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House of Commons Hansard #58 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was arrest.

Topics

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (citizen's arrest and the defences of property and persons), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleagues who have spoken so eloquently on the bill today.

We on this side of the House generally support the thrust of at least one-third of the bill dealing with the so-called Lucky Moose event a couple of years ago in Toronto. My colleague, the member for Trinity—Spadina, introduced legislation to deal with that unfortunate incident some time ago. It was collected up by the members opposite in Bill C-60, which, unfortunately, failed to pass and died on the order paper.

First, I want to thank my colleague for Kitchener—Conestoga because I believe he said that the government would be willing to listen and to make amendments to the bill. I hope he said that because so far we have not seen a whole lot of willingness on the part of members opposite to accept any kind of reasonable amendments to any of the bills that have been before us.

My other comment has to do with the apparent priorities of the members opposite and the government. It appears that we have an inordinate preponderance of bills dealing with guns, crime, punishment and defence of personal property, but we are not spending a whole lot of time dealing with other very serious issues in our country, such as jobs.

The number one complaint I hear from my friend from Prince Edward Island is that his constituents need jobs. The same is true in my riding. People seem to have given up in large measure looking for jobs because there just have not been any for so many years in my riding.

We also have a serious first nations issue that appears is being glossed over by the government. Apparently no action is being taken to help the citizens of Attawapiskat, except to blame them.

We have reported cuts to services for seniors and for persons seeking EI such that they cannot even get answers on the telephone to their issues. They come to my office, as I am sure they do in many other members' offices, saying that they cannot get through and can I help. Our role should not be to replace the civil servants of the country.

I am hoping that, once this bill is disposed of, we can start moving into some real priorities and move away from the crime, punishment and gun agenda that seems to be dominating what we have been talking about.

The bill contains two essential ingredients. One is to give better permission to a citizen's arrest. There already is permission for a citizen's arrest in the Criminal Code, but citizens have to apprehend people in the act. They cannot find them later and arrest them. That is essentially what the bill hopes to accomplish.

It seems to be fairly clear on the surface. We look forward to the day when the committee will have a chance to study the bill in some depth, have representations from witnesses and experts in the field and to make amendments to make it absolutely certain that what we do will not have any unintended consequences.

I have a personal experience with citizen's arrest. It was a dark and stormy night, if members will pardon the use of the term. One night a couple of years ago, it was pouring with rain when I pulled into my driveway and saw a brand new bicycle sitting at the end of my neighbour's driveway. It seemed quite out of place. I picked up my cellphone and called my neighbour. He did not answer right away, but I heard his car door slam. I thought he was putting the bicycle in his car.

When I went over to his car, I discovered that it was not my neighbour, but somebody else who was about to get on the bicycle. I stopped the gentleman and asked him what he was doing. He said that he flat tire, that he had been at a friend's house and that he was trying to find a way to fix it.

He was quite drunk too. By that time, my neighbour, who had seen that I had phoned but had hung up on him, came out to the street. I asked him if it was his bike. He said that it was not his bike and asked what the gentleman was doing there. I looked at my neighbour and told him that he was just fixing a flat. However, the gentleman with the bike had a little box in his hand. The little box was a very unique piece of equipment for resting the tip of a welding torch that came from Princess Auto.

My neighbour looked at it and said, “I bought one of those today. Where did you get that”? The gentleman said a friend of his had given it to him. My friend went back to his car and looked, and it was gone. He accused the man of stealing it, which he denied. We ended up discovering that not only had he stolen that, but he had a couple of other things from my friend's car. At that point he got on his bike and tried to ride away, and I stopped him. I said, “No you don't. You're not going anywhere”.

This was not an act that was very smart because who knows whether this guy had knives, guns, or whatever else, but it was an instinctive reaction. That is part of what we are trying to deal with here. The instinctive reaction was that he should not go.

I picked up my cellphone and dialed 911 while I was holding his bike. He was too drunk to ride it anyway. I got 911 on the phone. The response was, “Police, fire, ambulance”.

I said, “Police, there is a man breaking into a car and I have apprehended him”.

They said, “Are you sure”?

I said, “Yes, he's standing right here. Do you want to talk to him”?

They said, “No, but we'll send somebody right away”.

Well, within two minutes, there were six police cars in front of my driveway. Clearly, the message is that if we tell them we have apprehended somebody they will come quickly.

Then an ambulance arrived because the guy had a cut on his hand. Then the fire truck arrived. I asked the fireman driving the fire truck why they had come. He said the guy might set himself on fire and they would put it out.

My point is, I acted out of instinct, not out of having read the law that says what I can do in a circumstance like that. That is part of what we are trying to deal with here, to make a reasonable instinctive reaction lawful. If my neighbour had not been there with me, if I had just apprehended this man while he was stealing from my neighbour's car, I would have in fact been in violation of the law. That will not be the case any more under this change, I think. It is a little unclear.

In retrospect, I probably should not have done what I did because who knows what he might have had. As it turns out, when the police did arrive, it was still pouring rain. They made him take off his coat and when they emptied it they found all kinds of stuff that he had already stolen. The bicycle was something he had probably already stolen. He had been out of jail only two days. He really wanted to go back there because it was dry and warm, and this was his way of getting back into jail and to someplace safe in the riding. He was actually, in some way, trying to be a better person because they discovered that he had put some air freshener, that he had stolen from the local drugstore, in his underwear.

The point of the story is, as citizens we react instinctively, not because we have read the law. It is that which we have to keep in mind as we craft these things. We do not actually act, necessarily, in our best self-interest when we are reacting to what we see and know is a crime.

The other story that I mentioned a few moments ago happened a year ago in my riding. An ice cream truck was robbed at gunpoint in the middle of a sunny afternoon, with children and parents all around the ice cream truck, and two very obviously bad people with a gun. The only person, at that point, in any immediate serious danger would have been the ice cream truck driver/operator, who was facing the wrong end of, we assume, a loaded gun.

The current laws on self-defence have given people the ability to defend themselves under the current legislation. They have the right, maybe, if they feel an immediate threat, to pull their own gun, if they have one. I do not know of too many ice cream truck drivers who carry around guns, certainly not in Toronto. Maybe they do in some more rural areas of Canada, but not in Toronto.

The issue then is, at what point does this become dangerous to the rest of the people. The concern I have is that the bill would change the rules from someone who is feeling their own personal threat to a threat of force being used against them or another person. We would expand the notion of self-defence to include another person.

Maybe the jurisprudence actually covered that in the past. I cannot find that on a layperson's reading of the law. I am not a lawyer. I do not have the kind of background that some of our colleagues do. We hope that through committee they are going to be able to tell us that this legislation would actually just repeat what used to be there. However, when I read it, I immediately thought of that incident with the ice cream truck.

If this law had been in place, and if everybody had read it, which I am going to say most law-abiding citizens do not go around reading the law, but if they had read it or if it was common knowledge that we could defend the life of someone else, then the concern I have is that we end up with someone across the street who sees the ice cream truck being held at gunpoint, or who thinks it is being held at gunpoint, maybe they do not actually see clearly enough to know what is going on, and they reach into their cupboard to get their unregistered long gun. I am hearing cackling from the other side of the House.

That unregistered long gun then becomes a use of deadly force in a situation involving children, in a situation involving ordinary civilians. We have now created a situation that should not have been created. We have now escalated this into what is perhaps going to become a deadly shooting spree. We do not need that to happen. We do not need vigilantism. We do not need people to feel they have the right to use force in situations that endanger themselves and endanger others as a result of a bill that may have been written with some unintended consequences in it.

I hope that as a result of serious thought and serious study at committee, the bill will in fact have possible flaws like that one corrected, where we create problems where there are none, where there are unintended consequences, where the mere notion that the law permits someone to use force to defend someone they do not even know and someone that maybe does not need defending, and create a sense of vigilantism.

That is not what we want in this country. We are not a country of vigilantes. We are not a country of people who go around raising arms against other people in order to defend life, limb and property. That is not what we do in Canada. That is not how we behave.

I am not trying to justify, in any way, any criminal acts by people with guns at ice cream trucks. It was one of the most disturbing stories I had heard in a long time about the level to which the violence in my riding has gone to. It is not something that I appreciate. The police are well aware and the police, I believe, have now arrested the perpetrators. They are in jail and we can rest a little easier.

However, my concern is I do not want to have a situation where we pass a law that somehow gives people the thought that they can enter into a fray like this and start shooting. That is not what we want. That is not what we expect from our ordinary law-abiding citizens.

As it turns out, no one was harmed in that robbery, except the owner of the truck who lost some money. However, there were no guns fired. There was no violence and no damage to anyone. Yet, this law might give some the thought that they should enter into this with guns blazing. That is not the country we live in. That is not the country we want. That is not the country I think I want to belong to.

So, we have a situation where this bill ought to go before a committee and be studied in a reasoned and unpressured way. The last two bills that the government brought forward were rushed to the point where closure was invoked on several occasions and in the case of Bill C-10, there were 208 clauses dealt with in clause-by-clause analysis in two days. Two days is not an appropriate amount of time to give serious sober thought to a bill that has enormous consequences.

We understand that the committee was rushed to the point where witnesses were crammed together, were not given sufficient time to answer questions, and questions were not able to be put to these witnesses in a thoughtful and reasoned way because there was so much rush put on this. I hope, based on the statements made by my friend from Kitchener—Conestoga, that the government is actually going to sit down and listen, pay attention, and accept reasoned amendments to this bill put forward by the opposition.

As I understand it, on both Bill C-10 and Bill C-19, many amendments were put forward, but—

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order, please. The hon. member for York South—Weston will have three minutes remaining for his speech, and five minutes for questions and comments when the House returns to debate this motion.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

moved that Bill C-293, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (vexatious complainants), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, Canadians gave our government a strong mandate to deliver safer streets and communities with our tough on crime agenda. That includes holding offenders accountable and building a correctional system that actually corrects criminal behaviour. That is why I am particularly pleased to rise today to talk about this important piece of legislation that will help complete part of that task, a task which Canadians have sent us here to do.

My private members bill, Bill C-293, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (vexatious complainants),, would correct a costly problem that currently exists in Canada's correctional system.

Correctional Service of Canada receives approximately 29,000 grievances a year from various offenders. Out of a total of approximately 23,000 offenders in CSC custody, a small group of approximately 20 offenders file more than 100 grievances per year. This accounts for a whopping 15% of all complaints filed. In fact, there are even a few cases where offenders have filed in excess of 500 grievances.

The increased volume of frivolous complaints significantly delays the process for other inmates to have actual legitimate concerns addressed. High complaint volume also ties up resources and has become taxing on our hard-working, front line correctional officers.

Bill C-293 would allow the Commissioner of Correctional Service of Canada to label an offender as a vexatious complainant when the offender submits multiple complaints or grievances that are of a vexatious or frivolous nature or not made in good faith. The bill would enable CSC to minimize the impact of those who file such grievances and it would ensure that the grievance process maintains the integrity to accomplish its intended goals.

I will explain for my colleagues the fair grievance process we currently have here in Canada. Currently there are four levels through which a complaint may progress. Complaints may be resolved at any stage. However, it is the inmates who get to determine if they are satisfied with the outcome of the decisions made by a warden or regional deputy commissioner.

The first level in the grievance process is called the complaint level. A prisoner fills out paperwork at the institution, which is then reviewed by the department or section manager and, if unresolved, makes its way to the warden. For high priority cases, the file will be reviewed within 15 working days or in 25 days for routine priority files.

CSC distinguishes high priority complaints and grievances as those that have a direct effect on life, liberty or security of the person, or that relate to the griever's access to the complaints or grievance process. Once reviewed, a decision will be made by the warden who will either approve, approve in part, or deny the inmate's claim. Should the prisoner be unhappy with the decision, the prisoner has the right to appeal.

Grievances at the complaint level can be an extensive process. Documents are filled out by the offenders and placed in mail boxes. Submissions are collected by a grievance coordinator who assesses and assigns it to a department. The complaint will then be logged into the computer system.

Next, the individual responsible for the area of the complaint will seek out more information and may interview staff or the offenders as required. The complainant will then receive a formal response from the institution. The status of a file will be noted in the computer system, depending if the offender believes that the complaint has been resolved.

It is important to note that offenders can request an interview at any time during this process. This can quickly increase the processing times of complaints due to staff and scheduling constraints.

Complaint processing initially occurs at the lowest level possible, which means that this whole process can cascade three times from the individual involved, the department or section manager and then to the warden.

While every effort is made to resolve an offender's grievance, it is apparent that the complaint level of the grievance process requires a great deal of resources to properly administer. Many institutions will also provide offenders the opportunity to be hired as inmate grievance clerks. These offenders are interviews and, if hired, will be provided the appropriate training and education.

Inmate grievance clerks play a role in reducing the number of complaints as they are attempting to resolve the situation without resorting to the formal grievance process.

CSC deals with hundreds of complaints per day which are dealt with by this very informal manner. This is a useful tool for standard grievances. However, dealing with these situations informally is not always enough for some offenders who make it a hobby of filing complaints.

The second level of the grievance process occurs at the regional level. CSC has five regions and the files from the first complaint level are sent to the appropriate regional office. The regional deputy commissioner will review the files and in the same timeframe as the initial complaint level. Once again, if unhappy, the prisoner is granted the opportunity to appeal.

At the next stage, level three, the senior regional deputy commissioner will review the prisoner's grievance. This person must now assess the original grievance and additionally consider the responses provided by the institution warden and the regional deputy commissioner. Due to the increased volume of documents, the review times at this stage are 60 working days for high priority and 80 days for routine priority files. Again, if unsatisfied with the decision of the senior regional deputy commissioner, the inmate may appeal, which moves the claim to the fourth and final stage.

It is important to note that, up until this point, grievances can be in the system up to 150 working days. If appealed, the level four grievance means the prisoner's claim will be sent to the commissioner of CSC. At this stage, grievances will again be approved, approved in part or wholly declined. This is a much shorter review timeframe since the commissioner's office will receive summaries from all other levels to assist in making the final decision. Furthermore, the timeframe is much shorter because the commissioner's office has a greater number of staff and expertise as its disposal.

It is important to also note that, throughout the entire grievance process, prisoners may also approach federal courts, the office of the correctional investigator and tribunals as methods for addressing their complaints. These other avenues for addressing grievances require that the offender has exhausted the complaint process currently available in their own facility.

This process is generous, extensive and provides three opportunities for an inmate to accept solutions to his or her complaints. The current system does not prevent all inmates from filing frivolous grievances and, as such, prevents the necessary jurisprudence to allow CSC personnel to do their jobs appropriately and efficiently.

The current legislation is not as efficient and fiscally responsible as law-abiding Canadians deserve and expect it to be.

How does the current process fail us? I will explain this in six brief points. First, the current system does not require that grievances be filed in good faith. Section 90 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act states:

There shall be a procedure for fairly and expeditiously resolving offenders’ grievances on matters within the jurisdiction of the Commissioner....

A system required to process all claims regardless of merit diminishes the fair and quick resolution of legitimate complaints.

I am certain that by amending section 91, the labelling of vexatious complainants, it would improve offender access to section 90, fair and timely resolution, of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which is central to the purpose of this bill.

Second, the current system is a financial burden on the taxpayer. An incredible amount of resources and tax dollars are wasted when inmates are able to control a system that moves through four reviews and up to 150 days of processing time.

Third, the system allows prisoners to act like they are the victims. Proceeding through the correctional system with a sense of victimization is a problem. Our government was given a mandate to support Canadian families and law-abiding citizens, and this means supporting those who are the real victims of crime.

Fourth, allowing prisoners to file numerous frivolous complaints detracts from their ability to focus on their rehabilitation. Inmates should be focused on their correctional plan, the end result of which will mean their more effective reintegration into society. Making a hobby of filing meritless grievances makes a mockery of our correctional system and the entire grievance process.

Fifth, the present system creates a negative impact on the morale of staff involved in managing the grievance process. The knowledge that inmates are continuously filing grievances to cause trouble is not helpful to the morale of staff. On my recent visit to a prison, front line prison staff expressed the challenges of spending large amounts of time processing meritless complaints, especially when offenders choose not to seek resolution through informal channels.

Finally, the current system is too generous when it comes to the initiation of grievances. Inmates are attempting to manipulate a fair correctional system. Prisoners are in jail for one reason and that is to pay their debts to society. This certainly does not include bogging down the system with undue administrative hardships. It is evident that vexatious complainants are attention-seeking inmates who wilfully abuse the fair complaint process and prevent it from functioning properly.

Do members know that offenders are currently permitted by law to file a second complaint while a first is already in process? Often this second complaint will be an exact duplicate of the first. Offenders may do this because they are displeased with an initial response or they may not believe that their matter is being addressed in a timely fashion.

One particular example of this was an inmate who had an issue regarding a radio that he owned which, after his transfer to a new institution, no longer worked. He filed a complaint and while this grievance was in process he began to work through claims against the crown process as well. He then filed another complaint on the same issue while his first grievance was still being evaluated in conjunction with the institution that he had been transferred from.

When corrections staff attempt to resolve inmate issues in a timely manner, offenders should not be breathing down their necks for an answer or bogging down the system. Solutions take time and this procedure should be respected.

CSC staff noted that the offender saw the grievance process as a game and was determined to take advantage of it. It is important to note that staff feel the complaint process is an extremely important and useful tool but only when it is used for legitimate complaints.

As I said, our government believes in delivering a correctional service that actually corrects. There are key programs with CSC that have a real impact in the effective rehabilitation of inmates, for example, CORCAN. CORCAN is a key rehabilitation program of Correctional Service of Canada. CORCAN's mission is to aid in the safe reintegration of prisoners into society while providing employment and employability skills training to offenders incarcerated in federal penitentiaries and sometimes even after they are released back into the community.

Inmates who co-operate within the system also have access to an adult basic education program. This program offers inmates the opportunity to pursue a grade 12 education and is available year round in Canadian correctional institutions. This program is offered to offenders who have education in their correctional plan or who require upgrading in skills as a requirement for either continuing education or reintegration programs.

Correctional plans are professionally developed and implemented documents that outline an inmate's needs and what he or she needs to do to become responsible and accountable individuals in society. Under Bill C-10, the safe streets and communities act, these correctional plans would play an even more fundamental role in the way inmate rehabilitation is structured. As they pay their debts, these are the efforts inmates ought to be taking for reintegration into society. It is important to realize also that these programs come at a substantial cost to taxpayers and should not be taken lightly.

What are the exact changes proposed in my Bill C-293? In simple terms, the bill would allow the commissioner of Correctional Service of Canada, or his assigned representative, to designate an offender as a vexatious complainant. Once this has occurred, the offender would be held to a higher standard of proof for future claims.

Additionally, someone designed as a vexatious complainant could have his or her complaint shut down in the initial stage if the institution decided that the claim was vexatious and not made in good faith. Bill C-293 would considerably improve how grievances are processed in our correctional system.

Who exactly would benefit from the bill? Vexatious complainants themselves would benefit from the bill. They would be held accountable by focusing more attention on paying their debts to society. Their time will be better spent completing their correctional plan. This bill would work within the existing process to ensure prisoners are learning responsibility for their actions. Continuous complaining is counterproductive to those goals.

Taxpayers would benefit from a system that no longer forces correctional staff to process large volumes of meritless complaints, resulting in better use of tax dollars.

Correctional staff would also benefit. They would be freed from processing claims made in bad faith.

Our existing system would benefit. The existing grievance process would function more effectively and in the manner that it is supposed to. It would be able to resolve grievances in the way that it was intended to and actually focus on legitimate complaints.

By cracking down on vexatious complainants, Bill C-293 would help to make offenders more accountable, ensure greater respect for taxpayers and take the unnecessary burden off hard-working front line correctional officers.

I hope that all hon. members will support this legislation.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the speech by the member for Scarborough Centre and I have closely examined her bill. I have some comments to make about this bill.

This bill has the laudable goal of reducing the number of complaints by offenders who repeatedly make complaints that are not in good faith. Correctional Service Canada has indicated that about 20% of all complaints are made by offenders who make multiple complaints. During a discussion we had with the correctional investigator, he mentioned that the vast majority of these people are not making complaints in bad faith to discredit the correctional service. They are people who have a much higher level of education than the others, who have low levels of education, and they make complaints on their behalf. Many of these complaints are written by these individuals. Few of the measures in this bill set clear criteria for the commissioner of Correctional Service Canada.

Why does the government give the commissioner greater discretionary powers in this bill to designate an offender as a vexatious complainant?

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is correct; the bill will not address the bulk of inmates in prisons today. It is actually aimed at a small group of individuals who have made a hobby of filing these types of complaints.

It is a real headache to our hard-working front-line correctional staff when they have to deal with grievances that are not made in good faith and are filed only to cause trouble within the system.

The hon. member mentioned his concern that it may address other inmates as well. However, I can assure the House that there are approximately 20 people currently in penitentiaries today who are each filing in excess of 100 grievances. In fact, a handful of inmates have filed more than 500 grievances per year. This bill will target those individuals only.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, in an appeal process, whether here or in other areas, one must go through steps. The member made reference to the commissioner as being the final step, and she seems to have a lot of statistical information available.

I am assuming that as people go through the steps, the vast majority of these issues are resolved. If we leave out those 20 individuals the member is referring to, to what degree are the grievances that go to the commissioner determined to be legitimate concerns, at which point corrective action is taken? Does she have any statistics as to the kinds of decisions being made by the commissioner's office that override decisions made at previous levels?

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member's question is similar to the first question. He is asking for statistics, and the numbers speak for themselves. Twenty inmates file 100 grievances per year; these grievances are appealed at each stage of the process and have probably made their way to the highest level, which is the commissioner himself.

A handful of inmates have filed over 500 grievances per year. In my speech I indicated that, statistically speaking, the bill is aiming to target a whopping 15%.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for bringing this private member's bill forward.

We have all heard the story about the little boy who cried wolf. We know the response: he was taken seriously, and then it was determined that the wolf was not coming. We see that happening in Correctional Services Canada today.

We know that the people who are dealing with these grievances take each one of them very seriously. We know that the system asks them to take them seriously, which means that resources must be put in place.

I think we should be taking grievances seriously, but we hear the statistics the member has brought forward. Hundreds of grievances have come from one offender, perhaps complaining that the light bulb is too bright or that the doors are too loud when they clang. Does the member believe that this measure will allow for more concern and will encourage real grievances to come forward because other offenders will realize that all that time should not be wasted on these vexatious grievances?

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Yes, Mr. Speaker, I agree with his statement. It is important to note that correctional staff have expressed that the fair grievance process is very important, but it should be used for legitimate complaints. Part of the problem is that they are extremely busy, and when they are bogged down with grievances made in bad faith, it takes time away from the legitimate complaints or concerns of other inmates that need to be addressed. The member is absolutely correct.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative member for Scarborough Centre has introduced Bill C-293 to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. This bill has two objectives: first, to deal with offenders who make vexatious, frivolous or multiple complaints; second, to reduce the number of complaints handled by the corrections administration.

The NDP supports legislation that will make our prisons safer. We also support legislation that will allow our prisons to operate in a quick, fair and efficient manner. However, we are particularly concerned about the impact that this bill could have on prison management in Canada.

This bill will give disproportionate discretion to the commissioner of Correctional Service Canada. With this power, and based on his own opinion, the commissioner will be able to designate an inmate as a vexatious complainant. Decision-makers, such as penitentiary wardens, can refuse to hear the complaint of such an inmate if they consider the complaint to be vexatious or frivolous. With Bill C-10, the inmate population will increase significantly, which will result in more complaints.

It is unacceptable to grant discretionary power to designate an inmate as a vexatious complainant without placing limits on this power by establishing clear criteria that will make the decision transparent and fair to all inmates. It is important to establish clear criteria because the concept of a vexatious complaint is problematic given that it is based on completely subjective factors.

How can we ensure that every decision by the commissioner to designate an inmate as a vexatious complainant will be just and fair to all inmates if there are no clear criteria for making a decision that is informed and, above all, fair to all inmates?

In light of the fact that the simplest things in life are very important in a correctional institution, this difference of opinion makes the designation of a vexatious complaint a complicated matter. For that reason, a decision about vexatious complaints is subjective and biased and requires clear criteria to guide the commissioner's decision-making.

When the inmate is designated as a vexatious complainant, he will have to prove the merits of every new complaint with additional material. The material required will be at the discretion of the commissioner. Once again, there is no formal process to select the material; it is left to the discretion of the commissioner. This does not legitimize the process or make it any more credible in the eyes of inmates. This request for additional material could serve to deter inmates from filing complaints because of the red tape involved.

Furthermore, by compelling inmates to prove the merits of their complaint, the burden of proof is being reversed, which goes against our justice system. This bill creates a presumption of bad faith for all complaints filed by certain complainants, despite the fact that some of the complaints could be completely justified.

The problem of vexatious complainants cannot be generalized, as the Conservatives would have us believe. Many inmates who file vexatious complaints have mental health problems or have little education. The number of vexatious complainants who want to attack the administration or the complaints process is pretty small. What is interesting is that the complaints process can be used to identify these kinds of people, but by denying them access to the complaints and grievance process, we will be unable to identify them and therefore unable to help them. Many vexatious complaints are not entirely vexatious. In many cases, one part of the complaint is completely legitimate and, as a result, we cannot completely write off the complaint.

The designation of vexatious complainant will in no way reduce the volume of complaints to be addressed in institutions. When the administration receives a vexatious complainant, it will not be able to simply ignore it. The complaint will still need to be processed, coded and classified. Accordingly, the time devoted to analyzing the complaint will cancel out any time that is supposedly saved by creating a vexatious complainant designation.

Although it is possible for inmates to have a judicial review, the reality is a different story. There is an internal process to go through before the inmate has access to a judicial review. However, the internal process can take months or even years, which essentially blocks their access to a judicial review.

I should note that the complaint process was created after a number of prison revolts in the mid-1970s.

In an attempt to reduce violence resulting from prisoner discontent, a parliamentary subcommittee created a complaint and grievance process. This resulted in a fairer system for inmates, which meant that they could be heard. The objective of the complaint process is to use a constructive process to channel the frustrations of inmates. Limiting access to the complaint process will likely push inmates to use more violent ways of expressing their frustration and discontent. This is a matter of security for all inmates and prison workers.

The NDP is sensitive to issues dealing with rights and freedoms, and the Supreme Court has ruled on the fact that incarcerated individuals do not lose their rights. Furthermore, section 4(e) of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act states “that offenders retain the rights and privileges of all members of society, except those rights and privileges that are necessarily removed or restricted as a consequence of the sentence”.

We therefore believe that the complaint and grievance process is a tool that helps ensure transparency and accountability. It shows that some corrections policies are ineffective and that there are problems in Canadian prisons. As a result of the measures proposed by omnibus Bill C-10, the prison population will no doubt grow rapidly, which will lead to major problems in terms of prison management. The government should therefore focus its efforts on increasing the correctional investigator's capacity to investigate so that he can quickly identify the problems in prisons. Instead, the Conservative government is using this bill to try to limit his capacity. In my opinion, the Conservatives do not want us to see just how much worse their policies will make the situation in our prisons. I do not think that they want us to be able to measure the negative impact that these policies will have on prisons.

We also believe that the number of complaints is a problem. However, we do not believe that reducing access to the complaint and grievance process is the solution. This new bill will reduce the safety of inmates, guards and other prison staff. We also believe that the most effective way to guarantee open access to the complaint and grievance process, while reducing the volume of complaints, is to create mediator and complaints coordinator positions. The Conservatives ignored all the recommendations of the experts and internal and external review committees. Many of them mentioned the importance of establishing these types of positions, which would allow prisons to maintain an open-access complaint and grievance process while reducing the volume of formal complaints through informal resolution. Our approach is supported by many stakeholders in the corrections field, including the John Howard Society and many correctional law and criminology experts.

To summarize, the bill will give disproportionate and unbridled discretion to the commissioner making it possible to have the inmate designated as a vexatious complainant. Set criteria for decision-making must be established so that decisions are not made in a subjective and biased manner. I find it quite unreasonable to make the administrative process more cumbersome and to discourage inmates from complaining.

Is the government trying to muzzle inmates who would like to shed light on prison problems?

The changes that the Conservatives would like to make to the complaint process are contrary to the principles of our judicial system because they would reverse the burden of proof. The internal process mechanism would limit access to judicial review for inmates. That is completely unacceptable. Access to judicial review is a basic principle of our judicial system.

The complaints and grievances process was instituted to channel inmates' frustrations and discontent and to deter them from using violence to express their dissatisfaction. The process was also established as a tool for ensuring transparency and accountability when identifying problems in our prisons. This is a vital tool that allows correctional investigators to carry out their work in an appropriate manner.

I will repeat, the government does not want us to discover that its prison policies are ineffective and exacerbate existing problems. The government does not want to be accountable for these problems.

Finally, I would like to point out that the government is trying to depict prisoners as a group of complainers whose complaints are not justified. As I explained previously, the picture of inmates painted by the Conservatives bears little resemblance to the reality.

For these reasons the NDP cannot support this bill. We are opposed to the bill not only because it limits the government's accountability with respect to prisons, but also because it will reduce the safety of guards, workers and inmates in the correctional system.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am rising once again to speak to a Conservative backbench private member's bill on crime. It is really amazing to me and to many Canadians how the right-wing republicans across the aisle continue to introduce so many so-called crime bills.

We read today in the news how the Conservative government essentially admitted to breaking the law. It is attacking, misleading and spreading falsehoods about the hon. member for Mount Royal. When will we be seeing a crime bill about that? The hon. member for Mount Royal is a great Canadian, an honourable man, a person of unimpeachable integrity and character. Yet these Conservatives are engaging in activities that are fundamentally unjust and un-Canadian. And here we are again on another crime bill.

We have two million people unemployed in Canada. People are struggling with real-life issues. Families are confronting the reality of not having enough money to buy gifts for their children at Christmas. Seniors are struggling to find money to pay for their home heating. Young people are disillusioned because there is no work and sadly no prospect of any. We have poverty rates among children that are a disgrace in a country as rich as ours. Food bank use is increasing among working families.

In my own province, poverty rates are on the rise and food bank usage is increasing. The Conservatives are cutting hundreds of jobs at the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Veterans Affairs Canada, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. They are closing employment insurance processing centres. It will be a miserable Christmas for millions of Canadians.

We have, as we speak, the Red Cross sweeping into Attawapiskat because that aboriginal community has no running water and many families are living in appalling conditions. Yet here we are again this evening dealing with a bill that has absolutely nothing to do with the real priorities of Canadians—

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order, please. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage is rising on a point of order.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member might be talking about a different bill. Perhaps he does not know what we are actually talking about. It is a spectacular crime bill that was brought forward by our member for Scarborough Centre. I know the member is talking about other issues: food bank issues at Christmas, and so on and so forth. I wonder if that is relevant to the discussion that we are having right now.

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if you might ask him to talk about the bill that we are debating here. I think he would do appropriate respect to the member for—

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I thank the hon. member for his intervention.

The hon. member for Winnipeg North is rising on the same point of order

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Absolutely, Mr. Speaker.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I will take a brief intervention on this, but I know the member for Charlottetown would like to get back to his speech.

The hon. member for Winnipeg North.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

And I too, Mr. Speaker, would like to allow him to finish his speech without being interrupted. Members will find that the member for Charlottetown is being very relevant to the bill. He started off by talking about the bill and the priorities of the government, referring to—

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I appreciate the interventions by hon. members. I will just say quickly that it is true that members are asked to keep their comments pertinent to the subject at hand. However, the House certainly affords members the opportunity to explore these ideas and I am sure the member for Charlottetown will be getting around to how this ties together.

The hon. member for Charlottetown.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, the people in my riding, and in ridings across this country, are worried about jobs. In my province, my constituents are worried about raw sewage in the harbour. Islanders have been trying since 2006 to convince the Conservative government to lay an electricity cable across the Northumberland Strait so that people in my province will have a safe and secure energy supply. These are important issues.

The Conservative member presents a bill about frivolous complaints made by Canadians who are incarcerated. What is frivolous is the constant propaganda emanating from the Conservatives that seeks to create a climate of fear. It is really amazing how narrow, how meanspirited, and how angry a government we have. Does it strike members as very strange and wrong that it seems just about every member of the Conservative backbench has their own crime bill? One would think crime was rampant, even though we know that the crime rate is declining.

In just this past month we have had no less than eight Conservative private members' bills on the order paper that deal with crime or public safety. Are the Conservative members incapable of thinking of anything else to speak about except crime? Do they lie awake at night dreaming and conjuring up ways to create fear in Canadians? It is crime propaganda 24/7 with these guys, and it has to stop.

Crime is not rampant. What is rampant is poverty and unemployment. It really is a disgrace to any sense of fairness and justice, and respect for the intelligence of Canadians that each day members of the Conservative caucus stand in the House and attack other elected members of Parliament, all but accusing them of supporting pedophiles, rapists or drug dealers. This is all because we continue to state our view that their crime agenda runs contrary to the evidence or facts.

We have a government that is systematically tearing apart the very fabric of Canada, all the while wrapping itself in the very flag it denigrates--

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Selkirk--Interlake is rising on a point of order.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member for Charlottetown is not at all even close to the discussion on the bill at hand, namely, vexatious complaints by prisoners to the Correctional Service Canada. He needs to get on track. He is making broad statements that have absolutely no relevance, or founding in truth for that matter.

I think he needs to be called to order to make sure he is being relevant to the debate at hand.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It is very true that members are given a lot of latitude to explore the topics that pertain to the question in front of them. It is important that the member for Charlottetown begin to bring some of these ideas together and see how they might pertain to the question in front of us.

The hon. member for Charlottetown.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I only wish that the government had the same zeal to combat poverty and other social inequities.

I have read the bill and I want to say to the member directly that any attempt to withhold any constitutional protections to any Canadians will be met with great opposition. We will not be bullied any more with suggestions that we care about criminals and not victims. It is simply not true.

Any effort to limit the rights of any Canadian, regardless of how we might find the reasons for their incarceration deplorable, will be objected to. We cannot allow Conservative fear to erode fundamental rights and natural justice.

I realize that these concepts do not play well with the right wingers over there. For them, it is lock them up, shut them up, and throw away the key.

Any prisoner convicted and serving time is an individual who is there for a reason and he or she should be there, given that a decision was rendered by a judge or jury after a due process. However, it does not mean that once incarcerated his or her fundamental rights as a human being are expunged, as much as the Conservatives would like to think so.

If a prisoner has a legitimate complaint, one that is serious, if he or she is mistreated or abused, then there should be no law that would prevent him or her from seeking a remedy.

We know that even at the worst moments of war, when we think of the great wars, there were international rules as to how we treated prisoners and evil people who did great harm or damage, and for good reason. It is called the Geneva Convention. We do not want a system that disregards the essential dignity of all human life, regardless of the deplorable nature of his or her crime.

We will review the bill, we will scrutinize it, and we will ensure that it meets the test of the charter, a document that many on the other side, deep down, oppose. However, we will do our job to ensure that the intention of the bill is not to stomp out legitimate complaints of prisoners.

In closing, I really do find all this crime propaganda troubling. I really wish the members across the way would look at themselves in the mirror and see how angry they appear.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Portage—Lisgar Manitoba

Conservative

Candice Bergen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support, with amendments, Bill C-293, which was brought forward by the member for Scarborough Centre. I would like to begin by commending and congratulating my colleague for introducing legislation that would help the Correctional Service Canada meet its legal obligations to resolve inmate grievances in the most effective way possible. Our Conservative government supports this important bill and to that end we will introduce some minor amendments to strengthen the bill at committee stage.

Canadians find it utterly unacceptable that offenders can make it their hobby to file frivolous grievances on the taxpayers' dime, while they are supposed to be engaged in rehabilitation. Let me be clear. All offenders have the right to a fair and expeditious complaint and grievance process. This process is to be made available to every offender without negative consequences. However, that is not to say that offenders should have carte blanche to submit endless and needless paperwork.

The system is set up in a four-level process, from a complaint at the institutional level to a grievance at the national level. Bill C-293 would not change those rights. All offenders will continue to have complete access to a fair and expeditious grievance process. The issue at hand is that there are certain offenders who take advantage of their rights to a fair grievance procedure by clogging up the complaints system with hundreds of frivolous or vexatious complaints and grievances each year.

What do I mean by complaints that are deemed frivolous, vexatious or not made in good faith? These are complaints that are submitted with no serious purpose, complaints that are submitted for the sole purpose of harassing officials or to simply cause a disruption. In some instances, offenders will submit the same frivolous or vexatious complaint over and over again, just because they can. We know there are a handful of offenders in our federal prisons right now that account for 15% of all complaints and grievances filed in one year. Some submit as many as 500 to 600 complaints per year.

In light of the volume of grievances that are not made in good faith or are frivolous or vexatious in nature, it is not surprising that this creates a huge challenge for corrections officers to address the legitimate complaints of other offenders.

While there is already a system in place to manage offenders who submit high volumes of grievances, it does not address the root of the problem, that of making offenders accountable for their actions. The bill before us would right this wrong and it would ensure that offenders would not be abusing the benefits afforded to them through a fair complaint process. It proposes several things.

First and foremost, Bill C-293 proposes to give the commissioner of the CSC the authority to designate an offender as a vexatious complainant. In practice, this means that the commissioner will have the power to determine, based on a thorough review of the offender's history of complaints, that he or she is deserving of the label a vexatious complainant. This is similar to the process already in place for litigants who abuse our court system.

The bill also proposes that once offenders have been designated as vexatious complainants, they are then obligated to provide additional material to CSC to back up each complaint that they submit. It will allow CSC to refuse to review a grievance that is frivolous, vexatious, or not made in good faith unless the grievance would result in irreparable, significant or adverse consequences to the offender.

The bill is a positive step toward our goal of rebalancing the grievance system and to reducing the burden imposed by offenders who abuse that system. However, our government believes that we should go a step further to put more emphasis on offender accountability. To that end, when the bill proceeds to committee stage, we will propose key amendments that will ensure that offenders who are designated vexatious complainants are no longer able to create delays in the grievance system and affect other offenders access to the process.

Bill C-293 makes an important change by allowing the commissioner of CSC to designate some offenders as vexatious complainants. However, as it currently stands, these offenders would still be able to continue further grievances without first seeking permission from CSC. Furthermore, asking vexatious complainants to provide additional material in support of their grievance would only add to CSC's administrative burden.

We propose to amend this to allow the commissioner of the CSC to order that a vexatious complainant no longer be allowed to submit any complaints or grievances without first receiving the permission of the warden. In effect, that would stop the complaint at the institutional level, rather than allow the possibility of having every new grievance submitted by the vexatious complainant land on the commissioner's desk.

Second, the current bill states that the commissioner of the CSC must conduct a review and a reassessment of the offender's vexatious status every six months. We believe this would prove unwieldy and cumbersome to the commissioner who would be forced to review the offender's status twice a year. Our amendment would change this to make the review annual, which is a much more reasonable timeframe.

Third, Bill C-293 stipulates that the commissioner of CSC must carry out each decision personally as it does not allow for this power to be delegated. Surely it is only reasonable to give the commissioner of the CSC the authority to designate someone to take on this responsibility when needed.

Together, these amendment would help strengthen the bill and would ensure that offenders would be held accountable for their actions, including facing a consequence for their behaviour that is both disruptive and disrespectful.

Our government has been very clear. We are committed to move ahead with measures that will create a correctional system that actually corrects criminal behaviour. We make no apologies for ensuring that offenders are held accountable for their actions. That includes both the offences that landed them in prison and the actions they take while serving their sentence. It is particularly troubling to hear stories of offenders who, instead of focusing on their own rehabilitation, are abusing the system by lodging frivolous or vexatious complaints and grievances.

Our government is fully supportive of providing the appropriate rehabilitative measures to offenders. We are also committed to putting measures in place to increase offender accountability and ensure that offenders are playing a full role in their rehabilitation.

What we will not tolerate is a small group of offenders being allowed to bog down our corrections system by piling on complaint after complaint, sometimes to the level of 500 to 600 complaints per year, for no other reason than they are wanting to abuse the system. This is unacceptable. It must change and I am very glad that my colleague has brought the bill forward to make changes in this area.

Over the past several years, the Correctional Service Canada has been working hard to address the challenges that our institutions face when dealing with offenders who clog up the system with a high volume of grievances that are of no consequence to the rights, health or safety of that offender.

We believe that, as amended, Bill C-293 will go a long way toward helping address these issues to reduce administrative workload and to ensure that all legitimate offender grievances can be dealt with in a fair and expeditious manner. Therefore, I call on all members of the House to support this very important bill.