Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise to address issues inside the House of Commons, and it is a privilege to do so.
In the legislation we have before us today, I started by talking about the name of the bill and the impression it is attempting to leave with people. I find it difficult to accept it at face value. What is the real motive behind the government bringing forward this legislation?
I represent a wonderful riding, as all MPs no doubt proclaim they do. However, there are many different challenges that our country faces as a nation. One of the greatest challenges we have is related to the issue of addictions. Addictions are very serious. Because we are not aggressively pursuing ways we could deal with that issue in a very proactive way, I believe we are doing a disservice.
Given the very nature and the seriousness of addictions, I believe there is a need for strong federal national leadership to work with the different stakeholders, in particular the provinces, to come up with some solutions to those problems. I do not believe there is anything within this legislation that would do that. It is not addressing the problem of addictions.
I have a great deal of respect for my colleague, the Liberal Party critic for health care. She is exceptionally knowledgeable about the issue of addictions. I have had the opportunity to listen to her on numerous occasions as she has described the issues surrounding addiction.
I am nowhere near as knowledgeable as she is on this addictions file. I want to bring it to the table from a constituency level, from the average person who is working and quite often has a difficult time managing, the middle class. We have not talked enough about the impact that policies and discussions have on our middle class and whether we can do more. I believe we can and we should be doing more.
Bill C-12 is all about addictions and what we are doing for a prisoner who is released from a penitentiary and returning to a public environment. The legislation talks about instituting some requirements, testing to find out whether there is substance abuse prior to release. There will be a lot of debate about that. Whether it is a justice critic or a health critic, both of them will contribute to that aspect of the debate at great length.
My frustration is that I do not believe we are doing enough outside of our prisons to deal with this issue. I would challenge the government on that. It needs to take a more holistic approach to dealing with abuse of drugs and the negative consequences.
Our prisons have literally thousands of people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol prior to their entering those institutions. Many would argue that it might even be the cause of them being in those institutions. That is just a small percentage of what is in our communities.
From what I can tell when I look at the legislation, it would do nothing to deal with the issue of addiction. That is what is so disappointing. If the Conservatives are serious, they should develop the necessary programs so that when people are leaving our federal or provincial detention institutions they go into an environment that is going to assist them in staying away from these addictive drugs. I see the consequences and the impact it has on our communities far too often.
We were talking earlier about other legislation regarding safe injection sites. Here is a good example of where government says there is a problem and it is going to attempt to deal with the problem. It is that approach that the Conservatives need to start considering in terms of resolving many different issues that face our society, whether it is in prison or outside of prison.
What has happened in terms of the injection site is to first identify the problem. In prisons, there is a great deal of alcohol and drug abuse. We know that. It is a high percentage. I will go through some of the numbers shortly, but well above 50% of the prison population experience some form of abuse of alcohol, drugs or other chemicals. That abuse does not necessarily originate from within the prison walls. It comes, in most cases I would suggest, from the communities prior to the inmate entering prison. What are we doing in regards to that?
Let us use the example of another piece of legislation. Remember the injection site? Canada has one injection site. That is not something that was thought of out of the blue, to establish it and put it up in Vancouver. That was not the case. There were numerous individuals who recognized that Vancouver had serious issues surrounding addiction and that if they could have a safe injection site they would be able to assist in preventing crimes, assist addicted individuals, and ultimately make a safer community for people to live.
I was very sympathetic to that. I would rather see the paraphernalia that comes with some of these heroin injections in a controlled environment, as opposed to inner city back lanes or schoolyards. It is not just inner city; it even happens in the suburbs. I have seen what I believe were exchanges of drugs in parking lots, which I have been told by constituents to watch out for. There is proper notification that it is prevalent, and not just in the inner cities.
The damage that is caused is horrendous, not only to the individuals who are using the drugs, but also to the environment in which they are injecting these chemicals into their systems. That is not to even mention what might be happening in order for them to acquire the drug itself.
We have these stakeholders who identify an issue and then they work on the problem with the different levels of government, including Ottawa, the Province, the city and different stakeholders. I am suggesting that we need to use that mentality of co-operation in working with the stakeholders, including the provinces, to try to deal with problems.
I would point out that this was a specific problem outside the prison system and we saw a solution. We had great co-operation, and something was put into place as a direct result. In speaking with the critic for health, she took great pride in this. Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, and others, as I said the provincial and municipal leaders and many different stakeholders, turned it into a reality. They addressed the problem.
I would suggest that is what we should be doing in dealing with our prisons. We need to identify what the problem truly is. We already have a good sense of that. There have been many reports and many debates.
I do not think anything I am saying this afternoon is earth-shattering. A lot of it is common sense. The people I represent apply common sense to a lot of the issues we have. We might need to start talking a lot more in terms of common sense inside the House of Commons.
We need to start recognizing that there are some simple things, along with some fairly complicated things, that need to happen within our prison systems. It is not just that someone has been found guilty and that because the person has some sort of addiction issue by putting him or her in jail the issue disappears.
If we believe that is the case, we should start talking to some of the correctional officers. These are people on the front line who have not broken any laws. They are protecting our communities and providing a service to all Canadians, even people within the institutions. If we took the time to talk to the correctional officers, they would acknowledge up front that there are serious issues in dealing with drugs and alcohol within our prison system.
I started my comments before question period on this issue about the title of the bill. It makes me wonder why the government has chosen to bring forward the legislation. It is Bill C-12, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. It sounds like a reasonable name for a bill. Of course, the Conservatives brand their legislation. I call it the stamp of approval from the PMO.
The stamp of approval on this piece of legislation is the drug-free prisons act. It builds up this huge expectation and causes a great deal of concern in terms of how the government might attempt to do this.
We probably have stakeholders from around the world who would say it is not possible to make a prison completely drug-free or alcohol-free. It would be interesting to hear witnesses who come before committee provide their input as to why they think that might be possible. We do not think it is.
I believe what we want is a government that is proactive or aggressive at dealing with the issues of addiction within our prisons. That is really what we want. I am all for protecting potential future victims from crime. Trust me, I would debate that issue any day with anyone, outside or inside the House. However, I am also interested in debating the issue of substance with regard to drug and alcohol addictions.
If we can come up with programs that are solid and sound and that we can deliver within our prison system, I tell the House that we will have less crime on the streets of our cities and municipalities of all sizes. The challenge is to come up with the right types of programs to make a difference. It might not get us the headlines we want, but it will have a real, tangible impact in terms of decreasing crime in our communities.
That is what I am interested in. That is what the Liberal Party of Canada wants. We want fewer victims, and the best way to achieve that goal is by ensuring that we have programs that will have an impact.
Where, in Bill C-12, is there any movement toward a program that is going to deal with that issue? That is not something we see in the government's legislation. One would ultimately ask, why not? However, the direction the government is taking is moving us away from that.
Again, I will emphasize that I sympathize with and I will fight for victims of crime, but I am also going to fight to prevent victims. With good, strong, healthy programs, we can make a difference. This is something on which the Government of Canada needs to be challenged to start producing, because it has fallen short in providing substantial programs that will make a difference in the communities we live in and represent and make them safer places to be. That is the challenge.
We have the name of the bill. We will see what happens when it goes to committee. I look forward to getting feedback from our health critic and our public safety critic. I look forward to what ultimately happens with the bill.