House of Commons Hansard #23 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was prison.


Drug-Free Prisons ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.


Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am rising today to speak to Bill C-12, as members will be aware.

However, if I may take advantage of my great privilege to speak in this place, I will preface my comments with special wishes for my friend, Nancy Mutch. Nancy for many years volunteered in Jack Layton's constituency office, and since Jack's death, has volunteered in mine. She has a golden heart, but for a couple of weeks now has been in Toronto East General Hospital under great medical care but engaged in a difficult struggle. She has always paid special attention to what goes on in this place, so I am hoping Nancy will hear me say, when I say it here, to keep fighting, that we love her, and that we need her back on the phones.

Drug addiction in our prison system is a serious problem. We have well established that so far this afternoon. It is serious, because it is linked to inmate violence and gang activity in our prisons. It threatens the safety of our correctional officers, makes it difficult for offenders to effectively reintegrate into the community once they are released, and leaves them much more likely to reoffend.

However, serious problems need serious solutions. Not only does Bill C-12 not offer any serious solutions to the drug problems in our prisons, it in fact offers no solutions at all. It has been a long-standing practice at the Parole Board to use drug tests as a tool to evaluate an offender's eligibility for release. All this bill would do is validate this practice. It is, in effect, another lame effort by the Conservatives to appear tough on crime and tough on drugs without doing anything at all to help us solve the complex problems related to drug use in our prisons.

This bill has been called, so accurately and evocatively, bumper sticker policy by my colleague from Gatineau, the justice critic for our caucus.

The Conservatives' effort to eliminate drugs from our prisons has been a remarkable failure. Proving themselves once again to be the great mis-managers of the public purse, the Conservatives have now spent more than $120 million on this interdiction effort, and according to the correctional investigator, this spending has had no impact on the prevalence of drugs and drug use in our prisons.

To sincerely address the problem of drug use in prisons, the Correctional Service needs to develop a proper intake assessment for all new inmates that can evaluate their needs for addiction and mental health programming and rehabilitation. It is only by providing proper addiction and mental health treatment and education to offenders that we can actually have an impact on the prevalence of drugs, violence, and gangs in our prisons.

According to the correctional investigator, the Conservatives' current anti-drug strategy lacks three key elements. First is an integrated and cohesive link between interdiction and suppression activities and prevention, treatment, and harm-reduction measures. Second is a comprehensive public reporting mechanism. Third is a well-defined evaluation, review, and performance plan to measure the overall effectiveness of these investments.

The correctional investigator's report goes on to say

A “zero-tolerance” stance to drugs in prison, while perhaps serving as an effective deterrent posted at the entry point of a penitentiary, simply does not accord with the facts of crime and addiction in Canada or elsewhere in the world. Harm reduction measures within a public health and treatment orientation offer a far more promising, cost-effective and sustainable approach to reducing subsequent crime and victimization.

Not only have the Conservatives made no progress in improving the drug situation in our prisons, they have actually made the situation worse. While the Conservatives have been happy to waste millions of dollars of public money on “drug-free prisons”, despite a consensus among experts that these efforts are ineffective, they have made cutbacks in core correctional programming that includes support for treatment for addiction and mental illness. Today federal offenders with drug-addiction problems face long wait lists before they can get treatment. There are currently over 2,400 prisoners waiting for addiction treatment in our country in federal prisons, and this situation is absolutely unacceptable.

It is unacceptable, because too often this results in offenders being released from prison without ever having access to appropriate treatment for their addictions. This leaves them more likely to commit crime and end up in the correctional system once again.

While the Conservatives like to think that they are tough on crime and they like to put forward empty gestures such as the bill before us, their policies have actually increased the chances that offenders will be released from prison as addicted to drugs as they were on the day they were arrested. Our communities have become less safe, not more safe, because of these policies.

Last year, the number of people incarcerated in Canada reached an all-time high, with over 15,000 federal inmates, and that number is projected to rise to almost 19,000 by next year. Despite these trends, budgets for addiction treatment and counselling in our corrections system have been decreasing.

Our prisons are becoming more and more overcrowded, with the practice of double-bunking increasingly becoming the norm. This is a situation that fosters the proliferation of gangs and violence in our corrections system. This situation puts the safety and security of our federal corrections officers in jeopardy.

The federal government has a duty to ensure that work conditions are safe for every citizen under federal jurisdiction in this country, but it has a particularly sacred duty to ensure the security of those who put their lives on the line for the public, such as the federal police, our military and corrections employees.

Conservative cutbacks and jail overcrowding have made the job of our corrections officials more dangerous, according to the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers. A recent article in the Huffington Post quotes corrections officer Trevor Davis, who works at the William Head Institution on Vancouver Island, as saying, “[The Prime Minister] wants to be tough on crime...but he’s not giving us the resources to do it properly”. As Mr. Davis puts it, “[The Tories] are making our jails unsafe.”

We talked about this matter this morning at length in the context of Bill C-5, about the current, and frankly, previous governments' disregard for the issue of workplace health and safety. Let me come back to Bill C-12 and the bumper sticker approach to drug-free prisons. The bill would not render our prisons drug free. It would simply turn practice into law and leave a dire situation, the need for assessment and treatment for the incarcerated in the interest of public safety, untouched.

According to the report of the Correctional Investigator, close to two thirds of offenders were under the influence of intoxicants when they committed the offence leading to their incarceration. That is a statistic closely connected with the fact that 80% of offenders arrive at a federal penal institution with a past history of substance abuse. The bill would change none of that. It would send offenders back into the population without ever seriously addressing the circumstances that gave rise to their offences.

That is the stuff of this government and its bumper sticker politics. It is beneath this place and all of us, but it is to this kind of politics from the Conservative government that we have unfortunately become accustomed.

With that, I welcome any questions.

Drug-Free Prisons ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.


Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I suppose we should all put on our hard hats, because it sounds as though the sky is falling.

I remember in 2011, when the NDP said that the prison population was going to be 20,000 after 2011. Now, today, the member opposite stands up and says it is at 15,000, but just wait until 2014 when it will be 20,000. It was supposed to be 20,000 in 2011. We were on a prison building agenda in 2011, according to the NDP. Then we got criticized for closing prisons down.

Here again, in the House, what we get is continued fearmongering about prison populations and the work that we are doing. I reiterate that $154 million is invested in the Canadian prison system to work directly on core programming and education, including substance abuse and addictions programs.

The member opposite made an interesting point about the care and concern for workers. We had a corrections worker testify in committee who said:

As a front-line staff member, I can say we spend a lot of time with the inmates. It needs to be drug free. It has to go right out of the system in order for them to make the proper choices, move forward with healing, and create a safe environment. There are a lot of pressures in the correctional facility on people trying to get drugs, do drugs, force other people to do drugs, and collect drug debts. It's the whole nine yards. To have drugs and alcohol right out of the system would help us in our job....

That is what our government is attempting to do. That is at the behest of correctional officers who work very hard in this country every day. Their safety is our priority. I ask the member opposite to stand behind them and support the legislation.

Drug-Free Prisons ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.


Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I find it very rich for the member opposite to be accusing the NDP of fearmongering. The government constantly raises the fears of the public in an effort to raise funds for their party coffers.

What we are pointing to is in fact a very real situation of a high level of offenders in our prison system having drug problems. What we are proposing are real solutions for rehabilitation and treatment of those who are incarcerated with substance abuse problems, so that when they get released the likelihood of reoffending is lessened and the chances of improved public safety is greater.

With respect to the budget numbers that the member threw around, it is interesting to note that the correctional services overall budget cut announced last year was almost $300 million. At the best, the correctional services devotes only about 2%, or about $1,000 per prisoner per year, to these core correctional programs that the member references.

This is hardly enough to improve public safety and deal with the issue of drugs in our prisons.

Drug-Free Prisons ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.


Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for a very eloquent and thoughtful presentation on a bill that has a name that is more like a bumper sticker. However, in content all it does is put into law what the Parole Board already does. It has nothing in it that I can see that would help us to move towards drug-free prisons, or do anything in the short term.

My question to my colleague is, with an increasing population in our prisons, with double-bunking, cuts to the budget, specifically around correction and drug abuse, what is in this bill that would help to keep our prisons free of drugs?

Drug-Free Prisons ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.


Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, the short answer is nothing. With regard to the longer question, I would like to go back to the question from the member for Yukon about the sky falling.

The numbers we on this side of the House have been citing with respect to increasing prison populations come from the correctional investigator. There were 15,100 inmates in federal prisons as of July last year. The correctional investigator anticipates there will be 18,684, based on new Conservative public safety and justice legislation, for example, mandatory minimum sentences.

The closing of certain facilities and the increasing population is adding to the problem of double-bunking, and directive 55 makes this the new norm. Again, this does nothing to help with public safety and the chance for offenders to come out after their time served to be productive members of our community.

Drug-Free Prisons ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before I recognize the hon. member for Chambly—Borduas to resume debate, I have to inform him that I will have to interrupt him at around 6:30 p.m. because that will be the end of the time allotted for government orders. I will tell him how much time we have left and the hon. member will be able to finish on another day.

The hon. member for Chambly—Borduas.

Drug-Free Prisons ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.


Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, the same questions keep coming up. When we talk about public safety, we always get the same old simplistic platitudes to try to describe our position on this file, which we believe is the responsible one. I can certainly address several points that are often raised by our Conservative colleagues.

Before getting deep into this discussion on Bill C-12, I would like to tell a story.

I had just recently been elected. This was in January 2012, if I am not mistaken, so almost a year after the election. We were taking part in an activity that we organize every year and that takes place in Chambly. It is an informal reception organized by community organizations that gathers all MNAs and MPs from the region to discuss issues of concern for the coming year. Often the issues are smaller and more local and involve funding for the organizations and their goals. However, there are many organizations working on prevention with young offenders. At that time, the omnibus Bill C-10 was a significant source of concern for some of these organizations.

I would venture to say that the points that were raised still apply today. Those involved are proud of the position that I took. It is also the position of all of my colleagues and of our party, which is responsible, despite what the members opposite may say. Public safety is certainly not an easy issue. We must create a society in which people feel safe, a society where they not only feel safe but truly are safe. We need to do this in a responsible manner. For example, people who are ill must be treated, whether they are dealing with a mental illness or an alcohol or drug addiction, which is what we are talking about today. This requires some compassion. I hesitate to use the word compassion because the members opposite practically consider it to be a bad word. It is difficult to balance compassion and safety, but we are trying to do just that. It is not easy, but we did not choose to go into politics to face easy challenges. We are prepared to take on that challenge. I believe that our public safety critics, my colleagues from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca and Alfred-Pellan, and our justice critic, the hon. member for Gatineau, who sometimes works with them, do an admirable job in this area.

They do their work responsibly, rather than boiling these very complex issues down into catchy phrases such as the title of the bill, which has been referred to many times today as a bumper sticker policy. The title is dishonest by the way.

Saying that the bill will help to do away with drugs in the prison system is dishonest because the bill basically legislates to implement a practice that is already used by the parole board. That practice will now be enshrined in law. Of course we support this bill. We do not have a problem with enshrining an existing practice into the law or with doing away with inappropriate actions associated with this practice. However, when we talk about getting rid of drugs, we have to keep in mind that drug addiction is an illness and treat it as such.

I spoke about the approach that my constituents shared with me in forums, such as the informal reception that I mentioned, and in the letters they write to me, because every time we talk about justice or public safety, the government always accuses us of being against public safety, and that is not true.

Interestingly, the people in my riding are very proud of our approach. Given how the government is handling this issue, it seems to be suggesting that the people in our communities, the ones who elected NDP MPs, are less concerned about safety in their communities, but that is absolutely wrong. The difference is that, in addition to advocating for safety, we also advocate for solutions to social problems everywhere, including in the prison system.

As I have said before, the problem is that this is a disease. I have said it before and I will say it again. What do we do with people who are sick? We try to make them well. This is a public health problem. I really want to emphasize that because in the end, we are not doing this just for the individuals, but for the community. By the time these people come back into our communities, back into society, we want to have done our part as citizens and as legislators by creating an environment that will support their reintegration and help them get better. People around them will feel safe knowing that we have stepped up to help these people. I see no shame in that. It is a balanced approach that people are very proud of; at least the people in my riding are.

Since this debate started today, whenever we talked about treatment and the fact that these are diseases and that we should do more to protect public health, others have talked about all the funds invested in various programs. That is not enough. We hear about waiting lists, and a Conservative member claims that those lists are a sign the program is working, but the opposite is true. Those people are not there because they want to stand in line for treatment. We have to take this problem more seriously, and we will not solve it by cutting resources, which is what has been going on for a long time. When the government says that it has invested a certain amount, once again, it has to specify that it is covering only one small aspect, among many, of drug treatment. It is not a priority. It is an amount invested in the prison system—not to mention all of the cuts—and only a small percentage is actually allocated to this major problem.

If we do not take this problem seriously, we would be sending the wrong message to the communities that might reintegrate these people after their release. In addition, this problem also affects the employees of the corrections system. In prison environments, the same phenomenon is seen when it comes to double-bunking: a government that does not care about the details, and when we try to point them out, it accuses us of standing up for criminals, although that is not the case.

We want to create a safe environment for people who work there, such as the prison guards, but also an environment where these problems do not spread any further. For instance, it is important to help people who enter the system with substance abuse problems, which will also prevent the spread of such problems. If that is not done, substance abuse will continue despite our best efforts, and will spread to other people. We will have done nothing to solve the problem. I do not believe that such a bill solves the problem. Once again, we will be supporting this bill, but the fact remains that it is not nearly enough.

It is as though we have travelled only half a kilometre on a journey that is 100 kilometres long. Much more is needed, although that is not what this government is doing.

If we do not help these people and if we do not take this scourge seriously, we will do nothing to eliminate the problem of drugs in our prisons.

Coming back to the bill's title, it talks about making our prisons drug free, but that is not what this bill does. The Conservative Party is not addressing the real problems. Even worse, it is going to try to get itself re-elected based on a bill's title that gives the impression that it actually does something. As an MP, I find that unacceptable, and my constituents share that opinion.

I would not be surprised to see a fundraising letter from the Conservative Party boasting about what it did to eliminate the problem of drug use in prisons, saying that this is how it got drugs out of our prisons.

What happens then? The voters and even the members of the Conservative Party who want to fix this problem as much as we do will get the impression that something was done, when in fact, the government simply adopted a band-aid solution. The issue is much more serious than this bill and the Conservative Party's rhetoric would have us believe. It is not just a matter of safety, but also a matter of health.

I think that putting on rose-coloured glasses and ignoring the problem shows a lack of respect. Earlier I mentioned addressing this issue responsibly, and it is not as though the government is not trying to solve the problem. It is interesting that a Conservative member who sits on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security told my colleague from Beaches—East York during his speech, that the NDP was acting as though the sky was falling.

I know our public safety critic very well and I know that he would never resort to exaggeration. He is very thoughtful and insightful. I know from experience that he makes fair and sensible proposals in committee to fix public safety problems.

In conclusion, we will support this bill, but we urge the Conservative government to take this issue as well as public safety more seriously. We are calling on the government to stop taking intellectual shortcuts and accusing us of supporting the criminals. That is ridiculous and it needs to stop.

We need to start acting responsibly, to fix public safety problems and also to create an environment in which our constituents feel safe. Furthermore, when people get out of prison and reintegrate into our communities, we will have taken a step in the right direction to try to combat their illness.

It is time to stop insulting the NDP and claiming that we do not take this seriously. We do take this seriously. The Conservatives need to stop telling me that I do not take my constituents' safety seriously. That is untrue. I also take public health problems seriously. This is the balanced approach that my constituents support. I hope that they are proud to see that the NDP supports this, and this is certainly the responsible approach we will take to form an NDP government.

We must stop using a black or white approach to public safety. We must stop causing division in our communities. It is time we realize that we can both help the people who are seriously ill and keep communities safe. Any rhetoric that encourages disdain or cynicism is no use when it comes to this issue. We must keep this in mind as we debate this bill.

We will support this bill. I am fully confident in my colleagues who will discuss these issues further in committee.

Drug-Free Prisons ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Chambly—Borduas will have five minutes for his speech when the House resumes debate. Of course, the time allotted to questions and comments will be 10 minutes.

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

Aboriginal AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

November 25th, 2013 / 6:30 p.m.


Maria Mourani Independent Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is estimated that since the 1960s, nearly 600 aboriginal women have been murdered or gone missing in Canada. The Native Women's Association of Canada says that many cases were not documented and that this sad finding is probably much higher than it appears.

Therefore, the precise number of missing and murdered women remains a mystery, since the RCMP does not compile data on murdered women according to their ethnic origin.

As part of the Sisters in Spirit research and education project, the Native Women's Association of Canada has collected information on the disproportionate number of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls in Canada. The final report of this research project referred to the disappearance or death of over 580 aboriginal women and girls in Canada since 1960.

According to the report, 153 of these victims were murdered between 2000 and 2008. Therefore, in eight years, 153 aboriginal women have been murdered. Compared with non-aboriginal women, aboriginal women are more likely to be victims of homicide. They represent about 10% of the total number of female homicide victims in Canada, although they make up only 3% of all women in the country. They are also at greater risk of being murdered by a stranger, and what is truly horrible, their murderers are much less likely to be convicted.

The Native Women's Association of Canada is not the only organization speaking out against this situation. Amnesty International has issued two reports—one in 2004 and another in 2009—on the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women, and those reports talked about the need to protect their rights.

In October 2008, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women urged Canada to look into the cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women and to take the necessary steps to remedy the deficiencies in the system. That is serious.

In February 2013, the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies, the umbrella organization for the federal, provincial and territorial human rights commissions, urged Canada to establish an independent and inclusive inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada.

More recently, in October 2013, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples asked Canada to take action. James Anaya called on the federal government to launch a national inquiry and said that Canada “faces a crisis when it comes to the situation of indigenous peoples”.

I believe that it is high time to shed light on this matter. The families have the right to know. Not only will this commission of inquiry allow us to understand what is happening but, more importantly, it will ensure that it never happens again.

Aboriginal AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Mississauga—Erindale Ontario


Bob Dechert ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for giving me a chance to clarify the response of the Government of Canada on this very important matter.

The government is deeply concerned about the unacceptably high number of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls in Canada and has been for many years. That concern is shared, I know, by many Canadians and by many members of this House, regardless of political stripe.

I would agree with the hon. member that this situation is unacceptable. It is a personal tragedy for family and friends, a cultural loss for communities that lose part of their future, and an unquantifiable loss for all Canadians who will never know which of these young lives might have ended up affecting us all. Quite simply, this situation cannot be ignored or allowed to continue.

I would remind members that it was the Government of Canada, through Status of Women Canada, that funded the initial research conducted by the Native Women's Association of Canada to determine the scope of the deaths and disappearances across Canada. When that research showed an alarmingly high number of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls, the Government of Canada not only acknowledged the seriousness of this tragedy but moved to take immediate and concrete action on this criminal justice priority. That was in 2010.

Today the Government of Canada has committed $25 million over five years for a seven-step strategy to improve community safety for aboriginal women and girls and to ensure that law enforcement and the justice system can better respond to cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls.

The government's response has to be seen against the broader context of other investments by the Government of Canada to address the underlying causes of violence facing aboriginal women and girls and their higher vulnerability to that violence.

I mentioned already the important work of the Native Women's Association of Canada on this issue. Its work builds on and complements the work of more than 45 studies, commissions, inquiries, and other reports, including the 1999 Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba, the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, the House of Commons status of women committee, the B.C. Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, and many others.

This government has committed to concrete action to resolve this issue and has renewed that commitment in the recent throne speech at the beginning of this session of Parliament. I look forward to the report of the Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women this coming March.

Aboriginal AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Maria Mourani Independent Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to go back to the fact that after meeting with representatives of the federal and provincial governments, first nations leaders and aboriginal peoples from Quebec, Ontario and western Canada, in October 2013 the UN special rapporteur urged Canada to establish a national commission of inquiry to shed light on this matter.

I heard my colleague say that the government is concerned by this situation and that it is unacceptable. However, what these women want to know, as do all the institutions that have approached the government—Amnesty International, the UN, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Native Women's Association of Canada or the Quebec Native Women's Association—is when will the government launch a national commission of inquiry to shed light on this matter. When? We just want a date.

Aboriginal AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Bob Dechert Conservative Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to be very clear in my response.

I am pleased that the federal, provincial, and territorial ministers of justice have now declared this issue a priority in four portfolios: justice, public safety, aboriginal affairs, and status of women.

Thanks to the extensive number of reports, studies, and recommendations, many reflecting the voices of aboriginal victims of violence, community members, and families of missing and murdered women and girls, there is already a consistent picture of what needs to change.

This government has committed to concrete action to resolve this issue, and it renewed that commitment in a recent throne speech at the beginning of this session of Parliament.

I look forward to the report of the Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women in March. I sit on that committee. It is studying this whole issue in great detail. There will be a number of recommendations. The Native Women's Association of Canada is an expert witness and adviser to that committee.

There will be a comprehensive report, which I think the member would be very interested to read. I look forward to that report as well.

Aboriginal AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:39 p.m.)