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Evidence of meeting #3 for Public Safety and National Security in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was funding.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Stephen Rigby  President, President's Office, Canada Border Services Agency
William Elliott  Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Don Head  Commissioner, Correctional Service Canada
Myles Kirvan  Associate Deputy Minister, Deputy Minister's Office, Department of Public Safety

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

That particular line is simply the backfill funding, after-the-fact funding for the security at the Montebello summit.

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Thank you.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

The way these arrangements work—and we're going to have one for the visit of President Obama later this month—there's a standard practice arrangement with the local police forces, and so on, whose resources we call on. After the fact, you tally up all the hours and figure out how much was spent, and then you reimburse them for the security costs, the extraordinary security costs that are a result of the event. In the case of the President's visit, we will have that same sort of situation, certainly with the Ottawa Police, and I expect with the OPP as well.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

On the corrections side, there's a long outstanding need recognized in my province, Newfoundland and Labrador, for increased facilities, particularly a federal corrections facility in our province, which doesn't exist, although there's cooperation on many levels with the federal government. Your predecessor visited the province not too long ago, and the conditions that the Newfoundland and Labrador justice minister referred to as appalling and backward, in a facility that is over a hundred years old, were quite deplorable. Your predecessor left the impression and practically said, well, the conditions may be terrible, but that is an additional deterrent to people committing crimes, so that they don't have to go to facilities like that.

I hope that's not the attitude and approach that you will be taking to the need for correctional facilities across the country.

Will your ministry, under your watch, look more closely at this issue with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador? Its plans have been on the go for a long time. The Minister of Justice in Newfoundland has spoken out recently of it being a top priority for them. Could you comment on that?

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

A short answer, please. We are short of time.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

I think I answered earlier about the physical aspects of the transformation exercise. We are not at the point of decisions being made. That may be coming in the future, but that's not imminent.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

Thank you. Your time has expired.

We'll now go over to the government side.

Mr. Richards, you're first, and I believe you might be sharing your time with Mr. McColeman.

February 11th, 2009 / 4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

I will be sharing my time with Mr. McColeman.

Thank you to the minister for making the time to be here to address the committee today. I'm just going to assure you that, unlike Mr. Holland, I will show respect and common courtesy and allow you to actually answer the question once I've asked it.

I'm going to ask you today about drugs and prisons.

There are a couple of prisons just outside the boundaries of my riding and a prison that's actually located just a couple of miles from the farm where I grew up. I've spent some time recently, since I was elected, touring some of the prisons in Alberta and certainly have seen the impact drugs have in our prisons. Really, in my view, gangs are the primary forces behind both violence and drug use, not only on our streets, but also within our country's prisons. The drugs there are prevalent, and they're a source of power, a source of influence, and a source of revenue for the gangs.

I spoke in the House about a program that was announced by your predecessor to eliminate drugs in prisons. This is certainly a laudable goal, and I think one that is long overdue.

Minister, can you tell me how the money is being spent and what changes Correctional Service of Canada is implementing as part of this anti-drug strategy in our prisons?

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Sure.

One of the first observations I want to make, and I guess it's a little bit off the side but it's related to your question, is this. About 80% of the folks we have in prison actually have substance abuse problems. There's another big chunk that have mental health problems. A lot of them are interrelated. A lot of these people would not be in prisons if we had adequate health responses in the community, whether they be mental health or otherwise, but I guess that's not the case right now, and we have to deal with them at that level. Also, I think it gives the lie to those who say drugs are not a problem in the community, because obviously if you have 80% of your people with substance abuse problems in prison, there's clearly a link between substance abuse and criminal activity that's far higher than.... You don't have 80% of the general population with substance abuse problems, so there's clearly a link there. That's something we should be concerned with. We have problems with illicit drugs in prisons. That has been something that was identified in the transformation study by Mr. Sampson.

Correctional Service has been moving, with the support of our national drug strategy, to implement new instruments to help them control that. We have X-ray machines, ion scanners, itemizers, and increased use of drug dogs, and a tip line was established. All these things are helping. I know from my correspondence that people actually are complaining about the ion scanners detecting drugs on their clothes. They say they didn't have drugs with them, but the way these things work is that, if you've been in contact with drugs in the past couple of days, the ion scanners will pick them up. So clearly they're working.

It's like fighting crime. Will we ever solve the problem entirely? That's something to be hoped for. But any improvement will certainly help make the prisons safer for the staff who work there, which is important, and also I think improves the prospects for rehabilitation and recovery, because if you get the drugs out of prisons, you change a bit of that cycle of substance abuse and you also take away some of that underground activity that takes place within a prison, which perpetuates criminal associations, gang activity, and the like. So for that reason it is an important priority, and we hope to see results over time. This is still just beginning to be rolled out. Technology is still being introduced in prisons, and we hope it will make a big difference.

There's another side to it as well, which we're also addressing through the transformation exercise. Again, it is that issue of treatment and improving the treatment we're giving to those who are in the prisons. Where there is a big gap, I think, is actually where they're released into the community. That's where we really need to provide a lot more support.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Thanks, Mr. Minister.

Certainly I know, from talking to the guards in our prisons, they're very appreciative of the changes that have been made. I know they feel it's making a big difference. So thank you for that; thank you for the actions you've taken.

I'll defer my time now to Mr. McColeman.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

There's about two and a half minutes left.

Go ahead, Mr. McColeman.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Thank you, Minister, for coming on such short notice and bringing the heads of the various agencies that keep our country safe. It's very impressive on very short notice.

My question has to do with something our committee has put on our agenda for study and action, and that would be the Internet and cybercrime. As we know, the Internet can be a dangerous place. More and more children have access to the Internet, and opportunities for predators to exploit these children increase as well. This is a very serious issue and one that needs to be addressed by our government.

Minister, I saw that earlier this week you made an announcement for a program to protect children from being exploited. Actually, I had the opportunity to make a statement in the House on that. Can you please tell me the specifics of the program you announced yesterday, as well as any other measures you have put in place to both protect children and to find those who use the Internet for evil?

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Our government launched a national strategy for the protection of children from sexual exploitation on the Internet. One of the announcements I made yesterday is the renewal of that strategy. There will now be $71 million to fund activities in this area; it was initially $30 million.

The bulk of it is through our partner, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, in Winnipeg. I encourage all members of the committee to visit the facility they've established in Winnipeg. That's where the cybertips hotline operates, known as cybertip.ca or cyberaide.ca. It's a wonderful group of people who are very committed to their work. Their work has resulted in 43 arrests so far; I think in two cases, children were removed from abusive situations.

That organization is part of the announcement yesterday. They've launched the “Respect Yourself” campaign, which is going to put a booklet about Internet safety practices into the hands of every child in grade 7 in Canada. It basically cautions them against inappropriate photos and so on being communicated over the Internet, and encourages them to protect themselves and to be savvy against those kinds of risks. I would encourage all committee members to hook up with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection to see the good work they're doing. We're happy to be funding them. I think their work is excellent.

It's one of these areas where technology is changing and we have to keep pace with it. Governments are often slow to keep pace with it, which is why you often end up with partners out in the community that do a better job of it. This is a case where we've partnered up very well. The RCMP's involved in a big way and we have a lot of success stories all around. Actually, Canada has a very good record on it with some of our municipal police forces, as well.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Garry Breitkreuz

Thank you.

Mr. Kania.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Kania Liberal Brampton West, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'm going to pick up on something Mr. Richards stated, which is he'd prefer if we don't interrupt you and show you due respect. Most of my questions are capable of yes or no answers, so if you would answer in that manner, please, I won't have to interrupt you. I only have five minutes.

You listed three priorities in your opening statement. The first priority you listed was border security, correct?

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

That's a priority, yes. I can't remember if it was the first one. It's a skill-testing question.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Kania Liberal Brampton West, ON

Now, you're aware of the fact that on January 30, 2009, Janet Napolitano, the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, ordered an immediate review of U.S. vulnerabilities along our border with the U.S. Isn't that correct?

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

I would characterize it a little bit differently than that. She asked for a series of reports on a range of issues that are important to her. She's very, very familiar with the southern border; she was Governor of Arizona. So she asked for a review of issues related to the northern border, including vulnerabilities. I know some have torqued that in the media in a much more negative way; I'm not sure I agree with that characterization. I think she is doing what any responsible new homeland secretary would do, which is gathering the information she needs to do her job right. In talking about it with her--and I have talked with her--she hasn't expressed any particular concerns that there are undue threats here. I look forward to meeting with her in person in the near future to carry that forward.

I can tell you that I will be making clear to her that Canada does have a very, very good record on border security, a very good record on combatting terrorism, and that we've been working very well with American Homeland Security and other agencies.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Kania Liberal Brampton West, ON

My understanding is that she made a comment that our border is more dangerous or vulnerable than the U.S.-Mexican border. Is that not accurate?

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

If you could actually show me that comment, I would appreciate it. I've seen journalists saying it. I actually had my office trace these comments, and it seems one journalist picked up on the request for a report and then ramped it up a little bit, and then another journalist picked up on what that journalist said and ramped it up a little bit, and that's where it seems to have gone. I have not actually seen any suggestion that she has said that.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Kania Liberal Brampton West, ON

Okay. Are you aware that she's releasing a report on February 17, 2009?

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

I understand that it's coming soon, yes.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Kania Liberal Brampton West, ON

Have you spoken with her since January 30, 2009?

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

I believe our conversation was after that, yes.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Kania Liberal Brampton West, ON

Are you certain?