Evidence of meeting #5 for Public Safety and National Security in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was risk.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Philippe Bensimon  Criminologist, As an Individual
Dave Blackburn  Former Member at Parole Board of Canada, As an Individual
Catherine Latimer  Executive Director, John Howard Society of Canada

9:50 a.m.

Former Member at Parole Board of Canada, As an Individual

Dave Blackburn

Obviously, I haven't been on the board since 2018. I'm therefore not in a position to answer this question.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

Joël Lightbound Liberal Louis-Hébert, QC

Okay, thank you.

My next question is for Ms. Latimer.

In terms of member turnover and member experience, you testified that—if I understood correctly—no statistical evidence showed that this affected risk. Members are appointed on a full-time basis for a three-year term and on a part-time basis for a five-year term, since the legislation authorizes a maximum of 10 years.

Can you elaborate on your testimony?

9:50 a.m.

Executive Director, John Howard Society of Canada

Catherine Latimer

I was referring to the annual statistical report that's put out by the government that clearly shows an improvement in the numbers of those who are being released on day parole and full parole and a reduction in the recidivism rates of those who have been released. There's a good trend line there showing improvement. I think that's a good thing.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

Joël Lightbound Liberal Louis-Hébert, QC

How much time do I have left, Mr. Chair?

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

You have a little less than a minute.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

Joël Lightbound Liberal Louis-Hébert, QC

Okay.

Mr. Bensimon, you said that more members should be available to hear certain cases and make decisions. Why do you think that this could be helpful?

9:55 a.m.

Criminologist, As an Individual

Dr. Philippe Bensimon

At one point, there were four members for every murder case. It was very simple. The number then dropped to three members for budget reasons. Today, many hearings are conducted by teleconference. There's no longer even any contact. There's nothing left. It has come down to this. The officers don't have time to see their inmates. The members don't have the opportunity, as they once did, to meet the inmates in person at hearings that could last one, two or three hours, depending on the case. So no, I can't tell you more.

9:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you, Mr. Lightbound.

Mr. Shipley, you have five minutes, please.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Doug Shipley Conservative Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte, ON

Thank you, Mr. McKay.

Mr. Blackburn, can you further comment on the fact that you signalled in 2018 that the new process has put the security of the public at risk?

9:55 a.m.

Former Member at Parole Board of Canada, As an Individual

Dave Blackburn

In November 2017, in a letter written by eight members and signed by seven, we expressed serious concerns regarding the changes. We saw colleagues leaving who weren't re-appointed or replaced at that time. We already anticipated that this would cause some issues for the board.

As I said at the beginning, we need experienced members. This is essential, because they act as mentors and help train new members. When there are only new members, such as the members involved in this decision, a member can't turn to an experienced member at the hearing and obtain more specific answers. Also, let's not lose sight of the fact that staffing changes occurred in 2017 and 2018. Key board staff in Quebec either retired or took sick leave. This affected the board as a whole.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Doug Shipley Conservative Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte, ON

Thank you, Mr. Blackburn.

Is it possible that what happened in the Montreal office, with this lack of experience, could also have happened in other Parole Board regions across Canada?

9:55 a.m.

Former Member at Parole Board of Canada, As an Individual

Dave Blackburn

It's a concern.

9:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Mr. Shipley, you're asking the witness to speculate on something that is clearly not within his expertise. Certainly in any court of law that question would be struck immediately.

If you have unique expertise, Mr. Blackburn, to speculate or to offer an opinion on what was happening in other regions of Canada, certainly the committee would be interested, but if you have no unique expertise on that, maybe you should at least state that in the beginning of your response to Mr. Shipley.

9:55 a.m.

Former Member at Parole Board of Canada, As an Individual

Dave Blackburn

I can simply say that Quebec isn't the only place where major changes have been implemented with respect to keeping experienced members.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Doug Shipley Conservative Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte, ON

Thank you.

Mr. Bensimon, you mentioned earlier the danger of mixing provincial and federal parolees in correctional regional centres. Could you elaborate on what that danger is, please?

9:55 a.m.

Criminologist, As an Individual

Dr. Philippe Bensimon

Mr. Shipley, when I speak of danger, I'm talking about serious cases serving long prison sentences. I have no objection to federal inmates serving shorter sentences being mixed with provincial inmates. The risk is that inmates labelled as serious cases—these people have generally served 10, 20 or 30 years in prison—will end up with hubcap thieves in a halfway house.

At Archambault, I recently saw a case that required a medium security level, even though the person was held in maximum security at Donnacona. He was sent to a regular CRF. A very minor incident occurred and his parole was revoked.

These people should not be sent to CRFs. They should be given the chance to make very gradual progress. They still need structure and an environment. The inmates need to talk to and meet with staff members. They must talk to each other and connect with each other. Not just anyone who wants to can become a parole officer. A great deal of work must be done.

In terms of the recidivism risk, the person decides to act, not the officer. The officer does their job, but the inmate decides to act.

Have I answered your question?

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Paul-Hus Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Do I have any time left, Mr. Chair?

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Paul-Hus Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Bensimon, can you tell us about the Correctional Service's risk assessment programs and whether the programs are effective?

9:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

You have a minute and a half.

10 a.m.

Criminologist, As an Individual

Dr. Philippe Bensimon

Mr. McKay will reprimand me for answering that question.

I'm likely to run out of time. We could talk about this for hours. I've written extensive research articles on this issue. It's an industry, a business.

The programs work if the person wants them to work. You can have the best professionals, but if the individual isn't ready, the programs aren't as effective. Remember that, in theory, inmates aren't required to participate in the programs.

Inmates who don't participate in a program have nothing. When they appear before the members, they're first asked what program they've participated in. If they've done nothing, they'll get nothing. Inmates don't participate in the programs because they feel remorse or regret towards the victims or because they feel the need to do so. They participate because it's the only way out.

Staff members often believe in the program much more than the inmates. I challenge you to conduct a survey of the inmate population and to ask inmates whether they're happier after participating in a program and whether they have a much more positive outlook on life.

Who are these programs for? Are they for cartel members, psychopaths or criminal gangs? Who will provide the programs? The best program is worthless if the person doesn't want to take charge of their life. As long as the person hasn't hit rock bottom, the program is meaningless. Remember, it's an industry.

Thousands of articles show the benefits of programs. Again, the programs work for certain types of populations and for a limited time. Beyond that, they're pointless.

10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Mr. Bensimon, we're going to have to leave it there. We're running out of time.

March 12th, 2020 / 10 a.m.

Criminologist, As an Individual

10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

My colleagues will get very upset, even more upset than they already are.

10 a.m.

Criminologist, As an Individual

10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Mr. Iacono.