Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand and speak in support of Bill C-83, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
It is amazing to me how things connect here in the House of Commons in our parliamentary duties. Bill C-83 today ended up in a discussion with the Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention. Bill C-83 also has a direct connection to a town in my riding. It has direct connections to first nations issues as well.
I am going to talk about a few different things. I am going to talk about how this affects my own community and also a little about the health impact of Bill C-83.
In my own community, in my riding of Cumberland—Colchester, I have two correctional facilities. One is the Springhill Institution and the other is the Nova Institution for Women in Truro, Nova Scotia.
I will talk about Springhill first. That institution was built in 1967.
Partly in response to a natural disaster that happened at a coal mine on October 23, 1958, 60 years ago today, in Springhill, 174 miners went to work. At 8:06 in the evening, there was an underground earthquake, which is sometimes called a bump. It was the most severe bump in North American history in one of the deepest coal mines in North America. Of the 174 who went to work that day, 75 lost their lives. There were 99 survivors, and many of them were trapped underground for many days. Six days after the bump, 12 survivors were rescued by creating a tunnel to get them. Later, on November 1, a second group was saved. That was 60 years ago today, and I want everybody to know that Springhill is remembering that bump today as we speak. Many people who work at the Springhill correctional facility are relatives and descendants of the miners who were lost 60 years ago today.
They never forget in Springhill about the people who were lost. They built a beautiful memorial with a number of stones with every name of every miner who lost his or her life in the mines. Every year they have a Davis Day to make sure that people do not forget the lives lost in the Springhill mines. Tonight, at 7 p.m., in the St. Andrew's-Wesley United Church there is a hymn sing led by three daughters of one of the miners, Maurice Ruddick, who was one of the miners trapped underground. He is often credited with helping other survivors underground survive that ordeal. Being trapped 4,000 feet underground, he led them in song and prayer. He was cited as citizen of the year for Canada at the time. Just a month ago, Herb Pepperdine, one of the last men in the mine who was trapped for eight days, died at the age of 95.
Therefore, for me, today is a special day, and 60 years ago, I remember the day. I remember the ambulances, the police cars, the turmoil and the TV. Just two years before that, there was another explosion when 39 Springhillers were lost. In just two years, Springhill lost 114 miners.
However, the Springhill Institution was built and opened in 1967. It has been very successful since and has expanded several times. It provides correctional facilities for medium- and minimum-security prisoners.
I mentioned the connections with the Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention. I talked to them today about suicide prevention and what causes people to attempt suicide. Also, earlier this morning, I was talking to my seatmate for Kildonan—St. Paul and she was telling me about a first nation in her riding in Manitoba, the Berens River First Nation. She gave me a document that reads “Isolation with no road access Kills (feeling of 'entrapment' resulting in high suicides)”, which is exactly what we are talking about today: isolation, confinement, solitary confinement and the impact it has on prisoners.
Not all prisoners should be in prison for their whole life, as some opposition members would lead us to believe. I have visited the prison in my riding several times, and often I am struck that the prisoners are just regular people who made a mistake. They want to get back into society. They want to be rehabilitated. They want a second chance and they are certainly entitled it. It is certainly worth the effort to try to help them.
Bill C-83 will take steps to eliminate solitary confinement, which is harmful to people. One of the members just said that prisons needed solitary confinement, and I do not believe that. Bill C-83 proposes to do away with solitary confinement and replace it with structured intervention units, so at least prisoners will always have some human contact with health care workers, guards or other people, as opposed to solitary confinement where there is no contact at all.
In my area, just a short way from my riding, there is Dorchester Penitentiary, the Westmorland Institution and the Shepody Healing Centre. These are three different institutions, with three different levels and approaches to rehabilitation and incarceration. I am hopeful the rehabilitative nature of these facilities will be enhanced and built on. That is the way we should go. I do not believe there is any point in putting people who have just made a mistake away, throwing away the key as some members have suggested here.
A 2017 report from Correctional Service Canada noted that Atlantic Canada had the highest rate of administrative segregation, or solitary confinement, in the country. In addition to that, we seem to segregate them for longer terms than their counterparts in other regions of the country.
Five percent of Atlantic Canada's inmates are in administrative segregation, which is five times higher than in Ontario. The same report also noted that Atlantic Canada accounted for more than one-third of all inmates who were in administrative segregation for more than 100 days. A hundred days in segregation is extremely unhealthy for anybody. It is perhaps cruel and unusual punishment.
I welcome Bill C-83 and the change to a structured intervention unit. This is a giant step forward. It will be better for rehabilitation, better for health and safer for prison guards, the other prisoners and the people who work beside them. I am glad we are moving forward on it.
Our government intends to invest heavily in mental health care within the correctional system, and I am talking exactly about that. I referred to the paper that said that isolation caused a feeling of entrapment, resulting in high suicides. This first nation community I mentioned had a high rate of suicide. After a road was built to it, the feeling of isolation was eliminated and suicides stopped. There were no suicides last year in this community. Prior to that there had been many. The indigenous peoples attributed it to the fact that they no longer have the feeling of isolation or entrapment, which is exactly what solitary confinement does.
Again, in the interest of mental health, we are moving in the right direction. This is a great move to follow through on, but I also support rehabilitative steps so people can re-enter society and play a productive role in it.
The prisoners I meet when I go to the prisons impress me. Most of them have just made a mistake. They are serving their time. They want to get back out. They want to play a role in the community and be productive citizens. The bill is all about that.
We know the administrative segregation rules need updating, and Bill C-83 would do just that. By replacing solitary confinement with structured intervention units, we are going to provide better avenues for our inmates to be productive citizens, finish their terms and come out better trained and be productive citizens.
I thank the House for letting me talk about Springhill. Again, this is the 60th anniversary of that horrible disaster on October 23, 1958. I wish all the people in Springhill, who I know are remembering this right now, well. I wish I were there with them.