MCC and Bill C-10Posted: November 13, 2011
November 3, 2011
WINNIPEG, Man. — Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) continues to express concern over Bill C-10, the federal government’s Safe Streets and Communities Act.
The bill, sometimes referred to as the federal government’s “omnibus crime bill,” proposes a number of changes to several laws and mostly focuses on the punishment of wrongdoers.
MCC’s many years of experience in the field of restorative justice suggest that communities are not made safer by such an approach, but through community-based crime prevention and rehabilitation strategies.
In late September MCC sent a letter to Canada’s justice minister, expressing its concerns over the bill. More recently, Wilma Derksen, founder and past coordinator of MCC’s Victims’ Voice program, made a presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights which was hearing submissions relating to Bill C-10.
As a parent of a murdered child, she questioned the priorities of the proposed crime legislation and spoke about the importance of the government supporting initiatives that create safer communities through addressing root causes of crime, supporting victims of crime and helping ex-offenders reintegrate into the community.
Following is Derksen’s statement:
November 3, 2011
Prepared for the house of commons standing committee on Justice and Human Rights, Statement on Bill C-10
Wilma Derksen, MCC Canada Victims’ Voice Program founder and past coordinator
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I am pleased to have this opportunity to address you and the rest of the committee regarding Bill C-10, The Safe Streets and Communities Act.
I am here on behalf of Mennonite Central Committee. However, I will also be speaking to you as a parent of a murdered child. I am here because the issues you are addressing are extremely important to me and my family.
My daughter, Candace, was 13 years old when she was abducted in November, 1984 and found murdered six weeks later. We lived without knowing the details of what happened for two decades.
I not only know the horror of murder, I am also intimately acquainted with the aftermath of violence. From the beginning I began working with other victims and I learned that the emotional aftermath can be as threatening as the crime itself.
The attention focused on this bill reminds me very much of the time when Candace first disappeared. All I could think of was her murder and the need for justice and safety. It was very difficult for me to think or talk about anything else. But I had to learn. I had two other children who were alive. And I had a husband who needed a loving wife. If I would have waited for safety and for justice, I would have had to wait for a very long time. Life would have passed me by.
I am still involved with other victims of crime. Two weeks ago I was with a group that spent most of the evening analyzing the problems of our justice system. We were wallowing in our pain, not always being “politically correct” as one member put it, but allowing each other to speak freely. At the end of the evening, I asked them what they would do to create justice in our country.
To be honest, I expected that they would suggest changes to our criminal justice system similar to the bill we have before us today. I thought they would prioritize safety at all costs, propose stiffer sentences and advocate for more victim rights.
They didn’t. As we went around the circle, they all agreed that the answer to crime is to put more emphasis on the school system and other social programs. While not denying that we have to maintain prisons, they insisted that we as a society need to put our energy and creative thinking into giving our young people a better education.
I could share equally compelling stories from my work with offenders. My experience and the way my family and I chose to respond to it all opened up opportunities to visit many of the prisons across Canada—from William Head in BC to the Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick.
I’m thrilled to report that this past February we saw our own case finally brought to justice. For the first time we heard the story. But sentencing of the man who murdered our daughter did not satisfy our deep longing for justice.
In some ways, we had already found justice in the joy of the good things that had come out of Candace’s death and in the support of our community of friends.
The trial brought out the truth, and it was the truth that healed us and set us free, not the sentencing. I still find no satisfaction in thinking that the man will be sitting in prison for the next 25 years. There is nothing life-giving about that, it is just sad.
In this short time, I can’t begin to give you a comprehensive critique of the bill but I do want to register my concerns with the potential for unintended consequences.
For example, even though it sounds wonderful to enshrine the victims’ voice at parole board hearings, I also worry about this. Could we be locking some victims and offenders together in a dysfunctional dialogue for the rest of their years?
Perhaps we need to include the victims at the beginning of the process, mapping out their healing journey at the same time as the guilty are being sentenced. Perhaps this should be at the discretion of the judge.
Furthermore, I wonder if we can afford to focus so many or our scarce resources on mopping up the past that there are only crumbs left for the living who are struggling to find hope for the future?
As the Minister of Justice rightly noted earlier this week, beyond legislative initiatives such as Bill C-10, the Government of Canada is funding many creative, community-based justice initiatives that address the root causes of crime, support victims of crime and help ex-offenders reintegrate into the community. I would ask that you assign a greater proportion of your attention to this good work.
This is the month my daughter was abducted 27 years ago.
People often ask how we survived the impact of murder, how did we elude the grip of violence and hold onto our joy. The winning formula for us was – love first, justice second.
I do thank you for your wonderful hard work in governing our country and I wish you much wisdom as you deliberate.