Madam Speaker, it was a remarkable speech of my colleague from Mégantic—L'Érable, and certainly I hope that I can live up to the expectations he had.
I am honoured to speak to Bill C-83, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, because located in the centre of my riding is the Bowden Institution, which is presently a medium security prison built on an open campus model. It was opened in 1974, being built on the site of former RCAF Station Bowden, a World War II British Commonwealth air training plan facility. Although it is a medium-security prison, recently a considerable contingent of violent gang members have been transferred there.
During my 34 year career as a teacher in Innisfail, just a few miles north of the pen and during my wife's 10 year teaching career in Bowden, we both had many interactions with families who had relatives incarcerated at the penitentiary, as well as interactions with community members who worked as guards, psychologists, or teachers in the institution.
In my role as the member of Parliament, first for Red Deer from 2008 to 2015 and then for Red Deer—Mountain View, concerns about the activities that take place not just at Bowden but at correctional facilities across Canada often end up on my desk.
The morale of prison staff is so important because for them to function in a way that can be helpful to both the inmates and themselves, they need safe conditions and positive direction. I will start with one of the issues that has weighed so heavily on their minds, and that is the disastrous Phoenix pay system. No worker should be forced to sell their vehicle, move out of their homes, deal with marriage breakdowns from financial stress and declare personal bankruptcy simply because the government cannot get a properly calculated cheque to them. However, those are things that have happened and are continuing to happen.
No worker should have to deal with drug addicts inside a prison, especially when those drugs are fentanyl, which can be lethal if one just breathes it in. In July 2017, a corrections officer was hospitalized after finding fentanyl in a car in the parking lot. Drugs are hidden in flower beds, come over the walls in tennis balls, and are brought in by visitors, many under threat of violence to their loved ones if they do not comply.
In November 2017, half a million dollars of drugs, mainly methamphetamines and THC, was seized by staff. Imagine how people feel when the concept of needle exchanges and heating spoons also finds its way in and how that discussion occurs. It simply illustrates to the public just how dangerous and unmanageable the situation is.
Corrections staff are not only expected to deal with these dangerous issues, but they also have their hands tied even to the extent of being subject to monetary penalties if they take actions against an inmate, even if they are protecting themselves.
As far as Bill C-83 is concerned, the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers intends to spend a lot of time reviewing this legislation. Jason Godin, the national president, said:
Bill C-83 will require serious consultation and resources to make it work.... As correctional officers, we want to make sure that we have the proper tools to ensure staff and inmates safety. In that sense, Bill C-83 must include structured intervention units, which would operate as a population management tool that they can ensure staff and inmate safety.
With regard to consultation, resources, and proper tools to make it work, I don't think many people believe that adequate resources management is, or ever has been, a Liberal priority after the way the government rolled out its marijuana program.
The union emphasized say that the new bill must not sacrifice disciplinary segregation as a tool to deter violent behaviour. It said:
We need alternative sanctions to disciplinary segregation, ensuring that inmates displaying dangerous and violent behaviour have some consequences for their actions. Since CSC has limited its use of segregation with new policies, there has been an increased report of assaults on inmates and staff.
For example, Mr. Godin said:
At RPC (Regional Psychiatric Centre) we have had over 100 assaults on staff in 12 months and that they need to get this under control.
It is my assessment that the introduction of SIUs may pose a risk to prison guards, inmates, particularly those for whom solitary confinement is used for their own safety. Additionally, the stripping of the ability to use segregation for discipline makes prisons more dangerous for the guards, since they will now face having to deal with the worst of the worst, the most volatile, being out and about from their cells for four hours per day.
Bill C-83 also goes further than what was raised in either of the Supreme Court decisions by banning administrative segregation and changing it to this SIU model. This is just another example of how misplaced Liberal thinking is when it comes to criminals, give them all the breaks and putting the screws to those charged with keeping control.
Conservatives will always stand strong by supporting workers' safety and victims' concerns over increasing the rights and privileges of criminals.
Another aspect of this bill, one that I am in agreement with, is the introduction of body scanners. For those who travel as much as we do as members of Parliament, it is just second nature. What are those scanners designed to do? It is to keep everyone safe, to restrict dangerous items, to prevent the possibility of mayhem. Where could that be more important than in a prison? The union also welcomes the introduction of body scanners to prevent contraband, saying that “Our union has advocated strongly for the implementation of body scanners. We are satisfied with the results.”
I agree that body scanners are a good idea, but we will be proposing amendments to extend scanning to anyone who enters the institution, other than employees. Personally, I would go so far as to say that if everyone had to go through the scanners, and inmates knew this was the way it was going to be, then the resulting recognition that nothing could come in would go a long ways to ensuring safety for all.
One of the things that I have been acutely aware of as a resident of central Alberta is the issue of criminality. We have a penitentiary, but we also have criminals from all over this country. I have heard from other members that there are issues regarding the special circumstances of indigenous inmates and concerns about inmates from ethnic or religious minorities. These are all issues that need to be carefully addressed.
There are also issues with people who have drug addictions, who feed their habit through criminal behaviour, and those special cases where inmates with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder are engaging in criminal activity because they are manipulated by con artists, some within the institutions as well. These are circumstances where effective mental health protocols and interventions need to be used.
The formalization of exceptions for offenders with mental health conditions of special circumstances, when done properly, would truly be fair. As a matter of fact, our previous Conservative government championed the improvement of mental health treatment for patients, by ensuring faster mental health screening through the creation of mental health strategies, by extending mental psychological counselling and improving staff training.
This was not hard on criminals; it was compassionate and effective. Granted, much more work still needs to be done. However, just throwing up our hands like the Liberals are doing, hoping they can move criminals out of prisons faster by simply reclassifying them, does not make sense, and it surely does not protect the public.
Policies such as classifying a single prison cell in a minimum-security facility to become a maximum-security cell sounds more like an administrative solution than a strong security decision.
In conclusion, we want to see the risk to prison guards, the institutions' staff, and the general public completely eliminated. Isolating offenders who attack other inmates or are harmful to themselves and others should not always be second guessed. Making prisons drug free with the use of technology and strict enforcement should not be considered an impossible task. Ensuring that the right mental health treatment gets to the right inmates as quickly as possible should be the goal of everyone involved.
Hopefully those witnesses who are clamouring to make the Liberals see the light will get a fair hearing when this goes to committee, and amendments will be accepted to make this legislation effective.