House of Commons Hansard #197 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was programs.


Drug-Free Prisons ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, crime is a big issue for many Canadians, I would say in particular in his part of Canada, in Surrey. It is a top-of-mind issue for many voters and yet in dealing with this issue, it is important to bring our best intelligence and thoughtfulness around what to do about crime, be it crime that is committed in prisons or leading in.

My question for the member is about this particularly annoying statistic for the Conservatives, which should not be annoying because it is good news. For a number of years now, 15 or 20 years or more, crime rates in Canada have been steadily dropping. Violent crimes, property crimes, murder and whatnot have steadily dropped, all statistics across the board. At the same time, since the Conservatives have been in government, and I would argue it was more for political reasons that they needed to make crime an issue, the incarceration rate has gone up. Before any of the measures that the Conservatives brought in, the crime rate was dropping and continues to drop even though they bring in these new laws and they are supposed to change this, that, and the other. The one thing that has changed is incarceration, which is an incredibly expensive thing. It runs up to more than $100,000 a year per prisoner. My friend tells me it is $150,000 for a federal maximum prison. However, the government is unconcerned with whether its measures are actually working, but just wants to spend money and lock up more people.

If crime is dropping, let us look at the things that actually work. If incarceration rates are going up, let us look at who is being incarcerated and try to find out how to prevent the crime in the first place. Would that not be the most ideal crime-fighting tactic any government could take on?

Drug-Free Prisons ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Jasbir Sandhu NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley hit the nail on the head. Absolutely, we need to take proactive approaches to crime in today's society, and prevention is the best investment any government and any society could make.

There have been a number of shootings in the town of Surrey over the last month. There have been over 20 shootings. A young person was killed over the weekend. There are fears in my community that this will further escalate. Not only do we need more police, which the government promised back in 2006, but we also need additional preventive programs, preventive investment in communities, to ensure that young people are not getting into these types of activities. Unfortunately, I have talked to many organizations on the ground and the Conservatives have failed to make these vital investments in communities that would make them safe.

Many studies have been done. These are not Kijiji facts. These are academic studies from the United States and Canada where a minimal investment in crime prevention programs provides a huge return at the end. As the member pointed out, it costs a lot of money to keep someone in prison. Up to $150,000 is being spent per prisoner per year, but a fraction of that invested early on in gang-prevention programs in communities would make Canada a better place for all Canadians.

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12:10 p.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to play a role in this debate. It is an important debate.

Although the bill itself is rather modest in scope it is rather expansive in title. It claims to be the drug-free prisons act, but it would actually amend a practice that is currently being carried out by the Parole Board, which is to take into account either a failure to take a drug sample or the results of a drug sample testing for someone who is about to be released on parole. Therefore, it would not actually change very much, except to put into law a practice that already exists. However, it is an opportunity for New Democrats to spend some time to talk about the approach the government has taken not only for legislation in general, but in particular, legislation as it relates to crime and punishment and the treatment of offenders.

We can be magnanimous today and say everyone in the House would like to have a safer society. We would like to have safer streets and communities. The question is, how do we go about that and is the government's approach one that works and actually creates safer communities or is it not? We on this side of the House, in particular New Democrats, believe that the government is an absolute failure when it comes to this issue. It is great at the rhetoric. We have one here today. “The act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act” is the long title. The short title, the inaccurate propaganda title, is “the drug-free prisons act”. The government is good at propaganda. It actually puts propaganda into the names of legislation.

I do not know if this is unique to this particular government. Maybe the Liberals did it too. I do not remember that far back. I was not here then. I was here back in 1987 when the Progressive Conservatives were in power but I was not here during the Liberal regime.

To call this act “the drug-free prisons act” is an attempt to fool people. There is an old saying that is common enough, but we do not hear it that often these days as it is a bit of an old-fashioned saying. It is, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” In fact, one cannot fool the majority of the people all of the time and the government is going to find that out in September of this year.

Let me go back to the first part of that saying, “You can fool all of the people some of the time”. The government believes it can get away with titles like this. It believes it can fool all of the people some of the time. By calling a bill “the drug-free prisons act”, it believes it can make people think the bill will remove drugs from prisons.

The government has spent $122 million on interdiction programs over a three-year period from 2012 on, the same period it took $295 million out of the corrections system. What was the result? Did it create drug-free prisons? It absolutely did not. In fact, there are just as many drugs in prisons these days as there were then. Therefore, is the government's approach working? No, it is not.

I would like to quote from the office of the correctional investigator, Howard Sapers, a very renowned expert on this matter. He is so renowned that the government decided not to renew his appointment after serving the position for some eight years or more and doing a magnificent job providing dispassionate, fact-based, evidence-based advice to government. In his 2011-12 annual report he said that a zero tolerance stance to drugs in prison is an aspiration rather than an effective policy that:

...simply does not accord with the facts of crime and addiction in Canada or elsewhere in the world. Harm reduction measures within a public health and treatment orientation offer a far more promising, cost-effective and sustainable approach to reducing subsequent crime and victimization.

The John Howard Society is working very hard at this but this is basically saying that it is not a realistic goal to even have. Therefore, the government really has the question put wrongly and it has the wrong answer.

What we are really trying to do to create a safer society and safer communities is to reduce the number of victims of crime. We know that the crime rates are going down, although we would not know that from the emphasis that the government is placing on it. Prisons are becoming more filled. The conditions in prison are getting worse with double-bunking and so forth. One of the consequences of that is we will not have safer communities. If we have people in prison longer without programs to assist with issues such as drug addiction and substance abuse, many of those prisoners will eventually be released into society once they have served their sentence. If they go out into those communities without those problems having been solved or tackled they will pose a bigger danger to society and there will be more victims of crime. That is just plain logic. I know that interferes with the views of some of the members opposite with respect to humankind and how we should deal with criminals.

I practised law for many years and practised criminal law for a number of those years. I understand the system. There are principles of sentencing. The idea of sentencing is to fit the sentence to the crime. There are a number of factors taken into consideration. We need to deter and punish crime but we also need to rehabilitate the offenders so that we have safer communities. Those factors are taken into consideration. Once they get into a prison those factors should be put to work. Once they are removed from society, as best we can we want to reduce the rate of recidivism, which is a complicated word for a simple thing. It means that we do not want these people who are in prison to commit crimes when they get out. How do we do that? By spending $122 million over a period to try to interdict and prevent drugs from getting into prisons, totally without serious effect, and then spend I think it was $9 million to $11 million over the same period on substance abuse programs in our prisons. That does not make sense. At the point in time when this bill was going through committee it was estimated that 2,400 prisoners in our corrections system were waiting to get access to a substance abuse program. One would ask what happened. One aspect is that they are in prison with no access to a substance abuse program and have access to drugs, because we know that there are drugs in the system. When those prisoners eventually come out of prison without having had an opportunity to deal with their drug addiction and without having an opportunity to move forward they will go back into the streets without the ability or the opportunity to be better serving members of society. That is really what we are dealing with.

One of the comments that was made by representatives of the John Howard Society was that this bill will not eliminate drugs from prisons and merely seems to be a tactic to ignore some of the real issues in prison, such as mental illness, double-bunking and prisoner self-harm. Prisoner self-harm is one aspect that we are reminded of as a result of the very tragic story of Ashley Smith, a young woman who died in prison at the age of 19. She was first arrested at the age of 14 for I believe throwing crabapples at a letter carrier, which was what got her in trouble with the law. She ended up in what turned out to be a death spiral from the ages of 14 to 19, which led her to desperation and maltreatment by the prison system. There have been reports on this. It is a tragic case.

It was well investigated, well reported on, but tragic nonetheless. She ended up killing herself under the watchful eye of corrections officials who were told not to interfere while she was strangling herself in prison. That is what it came to in that particular case. It was a sense of desperation that cried out for reform, cried out for change, and change is still required to take place. We are not getting it from the government. What we are getting instead is increased crowding in prisons and the closing down of some special facilities that dealt with mental health cases in prisons.

We do know that when we are talking about drugs in prison, a very high percentage of the offender population who abuses drugs is also currently struggling with mental illness as well. We do not have adequate programs in the prisons for that.

The Conservative government is closing down treatment centres for inmates dealing with serious mental illness. This is a very serious problem. Many times drug abuse and substance abuse occur with mental health problems. There are some figures that show the size of this issue. In 2011, it was estimated that 45% of male offenders and 69% of female offenders had received a mental health care intervention prior to going into prison.

That shows a level of serious need within prisons to provide access to care and access to programs. Prison can, in fact, be a positive experience for some people who are in desperate circumstances if the programs are available.

We need to have an attitude that recognizes that there is individual responsibility, and nobody is suggesting that everybody in prison is there because they have somehow been wronged. However, we do know there are socio-economic factors. We do know there are people with serious needs that are not being met in society, whether it be drug addictions that they have no way of dealing with or whether it be mental health issues that are improperly or inadequately addressed in society.

We do know there is high unemployment in many parts of this country. We have significant problems in the aboriginal communities as a result of many factors which I will not go into here. There is a whole series of issues that have led to that situation.

We cannot say the answer is to just increase the sentences, which we have often heard from the government. Putting in mandatory minimum sentences as a deterrent to people committing crimes is something we know does not work and has even been recognized very recently by the Supreme Court of Canada. The research shows, and has been confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada, accepted by the highest court in the land in a recent decision, that mandatory minimum sentences as such do not in fact deter crimes.

The government is anxious to continue to make prison a situation which is negative, not only for the prisoner, obviously, but also for corrections guards. When the government starts talking about zero opportunities for parole forever, what will that do for the safety of corrections officers? What will it do if a prisoner has no hope whatsoever of ever getting out and nothing to lose? Even if there is a faint hope, it is still some sort of hope.

It the metrics of that are changed and we say to the prisoners that no matter what happens, no matter what they do, they are not getting out ever and the circumstances are going to be worse, will that help the safety of corrections officers? I think the answer is pretty obvious. It does not at all.

We have to do something different from what the government is doing, because what the government is doing, frankly, does not work.

We support the bill because it would in fact put to place in legislation a practice that already exists. We are okay with the legislation. We are happy to see it pass, but we do not want to let his opportunity go when we pass legislation that has a short title of drug-free prisons act, which is clearly a misnomer, is clearly a propaganda title and is clearly wrong. The long title of the bill An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which is fine.

In fact, a motion was made in committee to amend the legislation and, of course, the motion was not allowed. We tried to fix it. I want Canadians to know that even though we support the actual terms of the legislation, what it stands for and what it says, we do not like the title. We tried to change it and it was ruled out of order because there was no amendment to the bill that would lead to a change in the title being required.

What do we have? As of March 14, 2012, the national penitentiary population was 15,000. If 20% of them, nearly 2,400 people, are waiting for a program for drug abuse and substance abuse, then we have a serious problem. If this legislation is followed through, those people would stay in prison longer, they still would not get the programs they need and eventually they would have to be released when their sentences ended. When that happens and they did not have access to the programs, we will have a continued problem for our society, despite the government's claim that it cares about victims. I think we all care about victims. In fact, we care about victims to the point that we want to see fewer of them. One way to do that is to ensure that people who are incarcerated get the rehabilitation programs and support they need to allow them a greater chance of living a life of less crime when they get out and to participate better in society.

Let us talk about some of our other programs. When we talk about a mandatory $15-a-hour minimum wage, that is really designed as well to allow people to have a decent opportunity to make a living and support themselves. When we talk about other programs we are promoting, that is also about ensuring that prisoners who get out of jail and want to be productive members of society can have proper rehabilitation programs so they have those opportunities and a better chance of not reoffending.

There was a lot of talk about supporting victims and victims' bills of rights, but the current government has done nothing to help the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board program that has existed in our country for many years. When it was established, the federal government support was based on the dollar formula of 90/10. It provided victims of crime with compensation for losses they incurred as a result of crime. The government has done nothing about that. It brought in its so-called victims' bill of rights, but it did nothing on the plus side to provide something that would help with their problems associated with the crimes against them.

We want prisons to be a safe workplace for correctional staff. We want prisoners to be rehabilitated. We want to have them access government programs so when they are released, they are in a better position to lead a crime-free life. If part of their problem is mental health or drug addiction and rehabilitation programs can help fix that, we need to put more money into prison programs to make that possible.

Drug-Free Prisons ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.

Although we support the bill, I would like to take this opportunity to point out just how much the Conservatives’ approach does not work, even though they say they are the best ones to handle law and order issues. My colleague gave an excellent example of this in his speech: mandatory minimum sentences. In the United States, even the Republicans, who are often hand in glove with the Conservatives ideologically, are rejecting that idea as a way of reducing crime rates in our communities.

When it comes to drugs in the prison system, we also have to consider health and prevention. Of course, people have addiction problems, and I do not understand why we would not be considering solutions to address that.

As my colleague said in his speech, we could offer programs within the prison system to start reducing the incidence of these problems and healing these people and then, as he put it so well, avoid crimes being repeated. The best way to protect victims is to make sure that people are not in a position where they want to commit crimes, and I think we can do that by focusing on rehabilitation.

On that point, would my colleague like to say more about the fact that in spite of the new laws being enacted, very little is being done to offer more resources? We see cuts being made and a lack of financial resources in the prisons.

What does my colleague think?

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12:35 p.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for reminding the House of the fact that the government is bucking the trend. In the United States for example, the trend had been to be far more harsh on prisoners, with more use of mandatory minimum sentences, solitary confinement and other methods. The Americans have recognized that this does not work. Some of the more right-wing states that had a tradition of being so-called tough on crime, as the Conservatives like to call themselves, are recognizing that some of the measures they have chosen lead to greater crime in their communities and to less safe communities. It is a bit of an enlightened approach even for those who take that ideological point of view.

The Conservatives government does not seem to get it. However, I hope that when the government changes in the fall, we will have an opportunity to put more resources into ensuring that rehabilitation programs are available and that prison conditions are more conducive to rehabilitation. That way, when people leave prisons, they will be better citizens and less likely to commit crimes.

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12:35 p.m.


Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague is always intelligent when he helps people.

The NDP has been steadfast in our support for measures that will make our prisons safe. Meanwhile, the Conservative government has ignored recommendations from Correctional Service staff and the correctional investigator that would decrease violence, gang activity and drug use in our prisons. Multiple stakeholders across the country agree that this bill would have a minimal impact on the drugs in our prison system.

Recently the Conservatives cut $295 million to the operating budget of Correctional Service Canada, which likely has impacted the already small portion of the funding that is dedicated to core correctional programming. Meanwhile, they have invested $122 million into failed interdiction tools, even after the stakeholders and experts in the field have said that drug-free prisons are not achievable. Experts have said that we need to invest in rehabilitation programs for our prisoners and the Conservatives have shown that is not something they are interested in doing.

My colleague said that we needed to invest in more programming to support our prisoners, so when they left the prison system recidivism would be lowered rather than maintained at the same rate. Could my colleague comment on that?

Drug-Free Prisons ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is a serious situation when the government makes things worse and less safe for our communities by taking the money out of the prison program that could be used for substance abuse programs or other programs that would help to rehabilitate offenders, help them with mental health issues and to provide substance abuse programs. It would leave us all in a situation where, when they came out of prison, they would be in better shape than when they were when they went in. We do not want them in the same frame of mind with the same problems if they can be addressed inside prison. We want it to be a positive experience. Instead, what we have is money taken out of the system and conditions becoming worse, and that is not good for society.

Drug-Free Prisons ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Jasbir Sandhu NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have been in the House since this morning and I have listened to the debate very carefully. It is almost deafening that the government and Liberal members are not participating in this debate. Why? Surely, if the government is presenting a bill, it would want to defend it and root for it.

Is it because it is an indefensible bill? The title of the bill would not really address the real issue of drugs in prisons. It would just provide a legal avenue for the Parole Board to use urine samples to deny parole, which is already a practice. One would think that for a bill like this, the government would be getting up, cheering and defending it, letting Canadians know what is happening in the House of Commons.

Would the member care to comment on that?

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12:40 p.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, the member for Surrey North makes an interesting point. I see members opposite, apparently unwilling to get up and talk about this. I suspect there is one reason why. I do not really believe that anybody over there is happy to get up to try to defend the fact that they have called this bill the drug-free prisons act when it would do nothing of the kind. In fact, it has no relation to having drug-free prisons at all. I think the member for Yukon and the committee recognized as much by acknowledging that the title was a bit of an overreach. That is a pretty big admission from the other side.

In fact, it is more than an overreach. It is something that is really indefensible and that is why we do not see anybody on the other side getting up trying to defend it.

Drug-Free Prisons ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, following in a similar vein to my previous question, we know that mental health is a significant problem in our communities across the country. In the intake interviews with prisoners, there is quite a significant number of prisoners who go into our prison system with identified mental health issues.

Instead of complaining, I would like to hear proposals or propositions of how we could make changes. What should we do as responsible legislators to ensure that the occurrences of mental health issues and concerns with our prisoners as they exit the prison system can be reduced, rather than increase or stay the same. According to many studies, mental health continues to be a problem, rather than being resolved or worked on while our prisoners are in the system.

Drug-Free Prisons ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I will quote Catherine Latimer, the executive director of the John Howard Society, who talked about what we could do for people who were out on parole. She said:

We want to enhance the likelihood that communities would be safer. We do that by a supported, targeted parole reintegration scheme that looks at the needs of the individual and how to support those needs.

On the way in to prison, when individuals are taken in and assessed at the beginning, there has to be a program that assesses the addiction problem and provides a proper correctional program for that offender. Without addiction treatment, education and proper reintegration upon release, a prisoner will likely return to a criminal lifestyle and possibly create more victims. That is what we are trying to prevent.

Drug-Free Prisons ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-12, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, and as others have pointed out, the short title is the drug-free prisons act.

Other New Democrats have indicated today that we are supporting this very narrow bill, and people might wonder why we are rising to speak to the bill if we are supporting it. Part of the reason we are rising to speak comes down to the short title, the drug-free prisons act. Nothing in the bill would contribute toward a goal of drug-free prisons.

One would think, given the Conservatives' approach to being tough on crime, that part of their interests would be that any legislation they bring forward would actually have a goal of keeping our communities safer. So part of that goal would be that, when people are incarcerated, when the justice system has found them guilty and they are incarcerated for whatever their misdeeds were—we would presume the Conservative goal would be to ensure that prisoners are rehabilitated so that they can be reintegrated back into the community in a safe way and thus keep our communities safer.

I think all of us in the House would argue that one of our roles is to ensure that federal employees have a safe workplace. We would assume that any legislation we bring forward would consider whether or not the workplace for correctional officers, men and women who serve in the federal penitentiary system, is safe. I would argue that nothing in the bill would achieve those ends.

I am turning to the legislative summary because it is important to highlight what exactly the bill would do and presumably why the bill came about. The legislative summary says:

The bill requires the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) (or a provincial parole board, if applicable) to cancel the parole of an offender who has not yet been released if the offender tests positive in a urinalysis or fails to provide a urine sample and the Board is of the opinion that the criteria for granting parole are no longer met.

The bill also clarifies the legislative intent underlying section 133(3) of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act 1 (CCRA)—which authorizes a releasing authority to set conditions on an offender's parole, statutory release or unescorted temporary absence—to provide that conditions may be set regarding the offender's use of drugs or alcohol, including when that use has been identified as a risk factor in the offender's criminal behaviour.

There is a long history of drug use within the penitentiary system, and the legislative summary quotes some of that background. Under a section called “The Presence of Drugs in the Federal Penitentiary System”, it says:

Prevalence rates of substance abuse for persons involved in the criminal justice system are “much higher” than those in the general population. According to the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), “in Canada, 80% of offenders entering the federal prison system are identified as having a substance abuse problem.”

I am going to repeat that number: 80% of people of entering the system have a substance abuse problem. That should be setting all kinds of warning bells off for everybody in the House who is considering legislation.

The summary goes on to say:

The presence of drugs within the federal penitentiary system is not a recent phenomenon. Problems associated with drugs in the penitentiary system were noted in 1990 by the Federal Court of Canada in Jackson v. Joyceville Penitentiary (T.D.), when the Court found that the evidence clearly indicated that:

unauthorized intoxicants in the prison setting create very serious problems including a greater risk and level of violence that affects the safety and security of prison institutions for both staff and inmates.

In 2000, the Sub-committee on the Corrections and Conditional Release Act of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights tabled a report entitled A Work in Progress: The Corrections and Conditional Release Act, in which it noted:

One of the issues that arose in virtually every correctional facility visited by the Sub-committee was the entry, presence and use of drugs in an environment where they are not supposed to be found. The Sub-committee also learned that the brewing, distribution and consumption of alcohol are serious problems in many correctional institutions. The consequences of the presence of alcohol and drugs in correctional facilities can be devastating to both the correctional environment and to what corrections personnel are trying to achieve in working with offenders.

Probably people who have listened to this debate would presume that the collection of a urine analysis for drug testing is something new, when in fact, it has existed within the penitentiary system for a number of years.

I will not go over all the history, but the mandatory urine analysis within the penitentiary system began in the mid-1980s, and so it has been going on for decades. There have been some changes to it because of some court challenges and human rights issues, but essentially the collection of urine for analysis and drug testing has been within the penitentiary system for a number of years.

What currently exists? According to the legislative summary, under the heading “Authority to Collect Urine Samples” it says, “Today, the CCRA authorizes the collection of urine samples within the institutional setting in the following prescribed circumstances.”

I will read the prescribed conditions without the explanation, but a number of things have to be present: reasonable grounds; random selection; when required for program activity involving community contact or a treatment program; testing to monitor compliance with conditions to abstain from the consumption of drugs or alcohol; consequences of a positive result or a refusal to provide a sample; and consequences for offenders on conditional release. This is the current situation from before we had Bill C-12 before us.

Therefore, we already have this method. However, in terms of drug-free prisons, I will talk a little later about how effective the programs have been, or have not been, and how little the bill would contribute to it.

On the changes to the legislation, clause 2 of Bill C-12 would amend the CCRA by creating a new section, 123.1, which states that the CSC is required to inform the Parole Board when an offender has been granted day or full parole but has not yet been released, has failed or refused to provide a urine sample or has had a positive urine analysis test.

Clause 3 of the bill would add a new section that states that if the Parole Board has been informed of an offender's failure or refusal to provide a urine sample or positive urine analysis result, and the offender has not yet been released, it must cancel the offender's parole, but only if, in its opinion, the criteria for granting parole provided in section 102 of the CCRA are no longer met.

Clause 4 of the bill would modify section 133(3) of the CCRA to direct the consideration of a condition regarding the offender's use of drugs or alcohol following an offender's failure or refusal to provide a urine sample, and Bill C-12 would give the Parole Board clear legal authority for the imposition of a condition regarding the use of drugs or alcohol by adding that:

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.

Therefore, what we have currently is a situation where the Correctional Service of Canada already does the urine sampling and drug analysis, and now we have this communication link with the Parole Board so that it may be considered when granting parole. However, members will notice that nowhere in there does it talk about rehabilitation or treatment while offenders are within the correctional system. Therefore, how this would contribute to a drug-free prison escapes me. I cannot find anything in the legislation that would create an environment that would reduce the use of drugs in prisons, that would presumably lead to better reintegration into society and more safety for prison staff who have to deal with these inmates who may be intoxicated or under the influence of some sort of drug.

It is interesting that this issue has been raised in any number of venues, and I am going to quote from an April 2012 report called “Drugs and Alcohol in Federal Penitentiaries: An Alarming Problem”. This is a report of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. In that report, there is a section entitled “The Impact of Drugs and Alcohol in Federal Correctional Facilities”. The report states that:

Upon admission, 80% of offenders have a serious substance abuse problem, and over half of them reported that alcohol and drug use was a factor in the commission of their offence.

Mental health problems are also highly prevalent among inmates in the correctional system. Experts note that drug addicts and inmates with mental health issues generally have complex problems to contend with, such as concurrent mental health issues, drug addiction and alcoholism.

Dr. Sandy Simpson, Clinical Director of the Law and Mental Health Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, said that substance abuse “is a driver of mental ill health and it is also a barrier to recovery, wellness, and reducing recidivism.” This is all the more alarming since “anywhere up to 90% of a standing prison population will have a lifetime problem of substance misuse or dependence.” The Commissioner also raised this point with the Committee, noting that “[t]his dependency does not magically disappear when they arrive at our gates.”

Anybody who has studied the corrections system is well aware that these substances are illegally available within the correctional system. I think there is a theory out there that when people go to prison, they will go cold turkey and somehow magically be relieved of needing or wanting the substance, but of course, these substances are illegally available in the system, which does not help with reintegration into society.

With regard to that report, New Democrats actually filed a dissenting opinion because, despite all of the testimony that was heard, the report only came down on one part of a proposed solution. In the dissenting report, New Democrats said:

The report: Drugs and Alcohol in Federal Penitentiaries: an Alarming Problem, is fundamentally flawed and fails to adequately represent the testimony heard at committee in a fair manner. Critical information is missing and as a result many of the conclusions and recommendations are incomplete or insufficient, for this reason New Democrat members of the Public Safety Committee have submitted this dissenting opinion....

The most startling example of the information missing from this report is the failure to note evidence that clearly demonstrated $122 million dollars [sic] of Conservative spending on interdiction tools and technology since 2008 has not led to any reduction in drug use in prisons. The Commissioner of Correctional Services Canada...Mr. Don Head, admitted at meeting number 16 on December 1, 2011, that this spending has been largely ineffective according to the CSC's own report on drug-testing, but this information is not reflected anywhere in the committee's report.

Of significant concern is the appearance that the Committee's report reached a pre-determined conclusion that the solution to the problems of drugs and alcohol in prison is increasing interdiction measures. This conclusion does not reflect the testimony that the Committee heard describing the complexity of the problem of drug and alcohol in federal prisons. As many witnesses affirmed, a narrow focus on interdiction measures alone will not serve the purpose of reducing the use of drugs and alcohol....

New Democrats believe that the problems facing Canadian prisons, including mental illness, drug use and the spread of disease, including HIV and hepatitis, are complex and interrelated. Violence and increased population pressures, gangs and drug trafficking in prisons are as interrelated as well. In order to move towards real solutions targeting the issue of drugs and alcohol in prisons, a balanced approach that is based on a complete understanding of the problems that exist is required.

Unfortunately, that report was another example of where the Conservative majority on the committee used the majority to actually subvert the recommendations and witness testimony so that it came out with a very narrow conclusion that simply did not reflect the other work that was done.

I want to turn for a moment to the Correctional Investigator, who provides annual reports that talk about the state of prisons in Canada. In a report from 2012 on the previous fiscal years, he indicated a number of problems, and I would like to take a few moments to raise that. In his report, he stated:

More offenders are admitted to federal penitentiaries more addicted and mentally ill than ever before. 36% have been identified at admission as requiring some form of psychiatric or psychological follow-up. 63% of offenders report using either alcohol or drugs on the day of their current offence. With a changing and more complex offender profile come accumulating pressure points and needs—provide for safe and secure custody, meet growing mental health and physical health care demands, and respond to the special needs of aging, minority and Aboriginal offenders. This is a compromised population which presents some very complex mental health, physical health and criminogenic issues. As I report here, these needs often run ahead of the system's capacity to meet them.

He provided some numbers. People love to talk numbers in the House, as they should. He indicated that the annual cost of keeping a federal inmate behind bars has increased from $88,000 in 2005-06 to more than $113,000 in 2009-10. In contrast, the annual average cost to keep an offender in the community is about $29,500. At a time of widespread budgetary restraint, it seems prudent to use prison sparingly and as a last resort, as it was intended to be.

Later on in the report, the Correctional Investigator outlined some challenges with mental health because, as noted, mental health and substance abuse often go hand in hand.

Again, quoting some statistics, he said:

CSC data indicates that the proportion of offenders with mental health needs identified at intake has doubled in the period between 1997 and 2008. 13% of male inmates and 29% of women were identified at admission as presenting mental health problems. 30.1% of women offenders compared to 14.5% of male offenders had previously been hospitalized for psychiatric reasons.

CSC's use of computerized mental health screening at admission indicates that 62% of offenders entering a federal penitentiary are “flagged” as requiring a follow-up mental health assessment or service.

Offenders diagnosed with a mental illness are typically afflicted by more than one disorder, often a substance abuse problem, which affects 4 out of 5 offenders in federal custody.

That is four out of five. That is 80% in custody.

50% of federally sentenced women self-report histories of self-harm, over half identify a current or previous addiction to drugs, 85% report a history of physical abuse and 68% experienced sexual abuse at some point in their lives.

He reviewed the progress with regard to dealing with some of these matters, and the Correctional Investigator indicated the following:

In a series of reports and investigations over the last three years, the Office has identified gaps in CSC's mental health framework and has further recommended a series of measures where progress is necessary. The following are among the most urgent needs in the federal system that speak to capacity and resource issues and raise questions of purpose, priority and direction:

1. Create intermediate mental health care units.

2. Recruit and retain more mental health professionals.

3. Treat self-injurious behaviour as a mental health, not security, issue.

4. Increase capacity at the Regional Treatment Centres.

5. Prohibit the use of long-term segregation of offenders at risk of suicide or serious self-injury as well as offenders with acute mental health issues.

6. Expand the range of alternative mental health service delivery partnerships with the provinces and territories.

7. Provide for 24/7 health care coverage at all maximum, medium and multi-level institutions.

With regard to drugs in prison, he indicated that there is no question that the presence of illegal substances is a major safety and security challenge. He said:

The smuggling and trafficking of illicit substances and the diversion of legal drugs inside federal penitentiaries present inherent risks that ultimately jeopardize the safety and security of institutions and the people that live and work inside them. Almost two-thirds of federal offenders report being under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicants when they committed the offence.... A very high percentage of the offender population that abuses drugs is also concurrently struggling with mental illness. The interplay between addiction, substance abuse and mental health functioning is complex and dynamic. Living with addiction or managing a substance abuse problem in a prison setting creates its own laws of supply and demand, which in turn is influenced by gang activity and other pressures.

We can see that there is a very serious problem within the prison system. We have had a number of experts who have testified to that in a variety of circumstances, yet the bill does nothing to deal with that problem.

He recommended the following:

a comprehensive and integrated drug strategy should include a balance of measures—prevention, treatment, harm reduction and interdiction. The Office's analysis suggests that CSC's current anti-drug strategy lacks three key elements:

1. An integrated and cohesive link between interdiction and suppression activities and prevention, treatment and harm reduction measures.

2. A comprehensive public reporting mechanism, and;

3. A well-defined evaluation, review and performance plan to measure the overall effectiveness of its investments.

With respect to performance indicators and public reporting, a more balanced score sheet might include consideration of these measures:

Decreased gang activity linked to the institutional drug trade.

Reduction in the number of major security incidents....

It goes on. I know I am running out of time, so I want to conclude by indicating that the Correctional Investigator said this:

On balance, the facts surrounding and impacts of substance abuse and addiction in federal prisons suggest a different approach. 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. Harm reduction measures within a public health and treatment orientation offer a far more promising, cost-effective and sustainable approach to reducing subsequent crime and victimization.

Although we are supporting the bill, I would urge the Conservative government to take a more detailed and complex look at the problem of substance abuse within the prison system.

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1:05 p.m.


Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been here all morning. It is now a little after one o'clock. I would like to go through the process. The bill was introduced by the minister. There was second reading debate. Everyone in the House agreed, and it went to committee. There was a discussion at committee and witnesses. It came back here.

There have been comments about why the Conservatives have not been up to speak to this. The fact of the matter is that the whole House agrees with the bill. What opposition members are arguing about today is the short title. They do not like the short title. One party is carrying the debate from ten o'clock until two, is my understanding. Then on another date, we will hear about not having enough time to debate issues.

There is other legislation we could have introduced that the opposition members may actually disagree with, and we could have a real debate in the House.

Based on the respect I have for the member who just spoke, would it not have been a better use of the time of the House to deal with legislation and actually have a debate on other than the short title?

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1:05 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the chair of the justice committee for that question. I know that he was listening intently to my speech. As I pointed out in my speech earlier, the reason we are here debating this is that we have so few avenues in this House, because of the lack of democratic process, to raise valid concerns about legislation.

What we know about this particular piece of legislation is that, yes, it was referred to committee. There were only a couple of meetings allocated for it.

We have clearly stated in this House that we are supporting this very narrow bill, and we are raising concerns about the fact that the Conservative government has been in power since 2006 and has had nine years to deal with the very serious problems in the Correctional Service system with regard to drug and alcohol abuse, and it has done nothing about it.

The Conservatives introduced interdiction techniques, for $122 million, around security measures that have not looked at prevention, harm reduction, and treatment. What are they doing to make sure that when prisoners are released they are reintegrated into a community in a way that keeps the community safe. What are they doing to keep the staff who work within Correctional Service Canada safe? We know that trafficking in illegal substances makes a workplace unsafe for staff and makes the living arrangements unsafe for the prisoners.

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1:05 p.m.


Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, following the comment my colleague just made and her speech, does she think it was a missed opportunity for the Conservatives to find real solutions, and not just the appearance of a solution?

As she quite rightly said, it is just a title, but in reality as in the bill itself, there is no solution that will really eradicate drugs from our prisons.

Does she believe the Conservatives have missed a good opportunity to really deal with the problem and find practical ways of solving it? Could today’s budget also provide a practical and genuine opportunity to attack the problem? Does she think the Conservatives have let a good opportunity go by?

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1:05 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will start with the tail end of the question on the budget.

I am under no illusion that the government is actually going to take some of its responsibility for some of the most disadvantaged people in this country seriously and put the resources in to work with offenders with a view to keeping our communities safer. I did not get an opportunity to talk about aboriginal offenders, who are seriously over-represented in the federal correction system.

Everyone has to remember what the ultimate goal is. It is to keep our communities safer and to reduce recidivism. I have no confidence that the government is going to put any resources into the Correctional Service that will help us, as a country, meet that goal.

With regard to the bill as a missed opportunity, what is unfortunate is that this is not new information about drug use within the prison system. Correctional Service Canada itself has information that suggests that it is a serious problem. The office of the investigator actually took a look at the stats, and although they claim that there has a been a slight reduction in the number of urinalysis that are showing positive results for drugs, in fact when some other things are removed, like legitimate prescription drug use, they plateau. Their methods are not affecting drug use within the prison system.

Correctional Service Canada, the Office of the Correctional Investigator, mental health professionals, the John Howard Society, the Elizabeth Fry Society, and the list goes on and on, all talk about the serious problem around substance abuse within the prisons, with people both entering and exiting the system with mental health and substance abuse problems.

This was an opportunity to actually do something meaningful instead of putting forward a bill that misleads the Canadian public about what the Conservative government is actually doing to create a drug-free prison system. It is a missed opportunity.

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1:10 p.m.


Jasbir Sandhu NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, carrying on with the theme of the budget that is coming up this afternoon, I know a lot of seniors are concerned about the pensions they are getting. This is another topic I have heard about many times in my community, where seniors are living in poverty. However, I am going to stick to the topic at hand, Bill C-12.

I was glad to see a Conservative member get up to actually ask a question. However, rather than asking a question, the member went on a rant about the title. He did not provide the answer to the question we have been asking all morning: How does the title relate to the actual content of the bill? The title includes the words “drug-free prisons”. However, what we have heard in the House from member after member of the official opposition is that the bill will actually do very little, if anything at all, to curb drugs in our prison system.

The government has an opportunity to invest in rehabilitation and treatment programs in the prison system. I know that most are not very optimistic that the government will take any sort of leadership role, which it has failed to do in the last nine years.

My question is to the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan. Is this a trend with the government in regard to fancy titles for hollow legislation that does not actually address some of the very issues we need to address in this House?

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1:10 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a very troubling trend. I cannot speak for the government. It is unfortunate that the Conservative government will not get up and explain how this piece of legislation actually contributes to drug-free prisons.

As I noted in my speech, the legislative summary clearly pointed out that drug testing has been going on in the prisons since the 1980s, and we have not seen a decrease in the use of drugs. Again, I need to point out that a lot of these drugs are smuggled in or brewed on site. Testing has not led to a decrease in the use of those illegal substances. They are illegal within the prison context.

There is nothing in this bill that indicates that simply continuing to do the drug testing they have already been doing since the 1980s and simply informing the Parole Board will change anything. The Parole Board still has the option of granting release, depending on the conditions.

It is not clear to me from this piece of legislation, or from any analysis I have seen on it, how this is going to contribute to a drug-free prison. The Conservative government has not stood up in this House and explained it to us.

The government wonders why we want to debate this. It is because it is asking us to roll over on a piece of legislation that does not do what the title says it is going to do. We have a responsibility to the Canadian public to raise concerns when legislation is brought forward. That is simply what we are doing here. We are exercising our democratic right to highlight concerns with a piece of legislation. I want to reiterate that we are supporting it, but we believe that much more needs to be done in order to keep our communities safer.

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1:15 p.m.


Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the pleasure to rise in the House today to talk about Bill C-12.

I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Timmins—James Bay. I will therefore be speaking rather more briefly, but there is no harm done, as I will be leaving the floor to others.

As my colleagues have pointed out, we are going to support this bill. However, we see it as a little piece of paper that does not really solve the problem. It is a little something, but the drug problem in the prisons is a very large one. What is before us today is only a small part of the solution.

This bill provides for ineligibility for parole following a positive test or a refusal to provide a sample. I emphasize that this is already common practice. Drug tests and the refusal to provide a sample are already taken into consideration. That does not change much. It is nevertheless a step in the right direction. At least we are talking about the problem, which is a start. However, we believe the important thing is to create a safer environment for correctional staff, and one in which inmates or ex-inmates can be reintegrated into society and into the community. We have to create an environment in which they can take part in detoxification programs, one with programs and resources for inmates who are unfortunately drug-dependent.

It is also important that we address the problem of street gangs in prisons. It is often street gangs that produce drugs or alcohol inside prisons or arrange for drugs to be smuggled in. Obviously, the result is that the problem spreads and proliferates.

Street gangs and drugs can increase violence in prisons. This concerns me greatly because in Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, in the riding of Terrebonne—Blainville, there are three federal prisons. Many of my constituents work in one or other of the three. I have spoken to prison workers who are extremely concerned, because their working conditions are unsafe. The environment is not safe because we are not dealing with the problems of violence and street gangs. We are cutting budgets, resources and detoxification programs. We are also increasing the number of prisoners in the cells, with double-bunking, which can increase violence and the spread of gangs within prisons.

Ultimately, it creates a more dangerous work environment for corrections officers. We need to think of those people. They do an extremely difficult job. Not just anyone can do this job in a pressure-filled environment. These people work with prisoners and help protect society. As parliamentarians, we have a duty to do our best to ensure that our prisons are free of drugs and violence. We have a duty to reduce the presence of—if not eliminate—street gangs in prison.

This bill may have started with good intentions, but the government made our prisons less safe by reducing the budget for drug addiction programs by $295 million, which is 10% of the total budget. This will obviously affect the programs, which are often the first targets of cuts to public safety.

However, these programs are essential to helping prisoners rehabilitate. If we want them to become productive members of society, we need to give them a chance to take part in drug treatment programs and free themselves of their addiction. If they have mental health problems, we need to give them the opportunity to participate in proper programs in order to receive care and get their condition under control. Unfortunately these programs fell victim to the Conservatives' budgets.

The government invested $112 million in tools and technology to tackle the problem of drugs in prisons, but failed to achieve the hoped-for results. Now the Conservatives are trying something else. That seems logical to me. This bill might be part of that, but it lacks substance. All it does is reiterate what is already being done, such as screening.

To get to the root of the problem, we need to look at the big picture. If these people have addictions, we need to treat them. If drugs are available in prison, we have to tackle that problem. If drugs are banned in prison, why are they there? If it is because of street gangs, we need to go after street gangs. That seems logical to me, but unfortunately, that is not what is being done.

I talked about the importance of having programs that meet inmates' needs so that they can be reintegrated into the community and become productive members of society. However, the government reduced funding for these programs from $11 million to $9 million even as the prison population grew. That is not enough.

Another thing I wanted to point out, which the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers also pointed out, is that we all want to get rid of drugs in prisons. That is a sincere objective shared by us all. However, we need to be realistic. The union and many other witnesses said that completely ridding prisons of drugs is not a realistic goal. That is important to remember.

The bill's short title is the “drug-free prisons act”. We all want to get rid of drugs in prisons. That is not the issue here. However, we have to wonder if that is realistic. The experts say that it is not. Once again, we need to reframe the debate. Maybe that way we could achieve something.

I want to talk about programs again. I talked about how the budget for drug addiction programs and anti-gang programs was cut from $11 million to $9 million. In seven institutions surveyed in February 2012, only 12.5% of offenders were enrolled in a core correctional program, while 35% were on the waiting lists to access these programs. The waiting lists continue to grow, but institutions do not have the resources needed. It is critical that we address these problems.

In closing, I wish to reiterate our support for the idea of eliminating drugs from prisons, but I want to emphasize the need for resources and programs so that correctional officers can work in a safe environment.

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1:25 p.m.


Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, if my colleague would indulge me, I wonder if she could put herself in the minister's shoes for a moment and answer the following question: if she had been asked to try to eliminate drugs from prisons, would she have come up with a bill that has only five clauses or would she have presented a much more comprehensive solution?

What kind of action might she have taken to come up with a comprehensive solution to the problem of drugs in prisons?

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1:25 p.m.


Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

I believe that as a rule, MPs do not usually respond to hypothetical questions.

Nonetheless, in this case, I am being asked whether I, as minister, would introduce a bill with just five clauses to get rid of drugs in prisons, which is no small feat, and the answer is no. It takes a lot more than that.

We need to invest in programs and provide resources. There needs to be a serious commitment to the programs that the inmates have to have access to. There needs to be mental health care. This calls for a multi-faceted solution.

This bill is a piece of paper that may indeed have an impact, but it addresses just a small part of the problem and provides a small offering of potential solutions. What we really need is a greater commitment if we want drug-free prisons.

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1:25 p.m.


Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to ask a second question.

I wonder if my colleague would indulge me in another hypothetical question. Does she think it is worth talking to provincial stakeholders to get the provinces' support when it comes to addiction services?

As we know, addicts are more likely to commit crimes in order to pay for their drugs, among other things. That is how they end up in prison.

In the member's opinion, is it also worth talking to provincial stakeholders to address the issue of addiction and mental health?

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1:25 p.m.


Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague once again.

Yes, we must always work with the provinces, especially on such a broad issue as drug addiction. This problem affects many people. When someone has an addiction, they might do something they would not ordinarily do.

The keyword here is prevention. It would be fantastic if there were no more crime and if there were no more prisons because there were no more offenders. It would be fantastic if there were no addicts in Canada.

However, to make that happen we have to work on prevention. Prevention is vital. We need to consult the provinces and different organizations working in the community in order to come up with a proper prevention action plan. There must be consultation.

Unfortunately, on many occasions, we have seen that this government consulted no one. The Conservatives do their homework in their little corner, and if we do not agree with their decision they just brush us off and do not consult us. They do not consider our point of view and they move forward without consulting. That is unfortunate because there are opportunities to be seized, and we can can work together on prevention.

Prevention is central to a discussion of public safety issues.

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1:25 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to rise in this House to represent the people of Timmins—James Bay.

The bill we are debating today, Bill C-12, the so-called drug-free prisons act, is a perfect bill for a Conservative government in the last tired dying months of its senile reign. It meets the three main criteria of a Conservative crime bill.

It has a bogus title that they would somehow create drug-free prisons, when their own studies say they are never going to deal with that and they need to come up with other solutions.

As a classic Conservative bill, it would not change anything. It is a windmill that the Conservatives are going to run at with their fake spears because the provisions already exist. They are saying they are going to ensure that the drug tests are brought before the Parole Board to stop these bad people from getting out. The Parole Board already has those powers. They are tying up more time in the House of Commons.

However, there is a third element that makes it a definitive Conservative crime bill, because these guys are not tough on crime, they are dumb on crime. It is more wasted money. Do members know, and the folks back home, the terrible financial record of the current government that will blow money on anything that suits its ideology, like the F-35s that it was going to spend incredible amounts on?

The Conservatives have spent $122 million on this program already, claiming that they are going to stop the drugs in prison. “We're going to get tough on those prisoners”. After $122 million, they have come up with nada, zero, doughnuts. They have not delivered on anything. Rather than going back and figuring out what they are doing wrong, they will just come up with another fake bill, with another fake title, offering very little.

Why this is of concern is that this is a government that has run on its so-called tough on crime agenda with one bill after another without ever coming forward with focused, coherent legislation that, number one, can meet the test of the charter and is not a waste of money. Our present justice minister has had more recalls than the Ford Pinto, in terms of his legislation. It costs Canadian taxpayers about $100,000 a year to incarcerate a prisoner. That is an enormous amount of money that is being wasted in prisons.

I am not saying that we do not need prisons to hold people. However, if we are going to spend up to $100,000 a year holding each of them, we could certainly divert a lot of that money toward smart crime prevention, which is to keep people out of the prison system. The fact that we do not factor in is the enormous financial, emotional and psychological damage that happens to our society when someone gets into the system in the first place.

We need to look at where solutions exist, where good grassroots solutions exist, so that we can actually find ways to cut the recidivism rates and ensure that we are pulling people out of the prison system and out of the nightmare of drug addiction and drug trading.

I have seen a few really good models at the grassroots level of how we could actually be smart on crime. For example, just recently in Timmins we launched a fentanyl task force. Fentanyl has become a major problem. It has replaced what was the OxyContin epidemic. I have noticed, in many of the communities that had never dealt with opiate addictions before Oxy became very street available, that a lot of people got caught up in Oxy who would not normally have got caught up in Oxy. It created a market for heroin synthetic opiates. Now, with the Oxy market being squeezed off, fentanyl has become the new drug of choice. Fentanyl is extremely dangerous. It is a patch that is meant to deliver a synthetic heroin over a three-day period. If people cut it up and smoke it, they might end up getting the full shot in one go, which will stop the heart. I have seen young people who have died from fentanyl, and these were good young people. These were people with their whole lives ahead of them who thought this was a party drug, and it is not.

In the city of Timmins, as they have done in so many other communities, we have started a grassroots response of bringing people together, asking, “How do we learn from each other? How do we start dealing with the trade in fentanyl?” However, we obviously need the federal government involved because we need a way of tracking the fentanyl patches. It is not simply a matter of someone taking their uncle's or their grandmother's patch off them when they are getting cancer treatment; there is a trade that is going on in fentanyl that is much bigger.

The impact here is that we have the demand of people who are being brought into addiction, thinking that it is a party drug and this drug could actually kill them. We have to do the public awareness on that, but there is the supply issue. If it is a lucrative enough market, we are going to get into the gangs and a very illegal trade by people who do need to be put away. However, we need a way of tracking them and working with police.

At the grassroots level, what we have done in the Timmins area with the fentanyl task force is try to find ways to come up with smart solutions from the grassroots up so that we are, first of all, preventing the casualties, deaths and overdoses that are costing our families terrible emotional strain, as well as costing the medical and prison systems. We are also trying to find a way to track these patches back to the source so that we can cut off that trade. We need the federal government to show some leadership on this. That is one important element.

I was at a very fascinating conference just this past week in Timmins, led by Brent Kalinowski, who spent 27 years on the Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, police force. Brent was bringing to Timmins a program that is working very well in North Bay, and it is working in Saskatchewan and some other communities, where they create a community hub. Brent explained this really well when he talked about the years that he had spent in policing, going after the bad guys after the fact, after the damage had been done, and after the families' lives had been ruined. At that point, what can we do with these characters except put them in jail?

We are dealing with enormous costs to the medical system, to the prison system, and to families who might never recover if it is an act of violence. Brent said that after 25 years of doing this, he felt that there needed to be a smarter way of getting people before they get too far into the system. That is a really important issue. There is nothing soft or namby-pamby about diverting people out of the prison system. When we put someone into the prison system, we are putting them into a university of humiliation and a university of crime. That is not where we want our graduates coming from, so whoever we can divert from that, we are making smart, grassroots responses.

The hub response that is working very well in North Bay and that we have talked about bringing into Timmins is one where we bring the key organizations together, including the school boards, the addiction experts and the police, and identify individuals. We do not give the person's name, but we could say that we have a 13-year-old female who overdosed twice and was in the emergency ward, and we think that this may be the scene of a need for greater intervention. The school would say that it has her and that she has been missing school five, six, or seven days in a row. One of the counsellors would say that they have been dealing with her and what is actually happening is that a boyfriend has moved in and it has become an abusive situation.

All of the little pieces of the puzzle around this hub become identified. We have a problem here. This could end up flaming into a much more serious condition. They put a team together to go and meet the family, the mother and daughter, and say “How can we help?” It might seem like an extremely simple solution, and it might seem that it would not work, but it is amazing, they say, how quickly people are willing to open their door and say “Thank God. Come in. Can we make you a coffee? How can we divert our child from this crisis?”

It goes all the way up through various issues. We start to see the symptoms in someone who is starting to miss school when they are young, starting to get in trouble, or starting to appear again and again in the emergency ward. These are people who either become victims of violence or victims of crime, or become criminals themselves. Once they have identified someone who has had months of skipping school, certain schools would say that they will just suspend them permanently. They are suspended, they are out there and they are not being helped. The emergency ward just puts them back out on the streets.

We need a smarter way. If we are going to get them to the prison system and waste $100,000 a year, plus all of the other costs that the system incurs, and then spend $122 million to stop them doing drugs in prison, there has to be a smarter way of doing this. We are seeing some really good grassroots models coming from police and community organizations. That is where the House of Commons needs to start working to say that we can be a lot smarter on crime, rather than always spending the enormous amounts of money after the fact and after it is too late.

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1:35 p.m.


Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague across the way. Certainly, we have a lot of differences on many of these issues, but one thing that we do agree on is the importance of investing in programs that will help to reduce recidivism. During the break weeks, I had the honour of announcing some large funds for a group in my riding that is doing work in that area, helping prisoners who have been released to re-enter society in a way that will help them to not reoffend.

It is important to note that currently, there are 1,500 drug seizures each year in the prisons. It would seem like common sense that we should not have drugs in our prisons, but the reality is that we do.

I have one simple question for my colleague. If inmates are doing drugs in prison, what does he think the likelihood is of them successfully staying off drugs after their release from prison or when they are on parole? What is the likelihood of that happening if we are actually providing drugs for them while they are in prison?