Mr. Speaker, I wish I were rising today to support Bill C-83. We have a problem in our corrections system with the use of what was originally called solitary confinement, which then became administrative segregation and is now being rebranded as structured integration units. We are trying to deal with a real problem in the corrections system, but instead, the bill is trying to rebrand the problem out of existence.
I do not think there is any way the courts will be fooled by the bill. The B.C. Supreme Court and the Ontario Superior Court have clearly found that the practice of solitary confinement is unconstitutional. The bill would actually make that practice more common than it is now, and it would have fewer protections for inmates than there are now. I will return to this question of rights later.
I want to talk about the bill from two other perspectives, which I think are equally important: the perspective of corrections workers and the perspective of victims.
In the last Parliament, I was privileged to serve as the NDP public safety critic. I was given that task based on my 20 years of teaching criminal justice at Camosun College, which is essentially a police and corrections worker training program.
The majority of the students who came into that program wanted to be police officers, as they still do. Once they are in the program, they find out that there are a lot of other jobs within the corrections, policing and criminal justice world. Many of them end up going into corrections.
I always talk to the students who are about to go into corrections about the challenges of that job. It is not as glamourous as policing. There are not many shows on TV glamourizing corrections officers. However, it is an equally challenging job.
One of the first challenges workers have to learn to deal with is being locked in during the day. For some, that is psychologically too difficult to handle. That goes along with the second challenge of that job: Corrections workers do not get any choice in who they deal with. In fact, they have to deal the most anti-social and most difficult people to deal with in our society.
Our corrections system often makes corrections workers' jobs harder. We have long wait-lists for treatment programs within our system. We also have long waits for rehabilitation programs. While people are serving their time, it is not just that they are not getting the rehabilitation they need for when they come out. It is not just that they are not getting the addiction treatment they need. They are not getting anything. They are just serving time.
Many will say that this is the kind of punishment people need. However, they tend to forget the fact that far more than 90% of the people in our corrections system will come back into society. If we are worried about the perspective of victims, we have to do a good job on rehabilitation and addiction treatment so that we do not create more victims when people come out of our corrections system.
In response to a question I posed earlier, the minister claimed that I was living in a time warp. He said the Liberals have solved all these problems and have earmarked new money for addiction and mental health treatment within prisons. He said that on the one hand, while on the other hand, he is making cuts in the corrections system.
We have a system, which is already strained from years of cuts by the Conservatives, being held in a steady state of inadequacy by the Liberal budget. It is great for the Liberals to say that they have earmarked these new programs, but if they do not have the staff and facilities to deliver those programs and the things they need to make those programs work, it does not do much good to say they are going to do it, when they cannot do it.
One of the other critical problems in our corrections system is the corrections system for women. It is even more challenging than the corrections system for men in that it is by nature, given the number of offenders, a much smaller system. There are fewer resources and fewer alternatives available for offenders within the women's system.
I think the women's corrections system also suffers from what many would call “essentialism”. That is the idea that women are somehow different from men, and therefore, with their caring and nurturing nature, do not belong in prison. There is a prejudice against women offenders that they must somehow be the worst people, even worse than male offenders, because we expect it from men but we do not expect it from women. That kind of essentialism has really stood in the way of providing the kinds of programs we need to help women offenders, who largely deal with mental health and addiction problems.
While women have served traditionally, or experientially I would say, less often in solitary confinement and shorter periods in solitary confinement, it is the same phenomenon for women as for men. It means that all kinds of mental illnesses, rather than being treated, end up being exacerbated, because while an inmate is in segregation he or she does not have access to those mental health programs. The same thing is true of addiction problems. If an inmate is in administrative segregation, he or she does not have access to those programs.
In the women's system of corrections those programs are already very limited, are hard to access, are hard to schedule and if women spend time in and out of administrative segregation, they do not get the treatment and rehabilitation that they deserve before they return to society.
Sometimes politicians make correctional workers' jobs harder and they do this by making offenders harder to manage. One of the things we hear constantly from the Conservatives is a call for consecutive sentences. They say the crimes are so horrible that if there is more than one victim we ought to have consecutive rather than concurrent sentences. We have to make sure that the worst of the worst do not get out. That is the Conservative line.
When we do that, however, we make sure we have people in the system who have no interest in being rehabilitated, they have no interest in being treated for their addictions, and they have no interest in civil behaviour, if I may put it that way, within the prison. If inmates are never going to get out, then they might as well be the baddest people they can be while they are in that situation. Calling for consecutive sentences just makes correctional workers' jobs that much harder and encourages all of the worst behaviours by offenders.
Related to that was the elimination of what we had in the system before, which was called the faint hope clause. This, for the worst offenders, allowed people to apply for early parole after serving 15 years.
The argument often becomes entitlement. Why would these people be entitled to ask for early parole? But it is the same kind of thing I was just talking about earlier. If people have a faint hope, which is why it is called faint hope, that they may eventually be released, then there is still an incentive to behave civilly while within the system. There is an incentive to get addiction treatment and there is an incentive to do rehabilitation work.
If we take away that faint hope, which we did in the last Parliament as an initiative of the Conservatives, an initiative that was supported by the Liberals, then we end up with people in prisons who are extremely difficult to manage and, therefore, very dangerous for correctional workers to deal with.
The people who are trying to use the faint hope clause are not the most attractive people in our society. The issue of eliminating the faint hope clause from the Criminal Code came up in the case of Clifford Olson in 1997. He was the serial killer of 11 young men and women. It is important to point out that when he applied for his early release, it took only 15 minutes to quash the process. Those people who are in fact the worst of the worst will never get out of prison.
There were about 1,000 applications under the existing faint hope clause. Of those 1,000 applications, 1.3% received parole, and of those 1.3%, there were virtually no returns to prison, no recidivism.
The faint hope clause worked very well in preserving discipline inside the corrections system and in making the environment safer for correctional workers but unfortunately only the NDP and the Bloc opposed eliminating the faint hope clause.
A third way in which politicians make things worse, which I mentioned in an earlier question to my Conservative colleague, is the creation of mandatory minimums. Under the Harper government we had a whole raft of mandatory minimum sentences brought in with the idea that we have to make sure that each and every person who is found guilty is punished. I would argue that we have to make sure that each and every person who is found guilty is rehabilitated. That is what public safety is all about.
The Liberals promised in their election campaign they would repeal these mandatory minimums, yet when they eventually got around after two and a half years to bringing in Bill C-75, it did not repeal mandatory minimum sentences.
We are still stuck with lots of offenders, be they aboriginal people or quite often women, or quite often those with addiction and mental health problems, who do not belong in the corrections system. They belong in the mental health treatment system. They belong in the addictions treatment system. They need supports to get their lives in order. However, under mandatory minimums, the Conservatives took away the tools that the courts had to get those people into the programs that they needed to keep all the rest of us safe.
When we combine all of these things with the lack of resources in the corrections system, which the Conservatives made a hallmark of their government and which has been continued by the Liberals, then all we are doing here is making the work of corrections officers more difficult and dangerous, and we are making the effort to make sure people are rehabilitated successfully less likely.
I want to talk about two cases, one federal and one provincial, to put a human face on the specific problem of solitary confinement.
The first of those is the sad case of Ashley Smith. Ashley Smith, from the Maritimes, was jailed at the age of 15 for throwing crabapples at a postal worker. She was given a 90-day sentence, but while she was in custody for that 90-day sentence, repeated behavioural problems resulted in her sentence being extended and extended until eventually she served four years, 17 transfers from one institution to another, because she was so difficult to manage, forced medication and long periods in solitary confinement.
What happened with Ashley Smith is a tragedy, because she died by suicide after repeated incidents of self-harm while she was in custody. It is unfortunately a sad example of the outcomes when we place people in, whatever we want to call it, solitary confinement, administrative segregation or structured integration units. It does not matter what the label is. It has enormously negative impacts on those in particular who have a mental illness.
The second case is a provincial case in Ontario, the case of Adam Capay, a mentally ill indigenous man who was kept in isolation for more than four years, without access to mental health services, and under conditions that the courts found amounted to inhumane treatment. The effects on Mr. Capay were permanent memory loss and an exacerbation of his pre-existing psychiatric disorders.
While he was in an institution, unfortunately, Mr. Capay did not get the treatment he needed, and he ended up stabbing another offender, resulting in the death of that offender. What this did, of course, was to create new victims, not only the person who lost his life while in custody but the family of that person.
The result here was a ruling by provincial court Judge John Fregeau that Mr. Capay was incapable of standing trial for that murder within the corrections system because of the way he had been treated and the excessive periods of time he had spent in solitary confinement. The prosecutors did not appeal this decision. It resulted in Mr. Capay's release, to the great distress of the family of the murder victim.
What is the real cause here? The real cause, the fundamental cause, and I am not even going to say it is solitary confinement, is the lack of resources to deal with mental health and addictions problems within our corrections system.
Let me come back to the bill very specifically. The Liberals say they are setting up a new system here to deal with the difficult offenders. They have given it that new title. Senator Kim Pate, who spent many years heading up the Elizabeth Fry Society and has received the Order of Canada for her work on women in corrections, said:
With respect to segregation, Bill C-83, is not only merely a re-branding of the same damaging practice as “Structured Intervention Units”, the new bill...also virtually eliminates existing, already inadequate limitations on its use.
Strangely, what the Liberals have done in the bill, in attempting to get rid of administrative segregation, is that they have cast a broader net. They are setting up a system that will actually bring more people into the isolation and segregation system within the corrections system. The Liberals have actually removed some of the safeguards that existed on the length of time someone could end up spending in what should be called solitary confinement. There is actually no limit in the bill on how long someone could end up in solitary confinement.
Our correctional investigator, Ivan Zinger, an independent officer of Parliament, has criticized the bill, saying people will end up in much more restrictive routines under the new system than most of them would have under the old system. The bill would make things worse.
Josh Patterson, from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, pointed out that the bill would allow the same practices that the courts had criticized as inhumane treatment in the new bill as existed under the old administrative segregation. Therefore, we have merely relabelled the existing practices in the bill.
The final piece I want to talk about is the question of oversight. In earlier debate, the minister said I was living in a time warp. Sometimes I wish that were true. However, he was talking about oversight and said that I had missed the amendments he made on oversight. What is really true is the minister missed the point of the witnesses on oversight. Stretching all the way back to the inquiry into events at the prison for women in Kingston, Louise Arbour recommended judicial oversight of the use of solitary confinement. That is truly independent. That is truly an outside review of what happens.
Also, as Josh Patterson pointed out, not only is there no judicial oversight, there is no recourse for those who are subjected to solitary confinement to have legal representation to challenge the conditions under which they are being held.
Therefore, what the government has done in its amendments is to create not independent review but an advisory committee to the minister. That is not independent oversight and that is one of the reasons the NDP continues to oppose the bill.
I want to come back to the B.C. court decision, which pointed to two key reasons why the existing regime was unconstitutional. Those are the lack of access to counsel for what amounts to additional punishment measures being applied when someone is placed into solitary confinement and the possibility of indefinite extra punishment by being in solitary confinement. The bill deals with neither of those two key unconstitutional provisions of solitary confinement.
Therefore, where are we likely to find ourselves down the road? We are going to find ourselves back in court, with the new bill being challenged on the same grounds as the old regime of solitary confinement.
As I said at the beginning, I would like to be standing here to support a bill that would create a system for managing those most difficult offenders, those with mental health and addiction problems, in a way that would respect their constitutional rights and in a way that would guarantee treatment of their addictions and rehabilitation so when they would come out, they could be contributing members of society. Unfortunately, Bill C-83 is not that bill.