Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to speak to this bill. I have heard my hon. colleagues from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca and Malpeque, and I agree with much of what they said. I will try to avoid repeating the good points that they made and focus in on why I agree that this bill is so very lacking.
The essential difficulty goes beyond the fact that the bill does not address the serious problems within our prisons or the issue of drugs and addiction in any way that would make a meaningful difference. The essential difficulty—and this is something that bears repeating—is that as with so many bills in this place, the legislation coming at us has not been designed through the lens of someone who wants to improve public policy in an area for which the federal government has jurisdiction but rather through the lens of someone designing a brochure for the next election campaign. The titles are whiz-bang, the claims are extravagant, and the bills themselves are, in some cases, wide-ranging and disastrous, as in the case of the omnibus budget bill, Bill C-38.
In the case of this bill, it has an overreaching title. Of course, who would not agree that it would be a good thing to have drug-free prisons? The title of the bill is the drug-free prisons act. In a grand total of five clauses, one of which is “This Act may be cited as the Drug-Free Prisons Act” , we have a regime that would require an offender who has already been granted parole to be subjected to a request for a urine analysis. If they refuse or test positive, the bill would then have this information referred to the Parole Board to determine whether the parole should still be granted.
There are a lot of things wrong with this idea just as a practical matter. For one thing, the Parole Board already has the power to take into consideration whether an offender is currently drug-addicted or has substance abuse issues that would affect whether they will reoffend.
The nature of urinalysis testing is that some drugs will be detected for quite a long time after the offender's use of that drug, whereas other drugs could be in and out of the offender's system rather quickly. For instance, we could have an offender in prison who was a cannabis user. That drug would still show up a long time after the last use. However, if the offender had been using cocaine, it would disappear within two days. The bill does not actually address the question of whether we are releasing someone who has a drug addiction onto the streets; rather, it answers the question of particular drugs.
As it has been pointed out by witnesses before the committee, the bill would certainly do nothing about someone with an alcohol abuse problem. In terms of the percentage of dangerous offences committed by somebody misusing alcohol versus using cannabis, I cannot tell members how often I have talked to RCMP officers who tend to relax when they approach a house and are told to be very careful because someone in there has been smoking marijuana. I have heard this story from so many of them. However, if they are told to be careful because someone in the house has been drinking heavily, they worry, because the tendency is a violent reaction.
I am not encouraging marijuana use, but when we talk about violent criminal acts, alcohol is a serious problem. This bill would do absolutely nothing to determine if this is someone who might reoffend because of a substance abuse issue that relates to alcohol.
Let us talk about the state of our prisons. We have had some claims made so far in the debate today, but I found statistics online from the Correctional Service of Canada and from the Correctional Investigator's report that were not in recent evidence before the committee, and they indicate that between 1997 and 2008, the percentage of offenders in Canadian prisons who were dealing with mental health issues doubled. The issue of mental health in the prison population is more prevalent today than it was in 1997.
Substance abuse issues are often linked to mental health issues. This point has been made, including in the debate today. The problem with substance abuse and people with mental health issues who self-medicate to try to deal with their own demons in the absence of counselling and help is that they turn to drug addiction.
Quite a significant proportion of people in the prison system were really in need of mental health assistance, support, counselling, and treatment before they entered the prison population, and are still in need of it as they leave the prison population. Some of those people are also, as an aspect of their mental health issues, dealing with substance abuse and addiction.
We have heard it claimed here today by the parliamentary secretary that we should be extremely satisfied to hear that $9 million was spent this year on addiction counselling for substance abuse in Canadian prisons. I am happy to accept the $9 million figure, but if we go online and look up Correctional Service Canada, we see that $11 million was spent on substance abuse in 2008-09. From the testimony of Conservative members of Parliament, we know that $2 million less is being spent this year than four years ago, and we also know that the prison population has been growing in that time. We also know from earlier statistics that the trend lines show that more offenders in our prison system have mental health and addiction issues than a decade ago.
I could speculate as to why that is. We do know that cutbacks, which I lament and which I know a lot of Conservative members of Parliament have raised while I have been here as a member of Parliament, to kill the deficit back in the 1990s, the cuts to transfers to provinces, downloaded a lot of problems on provincial governments, including cuts to a lot of mental health services. We transferred a lot of social problems from mental health services at the provincial level to the people who were essentially living on the streets, which I think has contributed to the fact that the offender population with mental health issues has gone up.
What on earth would this bill do to improve the situation? The answer is absolutely nothing. Not one more dime will go to mental health treatment or addiction counselling. Nothing will improve the situation for either the offender population or public safety under this bill. This bill pretends that we are doing something about drugs in prison, because it will make a good brochure for the next election campaign. It does nothing for the prison population. It does nothing for public safety.
To confirm that point, I turn to the evidence of Howard Sapers, the Correctional Investigator of Canada, before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. I know that some of Mr. Sapers' testimony has already been referenced by members of the official opposition and the Liberal Party, but I do want to draw attention to a number of his conclusions. He points out the following:
Four out of five offenders arrive at a federal institution with a past history of substance abuse and dependancy. The use of alcohol and drugs is a criminal risk factor for a significant proportion of the offender population; however, urinalysis testing is ineffectual in monitoring or reducing the risk linked to alcohol use and dependency.
I want to underscore this. This remedy this bill puts forward will not create drug-free prisons—and the text of the bill in fact makes no pretence to having anything to do with drug-free prisons but rather punishing someone at the point of parole who might test positive—and will do nothing about one of the largest criminal risk factors, which is alcohol dependency.
When looking at this issue, we know that we need an integrated, coordinated program throughout Correctional Service Canada to redouble our efforts. This ties into another issue that has been raised recently, that some of the prison population can be radicalized to terrorist ideology when they are in prison. These are people in desperate need of mental health services and addiction counselling.
Specifically, the shooter who broke in here on October 22 had earlier begged a judge back in 2012 in a Vancouver courtroom to send him for addiction counselling, to send him to a place that could help him with mental health counselling. I believe that if we had had those services in place, we might have saved two lives on that day. Most particularly and most importantly, we could have saved the life of Corporal Nathan Cirillo, had his attacker got the help he desperately needed.
We cannot second guess these things but should be investing in mental health treatment, counselling, addiction services, and in making sure that offenders in our prison system are treated in ways that would allow them to re-enter society as contributing citizens. We should not be finding ways to deny them parole at the last minute.
I close with these words of Howard Sapers:
A better and more cost-effective way to prevent crime is to put more of our limited resources into addiction treatment and prevention programs. Zero-tolerance or punitive-based approaches to drug use and abuse and addiction simply do not work in prison.
Let us be smart. Let us do what needs to be done. Drug-free prisons are a fine goal, but the bill is a fraud on the goals the Canadian public will be told that the bill serves.