Evidence of meeting #94 for Justice and Human Rights in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was information.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Chris Podolinsky  President, Probation Officers Association of Ontario
Christine Beintema  Vice-President, Probation Officers Association of Ontario
Savannah Gentile  Director, Advocacy and Legal Issues, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies
Dean Embry  Defence Counsel, Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers
Catherine Latimer  Executive Director, John Howard Society of Canada

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

You were somewhat supportive of this bill and the idea of it, but it seemed to me that it was contingent on the provinces and everybody else stepping up to the plate and providing more resources.

Let's just assume for the purposes of this discussion that the provinces aren't going to have huge investments or expand this area. Do you think this is going to work under the present system?

4:05 p.m.

Vice-President, Probation Officers Association of Ontario

Christine Beintema

I think in Ontario, since we do it already, we will continue to do it. I think it may lead to more challenges, if we are compelled to do it legally, if we aren't able to follow through. With all the barriers in place, we—

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Do those challenges include court challenges as well?

4:05 p.m.

Vice-President, Probation Officers Association of Ontario

4:05 p.m.

President, Probation Officers Association of Ontario

Chris Podolinsky

If I could just add to that, we can tell the courts what's available, but we can't do anything about timelines. We can't do anything about the client's willingness to participate. We can certainly say, “Here is the service in the community”, but again, the wait-list could be several months. The drug-free programs have 20 beds, with hundreds of people who need to get in them. It may not be feasible.

Again, if the client is not willing to follow through, and then it gets back to court, we'd be expected to disclose those steps at some future point. If the person was not following the order, we'd be responsible for relaying the reasons the order wasn't followed through.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

I appreciate your insight. Thank you very much for this.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Mr. Boissonnault, you're up.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

Thank you very much.

I heard in your testimony, Christine, that this is codifying what's already done, yet it's going to put some challenges on the system. Is it true to say that what we're really talking about is codifying what is already being done, yet that's going to perhaps cause some resource issues in other parts of the system? We can separate the intent of the bill, which is to codify, and then the resources question we can tackle separately.

4:05 p.m.

Vice-President, Probation Officers Association of Ontario

Christine Beintema

Absolutely. The resource problem is already an issue. I think where I would struggle, or where we would struggle, is if the legislation compelled us to do this, and we provided the information to the court. I would want to make sure that it's clear that there is not an expectation that because we're providing the information and providing whatever resources are available, say, in Chatham, it means that they're actually accessible to the client in a timely manner, or whatnot.

The first problem is getting the information into the report. The second problem is the follow-through, which the court is expecting from our giving the information that this is what's available to the client.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

Sure.

I come at this from a non-legal perspective. I'm one of the lay people on the justice committee, if I can use that term. How is it helpful, and why is it helpful, as a probation officer, to have some insight into an offender's mental health or whether someone is facing any mental disorder?

4:05 p.m.

Vice-President, Probation Officers Association of Ontario

Christine Beintema

First and foremost, when we move forward, the gathering of information for a pre-sentence report is sort of the beginning piece. The guts of our work is working with the offenders and looking at their level of motivation to make changes.

When you have a client with a mental health issue, it affects every other area of the person's life and the level of motivation to make changes. No matter what we have the client in front of us for, there could be barriers to services, to accessing services, to being able to engage with services. We want to make sure that we address the mental health piece first and foremost, because typically, that is attached to the criminal behaviour.

May 1st, 2018 / 4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

Let me look at things this way. We have a resource issue in the mental health field across the country. We know that. We know that the delivery of health services is a provincial responsibility, and here we are at the federal level looking at codifying a practice that already takes place.

Can you see an argument being made that we pass this law, it codifies an existing practice, and you're now able to say to people, “We actually need to know your mental health state, so you can't now opt out and simply not tell us because you don't think you'll get the service because the money isn't there”? That could then help us, as legislators, work with the provinces and push so that we actually expand the amount of services we provide to people who are facing mental illness.

4:05 p.m.

Vice-President, Probation Officers Association of Ontario

Christine Beintema

I do. However, my concern would be saying to a client, especially one with mental health issues, “You are compelled to give me the information.” I don't think I can say that to an offender who is in front of me. It's the offender's right to share information with me, or not. I would do my best to gather that information, and part of our job is to work with and develop rapport with clients in order to have them share information with us that would help us supervise them appropriately, but yes, I would have concerns about telling clients that they are compelled to give me information like that.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

Okay.

Thank you both very much.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Mr. MacGregor.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Thank you, Chair.

Thanks to the witnesses for coming today. I appreciate hearing your insights on this, especially given the level of expertise and direct access to the justice system you experience.

You said in your opening remarks that, “Bill C-375, if passed, should consider legislation that would assist in facilitating the sharing of information between Corrections and the health care systems.” Can you just expand a little bit on that?

4:10 p.m.

Vice-President, Probation Officers Association of Ontario

Christine Beintema

I don't have the knowledge to know exactly how that would work, but it would be nice to see some sort of connection between the two. Whether or not that would be at a provincial level, between my ministry and the Ministry of Health, or if there is come connection federally down to the provincial level, I don't have that level of knowledge. But it would be nice to have some sort of a memorandum of understanding or some sort of an agreement between the two so that when we are requesting information, the health care providers are aware that there's an understanding that they share that information, provided there are the right releases of information and agreement with the client.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

The consent always has to be there with the client.

4:10 p.m.

Vice-President, Probation Officers Association of Ontario

4:10 p.m.

President, Probation Officers Association of Ontario

Chris Podolinsky

I'd like to expand on that a little. I think there have to be mechanisms in place for more information sharing. For example, a lot of our clients have been picked up on the weekends and admitted into the psychiatric ward for observation. Often they're released the same day or the next day, and we're not always made aware of that. If they've been in the psychiatric ward four or five times, and we don't have enough information, that really changes the way we approach that client.

I think if the bill is passed, it would make our job easier. We'd be able to provide better service to the client if we had that information available, if there was some mechanism in place where if they're admitted to hospital for treatment, that we're at least given an alert or made aware so that we can do our jobs better.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

I think both of you in your testimonies identified one of the big problems we have in justice reform in that it is a shared responsibility. We as federal legislators do have our jurisdiction over amending the Criminal Code, but the administration of justice falls to the provinces, so we have to find those ways to work together. As Mr. Boissonnault said, if we're just codifying something which is already standard practice for many of your members.... I'm just wondering if you have strong relationships with other provincial associations. I think one of the things we can do through amendments to the Criminal Code is try to ensure that we're not operating under a patchwork quilt across the country. Whether the offender is in P.E.I., Ontario, or British Columbia, they're getting some kind of a standard in a pre-sentence report.

4:10 p.m.

Vice-President, Probation Officers Association of Ontario

Christine Beintema

That was actually one of the questions that came up when we were asked to come and present. We started to realize that we don't know what other provinces do. I believe we're the only provincial professional association. There used to be one in British Columbia, but it doesn't look like it's been active in years. We're really speaking just about what Ontario does. But that was one of the questions we had: what are other provinces doing? Maybe other provinces aren't putting mental health information in their reports. We are going off our provincial policy whereas other provinces may be different. It would be very helpful to have representatives from each province speak to what their policies are.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

In the way Bill C-375 is written, by adding proposed paragraph 721(3)(a.1), it not only lists a mental disorder from which the offender suffers, but as well mental health care programs that are available to them. Is that something that you do already?

4:10 p.m.

Vice-President, Probation Officers Association of Ontario

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

You said in your testimony that there's already such a lack of available resources. Do we sometimes get the judge reading the pre-sentence report and saying that it's all well and good that he or she has this recommendation but there are no resources to help the offender?