Strengthening Canada's Corrections System Act

An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Criminal Code

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in December 2009.

Sponsor

Peter Van Loan  Conservative

Status

In committee (House), as of Oct. 29, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to

(a) clarify that the protection of society is the paramount consideration for the Correctional Service of Canada in the corrections process and for the National Parole Board and the provincial parole boards in the determination of all cases;

(b) provide that a correctional plan is to include the level of intervention by the Service in respect of the offender’s needs and the objectives for the offender’s behaviour, their participation in programs and the meeting of their court-ordered obligations;

(c) expand the range of disciplinary offences to include intimidation, false claims and throwing a bodily substance;

(d) establish the right of a victim to make a statement at parole hearings;

(e) permit the disclosure to a victim of the name and location of the institution to which the offender is transferred, the reason for a transfer, information about the offender’s participation in programs and convictions for serious disciplinary offences and the reason for a temporary absence or a hearing waiver;

(f) provide consistency as to which offenders are excluded from accelerated parole review;

(g) provide for the automatic suspension of the parole or statutory release of offenders who receive a new custodial sentence and require the National Parole Board to review their case within a prescribed period; and

(h) authorize a peace officer to arrest without warrant an offender for a breach of a condition of their conditional release.

This enactment also makes a consequential amendment to the Criminal Code.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Strengthening Canada's Corrections System Act
Government Orders

October 29th, 2009 / 12:25 p.m.
See context

Oxford
Ontario

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, this is an important bill. It is important for all Canadians and, certainly, it is important for my riding of Oxford in southwestern Ontario.

I do rise to speak in support of Bill C-43, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Criminal Code. With this bill, the government is proposing several fundamental reforms to corrections and conditional release to ensure our streets and communities remain safe for everyone. That should be the goal for all of us in this House.

The proposed reforms would make the protection of society the paramount principle of corrections and conditional release. They would modernize disciplinary sanctions and increase the responsibility and accountability of offenders for their own actions. At the same time, the reforms would provide victims with access to the kind of information they demand and deserve.

These amendments did not appear out of thin air. Indeed, they build on and reinforce work already underway to strengthen corrections and conditional release. It, therefore, might be useful to understand the context for these amendments and how they are intended to continue the transformation of corrections.

Since coming to office, the government has been committed to ensuring the corrections system achieves two interrelated goals: enabling offenders to get the help they need to rejoin society as law-abiding citizens, and that is an important goal, and ensuring that Canadians feel safe in their own homes and communities.

In 2007, as part of our commitment to protecting Canadian families and communities, the government established an independent panel to review the business plans, priorities and strategies of Correctional Service Canada.

The panel made 109 recommendations under five themes: offender accountability, eliminating drugs from prison, physical infrastructure, employability and employment, as well as eliminating statutory release and moving to earned parole. Its recommendations specifically address the concerns of victims as well as the needs of offenders with mental health problems.

In budget 2008, the government committed $478 million over five years to implement many of the panel's recommendations. We have made tremendous progress in key areas. I will highlight two in particular, drugs and mental health illnesses.

The panel stressed the need to work harder to eliminate drugs from prisons. Our government responded by announcing a new anti-drug strategy last August to help eliminate drugs in federal prisons. This strategy is allowing Correctional Service Canada to significantly expand the drug detector dog program at all federal prisons, increase security intelligence capacity in institutions and their surrounding communities, and purchase security equipment for maximum and medium security federal prisons while also enhancing perimeter security around institutions.

As well, the government is taking action to tackle a problem that significantly contributes to the use of drugs: the presence of gangs in our prisons.

The panel also pointed out the need to address mental health illnesses, which have increased by 71% since 1997 among the offender population. Indeed, nearly 26% of female offenders and 12% of male offenders are suffering from a serious mental illness when they enter the correctional system. That is when they enter the correctional system, and that is an important part of this whole issue that we need to understand. Clearly, sound mental health is a vital issue for the successful transition of offenders to the community.

Through the community mental health initiative, the government has already been working hard to ensure offenders under community supervision can get the help they need. For example, more than 900 community staff have been trained in mental health issues, and Correctional Service Canada has embarked on a pilot project to provide specialized mental health treatment for women offenders in the community.

However, there is more work to be done to combat the use of drugs in our prisons and to address mental health illnesses. That is why the government plans to continue improving tools and techniques to detect drugs. The bill specifically addresses the need to expand mental health programs and services in institutions and communities to help ensure a successful transition for offenders and to keep our communities safe.

The independent panel also stressed that rehabilitation is a shared responsibility between the corrections system and the offender.

To heighten offender accountability, the bill would ensure a correctional plan is completed for each offender that sets out objectives for behaviour, participation and the meeting of court ordered obligations. It would introduce new incentives to help promote offenders' participation in their correctional plans.

The bill before us today would also modernize the system of discipline in federal penitentiaries by, for example, addressing disrespectful, intimidating and assaultive behaviour by inmates, including the throwing of bodily substances. It would also require offenders to respect both other people and property.

What is more, the bill would reinforce the requirement for offenders to obey all penitentiary rules and conditions governing their release. If offenders do not follow rules upon their release, the bill would allow police officers to take action. For example, the police could arrest without warrant any offender who appears to be in violation of parole. These are the kinds of changes that both police and victims groups have been demanding, and we are proud to respond.

I want to dwell on the rights of victims because they are the group that has been too often overlooked.

The bill would enable victims to get information on the reasons for an offender's temporary absence or transfer. Victims would also be able to learn about the participation of an offender in program activities and about any convictions for serious disciplinary offences. In addition, the bill would enable a victim to make statements at National Parole Board hearings.

In the same vein, I want to point out that the government is creating a national victims of crime advisory committee. This committee would bring a victim's perspective to corrections issues. For example, it would keep the government abreast of emerging issues related to victims and it would ensure that victims' concerns are considered in research, laws and policy related to crime.

The government is committed to transforming our corrections system. We have already taken major steps to address the recommendations of the independent panel, and the bill before this House continues that vital work.

I urge all members of the House to give their unconditional support for this bill for the sake of offenders who must take more responsibility for a successful transition to the community, for the sake of crime victims who deserve a greater voice in the corrections system, for the sake of corrections officers who have a right to work in a safe environment and for the sake of all Canadians who deserve to feel safe in their homes and communities.

Strengthening Canada's Corrections System Act
Government Orders

October 29th, 2009 / 12:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, my mind goes back to the 1990s when, under the guise of budget cuts and so on, a program of de-institutionalization took place where community based organizations, in fact institutes that had long service records with respect to working with those who were involved with the criminal justice and had mental issues, were put out on the street. The kind of community support that was needed was not there.

I think the House would probably agree that we are taking the right steps to ensure that backup is there for inmates inside institutions and for parolees who are part of the community.

I am particularly interested in the statement made by the minister with respect to offenders who do not follow the rules and the whole question of accountability with respect to the actions that are taken to rehabilitate. It is good that victims would be kept abreast of how the person is being rehabilitated, but how can the accountability loop be closed such that society can be sure that the rehabilitation is real and will result in that person becoming a productive member of society?

Strengthening Canada's Corrections System Act
Government Orders

October 29th, 2009 / 12:35 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do believe my colleague has grasped the essence of where we are and where we need to go. I was actively involved in that whole area back in the 1990s and 1980s and in those days we had systems in place that were provincially operated.

People who suffered from mental illnesses and a variety of things, including addictions, which some would deem a mental illness, received the treatment in the communities and were not part of the criminal justice system. Somehow, the system has failed for many of these people and it has failed society in that the final catch-all seems to be the federal corrections service. These folks need the help long before it gets to the federal corrections service. I think we would concur with that.

What we need to do now is to find out how to fix that system. There have been a lot of experiments over the years, and I suppose experimentation takes place continually, but we on this side have deemed it necessary to put more money into mental health issues. I believe there was a budget item of $110 million to the Canadian Mental Health Association in 2007.

We need to move forward with that and we need to find those solutions so that these people do not end up in our prisons.

Strengthening Canada's Corrections System Act
Government Orders

October 29th, 2009 / 12:35 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure to rise in the House to speak on this topic.

Perhaps one of the more seminal moments in the last couple of years that really brought public attention to the problems in our prisons, particularly with those who are facing mental health issues, is the story of Ashley Smith. At the time, Ashley was a 17-year-old girl whose crime was to have thrown an apple at a postman and to have stolen a CD.

Ashley entered our penitentiary system where she was kept in solitary confinement for 11 months. She was never properly diagnosed as having mental health issues and yet she was constantly on a suicide watch in solitary confinement in various prisons. She was transferred from facility to facility.

When I was at the Grand Valley Institution in Kingston, I had the opportunity to be in the cell in which Ashley passed away. It is incredibly tragic to think that she died there as prison guards watched, with orders not to enter her cell. She asphyxiated herself, after 11 months of complete failure by our prison system to address Ashley's root problems and after her having gone to jail for a very minor crime in the first place.

This tremendous tragedy on its own is deeply sad not only for the family of Ashley but for all Canadians that it could happen in Canada. What is far more sad is that the Correctional Investigator tells us that this is symptomatic of something that is happening every day in prisons across the country.

The reality is that those faced with mental health concerns are dealing with a system that is utterly failing them. More often than not, they are placed in solitary confinement because the system does not have the ability to provide them the services they need to get them better.

As an example, when I was in St. John's I had the opportunity to visit Her Majesty's Penitentiary and the solitary confinement cells there. In a tiny cell, barely larger than a closet, were two people, one of whom I was told faced a serious mental health issue and was self-flagellating, hitting himself. In that cell was somebody else laying on the ground with a blanket over his head, trying to drown out the noise.

My overwhelming feeling after watching that was to wonder how anybody could possibly get better. How could that person, who clearly had such a serious mental health concern, get better in an environment of being stuck in such a tiny cell, isolated from anyone else? In fact, today in committee, just a little less than half an hour ago, mental health professionals said that the worst thing for somebody facing a mental health issue was to be confined, to be removed from interaction with other individuals.

The reality is that, unfortunately, our prisons are being treated as hospitals without doctors or nurses who know how to treat those patients. In fact, prison guards are given little to no training on how to deal with those who have mental health issues, meaning that they are poorly equipped to help inmates.

This tragedy is obviously terrible when we think of all the suffering that is going on unnecessarily, but we also have to keep in mind that as these individuals are being released directly from solitary confinement into the population at large, the likelihood they are going to reoffend is almost certain. This not only is a terrible tragedy because of what it does to those who have mental illness, but it is a terrible tragedy for the community as a whole. The reality is that this is driving up rates of recidivism and making our communities less safe and more dangerous.

When I left Her Majesty's Penitentiary, one of the corrections officials told me that the reaction of the former Conservative public safety minister, after having toured the facility, said to the media when asked about the conditions in the facility, “Good, it will act as a deterrent. People won't want to go in there”.

The idea that somebody who is facing a mental health issue will stop and think about the abysmal, horrid conditions in a prison before committing a crime, is to so fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the problem as to ensure that person will enter that environment and offend and offend and offend and offend.

We look at other jurisdictions like California where the recidivism rate now is over 70%. We should think about that for a second. More than seven out of ten individuals who enter prisons in California will reoffend. The rate here in Canada is 36%. Why is that the case in California? It is because those who are facing mental health issues or addictions, which I will come to later in my speech, are given no programs and no services and are entering into environments that are overcrowded and exacerbate existing problems. It means that they enter as minor criminals but they come out as hardened criminals ready to offend and offend again.

We often forget that prisoners get out of prison, even if we increase their sentences. In fact, over 90% of prisoners will come back into society. The question is, how do we want them to come out?

In a recent report by Mr. Stewart and Mr. Jackson they talked about a broken compass and that the government's direction with respect to corrections is leading us on a catastrophic path that has been done before. What we have learned from them is that we are walking the very same road that the Americans walked in the early 1980s when the Republicans in the United States thought the only way to solve crime was to put more and more people into prisons. What resulted in the United States is what will result here in Canada: an ever increasing permanent prison population that churns out more and more criminals, costs billions more dollars and at the end of the day makes our communities far less safe.

Already in Canada we know that somewhere between 12% to 20% of the male population in our prisons are facing serious mental health issues. For women the statistics are even more grave and more severe. A full one-quarter or more of female inmates face serious mental health issues.

This brings me to the question of addictions. We do not often think about what the root cause of crime is, but more often than not, what begins that path down a dark road toward crime and toward problems is addictions. Don Head, who is the head of our corrections facilities, has said that some 80% or more of criminals in our prisons right now are facing addiction issues. Problems with addictions are at the root of most of our prison population, yet the reality for those inmates is that we are not providing the services they need to break the deadly cycle of addiction, crime and violence.

For people who are addicted to drugs, more often than not they have to feed that habit, so they commit at first smaller crimes, crimes that have major detrimental impacts on communities but are really the start of a more dark path that they are beginning in their life. They do break and enters to pay for whatever drugs they have. We see particularly in Vancouver where the rates of drug use are much higher, the problem of property crimes continually on the rise.

We do not ask what happens to that person who commits a break and enter. Perhaps it is a young person 18 or 19 years old who breaks into a house and steals some things so that he or she might be able to pay for that next hit of drugs. The person goes into remand more often than not. The sentence is served in overcrowded, deplorable conditions where no program and no services are offered whatsoever.

I agreed when the House passed measures to end the two for one and sometimes even three for one credits of remand. However, let us not kid ourselves that if we are getting rid of that, we also need to get rid of the conditions in remand, period. When there is someone who goes into those conditions who is facing addiction problems and his or her only environment is an overcrowded place with other addicts and other criminals, what happens is that person comes out even worse than the person was before. We are turning our prisons into crime factories.

Dr. Jones, the executive director of the John Howard Society, quoted somebody the other day who said that our prisons are like gladiator schools where young men--more often than not it is young men--go in and learn how to be hard criminals, learn how to commit ever more serious crimes. In fact when commenting on the direction the government was heading, Dr. Jones stated that the government's agenda on crime, particularly as it relates to prisons but its agenda more generally “contradicts evidence, logic, effectiveness, history, justice and humanity”.

Those are very strong comments from someone who has to deal with inmates day in and day out. He is saying that the government's agenda flies in the face of all logic, all evidence and all history. It makes the point that this has all been tried before and it has failed miserably.

What is the answer? What is the right approach to dealing with these issues? The first thing we must do is to invest in local communities. No one understands better how to stop crime in the community than the community itself. I was in Summerside, P.E.I. where its crime prevention committee has pulled together the whole community ranging from police to not-for-profits, such groups as the Boys and Girls Club, Salvation Army, the local chamber of commerce. All of them have been brought together to ask how they can defeat the problems they are facing with crime in their community. They developed a plan.

The problem is that their funding is being cut. Imagine, at a time when we have a government which says it has an agenda on crime and that is its priority, the crime prevention budget in this country has been slashed by more than half since the Conservative government came into power. Groups like the Boys and Girls Club tell me they have less money for programs, not more, that the agenda they have developed locally is not only not receiving any money, but more troubling, what money is left they are being prescribed national directives that do not work for the local communities.

I heard the same thing from members of the crime prevention council in Kitchener when I was there and had the opportunity to talk to them about their incredibly well considered, intelligent plan to combat crime in their community. Their greatest frustration is that for the very things that are the cheapest way of dealing with crime, which is prevention, they are seeing their funding being slashed. Where there is still money in Kitchener as in other crime prevention efforts across the country, they are being prescribed edicts from Ottawa that do not work for their communities. They are being told that if they are a round peg, they have to fit into a square hole. It does not make sense. Communities have to be allowed to develop their own solutions.

If anyone is wondering how serious the slashing of funding is to local crime prevention efforts, in the last full year of the Liberal government, the National Crime Prevention Council supported more than 509 projects in 261 communities for a total of nearly $60 million. Today that funding has been slashed by more than half. There have been cuts every single year the Conservative government has been in power to the point where there are 285 fewer projects now being funded and actual spending has now been reduced to just $19 million. We can talk about having a prison strategy, but imagine at the same time that Conservatives are following a failed Republican model on prisons, that they are slashing the very things that stop people from going into prisons in the first place. It is a policy that is backward in the extreme.

It is worthwhile to consider what did happen in specific statistical terms in the United States in the late 1970s and particularly in the very early 1980s. In 1981, the incarceration rates in Canada and the U.S. were very similar. Canada incarcerated 91 individuals for every 100,000 people. In the United States that figure was 243. It was higher, but it was relatively similar. By 2001, in Canada that rate had only grown slightly, to 101 individuals incarcerated for every 100,000. In the United States it had soared to nearly 700 people for every 100,000, a rate 700% higher than that for Canada. In that same period of time, between 1981 and 2001, the United States had grown its incarceration rate relative to Canada's by 500%.

What did the United States get for that? What happened to the violent crime rates or overall crime rates during that same period? Remarkably, or perhaps not so remarkably, if we understand the full story of crime, the reduction in crime rates in Canada and the U.S. were almost identical. All of that additional incarceration, a rate 700% higher than Canada's, meant that the U.S. had no safer communities.

In fact the argument has been made that because of the conditions and stresses of prison, having a large, permanent prison population actually increases recidivism and increases the rate of crime. To me, perhaps the least logical thing we could do is spend billions and billions of dollars on something that has been proven to make the situation worse, not better.

What we should be doing in our prisons seems self-evident. When I visited with the chiefs of police in all different parts of the country, in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto and Cape Breton, what they said again and again was that we have to have a way to break the cycle of addictions. One of the things that were recommended specifically in Calgary was that we need prison facilities where people go and serve their time but where they can actually get treatment.

I have had parents of children who have committed crimes who have said that they would turn their own children in, that they would go and grab their children and take them to the door of the prison and ask that they be incarcerated if they knew that those kids would actually get the help they needed to get better. Instead what they know is that when they are sent to these facilities, they get much worse.

We also know that we need to train those who are on the front lines, such as the prison guards, to identify and deal with mental health issues. We have to make sure that those who are brought into our prison facilities are identified on entrance as having the mental health conditions they have and make sure that they get proper treatment, so that when they are released, they can actually get better.

In all of this, I point out that we have consistently supported tough sentences for serious crimes. Of course if people commit serious crimes, they should face serious sentences. The problem with the Conservative approach to this is that they wait for victims. They wait for the serious crime before they do anything. It is only once the victimization has occurred that they talk about the solutions.

We are saying that of course once that has happened, once the situation has gotten to that horrible stage, then yes, tough sentences must be implemented, and we have supported them. However, in the lead-up to that, whether in prisons or through prevention or other actions that are taken, there are far better ways of addressing crime.

The last point I will make deals directly with our police, the men and women whom we count on to keep our communities safe. We know that particularly when policing is proactive and community-based, it plays a huge role in reducing crime. What is so disturbing about the actions of the government is that they have really betrayed police. Those are the words of police themselves. In fact the Canadian Police Association called the broken promise to put 2,500 new officers on the streets a betrayal.

In his speech in Vancouver, the Prime Minister promised to give the RCMP wage parity with other police. The Prime Minister even signed a contract with the RCMP, which he then ripped up and threw out. The government was not even able to give the RCMP wage parity with other police forces, something which is going to have a huge, detrimental impact on their recruitment.

The other thing the government did to the RCMP, which I thought was extremely offensive, was to challenge their right to collective bargaining. They are actually going to court on that while it is a right enjoyed by every single other police force in every other part of the country.

Four years ago, the Liberal government introduced a bill to modernize policing techniques, to give them the tools they need to go after criminals in cyberfraud and child pornography. We introduced that in 2005. This government sat on it for four long years and when it finally did introduce it, it was at the end of a session at the 11th hour, so we could not even debate it until the fall. So four years later, it failed the police.

In conclusion, the government's approach to corrections and crime is wrong. It is wrong on crime and tough on cops, and it is time for us to have an approach that is intelligent and balanced and that actually addresses the root causes of crime to ensure the safety of our communities.

Strengthening Canada's Corrections System Act
Government Orders

October 29th, 2009 / 12:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, the bill is entitled the Strengthening Canada's Corrections System Act. In his comments, the minister has addressed the necessity and requirement for rehabilitation within the prison system.

He has also spoken with respect to the rights of victims on parole and with respect to treatment that is designed under specific, almost contractual circumstances. The bill presupposes that the resources are going to be available in the community to make that person less vulnerable to addiction and make them more likely to become successful citizens in a very important and civil way.

The member has spoken with respect to the shortcomings of the criminal justice system. However, on the evidence of what occurred with respect to deinstitutionalization, is he satisfied that the government has put the resources back into the community to deal with the kind of recidivism that he has spoken about at great length? I think that is what everybody wants to hear. Will what the government is suggesting work? If it will not, what do we need to do?

Strengthening Canada's Corrections System Act
Government Orders

October 29th, 2009 / 12:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, we just heard this from the provinces yesterday. The provinces issued statements jointly that the government's agenda on crime is not being adequately financed when it comes to the types of tools and programs that are needed to reduce rates of recidivism.

A lot of this does fall on the provinces. On the one hand, the government is putting more and more people into these facilities, yet it is not giving the corresponding resources to the communities or provinces to be able to deal with these problems. In fact, the reality is that it has been slashing money to not-for-profits through crime prevention programs and support services for those who are coming out of facilities. It is actually removing resources.

That brings me to a point I did not get to in my speech. The cost of this is staggering. What we know from the Correctional Investigator and from others who have been reporting independently on the state of the corrections system is that it is already at the breaking point. It is really at the point of overflowing as it is. People are not getting the programs and services that they need.

The cost of building these new super prisons and facilities that the government is considering building is going to be enormous. The infrastructure costs are huge, but the government has put nothing at all on paper to demonstrate that it is willing to invest in the programs and services that actually reduce recidivism, ensure that crime rates go down and ensure that communities keep safe.

I think that if it were to put the cumulative cost of all of this on the table, and this is what I have asked of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, we would see that the costs are staggering.

Strengthening Canada's Corrections System Act
Government Orders

October 29th, 2009 / 1 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Ajax—Pickering for yet another very good speech. I know that he was up the other day and made a very good presentation on the previous bill.

I was really impressed with some of his information regarding recidivism rates in the United States. Clearly, this bill adopts a U.S.-style approach to prisons that is very expensive and ineffective. We have proven that. Over and over again, we see that the government is 20 years behind the times as it is using a system that was developed in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan in the United States, which involved building big private prisons and warehousing people.

In the United States, I believe that 700 people per 100,000 are in prison. In Canada, the number is only a fraction of that. In Sweden, it is only maybe about 70 or 80 per 100,000. Clearly, we should be looking at what Sweden is doing versus what is happening in the United States where the system does not work at all.

Strengthening Canada's Corrections System Act
Government Orders

October 29th, 2009 / 1 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member raises a very important point in his very good question, in asking what our objective is. If our endgame is to hope to have safer communities with less crime, to reduce the rate recidivism and to reduce victimization, then clearly the answer is not a larger, permanent prison population.

We have been shown, not only in the United States, but also in England and other places, terrible failures. They are running from these disasters at 100 miles an hour. Even Texas, which was known for having the longest, toughest sentences anywhere, is now acknowledging that this experiment was a total disaster, and it is running the opposite way.

We know that having a large, permanent prison population is enormously expensive, creates more crime and creates more problems. Our objectives should be, wherever possible, to use the best techniques that we can see have been succeeding, not only here in Canada, but in other parts of the world; to stop victimization before it occurs; to make sure that when a young person begins to turn down that dark path we intervene and make sure they do not continue on it.

I mentioned something the other day, and it bears mentioning again because it was something that was most telling to me. I went through some of the worst neighbourhoods in this country in Regina with the former Chief of Police, Cal Johnston. Cal pointed out the different points at which there were young people who were beginning to head down dark paths. We could see the shambles they were living in: homes without heat, homes without sewage systems, and homes in which, in the wintertime, they would have to put tarps around an oven in order to stay warm as they slept. The children would then go to school with no food, from a single parent-home in which the parent did not have the tools to give a child the education they needed. We see that and yet we are surprised when those children begin to turn toward a life of crime.

There is a way to stop crime. It requires balance and intelligence. We have to look at what really works and what really does not.

Strengthening Canada's Corrections System Act
Government Orders

October 29th, 2009 / 1 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, the bill that has been submitted for the consideration of the House is a very important one. In it, I will start by saying, we find proposals that I completely agree with, but others on which we have some doubts. One thing is certain, it has to be examined in committee. If this bill had not been introduced, I think that would have been a serious failing on the part of the government.

Overall, Bill C-43 gives victims a voice, seeks to hold inmates more accountable and makes the parole system less automatic. These three points have been part of Bloc Québécois policy for a long time. We even developed and released an action plan in this regard over two years ago.

The Bloc Québécois believes that involving victims in the parole process will assist in their “healing” process and at the same time strengthen their confidence in the justice system as a whole. If it can restore the relationship between repentant offenders and victims of crime, I think we will have made very definite progress toward rehabilitation.

As well, promoting accountability, or instilling it in an offender, seems to us to be an important way of facilitating the offender’s reintegration into civil society. Without a feeling of accountability, how will they be able to hold a job or meet their obligations to their family, or honour their financial commitments, for instance to their landlord or public utilities companies?

While the Bloc is opposed to automatic prison sentences, minimum sentences or the elimination of alternative sentences, it is equally opposed to the principle of automatic release. In fact we have been calling for release to be based on merit for a long time.

I know, however, that criticism has been voiced, in particular in a report from the University of British Columbia. So we will make sure that the bill will in fact solve the problems it is intended to solve and not create new ones.

In a nutshell, that is why the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-43 in principle. However, we have serious objections to make regarding some of the measures it contains.

On June 16, 2009, the Minister of Public Safety introduced Bill C-43, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Criminal Code, in the House of Commons. The short title is the Strengthening Canada’s Corrections System Act.

Bill C-43 amends the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to achieve a number of objectives: first, to clarify that the protection of society is the paramount consideration for the Correctional Service of Canada in the corrections process and for the National Parole board and the provincial parole boards in the determination of all cases.

I would note that the paramount objective of all of the reforms made in the past was the protection of society. We are all in agreement on that. However, we have to agree on what method to use. We believe that when rehabilitation of offenders is possible it must in fact be pursued, and that this is the best way to protect society.

The bill also establishes the right of a victim to make a statement at parole hearings, a principle with which we also agree, and permits the Correctional Service and the National Parole Board to disclose to a victim the name and location of the institution to which the offender is transferred, the reason for a transfer, information about the offender’s participation in programs and convictions for serious disciplinary offences, and the reason for a temporary absence or hearing waiver.

Personally, I believe that this is also a good measure for several reasons. If a certain empathy for the victims can be elicited from the offender and if the offender knows that his victims will be informed of his progress or failures while incarcerated, I think it can have an impact on the offender.

Quite often, offenders committed crimes because they did not see the victims. Of course, there are exceptional cases where the offender has absolutely no empathy for others. They are considered psychopaths. However, experience has shown that the majority of those incarcerated are social misfits. The fact that they come to realize that they victimized someone, that they have to do something in an attempt to make restitution for their actions, when possible, and that the victims on occasion see them or are informed of their progress, could have an impact on the rehabilitation of those so inclined.

The bill states:

(b) provide that a correctional plan is to include the level of intervention by the Service in respect of the offender’s needs and the objectives for the offender’s behaviour, their participation in programs and the meeting of their court-ordered obligations;

(c) expand the range of disciplinary offences to include intimidation, false claims and throwing a bodily substance;

At one time, this would consist of spitting. But now inmates who know they have HIV or AIDS have even tried to throw blood on guards. Of course, this is unacceptable and requires swift action. It does not, however, preclude the resumption of the rehabilitation process.

Other objectives include:

(f) provide consistency as to which offenders are excluded from accelerated parole review [I will come back to this];

(g) provide for the automatic suspension of the parole or statutory release of offenders who receive a new custodial sentence and require the National Parole Board to review their case within a prescribed period; and

(h) authorize a peace officer to arrest without warrant an offender for a breach of a condition of their conditional release.

We will discuss this further when we study the bill in detail. Thus far, it has been up to parole officers monitoring offenders in the community to issue warrants, which sometimes enables them, in the case of minor offences, to issue a severe warning rather than immediately interrupt parole.

Consider the fact that these things can happen in communities where there is a lot of crime. In many cases, offenders resent the police for monitoring them too closely. We heard that a lot in Saint-Michel over the past year. We are more aware of it. This also sounds like what we were hearing in the United States in high-crime areas where there are serious street gang problems and where communities have taken action against their activity. Excessive police intervention for minor infractions may not be the best way to foster an environment that preserves the public peace and conditions that deter the spread of crime.

The Corrections and Conditional Release Act provides the legal framework for the correctional system. It was enacted in 1992, replacing a previous act. In December 2007, the Correctional Service Canada Independent Review Panel released its final report containing recommendations for the government, but a University of British Columbia study questioned the committee's objectivity. The committee was ask to review the CSC's operational priorities, strategies and business plans. It produced 109 recommendations in five key areas that basically correspond to the objectives I discussed earlier.

The government officially followed up on the recommendations in the 2008 budget, by investing $478.8 million over five years to implement the new vision for the federal corrections system and some key recommendations made in the report.

I think that was money well spent. It is much better than increasing reliance upon incarceration, which is extremely expensive. That $478 million is worth five times as much—$2.5 billion—if it is put towards reducing crime.

The government committed to taking a new approach to the corrections system, making protecting society the main priority when it comes to the corrections system and conditional release.

Everyone is in favour of what is right, but we must understand that rehabilitating criminals is one of the best ways to protect society. If incarceration teaches criminals how to commit more crimes without being caught, or teaches them that the community is unfair, there will be no way to achieve those objectives. Members on both sides of this House must do more than give the benefit of the doubt; they must make it clear that, even if we have different opinions, we all want to reduce crime and protect society.

This bill includes reforms in four main areas: enhancing sharing of information with victims—we completely agree with this; enhancing offender responsibility and accountability—we agree with this as well, because taking responsibility is an important part of rehabilitation; strengthening the management of offenders and their reintegration—we must think about this, but we must see if this aspect is properly addressed by the bill before us; and, modernizing disciplinary actions—I believe these must be updated.

With respect to enhancing sharing of information with victims, the bill would clearly recognize the interests of victims of crime and the role they play in the correctional and conditional release process. Victims and victims’ advocates have voiced dissatisfaction with the current provisions and have called for enhancements.

Therefore, a victim’s right to attend National Parole Board hearings will be enshrined in law. I agree completely with this, and for reasons that the Conservatives did not even think of. It would be good for the person applying for parole to know that the victims will be present. It is good for that individual to know that he or she hurt someone. Unless that person is a psychopath who has absolutely no empathy for others, this recognition plays an important role in the rehabilitation process.

So the legislation will be amended to expand the information that may be disclosed to victims by CSC and the National Parole Board. This will include: providing information on the reasons for offender transfers with, whenever possible, advance notice of transfers to minimum security institutions; disclosing information on offender program participation and any convictions for serious disciplinary offences; sharing the reasons for a temporary absence from a correctional facility; and, providing guardians and caregivers of dependents of victims who are deceased, ill or otherwise incapacitated with the same information that victims themselves can receive.

When offenders withdraw their participation 14 days or less before a hearing date, the Board may proceed with a review and decisions of their case. Victims will also be able to request information on the reasons for a waiver of a parole hearing.

I think it is good that offenders will be notified that victims will know all of this. If offenders think this might have an influence on their NPB hearing, perhaps it will help them take a step in the right direction, to demonstrate that they have changed their behaviour and that they understand how their crimes affected their victims.

We must not think just about repression, but also about offender accountability. Our main objective in the correctional system, knowing that these people are going to be released, is to make reasonable efforts to get them to change their behaviour. The best way to protect public safety is to ensure that when offenders leave prison, they are rehabilitated and less likely to reoffend.

The other important measure is designed to increase offender accountability. This is the start of rehabilitation. The offender and the correctional services share responsibility for rehabilitating the offender and reintegrating him into society as a law-abiding citizen. The Corrections and Conditional Release Act will be amended to include the responsibilities of offenders, who will have more incentive to behave in a way that shows respect for people and property.

I will perhaps talk a bit later about section 38, which I myself wrote when I reformed the correctional system in Quebec. It is a very difficult thing to do if one is not a legislative drafter and cannot spend all one's time drafting laws. I found that out pretty quickly when I was a minister, and here as well. But I was determined to write section 38 of the Act respecting the Québec correctional system.

I would like to talk about Quebec's crime reduction model, whereby an offender can earn remission time by showing respect. I wanted section 38 to be posted in every cell. I can still remember the circumstances under which I wrote it. I was with my driver, who was a former prison guard, and I wanted that section to be written so that inmates would understand. What it said essentially was that inmates could be released before the end of their sentence by showing respect to prison staff and other inmates. The section also said that inmates could earn remission by participating in the rehabilitation program proposed for them and complying with prison rules.

The idea of respect is fundamental, and I am very glad that the government included it in this bill.

We could go on at length about this bill. In general, we agree with the objectives set out. We agree with the methods chosen in many areas. However, there are some we could talk about more when we examine the bill in committee. I hope that the government will understand that our proposals will be for the purpose of improving the bill and finding the best way to achieve what we all want and that is to protect society by rehabilitating offenders.

Strengthening Canada's Corrections System Act
Government Orders

October 29th, 2009 / 1:20 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for his input. He is a long-serving member of Parliament and brings a lot of expertise in justice matters and legal matters to this place. I appreciate his input and his comments.

It appears that every time the temperature of the water gets a little hot in Ottawa on other issues, we revert to a week of justice bills. They seem to be coming back in some regular fashion.

However, I note that this one would make amendments not only to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act but also to the Criminal Code. We have also dealt with a couple of other bills that deal directly with the Criminal Code, and some are hybrid and some are not.

I note that some of the provisions of this bill seem to be items which I would have thought, being a longstanding member of the scrutiny and regulations committee, would be probably better served and better amended by dealing with them through regulations rather than through legislation itself.

It is a very long bill, but the substantive points are not very long.

I want to ask the member whether or not he is seeing, also, a change in the terms of the manner in which justice legislation is being drafted and the reluctance to use regulations, so that we can get even quicker changes to the processes in our correctional system.

Strengthening Canada's Corrections System Act
Government Orders

October 29th, 2009 / 1:20 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I admit that I have not given that much thought. To me it is important that the changes be made. It is one thing to draft legislation but quite another to enforce it.

We are currently examining correctional services in the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. I asked the board members who appeared before the committee to ensure that early releases were earned. I asked them if they were able to verify whether such releases are earned. I think they acknowledged that they in fact could not.

By including these objectives in the legislation, I believe that we are making them clear. The hon. member is absolutely right, however, we do need proper regulations.

Strengthening Canada's Corrections System Act
Government Orders

October 29th, 2009 / 1:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, as a former minister of justice and someone who has extensive experience in this area, I want to focus on the people whom we incarcerate.

The figures vary somewhat, but essentially some of the statistics say that as many as 30% of those incarcerated in our federal and provincial jails are suffering from mental illness. There is a disproportionate number of first nations youth, men and women who have experienced high levels of poverty, abuse, and the lack of educational opportunity. Some 80% of the women in federal and provincial jails have been the victims of sexual abuse.

In that light, in looking at this bill it is clear that there is very little that would help to rehabilitate these people. In fact, Bill C-43 creates a paper obligation for prisoners to participate in nonexistent rehabilitation programs.

I would like the member to comment on that.

Strengthening Canada's Corrections System Act
Government Orders

October 29th, 2009 / 1:25 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is absolutely right.

That is a fine objective. We could judge the government on how it plans to carry this through. It is true that we often rely too heavily on incarceration. It is difficult to prove that it is used too much or too little. Nonetheless, one thing is clear and that is that we are using it more. I believe we rank 85th on a list of 155 countries with respect to the incarceration rate worldwide. Our rate is quite similar to that of comparable societies such as Australia. However, we are far from being like the United States, which is the country with the highest incarceration rate in the world. Nonetheless, we incarcerate more than practically all the western European countries. We fill our prisons and make it more difficult to work with the offenders who need it the most.

A striking example of a major mistake the government wants us to make is the abolition of conditional sentences. In the sequence of sentences that judges can impose, simple release is the first. Then there are suspended sentences. Suspended sentences are difficult to enforce because when people are re-arrested, the judge is somewhere else. He cannot sentence the offender. When judges want offenders to go back to school, hold down a job, or go through addiction treatment as part of their rehabilitation, and still be afraid of being sent to prison, conditional sentences are perfect. That is what judges do, but they will not be able to any more.

There are other problems as well. Not only are there aboriginals but also people with mental illnesses. There are a lot of them. I know this is not the time to talk about it.

Strengthening Canada's Corrections System Act
Government Orders

October 29th, 2009 / 1:25 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I must admit I do not agree with the member on his stands on sovereignty for Quebec or breaking up our country. However, on the issue of justice I have grown to appreciate his comments and the fact that he has served as justice minister.

I want to comment in regard to what my NDP colleague just asked about mental illness. I chair the foreign affairs committee but replaced someone on the public safety committee, which was dealing with mental illness within the prison system. The testimony of one of the witnesses was that incarceration would actually, in many cases, give individuals the help they would not normally get.

My colleague basically disagreed with conditional sentences because he said they would allow individuals the opportunity to receive help. Many who are diagnosed with mental illness and released into society do not receive help, even if it is a condition of release. Being incarcerated, whether it be a federal penitentiary or some other type of facility, allows inmates to obtain diagnosis, assistance, a sense of being able to work through it with a little more security.

Would he elaborate a little more on what he said about conditional sentences not allowing inmates to obtain the help they need?

Strengthening Canada's Corrections System Act
Government Orders

October 29th, 2009 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I disagree entirely.

Frankly, we do not put people with mental health problems in prison. Whom will they meet there? They are going to meet criminals. Is that the influence we want to see on people who are especially vulnerable? Prison is not the place to treat mental illness.

Some people have to be sentenced, though, for other reasons, when they commit serious crimes and are not sufficiently mentally ill to be acquitted. People with mental illnesses have to be punished, but we should never think that prison is an appropriate place to treat them. They should certainly be treated, but they will not be rehabilitated by sending them to prison.

There are two different provisions in the Criminal Code providing for suspended sentences and conditional sentences. In the case of suspended sentences, the judge decides to suspend the sentence under certain conditions, and if the accused abides by them, the judge is not entitled to pass sentence. In the case of conditional sentences, the judge says he is giving the offender 18 months but will release him into the community if he abides by the conditions, if he keeps his job, if he takes the addiction treatment he signed up for, and so forth. In these cases, the sentence is not served in prison.

In my view, the more we can avoid imprisoning people while ensuring public safety, the better. Some people are dangerous. Sometimes there are people with mental illnesses who are dangerous, although they are in the minority by the way. That is what we were told just this morning. I agree entirely that prison is not a hospital for the mentally ill. That is not the case and it never will be.