Evidence of meeting #32 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 facility.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Just a couple; a lot has been answered already through the previous questions, so I'll be brief.

Thank you again for coming and giving us the benefit of your expertise. I have a few questions. I think one of the reasons that sparked the committee's interest in the issue of studying the provisions of mental health services and addiction services in prisons was the Ashley Smith death. If I'm not mistaken, she died in the Kitchener facility. That's a women's institution as well. I'm wondering if you think that might be an appropriate place for us to visit.

11:40 a.m.

Correctional Investigator, Office of the Correctional Investigator

Howard Sapers

Grand Valley Institution for Women is in some ways typical of the other women's centres across the country. They were all based on the same program model. They were all built around the same time. Some things are unique. I wouldn't say not to go to Grand Valley Institution, but I wouldn't suggest you'll gain a unique insight there. I think the important thing is to go into women's centres and recognize how they have evolved: the secure units that have been added to them, the extra security that has been added, the population dynamics that have developed in the last half a dozen years. I think you'll find that at any of the centres.

As you can appreciate, the death of Ashley Smith almost two years ago to the day was a very tragic experience and a very traumatic experience for the men and women who work at that institution as well. So there's still some recovery going on at that institution.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Yes, that's one of the reasons I thought it might be symbolic for our committee to actually go there. That's maybe a question the other committee members can talk about.

Similarly, just because it happens to be current, I'm wondering what your thoughts would be on visiting Warkworth, or whether or not the issues that are going on there are unrelated to the subject of the committee report. Do you have any comment on that?

11:45 a.m.

Correctional Investigator, Office of the Correctional Investigator

Howard Sapers

Warkworth, again, is recovering from a major incident, an extended period of lockdown. I believe they're just in the last couple of weeks back to a normal routine. There are some ongoing issues at Warkworth.

Mr. Davies, I could take you across the country, region by region, institution by institution, and share with you my concerns. Warkworth is certainly on our radar, but as I said at the outset, I believe the Correctional Service has provided you with a pretty fair itinerary. I think if you could incorporate perhaps some of the changes or additions we've suggested, you'll get a pretty well-rounded experience. Going into a place that is just recovering from a major incident is absolutely worth your while, but that's also not necessarily representative.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Thank you for that. I think I'm comfortable with the selection we have.

I think in every community we're going to there are, if I'm not mistaken, typically local John Howard Society and Elizabeth Fry Society members. Would you recommend that the committee would benefit from having a local representative of each of those--I guess it depends on the institution you're in--accompanying us on our tour of the prison? Would that be helpful or not?

11:45 a.m.

Correctional Investigator, Office of the Correctional Investigator

Howard Sapers

I certainly don't think it would hurt. I don't think you would necessarily see anything different. What you would gain is some analysis and interpretation of what you're seeing and what you're being told by somebody who has spent a considerable amount of time in the institution.

There's another resource that you may want to contact while you're visiting institutions. Every institution is mandated to have a citizens' advisory committee. There's a range of experiences with these so-called CACs, but certainly citizens' advisory committee members or chairs could also be of benefit to the committee.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Those are my questions.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Garry Breitkreuz

Thank you, Mr. Davies.

We'll go over to Mr. MacKenzie now, please.

October 6th, 2009 / 11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Oxford, ON

Thank you, Chair, and thank you to the two people here today.

As I'm sure you're aware, the minister has been very clear that he wants to see some change for the better, or great change for the better, with respect to mental health in the prison system. I'm wondering, so that we better understand what we should be doing, if we should not look at the path that got us here. It seems to me that a great deal of what's going on now is a change in the treatment of people with mental health issues; it has sort of gone away at one level, but it's ended up now that we're dealing with it in the federal correctional system, which may not be the appropriate place for it to be dealt with. This becomes the catchment for something the federal Correctional Service was never designed for, never built for, and now we are trying to do a huge catch-up in a relatively short period of time when we look at it.

Shouldn't we be looking at some system to better deal with the mentally ill, so that they're not in the criminal justice system to start with, or if they are they get diverted to something other than corrections? Is there somewhere we should look at that? Is there somewhere, even in a different jurisdiction, that's dealing better with it?

11:45 a.m.

Correctional Investigator, Office of the Correctional Investigator

Howard Sapers

One of the recommendations that came out of our investigation into the death of Ashley Smith was that we should quickly develop a national strategy for mental health in corrections that would build bridges between the federal Correctional Service and provincial health and correctional systems.

Such a strategy doesn't exist. There are inadequate linkages between all of those systems, and people fall through what aren't cracks but gaping holes. I wish I could name a place in which they have it figured out. I haven't discovered one yet, although there are some places that are doing better than we are. But it is a matter of urgency that such a national strategy be developed. We need to begin working with organizations like the Mental Health Commission of Canada to bring all of the right partners together to develop this strategy. And we need to start right now.

The more often mentally ill offenders go into federal institutions, the more challenged those institutions are to provide appropriate care, custody, and treatment for the rest of the inmate population. Not everybody inside is mentally ill or brain-injured, but those folks take up a lot of time and resources, and the system is not well prepared to meet their needs.

As recently as today, I was monitoring the case of a woman who has been exhibiting behaviour that would suggest she is significantly mentally ill. In her acting out, she is now beginning to attract charges for her behaviour inside the institution. It is a dangerous mirror of what happened with Ashley Smith. We need to figure out a way to identify these people earlier and find an alternative method of managing them.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Oxford, ON

Looking at the last 20 years or so that we've been on this path, it seems that we don't have the tools to deal with the problem. It's dealt with only when mentally ill individuals act out to the point that they're placed in the federal corrections system. We can point fingers and know that we don't have things right today, but how do we get things fixed for tomorrow? That's what I'm asking. I wonder who we'd best talk to about moving to that stage.

From my observation, as narrow as it is, you're right that putting resources into dealing with the mentally ill in our correctional facilities may cause us to lose the resources we need to deal with addicted individuals, who need our help to change their behaviour. It seems that it should be a health issue, almost, as opposed to a corrections issue. I wonder if that is the right thing. Do we need to find another solution out there?

11:50 a.m.

Correctional Investigator, Office of the Correctional Investigator

Howard Sapers

Any national strategy would have to include involvement from the police, the courts, and the health providers. It would have to look at resources available in local communities. This will not be an easy or a quick change. By the time the Correctional Service of Canada receives a mentally ill offender at one of their reception and assessment centres, we've already lost a whole bunch of opportunities. It then becomes my business to see how the Correctional Service responds to that challenge. But there are a whole host of things that should have happened before it got to that point, and that's well beyond my competence.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Oxford, ON

Thank you. I'd like to explore that more the next time we have you back, and I'm sure you'll have some suggestions.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Garry Breitkreuz

Mr. Rathgeber.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Sapers, in response to the inquiry of my friend Mr. Davies, you said that one particular institution might not offer us any unique insight. I'm curious whether, in your opinion, any of the institutions we are scheduled to see would also fail under that test. I'm not confident that we're going to be able to make additional visits, but we might still make an exchange. Do any of the institutions we're visiting fail that test? I think “offering a unique insight” is a good test.