Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you for giving me the chance to speak to Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act or, to use the much more impressive-sounding title chosen by the Conservatives, the Drug-Free Prisons Act. I will come back to it in a moment.
First, I would like to say that, when it comes to justice, crime or prison, I always think about the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and about the 12 days to end violence against women campaign. I always feel somewhat sad as I talk about this year after year because it clearly means that we are not progressing as quickly as we might hope on this issue.
Those who are here in our beautiful nation's capital may be interested to know that I have agreed to sponsor a Théâtre Parminou play, entitled Coup de foudre, along with two women's shelters, Unies-Vers-Femmes and Centre Actu-Elle. The play will take place tomorrow in the Desjardins room of Polyvalente Hormisdas-Gamelin, which is located at 580 Maclaren Street East in Buckingham. The play is very important in raising awareness of violence against women. I extend an invitation to anyone who has the opportunity to attend to do so.
We have to move forward on this issue so that we do not have to keep calling attention to it year after year. We know that every year these 12 days culminate with the end of the campaign, the commemoration of the massacre at the Polytechnique, on December 6. This is always a very sad time.
First, I rise to address Bill C-12 and to pay tribute to my colleagues on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, including the public safety critic, the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, for their exceptional work. It is not always easy to stand up to this government.
I see it at the meetings of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, as the justice critic. When you dare question certain provisions, you get it all thrown back in your face, as if you sided with criminals, or inmates in this case, and you had a lot of nerve to question any of the provisions.
However, I was listening to the questions members asked my colleague from Newton—North Delta after her speech, which I really liked, and I was saying to myself that something was missing from the Conservative side, since the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca had clearly stated that we were going to support this bill at second reading. We really have to put an end to the hostilities until we have finished with Bill C-12 and do what we have been asked to do, which is pass it at second reading and send it to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security to see if it is flawless or if it needs to be improved and amended. It is the committee that will have to do that.
Earlier, I spoke about its grandiose title. The Conservatives are often criticized for having bumper sticker policy, or legislation based on prominent news stories. That is their specialty. The Conservatives think that you do not always have to have good public policies. Instead you should have something that is “in your face”, something that attracts the attention of their voter base, preferably, sometimes something that brings prejudices into play.
When I see a title like the one given to Bill C-12, the Drug-Free Prisons Act, I want to be sure right from the start that I have really understood the words that it uses. According to this title, the bill is not trying to improve anything, but to completely eradicate drugs from prisons. I told myself that this bill must be really good and that its approach must be extraordinary, so I read it.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety roundly criticized my colleagues for not talking about the bill and asked them to go and read it.
I really can talk about this bill.
Clause 1 announces that this bill will make our prisons drug free. How wonderful. Then we see the title of the act: “Corrections and Conditional Release Act”.
Clause 2 states:
2. The Corrections and Conditional Release Act is amended by adding the following after section 123:
I take this to mean that this is how we are going to make our prisons drug free, so I start reading, anxious to see what is going to happen and how we will manage to make prisons drug free, since drugs are one of the biggest problems. The bill states:
123.1 If an offender has been granted parole under section 122 or 123 but has not yet been released and the offender fails or refuses to provide a urine sample when demanded to provide one under section 54, or provides under that section a urine sample for which the result of the urinalysis is positive, as that term is defined in the regulations, then the Service shall inform the Board of the failure or refusal or the test result.
They want to make prisons drug free, but someone who has taken drugs or is taking drugs could refuse to take a urine test that would prove whether they are on drugs or not. The 308 Members of Parliament in this House, including the Speaker, all agree with making prisons drug free, but that is easier said than done.
I will continue. Clause 3 states:
3. Section 124 of the Act is amended by adding the following after subsection (3):
(3.1) If the Board is informed of the matters under section 123.1 [which I just read, about when someone who fails or refuses to provide a urine sample] and the offender has still not yet been released, the Board shall cancel the parole if [a big “if” right in the middle of the clause], in its opinion, based on the information received under that section, the criteria set out in paragraphs 102(a) and (b) are no longer met.
I wondered what section 102 of the act was about, so I looked it up:
102. The Board or a provincial parole board may grant parole to an offender if, in its opinion,
(a) the offender will not, by reoffending, present an undue risk to society before the expiration according to law of the sentence the offender is serving; and
(b) the release of the offender will contribute to the protection of society by facilitating the reintegration of the offender into society as a law-abiding citizen.
Up until now, our Conservative friends have not touched that. This means that they believe that someone can be rehabilitated inside, that we can free the evil criminals one day and reintegrate them into society, “if, in its opinion...the offender will not, by reoffending, present an undue risk to society before the expiration...of the sentence...”
Take, for example, someone who was given a prison sentence of two years less a day and is released earlier. He behaved well, there is no reason to believe he will reoffend before the expiration of his sentence, he presents no undue risk to society, and his release will contribute to protecting society. This is important: releasing a prisoner can be a way of helping society. It can help by facilitating the reintegration of the offender into society as a law-abiding citizen. Those are the basic concepts involved in granting release.
All the bill does is say the following:
4. Subsection 133(3) of the Act is replaced by the following:
(3) The releasing authority may impose [I repeat “may impose”] any conditions on the parole, statutory release or unescorted temporary absence of an offender that it considers reasonable and necessary in order to protect society and to facilitate the offender’s successful reintegration into society. For greater certainty, the conditions may include any condition regarding the offender’s use of drugs or alcohol, including in cases when that use has been identified as a risk factor in the offender’s criminal behaviour.
Then it is a question of when the bill will come into effect.
That is the Conservatives' glorious, incredible Drug-Free Prisons Act. At least, that is what it would seem to anyone who reads it. I had planned an interview with someone who told me they were anxious to hear our thoughts on what it means to have drug-free prisons. The interview will be quite short. This bill has what I would describe as an overly inflated title. Every time the Conservatives introduce a bill, I picture the Michelin man in my head.
It is so inflated.
So much so that ultimately, it is no longer believable. Then the Conservatives ask us such ridiculous questions that we have to wonder if they are mocking us. Probably not. Seriously, we have often been accused of not reading things, but now we have proved the opposite, because I have read the bill from cover to cover. So then everyone has read Bill C-12. If they had not before, well they have now.
I sometimes have the impression that the members opposite read from nicely prepared notes. They accuse us of not reading material, but in truth, they are the ones who are not reading. It is incredible. They rise and try to have us believe that they will succeed in making prisons drug-free.
Since I felt like reading today, I would like to read to you an amazing article written by justice reporter Sean Fine. It appeared in this morning’s edition of the Globe and Mail.
This article is dated November 25, 2013. I will read it in its entirety because in my view, it is right on the mark. It focuses on the real problems that the Conservatives are not even addressing, not the kind of thing you can put on bumper stickers to give people the impression that the Conservatives are solving all of society’s problems. If it cannot be summed up in a short phrase, such as “Death to so and so” or “We are the good guys and they are the bad guys”, then the Conservatives will not make the issue into a major public policy.
Here is what Sean Fine had to say this morning in the Globe and Mail:
Canada’s ombudsman for federal inmates says prisons have become more crowded, violent and worse at rehabilitation under the Conservative government, despite a budget increase of 40 per cent in the past five years. In a speech heavily critical of the Conservative government’s tough-on-crime policies, Howard Sapers criticized “mass incarceration,” “arbitrary and abusive conditions of detention,” and the victims’ rights agenda that Justice Minister Peter MacKay has placed at the centre of his program. The idea that “punishment with no apparent limits is justified stands many of the principles underlying our democracy and our criminal-justice system on their head,” Mr. Sapers told 150 people at a Toronto church on Sunday. Between March, 2003, and March, 2013, the number of federal prisoners—a federal sentence is one of two years or more—rose by 2,100, or 16.5 per cent, even as crime rates declined sharply. The overall corrections budget is now $2.6-billion a year, but even though 2,700 new cells have been or are about to be added to the system, more than 20 per cent of inmates are double-bunked—two in a cell designed for one. Mr. Sapers, whose mandate is to report to Parliament on individual and systemic concerns of offenders, said the government has been clear about its agenda and he hopes his comments “reflect a fair analysis of the impact of that agenda on the mandate of my office.” He warned that many of the explosive conditions that fuelled a deadly riot at the Kingston Penitentiary in 1971, riots that led the government to establish the ombudsman’s office as a watchdog over prison conditions, are still in play. “As penitentiaries become more crowded, they also become more dangerous and unpredictable places.” Violent incidents and the use of restraints, pepper spray and segregation have risen, he said. The government responded by stressing the importance of victims’ rights.
We all agree with that.
“We make no apologies for standing up for victims’ rights, and ensuring their voices are heard in our Justice system,” Paloma Aguilar, [the Minister of Justice’s] press secretary, said in an e-mail.
In parentheses for me, what the hell does that answer have in relation to what Mr. Sapers was describing? Absolutely zero.
This is precisely the type of response the Conservatives always give when they have absolutely nothing to say. For example, if I ask them what colour the sky is and they do not have an answer, they will say that they are standing up for victims of crime.
We are all in agreement. We all support victims. However, we need to take steps to ensure that there will not be any more victims of crime. We need actions and laws in place so that we can say to the public that their safety is our priority, not merely a concept. It is not enough to say that we have locked someone away in prison and that is the end of it. The offender would remain locked up for a long time and when he is released, anything might happen.
Jean-Christophe de Le Rue, spokesman for Public Safety Minister...said being tough on crime has produced positive results.
Another brilliant answer.
With all due respect, I must say that the answers we hear from both these people bring to mind an expression we often hear from the two-, three-, five- or seven-year-old kids from my area: it is not related. It is not related to the question or issue that was raised.
“Being tough on crime has produced positive results.”
I do not know. As we have already seen in another context, statistics show that crime rate is going down.
Can anyone claim, like the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness like to do, that these lower numbers are a result of the tough on crime agenda? I believe that a few years from now, we will suddenly wake up and realize our prisons are a nightmare. Indeed, the situation there is already a nightmare.
Instead of pursuing photo ops across the country, the minister should go to courtrooms and speak with his former colleagues—crown prosecutors, defence attorneys and judges—and ask them about the impact of these wonderful, mammoth bills focused on crime and public safety. He should ask them about the impact these bills have in the field. Alberta and Quebec are complaining loud and clear about a lack of judges. There is a very basic problem.
However, the government responds, “We make no apologies for standing up for victims’ rights”. I hope so; we all do. However, that does not make our penitentiary system more secure.
Measures like this one do not make correctional workers safer. A fancy bill title is not enough to make prisons drug-free or create a better system for everyone. Who would believe such a thing?
Mr. Sapers listed several Conservative initiatives that he said have undermined the idea that prisoners can be rehabilitated -- from tougher sentencing rules such as new mandatory minimums and an end to automatic early release for serious repeat criminals, to tough-on-inmate policies. These include charging more for making telephone calls, increasing room and board charges, eliminating incentive pay for work in prison industries and reducing access to prison libraries.
I do not have enough time to cover all of the details, so I encourage everyone to read what Mr. Sapers wrote. He is more informed than I about what is going on in penitentiaries and in terms of public safety.
He is Canada's ombudsman for federal inmates.
Under the circumstances, some might wonder why we care about prisoners.
First of all, they are human beings.
I do not think that Canada has chosen to believe that a human being is no longer a human being. I would suggest they talk to their backbench colleagues, who are always making all kinds of statements about what a human being is.
I think it is important to treat people as humans even while they are being punished for what they have done. The government should not try to convince the public that a bill just a couple of clauses long will eradicate drugs from prisons. They should not take us for fools.