Association québécoise Plaidoyer-Victimes, which also raised a number of questions about the bill, but I will save that discussion for another time.

    I hope that the committee will take into account the testimonials we have heard so far, as a way to hear from more citizens and experts. This bill deserves our consideration and support at second reading, so that it can benefit from a more thorough study.