Madam Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-83, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another act. In our opinion, the Liberals' bill reeks of improvisation. Allow me to explain.
This bill seeks to eliminate the use of administrative segregation in correctional facilities and replace it with structured intervention units; to use prescribed body scanners for inmates, which is a good idea; to establish parameters for access to health care; and to formalize exceptions for indigenous offenders, women offenders and offenders with diagnosed mental health conditions.
Obviously, the bill in question contains some reasonable measures that are worth examining. We should all consider how we can change and improve the overall prison program.
In a recent ruling, the Ontario Superior Court called into question the legality of indefinite solitary confinement, but the Liberals are appealing that decision. This is what I mean about improvisation. On one hand, the Liberals are appealing the court's decision, but on the other they are introducing a bill that introduces major changes. It is difficult to follow the Liberals' logic.
As far as administrative segregation is concerned, let me share a concrete example. Last week, I was invited to Donnacona Institution, a maximum-security federal penitentiary in the Quebec City region. Representatives for correctional authorities made presentations and the union shared its concerns. Then, during the tour of the penitentiary, I was brought to the administrative segregation area so that I could see what it is. They even brought out an inmate who was in administrative segregation, a murderer who has been incarcerated for 41 years and has spent only three months out of segregation. He committed other major crimes as well.
He came to see me and said that he wanted to stay in what is referred to as the “hole”, in other words, administrative segregation. That person does not want to be with the other inmates. He has been incarcerated for 41 years and says that administrative segregation suits him best. The correctional officers asked me what they are supposed to do with him since he wants to stay there. If he is forced to return to the general population that will cause problems. It is hard to know what to do or to assess the usefulness of administrative segregation.
Getting back to the bill, this legislation also applies to transfers and allows the commissioner to assign a security classification to each penitentiary and all areas within penitentiaries. I do not understand that. In a maximum-security penitentiary, such as Donnacona, nothing gets in or out without the strictest controls. I know from experience because I had to go through several steps when I went to visit. Maximum security means maximum security, period.
As I understand it, under this bill, a maximum-security classification could be assigned to any area of a medium- or minimum-security penitentiary. If that is not the case, someone will correct me. If we are talking about basic safety, that simply does not make sense. A maximum-security classification cannot just be assigned to an individual cell at a minimum-security facility. That would be absolutely ridiculous, since the facility's entire perimeter and security system would not be designed to guarantee maximum security. Someone needs to explain that, because I do not understand.
I firmly believe that Canada has one of the best correctional systems in the world, both for prisoners and for guards. Everyone can agree that criminals need to serve their sentences, as required by law. However, a prison must not become a five-star Holiday Inn, because that will give prisoners no motivation to renounce the criminal lifestyle. When someone goes to jail, they should feel like they are in jail. They should want to leave and never come back once their sentence is up.
If prisoners decide they do not like life on the outside and do bad things so they can go back to jail—which is something that is already happening, because they get free room and board, are cared for and have all their needs met—then there is a problem. This is not the way to help people get back on the straight and narrow.
I was eager to see the bill. After a preliminary reading, I see some good points. It is not all bad. Just because we are in opposition, that does not mean we can only see the negative side. By no means. For example, using body scanners is a great idea. In fact, it is one of the things I wanted to recommend to the minister.
The problem is the spirit of the law. These are the worst criminals in Canada. They are murderers, rapists, you name it, and they are in maximum security prisons. They are the worst people in Canada. The intent of the law is to take these people and create a structured intervention unit for them. They will spend less time in cells, and they will be put together to give each other hugs and to talk. There is a very liberal attitude underlying all of this, which I understand is about believing that everyone is good, everyone is kind.
However, as I was saying, when I was at Donnacona I saw some videos about what happens in the corridors and with inmates. Those people are hardened criminals. They will attack one another on the slightest pretext. I was even shown a video of an inmate who was knifed in the head by another inmate. There is incredible violence. The most dangerous inmates, the ones who do not want to co-operate, are put into isolation cells so they can be controlled.
Then there are the victims. The inmate who was attacked in the video I saw knew that something was going on. He knew that his life was in danger. These people ask to be put in segregation. They do not ask to be put in segregation so they can get touchy-feely with the most dangerous inmates. This is not how it works. This person wants to be isolated, in a quiet cell, which, I should add, is nothing like what you see in the movies. People imagine the hole like a dungeon at Alcatraz, where the guards slam the door and the room is completely black. These cells are the same size as the ones in normal sections. They are exactly the same, just more private. Inmates are segregated either to be put under control or to give them the peace they need to be safe. That is what segregation is about.
I am not suggesting that nobody ever abuses the system. I am not suggesting that, over the years, people such as prison wardens have not abused the system. That may have happened, but again, why lay down a general rule to deal with exceptions? There have been exceptions. If certain individuals have taken inappropriately draconian measures, then they need to be told they did not do their job properly, and they need to be fired. Why change the whole prison system? Why change a way of doing things that works in that setting? The existing laws are fine if they are applied properly. They meet the needs of correctional officers and inmates.
Prisoners have diverse needs, and many of them ask to go to the hole. The man I was talking about, who has been in prison for 41 years, wants something unusual. He wants his own blankets and he wants to stay there. The warden is trying to figure out what to do about him. It is complicated. However, we have serious concerns about the idea of taking people who are in segregation and making them hang out together for four hours. That is not really the right place for it.
This is part of the Liberals' current approach to security. Canadians are very skeptical of our Prime Minister's security plan. Take, for example, our border crossings; or the government's handling of Canadians who decided it was more fun to go play with terrorists, kill people, come back and pick up their lives as though nothing had happened; or even our soldiers. For the past three years, the Liberal government's record has shown us that it has something akin to contempt for the people who work to keep Canada safe and secure. The government's management of our Canadian forces is appalling. I served for 22 years and I have friends who are still in the system. I can say that they are very disheartened by the current government.
Police officers are doing what they can. They are being put in impossible situations, just as they are with the legalization of marijuana. Police officers are saying they will make it work, because they are professionals and they have no choice. In the real world, if you speak to them privately, they will tell you that it is not working and they do not have what they need. We saw how great it was yesterday with everyone lining up to buy their pot. I have to wonder who all these people are who have time to wait in the rain for three hours on a Wednesday to buy drugs. Police officers are saying they will be the ones left to deal with that. The government says the police will sort it out, they are up to the task. That is disrespectful to our security agencies.
The same goes for prisons. The prison environment is a unique environment. It is a closed environment. The officers who work there are at risk every day because they have to deal with the worst thugs and the worst criminals in Canada. The Liberals like to think that everyone is nice and everything is peachy, but that is the worst way to think when dealing with these prisoners.
They are the greatest manipulators. They do anything they can to manipulate others to get what they want. They want to control their environment. This is difficult for our officers, who work 24/7 to keep these prisoners under control and keep the guards and the rest of the prisoners safe.
Next, I want to talk about syringes. We have a problem because the government just decided that it would use taxpayer money to give syringes to all inmates who ask for them, so that they can inject drugs. How is it that people are able to inject drugs in prison? Is the correctional setting not supposed to keep them away from all that? Drugs are smuggled in by visitors. They hide drugs in all kinds of places, but I will leave that up to your imagination. All kinds of things are brought into prison, usually through visitors and corrupt officers. It is no secret that this happens.
I am pleased because, under the bill, all prisoners will be required to undergo body scan searches. However, mandatory scans will also be required for all visitors. This measure was included in the bill in response to a request from the Donnacona Institution, and I am pleased to see that it is going to happen. Ontario and British Columbia are already conducting such searches. Body scan searches will make it possible to control at least 95% of the substances that individuals bring into prisons because they will show whether there is anything hidden in an individual's body. That will allow us to prevent drugs from entering prisons. If body scan searches keep drugs out of prisons, then we can immediately suspend the needle distribution program.
Prisoners will keep the needles. The most serious criminals with best ideas for doing the greatest harm will have needles in their possession. That does not make any sense. We are giving prisoners weapons. These people have a lot of imagination; we have no idea just how much. I saw a chart at the Donnacona Institution of everything that the guards had confiscated. Some inmates spend two months rubbing a nail clippers on part of their bed to create a knife. They are patient. They are there for a long time. They will take the needles from the syringes to make weapons. They will be able to make blades with the spoons provided to cook drugs.
I believe that the government knows all of this. If the government understands, why is it doing this? Why is it not thinking things through and using common sense to say that it will do things the right way by installing scanning equipment and preventing drugs from entering so needles are no longer needed? We should forget about this absolutely ridiculous program which endangers the safety of our correctional officers.
We cannot support Bill C-83 in its present form. Basically, there are some things that work, such as installing scanning equipment. However, we believe that creating structured intervention units is just smoke and mirrors. This shows that the government does not understand the prison system.
Last week, my colleague from Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier and I toured a prison. The unions gave presentations to all elected members of the House. Even our Liberal and NDP colleagues heard from the unions about their concerns and were asked to stop thinking that a federal penitentiary is a fantasy world. I am referring to the prison near Quebec City, but the same applies to every federal penitentiary in Canada.
Take the McClintic case, for example. This murderer's transfer from a maximum-security prison to an indigenous healing lodge got a lot of people talking two weeks ago. This is someone who ought to be serving her sentence in a maximum-security prison. In maximum-security prisons, each offender has their own cell. They eat, they sleep, they take classes if they so choose, and then they go back to their cells. They are protected because they are living in a maximum-security environment. However, for some incomprehensible reason, it was decided to send this person to a place with virtually no security.
From what I gather from Bill C-83, room 83 at the healing lodge, to use a random number, will be considered a maximum-security room. If I read between the lines, that is basically what the Liberals want to do. The end result will be a place surrounded by beautiful pine trees where room 83 is a maximum-security room.
Ms. McClintic will be in room 83, the maximum-security room.
Do they think we are idiots? Either they must be idiots or they think we are, to believe that would work. I hope that I am wrong and that what I am saying is false.
If what I am saying turns out to be the truth, then this government is really dangerous to Canadians' safety. It does not care what a maximum-security prison sentence means or what keeping Canadians safe means.
Then there are the victims. Let us put ourselves in the shoes of victims who are seeing the murderer who killed their father, mother, brother or sister end up in such conditions.
What must they be thinking? They must be wondering what country we live in. What kind of country lets its worst citizens spend their sentence in such conditions by claiming room 83 is a maximum-security room? This is a serious problem.
I could go on about this for two hours, but I think that Canadians know that this government is not serious and that it puts Canadians' safety at risk. If this keeps up, things are bound to get worse. Otherwise, then the government should prove it by taking rational measures that are consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Prisoners have rights, of course, but it is all in the way things are done. This approach is not in line with what we as Conservatives consider to be effective management of a penitentiary.
On that note, I move, seconded by the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following: “the House decline to give second reading to Bill C-83, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another Act, since the Bill prioritizes the rights of Canada's most violent and dangerous criminals over safety and victims' rights by eliminating the use of solitary confinement, a common measure many Western countries take to protect guards from dangerous and volatile prisoners, and since the principle of the Bill fails to end the practice of allowing child killers, like Terri-Lynn McClintic, to be transferred to healing lodges instead of being kept behind bars.”