Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to address this important piece of legislation. I think it is one of the pieces of legislation that really illustrates the differences between political entities inside this chamber. I want to provide some thoughts on the legislation and why I believe we are quite different in terms of political philosophy and the way we want to approach crime and ensure that we have safe streets in our communities.
I am going to approach this from the perspective of some personal experience. I was the chair of the youth justice committee in the north end of Winnipeg for many years. I was also the justice critic for the Province of Manitoba for a number of years, and I have had an opportunity to gain a certain amount of insight by talking to victims, offenders and the many stakeholders around our justice system. I suspect one could anticipate that I am somewhat opinionated on this issue.
Crime is one of the issues that our constituents are very much concerned about. It is an issue that I often talk about with constituents at the door. We can talk about health care to some and there is a high level of interest in education. However, the one issue that seems to be universal in terms of having a discussion, is the issue of safety in our communities. I take it very seriously.
We often hear from the Conservative benches about being “soft on crime”. Let me be very clear. For me, it is about the victims and preventing victims from being victims in the first place. That is something that is very important to recognize.
Holding individuals accountable for breaking the law is of the utmost importance. There needs to be a consequence when someone violates the law. However, we should be looking at it from the perspective of how we ensure that there are fewer repeat offenders. If one were to follow the tough talk of the Conservatives, one would think it would be by incarcerating them in a facility and allowing them to remain in that facility and maybe, to a certain degree, being better educated in different types of crime.
The whole concept of rehabilitation seems to be lost on Conservative Party members, especially when they are in opposition or when they write press releases. We know that at times, a Conservative government can do some good things related to rehabilitation, such as when they set up healing lodges in the past, for example. That was something they established when it came to having someone move from a high-security prison to a medium-security prison. I am glad that the Conservatives applaud and recognize that.
At times they will do good things, but they will never really talk about them. What they want is to have the Conservative hard-nosed attitude that if someone breaks the law, throw them in jail and throw away the key.
Having the opportunity to tour facilities, whether it is the Headingley facility just outside Winnipeg, or Stony Mountain just outside Winnipeg near Stonewall, one gains a fairly good perspective in terms of what incarceration is all about and why it is important that there be a strong rehabilitation component in prisons.
We need to realize that the majority of people who are going to prison today will leave prison at some point. Contrary to the impression the Conservatives might like to give Canadians, it is not just murderers and rapists and pedophiles who go to prison. There are many other individuals who find themselves on the wrong side of the law, for numerous reasons, and ultimately end up in prison.
My colleague and friend made reference to fetal alcohol syndrome. It is a very serious disorder in different regions of the country, in some regions of the country more than others. There is a correlation factor that should be taken into consideration.
One of the surprises I had was the number of individuals who have addiction issues. One of the addiction issues I would make reference to is a gambling addiction. As a result of a gambling addiction, individuals often find themselves on the wrong side of the law, and if it is severe enough, they end up being in custody or in jail. We need to recognize that if we have sound programs provided, then after they leave incarceration, there is a better chance of their being productive and law-abiding citizens. If we take away those programs the Conservatives would like to see disappear, or at least have the imagery of them disappearing, I would suggest, and I believe that studies will show, that we would have more victims as a direct result. Therefore, rehabilitation is an important component of our justice system and our corrections facilities.
That is not to take away from consequences. As I indicated, I sat on a justice committee. Justice committees are quasi-judicial, such as youth justice committees, where members of a community come before the community and say that they would be prepared to be honorary probation officers and deal with young offenders. For years I chaired one and I always found it interesting, when we would get new members coming in, to see the type of thinking they had about some of the young offenders we would get. A typical case might be someone who was shoplifting, for example. We would see shoplifters coming in with their guardians and they would sit before two or three honorary probation officers for an interview. They would talk to the young person to get a sense of whether there was remorse and what sort of disposition would be in the best interests of the community for the crime that had been committed and in the best interests of the individual so that the individual young person would not recommit.
In the 1990s, we had a fairly proactive group of youth justice committees in the north end of Winnipeg. I suspect that for many of those young people who went before those youth justice committees, where members of the community were engaged, there was a stronger likelihood of success and those youth were not committing offences.
If we leave it to the professionals, the individuals in the facilities who have studied human behaviour, and even to victims organizations, and listen to what they are telling us, we will find that there is a great deal of room for us to look at ways we can improve our correctional facilities. That is really what this bill is about.
It is an interesting fact that around 2011, the average number of inmates in segregation was in excess of 700 on any given day. Contrast that to today. Today it is roughly 340 or just under 350 a day. That is a substantial decrease in a relatively small number of years. From 700 to around 340 or 350 is a significant decrease. I would suggest that this is in good part from the sense of professionalism our correctional officers have. They do a phenomenal job. I want to recognize the efforts of our correctional facility officers and applaud them for the day-in and day-out services they provide making our communities safe and our correctional facilities safe. They do a phenomenal job, second to no other, I would argue.
Those numbers are very encouraging. We are seeing fewer people put into segregation units.
What the bill would do is eliminate administrative segregation units and put in structured intervention units. There is a difference. The Conservatives say that we are doing too much and are being too nice. The New Democrats say that we are not doing anything and that we need to do more.
I am glad to say that the government and the minister have done a fantastic job working with stakeholders to bring forward structured intervention units, which would actually be effective. In fact, they would make a difference and meet the needs of some pending court decisions on challenges brought forward in regard to segregation. The bill has also taken into consideration what other jurisdictions around the world are doing.
The minister has done a fantastic job in ensuring that we have solid, sound legislation, but both the NDP and the Conservatives are both voting against it, for totally different reasons, rather than recognizing that we are, in fact, on the right path. They do not need to criticize only because they happen to be in opposition. If the government brings in good legislation, there is nothing wrong with recognizing it for what it is, good legislation, and supporting it. That is what we have been debating and why I have been somewhat discouraged by the remarks coming from both opposition parties.
What we would be doing with the elimination of segregation is allowing those individuals who are in segregation today the opportunity to be provided with programs. We would be recognizing the importance of mental health. It is ludicrous to believe that mental health is not one of the primary reasons we have individuals entering our correctional institutions in the first place. If we want to make our communities safer into the future, we need to deal with mental health issues.
For the first time, we have taken a very bold approach by saying that if individuals are in segregation, let us get rid of the concept of segregation in favour of structured intervention units and ensure that there are programs and services that include the issue of mental health.
If we are able to deal with issues of mental health and provide essential programming services when these individuals go back into the general population, that then means that when it comes time for their release, they will be in a better position to conform to our laws. They will be better citizens in the community. They will be more positive and they will contribute as such.
Is that not what we are supposed to be doing in this House? The Liberal members of this House recognize that. We recognize it, we believe it and that is why we are supporting this legislation. Not only do we talk about it, but we want our communities to be safer. We want fewer victims.
There are other amendments in the legislation that are very positive that I have not heard members talk about. For example, when offenders go before the Parole Board, the victims can attend to hear what is said. If they do not attend the Parole Board, then they can apply for an audio recording of it, so they can hear what took place.
With this legislation, they will be able to request audio recordings whether they attend or not. Let us imagine being the victim of a crime and having to listen to the offender. For some, that might be okay; for others, it might not. Those who attend have all sorts of things going through their minds. Should they not be allowed to ask for the audio recordings that exist, so they can take them home and listen in their own homes, or in an atmosphere that is more comfortable for them?
There are some things in this legislation that I believe everyone in this House would easily support. We hear about body scanners. That is no surprise. Members of Parliament tend to fly a lot and are very familiar with the body scanners at airports. With this legislation, correctional facilities will be afforded the opportunity to acquire body scanners so that cavity searches will not be required to the degree they currently are. I see that as a positive thing. It is less intrusive. We are not only talking about prisoners; these scanners are also used for individuals who visit prisoners.
I represent a north end Winnipeg riding and understand the importance of victims' rights. Legislation has been introduced by this government to protect victims' rights. We should not buy the Conservative spin that gives an impression that the Conservatives are the only ones concerned about victims, because that is just not true. Legislation is before us that all members should support because it will prevent victims in the future. I genuinely believe that. That is one of the reasons I would ask members to consider—