Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure, today, to rise to speak in support of Bill C-12, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, as it has been labelled, the drug-free prisons act, though I am often confused how the bill would make our prisons drug free. However, at the same time, we are supporting it.
At this time, I would like to take a minute to acknowledge the amazing work being done by the critic in this area; that is, the member of Parliament for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, who has done an absolutely thorough and very detailed analysis of this piece of legislation, and the work done at the committee to try to strengthen the legislation so that it would actually do what it purports it would. As we know, our colleagues across the way are not really up to listening to any experts or advice as to how to improve bills. In any event, the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, on this whole file of public safety, has put in, I would say, a gargantuan amount of work in order to deal with real issues for Canadians and to ensure Canadians' safety in a real way.
It is interesting that we are debating the bill on the day the budget will be presented. We know that the budget has been delayed. I do not know if it has been delayed because the minister just did not know what to put in the budget or whether they were busy developing their communications or free advertising plan on the tax dollars, but the budget has been delayed. In any event, we look forward to seeing it today. I really hope that when we look at the budget today we will see a significant investment in what the current government purports its agenda to be.
My colleagues across the way often like to see themselves as the champions of public safety but often what we have is a lot of rhetoric with very little funding that goes along with the programs they announced, or lack thereof, or has often been accompanied by cuts as well.
This particular piece of legislation, despite its title, “drug-free prisons act”, I would say is a baby step that we do support. Let me tell members that it would not have the kind of impact that my colleagues across the way seem to think it would because this particular bill would not tackle the real issues that our prisons are facing.
Bill C-12 would add a provision to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that would make it clear that the Parole Board may use positive results from urine tests, or refusals to take urine tests for drugs, in making its decisions on parole eligibility.
Let me assure members that my understanding is this is already being done. Therefore, what we would do is take a practice that is already in play into legislation, and that is a good thing. What it would do is give clear authority to an existing practice, a practice that we do support, but this practice by itself and on its own would not address the serious issues we do have to tackle, which are drug addictions, mental illness and the very fundamentals that lead to more and more people ending up in prisons rather than in treatment.
The title of Bill C-12, as I have mentioned a few times, is misleading. We know the current government has a penchant for coming up with some pretty outrageous, all-encompassing titles for bills, but when we actually dig into the bill we find there is very little substance. That is what we are finding with this bill. The title sounds great but when we get into the bill, all we have is the government codifying a current practice of the Parole Board.
The Parole Board right now retains its discretion as to what use it makes of this information, which is actually how it would remain.
It always makes me proud to sit on this side of the House with my colleagues, because we have been steadfast in our support for measures that will make our prisons safe, while the Conservative government has ignored recommendations from corrections staff and the Correctional Investigator that would decrease violence, gang activity, and drug use in our prisons.
We are not the only ones. We know that the current government is allergic to data and experts. However, most of us know that when we are dealing with the complexities of drug addiction, we have to pay attention to what we know and to the knowledge acquired by the experts in this area. The stakeholders agree with the NDP that this bill would have a minimal impact on drugs in prisons.
This bill is about granting parole and what the Parole Board would take into consideration. It has very little to do with what is actually going to be happening inside the prisons. Once again, the Conservative government is using legislation to create an opportunity to pander to its base and to pretend that it is doing something with no real solutions to the issue of drugs and gangs in our prisons. I would go so far as to say that the government is actually making our prisons less safe by cutting funding to correctional programs, such as for substance abuse, and by increasing the use of double-bunking, which leads to more violence. Our priority as parliamentarians should be ensuring community safety by preparing ex-offenders to reintegrate into society once released, addiction-free and less likely to reoffend.
I looked very carefully at this legislation, because as a mother and now a grandmother and as a life-long teacher and counsellor in a high school and for the school district, I know what a difficult task we have ahead of us as a society as we try to tackle drug addictions. There are no simple solutions.
In my city of Surrey, in beautiful British Columbia, in the last 38 days we have had 23 shootings. On Sunday, what we all feared happened: a fatality, with a 22-year-old losing his life. People in my community of Surrey, like in other communities across Canada, care very deeply about addressing the issues of violence, gangs and drugs. No parents out there want to see their young daughter or sons engaged in the use of drugs or involved in any kind of criminal activity. When these kinds of tragedies happen in our communities, it shakes us to the core and makes us want to hug those around us. Right now, my heart goes out to the family—the parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers, sisters—but also to the whole community as it deals with this latest round of gun violence.
It is because we want real solutions that we want to tackle the real issues. We want to starting looking at the underlying issues.
We need a real strategy and action on mental health, not just talk, that happens in a multi-faceted way. Many people will say that it has nothing to do with this topic. We know that the majority of people in our prisons are there because they were convicted of crimes related to drugs and many of them because they suffer from mental health issues. Unless we start tackling mental health issues in a serious way, I do not think this baby step is going to help us achieve a safer society or make our prisons any safer.
It is like the current government wants to see how many more people it can put into prisons, even if it has to double-bunk them, and the mandatory sentencing has led to more people being sent to prison. I absolutely believe that we need policies that mete out punishments that fit the crimes, but we also need to make sure that there is rehabilitation.
Before we even talk about crimes and people ending up in prison, we need to look at our communities, school systems, and the kind of programming needed. When I look at the public school system, I would say that it has been under attack for many years. When I look specifically at British Columbia, a lot of the preventive work that used to be done on drug addictions in high schools is very difficult to do today, because a number of counsellors have been removed and a lot of the money that used to be available for prevention is no longer there. I look at Surrey and the kind of support system for youth in our community. I look at how many students per counsellor there are today compared to when I came to B.C., when there were 250 students to a counsellor in my district Nanaimo. Now I am hearing that the number can be as high as 800 to 1,000 per counsellor.
If we look at all the pressures on our children through social media and the Internet, and we know, because we have dealt with many pieces of legislation in the House, at the very same time that is happening, they are cutting a lot of the support systems that used to be available. In my school district in B.C., we used to have some of the most progressive, stellar programs to engage youth in a positive way. One was called action Nanaimo. There was also a steps to maturity program, which actually dealt with kids' self-esteem, communication skills, and the issue of bullying and how to deal with that. None of those programs exist today.
This is where we have to have all levels of government and communities working together to provide young people with the kind of supports they need so that they do not end up getting into trouble, whether it is due to mental health or drugs, and do not end up joining gangs and engaging in trafficking drugs. We need to make sure that youth have the scaffolding they need to steer through the many challenges they face in our society today.
I would say that the same is true of those people who are in our prisons today. It is very easy to sentence people to prison, but if once they are in prison we do not provide them with rehabilitation, we are not doing a service to society.
Let me throw out a figure that will be absolutely shocking to most people. The cost to send a person to prison and keep him or her in confinement has risen to about $80,000 to $90,000 a year. We are prepared to spend that as a society. On the other hand, we are not prepared to put even 10% or 20% of that money into education and prevention programs so that our young people do not end up in prison.
If mandatory sentences and putting more people into prisons would get rid of drugs and crime, then the U.S. would have no crime and no drug problem. What we are good at, under the government across the way, is following examples that we know are not good. Instead of looking at evidence, we would rather just blindly copy the U.S. and keep putting people in prison, while the U.S. is sending experts up here to learn about rehabilitation from us.
Once people are in prison, we do not provide them with the resources they need to not reoffend. I find it quite outrageous to sit in this House and listen to the rhetoric of the government across the way when it has failed. It has not only failed to increase funding, it has cut funding to programs that would provide support for those in prison, and in hospitals too. I have a 90-year-old mother who I was recently visiting in hospital. Despite the amazing work being done by the staff at the hospital, I would say that they are facing major challenges as well.
To truly address the issue of drug use in prisons, we need to do a proper intake assessment of an inmate's addiction and then provide the proper correctional programming for that offender. Without treatment, education, and proper integration upon release, a prisoner will likely return to a criminal lifestyle and possibly create more victims. What we have then is what has come to be known as the revolving door.
With mandatory minimums, our prison population is increasing while at the same time both federal and provincial governments are closing institutions. It is quite disconcerting how mental health services are being impacted.
Correctional Service Canada's directive 55, which establishes procedures to normalize double-bunking, is kind of weird to me. When I was young and I went to youth hostels, double-bunking was kind of fun, but I cannot imagine double-bunking in prison.
Let me once again say that we support this. It is a baby step. However, without investments in prevention, education, treatment, and rehabilitation, all we have are words. Our communities deserve far more. I hope that in the budget presented today we will see a real infusion of funds to address prevention, education, mental health issues, rehabilitation, and real support for an effective reintegration policy that will make a real difference and lead to safer communities.
I would say there is no better investment than in the education of our children. I urge governments at the provincial level to please make it a top priority, because our children are our future and they are worth every penny we invest.