Mr. Speaker, what I would like to do with respect to Bill C-12 is go over the summary of the bill, provide a few specific quotes, and then give some observations.
The summary of Bill C-12 states:
This enactment amends the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to require the Parole Board of Canada (or a provincial parole board, if applicable) to cancel parole granted to an offender if, before the offender’s release, the offender tests positive in a urinalysis, or fails or refuses to provide a urine sample, and the Board considers that the criteria for granting parole are no longer met. It also amends that Act to clarify that any conditions set by a releasing authority on an offender’s parole, statutory release or unescorted temporary absence may include conditions 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.
In reading the summary, it is obvious why the bill will likely receive support for its passage from all parties in the chamber.
I would like to take a different approach to debating Bill C-12. Let me start off by talking about the short title. I have often talked about where these short titles come from. I have suggested in the past and will continue to maintain today that when the government comes up with legislation, it goes directly to the Prime Minister's Office where the individuals there come up with the short title. The short title of this bill is the drug-free prisons act. If we think in terms of the implications of making a title of a bill, what sort of impression are we giving to Canadians?
I would like to focus on the 2011-12 annual report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator, which made the following observation with respect to the prevalence of drugs within our federal prisons:
A “zerotolerance” 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.
One of the biggest issues I have with the Conservative government is the type of propaganda and political spin it puts on the legislation it brings to the House of Commons. We see this yet again with Bill C-12. The Government of Canada and the Prime Minister are trying to give the impression that if we pass this legislation there will be drug-free prisons. If the Conservatives were honest with Canadians, which is a rarity with this government, they would acknowledge that achieving a drug-free prison is not as easy as just saying it in the title of a bill and then having 308 members of Parliament voting in favour of the legislation.
I have had the responsibility of being the justice critic at the provincial level. As a justice critic, I had the opportunity to tour a number of prisons in the province of Manitoba, such as the remand centre, where individuals will often be brought to stay overnight or while awaiting trial, and the Headingley Correctional Centre, which is a provincial jail where prisoners with sentences under two years are sent. I have also had the opportunity to visit federal penitentiaries such as Stony Mountain. I believe that the government has not done its homework with respect to dealing with our correctional institutions, jails and prisons. I suspect Manitoba is not that unique and that the issues I am referring to with respect to the province of Manitoba are applicable no matter where one goes in Canada, and even beyond Canada's borders, as we have been told by our professionals, which is that drugs are a reality in our prisons and that there is a need for the government to do more.
The Office of the Correctional Investigator said that a comprehensive and integrated drug strategy should include a balance of measures: prevention, treatment, harm reduction and interdiction. That is in the 2011-12 annual report. The information is actually there. If the government really wants to deal with the issue, there is plenty of information to assist it in bringing forward legislation.
Also, especially today, when we are talking about crime and prisons, things which Canadians are very much concerned about, the budget will be released in a few hours from now and the government is going to set its priorities. Would it not be wonderful if we saw a government that had the common sense to understand that it takes more than just the Prime Minister and his minister who is responsible to wave a wand and to improve the system. There is an obligation to meet with the different stakeholders. There is an obligation to work with the provinces and the provincial ministers who are responsible for the administration of justice in those jurisdictions.
We need to look at how we can work with our correctional officers. I would suggest that our correctional officers are one of the greatest assets we have as legislators in terms of being able to deal with the issues in our prisons. When we ignore the potential of consulting and working with those correctional officers, we set ourselves up for what I would suggest is a situation that could ultimately cost lives.
When I was an MLA, there was a riot in the Headingley jail. A number of factors were involved. I cannot say 100%, but I would be surprised if drugs were not involved in one fashion or another in terms of what took place in that riot. I suspect if we took the time to meet with our correctional officers, we would get a better understanding of why drugs continue to be such a significant factor in our prisons today.
We have not seen that. We have not seen this goodwill from the majority government. It comes right from the Prime Minister's Office. Many times we have been critical of the Prime Minister because he does even recognize the need to have first ministers' conferences. What message does that send to his ministers about having ministerial conferences? To what degree has the Minister of Public Safety met with the attorneys general or ministers of justice in different provinces? After all, the Prime Minister feels he does not have to meet with the premiers on a regular basis. He is the first Prime Minister in a generation plus that has ignored the need for a meeting with first ministers. I suspect that has a lot to do with the same attitudes that the ministers across the way have.
The Minister of Public Safety is not working with our provincial ministers. If he worked and consulted with the different stakeholders, including the provincial ministers, I would suggest that we would be debating better legislation than what we have today. We are getting close to an election. The Prime Minister's motivation for a number of years has been how to get re-elected. It is all about power, but at the end of the day, what we want to see is good governance.
The Prime Minister more than his predecessors has been found wanting in being able to deliver to Canadians solid programs that will make a difference. The Conservatives want to talk about drugs in jails. Yes, we and our constituents are concerned about drugs in jails, but the Liberal caucus is concerned about what is being done to prevent crimes in the first place. These are the types of issues which I believe Canadians want us to debate in the chamber, as opposed to a piece of legislation that is meant to do one thing alone, which is to make a couple of modifications. The PMO has come up with a wonderful short title, the drug-free prisons act, to give the impression that the Conservatives are really tough on crime, tough on convicts and that they are going to get rid of drugs in prisons.
I have news for the Prime Minister. His plan is not going to work. Canadians are seeing more and more the degree to which the Conservatives talk a lot but their actions have been found wanting. Canadians have a higher expectation of government. They want government to deliver on the issues that are important to them. We will get a very good sense of that today when the budget comes down. Where is the government's emphasis going to be?
The other day I was here and we were talking about the exploitation of children. Cybertechnology was the issue. The Internet's impact on the exploitation of children in Canada continues to grow. The Conservatives again had a piece of legislation which tried to give the impression that they were actually doing something on the issue, but the reality is that the RCMP that was tasked with the responsibility of dealing with the issue was underspending its budget by 10%. Millions of dollars were not being spent in order to create a false impression that there will be a balanced budget.
It is the same principle here as it was there. On the one hand, we have legislation that talks tough, but the actions in the budget will say something entirely different. What was so horrendous about that private member's bill is that we were talking about children who were being exploited through the Internet, and the government was underspending on the RCMP which was investigating and trying to lock up individuals who were doing that exploitation.
On the legislation before us, to what degree have the Conservatives done their homework?
I am only making an assumption, but sometimes that could be a big mistake in itself especially if it is related to the Conservative government, but have there been any members other than the Minister of Justice who have visited the prisons? To what degree have the Conservatives visited some of our prisons in Canada? They could gain a lot by going out and taking the time to get a better understanding of what is actually taking place in the real world. That applies to more than just prisons.
I have had the opportunity to talk to Correctional Service officers. They are very much concerned about the issue of safety, not only the safety of the prisoners but equally, and in the minds of many, more importantly, the safety of the institution and the guards themselves.
We have seen double-bunking and triple-bunking take place. To what degree is the government bringing in programs that will take some of the pressure off convicts who are taking drugs in prison?
What kind of action is the government prepared to take? Do we, for example, have drug detection dogs going through prisons? What about new detection equipment? If we talk to correctional officers, they tell us about the need for searches and how important they are. However, they will also tell us about the importance of being able to look at the issue in a holistic approach.
When I think of a holistic approach to deal with our prisons and jails, it is not just Ottawa that is responsible. The administration of justice goes beyond Ottawa and incorporates our provinces as well. They play a vital, critical role with regard to what happens in our jails, as do other stakeholders, whether it is law enforcement officers or the different groups out there.
The message I have for the government is that it is great to see this bill, but I question the motives of the naming of the bill. I would sure love to see some resources allocated that will make a real difference for Canadians in dealing with—