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.