Mr. Speaker, I find Bill C-293 both puzzling and troubling. Contrary to what the previous member suggested, the bill does not right a wrong. If enacted, it will pave the way potentially for far greater wrongs. I need only quote from the renowned Justice Louise Arbour, who said, in dealing with previous concerns regarding the treatment of prisoners:
One must resist the temptation to trivialize the infringement of prisoners' rights as either an insignificant infringement of rights, or as an infringement of the rights of people who do not deserve any better. When a right has been granted by law, it is no less important that such right be respected because the person entitled to it is a prisoner.
One would presume that these amendments came forward in response to the recommendations of the federal Correctional Investigator. The federal Correctional Investigator came forward with strong recommendations as a result of the very tragic case of Ashley Smith.
What were the facts in the case of Ashley Smith? Fourteen-year-old Ashley Smith was put in prison because she threw crab apples at a postman and she was shunted from institution to institution. Because it appeared she was under stress and had some mental health problems, she was violating certain rules in the prison. As a result, she went from solitary confinement, then to prison and to another prison. In the end, the sad case of Ashley Smith was that the prison officer sat and watched her die from self-strangulation. As a result of the tragic death of this young women and the failure of the prison guards to protect her interests, there were a number of investigations.
One of the investigations was by the federal Correctional Investigator. One thing he found was that her final grievance remained in the prison grievance box two and a half months after her death. Today we hear that there are inappropriate administrative duties on prison officers. There actually are corrections officer rules that require that box be emptied every day.
What was the nature of Ashley's complaints filed as grievances? The Correctional Investigator quoted a number of them, which I do not have time to go into. However, in his report the investigator found that there was improper designation of her grievances. They were found to be insignificant when he found that they were in fact serious. There was a failure to provide written responses as required by the prison directives. There was a failure to discuss her complaints with her and the responses were prepared well after she was transferred to other institutions. All of her complaints were responded to in an inappropriate way and not compliant with corrections policy.
Despite the heightened duty of vigilance due to her condition of confinement, there was a failure to observe her basic human rights. This was a tragic and avoidable death and the investigator made a number of recommendations. He recommended, contrary to what the hon. member has tabled, the following:
I recommend that all grievances related to the conditions of confinement or treatment in segregation be referred as a priority to the institutional head and be immediately addressed.
I recommend, once again, that the Correctional Service immediately commission an external review of its operations and policies in the area of inmate grievances to ensure fair and expeditious resolution of offenders' complaints and grievances at all levels of the process.
What do we find in the bill here? How does this bill respond to what the Correctional Investigator found? He found that corrections institutions were failing immeasurably in honouring the basic right of considering the grievances. This bill has the opposite effect.
This bill, contrary to due process, gives complete discretion to the regional deputy commissioner or the commissioner or any delegate. In other words, it could be totally within the discretion of any corrections officer to designate somebody as a vexatious prisoner. There are no criteria, there is no process, and in fact the commissioner, or the person making the designation, does not even have to inform the prisoner in writing until after the designation is made.
There is some reference to having a conversation with the prisoner about the process. This is a complete violation of due process. We live in a country of due process. That is how we are made. That is why we are honoured to be a member of the United Nations: we operate by the rule of law and due process. That means we follow basic principles.
This bill violates all of those principles.
Then the prisoner is going to be denied, potentially for a whole year, even the opportunity to raise any kind of grievance. Again, let us remember that we are including the rising numbers of prisoners who are suffering from mental health issues, as documented by the corrections investigator and a number of officials. As a result, there is a high probability that in this process, anybody in the prison could designate somebody with a significant mental health issue, and they will be silenced.
What is the solution? What is the redress for this prisoner? Well, the prisoner can go to court--this from the very government that criticizes us all the time over the possibility that we might table bills that might be litigious. This is the very government that castigated me for daring to table an environmental bill of rights that would simply have allowed Canadians the right to go to court if the government failed to be transparent, open and participatory.
As for the right to go to court, these are prisoners who have been denied the ability to even file a grievance, and we are supposed to believe that they are going to be given access to the courts. As my colleague on this side of the House suggested after the bill was first presented, why is there not a more reasonable mechanism? Why is there not an independent mediator within the prison system, who could come in the same way that many independent people do to make sure prisoners are being treated appropriately? Why not consider some other kind of mechanism?
I hope the member who tabled this bill will give serious consideration, if her bill proceeds, to sending it to committee to be measurably amended, so that at least the government, if it sides with this bill, will show that it is siding with due process of law and human rights.