Mr. Speaker, the bill before us today gives new tools to the Parole Board of Canada to help ensure that prisoners remain drug-free, both inside the prison and while they are on parole.
I will speak to the details of this important common-sense bill in just a moment, but first allow me to give some background on what has brought us to this point.
The issue of drug use in our federal prisons is a serious concern to this government. Many Canadians may be surprised to learn that drug use is rampant in our prisons. Despite the best efforts of our front-line officers, the criminal element is still able to bring drugs into the penitentiaries.
The scope of the problem becomes clear when we look at the actual numbers. In the fiscal year 2010-11, close to 1,500 drug seizures took place in federal prisons. These are worrisome numbers. Our prisons are less safe and secure when there are drugs involved.
Our government has provided vital funding towards tackling drugs in prisons. In 2008, we committed $122 million over five years towards developing and implementing a more rigorous approach to drug interdiction in our federal prisons. This funding has gone towards an expanded detector dog program, increased security intelligence capacity in institutions and communities, and enhanced partnerships with law enforcement organizations.
However, we did not stop there. We knew that Canadians remained concerned about this issue and that we had to move ahead with further concrete actions. To this end, our government made three commitments to Canadians in our 2011 Conservative platform, with a goal of creating drug-free prisons. These commitments would subject all prisoners to random drug testing, give stricter penalties to those found with contraband in prison, and deny prisoners parole if they fail a drug test.
As I mentioned, our first commitment in our 2011 Conservative platform was to put in place measures that ensure all prisoners undergo drug testing. To reach that goal, Correctional Service of Canada has recently increased its monthly random urinalysis testing from 5% of the prison population to 10%. With this increase, we now have a system in place that helps ensure each inmate is tested at least once per year, thereby fulfilling our commitment to capture samples from 100% of the prison population.
We have also made changes related to our second commitment, that the Correctional Service of Canada would refer serious cases to law enforcement for appropriate action. The Safe Streets and Communities Act, which Canadians know members opposite voted against, put in place mandatory minimum penalties for trafficking or possession of drugs in a prison or on prison property.
These measures move us closer to fulfilling our Conservative platform commitment to creating drug-free prisons. That brings me back to the drug-free prisons act, which would help us meet the third commitment in our 2011 Conservative platform by giving the Parole Board additional legislative tools to act as the strong authority and decision-making body that it should be.
Bill C-12 is straightforward. It proposes two amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
First of all, the drug-free prisons act would provide the Parole Board of Canada with the specific authority to cancel parole after it had been granted and before the prisoner leaves the penitentiary, if that prisoner fails or refuses to take a drug test. This is an important change. Under this legislation, the Correctional Service of Canada would be required to provide that information to the Parole Board.
The second proposed change under the drug-free prisons act also supports the work of the Parole Board, allowing it to require parolees to stay off drugs. If the prisoner violates that condition, the Parole Board of Canada can revoke parole.
These proposed changes would allow our government to continue our significant work toward ending this illicit activity.
While we are busy and focused on the safety of our communities and reducing drug crime, the NDP brings forward dangerous suggestions, like providing needles to inmates. Not only is this giving hard-core drugs like heroin to prisoners—a really bad idea—it is a significant risk to the safety of our hard-working front-line correctional officers, not to mention the prisoners themselves.
We also see shameful acts by the leader of the Liberal Party, who goes to speak at grade schools to promote the legalization of illegal substances like marijuana to our children. This is shameful. Canadian families deserve much better.
There is no doubt that drug and alcohol abuse in our federal prisons presents a serious barrier to correcting criminal behaviour, which is why our Conservative government is fully committed to keeping illicit drugs out of the hands of prisoners.
I know there is some debate in some circles over whether we can successfully rid our prisons of drugs, alcohol and other contraband. I also know that we cannot and will not back away from this challenge. We will not turn a blind eye to this problem.
Our government will remain focused on initiatives that will help us tackle drugs and alcohol in our prisons. We will not back down from prioritizing the safety of our correctional officers. With the changes proposed in the drug-fee prisons act, the parole board would have more specific authority to make decisions that have a significant impact on the safety of our communities.
I urge all members of the House, especially members opposite, who far too often are the champions of policies that are soft on crime, to support the rapid passage of this critical piece of legislation.