Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. This title clearly spells out the bill's objective. However, as usual, the Conservatives have added a completely misleading and disingenuous title: the “drug-free prisons act”. Some Canadians may not believe it, but it seems that this is a scourge in Canadian prisons.
I would first like to remind members that the official opposition, the NDP, and I have three main objectives when it comes to this type of bill.
First, we must ensure that correctional staff have a safe workplace. Second, we also want to build safer communities for all Canadians through treatment and rehabilitation programs for inmates. Third, we want to ensure that victims have the resources they need to get their lives back on track.
Those are the NDP's three major messages for these three groups.
Right now, under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and regulations, urine samples can be collected. This must always be done in accordance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but this practice is already in place in order to prevent drug use in prisons. When it comes time for an inmate to be released, he must meet certain criteria so that he does not reoffend and he demonstrates that he wants to change.
There are conditions for collecting urine samples. First, there must be reasonable grounds since inmates' rights must still be protected. Random checks can be done under certain conditions.
Urinalysis can be required for participation in activities. If an inmate tests positive for drugs, he can either be prohibited from participating in certain activities or he can enrol in a drug treatment program. What is more, controls are in place to verify whether inmates are complying with conditions to abstain from consuming drugs or alcohol, for example.
There is already a system in place, which is why I was questioning the usefulness of this bill. There should be a good reason to introduce a bill in the House of Commons. We have to wonder whether this bill truly adds anything to this issue or whether it is simply an electioneering tactic to call the bill the “drug-free prisons act”.
The amendment made by this bill makes it clear that the Parole Board of Canada has the power to impose a condition regarding the use of drugs or alcohol by stating that the conditions may pertain to 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. However, this does not add much in reality.
I would like to talk about how we can prevent drug use. We can crack down on drugs and controls can be implemented. That is important. As I mentioned, we want to ensure that corrections staff and inmates are safe. We also want inmates to have the chance to rehabilitate.
Some people who committed crimes may have been addicts. Once they are imprisoned, they should have access to drug treatment programs. In 2008 and 2009, the government spent $11 million on drug treatment programs in jails. In 2010 and 2011, that figure dropped to $9 million, which shows that this government does not want to make our prisons safer or drug-free.
The ombudsman also put out a troubling, timely and appropriate report. I would like to share a quote from it. The report followed some troubling cases, including the suicides of Mr. Snowshoe in the Northwest Territories and a young woman, Ms. Smith. They had been imprisoned in absolutely inhumane conditions. They had been put in solitary confinement.
I would like to quote an article in today's Globe and Mail:
One out of every four inmates who cycled through federal penitentiaries last year spent some time in solitary confinement, an extreme form of incarceration that is undermining efforts to rehabilitate offenders, Canada’s prison watchdog says.
Segregating a man or woman from the rest of the population is supposed to be used sparingly as a last resort, Howard Sapers, the Ombudsman for federal prisoners, said in an interview on Sunday. But the agency that runs Canada’s 47 federal prisons and community corrections centres is increasingly turning to solitary confinement to manage institutions that are crowded and lack sufficient resources to deal with high-needs inmates....
“It’s become a default population-management strategy,”....
It is a tragedy. Cells are overcrowded, creating explosive situations in Canadian prisons. Canada is a G7 country, a developed country. Successive Conservative government bills have imposed mandatory minimum sentences, eliminated rehabilitation programs and ensured that community crime prevention programs are underfunded. Community groups are fighting to keep youth from joining gangs. All of that is being underfunded.
I am somewhat perplexed about this bill, which, in my opinion, does not add much to what is already in place. However, it gives me the opportunity to point out the country's overwhelming need in terms of crime prevention and rehabilitation in particular.