House of Commons Hansard #340 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was inmates.

Topics

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, the member from Burlington mentioned that segregated individuals would go from two hours to four hours of human contact during the day. The opposition would like to paint that as our being soft on crime. However, the reality of the situation is that we are going to help people become better people so they can be properly rehabilitated and integrated into society.

Would the member agree that the goal is to accomplish that, to get people back into society to be productive members?

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, I absolutely agree with my colleague who, I know, is quite passionate about ensuring not only public safety, but ensuring the safety of people who work in the corrections system and ensuring that those who are in the prison system are able to live law-abiding lives when they get out of prison.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to speak to Bill C-83, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another act, which was introduced by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, a position I used to hold.

To start with, I want to say that I will be vigorously opposing this bill. With respect to the point raised a moment ago by my colleague, I would like to remind her that the president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, Jason Godin, has already pointed out the detrimental effects that this bill would have on security in our correctional institutions. He says that the number of assaults on prison guards by inmates has increased as a result of the reduced use of segregation under the new legislation that has been tabled.

I am strongly opposed to this bill, because its very basis is wrong. The first reason I oppose this bill is that it makes our correctional facilities less safe. I am sure members on both sides of the House would join me in acknowledging the remarkable work that our correctional officers do. Much like parents raising children, our correctional officers need respect. Our role, as parliamentarians, is to give them tools to ensure that they get respect, which is essential to keeping our correctional facilities safe. Unfortunately, this bill would weaken the tools available to our correctional officers.

I commend these officers, and I want them to know that I oppose this bill, because it will make our facilities less safe and will put our correctional officers at greater risk.

The second reason I oppose the bill is that any legislation meant to improve our correctional services needs to take into account a fundamental principle that is missing from this bill. The conditions of detention must reflect the seriousness of the crimes committed and must also reflect each individual inmate's risk level. This bill is clearly misguided because it removes tools that help our correctional officers keep our facilities safe.

The third reason I oppose this bill is that it does not contain any significant rehabilitation measures. I remind members that our correctional facilities are meant to ensure that when an inmate is released back into society, he or she is able to contribute to this society again.

With less respect, less safety and, unfortunately, more violence in our correctional facilities, it will be harder for inmates to focus on their rehabilitation.

As members have mentioned, Bill C-83 seeks to eliminate the use of administrative and disciplinary segregation. The Liberals are fixated on that. It seems that those who drafted the bill never had an opportunity, as I did when I was minister of public safety and as our public safety critic did, to simply go and visit correctional facilities to talk to correctional officers and inmates. Our public safety critic and I had the opportunity to meet with inmates who told us to leave this measure in place because it is good for their mental health.

Sometimes inmates need to be alone and to get away from others for awhile. There are some inmates who ask to be sent to administrative segregation, as I witnessed first-hand. We therefore see that the Liberals are taking tools away from correctional officers and inmates that help with inmates' rehabilitation.

What the Liberals are proposing instead is another mechanism for incarcerating inmates who cannot remain in the general inmate population for safety reasons.

This bill will require Correctional Service Canada to give inmates access to patient advocacy services and consider systemic and background factors unique to indigenous offenders in all decision-making.

That brings me to the Liberal approach. It took the Liberals 10 months to appoint a federal ombudsman for victims of crime, but far less time to appoint an ombudsman for criminals. That is definitely not in the interest of society. The government should make victims a priority too, but for the past three years, the government has been silent on that subject. Navigating the justice system is a painful experience for victims, and the government needs to make sure they get the support and respect they deserve.

I just want to point out that our government was the one that brought in the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, and thank goodness we did, because the Liberals are not doing anything, on top of which they are taking ages to fill key positions. Clearly, the government does not think victims are all that important.

This bill has other flaws. It seeks not only to get rid of administrative segregation, but also to have body scanners installed. We do not take issue with that idea, but we do have a problem with how this is being handled. We know that a lot of contraband is smuggled into our penal institutions by visitors. It is therefore equally important to include those people in these measures. If the bill gets to committee, I would hope that these measures are given another look.

What is more, instead of giving inmates tools to overcome addiction, the Liberals are doing the opposite and providing them with syringes. We know that having syringes in penitentiaries is dangerous for our correctional officers considering the spread of disease associated with their use and the fact that they might even be used against correctional officers. That is something the bill ignores, but the government is okay with that.

I hope that the government will get back on track and, like our government, have a zero tolerance policy instead of aggravating inmates' health problems. It is important that the government, as legislator, send a clear message about the presence of drugs in our institutions. Everyone remembers the measures our government put in place.

Superior court judges ruled recently on the appropriateness of administrative segregation. I wonder if, much like the members opposite, those judges even bothered to go and speak with officers and corrections officers. Today my colleagues asked the minister, her representatives and other government members if they consulted officers and corrections officers, since this will have a serious impact on their work environment. We have heard nothing but radio silence so far in response.

I have so much more I want to say, but I see that I am running out of time, and I would not want to repeat what I have said in the past, which has been reported by my friends at Infoman.

In closing, I want share Jason Godin's view. He said that introducing this legislation could have a detrimental affect on conditions in our prison facilities, increase violence and make the situation worse. The government is going in the wrong direction and I urge it to change course. For now, I oppose this legislative measure.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, while my colleague was minister of public safety he promoted and was very comfortable with the widespread use of double-bunking, which not only led to unsafe conditions for inmates, but was widely opposed by prison guards throughout the correctional system.

I am leery to take his position, particularly when it comes to an issue like this.

Could the member at least acknowledge and accept the fact that we have a revolving door when it comes to people going in and coming out of prison over and over again? We need to properly rehabilitate people so that when they come back into society they can be productive members of society who can contribute to their communities. He would know that from his previous position.

Would the member not agree that we have to give the proper tools to our guards, and this is one of those tools, so they have what they need?

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my honourable colleague for his question.

However, I have to say that his government is doing the exact opposite by getting rid of a tool. According to Jason Godin, president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, it is a mistake to eliminate administrative segregation because it is one of the tools that help keep Correctional Service of Canada institutions safe.

I would like to come back to one thing he said about the so-called revolving doors. The Liberals are turning our prisons into shopping malls with revolving doors where people can come and go. They are eliminating measures and weakening detention conditions by making it easier for inmates to be released before completing their rehabilitation process.

Those are two measures that should be changed. The Liberals should restore administrative segregation and put an end to the revolving door system, which we eliminated but that the Liberals are reinstating. Unfortunately, it makes our communities less safe.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Celina Caesar-Chavannes Liberal Whitby, ON

Madam Speaker, my hon. colleague spoke quite a bit about how removing segregation from the system would create an unsafe work environment. I want Canadians to know that members on all sides of the chamber support the fact that our correctional workers do a tremendous job and should be kept safe.

While this particular piece of legislation proposes removing administrative segregation and the capacity for people to be placed in administrative segregation, people actually would be assigned to secure intervention units. Usually, when they are removed it is for safety reasons.

I am not sure how my colleague would describe this as weakening the system when we would be placing them in a secure unit and giving them the tools necessary to help rehabilitate them while they are in that population. Those interventions could possibly reduce the amount of violence that does happen within the prison system. We would be providing our correctional system with a separate place to house those inmates.

It is not like we are just getting rid of it altogether. We would have secure units. We would also be giving inmates mental health support and rehabilitative support to help them reduce violence and correct themselves, thereby adding to the safety of our correctional officers.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Madam Speaker, as I mentioned, I did not see much in the bill regarding rehabilitation.

I am sure the member wants safe communities and safe correctional facilities.

Joseph Godin, the national president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, said, “The national prison guards' union is predicting increased violence behind bars as the federal government moves to end solitary confinement...”. He predicted that, “When this goes through, the bloodbath will start.”

I hope that when we eventually review the bill in second reading or at committee, we will be able to work together and reinstate those tools that are needed by our correctional officers to ensure that those facilities are safe. This is the way to make sure that inmates eventually will return to society and not pose a risk to their fellow Canadian citizens.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Casey Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand and speak in support of Bill C-83, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

It is amazing to me how things connect here in the House of Commons in our parliamentary duties. Bill C-83 today ended up in a discussion with the Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention. Bill C-83 also has a direct connection to a town in my riding. It has direct connections to first nations issues as well.

I am going to talk about a few different things. I am going to talk about how this affects my own community and also a little about the health impact of Bill C-83.

In my own community, in my riding of Cumberland—Colchester, I have two correctional facilities. One is the Springhill Institution and the other is the Nova Institution for Women in Truro, Nova Scotia.

I will talk about Springhill first. That institution was built in 1967.

Partly in response to a natural disaster that happened at a coal mine on October 23, 1958, 60 years ago today, in Springhill, 174 miners went to work. At 8:06 in the evening, there was an underground earthquake, which is sometimes called a bump. It was the most severe bump in North American history in one of the deepest coal mines in North America. Of the 174 who went to work that day, 75 lost their lives. There were 99 survivors, and many of them were trapped underground for many days. Six days after the bump, 12 survivors were rescued by creating a tunnel to get them. Later, on November 1, a second group was saved. That was 60 years ago today, and I want everybody to know that Springhill is remembering that bump today as we speak. Many people who work at the Springhill correctional facility are relatives and descendants of the miners who were lost 60 years ago today.

They never forget in Springhill about the people who were lost. They built a beautiful memorial with a number of stones with every name of every miner who lost his or her life in the mines. Every year they have a Davis Day to make sure that people do not forget the lives lost in the Springhill mines. Tonight, at 7 p.m., in the St. Andrew's-Wesley United Church there is a hymn sing led by three daughters of one of the miners, Maurice Ruddick, who was one of the miners trapped underground. He is often credited with helping other survivors underground survive that ordeal. Being trapped 4,000 feet underground, he led them in song and prayer. He was cited as citizen of the year for Canada at the time. Just a month ago, Herb Pepperdine, one of the last men in the mine who was trapped for eight days, died at the age of 95.

Therefore, for me, today is a special day, and 60 years ago, I remember the day. I remember the ambulances, the police cars, the turmoil and the TV. Just two years before that, there was another explosion when 39 Springhillers were lost. In just two years, Springhill lost 114 miners.

However, the Springhill Institution was built and opened in 1967. It has been very successful since and has expanded several times. It provides correctional facilities for medium- and minimum-security prisoners.

I mentioned the connections with the Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention. I talked to them today about suicide prevention and what causes people to attempt suicide. Also, earlier this morning, I was talking to my seatmate for Kildonan—St. Paul and she was telling me about a first nation in her riding in Manitoba, the Berens River First Nation. She gave me a document that reads “Isolation with no road access Kills (feeling of 'entrapment' resulting in high suicides)”, which is exactly what we are talking about today: isolation, confinement, solitary confinement and the impact it has on prisoners.

Not all prisoners should be in prison for their whole life, as some opposition members would lead us to believe. I have visited the prison in my riding several times, and often I am struck that the prisoners are just regular people who made a mistake. They want to get back into society. They want to be rehabilitated. They want a second chance and they are certainly entitled it. It is certainly worth the effort to try to help them.

Bill C-83 will take steps to eliminate solitary confinement, which is harmful to people. One of the members just said that prisons needed solitary confinement, and I do not believe that. Bill C-83 proposes to do away with solitary confinement and replace it with structured intervention units, so at least prisoners will always have some human contact with health care workers, guards or other people, as opposed to solitary confinement where there is no contact at all.

In my area, just a short way from my riding, there is Dorchester Penitentiary, the Westmorland Institution and the Shepody Healing Centre. These are three different institutions, with three different levels and approaches to rehabilitation and incarceration. I am hopeful the rehabilitative nature of these facilities will be enhanced and built on. That is the way we should go. I do not believe there is any point in putting people who have just made a mistake away, throwing away the key as some members have suggested here.

A 2017 report from Correctional Service Canada noted that Atlantic Canada had the highest rate of administrative segregation, or solitary confinement, in the country. In addition to that, we seem to segregate them for longer terms than their counterparts in other regions of the country.

Five percent of Atlantic Canada's inmates are in administrative segregation, which is five times higher than in Ontario. The same report also noted that Atlantic Canada accounted for more than one-third of all inmates who were in administrative segregation for more than 100 days. A hundred days in segregation is extremely unhealthy for anybody. It is perhaps cruel and unusual punishment.

I welcome Bill C-83 and the change to a structured intervention unit. This is a giant step forward. It will be better for rehabilitation, better for health and safer for prison guards, the other prisoners and the people who work beside them. I am glad we are moving forward on it.

Our government intends to invest heavily in mental health care within the correctional system, and I am talking exactly about that. I referred to the paper that said that isolation caused a feeling of entrapment, resulting in high suicides. This first nation community I mentioned had a high rate of suicide. After a road was built to it, the feeling of isolation was eliminated and suicides stopped. There were no suicides last year in this community. Prior to that there had been many. The indigenous peoples attributed it to the fact that they no longer have the feeling of isolation or entrapment, which is exactly what solitary confinement does.

Again, in the interest of mental health, we are moving in the right direction. This is a great move to follow through on, but I also support rehabilitative steps so people can re-enter society and play a productive role in it.

The prisoners I meet when I go to the prisons impress me. Most of them have just made a mistake. They are serving their time. They want to get back out. They want to play a role in the community and be productive citizens. The bill is all about that.

We know the administrative segregation rules need updating, and Bill C-83 would do just that. By replacing solitary confinement with structured intervention units, we are going to provide better avenues for our inmates to be productive citizens, finish their terms and come out better trained and be productive citizens.

I thank the House for letting me talk about Springhill. Again, this is the 60th anniversary of that horrible disaster on October 23, 1958. I wish all the people in Springhill, who I know are remembering this right now, well. I wish I were there with them.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his impressive speech.

I sit on the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. We heard witnesses from the indigenous community. We noted that a large number of indigenous women who are victims of domestic violence are in prison.

Can my colleague explain how Bill C-83 will improve living conditions for women who are victims of domestic violence knowing that a great many of them are in prison?

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

October 23rd, 2018 / 4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Casey Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Madam Speaker, again, I come back to my opening statement about how things connect, like Bill C-83 connects with my meeting today with the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention and with my seatmate talking about indigenous efforts and isolation.

Bill C-83 would provide a different approach and eliminate solitary confinement. Solitary confinement is probably worse than anything indigenous women experience. Indigenous peoples in my area are family-oriented, have a strong family culture, work together and are very close. To be in solitary confinement or isolated completely would be extremely difficult for indigenous women. I cannot speak for them, but that is my observation based on my experience.

I have a really interesting indigenous population in my riding. I work very closely with the people. They are extremely good to work with and very helpful. They are interested in bettering themselves. They are perhaps the most industrious people in my riding. Hopefully this will improve the plight of indigenous women in prison.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.

Although I do believe he has good intentions, I am still a little confused, so I am hoping he can clarify a few things for me.

The B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the indefinite nature of isolation is unconstitutional. While it has introduced Bill C-83 as a solution to the problem, the government is also appealing the ruling at the same time.

If solutions to this problem, which has been deemed unconstitutional, can be found in Bill C-83, why is the government appealing the ruling?

Are we supposed to believe that the introduction of structured intervention units is really going to address the concerns raised in the court ruling, when really all this does is reduce the number of hours spent in isolation from 22 or 23 to “just” 20 hours a day?

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Casey Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Madam Speaker, I am the furthest thing there is from a constitutional lawyer. I appreciate the question, but I cannot address the lawsuit.

I talked with some correctional officers before I decided to speak. They said that in their opinion this would be a vast improvement. One of them said that after 24 hours in confinement, the impact on a person was profound. At one week, it would be even more profound. People can be in solitary confinement for a month, sometimes 100 days, or more than three months, and it changes them. It hurts their mental health.

I cannot answer the question about the constitutional lawsuit, but this bill goes in the right direction.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

John Brassard Conservative Barrie—Innisfil, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-83, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another act. I will start by saying that it should come as no surprise that this side of the House feels quite differently than the government side with respect to the legislation.

One of the more profound statements I have recently read on this was in a newspaper article by Jason Godin, national president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers. He was quoted in the Vancouver Sun as saying, “attacks on guards and inmates have been increasing as the use of segregation has decreased ahead of new legislation to change the prison system.” His words are profound, likely prophetic, when he says, “When this goes through, the bloodbath will start.” That was his prediction with respect to this legislation. We should all heed the advice of somebody like Mr. Godin as we look at enacting legislation that has some serious flaws with respect to the protection of prison guards and what the implications of that could mean for them and their families.

Bill C-83 proposes to make changes to how inmates are treated when incarcerated. It also makes changes to that which will affect the safety of corrections staff, guards, health care providers and others. We must remember as well that it is not just guards in the prison system. There are health care providers and resource people who work there as well. It should be the ultimate goal of any legislation to ensure we protect them.

The bill proposes that new safety procedures be put in place. The government believes it will keep inmates safe and prevent any unwanted items from getting into correctional facilities. The government is also planning to introduce body scanners to federal penitentiaries. As well, it is very keen to discuss the SIUs, the new model for the structured intervention units, a replacement for solitary confinement, formalize exceptions for indigenous offenders, female offenders and offenders with mental health issues. All of these exceptions are important to having correctional services that can obviously help offenders while they are in jail.

Let me take a few minutes to speak specifically about solitary confinement. I have no knowledge or any sort of familiarity with it, but the use of solitary confinement is a serious one. It is used for serious criminals who are convicted of some of the worst crimes that anyone can imagine. The need for the use of solitary confinement must also be balanced with the care that the inmate receives and, more important, the safety of the guards and other staff within the prison system.

Sadly, in some cases, the use of solitary confinement has been abused. In Ontario, for example, two official offices have investigated the use of solitary confinement. First, the provincial advocate for youth published a report in 2017 called, “Missed Opportunities: The Experience of Young Adults Incarcerated in Federal Penitentiaries”. The report called for sweeping changes to how youth were treated in federal institutions.

Among some of the key recommendations in the report were that Correctional Service Canada, CSC, add a flag in the offender management system that would allow the CSC to track individuals with a youth sentence transferred to an adult federal penitentiary; that CSC develop a gang disaffiliation strategy that would be responsive to the needs of young indigenous offenders, women offenders as well; and ensure that non-gang affiliated young offenders were not placed where there would be gang members who might attempt to recruit, indoctrinate or intimidate them.

The Ontario chief human rights commissioner also wrote about the use of solitary confinement and added that there was, in that case, a need for a culture shift in how indigenous prisoners, women prisoners and prisoners with mental health issues were treated. Of course, many in the House and those who have followed this closely will recall the tragic incident involving solitary confinement in the case of Adam Capay.

Adam Capay spent four years in solitary confinement while waiting for a trial, and he had not even been convicted while he was in solitary. It is a very sad story. Adam was held in solitary for 23 hours a day with the lights on, and was in solitary for more than four years when we combine his time in the Thunder Bay facility with time in the Kenora jail. We can all agree that what happened to Mr. Capay and what he went through should never happen again.

The Ontario government looked into this following reports by the chief human rights commissioner on the treatment of Adam Capay in Thunder Bay. Solitary confinement is a common and legitimate safety measure that protects guards from dangerous prisoners. Solitary confinement is also a tool for keeping other inmates safe from dangerous offenders, but again, we should all agree that it should never be abused.

What about the guards? What about the health care providers? What about the staff and those who work within the prison system, including mental health professionals, for example?

It has been stated by others on this side of the House that Bill C-83 does not take into consideration the safety of corrections staff. The men and women who work in those institutions deserve to be able to go home every day to their husbands, their wives, and their children. The spouses, parents and children of corrections workers deserve to have their spouses, daughters, sons and parents in a safe workplace.

Bill C-83 would give more flexibility to the lives of inmates while almost maintaining the status quo for staff. The bill would take away solitary confinement as a tool. As I just mentioned, it is also used to protect other staff and other inmates from very dangerous inmates and extremely critical and dangerous situations. Bill C-83 would do nothing to deter the bad behaviour of inmates.

When we look at some of the financial implications of how this bill is being rolled out, I wonder if what is being proposed in Bill C-83 strikes the balance of what we need when it comes to the use of solitary confinement.

There has been no cost assigned or studied in Bill C-83. I wonder if what the government wants to achieve with this bill can be fully met, considering the reduction in funding to federal correctional services. There will be a very large impact, with up to 150 full-time employees lost through reductions in budgets.

On Thursday of last week, my colleague from Calgary Shepard raised important issues about the cost of Bill C-83. He also raised some serious concerns that the government is reducing budgets for Correctional Service Canada.

Let me read what the member for Calgary Shepard said when he asked the member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith a question, because he expressed it far better than I can:

[I]n reading the British Columbia decision rendered by Justice Leask he looked at the cruel and unusual punishment provision and said, in paragraph 534, that it is actually not cruel and unusual. He declines to rule against it as a section 12 violation. He finds that it is not unconstitutional to have solitary confinement, only when it is indefinite and prolonged.

The member for Calgary Shepard continued:

I want to talk about the budgetary impact of this legislation. In the public safety minister's departmental plan there is a projected reduction of 8.8% in real terms, in actual financial resources, being given to Correctional Services, and a reduction of 150 FTEs over the next few years.

This bill seems rushed; it is thin on concrete actions and needs to be looked at long and hard at committee. I know that when we vote on this later tonight, there is a strong likelihood that it will pass at this reading and end up at committee, but when it gets there, serious work will need to be done, in particular in relation to making sure that correctional facilities staff are better protected.

Members of the opposition and the NDP have all expressed concerns with respect to Bill C-83 that need to be discussed in committee. The Conservatives are very concerned that the government is again giving priority to dangerous offenders; this needs public scrutiny and to be talked about at committee.

As I close, I will quote some words of wisdom from the member for Spadina—Fort York, who said, “No one wants to be in jail.” Well, some people deserve to be in jail.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, earlier in my colleague's speech he quoted the vice-president of the union. I will also provide him with a quote from May 2014, when the Conservatives were in government. Global News quoted the national president for the same union, Kevin Grabowsky, who said, “The violence is on the rise and it's a big concern for, certainly, correctional officers.”

The auditor general at the time was quoted as saying, “Correctional Services Canada has identified themselves that with overcrowding there can be risks to security in their facilities.”

This is a stark underpinning of the difference between the approaches to corrections we see from this side of the House versus the other. All of a sudden, the Conservatives seem to be very concerned with the safety of the correctional officers, yet in 2014, they were encouraging over-bunking and double bunking, which is exactly what the guards were against.

How can that member actually stand in the House now and try to make it seem as though the Conservatives are the champions of correctional officers, when in 2014 they did the exact opposite, creating extremely unsafe conditions for them?

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

John Brassard Conservative Barrie—Innisfil, ON

Madam Speaker, I thought I was giving a very reasoned argument as to some of the flaws that exist within the bill. We also understand that the current executive of the correctional safety officers' union is quite concerned about this, so much so that I quoted Mr. Godin, who is the president, as saying that this could lead to a bloodbath.

Going into a point-counterpoint and blaming one group or another seems to be the consistent practice of the Liberal government as they look back over our 10 years instead of looking at their failed records or perhaps a failed piece of legislation. All I am asking is, if Mr. Godin is saying this on behalf of his correctional officers, should it not be the ultimate priority of any government and of the House to make sure that these correctional officers are in a safe environment? Should they not be consulted?

Furthermore, should we not expect that they go home to their families at the end of a long day of doing incredibly hard work within that prison system? That is all I am asking. I am not looking at a point-counterpoint. I provided a very reasoned argument as to some of the concerns with this piece of legislation.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Linda Lapointe Liberal Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague across the aisle.

Bill C-83 does actually contain legislation that is quite progressive. At present, victims have the right to access audio recordings of parole hearings only if they do not attend. However, some people fear that given the emotional nature of those hearings, it might be hard for victims to recall all the details of the proceedings. I would like to hear my hon. colleague's thoughts on that.

I wonder if he could also talk about body scanners. In an effort to combat drugs and contraband, the bill authorizes the use of body scanners, like the the ones used at airports, which will be less intrusive for inmates and visitors.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

John Brassard Conservative Barrie—Innisfil, ON

Madam Speaker, on the issue of body scanners, there are obviously aspects of the bill that we can agree with. First and foremost is the fact that body scanners should be used. They should be used for everyone entering into the prison system. At the end of the day, it goes back to providing a safe working environment, not only for the prisoners but also for those who work there as guards, mental health professionals and other staff, as well as for those who enter into the prison system, perhaps, to visit those who are incarcerated.

There is no question that body scanners are a reliable tool. Certainly they have been used at airports for a long time. They do a great job of addressing what can be on a person's body and whether that instrument is dangerous and could potentially impact the health and safety of those who are within the prison system.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Order. It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, Employment Insurance; the hon. member for Vancouver East, Democratic Reform; and the hon. member for Windsor West, Consumer Protection.

The hon. Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Thunder Bay—Superior North Ontario

Liberal

Patty Hajdu LiberalMinister of Employment

Madam Speaker, it is a joy to be here today in support of Bill C-83, which amends the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

I heard some of the debate this afternoon, and I would say we all share the goal of safe communities. We all want to be secure in the knowledge that when offenders return to their communities, our corrections system has done its job, supported their rehabilitation and prepared them to lead safe, productive, law-abiding lives.

For the corrections system to succeed in that regard, safety and security have to go hand in hand with rehabilitative programming and treatment.

I am proud to stand here today and know that principle is at the core of the bold new measures the government is taking to transform federal corrections. Bill C-83 will strengthen the federal corrections system, making it safer and more effective at rehabilitation. The bill will end the practice of segregation. It will establish structured intervention units, or SIUs, to safely manage inmates when they cannot otherwise be managed in the mainstream inmate population, without denying them access to programs, interventions and treatment.

Bill C-83 will also enshrine in law the principle that offender management decisions must involve consideration of systemic and background factors related to indigenous offenders. It will also strengthen health care governance, allow for the use of new search technologies, and enhance support for victims at parole hearings.

Key to this landmark legislation is that with SIUs, the practice of segregation will become a thing of the past. Currently, if an offender is considered dangerous to themselves or others, or is at risk of being harmed, they can be placed in segregation if there is no other reasonable alternative. Segregation has remained a common practice over the years.

Recent policy changes by the Correctional Service of Canada led to a significant decline in segregation placements, from over 700 on any given day a few years ago, to just over 300 today. However, we cannot ignore the fact that the practice remains subject to criticism in and out of the courts. Stakeholders, including the Office of the Correctional Investigator and offender advocacy groups, have raised concern about its effects, particularly on inmates suffering from mental health issues.

In the courts, recent decisions in both Ontario and British Columbia called for legislative reform to the practice, and they have called for improvements to the provision of mental health services within corrections institutions. All of this is on top of class actions and human rights complaints.

At the same time, others have argued that segregation is necessary to ensure that correctional institutions remain safe for employees and for people in custody. The safety of correctional staff must always be an overarching consideration. Our correctional institutions are full of dedicated, hard-working staff who work long hours in sometimes very challenging circumstances to make a positive difference by promoting rehabilitation and protecting communities.

Until now, they have had very few alternatives to segregation when isolating an inmate for security or safety reasons. However, we now have an opportunity to address this problem. Bill C-83 will eliminate segregation altogether and establish structured intervention units. These SIUs will provide the necessary resources and expertise to address the safety risks of inmates in difficult circumstances. They will help to manage offenders who could not otherwise be managed safely.

In an SIU, inmates will receive structured interventions and programming tailored to their specific needs. Every day, they will have a minimum of four hours outside of their cell, and that will include at least two hours of meaningful human interaction.

In the existing segregation system, by contrast, people only get two hours out of their cell and little or no meaningful interaction with other people. With Bill C-83, offenders will have the ability to work towards the objectives in their correctional plans, thanks to a focus on interventions. They will have daily visits from health care professionals. Ultimately, the idea is to facilitate safe reintegration into the mainstream inmate population as soon as possible.

To that end, placements in SIUs will be subject to a robust system of review. An initial review by the institution's warden will happen within five days. If the person remains in the SIU, subsequent reviews will be done by the warden after 30 days and by the commissioner every 30 days thereafter. Also, at any time, a health care professional can recommend a change in conditions or a transfer out of the SIU.

Importantly, the bill would also enshrine in law the principle that health care professionals within the correctional system must have the autonomy to exercise their own medical judgment. As recommended by the Ashley Smith inquest, it would create a system of patient advocates who would help ensure that people got the medical treatment they needed.

For all these reasons, Bill C-83 would represent a substantial change in the right direction. We have an opportunity to act now to improve correctional outcomes, reduce violent incidents and ensure a safe environment for inmates, staff, volunteers and the institutions as a whole. We have the opportunity to contribute to community and public safety by supporting bold new proposals that would assist with the rehabilitation of offenders, reducing the risk of reoffending and keeping our communities safe.

I urge all members to join me in supporting these very important changes.

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4:35 p.m.

Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

Madam Speaker, the minister spoke quite a bit in her speech about the importance of safety. However, an aspect of segregation and solitary confinement is safety, the safety of not only the inmate who is the target of other inmates but the safety of inmates who may be at risk from the inmate who is to be segregated. It is also a safety issue for the guards and personnel who work in those facilities.

I am curious as to what measures the Liberals have taken. We have certainly heard from the employee unions that are involved, which have great concerns about parts of Bill C-83. I would like to ask the minister what steps the government has taken to ensure the safety of those guards. If steps have been taken to ensure their safety, why are they so concerned about the steps being taken in Bill C-83 to eliminate solitary confinement?

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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Madam Speaker, I come to this debate with a considerable amount of experience, having worked with very vulnerable populations. I ran the largest homeless shelter in northwestern Ontario for a number of years. In fact, the shelter was where many released inmates landed after their experience in prison. While working in that extremely volatile environment, I learned that one of the best ways to protect the staff who served those people day in and day out, often in very difficult situations and with very little support from the external community, was to ensure that we had the best opportunities for mental health care for those people we supported in that shelter. We made sure that our staff worked with health care professionals to assess their mental health and to encourage better mental health.

Through budget 2017-18, we have dedicated a significant amount of money toward the mental health of inmates. I can tell members that when people feel more positive about their future, they are less violent. They are less aggressive. When they have inclusion and the ability to see another human being and to work on the challenges that led them to incarceration, they have an opportunity to reduce their violent tendencies.

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4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the minister for her comments. It is alway interesting to hear different opinions, particularly when they come from a member of cabinet.

I listened carefully to what was said about the respect we all have for those who work in this very difficult field. One of my childhood friends worked in that field for many years. As everyone knows, this type of work puts a lot of pressure on those who do it, as well as on their families and loved ones.

That being said, the minister said that we need to take workers' concerns into account. After all, they are the first to be in close proximity to imprisoned criminals.

Could the minister explain why the government did not take those workers' concerns into account in her bill?

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4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Madam Speaker, I would say that it is precisely because of the concern for the safety of correctional officers that we are taking this step. Certainly it is about rehabilitation, but it is also about lessening experiences of violence, which are often exacerbated by the experience of segregation. When people do not have access to other human beings, when people do not see that they are even considered human, it increases the risk of violence and violent tendencies. We saw that in the shelter I ran, day in and day out.

When people feel that they do not have any hope of any interaction with human beings, when they have no sense of how long they are going to remain in that state, when they are not getting the mental health supports they need, they, in fact, become increasingly unpredictable. We want to ensure that our corrections system is safe for those who work in the system and that when offenders are released, they have had rehabilitation so that they can go back to the community with the capacity to function in a way that is improved and have the supports they need to be rehabilitated back into society.

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4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Madam Speaker, I had the opportunity to sit here during last Friday's debate, where I listened to some of the best lawyers and legal minds who are members of Parliament, including the member for St. Albert—Edmonton. When we start listening to the statistics, when we are talking about all these things that are occurring in our correctional system, there are many different things we have to look at. We have extremely diverse opinions here.

One thing we talked about was the fact that correctional officers have not been talked to, so I am going to start with something I put forward last week. It is a quote from my friend Jason, who is a correctional officer. He said, “No profession has hit the toilet [like] corrections in the last several years. Violence, contraband, assault on staff are skyrocketing. Why? Total lack of consequence for behaviour. Eliminating segregation has handcuffed us. Now, no question segregation exacerbates mental health, but we have no choice. Assaultive offenders continue assaulting, and easy victims continue being preyed upon. We continually have people making changes based on concepts, not reality.”

Today we are discussing Bill C-83, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another act. With the members in this House, I recognize that these views are greatly diverse. I am listening to the questions and answers today. What one member may say goes against my entire moral code on this. We have different ideas on the rights of criminals versus what the rights of victims, the use of segregation versus proposed intervention units, and drugs in prison.

Drugs in prison has become a huge issue. It is not just an issue that has come about in the last 10 years. We can find studies done decades ago that show the same trend. While the Liberals put forward policies for needle exchange programs in the jail, I believe we should focus on getting the drugs out of the jails altogether.

We can talk about safe injection sites. This is a huge debate in Ontario. What do safe injection sites do to communities and what should we be doing to help those who have long-term addictions? One of the things they say is that it is about saving people's lives, getting them back on track, and making sure that people do not die in back alleys.

I am going to remind the government that prisons are not those dark alleys. When we talk about safe injection sites, we are talking about getting people off the streets, putting them into an area where they can have safe injections, and truly hoping that wraparound services are available to them. I question why we are starting at step one and providing safe injection sites in prisons in the first place. Yes, it is a very difficult thing, but this is not a back alley. It is a prison, where there are well-educated, trained and skilled staff who deal with these issues. We should actually be going in a trajectory moving forward, not just compensating for the drugs.

There have been so many concerns about convicted criminals and the use of illegal drugs. We have to keep in mind that we are talking about convicted criminals. We are talking about people who are being put in jail for summary or felony offences and what their lives should be like.

We have talked very much about Tori Stafford and her abuser, the person who murdered her. We have talked about maximum-security and minimum-security. We are talking about a horrific murderer going from a place where there may be institutional walls to a healing lodge. I have heard from hundreds of constituents of Elgin—Middlesex—London who are saying that she is living a better life than they are.

When talking to Canadians, a lot of times it is one of the things they are going to say, that people in jail have a better life than they do. They get meals, they get their hydro paid for, all those things that some people living in poverty, and especially in our middle class, have to deal with every day.

I want to continue with the segregation part. Yes, I believe there are extreme situations where we must look at the use of segregation. Sometimes it is used to protect the criminal from the rest of the population, and other times it is used because an offender is a danger to the rest of the population, including the guards.

In a court decision by Justice Marrocco, he found that administrative segregation itself was constitutional. Of course, we are going to have others who believe that this is cruel and unusual punishment. There are parties that will disagree with this whole philosophy and say that we cannot segregate people and that they need to have personal time and the humanity side of it.

I have a problem when talking about this. We are talking about humanity for someone who is alive versus humanity for somebody who may have been murdered or is disabled for the rest of his or her life because of a criminal. I think the mother in me is asking, “Where is the justice here?”

Those are some of my key priorities when we are looking at this.

I have always believed in putting victims first. I think we have lost that side of this debate, because we are always asking what can we do to rehabilitate these criminals. I totally agree that there are some criminals who can be rehabilitated, but there are those people who have done horrific things, and we are sitting here saying that they have to have poetry readings and they have to learn how to cook and their lives will be better. We have to take a really hard look at ourselves and ask if we are really going to manage that. It is a compassionate idea, but it is not reality.

We have to recognize that crimes have a harmful impact on victims and on society. A bill was put forward by the last government on the Victims Bill of Rights. It is something I want to share with the House today.

When I work for the people of Elgin—Middlesex—London, I work for victims' families 100% of the time to make sure that they are taken care of. I am going to read the preamble of the bill to the House:

Whereas victims of crime and their families deserve to be treated with courtesy, compassion and respect, including respect for their dignity;

Whereas it is important that victims' rights be considered throughout the criminal justice system;

Whereas victims of crime have rights that are guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms;

Whereas consideration of the rights of victims of crime is in the interest of the proper administration of justice;

Whereas the federal, provincial and territorial governments share responsibility for criminal justice;

Whereas, in 1988, the federal, provincial and territorial governments endorsed the Canadian Statement of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and, in 2003, the Canadian Statement of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime, 2003;

All this being said, I recognize that some circumstances should be reviewed, including sexual violence and abuse. A lot of times when we are talking about vulnerable communities in these institutions, there may be issues that put people in there in the first place.

Not everyone agrees with the use of Gladu reports, but if we have Gladu reports, with appropriate writers, people who understand how to write a Gladu report, they can put all that imperative information forward at sentencing to decide how the person should be treated.

We talk a lot about truth and reconciliation. We recognize that we have had residential schools and that there has been intergenerational trauma. By no means am I saying that the person should not be looked at a bit differently. I am saying that. That may go against what some of my fellow Conservative colleagues may agree with, but I think these are things we have to go forward with. We have to look at all of these things. Gladu reports are something I support.

I will return to my friend's quote and the concern about drugs and contraband in jails. We need to find a solution. Is the solution making sure that we have needle exchange programs? For me, the concept of scanners is a positive option to find out what is actually entering prisons. We know that we have a problem. What is the reason, and how can we find a solution? The concept of these scanners is really positive. I look at them as a solution.

I want to go back to my daughter, who has graduated from the protection, security and investigation program. She has had the opportunity to work in some different facilities. She is currently working in security with a large company, and she works on a hotline dealing with victims of crime. Her bottom line is, and this is a quote from Marissa, "There is something missing, and drugs continue to get into the jails".

In putting in scanners, should we be expanding that to guests as well? As a graduate and employee in the security field, Marissa's concern about drugs in jails has only been elevated since she graduated, because she sees it more and more each and every day.

We have a big social issue in these places. We always have to remind ourselves that we have to be there for the victims of crime, because they have had their rights taken away. Some people see justice differently. I see justice as the fact that I would want to know that if someone murdered my child, he or she would remain in jail for a long time.

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4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Celina Caesar-Chavannes Liberal Whitby, ON

Madam Speaker, I too am a mom. I am hoping to be able to speak to this piece of legislation from possibly a different perspective, but I do want to talk about the needle exchanges within prisons.

The member talked about safety in prison, including for staff. Right now in federal prisons, the incidence of HIV is 10 times higher than among the general population. If a needle is brought in and shared among many in the population, it is very dangerous for the guards and staff.

That said, needle exchanges in communities are based on international evidence that they decrease infectious disease. There is no correlation with increased violence or increased drug use, but needle exchanges do decrease infectious disease and allow people to move toward treatment.

Does she not believe that until we get to a point where we could totally eliminate drugs, the evidence for needle exchanges allows for a safer context?