Evidence of meeting #3 for Public Safety and National Security in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was that's.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Stephen Rigby  President, President's Office, Canada Border Services Agency
  • William Elliott  Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
  • Don Head  Commissioner, Correctional Service Canada
  • Myles Kirvan  Associate Deputy Minister, Deputy Minister's Office, Department of Public Safety

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Garry Breitkreuz

The minute is up, so we'll have to go to Mr. Oliphant.

February 11th, 2009 / 4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Don Valley West, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Congratulations, Minister, on your appointment. I'm hoping it slows down your ten percenters that come into my riding.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

I have long had an affection for that riding.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Don Valley West, ON

You're going to be too busy for that, I'm sure.

My question, I hope, ties together a couple of the topics we've had tonight: corrections and crime prevention.

Mr. Head might remember my interest in corrections from my days in Whitehorse, when we shared our time there. I was an advocate and a chaplain in the jail there, the territorial facility.

We know there's a disproportionate number of first nations people serving time in our jails. Some of that is systemic. Some of that is circumstantial. There are many, many studies on this.

My concern is that the crime prevention activity being undertaken by your department does not efficiently or effectively target first nations communities to actually help them. When first nations people arrive in jails, the programs are often not culturally sensitive, and they are not helping them deal with some of their issues while they're there. Nor do they help them prepare to go out into the community.

I think this is a national tragedy. I think all Canadians have to bear a responsibility for this. I'm hoping that you, as a new minister, can begin to look at this in an integrated way. I'm wondering what you plan to do.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

I apologize for not having fully answered the question earlier on the national crime prevention strategy, but I was stopped by Mr. Holland from doing that.

I didn't get to the third group, which was aboriginals, who are the focus of those programs, and northern communities. They have become part of the new, restructured, refocused program, as I said: the young and those at risk in terms of gang activity; offenders released into the community; and aboriginal northern communities. Those are sort of the three target areas. So they are, as part of the refocused program instituted in June, one of the targets. Hopefully, we'll be doing a little bit more on the front end.

I was in Vancouver a few weeks ago and made the announcements on the crime prevention strategy there. There are five programs we are funding. I made the announcement at an aboriginal friendship centre. Several of them focus on aboriginals--young people--in that community. They are all focused on young people and on diverting them from gang or criminal activity. That's an example of how we are doing that. They are very good programs. I was impressed with the people involved, with the leadership involved, and I'm optimistic that they will yield real results.

One of the problems with these things is that measurement is a tough thing. But you can actually look at individuals who are involved and see what they do down the road. Do they end up going into lives of crimes? Of course, they are long-term, and they take long-term efforts.

In terms of the corrections facilities themselves, I know that there have been considerable efforts made over time to integrate the presence of elders within, for example, the prison system and at parole board hearings. They are increasing the number of parole board hearings that involve having an elder present. So I know that there are considerable efforts being made on that front. There is more to be done, I expect, but I'll ask if Mr. Dion or Mr. Head have anything they want to add.

5 p.m.

Commissioner, Correctional Service Canada

Don Head

I have just a couple of things to quickly add. Over the last couple of years we've received a significant infusion of money into the organization to advance the yard sticks for programming, specifically for offenders of aboriginal ancestry. We've been able to do several things. One has been to increase the number of elders who are coming into the institutions. We've created what we call aboriginal community development officers. They are actually individuals who are helping to bridge the move from the institution back into the community and helping to position people for success in the future. We've created what we call aboriginal liaison officers who are also working with employers to help find jobs for aboriginal peoples as they move back.

In several institutions across the country we've created what we call pathways units, which are very specific to individuals of aboriginal ancestry and provide them with several opportunities, including cultural, spiritual, and programming, that recognize their ancestry. More specifically to the point that was raised about the north, we're embarking on what we call the creation of the northern corrections strategy, and we're working in concert with the three territories as well as with some of the provinces with respect to their concerns about residents in the northern parts of the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

5 p.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Don Valley West, ON

I know of your personal good will on this, and I have great respect for it. I have a concern that with the agenda of the Conservative government, more and more resources will be diverted away from these programs, when they should be increased. Instead, they are going toward minimum mandatory sentences and keeping people in jail for too long, people who maybe shouldn't even be in jail. That is a huge cost to our system. Instead of punishing, we should be rehabilitating, we should be redeveloping, we should be helping, and I'm very concerned about that.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Well--

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Garry Breitkreuz

We'll have to wrap it up. Just take half a minute, Mr. Minister. You've actually been here five minutes longer than you committed to.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

I caution Mr. Oliphant about buying into characterizations of our agenda. Look at what it is in particular.

Yes, we believe in serious punishment for serious crime, but the reality of our programs also shows a strong focus on the other side of it, such as crime prevention, which we talked about. You can see the refocused targets. They are exactly the areas you're concerned about. I think that is something Mr. Holland was being critical of earlier. We think it's a good thing, and I think it's consistent with what you're telling us you want to see done. I think you see the same thing in the changes happening in the prison system.

Another area where there is a big concern is mental health. It's an issue of great concern to me, because the reality is that there are a lot of people in those prisons who really shouldn't be there. They should be in health-care facilities, but that option doesn't exist anymore, and we're left to deal with it in a way that isn't really appropriate for a corrections system. As provincial de-institutionalization continued, as community support was not provided, people got into that cycle, and it's very tough to get them out of that cycle. We've seen that accelerate over the years. For each new young cohort that comes in and doesn't have that kind of health-care support and bounces around in and out of the courts before finally ending up doing something more serious and ending up in prison, by the time we get them, a lot of damage has already been caused. It really needs a broader, comprehensive solution that involves other parts of society.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Don Valley West, ON

We'll work with you.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Garry Breitkreuz

Okay, thank you.

Thank you, Mr. Minister. I appreciate you coming at such short notice once again.

We're going to suspend for a minute and allow you to excuse yourself, and then we are going till 5:30 with the rest of the witnesses.

Thank you very much, again.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Thank you very much.

5:08 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Garry Breitkreuz

I think we'll recommence our meeting.

We now are going over to the Conservative Party. I'm not sure who on this side.... Mr. MacKenzie, please, for five minutes.

5:08 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Oxford, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'd like to follow up on a couple of comments from Mr. Oliphant. He made the suggestion that the Conservative Party had done everything wrong and had drained the resources rather than adding to them. I took it there that Mr. Oliphant might want to join this side, because I think we have probably exhibited the kinds of things that Mr. Oliphant himself supports, and which we do equally.

I think it's important that Mr. Head had indicated that in the last couple of years resources and money had been put forward to deal with the aboriginal community, in particular. I think we've all certainly seen in the press the issues dealing with the aboriginal community. I wonder if Mr. Head could expand on what that has meant in that timeframe and what timeframe it has been where the additional resources have been put in.