Reduction of Recidivism Framework Act

An Act to establish a federal framework to reduce recidivism

This bill was previously introduced in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

Richard Bragdon  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill.

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is, or will soon become, law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment provides for the development and implementation of a federal framework to reduce recidivism.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

May 5, 2021 Passed 3rd reading and adoption of Bill C-228, An Act to establish a federal framework to reduce recidivism
April 14, 2021 Passed Concurrence at report stage of Bill C-228, An Act to establish a federal framework to reduce recidivism

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members’ Business

April 29th, 2021 / 5:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Richard Bragdon Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

moved that Bill C-228, an act to establish a federal framework to reduce recidivism, be read the third time and passed.

Madam Speaker, I am honoured to rise today to speak at third reading of my private member's bill, Bill C-228, an act to establish a federal framework to reduce recidivism. This bill is near and dear to my heart, and I cannot thank all those involved enough for their efforts in seeing it through to this point.

I will begin with my staff, who have been incredible in working tirelessly on the bill throughout the process. All of us have learned. As I am part of the class of 2019, serving my first term in the House, it has been a steep learning curve, but I have had incredible staff support. There is one young gentleman on our staff who has put in a lot of extra effort, and I want to acknowledge all of his time. He is Jesus Bondo. He has done a tremendous amount of work on this bill and has been tremendous to work with. I express my gratitude to him and to all my other staff members. They have all been a part of this and helped make it possible.

I would also like to express my appreciation for members of all parties who have contributed to this process, who have spoken to this bill and who have been encouraging in the process. It has been a deeply rewarding experience for me. It points to how Parliament can work to solve societal challenges and accomplish great things when members work together. I express my appreciation to each of the parties represented here in the House of Commons.

I want to thank the witnesses who took the time to appear before committee to speak on behalf of this bill.

I think of the Hon. Graydon Nicholas, the former lieutenant governor of New Brunswick and former provincial court judge. He is of indigenous descent, from the Wolastoqiyik people. He gave tremendous testimony at committee and has been encouraging and inspiring in this journey.

I want to thank Tina Naidoo, from the Texas Offenders Reentry Initiative. Tina has been incredible to work with. She spoke at committee about her organization and the work it has done. It has worked with over 30,000 people, who have been returning to their communities through its programs. They are finding their way back into the workplace and, obviously, finding a pathway to a successful re-entry into the community. It has been truly inspiring. I am forever grateful for the influence of Tina Naidoo, Bishop Jakes and the good folks from Dallas, who have done such great work on this.

I think of Cathy Latimer from The John Howard Society, who gave great testimony at committee, and the inspiring work that The John Howard Society does in helping those who are transitioning from the shadows, as it were, back into the communities. I express my gratitude to them.

I think of Stacey Campbell, who helped in the preparation of the bill. She is with Prison Fellowship Canada, which does great work. She was willing to appear when we first introduced the bill.

I think of Andrew Vähi of the Village of Hope, a great local organization that works with young men who are struggling with addictions and transitioning from incarceration back into the community through addictions programming and life skills development. They do great work there.

I think of Dr. Tom Beckner, who served as a chaplaincy expert and does great work. He is now retired, but he did great work with Bridges of Canada and Bridges of America, and helped train many chaplains all over North America. I thank him for his contributions.

I think of Dr. John Rook and the great work that he does in Alberta. I really appreciated his insights and his support for this initiative.

I think of Mitch MacMillan, who is a retired RCMP office and a local community police chief in the town of Woodstock, in my riding. He is in a local police detachment. He is also a former member of the National Parole Board. He spoke in favour of the bill and helped us in our preparations.

I think of a local farmer from my region, David Coburn. He has employed young men who have been in transition and given them an opportunity to find their way afterward.

All of these voices spoke together, along with those of members from the other parties. They gave good suggestions and helped build this bill to where it is. I am deeply thankful and consider it a great privilege to see it to this point.

I know that we all recognize the recidivism rate of those who will be back in prison within two years of being released from federal prison. It is a troubling rate. In some estimates, it is over 25% of those released from federal prisons, but it is much higher for those in provincial institutions. Rates are even higher for those from minority communities, such as the indigenous community, where the rate is nearly 40%. We definitely need to do all that we can to address these things.

The sad reality is that children whose parents have been incarcerated are seven times more likely to enter prison themselves at some point. If we could help break that cycle and reduce recidivism, we would not only help the individuals who have been affected, but we would also see a difference in generations to come. This type of initiative where we all work together through effective partnerships to make a pathway for successful re-entry after someone has served their time will be so much better for everyone.

I am so thankful for the embrace that the House has given to this point, and I trust and hope that members will continue to support the bill through to becoming a law. We all share the aim of stopping the revolving prison door, so once people serve their time and complete their sentence, they have a successful re-entry back into the community.

We must work with the provinces and respect their areas of jurisdiction and expertise. We must work with the private sector, as it could be the key to unlock an opportunity for a second chance. We must continue to work with the non-profit and charitable sectors that are so good at stepping in when others step out, of not giving up when others simply walk away and throw their hands in the air.

Many people who are doing incredible work often get overlooked, but by doing what they do, going into places that others perhaps would not go, allows many people, families and communities to move beyond a regrettable decision a person made at some point in his or her life. Our communities, families, provinces and nation all gain when we get past a wrong that was once done and move on to a brighter and healthier future.

This is truly an opportunity for us to work together to make lasting societal change. I believe that this bill will bring together the best that the public sector, all levels of government, faith-based organizations and non-profits have to offer to collectively find a long-term solution. It is an all-hands-on-deck approach to help some of the most wounded and vulnerable among us.

I have shared many times in the previous opportunities I had to speak on this bill about my good friend Monty Lewis. He was the founder of an organization that reached back into the prisons. He knew what it was like to be incarcerated.

Monty did not have an easy upbringing. He knew what it was like to live with addictions in his life. He knew what it was like to have faced violence and to have been a perpetrator of violence. He ended up serving time in provincial jails and then in the federal penitentiary.

Monty was in the hole of a prison cell at the Kingston Penitentiary. He had pretty much given up on life and was angry at the world. However, a Salvation Army chaplain began to faithfully visited him there, and he kept going to see him. I remember Monty telling the story of when this chaplain came to see him. He started hollering and swearing and told the chaplain to get lost, but the chaplain kept coming back. The chaplain showed Monty grace and hope. He showed him that would not give up on him.

To make a long story short, Monty had a dramatic change in his life. From the hole of a prison cell, his life started to move in a different direction. He served his time, got out and found the love of his life, Linda. They got married and he went back to work in the mines. He then felt this pull in his life that he could not escape. He said that he had to do whatever he could to help others who had taken a similar path to his. He did not want them to feel like their lives were over because of the things they had done and regretted. He started with $7.36 and began visiting prisons, sharing good news with people and being there when they got released from prison. His life and organization have been the true inspiration behind this bill.

I cannot help but think that somewhere in heaven Monty has a great grin on his face tonight, thinking a bill he had inspired is on the verge of perhaps passing through the House of Commons and could have an impact on the lives of so many others. I dedicate this bill, this evening, to him, his wife and their family for the tremendous sacrifices they have made and the hope they have provided many others.

I thank each one. I appreciate this opportunity and the support I've had to get this done, for the hope of all those who have felt hopeless at one point.

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members’ Business

April 29th, 2021 / 5:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think anyone watching at home or in the chamber, if their heart was a little too small, it probably grew three sizes bigger today. I just wanted to thank the member. Sometimes we forget about how difficult it is to take a piece of legislation through the whole process. I congratulate him and his team.

Now that we are at third reading, the member has been through committee study. He mentioned there were a lot of suggestions, not only from his own party, but from other parties. Could the member please share some of the experiences he had at committee? Also, what does he believe will be the next step for his bill?

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members’ Business

April 29th, 2021 / 5:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Richard Bragdon Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, the committee experience was a very good one. I will start by thanking the Chair. He was so good in helping us navigate this first experience of walking a private member's bill through committee. He was tremendous. I will also recognize my hon colleague from Lakeland, who was tremendous in helping guide the bill through.

I mentioned my hon. colleague and fellow Atlantic Canadian, the member for St. John's East, over in Newfoundland. He had a good amendment that we added to enrich the bill and make sure we are looking into how sometimes there are systemic things that need to be looked at. We need to address that to make sure that, if there are patterns or things that are systematically unfair, we are making sure those are being looked at, examined and addressed as well.

I cannot thank each one of the members of the committee enough for the valuable input and encouragement they have offered along the way, as well as the witnesses we heard from for providing their stories. I look forward to the day, when we are hearing further testimony to the effects of these programs being put in place, that we will hear the stories of lives that have been transformed. I think—

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members’ Business

April 29th, 2021 / 5:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Richard Bragdon Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, yes, I am very familiar with the principle of restorative justice. I am familiar with it from my background, and I believe those principles certainly do apply. I believe people can be restored. I believe there are so many facets that can lead to that positive restoration. I happen to be one who believes that faith can play a huge role in that.

I also believe in effective partnerships, good programming and good therapeutic counselling, and I am one of the ones who really believes that an opportunity for meaningful employment, or being able to be employed, to step back in, is one of the best ways we can help people become restored. It is about addressing the whole person and their needs, so I do believe very much in the concept of restorative justice.

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members’ Business

April 29th, 2021 / 5:30 p.m.
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NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I will say once again how impressed I am. I recognize the member's compassion and passion for this issue, coming out of his own experience and that of his friend, Monty Lewis, who took a great deal of interest in making sure people had an opportunity to be rehabilitated.

I have to say, though, his party in the past has done a disservice to the programming in prisons by reducing and closing, for financial reasons, many of the programs and services that were available to inmates to assist in their rehabilitation. I do not want to go through the list, because it is a very long one, and it is very disheartening, to say the least.

I wonder whether the hon. member would care to comment on that and whether he is prepared to acknowledge that cutting these programs has had a lasting impact on rehabilitation in our federal prisons.

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members’ Business

April 29th, 2021 / 5:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Richard Bragdon Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his input at committee and thank him for his question here this evening. I do not think any political party can say that it has it 100% right as it relates to restorative justice or to successful reintegration back in the community after time served.

All of us need to bring a certain level of humility to any of these societal challenges we are facing and realize that we have to work together to find solutions. We build on the knowledge of past experiences, both good and bad, and try to build a bridge to a better tomorrow. We are on that path with this bill. We have seen a very encouraging sign with all parties coming together to work on this.

This bill provides opportunity for the public sector involvement, but also private sector involvement, non-profits and others, and I think it is at that interface that we will really find the keys to successful reintegration.

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members’ Business

April 29th, 2021 / 5:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have been trying to get in on the debate all day and finally at the end I get recognized. I want to congratulate my colleague on putting forward this bill and bringing it all the way through the House of Commons. As someone who has passed a private member's motion before, I know the challenges of that and I am very excited to see this go forward.

What does he have in store next around this issue?

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members’ Business

April 29th, 2021 / 5:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Richard Bragdon Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his encouragement along the way. I appreciate his kind remarks. What is next is that hopefully, if we are successful in getting this bill through here this evening, it will go directly to the Senate and have a very successful outcome there and become law.

Then I hope we can start to see pilot programs roll out across the country, working in conjunction with the provinces and other sectors that would be interested in doing a pilot, to see what models work best and hopefully start to see recidivism numbers come down. I look forward to those next steps, but right now let us get it through this vote this evening and hopefully off to the Senate.

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members’ Business

April 29th, 2021 / 5:35 p.m.
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Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I would like to share some thoughts with the member, who has done an admirable job in bringing this to the floor of the House of Commons, and now we are at third reading. Even though I was not at the committee stage discussions, by the sound of the presentations, I am sure it would have been of great interest. No doubt the standing committee did fine work with respect to the legislation.

When I think of Bill C-228, I think of the Speech from the Throne. In that speech, we made a commitment to introduce legislation and make investments to address certain things such as systemic inequities in all phases of the criminal justice system, from diversion to sentencing and rehabilitation to records. There is a great deal of merit in what we are debating today.

The member and so many of us talk about the issue of the revolving door of our justice system. Think of the costs to society, and I am not just talking about the dollar value costs because it far exceeds the dollar. It also impacts communities. We all want to do what we can, as legislators, so our constituents can feel safe in their communities no matter what time of the day or wherever they may be located. We want to see that safety.

For residents of Winnipeg North, the element of safety is of utmost importance. How can we deal with that issue without at least addressing and taking action where we can with respect to the revolving door?

I am pleased this debate is taking place and I have a lot of thoughts on this issue. I was the justice critic for a short time when I served in the Manitoba legislature. I have had the opportunity to take tours of places like the Headingley provincial prison, the Stony Mountain federal prison and different types of incarceration facilities in communities. I also saw other alternatives in administering justice.

It is why I was very interested when the member spoke of his interest in restorative justice. Generally speaking, I was pleased with his answer. I do believe in restorative justice. Restorative justice could not only be for the perpetrator but also for the victim, where we bring both sides together and the victim can see there is a face to his or her offender. It is not universal and it cannot necessarily be applied in every situation, but in certain situations it can be done. I used to be on a youth justice committee and saw first-hand the true value of something of that nature, not to mention the more macro approach in dealing with it.

When I think of our prison systems, having done the walkthroughs and talked to many people who were in prison, I have come to a few conclusions. The incorporation of education is absolutely critical when we talk about prison life. I am talking about basic skills and things like learning to speak English or another language. It is so very important to write, to communicate or to prepare a résumé. Some of the things we take for granted are often a significant challenge for many who are in the prison system. By ensuring they have some of those very basic skill sets, we are enhancing their chances of becoming more productive citizens within our communities.

There are ways in which we can deal with the issue of substance abuse and drugs, as an example. We need to do a lot more in terms of looking at ways we can have more effective policies on that front. I do believe that as a government we have been very progressive in our approach on a number of those files.

Regarding the legislation that the member has brought forward, it is important to emphasize a couple of points, as I should have done closer to the beginning. If I may, I suggest that the government interprets this bill as applying to federal offenders only. That is an important aspect as they are they only ones for whom the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness is responsible. I want to highlight that because it is an important part of the debate, even though in his comments the member accurately made reference to the importance of working with other stakeholders, in particular our provinces.

For private citizens participating, such as at justice committees, I can say that in my experience it has been very positive. One becomes an honorary probation officer of sorts and it is a quasi-judicial body, whether it is an individual or a non-profit organization. There are many non-profit organizations out there that do outstanding work, assisting people who are incarcerated. I would add that they do outstanding work in assisting victims of crimes. However, for the purpose of this bill it is recognizing the phenomenal effort of those organizations in all regions of our country, as non-profits, that are there to support real people who are trying in many ways and situations to get out of their current circumstances and to contribute more positively.

Along with the private citizens and the non-profit organizations, one could easily factor in private companies. I do not know to what degree today because I have been out of it for a little while, but often we see the private sector assisting. Whether it is participating in dispositions to reintegrate individuals who have left the system or as part of a disposition that a justice or quasi-judicial group would have given to someone who has perpetrated an offence, the private sector also has a role to play in this.

Obviously there are the provinces. That is where I should spend just a bit more time because we need to recognize that when we talk about incarcerations, I do not know the hard numbers but the member also made reference to that revolving door and I do believe that percentage is higher in provincial facilities than it is in national facilities. We always have to be careful what we talk about statistics. There are rationales that could justify why that is the case, but I know that there are systemic barriers that are real and that the government needs to focus attention on.

With respect to services, it is also important to point out that they already are doing good work to continuously review and improve their risk assessment instruments and procedures to ensure they remain unbiased, valid and reliable. When we talk about changes that will impact safety, these types of things actually move us forward.

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members’ Business

April 29th, 2021 / 5:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Kristina Michaud Bloc Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, we were originally supposed to debate this bill the day after the emergency debate on violence against women. I had therefore planned to focus on that topic in my speech, since femicide is a scourge that must be eradicated at all costs, and this bill could be part of the solution. I still want to take a moment to outline the sad events of the last few months, and my colleagues will understand why.

On February 5, 2021, Elisapee Angma was killed in Kuujjuaq by her ex-husband. On February 21, 2021, 32-year-old Marly Edouard was shot in the head near her home in Laval. She had been a victim of domestic violence a few weeks earlier. On February 23, 2021, 44-year-old Nancy Roy was stabbed to death in her Saint-Hyacinthe home. Her ex-husband Jean-Yves Lajoie was charged with the murder. On March 1, 2021, 28-year-old Myriam Dallaire and her 60-year-old mother Sylvie Bisson were killed with an axe in Sainte-Sophie by Ms. Dallaire's ex-husband. On March 19, 2021, 40-year-old Nadège Jolicoeur was stabbed to death in her husband's taxi. On March 23, 2021, 29-year-old Rebekah Harry succumbed to her injuries after being hospitalized for several days in Montreal. Her husband was arrested at the scene of the crime.

These seven women were killed in the span of seven weeks in Quebec. Fourteen children lost their mothers and often their fathers, who took their own lives after the murders. Since then, the list has grown to 10. Ten women have been killed at the hands of people close to them.

The killers are violent partners or ex-partners. It is even worse knowing that several of these femicides were committed by men who had already gone through the court system and had a long history of domestic violence. It is quite clear that domestic abusers must be taken into custody, monitored and subjected to a rigorous risk assessment.

Therein lies the rub. According to the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee and criminologist Jane Monckton, the domestic homicide that is playing out before our eyes is due to public authorities' ongoing neglect when it comes to prevention, screening and tracking of high-risk cases. The risk factors are known, but they are ignored or downplayed.

In the case of the double femicide in Sainte-Sophie, an ex-girlfriend of the suspect said she was not taken seriously when she filed a complaint against him five years earlier. She had to stay confined at a shelter while he enjoyed total freedom. He already had a long criminal record by then.

It makes no sense that a woman who is a victim of violence must go to a shelter to be safe, while her violent partner or ex-partner is free.

The Alliance des maisons d'hébergement de 2e étape takes women who are most at risk of being killed. It says that, most of the time, the men are released within 24 to 48 hours of being arrested. Where do these men go once released, if left unsupervised? The answer is obvious.

Elisapee Angma's body showed signs of serious injuries when she was found on February 5 in Kuujjuaq. Two weeks earlier, her ex-husband had been released on bail, even though he had violated court orders prohibiting him from approaching Ms. Angma. Many victims of violence who trusted the court system now believe, unfortunately, that the freedom of an accused man is more important than the safety of a woman. When citizens lose trust in their justice system, they stop filing reports and stop going to the police.

The figures confirm this. There have been a lot of media reports on femicide in recent weeks. We have all had our eyes opened to a serious problem in our society that urgently needs to be addressed. However, the statistics on attempted murder, aggravated assault, threats and assault against women are even more worrisome than people think. In 2019-20, 300 women sought refuge in women's shelters in Quebec. These 300 women were victims of attempted murder by violent men, the majority of which do not factor into police statistics.

The Fédération des maisons d'hébergement pour femmes du Québec says that these women report being strangled, drowned or thrown down a staircase. In the face of such horrific acts, we have a duty as legislators to ask what we can do to put an end to this senseless violence. What can we do to ensure that women and children feel safe in their own homes? What can we do to ensure that men filled with rage have the tools they need to channel their anger and avoid causing further femicides?

One of the solutions is definitely that we must immediately improve the way we deal with violent men. We need to implement innovative measures to help them, because arresting them is a way to affirm that domestic violence is not acceptable, yes, but prison does not help violent men resolve their deep-rooted issues. In 50% of cases, they reoffend. Domestic violence is a social problem, and we need to take action on several fronts. We cannot eradicate violence against women without doing something about the violent men. That would be a mistake.

Bill C-228 is a way to better support inmates in federal prisons to minimize recidivism. This is a subject that is very important to me and that I am studying very carefully as part of my work on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. The problems with the handling of federal inmates are well documented.

Bill C-228 seeks to do away with mandatory minimum sentences for certain Criminal Code offences. It corrects an error made by Stephen Harper's government. The mandatory nature of the sentences takes away judges' discretion to determine appropriate sentences based on their knowledge of the case and their expertise in order to maximize the chances of rehabilitation.

The rationale for mandatory minimum sentences is the belief that length of time in prison acts as a deterrent to future recidivism. However, a major study carried out over a 30-year period with more than 336,000 inmates proved otherwise.

Researchers found 325 correlations between recidivism and length of time in prison. The goal was to determine whether imprisonment was effective in suppressing criminal behaviour and recidivism. The researchers found that imposing prison sentences was not an effective way to reduce criminal behaviour. They concluded that the primary justification for imprisonment was to punish offenders for their crime and to neutralize certain offenders for reasonable periods of time.

The report of Canada's correctional investigator, Ivan Zinger, which was released on October 27 of last year, was consistent with the study results. It was a damning report for the Canadian government, because it showed that the feds are doing a very poor job of reintegrating inmates.

I had a chance to talk to Mr. Zinger during a Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security meeting. We talked about the significant number of incidents of sexual violence in federal prisons that go unreported or that, worse yet, are reported but go unpunished. When we have proof that the Correctional Service of Canada is turning a blind eye to rape, we must take urgent action.

The key takeaway from the correctional investigator's report is that Canada is falling further and further behind the rest of the industrialized world with respect to digital learning and vocational skills training behind bars. The government has taken little action to implement the dozens of recommendations made by Mr. Zinger's office to improve training for inmates, which would have a direct impact on their reintegration into the community.

Based on these observations, is it any surprise that prisoners in federal penitentiaries are struggling to be rehabilitated? How can they re-enter the labour market without training that reflects the needs of today's workplace? How can we expect them to successfully reintegrate into the community if we neglect opportunities for them to obtain employment once their sentences are over? Without a legitimate way to earn a living, the door to delinquency and recidivism remains wide open.

Bill C-228 provides for the development and implementation of a federal framework to reduce recidivism. This is a good thing, and we had the opportunity to discuss it at committee with the sponsor of the bill. However, it provides for standardized programs, in other words, programs that are the same across Canada. Unfortunately, this approach directly interferes in Quebec and provincial jurisdictions.

Quebec already manages the reintegration of young offenders into the community, but this bill would override that with a federal framework. The problem is that Bill C-228 does not provide any details on the form that the federal framework would take. It gives the federal government free rein to create the framework itself and bypass Quebec and the provinces.

A Liberal amendment even changed the wording to ensure the framework is established in consultation with the provinces instead of in collaboration with them. To us, that suggests that the framework will be imposed on the provinces. We had hoped to amend the bill at report stage, but the law clerks deemed our changes to prevent federal interference to be out of order.

However, that was the whole reason we supported the bill at second reading. Offender reintegration is important to me and the Bloc Québécois. This bill undermines the efforts of Quebec, which is doing rather well when it comes to reintegration into the community.

In order for us to support the bill, it would have had to limit the federal role in offender reintegration. The recent case of Michel Cox, a dangerous sexual predator who tried to kidnap a teenager immediately after being released from prison, and the murder of Marylène Levesque by Eustachio Gallese show that recidivism among violent men is a problem.

We cannot stick our heads in the stand. The existing measures have often failed to protect the public.

Although the Bloc Québécois supported the bill at second reading, we are opposed to subjecting provincial jails to a federal model, especially since a number of studies have found that Quebec is doing a much better job with reintegration than other places in the world.

I do want to commend the member for Tobique—Mactaquac and thank him for his work.

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members’ Business

April 29th, 2021 / 5:55 p.m.
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NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to Bill C-228, an act to establish a federal framework to reduce recidivism, presented by the hon. member for Tobique—Mactaquac.

Let me first commend the member for bringing forth this bill. He is a first-time member, and it is to his credit that he has gotten his private member's bill to this stage so early in his political career. He has spoken with great passion and empathy about this issue in the House from his experience in his community and the extraordinary work done by a friend of his, Monty Lewis in assisting ex-offenders.

It is also notable that the bill is coming from a Conservative member of the House. That is because we often hear from Conservatives, who see themselves as so-called “tough on crime”, seeking stiffer punishment, mandatory minimums and lengthier sentences for crimes in hopes of protecting the public, but which have not proven to do so.

It is not very often we hear from them of the importance of rehabilitation and reintegration into the community for an offender when released from prison. This does serve to protect the public and is an important element in the improvement of society. The rehabilitation of an offender is a significant principle of sentencing and must be considered by a judge, along with other elements.

What we want to avoid is an offender reoffending. That is probably the simplest definition of recidivism, which is not a commonly used word outside the field of corrections. The bill calls for the development of a national framework to reduce recidivism to be developed within a year by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and reported to the House of Commons.

This is to be done in consultation with the provinces, with indigenous governing bodies and organizations, and other stakeholders, including NGOs, such as the John Howard and Elizabeth Fry Societies, and other organizations and groups that work with ex-offenders.

It recognizes the need for the framework to include measures to ensure that those who are released from prison have adequate and ongoing resources, as well as employment opportunities to aid their transition and reintegration back into the community, all with the goal of reducing the likelihood of reoffending but also helping the person become a productive and contributing member of society along the way.

Employment is extremely important and basic to rehabilitation. Having a job and the opportunity to achieve self-sufficiency and the independence that comes with that is crucial and gives people some control over their life and future. A representative of the John Howard Society in my riding of St. John's East has recently stressed the need for employment skills development programs pre-release as a means to help ex-offenders get more quickly on their feet as they seek to reintegrate and build a better life.

It is hoped that consultations coming from this bill will result in productive recommendations for measures to assist in aiding rehabilitation and thereby avoiding recidivism and in helping individuals overcome the obstacles that may have contributed to their being incarcerated in the first place.

This could include helping those with a lack of access or with barriers to education and training, or those dealing with drugs and other addictions, which can be a huge factor in the lives of some of those who have been incarcerated. The bill provides an important opportunity to focus on the needs of ex-offenders and enhance the programs and resources that could be made available.

The preamble of the bill also recognizes that the purpose of the correctional system is, in part, to assist in the rehabilitation of offenders, both in the penitentiaries and in the community. One factor that is now well known is that there is a shocking over-representation of indigenous men and women, Black Canadians and persons of colour in our prisons. In 2020, according to the correctional investigator, indigenous people accounted for 30% of the prison population but only 5% of the Canadian population. Black inmates were 10% of the prison population but only 4% of the Canadian population.

What has been revealed recently is that there is also a racial bias in the tools used to assess inmates on their rehabilitation potential and their security standing when they serve in the prison itself, whether they had to serve in minimum, medium or maximum security. Black and indigenous inmates are more likely to get maximum security ratings and be assigned the worst scores on a potential for rehabilitation assessment.

The result is that they have restricted access to programs for rehabilitation within the prison, less access to parole, thereby serving a longer portion of their sentence in prison. Having fewer opportunities for programs is obviously detrimental to those incarcerated.

An amendment to address this now included in the bill was proposed by me and accepted, most graciously, at the committee stage by the member for Tobique—Mactaquac and supported by the committee. It is a provision that the framework must, “evaluate and improve risk assessment instruments and procedures to address racial and cultural biases and ensure that all people who are incarcerated have access to appropriate programs that will help reduce recidivism.”

I believe this will enhance the framework on recidivism and hopefully eliminate at least one element of systemic racism in our society, which has such negative consequences. I want to once again commend the member for this legislative initiative and offer my support for its adoption at third reading.

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members’ Business

April 29th, 2021 / 6 p.m.
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Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Tobique—Mactaquac and his team for this critical work to establish a federal framework to reduce recidivism through this bill, as well as for giving me the opportunity to speak this afternoon.

All of us should be deeply concerned about the well-being and status of those who have committed crimes for two reasons. Those who have committed crimes are still human beings, and unless they are reformed, criminals have the capacity to hurt us, and others, again.

On the first point, I know that the member who proposed this bill previously served as a pastor. I also know that a great deal of important work affirming the human dignity of prisoners and seeking to reduce recidivism is done by faith communities. My colleague will, therefore, be quite familiar with the text from Matthew 25, which discusses those who will and will not receive salvation. In particular it says:

...the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

I do not doubt that for many, the last line of this famous text is the most challenging. To feed the hungry, clothe the naked and welcome the stranger are comparatively easier things to do when the hungry, naked and stranger seem to be in challenging circumstances through no fault of their own. However, to be concerned with the well-being of the guilty, of those who have harmed others, and to recognize their guilt without denying their humanity is necessarily more challenging. I acknowledge that.

In affirming the immutable human dignity of the guilty, we should not seek to dismiss their guilt or blame it abstractly on social factors beyond their control. That also seems to me to be a way of denying their human dignity. To say that someone has human dignity is to say that they have inherent value and that they have free will and must bear responsibility for their actions.

Those who have committed crimes, especially violent crimes, have likely participated in acts of dehumanization by denying the dignity of others or by using them as merely a means to their own ends. It clearly does no good then for the state or others to also participate in this process of dehumanization by seeking to deny the humanity of the perpetrator, either by pretending that they did not have agency in their situation or by seeking to treat them in a way commensurate with an animal.

Following a dehumanizing act of crime, the response from the system and from society, as a whole, should be to seek rehumanization. This should include both holding an individual accountable and calling them up to behave in accordance with their humanity. Our response to dehumanization should not be further dehumanization, but rather rehumanization. Otherwise, we will have not actually established a distinction in the underlying mentality between ourselves and the criminal.

Sir Thomas More made the following observation about how dehumanization contributes to crime. He observes in his book Utopia:

If you do not find a remedy to these evils it is a vain thing to boast of your severity in punishing theft, which, though it may have the appearance of justice, yet in itself is neither just nor convenient; for if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this but that you first make thieves and then punish them?

Aside from any normative or moral arguments about dehumanization and rehumanization of criminals, there is an obvious practical advantage to seeking rehumanization. It is a fact that most criminals do end up being released. Therefore, the extent to which they have parted company with their previous modes of behaviour has consequential implications for the security of everyone else.

Theoretically, a society could seek to solve this problem by not releasing criminals ever, but aside from being unjust, this would be enormously expensive. Saving the government money is certainly the least important or compelling reason to seek to reduce recidivism, but it is a reason nonetheless.

Even criminals who are incarcerated for life can do great harm to others, such as guards, fellow prisoners or the general public. Those who think permanent incarceration is a solution should remember that Allen Legere, one of Canada's most notorious serial killers, killed most of his victims after escaping from prison. Even if someone is sentenced to spend the rest of their life behind bars, it still makes all of us safer to see their rehabilitation. As I said earlier, in practice, most of those who go into prison will come out at some point or other.

In calling for the creation of a national framework to reduce recidivism, this bill particularly highlights the importance of strong communities and not-for-profit organizations. I know this is not an accident. Meaningful human community associated with responsibilities and obligations, furnished through natural institutions like family, workplace and neighbourhood, is what helps us to learn and practice virtues that allow us to live meaningful and happy lives together.

Community is important for the development of character and for rehabilitation. Community can also in some sense be part of the problem, when people are plugged into communities that reward or reinforce anti-social behaviour. In such cases, people need to have new communities made available to them. However, we do not make criminals into good citizens by alienating them from their humanity. Nor do we make criminals into good citizens by alienating them from all kinds of community.

Government is many things, but its biggest weakness is that it is not a community. While governments create legal frameworks and provide programs, they do not embody the unique characteristics or competencies of communities. Although governments can play a supportive role, a recognition of the unique competencies of voluntary communities that must receive former criminals and nurture them in the development of virtue is why this bill emphasizes the role that partnerships must play as part of a national framework on reducing recidivism.

Having quoted scripture on Sir Thomas More, I will now rely on the film The Shawshank Redemption to help elucidate my final point. Following the suicide of a recently released prisoner, one of the others observed, “These walls are funny. First you hate 'em, then you get used to 'em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them.”

The adjustment to release is very challenging. The state takes responsibility for incarcerating people and then releasing them, but what is really important for combatting recidivism is the process by which released prisoners are able to integrate themselves into a new community, which will help them further develop new patterns of behaviour. The transition out, and in particular the support of communities welcoming released prisoners, is necessary for reducing recidivism. The government cannot do this work on its own, but it can help.

During the tenure of the last Parliament, I had an opportunity to visit with Cal Maskery and the team at Harvest House Atlantic in Moncton. Harvest House is a community hub for people who have recently been released from prison. It includes an emergency shelter, step-up housing, addictions recovery and skills training, and it is supported through donations and government programs.

Cal himself served time in prison, but then he turned his life around. Cal met his wife while he was in prison. She was a volunteer helping those who were incarcerated. They got married on the day of Cal's release. I was deeply inspired by Cal's story and by the work Harvest House does. This is the kind of work that needs more support through this bill.

I have also had the opportunity to visit the prison in my own riding on a couple of occasions. I encourage all members to take the opportunity to visit prisons, talk to prisoners and staff, and hear about the challenges and hopes of those who are there. I have been inspired in this context by the work of my uncle, a professional musician who runs a charity called Concerts for Hope. He brings other professional musicians with him to perform classical music concerts in prisons across the United States. Presenting convicted criminals with beautiful music promotes the rehumanization of hardened criminals and seeks to inspire in them a renewed sense of hope.

For rehumanization and reducing recidivism, it seems to me that hope is the key thing. To hope is essential for any human being. To turn their lives around, those who have committed crimes need hope: hope that something different is possible, hope that one day they can find purpose in serving others and hope, like the good thief on the cross, that even in the face of the worst imaginable punishment, there is an opportunity for grace as long as breath remains.

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members’ Business

April 29th, 2021 / 6:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Richard Bragdon Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank all my hon. colleagues from the bottom of my heart for their tremendous remarks and thoughtful considerations on this.

The hon. colleague from Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan referenced a passage that I was going to reference at at the very end, a favourite, which was when the master teacher himself said about those who inherit the Kingdom. He said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

Those words ring true in my heart as we come to the conclusion of the debate on this. The difference that a compassionate heart can make, that hope can make and that coming alongside those who perhaps feel that they will be forever defined by what once was perhaps a very regrettable and hurtful decision they made at one time in their life and they live in the shadows of that feeling.

I am glad to share with the House on this occasion that I personally have witnessed and met many who have changed direction in their life and they have gone in a much better direction because there were people who came to where they were and shared a message of hope, offered a hand of friendship and provided an opportunity when probably perhaps they thought they may not get another one. This bill would go a long way in providing a framework.

The aim of the bill is to provide a structure through which the best of the best programs, both here at home and internationally, can be fostered and developed so we can all attain the shared goal of reducing recidivism among our incarcerated population and help them successfully reintegrate back into the community. We do that through these kinds of effective partnerships.

I thank everyone and I hope we can speedily get this off to the Senate and see it become law sooner rather than later.

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members' Business

December 10th, 2020 / 5:25 p.m.
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Hull—Aylmer Québec

Liberal

Greg Fergus LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board and to the Minister of Digital Government

Madam Speaker, I am very happy to participate in this debate on a private member's bill.

I am especially happy to support my hon. colleague from Tobique—Mactaquac's Bill C-228. He contacted me when he began drafting his bill and asked for my feedback and support. It is my great pleasure to support this bill, and I hope other members of the Black community will support it too.

I think this bill reiterates the government's commitment to ensuring public safety and preventing crime and recidivism. It can help us move forward on work we are doing to fulfill our throne speech pledge to address the overrepresentation of indigenous individuals and Black Canadians in the criminal justice system. This bill will help the government get a broad range of stakeholders involved in defining the framework and examining existing strategies and tools to reduce recidivism and prevent crime. It will help us learn more about this important issue. Lastly, it will help us identify the gaps we need to fill.

Overall, I think reducing recidivism would enhance community and public safety, which could in turn result in savings within the criminal justice system. This is a win-win situation, which is why I am pleased to say that the government supports this legislation.

One point that has come up repeatedly throughout this debate is the fact that indigenous peoples, Black Canadians and other racialized people face systemic racism and unequal outcomes in the criminal justice system. Any efforts to reduce recidivism must draw on the lived experiences of incarcerated people to reduce systemic barriers such as discrimination and racism. That is why my remarks will focus on that aspect.

The Prime Minister has said repeatedly that systemic racism exists in every corner of our great country. This includes our criminal justice system, our correctional system and our law enforcement agencies. That is an indisputable fact. I repeat, it is an indisputable fact.

It is not enough to simply look at the numbers, when we examine the Canadian prison system. Several studies conducted in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom have shown that Black people are no more likely to commit a crime than non-Blacks—or white people, to put it bluntly. The same is true of indigenous people: They are no more likely to commit a crime.

However, the proportion of Black people in Canada's prison system is three times greater than their demographic weight. That is terrible; it is serious. The situation is even worse for indigenous peoples.

Indigenous people represent nearly 30% of the male prison population in Canada at the federal level alone, while they represent not even 5% of the Canadian population. For indigenous women it is even worse. They represent 44% of the female prison population.

As I said in the beginning, indigenous and Black individuals are not more likely to commit a crime. Why, then, is their demographic weight so much more significant in our prisons in Canada? That is a very good indication of the systemic racism and discrimination that exists. When we look for problems we find them and when we decide not to look for them in certain communities we do not find them. That is why I think Bill C-228 gives us the opportunity to reduce the likelihood that people will reoffend after their incarceration.

I congratulate my Conservative colleague on his bill. I know that it is based on his experience. He is a man of faith who is very involved in his congregation and I am very happy that he is using his knowledge to introduce a very reasoned bill.

My only suggestion to improve or amend my hon. colleague's bill would be that, although it is commendable to introduce a bill that addresses what to do with people after they are incarcerated, I would also like us to look at other solutions to address this issue earlier on, to stop people from being incarcerated in the first place.

If we were to create relationships and partnerships with community organizations and non-governmental organizations, if we were to tell these young indigenous people or young Black people that their community is ready to welcome them, they would see that there is another path.

I think there is a lot we can do to counter the fact that these people are overrepresented in our correctional and criminal justice systems. I am not trying to saddle my colleague with all of this, but I hope that members from all parties who support this private member's bill will not stop at what happens after people are incarcerated, but also focus on what happens before incarceration.

I hope that will encourage all members to support bills that address this issue, and that includes government bills. We need to look at how to help people choose a better path, instead of allowing them into the correctional system. We need to find a better way to embrace them and support them, so that they can learn how to make positive contributions to our society. A federal framework to reduce recidivism, as proposed in this bill, could truly change things.

That is why I am proud to say that I support this bill. I hope my colleagues will follow suit.

Reduction of Recidivism Framework ActPrivate Members' Business

December 10th, 2020 / 5:35 p.m.
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Bloc

Christine Normandin Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Chair, like my colleague, I am going to speak to what is in the bill. I will even go a little further, just to give it a little more thought and plant some ideas.

I will obviously talk about pilot projects during incarceration, but I will also talk about what can be done after incarceration and what can also be done as an alternative to incarceration.

In terms of pilot projects during incarceration, one of the last places someone would want to refer to is our neighbour to the south, since the Americans do not necessarily have the best reputation when it comes to detention and the prison system.

However, in 1975, something quite extraordinary happened. One day, an inmate found an injured bird on his windowsill and began to care for it. It was later found that not only did the inmate have better social skills and behaviour, that he was less violent and less medicated, but that this had a positive effect on the entire cell block.

That experience gave rise to a series of pilot projects in the United States. There is now a project running in 290 correctional facilities across the 50 states to teach inmates to become dog trainers. An individual comes to train the inmates, and then they are assigned a dog. The inmates learn how to train the dogs over a period of 12 to 18 months, depending on the type of pilot project. In some cases, the dogs even live with them in their cells.

In the case of almost every inmate who participated in these pilot projects, there was a very significant reduction in medication needs, a decrease in suicide attempts and suicides in jail, a marked reduction in violence and, later, a decrease in recidivism.

This type of pilot project benefits not just the inmates, but the animals as well. The dogs chosen to participate often have behaviour problems and are not suitable for adoption. These dogs are assigned to the inmates, who train them so they can be adopted. In other cases, dogs with better social skills are trained by inmates to become service dogs.

In addition to helping inmates reintegrate, these projects benefit the community. Not only do inmates have a better success rate with the animals than outside volunteers, for example, but many inmates decide to continue training dogs after they get out of prison.

That is a success story that we can learn from, even though, as I mentioned, the United States does not necessarily have the best track record when it comes to prison conditions. The other good thing is that inmates have to exhibit good behaviour in order to qualify for this program, and that generally acts as an incentive for inmates to behave better while they are in prison.

That being said, the absence of recidivism does not automatically mean that an inmate has been rehabilitated. An inmate is not necessarily rehabilitated just because they have not reoffended. I have a rather striking example to give in that regard. One of my colleagues was walking down the street with a former inmate who had served a long sentence for murder. When they came to a red light with no one else around, she crossed the street, but the former inmate remained rooted to the spot. He did not want to jaywalk. The rule was clear: crossing the street when the light is red is not allowed. He absolutely did not want to break the rule. That shows that prison teaches inmates to follow many rules to the letter, but they may be losing some of the social skills they need to be properly rehabilitated.

Obviously I am not trying to say that jaywalking can be used to measure rehabilitation, but I wanted to show that when inmates get out of prison, they often do not have all the skills they need to perfectly reintegrate into society.

I said I would talk about post-incarceration support because that is just as important. The bill introduced by our colleague from Tobique—Mactaquac raises the possibility of joining communal and faith-based initiatives and getting support from various organizations, but that means being close to those organizations, which remains problematic.

It is a real problem for offenders who live in the far north, especially in Inuit communities, and who have to serve time in detention centres far from home.

Around Montreal, we often see a high proportion of Inuit and indigenous individuals in the homeless population. What are these people doing in Montreal?

In many cases, they are people who were sentenced to serve time in detention facilities near Montreal. The plane ride to jail is covered, but once they have served their time, nobody pays for the return flight, which is often prohibitively expensive.

Once these people get out of jail, they are thrust into another kind of prison, the prison of poverty and homelessness on the streets of an unfamiliar city, instead of being given the opportunity to get into rehabilitation and reintegration programs that could be offered in their communities.

If we want the pilot projects proposed in the bill to work, we have to make sure all the options and tools are available to run them. That is something else we will have to think about.

We also need to look at alternatives to incarceration, which is not always the appropriate solution. I have some more examples to share, including in connection with the indigenous community.

The Gladue reports really emphasized the need to include indigenous peoples in the sentencing process. I had the privilege of attending a conference on indigenous law where it was explained that, in some countries, there are actually blended courts that take a blended approach by incorporating indigenous law.

I have an example of something fairly unusual that was done here, when a judge came up with an innovative sentence. Rather than imposing a custodial sentence on someone convicted of rape in his community, the judge made him live outside his community and become the designated hunter for a women's shelter.

For two years, that individual lived apart from his community and served another community by hunting for people who were essentially victims of the same kind of crime he had committed. At the end of his sentence, he was allowed to return to his community because it felt that he had paid the price for his actions. His reintegration was much easier because it was done in collaboration with the community, which would not have been the case if that individual had had a sentence imposed that did not align with the community's values.

Another example illustrates what can be done. It involves the PPTCQ, the drug treatment program of the court of Quebec. Section 720 of the Criminal Code allows for sentencing to be delayed in cases where people are struggling with substance use problems. Often, these people will not use drugs during their sentence. However, upon release, some will not comply with the conditions of release and will use drugs again at the first opportunity.

Rather than announcing the sentence immediately, this program examines whether the person is progressing well in detox and adjusts the sentence accordingly. The sentence may even be cancelled altogether if their progress has been good.

For these initiatives to work, however, there must be no minimum sentences. Minimum sentences are a barrier that can prevent some projects from being implemented, and they do not always work.

For example, at one time, during the famine in England, turnip thefts were common. The turnip growers asked the authorities to increase penalties to deter people from stealing turnips. The authorities made it a capital offence to steal a turnip. After that, there were more turnip thefts than ever, because no one was afraid of being sentenced to death just for stealing a turnip. Sometimes, instead of serving as a deterrent, a denunciatory sentence can have the opposite effect.

What I want to say is that I welcome the bill. I especially hope that we can learn from these examples that one-size-fits-all, universal solutions are not necessarily the ones that work best. I hope that this is what emerges from our future reflections on detention, on sentencing, and on criminal law in general.