Madam Speaker, today we are debating Bill C-83, which was introduced by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness in response to several court rulings and a debate over administrative segregation that has raged in Canada for years.
I want to thank organizations like the John Howard Society, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, which are leading the charge against the overuse of administrative segregation. They won out in two slightly different court rulings.
Before I start, I want to give some background on those court rulings because they impact today's debate. The minister himself said that Bill C-83 is partly intended as a response to the concerns expressed by the court.
Let us start with the Supreme Court of British Columbia. In its recent decision, the court explicitly said that there are not enough tools for ensuring, for example, that a lawyer is present during administrative segregation hearings. It also mentioned the inhumane conditions imposed by overuse of administrative segregation and the fact that a predetermined time limit on the use of administrative segregation had been ignored.
That ties in with part of the ruling from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, which states that more than 48 hours in administrative segregation caused serious, irreversible mental health problems. This also ties in with the UN's finding that more than two weeks in administrative segregation can be defined as a form of torture. These findings are so important.
The use of administrative segregation has been found to be abusive by the correctional investigator countless times and in countless reports that he has published over the past decade. We also see that an overrepresentation of certain vulnerable populations in administrative segregation shows that there is not only an abusive use, but an extremely problematic use that can exacerbate problems in some cases and hinder rehabilitation efforts of certain inmates in our correctional system.
For example, there is an overrepresentation of women with mental health problems. There is also an overrepresentation of indigenous peoples, since 42% of inmates in administrative segregation are indigenous peoples. It is mind-boggling to see just how overrepresented indigenous peoples are in administrative segregation. Let us not forget that they are already overrepresented the general prison population.
The decision brought forward by the Supreme Court of British Columbia, following efforts by, among others, the BC Civil Liberties Association, made it clear that the Correctional Service of Canada was acting in a way that was deemed to be unconstitutional under section 7.
What did the government do following a very clear prescription from that court about what could be done in order to remedy the situation? It appealed that decision, and that was shameful. It was interesting that in June 2017, certainly before that decision was made, the government had legislation before the House, which is still on the Order Paper, Bill C-56.
Bill C-56 sought to remedy, in part, the issue before us today, the issue of solitary confinement, by imposing a 21-day limit that would then be followed by a review. Despite any decision that might be made, any findings of abuse or overuse of solitary confinement, there was no independent mechanism to act on any findings of abuse. All that was required to prolong the 21-day period was for the warden, the head of the institution, to provide reasons in writing. To be honest, that is a pretty low threshold for continuing with a practice that has already been deemed, as I have said on several instances, to be problematic.
We are not the only ones saying this. This is something that has been going on for a long time. As I said in my question to the minister, Justice Arbour long ago called for judicial oversight of the use of administrative segregation, or solitary confinement, if members prefer less Orwellian language for what this practice actually is. That followed a commission on certain events in the women's prison in Kingston. That recommendation has so far gone unanswered, not to mention the many recommendations that followed from the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the horrible situation with Ashley Smith.
This leads me to another troubling statistic. Between 2011 and 2014, 14 inmates who found themselves in solitary confinement committed suicide. This is a public safety issue. Let us be clear. Using a tool that exacerbates mental health situations in corrections and diminishes the ability of corrections to rehabilitate those offenders will inevitably cause a public safety concern with respect to recidivism and other things.
That is why, when we look at the tools being used, understanding that corrections officers need tools to ensure safety within the institutions they manage, we also have to understand the danger that can be created by exacerbating existing issues and the importance of prioritizing rehabilitation.
I would like to read the testimony of some experts in order to demonstrate to what extent the bill before us is problematic.
I will read the press release issued yesterday by Senator Kim Pate, who was the then CEO of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies.
Senator Pate said:
With respect to segregation, Bill C-83, is not only merely a rebranding of the same damaging practice as “Structured Intervention Units”, the new bill...also virtually eliminates existing, already inadequate limitations on its use.
Moreover, she adds:
Bill C-83 also maintains the status quo regarding a lack of effective external oversight of correctional decision making. Under the new legislation, all decision making regarding when and how long prisoners are to be segregated will be made by a CSC administrator without the review of any third party.
The last sentence in that paragraph goes to an earlier point I made:
This change represents another step away from Justice Louise Arbour's recommendation for judicial oversight of corrections following the Commission of Inquiry into Certain Events at the Prison for Women in Kingston.
I agree with Senator Pate.
It is quite disturbing that, in media articles and in his comments, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness is trying to give the impression that the government is working to eliminate administrative segregation. That is just a sham.
Let us be clear. What the government is really trying to do is to make a few changes to the administrative segregation process in correctional institutions. In fact, all they are doing is calling it something else. It is disturbing, since the government is appealing a decision of the B.C. Supreme Court that clearly identifies the problems with administrative segregation.
In a media scrum after the bill was introduced earlier this week, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness implied that what they are calling it now is no longer administrative segregation. They appear to believe that by changing what they call it, they can avoid their obligations with respect to administrative segregation imposed by the Supreme Court and listed by the United Nations.
The senator is not the only one to say so, and I would also like to share with the House the opinion of a correctional investigator.
The correctional investigator, Dr. Ivan Zinger, shares the same assessment as Senator Pate, and that I have made, of the proposed legislation. Dr. Zinger told iPolitics:
We may end up with a regime that touches more people and that is very restrictive.... This is a widening of the net of those restrictive environments. There’s no procedural safeguard.
Two things in this passage are extremely important. Not only will administrative segregation continue under another name, but they are going to be casting a wider net. This will drag in more inmates, who may also belong to vulnerable groups that are already overrepresented in administrative segregation.
There is no procedure in place for reviewing or appealing decisions to place inmates in administrative segregation. The lack of third-party review and an appeal mechanism is extremely disturbing.
When I asked the minister the question, he said that it was not important and that there were already mechanisms in place, including multiple reviews by the commissioner and a review by the institution’s warden.
That is simply not enough. It has been clearly found and established in correctional investigators’ reports, court decisions and United Nations resolutions that there has been abusive use of administrative segregation. According to the experts and in my own opinion, it is not enough to simply rely on wardens’ and the commissioner’s decisions. Of course, these individuals have a certain expertise. They are responsible for managing their institutions, and we respect that.
However, once it has been determined that there has been abuse, there must be a recourse mechanism for putting a stop to that abuse.
That is the problem with some of the measures concerning the new powers that would be given to recognized health care professionals. On the surface, and in a somewhat substantive way, this is a positive thing. However, there are two key issues with what health care professionals could do under Bill C-83.
The first is how we define the health issues on which those health care professionals could act. Experts are already saying that there is a concern that some health care issues that may be identified as not essential by a warden or an administrator in a corrections institute would go without the proper treatment and that the arbitrary way in which such a determination could be made is obviously cause for concern.
The other piece is that even if a determination was made by a registered health care professional, or someone that person had delegated, offenders, inmates, who found themselves in solitary confinement, or this new SIU in Bill C-83, and then for a variety of physical and mental health reasons should no longer be in such a situation, would have no recourse. Those findings would be presented to the administrator, and consequently, under certain articles of the bill, would go to the commissioner. However, the reality is that as long as there was no proper oversight, third party or judicial, as has been recommended by folks like Senator Kim Pate, Justice Louise Arbour and Dr. Ivan Zinger, our corrections investigator, the proper protections would not be in place.
I am very concerned.
I would like to return to my Conservative colleague’s speech. Some Canadians listening today are probably asking a very simple question: why should we want to make life easier for certain inmates? How does that help ensure public safety?
Certain points are extremely important, and I mentioned some of them in my speech. To ensure public safety, we need disciplinary measures guaranteeing that correctional officers can properly manage their institutions.
We also need to make sure that the people with problems and, in some cases, serious mental health issues, will not get worse and that, on the contrary, they will receive adequate and appropriate treatment.
We want to prevent recidivism in the case of certain inmates who will be granted parole. We also want to ensure the protection of correctional officers inside the institutions. Providing proper treatment for individuals with serious mental health problems is extremely important.
The concerns in this area expressed by the union representing correctional officers are extremely important. The hon. member who spoke just before me alluded to this in her speech.
I would like to take the time to address some of their concerns. Resources are the main issue. In its statement on Bill C-83 today or yesterday, the union clearly identified this problem, which remains one of its top concerns.
That is a recurring theme with regard to what is required for corrections officers to be able to do their jobs. When we look at the approach taken by the previous government, in 2011-12 alone the legislation adopted by the Conservative government represented an increase in cost of around $250 million for Correctional Service Canada, which was followed by the need to cut nearly $300 million in operating costs from 2012 to 2015, followed by the closure of two penitentiaries, Leclerc Institution and the Kingston Penitentiary. That is a circle that cannot possibly be squared when it comes to ensuring public safety and ensuring that corrections officers have the ability to adequately do their jobs: ensuring safety and security within those institutions and ensuring that the correctional program that has been assigned to a specific offender can be followed through on.
Of course, the problem is extremely worrying to the entire population, but let us be clear. What we want above all from the correctional system is, on the one hand, the assurance of public safety; on the other hand, by applying the disciplinary and punitive measures that exist in the justice system and are essential to rehabilitation, we want to achieve the objectives of treating mental health issues, as well as ensuring public safety, when it comes to inmates who could reintegrate into society and their respective communities.
I would like to get back to Bill C-83. It is all a sham, as I said before, to oversell what is actually a minor change.
Right now, we are told that 22 hours is the threshold for placing someone in administrative segregation. The government is talking about a major change in the number of hours prisoners can spend outside their cells. In fact, relative to current legislation, this change amounts to two hours.
As the executive director of the John Howard Society said in an interview this week, most of the time, these hours are granted at 5:00 a.m. when it is 40 degrees below zero outside. Understandably, the inmate will refuse to come out. Under this bill, such refusal will have consequences.
To conclude, the smokescreen the government has put up to say that it is addressing the concerns of the court, of the United Nations and of the correctional investigator just is not enough. The reality is that we are proceeding with the current regime under a different name. That is not enough to ensure public safety and that corrections officers are attaining the objectives imposed on them by the law but also by constitutional obligations.