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

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Madam Speaker, as I indicated, the safe injection sites that we see in our communities are a lot different from what we see in our jails. There are different ways of looking at this. I recognize that when people go to jail, a lot of times there are issues with substance abuse. We should not sitting there and saying, okay, here is a wraparound approach. We have to recognize that what got them there in the first place may have been the use of drugs and alcohol.

We also know there are a lot of gangs within these institutions and that drug trafficking happen to be one of the things they are taking part in for their own wealth. That is also how they are in charge of many of these issues. They are in charge of other people because of the cartel that they have within the jails.

I recognize the compassion that we have for this, but I want to go back to Nancy Reagan's approach and say, “Just say no”. There has to be a point in time when we just stop this. That is what I believe when it comes to correctional systems, just say no and stop this.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Madam Speaker, it has been a while since I studied criminal law and the criminal justice system. I would agree with the member that retribution is an incredibly important principle that underpins our criminal justice system and why we mete out significant penalties for egregious crimes.

The member spoke about rehabilitation as only about fairness and a matter of humanity. I would ask her to think about it a little differently, as a matter of public safety. Most criminals do not stay in the system forever, so as a matter of keeping our communities safe, rehabilitation plays an incredibly important role. I wonder if the member could speak to that aspect of the importance of rehabilitation, which is a matter of public safety.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Madam Speaker, I recognize that rehabilitation is a big issue that we could be addressing here, but we also have to remember that there are those who may not be rehabilitated. When we talk about this, we talk programming, programming, programming. What is actually occurring in these institutions and why have the correctional officers, who are a big part of this, not been part of this bill and not brought in for consultations on this? They are part of the solution and I do not think the government has used any of the information and evidence that correctional officers find in their day-to-day work that would help with this.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

Madam Speaker, the minister talked a lot about safety and making sure that criminals feel better about themselves. I do not think solitary confinement is about ensuring that the worst of the worst feel better about themselves. I would like the member's opinion on what we should be focusing on when it comes to incarceration of the most vicious criminals in Canada.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Madam Speaker, the one thing that comes to mind is the movie The Shawshank Redemption. Any time we talk about people being in segregation, we are talking about Tim Robbins being put in a hole and having to stay there for months.

Rehabilitation is necessary for those who are not horrific offenders. I think about the crimes people have committed. Do people who have raped young children deserve all of this? Or, what do we do?

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Richard Martel Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, CPC

Madam Speaker, I would like to talk about Bill C-83 because it is of personal concern to me and because I was asked to do so by a number of correctional officers who told me that they feel as though they were not sufficiently consulted during the drafting of this bill.

If the government would take the time to listen to our correctional officers, it would find that they think eliminating administrative segregation in correctional facilities is a bogus solution to a bogus problem. Administrative segregation is not used as punishment. It is a risk management tool. The threat of solitary confinement must always be present in order to act as a deterrent, guarantee a certain amount of discipline and enforce compliance in correctional institutions. That discipline is essential to the health and safety of our correctional officers.

Segregation is a tool of last resort. By taking that tool away from correctional officers, the government is saying that it does not care about their reality. It does not care that more assaults on officers have happened since the use of segregation was restricted. The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers has stressed that violence in prison will go up once administrative segregation is scrapped. Union president Jason Godin foresees a bloodbath. Administrative segregation is not used arbitrarily. It is a tool of last resort that protects inmates from others and, sometimes, from themselves.

When a new criminal arrives, conflicts can escalate rapidly. The prison population varies from institution to institution. Sometimes, a new inmate is not welcome, and his new peers will be waiting for him. Administrative segregation is used to ensure that inmate's health and safety until such time as officers find appropriate solutions to de-escalate conflict.

What should be done with an inmate in medium security who becomes more and more violent and has to be transferred to a maximum security institution? Should such an inmate be allowed to keep living by his own rules for four hours a day while awaiting transfer? That makes no sense to me.

Some inmates altogether refuse to join the general population and also refuse the protective wing. How are we supposed to accommodate these inmates, who want peace and quiet, without abusing public funds? Is it a prison or a five-star hotel? What do I tell my constituents who tell me they would rather go to prison than live in a seniors residence? Correctional officers legitimately wonder what they will do. What tools will be at their disposal when administrative segregation is eliminated? The officers fear that there will be an escalation of violence. They fear for their health and safety, but also for the health and safety of the criminals.

Again, what tools will they have to defuse potential retaliations or thwart revenge plots that they may have caught wind of? Are they to leave the inmates to take justice and discipline into their own hands? Correctional officers cannot turn a blind eye and ignore the warnings they get. How are they supposed to enforce compliance? These are bogus solutions to a bogus problem.

The commissioner's directives, including CD 843, already cover exceptions for indigenous and female offenders, and offenders with mental health problems.

Mental health is taken very seriously in prisons. Offenders have access to care, and correctional officers are quickly informed when an offender is struggling with mental health issues. They find out fast. Correctional officers have faith in the commissioner's directives, and they refer to them regularly in the performance of their duties.

Correctional officers already take mental health issues seriously because they know what kind of impact these issues can have. In fact, they or their colleagues have been through it themselves.

Thirty-five percent of first responders, including paramedics, EMTs and correctional officers, will develop symptoms associated with work-related PTSD.

This is not an easy work environment. Officers must sometimes use a lot of psychological tactics to de-escalate conflicts. They may face moral and ethical dilemmas that they would not face in the world outside the prison. For example, it is not easy to be a mother or father and to be around a pedophile every day. One of the worst things that could happen would be for an officer to get to work and learn that an inmate had taken his or her own life. Prison guards face many risks. This kind of situation makes them very susceptible to PTSD.

Last week, I met with veterans and first responders who spoke to me about Project Trauma Support, a new Canadian program that treats post traumatic stress and operational stress injury in military personnel, veterans and first responders. I was deeply touched by their story and how the centre, located in Perth, Ontario, helped them turn their lives around.

It is often very difficult for anyone affected by work-related post-traumatic stress syndrome to access the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, disability insurance or compensation. They may have to wait a long time before accessing counselling or treatment, which is very unfortunate. We know that the earlier problems are addressed, the better the results and the chances to return to active service. Their families also suffer.

My colleagues and I hope that Bill C-211 will provide a comprehensive solution to this scourge.

However, I wonder why Bill C-83 does not say more about the health and safety of our correctional workers.

The Liberal government's history shows that it favours criminals rather than victims. I should not be surprised to find it more interested in the comfort of criminals than the safety of correctional officers.

The government also did not consult the union and employees when it announced a needle exchange pilot project.

I wonder how providing access to needles to take drugs or create tattoos, thereby providing a potential weapon to criminals, can be perceived as being a good thing.

Canadians need to know about the needle exchange program. When an inmate manages to illegally bring a drug into prison, he can ask the nurse for a needle and he will get one. The nurse and the government know very well that the needle will be used for illicit purposes.

The correctional officer does not know that he will be at greater risk during the next check of the inmate's cell. What message are they sending?

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Order. The allotted time has expired. The hon. member can add what he has to say during questions and comments.

The hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles for questions and comments.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

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

Madam Speaker, I listened closely to my colleague from the beautiful Chicoutimi and Saguenay region. I find this to be a bit much. We are talking about an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, but that is not really what we heard.

I would like him to talk about victims services. He did not say a word about the audio recordings of parole hearings. They currently do not have access to that. Some fear that because of the emotional nature of the hearings, it is difficult for the victims to recall details. However, the inmates would have access to the recordings during parole hearings. I would like to hear the hon. member's thoughts on this and on the scanners. When the new technology is installed at the detention centres, it could be used for both visitors and inmates.

I would like to know what my colleague thinks about that.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, CPC

Richard Martel

Madam Speaker, I have talked to correctional officers and what concerns me is that it is going to be extremely difficult for our correctional officers if they no longer have administrative segregation at their disposal.

When something happens, correctional officers are often first on the scene. I would like the government to consider that and understand that correctional officers will have an extremely tough time gaining control if they cannot use administrative segregation. If the prisoner realizes that administrative segregation is not being replaced by anything else, he might end up doing things he otherwise would not have. I think that it is extremely important to keep that in mind for correctional officers' sake.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened to my Conservative colleague's speech. Our opinions differ on many subjects, and while I realize we are miles apart on this one too, a number of his arguments did strike a chord.

I would like to know what he thinks of the fact that two legal rulings have found administrative segregation to be unconstitutional. In my opinion, protecting people who work in those environments must be a consideration, but segregation is no way to treat inmates with mental illness.

Can the member reconcile what he just said with those notions of constitutionality and mental health treatment?

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, CPC

Richard Martel

Madam Speaker, on the subject of administrative segregation, I believe the duration was reduced. On the other, I think that there needs to be appropriate mental health screening of inmates.

To my mind, if the government takes the crucially important tool that is administrative segregation away from correctional officers, and prisoners know that means they may be transferred elsewhere for their own protection, I have no doubt they will do things they would not do if administrative segregation were here to stay. That is how I see it.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

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

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-83, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another act.

As my colleague said, administrative segregation has been widely criticized by stakeholders and has been subject to legal challenges.

This bill will eliminate administrative segregation and replace it with structured intervention units, which provide secure environments for inmates who must be separated from the general prison population to receive targeted interventions and real human interaction.

The bill will also make changes in connection to health care, the management of indigenous offenders, victims' access to audio recordings of parole hearings, and search technology to keep contraband out of prisons. These are the objectives of Bill C-83.

I was here on Friday, like many other colleagues, when we were studying this bill at second reading. We talked about it and we are still talking about it today.

Earlier our colleague from Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame said that the purpose of detention centres is to rehabilitate inmates so they can reintegrate into society. Yes, they are there because they have committed a crime, but we need to help them reintegrate into society so they can eventually contribute to it once they have made it through the detention part of their sentence.

The unemployment rate is at its lowest in 40 years. We need all the talent we can get in our society. Once inmates have served their sentence, they need to integrate and participate in our society. This means that, during their incarceration, they must be able to take training and, if they have mental health issues, they need to see the appropriate professionals.

Before I was an MP, I was fortunate to be in business, and I had contracts supplying food to some of the detention centres in my region, Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, including the Federal Training Centre in Laval and Leclerc Institution. There were maximum-security and medium-security detention centres, as well as centres for inmates who were nearing the end of their sentence and were getting ready to reintegrate into society. Yes, some inmates do reintegrate into society.

Some of those contacts were with family living units, where people work as a team to learn to cook. When inmates are released from a detention centre, they need to be independent. In short, I had those kinds of interactions, and the ultimate goal was for inmates to be able to reintegrate and participate in society.

As I said earlier, there are maximum-security penitentiaries for inmates who are not yet ready to be transferred to a medium-security centre or a centre where inmates are getting ready to be released.

Mental health services must also be available for people who need them. That is true, and should be one of the first things noted. We need to prepare inmates to return to a normal life in our society and help them get the training they need.

The bill requires inmates in administrative segregation to spend four hours outside their cell so that they have contact with other people in the prison system and health professionals, but also with outside visitors. They need to be able to continue to see people from outside the prison walls if we want them to be able to reintegrate into society. Of course, they also need to continue to have access to training programs.

One of my colleagues said earlier that this bill needs to go further, that we need to continue the debate and that all members need to have an opportunity to express their views.

I would like to continue to talk about the purpose of this bill. Our priority, as a government, is to ensure the safety of Canadians. It seems to me that the Conservatives would be happy to leave people in solitary confinement for years and then send them directly back into our communities. That is what I have been hearing. There are steps to follow, and inmates need to take training.

The best way to protect Canadians, our fellow citizens, is to ensure that offenders serving their sentence in a controlled prison environment, whether it is a minimum, medium or maximum security facility, get the help and treatment they need to reduce their chances of reoffending.

What is more, what we are proposing is very different from the current system. Structured intervention units will double the number of hours inmates spend outside their cells and guarantee them a minimum of two hours a day of real human interaction, whether it be with staff, volunteers, health care providers, seniors, chaplains, visitors or other compatible offenders. Inmates will have daily visits from a health care professional and access to intervention programs and mental health care. That is very important and we need to always keep that in mind. The whole system will be designed so as to address the factors that make the individual a risk and help that individual reintegrate into the general prison population.

In structured intervention units, the conditions and resources available will be different than those in the current system. This bill will also put in place a robust review system. The assignment to a structured intervention unit will be reviewed by the institutional head in the first five days. If the inmate remains there, the head will again review the case after 30 days. The commissioner will also review the case every 30 days after that.

The bill will also allow a professional to recommend at any time a change in conditions or the transfer of an inmate. The objective will always be the inmate's safe reintegration into the mainstream inmate population as soon as possible.

There is more. The bill will also formalize the possibility of having, for example, maximum security and minimum security institutions in the same location. As I mentioned earlier, many years ago I dealt with maximum security and medium security prisons. Institutions will always have the necessary infrastructure to accommodate their security level.

I asked some questions a little earlier. At present, victims do not have access to audio recordings of parole hearings. The bill will change that.

There are also the body scanners. When visitors, inmates or employees enter the institution, the search will be less invasive, but we will be able to scan people to ensure no contraband enters the prison.

We will be very pleased to support Bill C-83, and I hope that my colleagues will have second thoughts about not supporting it.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Madam Speaker, I would pose a question in response to the speech from my colleague from Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.

She touched upon the review process. At the heart of the British Columbia Supreme Court decision, as well as the Ontario Superior Court decision, both courts called on an independent review process upon a determination being made as to the status of an inmate from an institutional head.

That independent review mechanism is noticeably lacking in Bill C-83. If the purported objective of Bill C-83 is to respond to court decisions, why the absence?

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

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

Madam Speaker, our government's Bill C-83 will strengthen the federal correctional system, aligning its practices with sound evidence. It will also use the latest best practices to rehabilitate inmates and better prepare them for safe reintegration into our communities. Reintegration into society is important. I talked about that earlier. We need everyone's talents. When people reintegrate into society, everyone wins.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

October 23rd, 2018 / 5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Celina Caesar-Chavannes Liberal Whitby, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech.

I have listened to the Conservatives say that this will endanger Correctional Service Canada staff. However, this bill will make more resources available for reintegration programs, mental health care and other interventions and services for Correctional Service Canada staff.

Would the member comment on how this measure will enhance safety within Correctional Service Canada?

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

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

Madam Speaker, I always enjoy working with my colleague. I thank her for her question.

We have to make sure inmates do their time. We also have to help them reintegrate into the mainstream prison population and, later, into society. That happens in stages, and we need to provide them with services.

My colleague is asking whether there will be more staff. As I see it, since the goal is to help inmates reintegrate into society, we have to help them access any mental health services they might need.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Anju Dhillon Liberal Dorval—Lachine—LaSalle, QC

Madam Speaker, people in administrative segregation suffer from hallucinations. They start seeing things that are not there and they are no longer able to distinguish between reality and fantasy.

Do you think that people in administrative segregation could reintegrate into society when they leave prison? These people are deeply affected. Will this benefit our society?

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I would remind the hon. member to address the Chair.

The hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

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

Madam Speaker, I slip up too sometimes. We can always do better.

It is true that when inmates spend too much time in segregation they can be disconnected from reality. There are steps to follow. Inmates are put in segregation for a reason, but they should not be cut off from the rest of the world. They have to have human interaction.

As I said earlier, the bill provides for inmates to be able to meet with health professionals, volunteers, chaplains, among others. Inmates in segregation have to be able to see other people and socialize. However, there are steps to be followed before returning them to the general population and before they can reintegrate into society. Being isolated all day is not normal and can lead to problems.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Madam Speaker, last week, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness introduced Bill C-83, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another act. I rise in the House today to address some serious concerns that the Conservatives have with regard to Bill C-83.

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; to establish parameters for access to health care; and to formalize exceptions for indigenous offenders, women offenders and offenders with diagnosed mental health conditions. While this bill contains some reasonable measures that are worth considering in order to change and improve the overall prison program, we need to examine it closely to ensure we are making the best decisions and changes possible to the prison program.

In recent Supreme Court decisions, the legality of indefinite stays in solitary confinement has been challenged. However, the government is appealing both of those decisions. This legislation applies to transfers, and would allow the commissioner to assign a security classification to each penitentiary or to any area within a penitentiary. In a maximum-security penitentiary, nothing gets in or out without the strictest controls. Maximum security means maximum security. As I understand it, with this new legislation, a maximum-security classification could be assigned to any area of a medium- or minimum-security penitentiary. If that is not the case, we need some clarification. A maximum-security facility has an entire perimeter and security system that is designed to guarantee maximum security. If they were to change a section of a minimum- or medium-security penitentiary, would the security measures also be put into place?

This bill has one very good idea, and that is to use body scanners. However, it should be expanded to include anyone who enters the facility who is not an inmate or an employee. Body-scan searches would make it possible to control at least 95% of the substances that individuals bring into prisons because they show whether there is anything hidden on a person's body. It is no secret that all kinds of things are brought into prisons.

This legislation also proposes to eliminate administrative segregation in corrections facilities and replace it with a newly created structured intervention unit. Solitary confinement is a common and legitimate safety measure that many western countries take to protect guards from dangerous and volatile prisoners. The introduction of structured intervention units may pose a risk to prison guards, other inmates and the inmates in question for whom solitary confinement is used for their own safety.

Another problem with this bill is reflected in the spirit of the law. These are the worst criminals in Canada. They are murderers, rapists, etc., and they are in maximum-security prisons. The intent of these proposed changes is to create a structured intervention unit for these people. They would spend less time in cells and would be put together to interact. 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 criminals in Canada. Prisoners want to control their environment as much as possible, like anyone else. This is difficult for our officers who work 24-7 to keep prisoners under control and keep the guards and the rest of the prisoners safe. Taking away disciplinary segregation would make prisons less safe and more dangerous for the guards as they would have to deal with the most volatile prisoners being out and about from their cells for four hours a day.

We cannot support Bill C-83 in its present form. There are some things that would work, such as installing scanning equipment; however, we believe that creating structured intervention units would not.

Additionally, it is concerning that the government has not been able to tell Canadians how much the implementation of these measures would cost. Correctional Service Canada has confirmed that it is not able to estimate how much the measures in this bill would cost Canadians. The government seems to believe it is acceptable to table uncosted legislation that would increase the comfort of the most violent prisoners at the expense of the taxpayer.

Let us look back at the McClintic case again. This murderer's transfer from a maximum-security prison to an indigenous healing lodge has had a lot of people concerned, upset and talking. This is someone who should be serving her sentence in a maximum-security prison. In a maximum-security prison, such an offender has her own cell. Those offenders eat, sleep and take classes if they so choose, and they can go back to their cells. They are protected because they are living in a maximum-security environment. However, for reasons still not understood, it was decided to send that person to a place with virtually no security. From what I understand, Bill C-83 would allow McClintic's room in the healing lodge to be designated a maximum-security room. Again, it appears as though it is the Liberal government's priority to put the rights and comforts of violent murderers and rapists ahead of the rights of victims.

If what I understand is true, then Bill C-83 would be dangerous to Canadians' safety. It does not care about what a maximum-security prison sentence means or what keeping Canadians safe means. Instead, it prioritizes the rights of Canada's most violent and dangerous criminals.

Instead of changing the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to make sure that killers like Terri-Lynne McClintic are kept behind bars, the bill defines and softens the law to make prison time easier for criminals.

I think Canadians know that the government is not serious about being tough on crime and it puts Canadians' safety at risk. If this keeps up, things are bound to get worse. The government should be 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. The approach outlined in Bill C-83 is not in line with what the Conservatives consider to be an effective way to manage penitentiaries.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Celina Caesar-Chavannes Liberal Whitby, ON

Madam Speaker, I am going to repeat the same things that I have said in my other questions.

When we talk about removing administrative segregation and still having the capacity to separate individuals who pose a safety risk, we would separate them from the general population and put them into secure intervention units. Not only that, but we would also give the resources necessary for them to receive mental health services, rehabilitative programming and other interventions so that we can decrease the likelihood that they will continue to pose a safety risk not only to the staff but to other people within the institution.

I would ask my colleague if he does not believe that there should be any mercy in this system, and to look at how we can help individuals who are in the prison system be reintegrated back into the prison or back into our communities.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Madam Speaker, when we talk of mercy, we also need to think of mercy for the victims who have been victimized by these people who are put in prison.

My colleague understands the same as we do that what this means is that we are going to take these people from segregated cells. However, if members had the opportunity to visit Kingston in the old days, there were inmates such as Clifford Olson, Paul Bernardo, Willy Pickton, and some others who were segregated not only for the safety of the guards and other prisoners, but also for their own safety. I am not so sure that we understand exactly what it would have meant to move them all out into the general population. At the same time, they also had all the rights for access to medical personnel, health care, and everything that we talk about here. The bill would not change that. Those provisions are already within the prison system.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, I had the opportunity to serve with my colleague from Oxford on the justice committee. He brings a wealth of experience as a police officer and former chief of police.

One of the things that we know about Bill C-83's allowing an additional two hours for prisoners to be out of their cells is that it will cost a lot more resources for that to work. While the government is moving ahead with its legislation, the Liberals at the same time are proposing an 8.8% reduction in funding for the Correctional Service of Canada. Out of the 22 priorities for the Correctional Service of Canada, not one of those priorities includes the safety of correctional officers. In the face of the government's mixed up priorities, is it any wonder that the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers has criticized Bill C-83?

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not surprised that the correctional officers have found this to be full of shortcomings from their perspective. Those might have been alleviated if there had been more discussion and study with them to hear their concerns on a variety of issues. When we look at it, it is exactly as my colleague said: This is going to cost a lot of money that will not improve either the prisoners' safety or the safety of the guards. It is the lack of consultation with the people on the ground, the front-line officers, that is going to create more problems than we anticipate.

Corrections and Conditional Release ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-83, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another act.

As we know, Bill C-83 proposes to implement a new correctional intervention model to eliminate segregation, strengthen health care governance, better support victims in the criminal justice system, and consider the specific needs of indigenous offenders.

The purpose of prisons, though, is clear. We have prisons so that we can protect society from those who, as a consequence of various criminally repugnant acts they have committed, have proven to be too great a risk to the broader safety of others. I believe there are cases where criminals can be reformed. We have programs. We provide opportunities for those deemed to pose a reduced security risk to reintegrate into society and become fully functional and productive members of our community.

In general, Canadians believe this and we would not want it any other way. However, there are those in our society who cannot be reformed and have committed acts so heinous that we never want them to be free to walk among our families and friends, in our towns and cities, ever again.

I am not just thinking of murderers and those who commit assault, like Olson, Bernardo, Homolka, Magnotta, and McClintic. I am also thinking of those individuals whose names will not make headlines across the country, the nameless violent criminals who beat, and steal without remorse from, the most vulnerable in our society.

Prisons are their own societal microcosm. We expect that prisoners will follow the rules of the institutions, that they will behave and participate in programs to improve their situation, as I said earlier, in the hope they can reintegrate back into their communities.

This speech is not about the goals of sentencing or to debate the merits of different forms of punishment. It is about protecting society in general, victims in particular, and protecting society from those who are most dangerous.

It is no wonder that there is violence in prisons. It does not take an academic to explain why, when criminals are placed in a community together, there is a high incidence of crime. Some might say, who cares, that they get what they deserve? However, that is not the consensus within our society.

Our correctional facilities are not designed to put prisoners in harm's way. They are designed to protect prisoners from each other, and to protect the men and women in the correctional services.

Bill C-83 proposes to change that by removing an important tool in our correctional services staff tool box to protect prisoners and themselves from violence. Indeed, the argument about prison safety often focuses on the most violent prisoners harming other prisoners, or on protecting the most evil, those who have committed such heinous acts, from retribution.

We often feel and sometimes forget those who are on the front lines in our institutions who deal directly with these acts of violence, who put themselves in danger to protect prisoners from each other. Eliminating the ability of corrections officers to segregate prisoners from each other will not only put prisoners at serious risk, it will also further endanger our correctional officers. That is unacceptable.

Jason Godin, the national president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers has told the Vancouver Sun that attacks on officers and inmates have increased as the use of segregation has decreased. If Bill C-83 passes, he predicts that “The bloodbath will start.” While I do not understand the minutia of administering a prison, Godin does as the president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers. He is not speaking haphazardly or without merit.

Bill C-83 calls for more meaningful, human contact. Human contact is important, but not when it is at the end of a fist or a broom handle. Across Canada the number of assaults on staff is projected to rise 32% this fiscal year compared with last year, coinciding with the projected 15% decrease in segregation bed use during that same time.

Solitary confinement is a common and legitimate safety measure that many western countries use to protect correctional staff from dangerous and volatile prisoners. Rather than removing this tool, we should be looking at how to prevent the incidents that cause segregation in the first place. We should ensure that mental health screening is completed, that there is a mental health strategy for prisoners, that psychological counselling is available, and that there are adequate staff on duty to ensure the safety of everyone.

We can reduce the use of segregation by other means without removing the tool of segregation for use when necessary. Rather than prioritizing the rights of Canada's most violent and dangerous criminals, the Liberals should be prioritizing the safety of the general population within our institutions and the officers who run them. Correctional officers are calling for serious consultation and resources to make it work. They are asking the committee not sacrifice this segregation tool as a necessary tool to deter violent behaviour. Correctional Services Canada has already limited the use of segregation. What correctional officers want now are alternatives to segregation to ensure that prisoners understand there are consequences for their bad behaviour.

In the recent ruling, the Ontario Superior Court called into question the legality of indefinite solitary confinement, and the current government has set its sights on appealing that decision. With this I have no issue. However, I wonder why, while appealing this decision, the government is moving forward with Bill C-83. Logically, the introduction of major changes that are at the heart of its appeal make little sense. However, that is not the only thing that does not make much sense.

Under this bill, a maximum-security classification could be assigned to any area of a medium- or minimum-security penitentiary. The facility in question, whether minimum, medium or maximum, is built to protect society from prisoners designated as a minimum-, medium- or maximum-security risks. There are different procedures and expectations in place.

I am getting the signal that there is no more time, which, unfortunately, is a shame because I had a lot more to say.