Mr. Speaker, I have to seize this opportunity. Actually, I have lots to say about the government's silence.
That said, let me first deal with the positive. I want to thank the NDP members on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, because, especially over these past few months, they have had an enormous amount of work to tackle. I thank the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, the member for Alfred-Pellan and the member for Compton—Stanstead. I congratulate them on their hard work. I understand the frustration that can set in when you have to deal with bills like Bill C-12.
It can be frustrating to know that, clearly, we could do so much better. It can also be frustrating—as my colleagues have said before me—to see grandiose titles like drug-free prisons act, as we can see written in the bill itself under “Short Title”:
This act may be cited as the drug-free prisons act.
This raises so much hope. People read that and think that that would be wonderful. Then, reality sinks in. After seeing such a grandiose title, I was expecting a rather lengthy, comprehensive bill, since it deals with such a complex issue. Ultimately, with one clause on the bill's short title and just four substantive clauses, the Conservatives are claiming they can eliminate drugs from prisons. This reminds me of the time that they studied the issue of prostitution following the Supreme Court ruling. That bill also had a grandiose title, indicating that, with that bill, the government was going to put an end to prostitution and abolish it in Canada. Well done. There will never be any prostitution ever again. Only, that is not what I am hearing in the street. It remains a thriving industry. It may be done differently, but it still exists.
As I was soaking up my colleagues' speeches—thank goodness they are here to speak in the House—I was reminded of what I dealt with over the past two weeks in my riding. Being in my riding is a much more positive experience than being in the House. Those watching us must be as disheartened as we ourselves can be. Sometimes we get the feeling we are howling in the wilderness, and this is one of those times because we really get the sense that just one side of the House is talking about this, and people are noticing that.
We all know, because lots of people were talking about it, that last week was National Volunteer Week. I made a lot of contacts and met with lots of people in Gatineau who are doing amazing work on all kinds of issues, such as helping people with drug addictions and helping former inmates reintegrate into society.
I sat down with these people and talked to them about the Conservative agenda. I explained to them that I would be giving a speech this week on the fact that the government says it will eradicate drugs from prisons. Mr. Speaker, you cannot imagine how much people laughed at that. They did not take me seriously. They asked me just how the government planned to do that.
I replied by reading clause 2:
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 said, “All right, and then what?” I told them about clause 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 and the offender has still not yet been released, the Board shall cancel the parole if, 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.
They said, “All right, and then what?” I told them about clause 4:
The releasing authority 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.
They said, “And then what?” I told them about clause 5:
The Governor in Council may make regulations providing for anything that by this Part is to be provided for by regulation,...
Members will understand that they laughed because they wondered how this would make prisons drug-free. They asked me to explain how that would happen.
They asked me to explain how that would happen. I told them that there was no explanation. This bill does absolutely nothing, aside from cancelling someone's parole. No one can be against virtue, which is why there is unanimity on Bill C-12. However, this government is once again missing an opportunity to do something good.
For four years now, the government has been giving us bills with fancy titles that sound great but actually accomplish very little. I think that people are starting to realize this. The best example may be Bill C-51. All of the polls showed how the New Democratic Party was seen to be on the wrong side of the fence: we supported terrorists, we were not to be taken seriously when it comes to security, and the government was right.
Those who are a bit more timid, such as the third party, the Bloc Québécois and others, jumped on the Conservative bandwagon. Everyone was unanimous because they thought it was the right thing to do. When the members opposite and the third party remain silent on a bill like this, I tell myself that the NDP is doing the right thing. At report stage and third reading, we should have something to say on behalf of our constituents. I am not saying that that is necessary for all bills, but when it comes to a bill about eradicating drugs in prisons, I cannot believe that the members of the House, who represent Canadians, have nothing to say about their respective ridings.
All of us, or almost all of us, have detention centres, prisons or penitentiaries in our ridings. We can talk to our constituents, our street outreach workers, the people who take care of those with drug addictions and those who take care of inmates. If we really want to make our communities safe, we need to know what we are talking about. We have to be able to read a bill to our constituents without having them laugh at us and ask us if we are serious and if we really believe that a bill will solve the problem. Where is the money for rehabilitation? Where is the money for programs? The Conservatives cut that funding over the past few years. We are constantly being told that we cannot be serious.
We are taking a stand. We are doing the work in committee. We are unequivocally telling the government that this does not make sense and that it is ridiculous to insult people by trying to sell them this. I am sure that this afternoon we will see even more rhetoric about what they are doing. I cannot wait to see what kind of budget the government will allocate to public safety and justice. Why? Because I still think—and I will be surprised if the government proves me wrong—that this government spends more on ads saying how wonderful and extraordinary it is than on programs that could help drug addicts in prison. It is one thing to be able to prove that someone consumed drugs, with a blood and urine test, and to cancel that person's parole, but do we simply want to punish that person or do we want to ensure that he will not continue to have drug problems after he is released? That is what we should be looking at.
This government has little interest in such things. That is ironic, because at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, one of the first bills that came to us from the Conservative benches, Bill C-583, covered the problems related to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. It was a meaningful bill that showed it was possible to do something other than punish. It looked at a disorder, one from which many people in prisons suffer, and tried to find solutions tailored to their needs and their problems. There was unanimity, which was nice, but what did the government do? It withdrew the bill. It forced the MP who introduced it to withdraw it for further study. We took a close look at it in the time we were given. Everyone knows that the Conservatives do not give us much time for thorough study. The study will probably produce some conclusions. I am eager to see the final recommendations that will be submitted to the House.
Considering our past experiences with our colleagues across the aisle, I would be willing to bet that the recommendations will simply encourage a more thorough study and therefore do absolutely nothing. This is really just like what the Liberals used to do before them. It is mind-boggling how similar they are; there is no difference. It is astounding.
It is extremely frustrating because, actually, what is happening here today is a perfect example of what is leading the people of Gatineau to ask, when I meet them, what the point of Parliament is. People here do not even have five minutes to stand up in the House and at least explain how the four little clauses I read earlier are going to achieve what the title says, that is, ensuring that prisons are drug-free. Instead of telling us how wonderful and perfect they are, the Conservatives could simply tell us how they believe these clauses will be so successful, when everything else has failed. It is very frustrating.
Fortunately, things are balanced in Canada. Our democracy has an executive branch, a legislative branch, and a judicial branch. At present, unfortunately, Canadian democracy has to rely too heavily on the judicial branch to rebalance the principles of law, which those on the Conservative benches should be familiar with. The Conservative MPs all have the advantages of the Department of Justice: they can consult people ad nauseam and get legal opinions from the top legal minds in Canada. They do not even take advantage of that. They keep passing bill after bill that gets hammered in the courts all the way to the Supreme Court.
Some denigrate the Supreme Court by claiming that it is engaging in legislative activism. That is not the case at all. The Supreme Court tells us legislators that we cannot do certain things, and reminds us that there are laws in this country and that we have a Constitution and a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It tells us that we can go ahead and pass the legislation that we want, that it is our highest prerogative, but that there is still a framework to be respected. If people are not satisfied with this framework, then it is up to us as legislators to change that. However, we have to work within the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Constitution. This is not about judicial activism.
I will digress for a moment to talk about Edgar Schmidt, a former public servant who is involved in a case against the Attorney General of Canada that is currently before the Federal Court. He said that he received orders not to follow the charter at all or to just aim for 5%. A 5% chance of winning was enough to move forward. That is ridiculous. This government does not take its role as the executive and as a legislator seriously. That leads to the results we get when we end up before the Supreme Court of Canada.
Bill C-12 will not end up before the Supreme Court of Canada. That is clear. We would not support it if that were the case. Nevertheless, in my opinion, this bill will not accomplish what it is supposed to. Unfortunately, the bill will only delay the action that could be taken to do much better. If only the government would listen to the heartfelt pleas of the people who told us in committee what the government should do instead of cutting rehabilitation and support programs for people with serious drug addictions, then we might achieve better results.
As the Commissioner of Penitentiaries told us, given all the bills with longer and longer mandatory minimum sentences, prisons have no incentive to place these people in rehabilitation programs until just a few years before they are released on parole. Take for example someone who is serving a sentence of seven or 10 years. That individual will not necessarily be placed in a rehabilitation program immediately. The prison might wait until that person has been incarcerated for five years or until he has only one or two years left before he is eligible for parole. What kind of hardened individual have we created in the meantime?
If we claim to want safer communities, what is our responsibility as legislators? When it is time for these people to leave prison, I would like them to be able to reintegrate into society. What will happen if we do nothing to help them? This is not about being a bleeding heart. I would say that there is a certain measure of self-interest. I want to make sure that these people will not be a threat to my family, my friends, my community or me. We must implement the kinds of measures that will achieve these results. This government does not see it like that and, after four years, we are familiar with their approach. We were not born yesterday. This government likes to use grand titles.
This afternoon, we will probably hear about tons of budget measures that earned us the Conservatives' ridicule just for mentioning them. The Conservatives are going to appropriate them to further their interests and to strut around in the next few months, in a manner that I will not even describe, simply to boast about their magnificent agenda, as though this was the best government Canada ever had. They will want to make everyone forget all those years in the past when they were unable to bring forward a balanced budget.
All the Conservatives have done, in fact, like the good economists they are, is to add to the national debt, after everyone had tightened their belts under the Liberal government of the 1990s. That will not stop them from having a splendidly grand title for their budget, as they did for BillC-12.That is unfortunate. I do not know whether this is what the Conservatives are looking for, or whether it just reaches a portion of the population that is on their side. However, even for those who claim they are tough on crime and believe what the government says, I would tell them to go and read the bill. It is worth doing. I was able to read the bill designed to get drugs out of our prisons in exactly one minute. That gives you a good idea.
If someone listening to me believes that Bill C-12 will help solve the problem, I take issue with that. We should talk because, seriously, no one in their right mind will believe that Bill C-12 will help eliminate drugs from prisons. This is what I call misleading the public.
In my opinion, it is shameful for a government that otherwise proclaims itself to be serious to think it will succeed in slipping this “quick fix” past Canadians. Again, it is unfortunate that when bills have some appeal, like Bill C-583 and others, the government succeeds, through all kinds of procedural tactics, in derailing it.
Moreover, when the Conservatives do not want us to talk too long about something, they bring in time allocation motions. People are no longer fooled, and I saw that firsthand on the ground over the last two weeks. People are aware of this. I am comfortable with that, because the message I am sending to the government is what we have succeeded in doing with BillC-51. That bill had a fairly strong measure of support when tabled in the House, but that is no longer the case. People are not fooled. They understand, because we explain it to them. We are doing our job as the official opposition. We do not do so just on the basis of polls. We do so on principle. We have stood firm.
Some parties may have changed their ideas along the way when they saw they were perhaps on the wrong side of the fence, like the Bloc Québécois. Others, like the Liberal party, decided to persist in their error and continue to support the Conservatives. That is not surprising, because they are much alike.
That said, people are not easily fooled. We too will have the time to explain what is going on, although we perhaps do not have the same budget as the Conservative government, which will spend millions of dollars, not to say hundreds of millions of dollars, on advertising during our hockey games, for example, to tell us how great its budget is.
However, people are not fooled, and they will be able to tell this government that the time has come to stop mocking them and making them believe it is doing things that it does not do at all.