House of Commons Hansard #86 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was trade.

Topics

The House resumed from February 17 consideration of the motion that Bill C-315, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (French language), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-315 under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #138

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion lost.

The House resumed from February 27 consideration of the motion that Bill C-299, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (kidnapping of young person), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-299.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agree to on the following division:)

Vote #139

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

(Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

It being 6:38 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from December 1, 2011, consideration of the motion that Bill C-293, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (vexatious complainants), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for dispersing the crowd around me so that I could give my second reading speech on Bill C-293. I would like to take this opportunity to say that the Liberal Party will support this bill at second reading. In other words, we will send it to committee so that it can be studied in more detail, mainly because this bill raises some questions for us.

However, before I debate or consider the content of the bill, I would also like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the staff of the Correctional Service of Canada, who are devoted to their mission. Every day, they carry out a task that is not always easy, to say the least, in a very professional manner and in good faith. It is a difficult task. They sometimes have to manage diverse populations within the same correctional institution. They work hard and carry out their duty to the best of their abilities.

A few weeks ago, a number of members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security and I had the opportunity to visit two penitentiaries in Kingston—the Collins Bay and Joyceville prisons. We saw that the correctional staff is very concerned about the success and progress of the prisoners and is very proud of the correctional programs.

I would like to mention in passing that, in Canada, we have one of the best correctional programs in the world, to the point where other countries are implementing the programs that we have developed over the years. I am proud to be able to say, further to a question that I asked in committee to a representative of the Correctional Service of Canada, that many of the programs we export today were designed and implemented during Liberal governments.

I like to think that the Liberal Party's approach to justice was able to yield a positive return in this area.

The devotion of the employees working in prisons is clear, as is that of the administrative staff who work in office towers in Ottawa, where the department is headquartered.

Madam Speaker, I wish to say that it is difficult for me to address this issue because there is a lot of noise coming from the other side of the House. I understand of course, but perhaps you could help me in this regard.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order. I would ask all members carrying on conversations to do so in the lobbies.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, when we toured those two penitentiaries, we were studying drug use in prisons. During committee hearings and our visits to Joyceville and Collins Bay penitentiaries, we learned that relations between correctional officers and inmates are vitally important, even crucial, not just to ensure that the correctional environment is orderly, but also to help inmates follow their rehabilitation plan. In other words, I would not call it a friendship, but it is a relationship that provides support. By having good relations with the inmates, staff can help them and encourage them to follow their rehabilitation plans, as I mentioned.

For all intents and purposes, this bill addresses this relationship between the staff and inmates. It is very important that the bill be effective in encouraging good relationships and not hindering them. It is also very important that it be effective in terms of cost management. We know that if there are many complaints at a penitentiary, they are a burden on the administrative employees of the penitentiary. At a time of budget cuts, when there might be cuts to the penitentiaries' budgets, we have to ensure that the budget is managed very effectively. This bill, if I understand correctly, tries to make the complaints and grievance process more efficient within the penitentiaries. That in itself is a good thing.

However, it is very important that the bill not contribute to undermining the relationships that exist between the correctional staff and the inmates. In other words, if the bill causes the inmates any frustration, if they feel their complaints are not being heard, that can hinder this very important relationship between the staff and the inmates. We believe that the bill needs to be studied at length with that concern in mind.

We are concerned about the fact that the bill contains no definition of a vexatious or frivolous complaint. When terms are not clearly defined, in any field of endeavour, there is room for misinterpretation, for rules not to be properly applied or properly implemented. In this case, as I said, misunderstanding could interfere with orderly operations in the penitentiary.

The bill lacks a definition for a vexatious or frivolous complaint. What we are concerned about even more is that Correctional Service Canada itself, according to an audit of the current complaint process, recommended that a definition of a vexatious or frivolous complaint be provided. The bill does not do that.

We will have a lot of questions to ask in committee, but I truly look forward to addressing the matter again when the bill passes second reading.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain Manicouagan, QC

Madam Speaker, I am honoured to be the last member of my party to speak to this bill, which does not use overly accessible language. The administrative subtleties of the prison system are only rarely revealed to average Canadians. Indeed, there are those within the legal profession who specialize in this field. To illustrate the scope of my observations, I will draw on my experience in the legal aid office where I worked for two years.

I will pick up where I left off during my last intervention. In 2006, after I was called to the bar, I returned to the land of my ancestors and was hired by the legal aid office. I was assigned to the itinerant court. I was a criminal defence lawyer, and I represented Innu and Naskapi people in remote regions. The court travelled from place to place, and I represented people charged with criminal offences.

During my two and a half years in the legal aid office, I worked with another lawyer, Ms. Gaudreau, who worked exclusively on the complaints and grievances from inmates at the Port-Cartier institution. In my riding, there is a maximum security penitentiary 35 minutes away from Sept-Îles, and Ms. Gaudreau worked full time on those files. I had many conversations with Ms. Gaudreau over the years. I even went to the penitentiary several times to see how such cases were handled. Among other things, thanks to my time in that office, I saw that there were enough contentious claims from the penitentiary to make up the majority of a defence lawyer's, in this case, Ms. Gaudreau's, workload. The presence of a maximum security penitentiary in my riding also enabled me to deal directly with criminal files involving federal prisoners as part of my professional practice. There were not many of them, but there were some.

In addition, there was a large aboriginal presence in the Port-Cartier correctional institution. Accordingly, holistic aboriginal programming is offered at this institution. This holistic program includes a healing process borrowed from traditional Innu and Naskapi ways of life, a process that focuses on the principles of reintegration into one's home community.

In September 2011, the last time I toured my riding, I was asked to meet with the director of the Port-Cartier penitentiary, who wanted to talk to me about continuing this holistic program at his institution. We discussed the various measures that had been proposed over the years. The program has been in place for several years now. There is an area on the penitentiary's grounds where inmates who identify as aboriginal can go to get back to their roots. These inmates receive regular visits from elders and can have innu mitshu, that is, traditional food, inside the institution. The goal of all this is to help them reintegrate into their communities after they have served their sentences.

A Statistics Canada publication from July 2009 highlights the higher proportion of aboriginal federal inmates who need help in areas like social interaction, attitude, employment and community functioning compared to non-aboriginal inmates.

As for social reintegration factors, problems and contentious issues in communities and on reserves are often resolved using aggression and methods that are outdated by today's standards. All the measures that come under the complaints and grievances hearing process incorporate this new aspect of communication and rethinking the adversarial process that is common in our society in 2012.

No examination of the complaints and grievances process that is part of the dynamic framework unique to the prison population can ignore the large proportion of inmates who do not have a high school diploma or a job. This situation results in many comprehension difficulties—problems understanding the subtleties of the complaints and grievances process available to inmates who want to appeal an administrative decision by the institution.

Given the long sentences served by prisoners in federal penitentiaries, it is conceivable for their everyday lives to be regulated, as in a type of micro-society. Guarantees offered to all Canadians, such as access to the justice system, may be modified so that they respond to the prisoners' situation.

This is where the complaints and grievances process comes into play; hearings are held for these cases based on an internal arrangement that promotes interaction between administrative authorities, staff and prisoners. A number of reports have established the importance of appointing a grievance coordinator within the prison's administration and increasing the resources allocated to the informal resolution of complaints.

This reasoning thus invites us to identify, develop and implement alternative methods for resolving contentious issues internally. The bill before us presents measures that are at the opposite end of the spectrum from the desired flexibility necessary in communications between prisoners and the authorities.

The internal complaints process offered to prisoners is, in and of itself, part of the rehabilitation process. I spoke about holistic procedures or measures. This is somewhat the same. It is rehabilitation. It is basically a healing process. Other than the purely clerical aspect of how complaints are lodged, the adversarial system that allows prisoners to lodge complaints and grievances gives them the opportunity to voice their concerns and ensures that the parties are able to discuss the facts and possible methods of resolution. This is thus an alternative method for resolving conflicts that is available and beneficial to prisoners. This principle of fairness allows prisoners or their lawyers, such as Ms. Gaudreau whom I mentioned, to present the facts and receive advice, at public expense if necessary—since, as I was saying, legal aid covers this type of case—in order to handle each case properly.

Just the simple possibility of designating inmates as “vexatious complainants” gives rise to many legitimate concerns, including concerns about the commissioner's discretion. It should be noted that no specific definition is found in the bill for vexatious or multiple complaints. What is more, labelling inmates as “vexatious complainants” will only fuel their sense of oppression, will not enhance the quality of relationships, and will even reinforce the adversarial nature of the relationship between the administration and inmates.

Having the Commissioner of the Correctional Service apply arbitrary rules to assess the pertinence of complaints will only unleash or increase hostile reactions, and undermine the relationship between the inmate population and the administration. According to my understanding of the situation, the complaints and grievances process provides an outlet of sorts for the tension often associated with the tumultuous life of inmates, especially in maximum security institutions. Often it involves the offenders in special protection. Just having access to this resource and having an opportunity to be heard and to make their case is a step towards rehabilitation. It is part of the journey that ultimately enables an individual to reintegrate into society and be an asset there. I submit this respectfully.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Seeing no one rising on debate, I will recognize the hon. member for Scarborough Centre for her right of reply.