2nd Session, 41st Parliament,

Volume 149, Issue 24

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Justice

Victim Fine Surcharge

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

Ontario Court Justice Colin Westman said the following: “Can you imagine being a person who’s got mental illness, who lives under the local underpass, at the hospital or on a park bench, who eats at the soup kitchen, and you’re going to have them pay $100 because they had their day in court?”

In many provinces in Canada, including Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, some judges are refusing to impose a surcharge on offenders 55 per cent of whom receive legal aid — in order to finance the Victims Fund.

My question is this: how does the government justify relying on people in need, people with mental health problems and homeless people to finance their Victims Fund?

Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Government): Thank you, Senator Jaffer, for your question.

We are talking about poverty, and especially the fight against homelessness. As you know, we established a national homelessness partnering strategy that has allocated an additional $1.25 billion, including for affordable housing. Together with the provinces and the territories, we have made major investments to ensure that they have the flexibility to design and carry out programs based on local priorities and needs. That is in addition to the $2 billion already earmarked for fighting homelessness.

With regard to the other part of your question on whether or not someone has the ability to pay a fine, as you know, there are procedures that apply when someone cannot pay a monetary fine.

Senator Jaffer: Thank you, leader. My question is: how does the government justify relying on people in need? These people do not have any money. How can they pay the surcharge in this case?

Senator Carignan: Senator, there are sanctions set out for breaking the law. If the law is broken, those sanctions must be applied, whether they are criminal sanctions, monetary penalties or prison sentences. We want to ensure that victims of crime also receive compensation. The real victims in this case are not the criminals but the people who have lost a loved one and who have been the victim of the alleged offence.

[English]

Senator Jaffer: Honourable senators, I would be the first person to say that a victim should be compensated, but when a person is suffering from mental disability, it is difficult not to see that person also has needs.

When this bill respecting a surcharge was studied in the Legal Committee, we were told that a way for a person to pay this money was through working at some program. Unfortunately, those programs don’t exist in every province.

My question to the leader is this: Are we a country that will send those who suffer mental disabilities to jail because they don’t have $100 to pay the surcharge?

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: Senator Jaffer, as you know, there is a process for assessing offenders’ mental health and whether they can stand trial and be found criminally responsible. The courts must apply that process to determine whether a person is fit to stand trial and whether he or she can be held criminally responsible.

[English]

 

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