Mr. Speaker, I am please to rise to speak to Bill C-5. I have to start my comments by saying that it is not the first time the House has seen this bill. The bill was introduced last fall with much fanfare and a sense of urgency before being killed by prorogation.
As with most measures introduced by the government, we are seeing them introduced two or three times with a sense of urgency. The Conservatives attack the opposition because the measures are not adopted right away, that we are standing in the Conservatives' way, only for them to kill their own bills, bring them back and feign that they have to be passed immediately. There is a renewed sense of urgency, even though they are the ones who killed the bills. It is no different with respect to Bill C-5.
I want to talk about the purpose of the international transfer program. If we are seeking to amend it, it would be wise to consider why it is there in the first place. I will read directly from Correctional Service Canada's annual report for 2006-07 as to why we have a transfer system in place in the first place. It states:
The purpose of this program is to contribute to the administration of justice and the rehabilitation of offenders and their reintegration into the community by enabling them to serve their sentence in their country of citizenship.
If offenders are not transferred, they may ultimately be deported to Canada at the end of their sentence, without correctional supervision/jurisdiction and without the benefit of programming.
It goes on to talk about the fact that we may not even have any idea they had any criminal record at all, because there would be no record of it in Canada. It continues:
At any given time, there are over 2,000 Canadian citizens incarcerated throughout the world. Canadians serving a sentence of imprisonment abroad are faced with serious problems such as isolation, culture shock, language barriers and have no means to address the root of their problems because of the lack of programs available to foreign nationals.
Without the benefit of transfers, offenders are deported at the end of their sentence to their country of citizenship, often after having spent years in confinement and being totally unprepared for safe, secure and successful reintegration into society. Transfers provide offenders with the possibility of becoming productive members of the community, by contributing to the administration of justice and the rehabilitation of offender and their reintegration into society as law abiding citizens.
Given that the Conservatives were attacking voraciously the fact that individuals were being transferred from foreign prisons to Canadian prisons, it is passing strange that an annual report would come out while they are in power talking about the essential nature of this program, not out of some sense of feeling sorry for these individual inmates, but as a recognition that it provides a critical function to public safety. If somebody commits a crime abroad, is incarcerated and does not receive the rehabilitation and help he or she needs to get better, when the individual is released, and he or she will be released, and deported back to Canada, he or she will not be ready for reintegration.
When we consider individuals who might be facing mental illness, and we have to remember that one in ten of those who are incarcerated are suffering from a very serious mental illness, and in the female population it is one in five, these Canadian citizens who are jailed in foreign jails and faced with mental health illnesses will not only not be getting any help, but will get much, much worse. What will land back at our doorstep inevitably is a much bigger problem.
When we scrape away the veneer of rhetoric and cut to the government's own words in the annual report for Correctional Service Canada, we recognize this program has important value, and that playing politics with it is frankly wrong.
It might surprise individuals to know that over 79% of the individuals in question with respect to this transfer program are Canadians in the U.S. These are individuals who are incarcerated in the United States. It is ironic, because the policies the government is pursuing right now of dramatically increasing incarceration fall very much into the model that is in the United States. We hear what a disaster that system is for the Americans right now.
The U.S. system is so overwhelmed that the Americans have an inability to provide programs, services and rehabilitation, such that when experts are looking at Canadians coming back from U.S. prisons, they say they are at a much higher risk of reoffending. In fact, we know that in California, the rate of recidivism, the rate at which individuals repeat offend, is over 70%.
Imagine this. A Canadian citizen has perhaps committed a smaller crime. Most crimes are related to substance abuse. We know that more than 80% of inmates are facing substance abuse problems. We are going to take somebody who goes in for a non-violent drug-related offence and we are going to put that person into a crime factory in the United States. We are going to send people in as minor criminals and churn them out of a system that some, including the head of the John Howard Society here in Canada, have called “a gladiator school”.
Those people will return to Canada. What will they do then? I think it is a very dishonest portrayal when we try to scare people into thinking that these are criminals who have committed acts in other countries and they are going to come here and do bad things. Here is another way of thinking about that and a more honest way of putting it. These are individuals, Canadian citizens, who have committed crimes abroad and who will come home.
The question is, who do we want to come home? Who do we want to step off that plane? Would we prefer somebody who was transferred into a Canadian jail, received proper programming, was rehabilitated and would not reoffend, or would we prefer that people languish in a foreign jail, where they get no rehabilitation, where if they have a mental health issue, they are going to get no treatment and where if they have a drug issue they get no help? They return to Canadian soil ready to commit more serious, potentially violent crimes.
If we stopped and thought about it rationally for just a moment, we would realize that this program does have an important function in that regard. We also need to consider just how small a number we are talking about in terms of the number of people that were transferred in any given year. It ranges from a low, and we had it last year, of around 40 individuals who were transferred, to a high of about 90. The government makes this proclamation about how essential this bill is. Even if one forgets everything I just said, we are talking about 40 to 90 individuals.
The government goes on to say that under its administration, and it is very proud of this, it has stopped dramatically the number of transfers. Yet if we look at that same annual report and look at the number that was actually denied by Canada as opposed to by another jurisdiction, in the last year of a Liberal government, in 2004-05, there were four people denied. In the last year for which we have statistics, under the Conservative government in 2006-07, the number is seven.
Here is a matter in front of us of supposedly enormous urgency to change and a government touting how it has dramatically reduced the number of people it is allowing to come here. We have gone from four people denied to seven. That is in the annual report. That is some crisis.
It is under assault right now, but I think we have to recognize that Canada has one of the best prison systems in the world. Its mandate is rehabilitation. Our rates of recidivism are low. Despite the fact that the Conservatives refuse to acknowledge it, crime in this country has been consistently on the decline. I use Statistics Canada for my facts in this regard. I think Statistics Canada is an appropriate place to turn when we are trying to figure out what the crime statistics are in a country.
When the Minister of Public Safety was last before the public safety and national security committee, however, he said we cannot believe Statistics Canada; we cannot believe the facts, do not listen to them. He said instead that there were invisible crimes going on that were unreported and that those were skyrocketing. The types of crimes that we could not put our finger on or actually identify were going through the roof. I asked him where he was getting this information from, what was his source. His response was he got it from the Vancouver Board of Trade.
I submit that if I am going to use statistics on what is happening with crime in this country, I would be much more likely to use the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Canadian Police Association and Statistics Canada, all of whom tell us crime is in decline, particularly violent crime, as opposed to listening to the Vancouver Board of Trade on an issue that might be very local to whatever situation it is faced with.
The point is that the facts do not seem to matter, that what matters is the politics, that there is an attempt to use crime and issues surrounding crime as a wedge, as an opportunity to divide Canadians to try to extract political gain. I would submit that this is a relatively new phenomenon. In the House in the past, all parties have recognized that if there is one area in which we really should not be playing politics it is in crime, in keeping our communities safe, and that we should follow evidence-based systems that rely upon what actually works.
Let us take a look at what actually keeps our communities safe and reduces crime and focus on those things. Let us not play into false perceptions or sensational media reports with policies that do not work, cost billions of dollars, make our communities less safe but extract an inch or two of political gain at any given moment.
What we need to do in that regard beyond Bill C-5 is take a look at the trajectory of dealing with crime in this country. We need to look at the actual evidence of what has worked and not worked in other jurisdictions and at what we should be doing here in Canada. On that, I am going to come back to the American example of incarceration.
Many know that the American rate of incarceration is much higher than the Canadian rate. What people may not know is that was not necessarily always the case. If we go back to 1981, the Canadian and U.S. rates of incarceration were relatively similar, with the U.S. rate being about two times the Canadian rate per capita. However, Republican policies came forward that were aimed at “tough on crime” measures to drive up prison populations and that difference went from some 200% higher to nearly 700% higher, an increase of 500% in a very short period of time.
If there was a dramatic impact in terms of making the United States safer during that period of time, perhaps there could be an argument that literally tens of billions of dollars were spent for that additional incarceration. The fact is that in that period of time the United States witnessed the same decline in rates of recidivism and crime as did Canada. Violent crime rates and property crime rates right across the board are all down by about the exact same measure. The only difference is that the U.S. had to pay tens of billions of dollars more.
The evidence is that it has a far more sinister impact. If we consider the case of California, there is now a taxpayer cost of $8 billion a year with a prison system that is overflowing with more than 150,000 inmates. I mentioned before that over 70% of inmates reoffend upon release, are recycled back into a prison system that offers no programming or treatment to treat the underlying causes of their criminal activities.
Because the U.S. system is so overwhelmed, the same people are not being treated and are being pulled back into the system in a never-ending loop of crime, victimization and cost. This is the model the government wants to follow. This is the direction the government is headed.
In addition, the Federal Court ordered the state government to release 55,000 inmates before they finished serving their sentences because the conditions of the prisons were unconstitutional. Canada signed a UN convention against double bunking and ever since then, we have been bringing that rate steadily down.
The minister now says that to deal with the soaring prison population, we are going to return to that policy, the same kind of policy that is leading to higher rates of recidivism, which means less safe communities. Not only are we talking about billions in more costs, but ultimately we are going to be talking about higher crime rates with these policies. The question may be asked: Just how far have the Conservatives gone when it comes to spending on correctional services?
In two years' time, the budget of Correctional Service Canada will have increased by some 96%. The capital budget for Correctional Service Canada, in two years' time, will have been increased by 238%. Make no mistake, as staggering as those increases are, they are just the tip of the iceberg.
At the end of this month, Mr. Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, will submit for Parliament's consideration the total cost of the government's measures. Get ready for sticker shock. The cost will be astronomical.
When we consider how poorly this system has worked before, let us consider what our alternatives are. Instead of spending billions of dollars on prisons, what are some of the things the government should be spending on?
Let us start with crime prevention.
In 2005, the last full year of a Liberal government, the National Crime Prevention Centre supported some 509 projects, in 261 communities, for a total of $56.9 million. Today, the Conservative government has slashed funding and programming by more than half, cutting every year. Now less than 285 projects are funded and actual spending on crime prevention has been slashed to just $19.27 million. That is a cut of more than half on crime prevention.
This is deeply disturbing. We know from people like Dr. Irvin Waller, who has done extensive studies in this area, that for every dollar we spend on crime prevention, we save $7.00 on incarceration and $4.00 in eradicating costs dealing with both probation and re-entering. We are talking about saving $11.00 for every $1.00 we spend in prevention, yet the current government has decided to slash funding on crime prevention.
When I have gone across the country, I have had an opportunity to speak with boys' and girls' clubs, organizations that are right at the front line of helping youth at risk, of turning them away from a dark path toward a life of prosperity, paying taxes and happiness. I have talk to the Salvation Army and the YMCA. These groups are critical in providing that community support and resource to help young people. When I hear that their funding has been slashed, that they are in a position where they get less and less cash, even as they watch billions get dumped into prisons, it is tragic. It is tragic because It means there will be more victimization.
Perhaps this is one of the greatest flaws of the approach of the Conservatives to crime. They wait for victims. They let the crimes happen. Then they say that they will get the guys and really punish them. They say that they will throw them into really terrible, dark places, where they will learn their lesson.
However, because the Conservatives are cutting from the things that stop crime from happening in the first place, we have more victimization. Then because they are cutting from the ability of the prison system to deal with a manageable population, they are destroying their capacity, their ability to make those people better, ensuring that when they walk out the door, they are better and they do not commit more crimes.
We know that more than 90% of inmates will walk out the door of those jails. No matter how long we make those sentences, they will come back out. Again, we have to ask ourselves who we want walking out those doors.
The government often touts its position on victims of crime. The reality is it has been cutting there too. The Prime Minister has cut grants for the victims of crime initiative by 43% and contributions to the victims of crime initiative by 43%. Even on the front line of helping victims, the government is cutting, as it dumps billions into prisons. It is cutting from the prison farm system. It refused to act on the Correctional Investigator's report on Ashley Smith and the terrible problems in our prison system, with mental health and addictions issues. It is undermining police by refusing to even support its promise to put 2,400 more officers on the streets. something the Canadian Police Association called a betrayal. Despite engaging Mr. Iacobucci on Afghan detainees, the government ignores his recommendations when it comes to reforming the RCMP.
Enough is enough. It is time for the government to actually listen to evidence and take real action.