Mr. Speaker, in truth, I cannot believe that I have to give a speech on the topic today, because this just seems to be something so clearly about common sense that one would not have to have a debate of an entire day convincing the government of the right thing to do. However, here we are, in any event.
When a government cares for its people, and problems people are having are brought to the government, it is the duty of the government to act. Every day, in every way, as members of Parliament in our offices, we do that. There are many times people come to us with questions and problems that are seemingly insurmountable and that we do not have the answers to or that are very difficult or may not be exactly on the policy point that makes sense, but still we try, we commiserate, and we tell them that we will do our best job to fix the problem.
In all the comments I have heard from the Prime Minister and the Minister of Public Safety, not once have I heard the sentiment that they will fix this problem. They will look into the problem. They will look at the process around the problem. However, never have they said that it needs to be fixed. That is why were are here today as Conservatives. We recognize that this as a real problem.
There are two parts to the issue I am going to discuss today. The first is that we need to right the wrong that has occurred. The second is that we have to make sure that this simply does not happen again.
Unfortunately, I believe that I have to start by talking about righting the wrong by actually proving that there is a wrong that has happened, because a lot of the commentary from the government side alludes to the fact that nothing wrong happened here. Either there was a change made in the classification a number of years ago, and therefore there is no wrong here, or there really is no comparison between the two institutions, so there is not really a wrong here.
The reality, and this is what constituents know and what they are talking about, is the fact that Terri-Lynne McClintic pleaded guilty to first degree murder. She was charged and sentenced to 25 years in jail, and she has served eight years of that sentence. Nine months ago, Ms. McClintic was transferred from an institution called Grand Valley to a healing lodge in Saskatchewan. One of the salient points of concern for our party and the opposition is the fact that there are children present in the healing lodge in Saskatchewan, and Terri-Lynne McClintic is serving a sentence for the first degree murder of an eight-year-old. We believe that this is the salient point to take into consideration when determining where a prisoner is going to be facilitated.
The minister hangs his defence of no action on two things. He said that her classification has not changed. In 2014, she was deemed medium security, and today she is deemed medium security. He also says that he simply does not have the power to do what the opposition is asking him to do. I disagree with both aspects.
The first point, on classification, I believe is a red herring. When governments are faced with difficult issues, to manage the issues they can take one of a few paths. The first is to try to blame it on the opposition members for something they have done in the past. The second is to say that they are going to do a review. The third is to take some action.
We have seen the first part of that trilogy. The Prime Minister answered the question by indicating that the Conservatives changed the classification, so why did we not say something then? I disagree.
If one were to do even a cursory search on the Internet, one would be able to look at the difference between the Grand Valley institution and the healing lodge in Saskatchewan. I did spend some time taking a look at the differences between the two, especially because I am concerned about children being in open areas in the healing lodge. What I discovered was that contrary to something the minister said in the House a couple of days ago, while there are children in the Grand Valley institution, they are separated from the medium security prisoners by a fence. The minimum security aspect of that institution, where there is a mothers' program, is completely and utterly separated and segregated from where Terri-Lynne McClintic would have lived. That is an important point and one that we would not have heard from the minister, because as a deflection, he would prefer to say that it is the same institution.
It is not about classification. It is completely about the choice of the institution, and the healing lodge is simply inappropriate, given the gravity and the substance of the offence and the guilty sentence of Terri-Lynne McClintic.
The second aspect of the minister's argument is that he does not have the power. I was blessed and honoured to serve as a minister in a previous government, and as such, I know of situations that come up wherein the department will advise ministers that they do not have the power to do something, they do not have policy cover and they cannot take something in a certain direction. Ministers have a choice at that point in time. They can accept the advice and let things go the way they are going, or they can choose to find a different path. What the Conservatives are asking the minister to do is choose to find a different path, because, luckily enough, in statutory interpretation, one can always find a way around what seems to be a path that is blocked.
I looked at other pieces of information to determine whether the minister has the power. Imagine sitting in a minister's boardroom, and legal has come in and presented a memo. The memo indicates that there is a medium to high risk of the minister or the institution being sued should action be taken on this matter. In the consideration of that memo, what happens is that there is a discussion about the contents of the memo, and it is determined which is the better path to take, based, oftentimes, upon risk.
If a memo were to come to me, and I was told that, as the minister, I did not have the power to do something, I would first question whether that was true and would have a serious conversation about the risk levels and what the risks would be. If I were told that there would be a lawsuit against me, I would ask who would be bringing the lawsuit. If I was told that a prisoner would be bringing the lawsuit against me for changing her institution, I would weigh that risk. Is it worth the risk of ensuring that children are safe and that there is an appropriate sentence for this first degree murderer?
The other aspect, if ministers are given an opinion they do not agree with, is to look at other documents around the opinion, because there are many other things to look at to determine what power a minister has. Indeed, I think Canadians oftentimes assume that MPs have full power to make any changes they want. We too, as MPs, think that ministers, especially prime ministers, have the ability to make changes as well.
One thing to look at is the relationship between the bureaucracy and a minister. Deputy ministers and the heads of the Correctional Service of Canada are very important people within our system and sit at the pleasure of the prime minister who appoints them. They are no longer in the public service. They are servants of Canada.
The letter the minister most recently sent to outline the mandate of the new commissioner said the following:
I will rely on your advice and input to help me establish strategic priorities for the Correctional Service of Canada and to anticipate and manage issues that affect the soundness of the organization....
I acknowledge that some of these initiatives may require new policy authorities..., which we can work on together.
The minister, in giving the marching orders to the new commissioner, is saying that the commissioner is going to advise him but that to be really clear, the minister makes the final decision. That is exactly what the minister has outlined in that relationship. However, he stands in the House and tells us that his hands are tied, effectively hiding behind the skirts of the Correctional Service of Canada official.