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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word is csis.

NDP MP for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca (B.C.)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 40.90% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Drug-Free Prisons Act February 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, this last exchange really illustrates to me the problem with these wild titles that are assigned for essentially propagandistic purposes and lead us to debate a topic that is really irrelevant to what is before us in the House today instead of talking about what is actually in the bill.

I was pleased to hear the member point out that while the government likes to cite large numbers like $9 million and get us to agree that it is a big number, in fact it does not tell us anything about what has happened with drug programming. The Correctional Investigator pointed out that because of the change in programming, it is very difficult to see whether there has been an increase or a decrease, but his conclusion was that there has been a decrease both in the amount being spent and in the availability of drug treatment programs.

I would like to know if that is also the conclusion of the member for Malpeque.

Drug-Free Prisons Act February 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's question reminds me of two things I need to say. One is that nothing in our remarks about family visits and the addiction problem was meant to imply that families are the main source of drugs in prison. They are not. The second is the question of mandatory minimum sentences, which the government has pursued with a vengeance.

We on this side support mandatory minimums only for the most severe crimes. They are appropriate for those, but the result has been that many more people whose basic problem was addiction end up with a long prison sentence, and as the member said, they become perhaps better criminals as a result of that rather than having their addiction treated while they are in custody.

Drug-Free Prisons Act February 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I enjoy sitting parallel with the hon. member as the Liberal critic at the public safety committee. I think he is as committed as I am to looking at the actual evidence when it comes to the problem of drug addition within prisons.

As I said in my remarks and will say again, the first thing that has to happen is that there has to be a recognition of addiction as a health problem and not a moral failing. Once we recognize addiction as a health problem, we have to provide people with the opportunities to get treatment for that addiction problem. What we have now is an increasing prison population, a shrinking budget, and extremely narrow opportunities being presented to people to actually deal with their addictions while they are in prison. Unfortunately, too many return to the community without adequate supports and end up in their old lifestyles, where addiction drove their criminal behaviour.

How do we do it? It is a health problem. We provide adequate treatment and support when people return to the community so that they can once again become productive members of society.

Drug-Free Prisons Act February 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, with respect, I disagree with the hon. member on double-bunking. If she looked at any of the independent evidence, not the government's own evaluations of itself on double-bunking but those from experts in corrections, it will show that double-bunking has a negative impact on levels of violence and conflict in prisons. That is 100% without dispute, except for the government's own reports on itself. It is the same thing if one talks to corrections officers. If one actually talks to the people who work in the institutions, they will talk very clearly about the impact of double-bunking.

When the member talks about families not wanting to come in because of the interdiction methods and being placed under severe pressure by those outside, she should talk to the families of inmates. They will tell her how they feel. It is not about how she feels about flying. It is about how they feel about the obstacles that are being set up and the pressure they are under that sometimes interferes with their family visits.

I will tell members another story. I met with an aboriginal elder who travelled several hundred miles to appear at a federal prison and was turned away because of a lockdown over a prison search because of the interdiction measures that were going on. He was unable to provide the counselling he wished to provide because of the interdiction lockdown. He was not compensated in any way for the hundreds of miles he travelled or for his time. He was unable to make his positive contribution within the institution specifically because of the increased interdiction measures.

The member talked about the great success and how many people they find and how many things they seize. What I was talking about, which she calls untrue, is the fact that the rate of positive tests and refusals has not changed since the beginning of the interdiction program.

Drug-Free Prisons Act February 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I believe the rules of the House are clear with respect to not casting aspersions on whether other members are being truthful in their presentations to the House, and I would ask the parliamentary secretary to withdraw those remarks.

Drug-Free Prisons Act February 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I want to start by saying that we are supporting this bill at third reading because of its narrowness.

That is not something people would recognize from looking at the title. They would think this bill had sweeping and miraculous provisions allowing Correctional Service Canada to attain drug-free prisons, something that no corrections system anywhere in the world has ever been able to achieve.

Instead, all it includes is a very narrow amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that makes it clear in law that the Parole Board may use the positive results from drug tests or refusals to take drug tests in making its decision on parole eligibility, something that is already the practice of the Parole Board. It also makes clear that the Parole Board can impose conditions about drug and alcohol use as a condition of parole, which of course the Parole Board already does.

The discretion, when there is a failed drug test, or a failure when someone on parole gets involved with drugs, remains where it should be, with the Parole Board. For that reason, we support the provisions.

However, what we have trouble with is the misleading title of this bill. I really think the government has engaged in a kind of propaganda exercise here where it wants to go to the public and say that it passed a drug-free prison bill, as if that had some impact on the real world.

What we really need here is something more than the narrow scope of this bill, something that would actually attack the real problem, which is the addiction problem in society in general, particularly among those who end up in the corrections system.

The independent Parole Board is still best placed to judge the individual cases and the consequences of failures of drug tests or failures to meet conditions of parole. Again, we do support this bill because it does not interfere with that.

Let us talk about the Conservatives' real approach here. When they talk about drug-free prisons, we all know that like all zero tolerance policies, these are not policies at all but simply aspirations. A policy has actions that are taken to achieve an objective. The objective here might be drug-free prisons, but what is missing is a policy specifying how we would actually get there.

As I said, no correctional system in the world has ever achieved a drug-free prison system. I heard an hon. parliamentary secretary on the Conservative side posing this as some kind of dichotomy, where we choose either to have drug-free prisons or to do nothing about drugs in prison. I submit, of course, that that is a completely false dichotomy. No one is suggesting that we do nothing to attack the problems of drugs in prisons.

If we look to those who have some expertise in the area, the Correctional Investigator, the John Howard Society, and the Union of Correctional Officers, they all have said that aiming for drug-free prisons is not a realistic goal. In fact, let us have a look at some of the very specific things they have said. I will just quote from the annual report of the Correctional Investigator:

A “zerotolerance” stance to drugs in prison, while perhaps serving as an effective deterrent posted at the entry point of a penitentiary, simply does not accord with the facts of crime and addiction in Canada or elsewhere in the world. Harm reduction measures within a public health and treatment orientation offer a far more promising, cost-effective and sustainable approach to reducing subsequent crime and victimization.

Again, that is from the Correctional Investigator's 2011-12 report.

The ministers' remark toward the end of his speech that drug offenders have to choose to end their addiction really sets this in a moralistic kind of vein, rather than a health vein. We all know that addiction is a health problem; it is not a choice problem. People may make bad choices in life that lead to addiction, but once they are an addict, it is a health problem. It is not a moral failing. I think the government quite often reverts to talking about addiction as if were somehow a matter of simple choice for those who have become addicts.

The real problem that we have, of course, is that almost 80% of those who end up in the Canadian prison system come in with a substance abuse problem, either with drugs or alcohol. What is more interesting, again, as the Correctional Investigator has pointed out in numerous reports, is the fact that most of those who have committed crimes—close to two-thirds of offenders, according to his 2011-12 report—were under the influence of an intoxicant when they committed the offence leading to their incarceration. Four out of five offenders, as I mentioned, arrive at that federal institution with that same substance abuse problem.

Therefore, if we are tackling the problem as a drug problem in prison, our focus is far too narrow, because it skips over the reason that most of those people ended up prison and that their offences were committed while they were under the influence of their addiction.

Unfortunately, the Conservatives' tough on crime approach has actually made this problem worse. By instituting a lot of mandatory minimum sentences, they have ensured that people whose basic problem is addiction and not violence or criminal intent would end up caught in the net that makes sure they are incarcerated. However, if discretion had been left to a judge, in an individual case, the judge might have been able to see that the addiction was the problem and get the individual into diversion programs, such as treatment, which are far more effective than incarceration and cost far less than putting people in prison.

When we are spending more than $100,000 a year to keep a person in prison, and addiction treatment, yes, can sometimes be very expensive, costing up to $10,000, we are still talking about something that is 90% cheaper than putting people in jail. Again, this failure to think clearly about what the real problem is here in terms of addiction, and instead responding with punishment to those who have addictions, means that we end up dealing with that problem in our prisons instead of in the community where people can get better treatment programs and better support from their family and communities and where ultimately they would then end up posing much less of a threat to the community as a whole.

As part of the current government's punishment approach and its zero tolerance approach, the government spent over $122 million on improving drug interdiction in prisons. I think this was over a period of three years, but the amount is significant.

The minister liked to talk about numbers. He mentioned the number of people who failed the test, indicating that 85% of the prisoners were drug free. However, what he forgot to mention was that, before the interdiction program, he had the same numbers. Therefore, before we spent $122 million in our prisons trying to have better interdiction of drugs coming in, 85% of the prisoners were drug free, and at the end of that $122 million expenditure, 85% of the prisoners were drug free. That is a lot of money being spent for what I would call ideological reasons with very little to show for it in the end.

As well, the minister likes to focus on the fear factor by always talking about injection drugs and by making up policies for the opposition as he goes along. However, in doing so, when he talks about injection drugs, what he fails to mention is that by far the vast majority of those failures of drug tests were for marijuana and not for injection drugs. The minister exaggerates the problem of injection drugs within our prisons to create a climate of fear. Now, I will not minimize at all the threat to the correctional staff of needles in prison, and I think we share on all sides of this House the desire for a safe work environment for correctional officers.

However, this interdiction program had some unintended consequences. When one goes to interdiction, as a result of that, much tougher and stringent policies apply to family visits. We heard from witnesses in the public safety committee that families oftentimes have been intimidated into bringing drugs into prison and therefore chose not to make any prison visits to their family member rather than face the intimidation and the much higher search levels from the interdiction process. In fact, as an unintended consequence, this higher level of interdiction has actually interfered with family visits, which are extremely important in having people successfully kick addictions and successfully reintegrate into their communities.

The other thing that has happened is that it has resulted in far more lockdowns within the prisons as searches are done for drugs and drug paraphernalia within the prison. Now, how could that be a bad thing? Well, lockdowns in a prison take a significant amount of time, and when they take place, rehabilitation programming is suspended for that day. Therefore, this higher level of interdiction, this higher level of searches through the prisons, actually interferes with the very rehabilitation programming that is central to reduce the demand for drugs in prisons.

Again, looking at the real record of the Conservative government when it comes to corrections, what we see is a record of budget cuts. In 2012, the government announced that it intended to cut $295 million from the corrections budget by 2015, and it has done that. More than 10% of the whole budget of corrections has been cut at a time when the prison population has grown by more than 1,000; from 14,000 to 15,000.

Again, the minister likes to talk about the fact that the prison population did not grow to the extent people projected. That is true. Those projections were wrong. They were not my projections, but they were wrong. In fact, the prison population continued to grow at a time when the budget was shrinking.

As a result of some new construction that had been started earlier, we have had a net addition of 1,600 beds to the prison system, barely enough to keep up with the growth in prison population after the closures of some facilities. When we barely keep pace with growth, it means that we have continued with this very negative situation of extensive double bunking in the prison system. I will come back to that in just a second.

What we have is an increased number of people in the corrections system and less money for programming. I have the exact figures here, but I know that less than 3% of the total budget for Correctional Service Canada is actually spent on programming. Therefore, 97% is spent on warehousing—housing, food, and security of prisons—and less than 3% is spent on programming. What the cuts have meant, along with the increased prison population, is that there is less money per capita for each of those in our system, for things like addiction treatment and training.

This has forced Correctional Service Canada to adopt some new strategies. It has abandoned the very long-standing and proven addiction treatment programs that were offered in Correctional Service Canada. These are programs that were considered models around the world. Members of the public safety committee in the previous Parliament told me many times that when they travelled internationally, particularly to Norway and Britain, people complimented Canada on the model and had adopted the model being used for addiction treatment in Canadian prisons. What the constraint on budgets has done is cause Correctional Service Canada to eliminate that programming and go to a program that offers general treatment for a number of problems in a single program. It has added addictions to things like anger management and life planning, all wrapped together in one course.

I have to say that I sincerely hope this new combined course is as successful as the old addiction treatment program. We have no evidence yet and I have no reason to draw the conclusion it will not be, but I fear it will not be as successful. The reason it was brought about was the government's excessive focus on cutting expenditures in a corrections system that has been growing.

I will now come back to the issue of double bunking that I mentioned a minute ago. We all know that one of the impacts of double bunking is that it increases what we call the temperature in correctional institutions. There have been many examples from across the country. It means there is more conflict within institutions, there is more violence within institutions, and they are less safe for corrections officers.

Double bunking also means space has been lost for programming. Classrooms have been converted for other uses because of the extreme overcrowding in many prisons. Because of the increased temperature, there have been more lockdowns and, just as with the increased drug interdiction activity going on, more lockdowns that are a result of double bunking disrupt programming, including addiction treatment programming.

What should we be doing instead? The bill is called the drug-free prisons bill. The first thing that was said in committee was that it should not really be called that. It should be called the failure of drug tests and Parole Board bill. That is what it is really about. Instead, it is still called the drug-free prisons bill. In a previous Parliament in 2010, the public safety committee, which I serve on in this Parliament, produced a report, which I have with me today. That report is called “Mental Health and Drug and Alcohol Addiction in the Federal Correctional System: Report of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security”. This was tabled in December of 2010.

In this report, there are 71 recommendations on how to attack the problem of drugs in prison. What did the government do? It decided on an interdiction program instead of the 71 recommendations from the committee. Very few of these have been implemented. Why is that? I submit it is because the recommendations actually treat addiction as a health problem instead of a moral crisis or a moral failure of those who are addicts. Instead of promising more punishment for addicts, these 71 recommendations made practical suggestions on how the demand for drugs in prison could be reduced.

Human ingenuity being what it is, we probably can never eliminate drugs from prisons, no matter how much interdiction we do. However, if we applied the health model in which addictions are treated, we would reduce the demand for drugs in prisons. Of course, successful treatment means more successful rehabilitation and more success when people return to the community.

I want to focus on one of these 71 recommendations, and that is recommendation 11. It says:

That Correctional Services Canada (CSC) review its current mental health and addictions programming to ensure that it meets the cultural and religious needs of Aboriginal offenders, who make up a disproportionate percentage of the Canadian inmate population, and a disproportionate percentage of inmates facing mental health and addiction issues; that CSC implement, together with local Aboriginal communities, more mental health and addiction programs addressing the specific needs of Aboriginal offenders. In addition to contributing to the development of these programs, local Aboriginal communities should also contribute to the delivery of these programs [within prisons] to ensure maximum success.

That is the end of that very long recommendation. Nothing has happened to it. We do not have more programs dealing with addiction from an aboriginal cultural perspective. We do not have more aboriginal communities involved in the prison system, offering culturally appropriate programming to meet the addiction problems. Instead what we have is more mandatory minimum sentences that result in more people with addictions, from aboriginal communities, ending up with longer prison sentences. The government has taken exactly the wrong approach. Even its own members on the public safety committee in the previous Parliament recommended a different approach to this addiction problem than the one adopted by the current government.

I just want to go back and summarize where we are with the Conservatives on the corrections system. What we have, again, is a relentless emphasis on punishment as the solution to our crime and addiction problems in this country, when we all know that is not the approach that works.

The NDP has long called for better addiction treatment programs, more money for programming, and in particular, again with the increase in the prison population, more worthwhile things for people to do in prison. The head of Correctional Service told us today in committee that CSC does not actually keep statistics on wait lists, that everybody is accommodated for programming. However, when we talked to people from the John Howard Society and the Elizabeth Fry Society and to correctional officers, they all told us that is simply not true. They said that many people have significant delays in accessing the program they need, whether it is addiction programming, anger management, or life skills; and that many of those people get to the end of their sentences without completing the correction plan, through no fault of their own but through a lack of resources and opportunity within the corrections system.

Do I say this because I think we are failing the inmates? Yes, I do. However, I also think we are failing Canadians in general, because all of these people will come out of the corrections system where they have failed to complete the corrections plan through no fault or personal decision of their own, and they then will have a much lower possibility of successfully reintegrating into society, getting a job, supporting their families, and being a success in the same manner that all Canadians would like to be. It is a fundamentally flawed approach again from the government.

In this bill we have a propagandistic title, drug-free prisons, and the Conservatives will announce to Canadians after this bill passes that we now have drug-free prisons because they passed a law.

In fact, going back to the reason we are supporting the bill, what we would have done is preserve the discretion of the Parole Board in dealing with those who fail drug tests in prison just before they are paroled or who fail conditions of parole. We are putting this into law. There is nothing wrong with that at all. That is why we are voting for this bill.

We did make an attempt to get the title changed to something more appropriate, but as anyone who listened to the minister's speech can see, there was no interest in actually talking about what happens in the bill; there is an interest in saying that the Conservatives have done something to create drug-free prisons and have done that through tough laws, through interdiction, and through all the things that we know, if we actually look at the evidence, have not worked in our prison system and will not work in our prison system.

What we need is an approach that recognizes addiction as a health problem and provides the addiction treatment that is needed within our prisons. That is the way we will get closer to drug-free prisons.

Drug-Free Prisons Act February 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for his remarks. It is true that the NDP has supported the bill.

I want to ask the minister if he will admit that the only thing the bill would really do is put into law the practices of the Parole Board of removing parole from those who fail drug tests and of applying conditions about drug use to parole. In other words, there would be no real change here. In fact, the discretion would remain with the Parole Board.

In addition to the fact that there would be no real change, although it is positive to make things explicit, what else is there in this bill about drug-free prisons? It is actually a false title on the bill. It is really a bill about entrenching Parole Board practices for dealing with failed drug tests and setting parole conditions. It really has nothing to do with drug-free prisons.

Public Safety February 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the word “lawful” is a new insertion there, which seems to say that most dissent is something other than lawful.

Today the government failed to give us a single example of the new activities CSIS would be allowed to engage in to disrupt under Bill C-51. The minister still cannot clearly explain the provisions of the bill that experts think will impact legitimate dissent and free speech.

How can Canadians trust the current government if members will not answer basic questions about what is in the bill with anything except talking points?

Public Safety February 17th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, Canadians are right to be concerned that the Conservatives are going too far with this bill. Yesterday the minister failed to explain how the bill would impact legitimate dissent, and so today let us talk about another section.

Bill C-51 proposes a new criminal offence: to advocate or promote terrorism in general.

Canada already has strong laws that make it an offence to incite a terrorist act. Can the minister provide a single example showing that such a new offence is necessary?

Public Safety February 16th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, experts have raised serious concerns about the impacts that Bill C-51 could have on legitimate dissent and peaceful protests. The bill creates a new definition for activity that undermines the sovereignty, security, or territorial integrity of Canada. This includes terrorism, but it also includes interference with critical infrastructure and interference with government in relation to the “economic or financial stability of the country”.

Would the minister please explain what activities are targeted by this provision?