[Member spoke in Cree]
The Government of Canada's number one priority is the safety of Canadians and our communities. It is important to ensure that federal correctional institutions provide a safe and secure environment for staff and inmates, which assists with the rehabilitation of offenders. We must reduce the risk of reoffending and we must keep our communities safe, whether it is in Winnipeg or elsewhere across the country.
The Government of Canada introduced legislation that proposes to strengthen the federal correctional system, changing its direction from one which was under the Conservatives' more of retribution to looking at latest evidence and best practices by implementing a new correctional interventions model and strengthening the health care governance, better supporting victims and addressing the specific situation of indigenous offenders.
Following a recent court decision on administrative segregation, Bill C-83 proposes to eliminate segregation and establish a structured intervention unit, SIU, that will allow offenders to be separated from the main stream inmate populations as required, while maintaining their access to rehabilitative programming, interventions and mental health care. We need to ensure they actually have rehabilitative programming and can receive appropriate interventions and health and mental health care. These are extremely important.
These proposed reforms support the government's continued commitment to implement recommendations from the coroners inquest into the death of Ashley Smith, regarding the use of segregation in the treatment of offenders with mental illness. It also builds on past efforts to address gaps in services to indigenous peoples throughout the criminal justice system.
I would like to quote my good friend, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, the member from Saskatchewan. He said:
We are committed to a correctional system that keeps Canadians safe and holds guilty parties accountable for breaking the law, while fostering practical rehabilitation so we can have fewer repeat offenders, fewer victims, and ultimately safer communities. This approach to federal corrections will protect the safety of our staff and those in their custody by separating offenders when required, and ensuring they get more effective interventions, rehabilitative programming and serious attention to mental issues.
The bill is extremely important because it introduces a number of new elements into our corrections system.
I had the opportunity of hearing the Commissioner of Corrections Canada, Anne Kelly, who testified last week. This will be an important means forward. She is very committed to having a corrections system that responds to the department's mandate, not just simply having a justice system that responds to mob justice, a corrections system that improves safety not only within society, but also within the corrections institutions for staff and inmates, and also ensures that we rehabilitate people so they can integrate and not reoffend when they leave the corrections system.
Some of the things being put into place are the structured intervention units. These would be established to provide the necessary resources and expertise to address the safety and security risks of inmates who cannot be managed safely within the mainstream inmate population. It does occur that there are certain people who will never be safe within our prisons. No matter what we do in this place, unfortunately some people commit crimes that are so heinous, those against children, those done by pedophiles, that it is very difficult to integrate them into the mainstream population. For their own safety and for the safety within the entire system, sometimes a different approach must be taken.
A structured intervention unit would have structured interventions and programming tailored to the specific situation of that inmate. Inmates would have an opportunity for a minimum of four hours a day outside their cells. They would have an opportunity for two hours a day of meaningful human contacts. They would receive continued programs to help them progress toward their correctional plan objectives.
Also being put in place are factors unique to indigenous offenders. The needs and interests of indigenous peoples would be better supported by the legal requirement for Correctional Service of Canada to ensure that systematic and background factors unique to indigenous offenders are considered in all correctional decision-making. For an awful long time indigenous peoples have not received the same amount of supports.
For instance, in Manitoba, in 2016 our government put forward $26 million for legal aid to help all peoples. Generally, a lot of indigenous peoples are very poor and need recourse to legal aid. Unfortunately, the provincial Conservative government decided to cut back the exact amount that was given to this. Instead of helping the people who were most vulnerable in the system, they were not helped. They were thrown to the side again.
This is often why we have systematic structural violence in the system, which ensures that indigenous peoples continue to be overly represented because they cannot obtain good legal advice. This is a good way of ensuring that even indigenous offenders within the prison system will obtain the services they require.
For instance, I have met many indigenous peoples who have been in the corrections system, but they did not know how to apply for early release or parole on time because they did not have access to those services. This is part of that.
Supporting victims is another aspect of the bill, which is very important. It would better support victims in the criminal justice system by allowing those who attend Parole Board of Canada hearings to access audio recordings of the hearings.
We are also going to be strengthening the health care governance. The proposed reforms will affirm Correctional Service Canada's obligation to support health care professionals in maintaining their professional autonomy and clinical independence. They do not need the Minister of Public Safety telling them how to do their jobs or what they should be doing. It has been said in the House in the past number of weeks that the opposition would like the Minister of Public Safety to intervene directly in cases. However, we must ensure that health care processionals have the opportunity of doing the assessments independent of the political obligations or politics that happen in this place.
The Correctional Service of Canada would also have the obligation to provide patient advocacy services to inmates to help them better understand their health care rights and responsibilities, as recommended by the coroner's inquest on the death of Ashley Smith. Included in that is further improving mental health supports for inmates to ensure offenders with mental health needs receive proper care.
Budget 2017 invested $57.8 million over five years, starting in 2017-18, and $13.6 million per year thereafter to expand mental health care capacity for all inmates in federal correctional facilities. Budget 2018 builds on these investments, proposing $20.4 million over five years, beginning in 2018-19, and $5.6 million per year going forward for Correctional Service of Canada to further support the mental health needs of federal inmates, particularly women.
We all know, and I am sure all believe, that those who end up in corrections facilities obviously are not within the norm of our society. They have committed crimes for whatever reason and some do require mental health supports.
Winnipeg, right now, is facing a deep and profound meth crisis, which has been ignored by the provincial government. Thankfully, the mayor is a bit more progressive and is attempting to tackle this problem head on. However, the provincial government for a long time has refused to even meet with city counterparts or even with the federal government on this issue. This has caused issues. People should not walk around any Canadian city fearing they might be attacked. Often, many of these issues are related to mental health and people self-medicating themselves with drugs, alcohol, gasoline and other types of drugs, which numb them to the pain of the life in which they exist in great poverty.
Our corrections system really needs to hold guilty parties to account for breaking the law. However, we also need to create an environment that fosters rehabilitation so there are fewer repeat offenders, fewer victims and, ultimately, safer communities. That is why it is important for this bill to pass. We need to strengthen the federal correctional system and align it with the evidence and best practices so inmates are rehabilitated and better prepared to eventually re-enter our communities safely.
One day, almost all prisoners will leave the prison system and live among Canadians. We need to ensure that they do not reoffend, that we are all safe and that they have received the appropriate care so when they are released, they do not reoffend and do not hurt others.
Therefore, the bill would eliminate segregation following recent court decisions and introduce more effective structured intervention units; increase better support for victims during parole hearings; increase staff and inmate safety with new body scanner technology; and update our approach to critical matters, like mental health supports and indigenous offenders' needs.
Correctional Service of Canada needs the authority to separate offenders from the general population for the sake of institutional safety. By replacing administrative segregation with structured intervention units, the proposed legislation ensures that offenders who are separated from the general population will retain access to rehabilitative programming, mental health care and other interventions. Ultimately, effective rehabilitation and safe integration is the best way to protect Canadian communities.
The practice of administrative segregation and its history is an interesting one and has been criticized for many years. The case of Ashley Smith, who died in 2007, a case that has been mentioned in most of the speeches today, comes to mind. It highlighted issues related to segregation and mental health care in a Canadian correctional system.
In 2013, a coroner's inquest into the death of Ashley Smith resulted in recommendations, including instituting a cap on the amount of time an inmate could spend in segregation.
In 2016, the government introduced Bill C-56, which would have created a presumptive cap of 15 days in administrative segregation and a system of independent external oversight, which I believe is very important. Since that bill was introduced, legal challenges in Ontario and British Columbia found administrative segregation to be contrary to the charter. We cannot keep inmates locked up by themselves, with only two hours of contact with other people, for the rest of their lives. Both these rulings have been appealed, one by the government and one by the other party. However, as things stand, they take effect in December 2018 and January 2019. This means that Corrections Service of Canada may no longer be allowed to use the current system of administrative segregation.
There are also pending class action lawsuits related to administrative segregation and the failure to provide adequate mental health care, as well as complaints before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
In May 7, Ontario passed Bill 6, the Correctional Services Transformation Act, which implemented a hard cap on days spent in segregation and prohibited certain classes of inmates, like pregnant women or those with mental illnesses, from being segregated at all.
The number of inmates in segregation on any given day was over 700 in 2011. It is now 340.
While the correctional investigator has acknowledged that the reduction in the use of administrative segregation is an improvement, he has also raised concerns that this decline may be related to increased violence among inmates. However, SIUs are designed to ensure that inmates can be kept in a secure environment, while not being segregated from vital programming and meaningful human contact.
Bill C-83 would eliminate administrative segregation. Instead, people who have to be separated from the mainstream inmate population, generally for safety reasons, will be assigned to a secure intervention unit. In an SIU, people will get a minimum of four hours daily out of the cell, including at least two hours of meaningful human contact with staff, volunteers, visitors and other compatible inmates. There will also be a daily visit by a medical professional. By contrast, people currently in administrative segregation are only entitled to two hours daily out of the cell, with minimal human contact and access to programming.
Within five working days of movement to an SIU, the warden will review the case and decide if the inmate should remain there. Subsequent reviews will be conducted by the warden after another 30 days and by the Commissioner of Corrections Service Canada every 30 days thereafter for as long as the inmate is in the SIU. Therefore, it will be the top corrections officer in Canada, our commissioner, who will be reviewing all of these cases. Reviews can also be triggered on the recommendation of a medical professional, who, as I have mentioned, will be independent and have full independence to conduct what he or she terms is in the best interest of the patient, or if an inmate refuses to leave his or her cell for a given number of days.
Currently victims are only entitled to audio recordings of parole hearings if they did not attend. However, there have been concerns that, due to the emotional nature of the hearings, it can be hard for victims to retain all the details of the proceedings. Even victims who are present could benefit from access to a recording that they could review afterward, on their own time and in a more comfortable setting.
Therefore, Bill C-83 would give victims access to audio recordings whether they attend or not. It is very important to have to a good record of what actually occurred.
This legislation will add a guiding principle to the law to affirm the need for a CSC to consider systematic and background factors unique to indigenous offenders in all decision-making. This requirement flows from the Supreme Court's Gladue decision in 1999, and has been implemented through CSC's policy directive since 2003. Unfortunately, it has been difficult to follow, as the corrections services have often not followed it. Now it is actually being enshrined in law.
This bill would also implement key recommendations of the Ashley Smith inquest by creating the legal framework to have patient advocates in CSC institutions. Patient advocates will work with offenders and correctional staff to ensure that the offenders receive appropriate medical care. Bill C-83 also enshrines in law the decision-making autonomy of medical professionals operating within the CSC.
The next one is extremely important to ensuring safety within correctional facilities in Canada. Here I refer to body scanners, which will help keep drugs and other contraband out of prisons. The bill authorizes the use of body scanners, comparable to the technology used at airports, to search people entering correctional institutions. These devices are less invasive than strip searches or body cavity searches, and they do not raise the concerns of false positives reported by some people who have been examined using ion scanners.
Body scanners are already in use in many provincial correctional facilities, and now the federal system is catching up. This is going to improve safety. A number of groups are in favour of this, including the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, which. While cautiously acknowledging Bill C-83's measures on administrative segregation, it welcomes the introduction of body scanners to prevent contraband. Jack Godin states:
Our union has advocated strongly for the implementation of body scanners. We are satisfied with the results. But we still need more resources to manage high-risk, violent and self-harming offenders, such as what was tabled by the Union in 2005 to manage high-risk women offenders which has fallen on deaf ears.
They have some criticisms, but nonetheless are favourable overall towards the idea of body scanners.
To implement these secure intervention units, new investments will be required, mainly to hire new staff. The government has committed to making the necessary investments, with the exact dollar amounts to be announced very soon.
The government has also signalled its intention to invest heavily in mental health care within the corrections system. This will include mental health care in SIUs, as well as early diagnosis and treatment for inmates from the moment of intake, and upgrades in the CSC's regional treatment centres, which provide intensive mental health care for more serious cases. This funding will be on top of some $80 million for mental health care for the CSC in the last two budgets.
I only have about two minutes left, as my time is slowly winding down. I would like to read a few clauses from the bill so that people who are watching on CPAC, or anywhere else, can hear what is in the bill.
On structured intervention units, the bill states:
32 The purpose of a structured intervention unit is to
(a) provide an appropriate living environment for an inmate who cannot be maintained in the mainstream inmate population for security or other reasons; and
(b) provide the inmate with an opportunity for meaningful human contact and an opportunity to participate in programs and to have access to services that respond to the inmate's specific needs and the risks posed by the inmate.
In section 33, it states:
An inmate's confinement in a structured intervention unit is to end as soon as possible.
As I have already mentioned, there are other elements are included in that. For instance, we talk about “four hours outside of the cell each day”, but there is also time not included. Section 36 states:
Time not included
(3) If an inmate takes a shower outside their cell, the time spent doing so does not count as time spent outside the inmate's cell under paragraph (1)(a).
Also section 37.2 states:
A registered health care professional employed or engaged by the Service may, for health reasons, recommend to the institutional head that the conditions of confinement of the inmate in a structured intervention unit be altered or that the inmate not remain in the unit.
That means it is up to the health care professional to decide when things have gotten out of hand.
In my last minutes, I would like to quickly address the whole idea of indigenous offenders. It is incredible because, first, the bill defines indigenous people in its very first clause:
Indigenous, in respect of a person, includes a First Nation person, an Inuit or a Métis person; (autochtone)
It also includes putting in place a lot more advisory committees, committees to consult, and the idea of spiritual leaders and elders:
Spiritual leaders and elders
83(1) For greater certainty, Indigenous spirituality and Indigenous spiritual leaders and elders have the same status as other religions and other religious leaders.
Let us give thanks to Gitchi Manitou. Let us give thanks to the Great Creator. I think this is the first time I have ever heard this mentioned, and I proud to see that this measure has taken hold within this bill.
With that, I believe my time has come to an end at 20 minutes. I appreciate the opportunity to speak here and look forward to some of the very interesting questions and comments.