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House of Commons Hansard #46 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was relationship.

Topics

The House resumed from April 23 consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion--FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Pursuant to order made on Thursday, April 23, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion of the hon. member for Sudbury relating to the business of supply.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #54

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

The House resumed from April 24 consideration of the motion that Bill C-11, An Act to promote safety and security with respect to human pathogens and toxins, as amended, be concurred in.

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at report stage of Bill C-11.

The hon. chief government whip is rising on a point of order.

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe that if you were to seek it, you would find agreement to apply the vote from the previous vote to this vote with Conservatives voting yes.

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is there unanimous consent to proceed in this fashion?

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

6:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, Liberals will be voting in favour of this motion.

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

6:50 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, the members of the Bloc Québécois will be voting against this motion.

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

6:50 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the members of the NDP will be voting in favour of this motion.

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

6:50 p.m.

Independent

André Arthur Independent Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am voting in favour of this motion.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #55

Human Pathogens and Toxins ActGovernment Orders

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, when the government came into power, it promised it would increase the number of local police in many of the large cities to deal with gun and gang violence. I asked this question of the minister in the House and now I am asking the minister to please explain to me why that promise was broken.

When we look at British Columbia we will find that metro Vancouver has fewer police officers per capita than any other big city. Data from Statistics Canada tells us that the case burden, compiled with the number of officers per a population of 100,000 puts Vancouver at the bottom of the pack. We all know that there was a promise of more police officers, which never materialized. The promise was repeated in the 2006 budget. It was repeated in the 2007 budget and it never came to fruition. The money has not actually been seen.

We know now that it waited. As per usual with the government, nothing happens until a crisis occurs. When we look at what has been happening in Vancouver since January, with large numbers of murders and drive-by shootings, all of a sudden this came back on the agenda three years later. This could have been done. It could have assisted the Vancouver police to deal with some of the problems they are facing with regard to guns and gangs.

My question is obviously to the minister. I know that the minister will tell me that the money was put in this budget and that there are now new bills that are coming forward to deal with the issue of guns and gangs. However, I need to tell the minister that the police are not so sure about this money that is forthcoming. They want to be sure that the money that does come is going to be adequate and sustainable. In other words, they want to be sure that the money is not going to be there for six months and then disappear again.

There needs to be a continuing assessment of the needs of the populations with regard to police in some of the large cities in Canada. As we can see, Vancouver is one of those cities. The police are asking for long-term, sustainable federal funding for police officers to give them the tools they need to keep them up to date. They do not want that money to be used to replace police officers who are now at the right age to retire, et cetera. They want new police officers. Twenty-five hundred new police officers were promised for Canadian cities. Twenty-five hundred new police officers have to be there, not filling in the gaps and replacing those who have been lost.

The other thing is eligibility. The police have told me that one of the big problems they have is that this money has suddenly been handed to the provinces. That money is sitting somewhere and the provinces have yet to move this money forward to the police forces. They are really concerned that this is not going to be used for new police officers. They are concerned that this is going to be used as a replacement for police officers and for the attrition of police forces.

My question to the minister is this. Why did the Conservatives not keep their promise to replace the police force and put in new police officers to deal with guns and gangs as it did in 2006? Now that they have done it, why are they not doing it in a way that will make it sustainable and ensure that there are new police officers?

7 p.m.

Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to participate in the adjournment debate on this important issue.

Recently, British Columbia has been hit by a wave of gang-related violence. Nearly every day, we hear about gang-related shootings that take innocent lives and make people afraid to go outside. Over the past few weeks, more than two dozen shootings, nine of them fatal, have taken place in the greater Vancouver area.

The Government of Canada recognizes that organized crime and gang-related activity still threaten safety on our streets and in our communities. The government is taking legislative measures to put an end to this.

The government has invested in crime-prevention activities targeting at-risk youth, activities that focus on gangs, guns and drugs. Young gang members commit many crimes; they are responsible for many more serious and violent crimes than young people who do not belong to gangs.

More specifically, the gangs, guns and drugs priority of the Department of Justice's youth justice fund has $2.5 million each year to carry out crime prevention programs across the country. Since 2006, 38 projects have been funded in a number of communities, including Toronto, Vancouver, Fort Qu'Appelle, St. John's and Montreal, that wish to reduce activities related to gangs and the recruitment of young people who, in the opinion of the justice system, are considered to be participants or are likely to participate in activities related to guns, gangs or drugs.

There is also the youth gang prevention fund, which is managed by the national crime prevention centre. This fund has a budget of $11.1 million and implements community intervention initiatives for youth who are in gangs or at risk of joining gangs.

In terms of law enforcement, the government has also allocated $64 million, under the national anti-drug strategy, to help law enforcement agencies to combat drug trafficking, which is the main activity of organized crime.

Bill C-14, introduced on February 26, 2009, contains proposals that will provide solutions to a number of problems related to gang violence, including increasingly bold acts of armed violence committed by street gangs.

Bill C-14 addresses the problems of drive-by shootings and the discharge of firearms with intentional disregard for the life or safety of another person. This new offence carries a minimum mandatory sentence that can be increased if the offence was committed for the benefit of a criminal organization or with a prohibited or restricted firearm.

With this bill, all murders closely tied to organized crime will be first degree murders, even if they were not planned and deliberate. It will also strengthen provisions with respect to gangs keeping the peace so that it is easier for judges to impose conditions that they believe will help prevent an individual from committing an offence for the benefit of organized crime.

In closing, I wish to tell members that this bill represents a solid and measured response to the threats that firearms and gangs pose to Canadians.

7 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is all very nice. I received a full strategic plan for dealing with guns and gangs in the cities of Canada. What I did not get was a clear answer to my question.

My question was simple. A promise was made in 2006 and the Canadian Police Association is calling upon the government to keep that promise. The promise was to recruit 2,500 more front-line officers. At the moment, the police officers' recruiting fund is not sufficient. What is there has been handed over to the provinces. This money was supposed to go to police associations and municipalities to recruit 2,500 new officers for the streets.

We are talking about front-line officers. We know that the former public safety minister entered into arrangements with the provinces and territories that would authorize the use of the police—

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I am sorry, but I must interrupt the hon. member.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice.

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I just said, the government has taken several steps such as implementing programs and introducing Bill C-14 to do his part in curbing gang violence in Canada. The government has always been committed to ensuring the safety and security of Canadians, and I trust that the opposition supported the passage of Bill C-14.

Federal public servants are continuing to work closely with their provincial and territorial counterparts to examine issues related to organized crime and gangs that arise or become pressing, develop strategies to prevent and deter organized crime and gangs, and identify areas that would benefit from legislative changes designed to make our criminal justice system as efficient as possible.

7:05 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I rise to follow up on a question that I asked about two months ago regarding the unfortunate and tragic death of Ashley Smith who died on October 19, 2007. She committed suicide while incarcerated in segregation at the Grand Valley Institution for Women.

The Office of the Correctional Investigator wrote a report on this and concluded that there was reason to believe Miss Smith would be alive today if she had not remained on segregation status and if she had received appropriate care. This was a preventable death. In fact, the report of Mr. Sapers of the Office of the Correctional Investigator Canada, dated June 20, 2008, actually called it a preventable death.

The report was presented to the government in June 2008, almost a year ago, two months after it was made public. There has still not been any formal response by the government to the report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator. This is shocking. It speaks of some kind of indifference by the government as to the plight of women in our prisons.

Next week, May 4 to 10, is National Elizabeth Fry Week in Canada. This is an organization that helps women prisoners and people who are incarcerated. It is important that this issue be brought to the forefront and that we get some answers from the government about what it proposes to do.

It is not just Miss Smith's situation, unfortunate and tragic and so blatant that it is. There have been over 20 reports, investigations and commissions of inquiry chronicling the urgent need for oversight and accountability mechanisms to address the violations of the rights of women prisoners in Canada. This has been going on for some time.

In 1996, Louise Arbour, who is probably the most eminent international lawyer and jurist in Canada, issued a report into the illegal stripping, shackling and transfer and segregation of women prisoners at Kingston. She found that the culture of Correctional Service Canada was one of disrespect for the rule of law. She recommended that there be mechanisms to allow for the judicial oversight of issues such as segregation. She wrote an article in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal, dated April 4, in which she referred to the segregation system as a prison within a prison and that there ought to be judicial oversight of that particular process. In fact, many commentators refer to lengthy segregation as a form of torture.

Miss Smith was in segregation for a full year before she committed suicide. There needs to be an effective grievance procedure, with opportunities for redress. Grievances lodged by Miss Smith were sitting untouched in a grievance box.

There needs to be civilian oversight in Correctional Service Canada greater than that of the Office of the Correctional Investigator who, for the most part, can only investigate complaints.

We need a serious response by the government, not just a statement that it is trying to do better.

In 2005 the United Nations Human Rights Committee called on Canada to remedy the discriminatory treatment of women prisoners.

These problems were not all created by the current government, but it has an approach to corrections which says we should put more people in jails and have mandatory minimum sentences. The government has an obligation to look after people who are incarcerated.

7:10 p.m.

Oxford Ontario

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to the question raised in the House on March 4 by my hon. colleague from St. John's East regarding the report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator on the events leading to the death of Ashley Smith.

First, let me start by offering my sincere condolences to Ashley Smith's family and provide some reassurances that this incident has been taken very seriously.

A number of staff members and managers of Grand Valley Institution for Women have been disciplined and in some cases employment has been terminated. While I am not at liberty to discuss Ms. Smith's medical history, I would, however, offer the following information.

The Office of the Correctional Investigator's report contains 16 recommendations that focus on preventing future deaths in custody by identifying areas for improvement in the following: responses to medical emergencies, the delivery of mental health services and compliance with law and policy related to segregation, transfers, processing of offender grievances and use of force interventions.

Following Ms. Smith's death, the Correctional Service of Canada acted quickly to investigate and report on the circumstances surrounding the incident, identify weaknesses and to take corrective action where necessary. The service is committed to working with the Office of the Correctional Investigator to address issues and concerns in the area of deaths in custody.

An action plan has been developed to respond to recommendations of investigations into this incident and a number of measures have already been implemented. The following are specific actions that the service has taken to prevent deaths in custody.

First is a pilot project. A mobile interdisciplinary treatment and assessment and consultation team has been put in place to support women's institutions in the management of women offenders with severe mental health and/or behavioural difficulties. The pilot project will enhance the input and advice available to correctional staff when making decisions related to the management of women offenders with complex mental health issues.

The service has reviewed its capacity to address the needs of women offenders with complex mental health and behavioural needs. Short term and long term action plans have been developed on service, support and accommodation needs for women offenders identified in this group.

Mental health awareness training for staff has been developed and provided to many community and institutional staff across Canada. The service delivers suicide prevention training to all staff who have regular interaction with offenders in order to detect and respond to behaviours that may be indicative of suicidal or self-injurious intent.

The policy related to segregation has been amended to explicitly include a stronger role for the chief of health care and psychology. Although the service has had a mental health screening process for some time, in 2008 the service began piloting an enhanced mental health screening process to be administered when an officer is admitted. The service is committed to improving dynamic security to ensure that every inmate is engaged by staff members on a daily basis. The agency will strengthen the dynamic security training module for all new correctional services.

Finally, it is important to note that the service is working closely with the federal government's recently established Mental Health Commission of Canada, which has been mandated to develop a national health strategy and share knowledge and best practices for the benefit of Canadians.

7:10 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, recognizing that some changes have been made, it is shocking to discover that, although the Correctional Service of Canada has been providing health care in institutions for over 100 years, in 2006 more than half of the sites failed to be accredited for health care, 38% were accredited with conditions and only 10% were fully accredited. Two of the key factors that prevented accreditation include the inadequacy of an existing clinical governance structure and the absence of continuing professional education training for health care staff. This is an indication of how bad things are.

We are concerned, not only with deaths in custody but also, of course, the treatment of women. Too many women are incarcerated. Over 80% of them are there for property crimes. They do not pose a danger to society. Something should be done to ease the amount of incarceration that women are subjected to in this country. It has been found to be discriminatory and Correctional Service of Canada should look toward that as well.

7:10 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is a very complex matter that has reinforced the need for the service to further strengthen its approaches to the challenges of women offenders, particularly those with serious behavioural and mental health concerns.

Furthermore, an action plan has been developed to respond to recommendations of investigations into this incident and a number of measures have already been implemented. Some of the initiatives are still ongoing.

The service has reviewed its capacity to address the needs of women offenders with complex mental health and behavioural needs. Short term and long term action plans have been developed on service, support and accommodation needs for women offenders identified to be in this group.

In addition, the service has implemented an enhanced mental health screening tool at intake for all offenders and will be working toward developing an ongoing tool for assessing suicidal tendencies of inmates that can be used by health care and front line staff.