Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to be able to rise today to discuss Bill C-12.I would also like to respond to a few comments by my honourable colleague fromWinnipeg-Centre, who talked about co-operation between the Liberal party and the provinces.
In 1995, the Liberal federal government decided to cut millions of dollars in transfer payments to the provinces in order to balance its budget. That is exactly what the Conservatives are doing. In matters of federal-provincial co-operation, therefore, I am not sure we can count on the Liberals to work with the provinces and offer more services to Canadians and to Quebeckers.
We are talking here about a bill that my Conservative colleagues consider crucially important. In general terms, the bill seeks to introduce a practice that is already in common use. Some government members would like to tell Canadians that this bill is going to work miracles, but that is untrue. This bill merely adds to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act the possibility for the Parole Board to base its decisions respecting parole eligibility on positive drug tests or the refusal to provide a sample.
Yet the board has been doing that for years. Writing it into law is a good objective, but I doubt very much whether this bill will succeed in eliminating drugs from our prisons, as the Conservatives claim. Are they implying that there is a problem with the board itself? That is another question. However, this bill covers only a page and a half. Accordingly, as far as details are concerned, they will get back to you.
The bill is therefore misleading, because it will not do much to eliminate drugs in the correctional system. The solution it proposes is a practice that has been carried out for years, and unfortunately has not solved the problem. I therefore do not see how writing it into law will make it possible to solve mental health problems and eliminate drugs from our federal penitentiaries.
In my speech, I will be giving some ideas for a solution, but I will also raise a few priorities that the Conservatives refuse to consider, preferring to invest elsewhere and put money in the pockets of the wealthiest or the large corporations.
All the witnesses who spoke in committee told us that the bill would have little or no effect on drug use in prisons. We know that the government is using this legislation to cater to the wishes of its electoral base or do some election campaigning, instead of proposing real solutions to a real problem.
The situation is very different in our federal prisons. In connection with the study we are concluding in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, the Correctional Investigator of Canada came to tell us that over 45% of the federal prison population is dealing with mental health or neurological problems. That is nearly 50% of the population.
In general, unfortunately, these people use drugs. Therefore, is requiring them to take a urine test in order to be eligible for parole going to solve problems at the source, including their mental health disorders? I repeat that nearly 50%, not just 1% or 5%, of all offenders in federal institutions have mental health problems.
We have a problem here and Bill C-12 will do absolutely nothing to help these people. The bill offers them no tangible support. Instead, it cuts the budgets for programs to treat addiction and to provide support for people with mental health problems.
However, they say that enshrining in legislation that someone will or will not be eligible for parole is going to prevent that individual from taking drugs. That is ridiculous. I will give an example: many of my colleagues here have children. When you want a child not to do something, you educate the child, you offer them support, and you talk to them. You do not leave the child with no support and then tell them that unfortunately they have made a mistake and it is their problem. That is not how you solve a problem at its root. If we do that, we have failed in our role as legislators and as a society: to help the most vulnerable people, for example, people who unfortunately have mental health problems or neurological problems.
This is very interesting because the mistaken perspective adopted by the Conservative government when it comes to public safety has multiplied the prison sentences imposed on people with addiction or mental health problems, for example, through mandatory minimum sentencing. I will come back to this later in my speech. Many individuals who are addicts or are dealing with mental health problems find themselves in prisons. The Correctional Investigator of Canada has told us that the correctional service unfortunately can no longer offer specialized services tailored to these people because the Correctional Service of Canada does not necessarily have the resources to detect and diagnose these problems.
At the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, we are doing a study on FASD, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. There are no precise statistics because these individuals cannot be diagnosed, but for the moment it is said that they represent about 5% of the federal prison population. According to testimony we have heard at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, 55% of people who have problems caused by fetal alcohol exposure have addiction problems. What is specific to FASD is that these people have a low capacity for understanding the consequences of their actions, a low capacity for analyzing situations and a low capacity for learning from their mistakes. It has been proven that these people should not be in the prison system because they are not necessarily responsible for their situation. What do we do with these people? Is Bill C-12 going to help them? Is the fact that the government has decided to put it in the bill that they will or will not be eligible for parole going to help them? No. On its face, these people will not receive the help and support they need to overcome their addiction problems.
I would like to talk about the fact that the Conservatives have never acted on the many reports from the CSC in 2006 and 2011 and from the Correctional Investigator of Canada in 2008. Those reports could be used, for example, to tackle the problem of gangs in prisons. The Conservatives are closing down prisons and there is double-bunking in the cells. It has been shown that this leads to more crime and more gang activity, and so to more drug trafficking.
To solve the drug problem at the source, we have to offer support to people who are incarcerated and to correctional officers, so that they are able to do their job properly.