House of Commons Hansard #149 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was economy.

Topics

Opposition Motion—The Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I ask that you see the clock at 5:30 p.m.

Opposition Motion—The Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Is that agreed?

Opposition Motion—The Canadian Economy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

moved that Bill C-293, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (vexatious complainants), be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-293, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (vexatious complainants). This important piece of legislation was brought forward to help the Correctional Service of Canada meet its legal obligation to fairly and expeditiously resolve offender grievances.

I am gratified to see so much support for my legislation from so many members in the House and in committee. The changes this bill would bring to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act would help ensure the complaint and grievance process in the federal penitentiaries is fair and, most importantly, accessible to all offenders, not just a select few who choose to clog up the system with frivolous complaints. Essentially this bill would help ensure that the complaint and grievance process functions as it was originally intended to.

It is clear to me and to so many hon. members in this House that these changes are far long overdue, and this is why I introduced this particular piece of legislation. As I indicated, Bill C-293 proposes to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, or CCRA. Within the CCRA, we find sections 90 and 91, which are the subject of the proposed legislation I have put forward, which is before us today in the House. These sections ensure that all offenders have access to a fair and expeditious grievance system which they can use without fear of negative consequences. This system is not only the law, but it also has many long-term benefits.

In his committee appearance, Mr. Jay Pyke, warden of Kingston Penitentiary spoke of four specific benefits of this process. He said:

First, it provides offenders with a means of redress when they feel they've been treated unfairly.... Secondly, it contributes to institutional safety through the early identification and resolution of problems....Thirdly, it contributes to offender accountability by encouraging offenders to resolve problems through an appropriate means. Finally, the process ensures that CSC's decisions affecting offenders comply with the rule of law.

I want to point out that the majority of offenders using the grievance system are in fact submitting complaints in good faith related to situations affecting their life, liberty or safety of the person, which of course is what the process was originally intended for.

When used properly, this system ensures that offenders are treated fairly and are given a proper way to deal with their grievances. Unfortunately, there are those offenders who choose to abuse the system, submitting complaint after complaint in order to harass a staff member or merely to fill their days. In some cases it has become somewhat of a hobby or even a game.

All of us in the House have heard the stories about the ice cream being too cold, the eggs or potatoes being too small, or the light bulb being too bright. Not only is this an enormous waste of staff time and resources, but it also clogs up the system and negatively impacts those offenders who must wait longer for decisions on legitimate complaints. This is unfair. It is very clear that changes are needed. Bill C-293 aims to do just that. This bill was developed to put a stop to the actions of offenders who purposely exploit the grievance system at the cost of the rest of the offenders in federal custody, not to mention the cost to the Canadian taxpayer.

As we have heard, there is a small group of offenders across the federal correctional system who submit a high volume of frivolous and vexatious grievances. I would refer again to the committee testimony of Mr. Pyke, warden of the Kingston Penitentiary, who said that last year three offenders were responsible for 7% of the 501 grievances and complaints submitted at just one institution. Of course, this would be acceptable if these complaints had any merit, but in fact, as committee members heard, most of these complaints, 86 in total from these three offenders, were merely attempts to draw negative or unwanted attention to a staff member they did not like or a rule that they simply did not agree with.

According to Mr. Pyke, of the 86 grievances submitted by these three offenders, 81 were denied on the grounds that they lacked merit. In fact, only two grievances were upheld as having merit, and the remaining three were upheld in part because of Correctional Service of Canada's untimely response to the complaints, delays which ironically would have been reduced through the passing of this legislation. This is just three inmates in one institution for one year.

Hon. members can well imagine the impact on resources, time and energy if we multiply this across our entire federal correctional system. That is why it is so important that we move ahead with Bill C-293 without any further delay. In fact, Bill C-293 would expand the language within sections 90 and 91 to provide Correctional Service of Canada with a more effective grievance and complaint process, a system that would impose consequences on offenders who submit a high volume of frivolous and vexatious complaints.

I would like to take a moment to thank all of the committee members for their thoughtful review of the legislation and for their support of some important amendments that were introduced in committee to further strengthen my bill. I believe that these amendments will ultimately help ensure that this legislation would truly meet its goal of ending the troubling trend of a small group of inmates abusing the grievance system. These amendments will ensure that this bill would achieve its intended objective in a manner that is consistent with the remainder of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and also the corrections and conditional release regulations.

If we look closer at the amended legislation, we see that it consists of three clear provisions that lead to this worthy goal. First and foremost, the commissioner would have the authority to prohibit offenders who submit a high number of vexatious and frivolous complaints from submitting any further complaint or grievance unless a vexatious complainant designation is lifted. This is in legislation for the very first time. In other words, the commissioner would have the final say on whether or not a new grievance or complaint is heard. Of course, the commissioner would allow an offender's complaint or grievance to be heard if it was deemed that the issue being grieved affects the offender's life, liberty or security of that person. I want to make that perfectly clear.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the benefits of the grievance system is that it encourages pro-social behaviour in offenders. It is certainly not the intent of this bill to slap a vexatious complainant label on any offender and then close the door forever on any hope that the designation would be overturned. That is why the second provision within Bill C-293 states that the commissioner would undertake a regular review of all offenders who have received a prohibition order from a vexatious complainant designation.

As originally drafted, the bill required the commissioner of CSC to review the vexatious complainant designation every six months, and then to provide the offender with written reasons for a decision to maintain or lift that designation. Bill C-293 was amended at committee to indicate that this review would take place once a year rather than every six months. As we heard during committee hearings, a six-month window would likely have become operationally cumbersome for CSC and after reviewing the committee testimony, I agree. I believe that an annual review of the complaint prohibition would be a much more workable provision. In this way it is hoped that the offender would understand the benefits of acting in a positive way and thereby break the cycle of frivolous and vexatious complaints and grievances.

The third provision within Bill C-293 would allow the Governor in Council to make changes to the corrections and conditional release regulations as needed to give further precision to the administration of the vexatious complainant scheme. This is in keeping with the current corrections and conditional release regulations.

I believe that as amended, Bill C-293 is an effective piece of legislation that would help reduce the ongoing abuse of the grievance system by a small handful of inmates. The intent of the vexatious complainant process is not to punish offenders, but rather to hold them accountable for their actions. Bill C-293 would provide Correctional Service of Canada with clear, defined steps that could be taken to end the activities of vexatious complainants. It also would promote accountability by encouraging offenders to use the complaint and grievance process for the purpose for which it was originally intended.

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to speak today in the House to my private member's bill and I urge all hon. members of this House to put their full support behind this bill.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague opposite for her speech.

We examined her bill in the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. As a member of the NDP, I will unfortunately not support this bill and I will explain why shortly.

I have a question about the complaints and grievances offenders file with the Correctional Service of Canada.

Professor David Mullan produced a report in which he made 65 extremely interesting recommendations for changing how the complaints process is handled. Not a single one of these recommendations was taken into account in this bill.

I would like to know why my colleague did not heed the recommendations of an expert in the area.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the member knows, the objective of private members' bills is to fix something that is broken or to improve upon something within legislation.

As someone who supports my constituency, having been elected on May 2, 2011, I am responsible to the Canadian taxpayer. When I learned about this abuse within our correctional system, I was absolutely shocked. I cannot believe that we have allowed this to go on for this long, that a handful of inmates, approximately 20 to 25 inmates, create and log 15% of all complaints. There are 29,000 grievances per year. Over 4,000 complaints, or 15% of the total, are submitted by just a handful of inmates.

This is the problem that needs to be fixed. I am fixing it with this bill. When this legislation is passed, it will ensure that the system will work as it was originally intended to.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, this is the first opportunity I have had to congratulate you on your appointment. You are a very good choice and we are pleased that you are the Deputy Speaker.

I was very impressed with the member of Parliament. I chair the public safety and national security committee. She was fortunate in that her name was drawn to submit a private member's bill in her first Parliament. I have never had the opportunity to come before a committee with one of mine, but she has. She was very articulate, focused and well spoken. She gave us some statistics. What was interesting to hear when witnesses appeared before us is that even many of the prisoners are upset by the people who bring forward vexatious complaints. Many of them feel that the vexatious complaints may limit the attention that their real complaints get.

I would ask the member to comment from that perspective. We understand there is a huge cost. Twenty-five people are making thousands of complaints. How does that affect the other prisoners who may have legitimate complaints?

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that my colleague has brought up this question because just recently, during the summer, there was a particular case that went to the Federal Court. It was initiated by an inmate who complained that his grievances were not being heard in a timely fashion. It is interesting that this has been brought up because my bill would actually seek to address that. It would correct a system that has been broken by this loophole that is costly for Canadian taxpayers. Most importantly, it would make sure that the system works as it was originally intended to.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, once again, I really appreciate the opportunity to ask questions about this fascinating bill.

First, I would like to tell the members opposite that I support the principle underlying this bill. The only thing I do not support is the means employed here. Unfortunately, this measure will not prevent vexatious complainants from submitting complaints. As the member opposite probably knows, most vexatious complainants are people with mental illness. This is not the way to help them.

Does my colleague have any other suggestions for how to help people who need help more than they need punishment?

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, a similar question was brought up in committee. Someone from the NDP asked me why I did not submit a private member's bill on another issue or another component that needed to be fixed. My answer is that if members want to put forward a private member's bill to address a particular area of concern, I encourage them to do so.

Most importantly, this bill would address and correct five things. One, it would correct a costly loophole. Two, it would support our hard-working front-line officers in the Correctional Service of Canada. Three, it would hold offenders accountable and guide them to true rehabilitation. Four, I need to point out, because sometimes we forget that we are all responsible for the Canadian taxpayer, that the bill shows respect for the Canadian taxpayer by eliminating waste. Five, and most importantly, as I have stated previously, this change would make the system work as it was intended to.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in this House to speak to Bill C-293, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (vexatious complainants). As the hon. member for Scarborough Centre and sponsor of this bill said, we had the opportunity to study this bill in committee during the last parliamentary session in the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.

Since I am on that committee, I had the opportunity to engage in further discussion with the other members about this bill, which seeks to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. The purpose of this bill is to limit access to the complaints and grievance procedure by so-called vexatious inmates in order to reduce the volume of complaints. The way we see it, this measure does not deal with the real problem of the complaints procedure, and we think that the focus should instead be on the source of these vexatious complaints.

We had an opportunity to hear from witnesses who told us about delays affecting the entire complaints system. Those who speak in favour of a fair and timely complaints system said that there are extremely serious delays in the processing of complaints, about six months in most cases. We should consider solutions that truly respond to the problems raised in committee, solutions that would allow reasonable delays for processing grievances and would simplify the procedure, which would enable Correctional Services Canada to save time and resources.

At the April 24 meeting of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, Howard Sapers, the correctional investigator, explained that the Office of the Correctional Investigator was created following a bloody and fatal riot at Kingston penitentiary in 1971. The fact-finding commission set up to look into this incident determined that having no credible system to resolve inmate complaints was one of the main factors that led to the confrontation.

In his 2007-08 annual report, Mr. Sapers again mentioned the long-standing concerns of the Office of the Correctional Investigator regarding Correctional Services Canada's internal grievance system. Over the years, they have reviewed numerous complaints regarding access to the internal complaints and grievance procedure. According to Mr. Sapers, the procedure to file complaints and grievances varies and is seriously lacking in uniformity.

Ashley Smith's story is one of the most tragic examples of the poor handling of complaints. There is in fact a full report that shows how that inmate's death could have been avoided. In it, we can read how, despite the fact that the Correctional Service of Canada rejected her seven complaints about her conditions of incarceration, she tried to improve her situation one final time before her death by putting a complaint in a sealed envelope into the complaints box. Only after Ashley's death was the complaint seen as a priority. The report shows that the seven complaints, which had been considered routine, were in fact priorities.

So we see that we have a problem at the moment with the way in which the system of complaints and grievances in our correctional system is working. Mr. Sapers comes to the conclusion that, if there had been a fair, effective and flexible internal process, it would have been possible to considerably improve the excessively restrictive and dehumanizing conditions imposed on Ms. Smith. He feels that her complaints were rejected for no valid reason. In his report, he also recommends that the Correctional Service of Canada immediately review all cases of prolonged solitary confinement associated with mental health problems, paying specific attention to offenders who have already attempted suicide or who display self-injury tendencies.

In committee, we heard that a number of vexatious complainants tend to have mental health issues. Labelling them vexatious complainants will probably not prevent them from filing complaints, nor will it help them with rehabilitation. So the risk of reoffending increases and public safety suffers.

What we must consider is that the vexatious complainant label will in no way reduce the number of complaints to be dealt with in institutions, and I will explain why. When the administration is presented with a vexatious complaint, it cannot simply ignore it. It still has to be dealt with, categorized and filed. So the time spent in analyzing the complaint will offset the time savings that the designation “vexatious complainant“ is supposed to provide. This bill will result in more work for correctional officers and inflated administrative costs, all for positive outcomes that will be minimal in the extreme.

The Report of External Review of Correctional Service of Canada Offender Complaints and Grievance Process prepared by professor David Mullan, which I mentioned earlier, made 65 recommendations aimed at correcting and simplifying the process. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my question to my colleague opposite, the hon. member for Scarborough Centre, the bill does not take any of that into account. Not one recommendation was included in this bill. Although implementing these recommendations should have been the focus, the Conservatives decided to ignore the advice of the experts and internal and external review committees, which emphasized the importance of creating the positions of mediators and grievance coordinators.

The NDP supports legislative measures that will make our prisons safer and allow them to operate in a quick, fair and efficient manner. That is why we are in favour of creating these positions, which would help guarantee open access to the complaint and grievance process while reducing the volume of complaints by introducing more informal mechanisms.

Lastly, we understand that for administrative reasons, one year is the preferred timeline for Correctional Service Canada, but we are not convinced that imposing a ban for a full year would be advantageous for the complaints and grievance process. A lot can happen in one year's time. An offender can move or change institutions. His situation can change completely. So, instead of seeing an extension of the length of the ban as a good thing, we believe it could in fact considerably aggravate the situation for the individual in question.

In conclusion, I would like to point out that this bill does absolutely nothing to address the real problem of managing complaints in our prison system. The government needs to take real action, such as taking into account the recommendations of experts like Mr. Mullan and Mr. Sapers, in order to correct a very real, serious problem, to ensure the well-being of CSC employees and complainants, and to prevent terrible things like what happened at Kingston Penitentiary or like the death of Ashley Smith from ever happening again.

That is why I will be voting against this bill. I invite all of my colleagues in the House to have a closer look at this bill and understand why it will not change anything in the existing offender complaints process.

We have a duty as parliamentarians to take into account the opinions of experts. Here in the House, our duty is to pass legislation that is viable, constitutional and fair. Ignoring the advice of experts and the recommendations made to us is simply unacceptable, even irresponsible.

In the beginning of her speech, the hon. member for Scarborough Centre said that changes were necessary. As I have demonstrated, changes are indeed necessary, and all the experts say that changes need to be made now. What we have now is akin to putting a band-aid two feet away from the wound. It is of no use whatsoever. We should take the time to put all this on “pause”, to rewrite a nice little government bill—I urge the government to do so—that will really get to the heart of the problem.

I encourage the Conservative members in particular to think about that. We have an incredible opportunity to do the right thing, and not just for vexatious complainants. We are talking about vexatious complainants, but this is also about taxpayers; we are the ones who keep penitentiaries running. There are also those who work in penitentiaries: Correctional Service Canada officers and all those who handle complaints.

To conclude, it is our duty to pass good legislation in the best interest of all Canadians and it is certainly our duty not to turn a blind eye on such a big problem by pretending that we are fixing it.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

September 20th, 2012 / 5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, this has been a very enlightening bill. I personally was not aware of the complaints process that exists inside penitentiaries until we debated this bill and studied it in some depth in committee.

The first comment I would like to make is that the complaints process inside our penitentiaries is not about being soft on crime, coddling criminals or inmates or, using the rhetoric of the government, hugging a thug. I am sure that when people hear there is a complaints process within our penitentiaries, these might be the kinds of images that come to mind, but that is not what the complaints process is all about. I know the hon. member for Alfred-Pellan touched on this in her speech.

The point of a complaints system is to prevent cruel behaviour that could harm inmates. Inmates are in prison not to be harmed; they are there so that society is protected and so that they follow a rehabilitation program and reflect on their actions. The point is that there must be some regard for their welfare even though they are incarcerated.

The complaints system comes out of the violent and deadly riot that took place at Kingston Penitentiary in 1971, during which five correctional officers were taken hostage and brutally tortured. In the end, two prisoners died and 13 others were seriously injured. The damage done to Kingston Penitentiary was severe and shocking, and in the aftermath, a royal commission headed by Justice Swackhamer was established to investigate what had led to the bloody riot. In his report, Justice Swackhamer stated that the lack of adequate attention paid to offender complaints was a contributing factor to the riots and made the following observation:

Grievances of all types are bound to exist among the prison population. Whether those grievances are justified or not, they require to be dealt with so that the order and morale of the institution may be maintained. At present, we heard that such grievances can only be resolved, if at all, when the inmate submits them to the administration. It is clear that the inmate frustrations are created and thrive because the inmates' only avenue of complaint is to the very administration which is frequently the source of its dissatisfaction. It is perfectly evident that at Kingston Penitentiary the total absence of any formula by which such matters could be effectively aired was a factor in the disturbance itself.

The point of a complaints system is very much to keep our correctional officers safe. The job they do is not easy. They obviously work in situations in which they must be vigilant, situations in which there is a certain amount of tension, and problems can occur that can cause physical harm. We have to make sure that correctional officers, who do very good work on behalf of our correctional system, are protected. Therefore, the complaints mechanism is really like a safety valve in many ways.

As Correctional Service Canada itself has said:

Providing offenders with a fair, impartial and expeditious complaint and grievance process...has many benefits. It encourages offenders to deal with issues in a pro-social manner; it empowers them and provides another forum whereby their concerns can be heard and dealt with appropriately. The process can also be used as a monitoring tool to identify trends that are linked to increased tension or discontent among the inmate population.

Bill C-293 seeks to rectify a problem that has arisen over the years. No system is perfect; we know that. When we create a system, after a while we have to re-examine the system to see if we can change it and reform it and make it better to meet changing circumstances. We all understand this as parliamentarians. We come to this place to make laws and institutions better.

Bill C-293 seeks to rectify a problem that has arisen over the years within the inmate complaint system created after the Kingston Penitentiary riot, wherein a very small number of inmates lodged repeated complaints deemed of little or no merit. In other words, these were deemed not to have been made in good faith.

The bill creates in law a category of complainants called a vexatious complainant with the intent of sidelining those complaints to free up the corrections bureaucracy to process more expeditiously what are deemed to be more legitimate prison complaints.

The original version of the bill that we debated at second reading a few months ago stipulated that an inmate designated as a vexatious complainant would be required to provide new supporting information to accompany any subsequent complaints if he or she wished to have those complaints reviewed.

The sweeping changes in the amended version of the bill from committee removes the possibility of the Correctional Service of Canada investigating further complaints, new information notwithstanding, unless the complainant obtains special leave from the commissioner of corrections to have his or her complaint reviewed.

The original bill also stipulated that a plan be developed to assist the offender to break the cycle of complaints. However, perhaps more important, it contained an exception stipulating that a decision-maker could not refuse to hear a complaint that would result in irreparable, significant or adverse consequences to the offender if not resolved. There is no such provision in the amended version of the bill.

The amended bill allows the commissioner to designate an offender as vexatious once the commissioner is satisfied that an offender has persistently submitted complaints or grievances that are frivolous, vexatious or not made in good faith. However, like the original version of the bill, the new version does not define the term “vexatious” or “frivolous”, though such a definition does exist in the commissioner's internal directives.

The vagueness of this internal definition has proven persistently problematic for correctional staff. A 2009 CSC audit recognized this problem and recommended that the definition of frivolous and vexatious complaints and grievances in the internal directive be clarified, along with the definition of “high priority”, “urgent” and “sensitive”.

There is also no indication in the original or amended bill as to the number of so-called vexatious or frivolous complaints that will trigger a vexatious complaints designation. The bill appears to leave this threshold entirely up to the discretion of the commissioner.

These open-ended notions of the definition of vexatious complainant and of the frequency of complaints deemed vexatious required for this designation to apply leave the door open to interpretation, which in turn will make it difficult for corrections personnel to confidently implement the legislation.

It will also make it difficult for Canadians to fully understand how this new process will function in a fair and constructive manner while pursuing its main objective, which is to stop the flow of egregious complaints that can burden the corrections system and draw scarce resources within it away from treatment programs that reduce recidivism and lead to safer communities.

If we are to presume a fair and effective complaints system in Canadian penitentiaries, it is vital that the commissioner of corrections in designating a complainant vexatious consider the comments of the correctional investigator, Howard Sapers, when he appeared before the public safety committee to comment on the bill:

Bill C-293 sends a wrong message, as it trivializes inmate complaints and it reduces CSC's accountability. Inmate concerns are a unique means to judge the professionalism and the humanity of our Correctional Service. Importantly, what can be viewed as frivolous can be rather significant upon review. What to most people would be very insignificant becomes, because of the nature of prison life, a matter of serious concern to inmates.

Therefore, I hope that in its regulations and directives the government will consider these points and ensure that the process that comes out of this legislation via regulations and directives is one that is fair and effective. I think that would be good for our corrections officers and for society as a whole.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, during the introduction of this bill at second reading, I spoke in the House to express my concern about the potential impact this bill could have on the proper operation and security of our penitentiaries.

During first reading of the bill, I was concerned about the fact that the commissioner was being granted the discretion to designate an offender as a vexatious complainant without placing limits on this power by establishing clear criteria. In my opinion, without such criteria, we cannot guarantee that decisions will be made in a fair and equitable manner.

Something else that concerned me at that time was that the bill did not take into account the reality of the inmates being designated as vexatious complainants. The agencies working in penitentiaries and the Office of the Correctional Investigator stated that many of the complainants who could be designated vexatious by the commissioner were actually people who have mental health problems or who are not well educated.

We have to remember that, when this complaint and grievance process was implemented in the early 1970s, the objective was to channel inmates' frustrations by using a constructive process that would allow inmates to participate in improving the living conditions in penitentiaries. So the objective was to improve safety by ensuring that inmates did not use violence to express their discontent and frustration.

It was also felt that this process was a tool that helped ensure transparency and accountability, allowing us to assess the effectiveness of correctional policies and identify problems in Canadian prisons.

Another benefit of this complaint process was that it made it possible to identify individuals with problems, whether mental health problems or low levels of education. Once identified, they could be directed to programs adapted to their circumstances.

The government should focus its efforts on increasing the correctional investigator's capacity to investigate so that he can quickly identify the problems in prisons.

Yes, the volume of complaints is a problem. However, we do not believe that reducing access to the complaint and grievance process is the answer.

In my view, this new bill is likely to cause more frustration for inmates who are unable to access the grievance process. This could in turn increase the level of violence and reduce the safety of inmates and prison workers.

We believe that the most effective way to guarantee open access to the complaint and grievance process, while reducing the volume of complaints, is to create mediator and grievance coordinator positions.

The Conservatives ignored all the recommendations of the experts and the external and internal review committees. Many of them said it was important to create those types of positions, which would allow prisons to maintain an open-access complaint and grievance process, while reducing the volume of formal complaints through informal resolution.

Our approach is also supported by many experts and stakeholders in the corrections field, including prison law and criminology experts.

Nevertheless, the member for Scarborough Centre seems to have ignored all this, as have the Conservative members of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. Not only did they ignore the experts who came to share their points of view, including the correctional investigator, but they also ignored the recommendations in David Mullan's report on the external review process, which was commissioned by the government itself.

In his report, Mr. Mullan made a number of recommendations regarding various aspects of the complaints and grievance process, including recommendations concerning staff and training. Mr. Mullan made recommendations to improve the informal complaints resolution process. Several recommendations touched on reducing the administrative burden of the complaints process, accountability and involving the offender in the process.

None of the 60-plus recommendations in the Mullan report were implemented or taken into consideration during the drafting of Bill C-213 or in the amendments that were made to the bill later.

Yet the recommendations made sense and the government itself commissioned the report. Why did the Conservatives not implement the recommendations in the Mullan report? Is it because the recommendations are not in line with their ideology even though the experts agree on this issue?

When I was a member of the committee, it became clear to me that the only approach that was acceptable to Conservative ideology was punishing criminals. That is what this is about.

I did not support the introduction of this bill at first reading. Unfortunately, the final version is even more disappointing because the only clause left states that, if the commissioner believes an offender has submitted vexatious complaints, he can prohibit that offender from submitting any further complaints.

I feel that the Conservatives did not listen to James Bonta, an expert witness who testified during the electronic surveillance study. Mr. Bonta is a clinical psychologist who presented a psychological explanation of punishment to the committee. I will read a portion of his testimony:

Punishment can deter or suppress behaviour, but only under certain conditions....It has to be immediate, it has to be the right intensity, it has to be predictable, and it has to be done with the right kind of person....

It works really well for people who think in the future, who have little history of being punished, and who think things through. Is this your typical offender? Offenders tend to be concrete thinkers who think in the here and now. They have a long history of punishment. They were raised in families in which most of them were physically abused. Some were sexually abused....

I'd strongly encourage you not to expect deterrence to have a great impact on the behaviour of your moderate- to [even] high-risk offender. You need to put your hope and your money into rehabilitation programs.

It is a clinical psychologist who made this statement to the committee. The first reading version of the bill had a provision to implement this type of corrective program or plan in order to break the complaints cycle. This was a worthwhile approach, but the provision in question is also one of the first ones that the Conservatives members of the committee removed from the bill.

The end result is that most of the provisions were removed from the first version of the bill, leaving only one provision that allows the commissioner to prohibit offenders that he designates as vexatious complainants from filing any new complaints, and another that allows the commissioner to review the complainant's status annually rather than every six months in order to reduce the administrative burden.

We are therefore not at all convinced that a review after one year would help the process, even if it does reduce the administrative burden. Leaving an offender in the system for one year can only increase the administrative burden while jeopardizing the safety of inmates. This will only make the situation worse. The parliamentary secretary on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security took most of the provisions in the first reading version of the bill and included them in the regulations.

She mentioned that this bill was a legislative burden that would make the administration of the grievance process more expensive. She therefore proposed an amendment, which was passed, to include the administration of the grievance process in the regulations rather than in the act. She wanted the commissioner's authority to prohibit a complainant from filing a new complaint to be included in the act but enforced by the regulations.

These regulations would be submitted to the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations. Our critic, the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, had also proposed an amendment to ensure that the commissioner, when making a decision, would take into account mental health issues and low levels of education. However, the parliamentary secretary would only include these factors in the regulations. Therefore, we believe that this is an empty promise because there are no guarantees that these provisions will be included in the bill.

I would like to remind my colleagues opposite that the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations examines the regulations after the fact. In my opinion, this will allow the government to avoid debating this bill, because the experts do not agree with its position.

In closing, I would like to emphasize that this bill only addresses a very minuscule part of the problem. Improving the efficiency of the process is the problem, not just dealing with vexatious complainants who only represent a handful of Canada's inmates.

The government has chosen to ignore the opinions of experts and the Mullan report, which they commissioned. They have decided to punish inmates—and we are only talking about a few inmates, as I mentioned—rather than introducing a bill that really tackles the problem by supporting the grievance procedure while enabling inmates to reform. This bill is not the answer, and it is obvious that we will not support it.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak about Bill C-293, which intends to create a category of vexatious complainants in the correctional system's complaints and grievance procedure. This bill amends section 91 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

I would like to quote section 91, which has to do with access to the grievance procedure: “Every offender shall have complete access to the offender grievance procedure without negative consequences.” This section ensures that all inmates in the correctional system have free and equal access to the grievance procedure in the event of problems or threats to their health or safety, for example.

The section is not there by accident. The complaints and grievance procedure in prisons was instituted by a parliamentary subcommittee in the 1970s. At that time, numerous revolts and violent incidents were tainting prisons and making the environment dangerous for everyone—inmates and employees alike. The complaints and grievance procedure was a way to let inmates use something other than violence to express their concerns and resolve their problems.

Today, we are being asked to amend this section that provides inmates with the opportunity to express themselves and to try to deal with a problem or frustrations by a means other than violence. The proposed amendments are as follows:

If the Commissioner is satisfied that an offender has persistently submitted complaints or grievances that are frivolous, vexatious or not made in good faith, the Commissioner may, in accordance with the prescribed procedures, prohibit an offender from submitting any further complaint or grievance except by leave of the Commissioner.

The general idea is to give the commissioner the discretion to prevent certain complainants from filing grievances. Naturally, not every complainant, but only those who the commissioner deems to be vexatious, in other words those whose complaints are frivolous and not made in good faith.

I would like to re-examine the idea of a frivolous complaint. The member for Scarborough Centre, who introduced this bill, gave an example of a complaint that she considered to be frivolous involving a radio. I will cite the example she mentioned in a previous speech.

...an inmate who had an issue regarding a radio that he owned which, after his transfer to a new institution, no longer worked...He then filed another complaint on the same issue while his first grievance was still being evaluated in conjunction with the institution that he had been transferred from.

For someone unfamiliar with prison life, filing a complaint about a radio may seem frivolous. However, my colleague has overlooked some considerations. First, it is very important to remember that, in a correctional facility, what may seem insignificant, frivolous or vexatious to us may, on the contrary, be very important to the inmates. Some things in life that are not important to us, can be important to inmates.

To overlook this difference in perspective is to oversimplify things in this discussion on grievances and complaints. This type of complaint can also very often conceal other frustrations or problems that the inmates are unable to articulate such as conflicts between inmates, long-standing stress, harassment or problems with depression. In this case, the radio was simply the last straw.

In reality, deeming this example futile or not legitimate is in fact a very simplistic solution. It ignores another latent and perhaps more serious problem or one that urgently needs to be resolved. In this case, an inmate with a more serious latent problem who makes repeated complaints would now have his problem deemed not legitimate and he would be prohibited from filing more complaints. The situation would be unresolved and would worsen, without any escape route for that inmate. This is obviously not the right solution.

In this case, this type of complaint is not necessarily about settling a dispute over a radio, but instead provides information on the more general situation in the institution and with the inmates, about the tensions inside the prison walls or with the staff. If we consider this perspective, it is important to keep the line of communication between institutional management and the inmates open and free.

Actually, according to the 2010-11 annual report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator: “The offenders complaints and grievance system is an important barometer for gauging the experience of the inmate population.”

We also must bear in mind that 48% of complaints have an extended response time. The time taken to deal with a complaint varies according to its code and coding complaints is a problem as well.

According to the document entitled “Audit of Offender Complaint and Grievance Process, Internal Audit” published by Correctional Service Canada in 2009, 67% of priority complaints were classified as such and only 13% of urgent cases were classified as urgent. What is more, only 64% of harassment complaints were correctly coded.

Making a second complaint, or repeated complaints, about the same subject may be an attempt to attract attention to a problem that is more urgent than it appears, or to a complaint that might have been improperly coded and not handled in a timely fashion. As a result, I stress again that the examples of repeated complaints, or complaints considered to be frivolous, that the hon. member for Scarborough Centre gave in order to justify this bill, do not seem very relevant to me, given all the limitations and different perspectives that it completely ignores.

The hon. member for Scarborough Centre acknowledges that the burden of complaints is very onerous for the prison system and that it is a problem that needs to be solved. I agree with that. But she feels that the bulk of the complaints and grievances comes from a small number of inmates who see writing frivolous complaints as a way to pass the time and that, by forbidding them to file complaints, the problem will be solved.

I am going to quote some examples from the Office of the Correctional Investigator's report for 2010-11:

Correctional Service Canada has reported a noticeable rise in the volume of offender complaints and grievances for the top five subject categories.

Indeed, many of the top grieved subjects correspond to topics and priorities that the Office has reported upon in recent years: general 'hardening' of the conditions of confinement; declining quality of dynamic security and staff-offender interactions; inconsistent quality of and accessibility to health care services; access to programming; restrictions on group privileges and individual rights.

So what I gather from this report is that, according to the Office of the Correctional Investigator, the increase in complaints is not a result of frivolous complaints. No, the increase in complaints is rather the result of the inability of recent governments to consider the true priorities in the prison system, priorities that the office has been mentioning in recent years.

The New Democrat members who were on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security when this bill was studied were in favour of creating mediator and grievance coordinator positions in the correctional institutions, a proposal that the Conservatives felt was irrelevant.

I would like to quote another section of the same report from the Office of the Correctional Investigator:

Institutions that retain a Grievance Coordinator for more than one year appear to process complaints and grievances more efficiently and at a higher rate.

Institutional Heads who place a high importance on the Offender Complaint and Grievance Process appear to reflect a higher percentage of resolved complaints/grievances and a lower percentage of overdue complaints.

I would like to mention that the report is available online. Therefore, I would like to advise the member for Scarborough Centre to read it. I would like to close by saying that I will not be supporting this bill because I think it will lead to more violence in the correctional systems and it in no way addresses the true problems underlying the fact that people file repeated complaints.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, as a newly elected member of Parliament, I was quite excited to be very close on the list and was able to have a private member's bill presented to the House and have it come this far. I thank all my colleagues on the Conservative side of the House for their support of the bill. I also thank the members of the Liberal Party for their support.

We have heard that across Canada the vast majority of Canadians support it. Even the offenders serving time in jail who want their legitimate cases to be heard support it. It is kind of funny that the only people who do not support the bill are the members of the NDP. It is very hard to understand. The only thing I can think of is that it is the NDP opposition ideological thinking that has somehow obliterated its common sense. It just does not make any sense.

As I have stressed throughout every speech in the House, the bill seeks to correct a costly loophole in our correctional system. It would hold offenders accountable for their actions. It would show respect for taxpayers. It would support our hard-working front line correctional officers. Most important, it would fix a small portion of the system that is broken in order to make it work as it was originally intended to.

On that note, I am going to give a final plea to the NDP opposition members. I urge them to give their heads a shake. Instead of supporting the poor convicted criminals who try to abuse the system again and again, I ask them to stand with the vast majority of Canadians and support the bill when it comes to vote.