Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-83, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another act. Let me state from the outset that I am opposed to this bill, not for what the bill purports to accomplish but for what I am afraid the bill would unintentionally accomplish.
This legislation proposes to eliminate administrative segregation in corrections facilities by replacing these facilities with new structured intervention units and to also allow the commissioner to reassign the security classification of each penitentiary or any area in a penitentiary.
It is a tenet of our free and democratic society that the worst punishment one can consign to people is to deprive them of their liberty. Indeed, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms is clear on that matter. Section 7 states,
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
It is that clause that allows a democratic society that holds the fundamental principles of life, liberty and security of the person in such high esteem to deprive another of them. If someone commits a crime in Canada, particularly a heinous crime, that person will be locked away to protect society from that person's acts.
There are Canadians, particularly those who have endured unimaginable pain at the hands of criminals, who believe that they should have no rights in jail. On a deeply personal basis, I understand that cry for vengeance, the need to make another suffer for the way that person made a loved one suffer. As a parliamentarian, I must, like my colleagues in this House, temper my personal feelings with the duty Canadians have sought fit to invest in me to ensure that all people are treated equitably under the laws of this great nation.
As such, inmates in Canada are afforded a number of protections through human rights legislation, various statutes and the supreme law in Canada, our Constitution. They too are protected from the most dangerous criminals inside our institutions.
Segregation, or isolation, whatever we want to call it, affords protection for inmates, and let us not forget, the correctional staff who work in these facilities. The law requires that a balance must be struck between the protection of inmates and staff and the protection of inmates in segregation.
Inmates who are determined to be at risk to themselves or others would now be placed in new structured intervention units, or SIUs. Inmates would be given at least four hours a day outside their cells and guaranteed at least two hours to interact with others.
The introduction of SIUs would pose a risk to prison guards and inmates and to the inmates for whom solitary confinement is used for their own safety. Bill C-83 would strip the ability to use segregation for discipline. This change would make prisons more dangerous for the guards, as they would have to deal with the most violent of inmates, those who continue to prey on others inside the institution.
The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers has said that it has not been properly consulted on Bill C-83. On October 21, the Vancouver Sun reported that the head of the national prison guards' union predicted a “bloodbath” behind bars as the federal government moves to end solitary confinement in Canadian prisons. The national president, Jason Godin, explained:
...by eliminating segregation and replacing it with structured intervention units, CSC will further struggle to achieve its mandate of exercising safe, secure and humane control over its inmate populations. We are concerned about policy revisions that appear to be reducing the ability to isolate an inmate, either for their safety or for that of staff....
I share this concern that no thought has been given to what measures we need to take to make sure that nobody gets hurt.
Ivan Zinger, the correctional investigator of Canada, stated:
ln effect, Bill C-83 proposes a softer version of segregation without any of the constitutional protections. The bill is uniformly short on specifics and places too much discretion and trust in correctional authorities to replace segregation with an unproven and not well-conceived correctional model.
Bill C-83 goes further than what was raised in either of the Superior Court decisions. With respect to SIUs, the bill would allow the commissioner to reassign the security classification of each penitentiary or any area within a penitentiary. These sub-designations have raised concerns about whether this would allow an entire penitentiary to become an SIU and what that would mean for security and staffing.
Furthermore, these sub-designations could lead to more cases of higher-security prisoners being in a lower-security space, based on technicalities.
We know just how soft the government is already on the most despicable elements of our society. Recently, Terri-Lynne McClintic, who was convicted of first degree murder in the 2009 kidnapping and brutal killing of eight-year-old Victoria Stafford, was transferred to a minimum-security facility in Saskatchewan, even though she is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years. Now the government wants to institute an official policy to allow this to potentially happen on a regular basis. It will not be on our watch.
Conservatives are opposed to any legislation that opens the door to allowing high-risk offenders to be housed in low-security facilities. Dangerous child killers, pedophiles and murderers—the most heinous of people—deserve to be behind bars. ISIS terrorists deserve to be in prison, not offered poetry classes by the government.
This bill is just another example of Liberals putting the rights of dangerous criminals ahead of the rights of victims and their families, ahead of the safety and well-being of correctional officers who must work in these facilities and of course ahead of common sense. The legislation is too wide-ranging.
Debra Parkes, a professor at the UBC law school, stated:
The first point is that the proposal for structured intervention units actually expands rather than eliminates segregated conditions. These provisions give incredibly broad powers to the commissioner to designate whole prisons or areas of prisons as SIUs. Purposes for placing in SIUs are also very broad, including from proposed paragraph 32(a), to “provide an appropriate living environment for an inmate who cannot be maintained in the mainstream inmate population for security or other reasons”, undefined and unclear. It's very broad.
While the supplementary estimates show $448 million for CSC over the next six years, this piece of legislation has not been costed. Our correctional officers are doing an exemplary job at keeping everyone safe, including themselves and the inmates, but situations arise and people do get hurt. Now we are asking our correctional staff to do more with less. As situations continue to arise—and they will—more people will get hurt, and that is not acceptable.
Jason Godin, the president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, stated:
As recently as a couple of weeks ago, I was in Edmonton sitting in the segregation unit asking the staff in there if they were meeting the two-hour requirement, with the showers and the phone calls, and they said, “Absolutely not. It's 10 o'clock at night and we can't meet them.”
Currently, segregated inmates are supervised at a two-to-one guard-to-prisoner ratio when they are not in their unit. Bill C-83 purports to expand services to inmates in segregation and to double their time out of segregation without costing the resources needed to keep inmates and staff safe.
This is another reason I oppose the bill. It just does not add up, and the result could mean that people will be getting hurt.
The CSC ombudsman, the union of correctional officers, civil liberties and indigenous groups have all commented on the lack of consultation and they are concerned that too much of this legislation is being left to regulations. I am anxious that not enough consideration was given to the concerns of indigenous groups, to civil liberty organizations and to the correctional services staff who must maintain security in these institutions. The lack of consultation and foresight from the government on Bill C-83 is, to be frank, appalling.
Jason Godin offers this insight into the process, stating:
Unfortunately, due to cabinet confidentiality, as our commissioner often tells us, we weren't really consulted. The bill was as much a surprise to us as it was to anybody. I don't see the bill before it comes onto the table, so we weren't officially consulted on Bill C-83.
There was also this shocking revelation by Ivan Zinger:
All the consultations seem to have been done internally. To my knowledge, there have been no consultations with external stakeholders. I think that's why you end up with something that is perhaps not fully thought out.
It is of concern that the Liberals are moving away from segregation, particularly as a deterrent to bad behaviour, as it strips front-line officers of their tools to manage difficult prisoners. Solitary confinement must take into account the mental health of prisoners balanced with the safety and protection of guards, workers, and fellow inmates.
The safety of inmates and correctional service officers must be the priority for any legislation put forward by this government. It is clear, in our opinion, that the Liberals did not do their homework when it came to Bill C-83, and Canada's Conservatives call on this government to go back to drawing board with Bill C-83 and put forward legislation that prioritizes inmate safety and the safety of correctional service officers.