Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise today in support of Bill C-83, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another act. The bill represents a landmark shift in how we approach corrections in Canada. It would end the practice of segregation in all federal institutions. It would implement a new correctional intervention model that would ensure that offenders are held to account while creating an environment conducive to rehabilitation in the interests of everyone's safety.
This is the right thing to do and the safe thing to do. It would keep correctional staff and volunteers safe. It would keep inmates safe, and ultimately it will keep communities safe. An effective corrections system with appropriate and targeted interventions to deal with difficult, challenging or dangerous situations within a secure environment is in everyone's best interests.
The reality is that almost all offenders will return to the community. If we lock them up and throw away the key, we are not providing them with the tools they require to safely reintegrate back into society. That is why Bill C-83 would eliminate segregation and establish structured intervention units. These units would provide the necessary resources and expertise to address the safety risks of inmates in these challenging situations. They will be used to manage inmates who cannot be managed safely in the general population.
However, unlike segregation, inmates in SIUs will receive structured interventions and programming tailored to their specific needs to address behaviours that led to their SIU placement. They will have a minimum of four hours outside of their cell every day, double the current number of hours in the segregation system. They will have a minimum of two hours of meaningful human interaction every day, including through programs, interventions and services.
Currently in the segregation system, a full day can go by for an inmate with virtually no meaningful human interaction. Inmates in an SIU would also have daily visits from health care professionals, and because of the strong focus on intervention, inmates in an SIU would be able to continue their rehabilitative progress and work toward their correctional plan objectives. All of this would help to facilitate their safe return into the mainstream inmate population as soon as possible.
The result would be better correctional outcomes, a reduced rate of violent incidents and more safety and security for inmates, staff, volunteers, institutions and ultimately, the public. The bill is a significant step forward for the Canadian correctional system and builds on the good work already under way. The government has provided almost $80 million over five years through budget 2017 and 2018 to better address the mental health needs of inmates. That includes $20.4 million in the last budget specifically for incarcerated women. There was also about $120 million in budget 2017 to support restorative justice approaches through the indigenous justice program and to help indigenous offenders safely reintegrate and find jobs after they have served their sentences.
All of this is about making Canadian communities safer through effective rehabilitation in a secure correctional environment. This is the right policy direction, in line with recent calls for this kind of transformation.
Two constitutional challenges in Ontario and British Columbia found the legislation governing administrative segregation contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There are also pending class actions and human rights complaints related to both the use of segregation and the inadequacy of mental health care. Of particular importance in this regard, the bill would also strengthen health care governance. The bill would provide that corrections has the obligation to support health care professionals in their autonomy and clinical independence. It would also create the legal framework for patient advocacy services to ensure that inmates receive appropriate medical care.
Importantly, the bill would enshrine in law the requirement for Correctional Service Canada to consider systemic and background factors in all decision-making related to indigenous offenders. Addressing gaps in service for indigenous people and people with mental illness in the criminal justice system is a mandate commitment for both the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Justice, and the government is following through.
I am a member of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, which finished a report last spring on indigenous people in the correctional system. During testimony for this report we heard from an individual by the name of Mr. Neal Freeland, who stated:
If you're native...If you're native in this country you know someone in your family is in prison. If you're native, That's a fact. If you're native, That's the reality of growing up in this country.
His testimony was very powerful.
Our committee recommended that the Correctional Service of Canada develop risk assessment tools that are more sensitive to indigenous reality and review its security classification assessment process.
In the government's response to this report, it confirmed that this recommendation was supported by a June 2018 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Ewert v. Canada that Correctional Service Canada must ensure that its use of tools with respect to indigenous offenders do not perpetuate discrimination or contribute to a disparity in correctional outcomes between indigenous and non-indigenous offenders. The Correctional Service of Canada will continue its work, informed by this decision, to ensure that it applies the assessment tool in a culturally responsible way for indigenous offenders.
The budget contribution, along with the work by the Minister of Public Safety, who is responsible for the Correctional Service of Canada, and the Minister of Justice, is complemented by additional measures in the bill, including enshrining in law the requirement for CSC to consider systemic and background factors in all decision-making related to indigenous offenders.
On another note, at committee, I also worked on a report called the “Use of Ion Mobility Spectrometers by Correctional Service Canada”. The committee agreed to undertake a study of “the alarming rate of false positive results from ion mobility spectrometers with a view to finding more effective ways of preventing drugs from entering prisons, while encouraging the effective rehabilitation of prisoners.” In this regard, Anne Cattral from Mothers Offering Mutual Support told the committee:
There is now a clear disconnect between CSC policy, which recognizes the importance of building and maintaining family ties and community support for prisoners, and the continued reliance on an unreliable tool that fails to keep drugs out of prisons but does a very good job of deterring families from visiting... The effects on children of being denied a visit to a parent are also deeply distressing; this happened to my own grandson.
The bill would authorize the use of body scanners on people entering correctional institutions. A body scanner is similar to what is used by security personnel at airports. Body scanners provide a less invasive alternative to strip or body cavity searches and eliminate the issues with false positives that I heard about.
The bill would also better support the role of victims in the criminal justice system by allowing them enhanced access to audio recordings of parole hearings. That would be a vast improvement over the old system.
As I stated, this is about safety. It is about focused intervention to better serve the needs of vulnerable inmates. We need to improve the safety of our inmates, our corrections staff, our institutions and our communities. This bill would transform Canada's correctional system to meet those goals.
I am proud to stand behind this bill, and I encourage all members to join me in supporting this historic proposed legislation.