moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak this afternoon to Bill , which seeks to eradicate drugs from our federal penitentiaries.
From the outset, I would like to thank the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security for studying and adopting this legislative measure. It is an important measure for fighting the use and presence of illicit drugs in our federal penitentiaries and holding offenders responsible for their actions. I am pleased to see that the committee recognized the importance of moving forward with this legislative measure.
Drug use and abuse in our federal prisons is a serious and pervasive problem, one that cannot be solved overnight. It may seem logical that prisons ought to be free from drugs, but unfortunately this is not the case. The reality is that 75% of offenders are entering Canadian federal prisons with a substance abuse problem. Moreover, almost half of all federal offenders are serving sentences for crimes that are directly related to their substance abuse, so the reality is that when offenders enter our federal penitentiaries, they have a serious drug addiction problem. Rehabilitation helps those offenders to get rid of their drug addictions. That is why Correctional Service of Canada launched a program to eliminate and eradicate drugs in prisons. It has been in place since in 2008.
When Correctional Service Canada launched its transformation program in 2008, one of its priorities was to eliminate drugs in its institutions.
The goal is simple: put an end to drug smuggling in federal penitentiaries. There are two benefits to getting drugs out of our federal penitentiaries: It will make penitentiaries safer for the staff and, of course, it will help our inmates in their rehabilitation.
Drugs and other contraband in our federal prisons cause a serious security problem for our correctional officers. Offenders who are often under the influence of drugs are more erratic, unpredictable, and often violent toward correctional officers, themselves, and other inmates. This destabilizes the institutions and puts the men and women on the front lines at risk.
Drug paraphernalia causes another layer of risk. Needles in the hands of prisoners simply give another weapon to prisoners seeking to harm our front-line personnel. If I may digress for a moment, this shows just how foolhardy an approach the NDP has taken by seeking to establish a needle exchange in prisons. Is it naïveté or hubris that the NDP believes these easily concealed needles would not cause a risk to front-line staff?
Our correctional officers play a key role in the correctional system. They maintain the safety of our federal penitentiaries while monitoring the offenders, supervising them and interacting with them. Regardless of the nature of their clients, the inmates, and their place of work, correctional officers deserve to work in a safe place where their integrity will not be not adversely affected and where they will feel safe.
Removing drugs from our federal prisons contributes to that goal and by so doing, we are also helping offenders successfully reintegrate into society. Some of them have to take a drug treatment program as part of their correctional plan. If they do not have access to drugs when they are incarcerated, their chances of success are greatly increased. This helps reduce the demand for drugs and ensures that these offenders are making progress toward a successful rehabilitation.
As in a legitimate economy, when demand drops, so does supply. Supply adapts to demand. This formula also works in our federal prisons. By putting an end to drug smuggling in these institutions, we can ensure that offenders are successful in their drug treatment program. Success in these programs will result in a lower demand for drugs and, therefore, a drop in supply.
Ultimately, removing drugs from our federal prisons will help keep Canadians safe. With this goal in mind, our Conservative government has implemented a number of measures to directly target drugs inside our prison walls. We have seen great progress on a number of fronts, progress that has been recognized by the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security in its report following its 2012 study on drugs in federal prisons.
For example, Correctional Service Canada adopted a consistent approach to manage all of the main entrances and vehicle service entrances, which provide access to penitentiaries.
Correctional Service Canada has increased the number of teams of sniffer dogs. We have also brought in new equipment to improve scanning for visitors and other people who go in and out of federal prisons every day.
Correctional Service Canada has also developed a national database for monitoring and tracking visitors. These are practical tools to control the movement of people and goods entering penitentiaries to keep drugs out.
Correctional Service of Canada has also expanded its random urinalysis testing of offenders to reduce the availability and consumption of drugs inside institutions. In fact, since 2013 CSC has been carrying out random urinalysis testing on 10% of offenders every month, increasing the chances that all offenders will be subject to a random test each year.
All of these measures directly support the efforts made to make prisons a secure environment in which corrections staff are safer and in which offenders can focus on rehabilitation. The is another step towards achieving that objective.
Earlier I mentioned that Correctional Service Canada was increasingly using random urine sample screenings to effectively target offenders over the course of a year. The measure we are implementing is based on that work. It will amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to give Correctional Service Canada and the Parole Board of Canada new powers so that they can use data taken from the urine sample screenings to hold offenders responsible for their actions.
Essentially, if an inmate's urine sample tests positive for the presence of drugs, there will be consequences with both Correctional Service Canada and the parole process, since this inmate is clearly not ready to reintegrate into society.
Under the legislation, the Parole Board would have the explicit authority to cancel an offender's parole if the offender fails a urine test between the time at which he or she is granted parole and the time he or she physically leaves the penitentiary.
It is important to note that any offender who refuses to take a urine test during this time is considered to have failed the test. In this way, there is no loophole that an offender could slip through. The onus falls fully on the shoulders of the offender to ensure that he or she stays clear of drugs in order to be released on parole.
The bill would also stipulate the Parole Board's authority to set specific conditions for an offender as part of his or her parole in relation to an offender's use of drugs or alcohol. In other words, it could impose a condition that the offender must completely abstain from all drug or alcohol use while on parole.
These two amendments will strongly encourage inmates and former inmates to make better decisions and to abstain from drugs over the course of their incarceration and parole. This is all part of the objective of making Canadians safer.
Ultimately, the concept of the bill is simple. By providing drug-free prisons, we would be helping offenders work toward successful paroles and reducing recidivism, and ultimately there would be fewer drugs on our streets.
I appeared in front of the committee on public safety and was pleased to see the bill receive positive support, so I hope the bill can proceed quickly at report stage and pass without further amendment so that we can take another step towards freeing our penitentiaries of drugs by providing tools to the Correctional Service of Canada so that it can move in that direction.
Mr. Speaker, I want to start by saying that we are supporting this bill at third reading because of its narrowness.
That is not something people would recognize from looking at the title. They would think this bill had sweeping and miraculous provisions allowing Correctional Service Canada to attain drug-free prisons, something that no corrections system anywhere in the world has ever been able to achieve.
Instead, all it includes is a very narrow amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that makes it clear in law that the Parole Board may use the positive results from drug tests or refusals to take drug tests in making its decision on parole eligibility, something that is already the practice of the Parole Board. It also makes clear that the Parole Board can impose conditions about drug and alcohol use as a condition of parole, which of course the Parole Board already does.
The discretion, when there is a failed drug test, or a failure when someone on parole gets involved with drugs, remains where it should be, with the Parole Board. For that reason, we support the provisions.
However, what we have trouble with is the misleading title of this bill. I really think the government has engaged in a kind of propaganda exercise here where it wants to go to the public and say that it passed a drug-free prison bill, as if that had some impact on the real world.
What we really need here is something more than the narrow scope of this bill, something that would actually attack the real problem, which is the addiction problem in society in general, particularly among those who end up in the corrections system.
The independent Parole Board is still best placed to judge the individual cases and the consequences of failures of drug tests or failures to meet conditions of parole. Again, we do support this bill because it does not interfere with that.
Let us talk about the Conservatives' real approach here. When they talk about drug-free prisons, we all know that like all zero tolerance policies, these are not policies at all but simply aspirations. A policy has actions that are taken to achieve an objective. The objective here might be drug-free prisons, but what is missing is a policy specifying how we would actually get there.
As I said, no correctional system in the world has ever achieved a drug-free prison system. I heard an hon. parliamentary secretary on the Conservative side posing this as some kind of dichotomy, where we choose either to have drug-free prisons or to do nothing about drugs in prison. I submit, of course, that that is a completely false dichotomy. No one is suggesting that we do nothing to attack the problems of drugs in prisons.
If we look to those who have some expertise in the area, the Correctional Investigator, the John Howard Society, and the Union of Correctional Officers, they all have said that aiming for drug-free prisons is not a realistic goal. In fact, let us have a look at some of the very specific things they have said. I will just quote from the annual report of the Correctional Investigator:
A “zerotolerance” stance to drugs in prison, while perhaps serving as an effective deterrent posted at the entry point of a penitentiary, simply does not accord with the facts of crime and addiction in Canada or elsewhere in the world. Harm reduction measures within a public health and treatment orientation offer a far more promising, cost-effective and sustainable approach to reducing subsequent crime and victimization.
Again, that is from the Correctional Investigator's 2011-12 report.
The ministers' remark toward the end of his speech that drug offenders have to choose to end their addiction really sets this in a moralistic kind of vein, rather than a health vein. We all know that addiction is a health problem; it is not a choice problem. People may make bad choices in life that lead to addiction, but once they are an addict, it is a health problem. It is not a moral failing. I think the government quite often reverts to talking about addiction as if were somehow a matter of simple choice for those who have become addicts.
The real problem that we have, of course, is that almost 80% of those who end up in the Canadian prison system come in with a substance abuse problem, either with drugs or alcohol. What is more interesting, again, as the Correctional Investigator has pointed out in numerous reports, is the fact that most of those who have committed crimes—close to two-thirds of offenders, according to his 2011-12 report—were under the influence of an intoxicant when they committed the offence leading to their incarceration. Four out of five offenders, as I mentioned, arrive at that federal institution with that same substance abuse problem.
Therefore, if we are tackling the problem as a drug problem in prison, our focus is far too narrow, because it skips over the reason that most of those people ended up prison and that their offences were committed while they were under the influence of their addiction.
Unfortunately, the Conservatives' tough on crime approach has actually made this problem worse. By instituting a lot of mandatory minimum sentences, they have ensured that people whose basic problem is addiction and not violence or criminal intent would end up caught in the net that makes sure they are incarcerated. However, if discretion had been left to a judge, in an individual case, the judge might have been able to see that the addiction was the problem and get the individual into diversion programs, such as treatment, which are far more effective than incarceration and cost far less than putting people in prison.
When we are spending more than $100,000 a year to keep a person in prison, and addiction treatment, yes, can sometimes be very expensive, costing up to $10,000, we are still talking about something that is 90% cheaper than putting people in jail. Again, this failure to think clearly about what the real problem is here in terms of addiction, and instead responding with punishment to those who have addictions, means that we end up dealing with that problem in our prisons instead of in the community where people can get better treatment programs and better support from their family and communities and where ultimately they would then end up posing much less of a threat to the community as a whole.
As part of the current government's punishment approach and its zero tolerance approach, the government spent over $122 million on improving drug interdiction in prisons. I think this was over a period of three years, but the amount is significant.
The minister liked to talk about numbers. He mentioned the number of people who failed the test, indicating that 85% of the prisoners were drug free. However, what he forgot to mention was that, before the interdiction program, he had the same numbers. Therefore, before we spent $122 million in our prisons trying to have better interdiction of drugs coming in, 85% of the prisoners were drug free, and at the end of that $122 million expenditure, 85% of the prisoners were drug free. That is a lot of money being spent for what I would call ideological reasons with very little to show for it in the end.
As well, the minister likes to focus on the fear factor by always talking about injection drugs and by making up policies for the opposition as he goes along. However, in doing so, when he talks about injection drugs, what he fails to mention is that by far the vast majority of those failures of drug tests were for marijuana and not for injection drugs. The minister exaggerates the problem of injection drugs within our prisons to create a climate of fear. Now, I will not minimize at all the threat to the correctional staff of needles in prison, and I think we share on all sides of this House the desire for a safe work environment for correctional officers.
However, this interdiction program had some unintended consequences. When one goes to interdiction, as a result of that, much tougher and stringent policies apply to family visits. We heard from witnesses in the public safety committee that families oftentimes have been intimidated into bringing drugs into prison and therefore chose not to make any prison visits to their family member rather than face the intimidation and the much higher search levels from the interdiction process. In fact, as an unintended consequence, this higher level of interdiction has actually interfered with family visits, which are extremely important in having people successfully kick addictions and successfully reintegrate into their communities.
The other thing that has happened is that it has resulted in far more lockdowns within the prisons as searches are done for drugs and drug paraphernalia within the prison. Now, how could that be a bad thing? Well, lockdowns in a prison take a significant amount of time, and when they take place, rehabilitation programming is suspended for that day. Therefore, this higher level of interdiction, this higher level of searches through the prisons, actually interferes with the very rehabilitation programming that is central to reduce the demand for drugs in prisons.
Again, looking at the real record of the Conservative government when it comes to corrections, what we see is a record of budget cuts. In 2012, the government announced that it intended to cut $295 million from the corrections budget by 2015, and it has done that. More than 10% of the whole budget of corrections has been cut at a time when the prison population has grown by more than 1,000; from 14,000 to 15,000.
Again, the minister likes to talk about the fact that the prison population did not grow to the extent people projected. That is true. Those projections were wrong. They were not my projections, but they were wrong. In fact, the prison population continued to grow at a time when the budget was shrinking.
As a result of some new construction that had been started earlier, we have had a net addition of 1,600 beds to the prison system, barely enough to keep up with the growth in prison population after the closures of some facilities. When we barely keep pace with growth, it means that we have continued with this very negative situation of extensive double bunking in the prison system. I will come back to that in just a second.
What we have is an increased number of people in the corrections system and less money for programming. I have the exact figures here, but I know that less than 3% of the total budget for Correctional Service Canada is actually spent on programming. Therefore, 97% is spent on warehousing—housing, food, and security of prisons—and less than 3% is spent on programming. What the cuts have meant, along with the increased prison population, is that there is less money per capita for each of those in our system, for things like addiction treatment and training.
This has forced Correctional Service Canada to adopt some new strategies. It has abandoned the very long-standing and proven addiction treatment programs that were offered in Correctional Service Canada. These are programs that were considered models around the world. Members of the public safety committee in the previous Parliament told me many times that when they travelled internationally, particularly to Norway and Britain, people complimented Canada on the model and had adopted the model being used for addiction treatment in Canadian prisons. What the constraint on budgets has done is cause Correctional Service Canada to eliminate that programming and go to a program that offers general treatment for a number of problems in a single program. It has added addictions to things like anger management and life planning, all wrapped together in one course.
I have to say that I sincerely hope this new combined course is as successful as the old addiction treatment program. We have no evidence yet and I have no reason to draw the conclusion it will not be, but I fear it will not be as successful. The reason it was brought about was the government's excessive focus on cutting expenditures in a corrections system that has been growing.
I will now come back to the issue of double bunking that I mentioned a minute ago. We all know that one of the impacts of double bunking is that it increases what we call the temperature in correctional institutions. There have been many examples from across the country. It means there is more conflict within institutions, there is more violence within institutions, and they are less safe for corrections officers.
Double bunking also means space has been lost for programming. Classrooms have been converted for other uses because of the extreme overcrowding in many prisons. Because of the increased temperature, there have been more lockdowns and, just as with the increased drug interdiction activity going on, more lockdowns that are a result of double bunking disrupt programming, including addiction treatment programming.
What should we be doing instead? The bill is called the drug-free prisons bill. The first thing that was said in committee was that it should not really be called that. It should be called the failure of drug tests and Parole Board bill. That is what it is really about. Instead, it is still called the drug-free prisons bill. In a previous Parliament in 2010, the public safety committee, which I serve on in this Parliament, produced a report, which I have with me today. That report is called “Mental Health and Drug and Alcohol Addiction in the Federal Correctional System: Report of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security”. This was tabled in December of 2010.
In this report, there are 71 recommendations on how to attack the problem of drugs in prison. What did the government do? It decided on an interdiction program instead of the 71 recommendations from the committee. Very few of these have been implemented. Why is that? I submit it is because the recommendations actually treat addiction as a health problem instead of a moral crisis or a moral failure of those who are addicts. Instead of promising more punishment for addicts, these 71 recommendations made practical suggestions on how the demand for drugs in prison could be reduced.
Human ingenuity being what it is, we probably can never eliminate drugs from prisons, no matter how much interdiction we do. However, if we applied the health model in which addictions are treated, we would reduce the demand for drugs in prisons. Of course, successful treatment means more successful rehabilitation and more success when people return to the community.
I want to focus on one of these 71 recommendations, and that is recommendation 11. It says:
That Correctional Services Canada (CSC) review its current mental health and addictions programming to ensure that it meets the cultural and religious needs of Aboriginal offenders, who make up a disproportionate percentage of the Canadian inmate population, and a disproportionate percentage of inmates facing mental health and addiction issues; that CSC implement, together with local Aboriginal communities, more mental health and addiction programs addressing the specific needs of Aboriginal offenders. In addition to contributing to the development of these programs, local Aboriginal communities should also contribute to the delivery of these programs [within prisons] to ensure maximum success.
That is the end of that very long recommendation. Nothing has happened to it. We do not have more programs dealing with addiction from an aboriginal cultural perspective. We do not have more aboriginal communities involved in the prison system, offering culturally appropriate programming to meet the addiction problems. Instead what we have is more mandatory minimum sentences that result in more people with addictions, from aboriginal communities, ending up with longer prison sentences. The government has taken exactly the wrong approach. Even its own members on the public safety committee in the previous Parliament recommended a different approach to this addiction problem than the one adopted by the current government.
I just want to go back and summarize where we are with the Conservatives on the corrections system. What we have, again, is a relentless emphasis on punishment as the solution to our crime and addiction problems in this country, when we all know that is not the approach that works.
The NDP has long called for better addiction treatment programs, more money for programming, and in particular, again with the increase in the prison population, more worthwhile things for people to do in prison. The head of Correctional Service told us today in committee that CSC does not actually keep statistics on wait lists, that everybody is accommodated for programming. However, when we talked to people from the John Howard Society and the Elizabeth Fry Society and to correctional officers, they all told us that is simply not true. They said that many people have significant delays in accessing the program they need, whether it is addiction programming, anger management, or life skills; and that many of those people get to the end of their sentences without completing the correction plan, through no fault of their own but through a lack of resources and opportunity within the corrections system.
Do I say this because I think we are failing the inmates? Yes, I do. However, I also think we are failing Canadians in general, because all of these people will come out of the corrections system where they have failed to complete the corrections plan through no fault or personal decision of their own, and they then will have a much lower possibility of successfully reintegrating into society, getting a job, supporting their families, and being a success in the same manner that all Canadians would like to be. It is a fundamentally flawed approach again from the government.
In this bill we have a propagandistic title, drug-free prisons, and the Conservatives will announce to Canadians after this bill passes that we now have drug-free prisons because they passed a law.
In fact, going back to the reason we are supporting the bill, what we would have done is preserve the discretion of the Parole Board in dealing with those who fail drug tests in prison just before they are paroled or who fail conditions of parole. We are putting this into law. There is nothing wrong with that at all. That is why we are voting for this bill.
We did make an attempt to get the title changed to something more appropriate, but as anyone who listened to the minister's speech can see, there was no interest in actually talking about what happens in the bill; there is an interest in saying that the Conservatives have done something to create drug-free prisons and have done that through tough laws, through interdiction, and through all the things that we know, if we actually look at the evidence, have not worked in our prison system and will not work in our prison system.
What we need is an approach that recognizes addiction as a health problem and provides the addiction treatment that is needed within our prisons. That is the way we will get closer to drug-free prisons.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill . The place to begin is to acknowledge a straightforward fact, which is that the bill will have hardly any consequence in ensuring that prisons are drug free. It is a much bigger issue than that. Even one of the members, one of the backbench Conservative members who was there for one meeting, in discussing the bill at committee, indicated as much himself. It is a name; it is not action in terms of this particular bill.
I am always amazed, and I have said this before, at the deception of the government. They think that if it can name a bill a certain way, it will happen. It will leave the perception in the public that the Conservatives are actually doing something, but they are not. What is really required is action.
The government somehow believes that if we can treat addictions by threatening those who suffer from addiction we are actually doing something. Research has shown that on the drug issue, threats alone are not enough.
The previous member who spoke talked about drug addiction as being a health problem. Somewhere around 75% to 80% of the people who go into prison actually go in with either a drug or alcohol addiction, and many of them have mental issues as well, so there has to be treatment beyond the penalties the government is talking about imposing.
The government somehow believes that it will achieve drug-free prisons if it coerces even further those offenders about to qualify for parole. There will be some people who do not achieve parole as a result of this decision. Is that the right thing to do? Is there a better way of handling that? Those are issues that need to be looked at.
Somehow the public is to believe that this legislation will actually accomplish something new. It really will not, and that became clear from the evidence presented at committee.
The title of the bill is misleading in the extreme, while the contents of the legislation actually add little, if anything, to the situation relative to those inmates on parole. I will come to that in a little bit.
Bill is another in a long line of government legislation, some of it private members' bills from the Conservative side as well, that use victims and offenders for their ideological ends.
The first point is this: Does the bill actually bring forward new policy related to the issue of drug use and those applying for parole? The answer is a simple no. Bill actually adds nothing to the parole process that does not already exist.
In direct answer to a question I posed to the chair of the Parole Board with respect to the Parole Board being able to exercise its full discretion as it has so far, the chair responded, “That is right”. Let me rephrase that. What I was really asking the chair of the Parole Board was whether this bill would take discretion away from the chair, and it does not. The Parole Board would still have the discretion it has always had, although the bill tries to make it look otherwise.
The Conservatives have said that there was a substantial change in that regard. The fact is, Bill does not alter the ability of the Parole Board to do the job it has been doing all along. The chair of the Parole Board actually went even further when asked whether any new requirements in this legislation will add anything to the current practices of the board.
I will quote his answer. He stated:
The new information that will be provided with the legislation will trigger a review by the board, as is currently the case when any new information regarding an offender is provided to the Parole Board of Canada prior to an offender's release, which we obtain from CSC.
Again, what is contained in Bill is already in practice. It has been the practice of the Parole Board.
That is why the bill is more perception. In my view, it is not just perception, but the way the government named this bill, the drug-free prisons act, is deception to the very core when it has very little to do with that and does not deal with the real issue of drugs in prisons.
If we are to stop drugs in prisons, we have to stop the market. If we are to get people off drugs, penalties are will not do it alone. It requires programming, treatment and constant follow up. That is the only way to get people off these addictions. There is no question that people face drug and alcohol addictions. Some people do small break and enters and some get into greater crimes as they get hooked on drugs. It is a serious problem and we have to reduce the market both in prisons and in Canadian society.
I will tell a story about the correctional system. I will give the government some credit for maintaining some of the programs that were started years ago to get people off drugs.
A constituent of mine had a son who was terribly addicted to drugs, got caught doing a small crime, and was going to be sentenced to two years less a day. That parent came to me to see if I could advise her in any way on how to get her son committed to a federal institution, which is a very tough place to spend time. Of course, there was nothing I could do.
Her concern was that her son would go into a provincial institution for a small crime. Because he was so addicted to drugs, he would commit bigger crimes over time. She felt if she could get him committed to a federal institution for two years or more, maybe her son would be able to take part in the programming to get him off drugs and become a better contributor to Canadian society.
I raise that point to indicate how serious the drug issue is and just imposing penalties, as this bill would try to do based on a urine sample, is certainly not in any way going to make prisons drug free.
When the Correctional Investigator testified before the committee, he too expressed his observation that Bill added nothing to the process and procedures currently in use with respect to the parole of offenders. He stated:
The window of opportunity targeted by this bill is very narrow....As members might be aware, the parole board already takes into consideration positive urinalysis results or refusal to provide a sample when making parole eligibility decisions. The board also frequently imposes a “do not consume” or “abstain from drugs and alcohol” prohibition on those on parole or statutory release and temporary absences. Bill C-12 would simply put these practices into legislation.
The Office of the Correctional Investigator, whose specific role is the environment within which federal offenders are maintained and hopefully rehabilitated, has issued report after report with direct reference to the issue of drug use within our federal institutions.
Again, with respect to Bill , the Correctional Investigator was clear about the obvious intent motivating the legislation. He said:
—Bill C-12 contemplates cancelling a parole grant on the basis of a positive drug test regardless of when the drug was ingested. Without condoning drug use, we should be clear-sighted about the consequences of proposed legal measures. This is not about making federal prisons drug-free or treating substance abuse. It is about punishing illicit drug use in prison.
That is a pretty serious charge from the Correctional Investigator. It is about punishment; it is not about cure. We will not make prisons drug-free unless we find ways to establish a cure.
I would remind the government that the objective of drug-free prisons is not something that the legislation before us would even faintly achieve.
In its 2011-12 annual report, the Office of the Correctional Investigator made the following observation with respect to the prevalence of drugs within our federal prisons. It reads:
A “zerotolerance” stance to drugs in prison, while perhaps serving as an effective deterrent posted at the entry point of a penitentiary, simply does not accord with the facts of crime and addiction in Canada or elsewhere in the world.
According to that same annual report of the Correctional Investigator, “Almost two-thirds of federal offenders report being under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicants when they committed the offence that led to their incarceration”. The current population is about 15,000, so that would mean about 10,000 people. However, what is more disturbing is that a very high percentage of the offender population that abuses drugs is also concurrently struggling with mental illness.
My point in raising these facts is that it is a much bigger issue than urine testing. As the member for said earlier, it is a health issue. It is a huge issue in our society and in our prisons. We have to use programming that actually deals with the addiction problem to get to the bottom of this issue.
Yes, these people in prison have committed a crime, but in most cases, they will come out and be on our streets again. How do we give them the best opportunity to become good citizens and contribute to our economy, raise families and live in communities? That is what we should focus on here and not just the punishment aspect that the bill tries to portray.
The Correctional Investigator in his 2013-14 annual report was critical of the government's continued refusal to develop a comprehensive program to respond to continued drug use in penitentiaries and to undermining a key program within Correctional Services Canada, CSC, to address the addiction program
With respect to the former, the report found that:
Interdiction and suppression in the absence of a more comprehensive range of treatment, prevention and harm reduction measures will not eliminate the demand (or supply) of contraband drugs or alcohol.
According to the evidence provided to the public safety committee by the commissioner for CSC, upon admission, “about 80% of offenders arrive with a serious substance abuse problem”. He went on to inform the committee that anywhere up to 90% of a standing prison population would have a lifetime problem of substance misuse or dependence and that “this dependency does not magically disappear when they arrive at our gates”, meaning the prison gates.
Members can see how big the issue really is.
The critical issue then is that of therapy for those incarcerated with substance abuse problems. On this point, the record is clear. Again, the Correctional Investigator confirmed in his testimony before the committee that “We've seen a decrease in the actual dollars being spent on substance abuse programming this year over last year”. I want to emphasize that quote because it is something the parliamentary secretary earlier indicated might have been untruthful.
Let us call the bill for what it is. Unless the addiction issue is addressed, a problem acknowledged by public safety itself, titling a bill a drug-free prison act is really an act of fraud. It is deception, deception to the core. A drug-free prison act means nothing. The only way to get drug-free prisons is if we do the programming inside prisons. CSC admits 80% of the people have a drug or alcohol addiction before they come into the prison. That may have been part of the reason why they did the crime that put them there in the first place, or there may have been other background issues.
Yes, they have to do their time and pay the penalty and pay the price to society for the crime that they undertook, but if we are to have a better society as a country, we have to make prisons places of rehabilitation, not universities for crime. Make them places of rehabilitation that these individuals can come out, be gainfully employed and contribute to our society.
I am running out of time, but let me make one last point. I want to emphasize the fact that we will support the bill. The bill will not do any harm because the Parole Board still has discretion at the end of the day, although there will be some pressure on the Parole Board as a result of the legislation maybe to deny parole where it otherwise might not have. However, the bill will not do a whole lot of harm, but it sure as heck will not do a whole lot of good either.
I would encourage the government to do this. Instead of giving bills fancy titles and taking up House and committee time with a bill that really would do very little, it would be better off to come in with rehabilitation programs for individuals, stronger programs, to get off drug and alcohol addiction so when they have done their time, they can contribute to society in a way that will help our economy and communities. The objective ought to be that.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to speak to this bill. I have heard my hon. colleagues from and , and I agree with much of what they said. I will try to avoid repeating the good points that they made and focus in on why I agree that this bill is so very lacking.
The essential difficulty goes beyond the fact that the bill does not address the serious problems within our prisons or the issue of drugs and addiction in any way that would make a meaningful difference. The essential difficulty—and this is something that bears repeating—is that as with so many bills in this place, the legislation coming at us has not been designed through the lens of someone who wants to improve public policy in an area for which the federal government has jurisdiction but rather through the lens of someone designing a brochure for the next election campaign. The titles are whiz-bang, the claims are extravagant, and the bills themselves are, in some cases, wide-ranging and disastrous, as in the case of the omnibus budget bill, Bill .
In the case of this bill, it has an overreaching title. Of course, who would not agree that it would be a good thing to have drug-free prisons? The title of the bill is the . In a grand total of five clauses, one of which is “This Act may be cited as the Drug-Free Prisons Act” , we have a regime that would require an offender who has already been granted parole to be subjected to a request for a urine analysis. If they refuse or test positive, the bill would then have this information referred to the Parole Board to determine whether the parole should still be granted.
There are a lot of things wrong with this idea just as a practical matter. For one thing, the Parole Board already has the power to take into consideration whether an offender is currently drug-addicted or has substance abuse issues that would affect whether they will reoffend.
The nature of urinalysis testing is that some drugs will be detected for quite a long time after the offender's use of that drug, whereas other drugs could be in and out of the offender's system rather quickly. For instance, we could have an offender in prison who was a cannabis user. That drug would still show up a long time after the last use. However, if the offender had been using cocaine, it would disappear within two days. The bill does not actually address the question of whether we are releasing someone who has a drug addiction onto the streets; rather, it answers the question of particular drugs.
As it has been pointed out by witnesses before the committee, the bill would certainly do nothing about someone with an alcohol abuse problem. In terms of the percentage of dangerous offences committed by somebody misusing alcohol versus using cannabis, I cannot tell members how often I have talked to RCMP officers who tend to relax when they approach a house and are told to be very careful because someone in there has been smoking marijuana. I have heard this story from so many of them. However, if they are told to be careful because someone in the house has been drinking heavily, they worry, because the tendency is a violent reaction.
I am not encouraging marijuana use, but when we talk about violent criminal acts, alcohol is a serious problem. This bill would do absolutely nothing to determine if this is someone who might reoffend because of a substance abuse issue that relates to alcohol.
Let us talk about the state of our prisons. We have had some claims made so far in the debate today, but I found statistics online from the Correctional Service of Canada and from the Correctional Investigator's report that were not in recent evidence before the committee, and they indicate that between 1997 and 2008, the percentage of offenders in Canadian prisons who were dealing with mental health issues doubled. The issue of mental health in the prison population is more prevalent today than it was in 1997.
Substance abuse issues are often linked to mental health issues. This point has been made, including in the debate today. The problem with substance abuse and people with mental health issues who self-medicate to try to deal with their own demons in the absence of counselling and help is that they turn to drug addiction.
Quite a significant proportion of people in the prison system were really in need of mental health assistance, support, counselling, and treatment before they entered the prison population, and are still in need of it as they leave the prison population. Some of those people are also, as an aspect of their mental health issues, dealing with substance abuse and addiction.
We have heard it claimed here today by the parliamentary secretary that we should be extremely satisfied to hear that $9 million was spent this year on addiction counselling for substance abuse in Canadian prisons. I am happy to accept the $9 million figure, but if we go online and look up Correctional Service Canada, we see that $11 million was spent on substance abuse in 2008-09. From the testimony of Conservative members of Parliament, we know that $2 million less is being spent this year than four years ago, and we also know that the prison population has been growing in that time. We also know from earlier statistics that the trend lines show that more offenders in our prison system have mental health and addiction issues than a decade ago.
I could speculate as to why that is. We do know that cutbacks, which I lament and which I know a lot of Conservative members of Parliament have raised while I have been here as a member of Parliament, to kill the deficit back in the 1990s, the cuts to transfers to provinces, downloaded a lot of problems on provincial governments, including cuts to a lot of mental health services. We transferred a lot of social problems from mental health services at the provincial level to the people who were essentially living on the streets, which I think has contributed to the fact that the offender population with mental health issues has gone up.
What on earth would this bill do to improve the situation? The answer is absolutely nothing. Not one more dime will go to mental health treatment or addiction counselling. Nothing will improve the situation for either the offender population or public safety under this bill. This bill pretends that we are doing something about drugs in prison, because it will make a good brochure for the next election campaign. It does nothing for the prison population. It does nothing for public safety.
To confirm that point, I turn to the evidence of Howard Sapers, the Correctional Investigator of Canada, before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. I know that some of Mr. Sapers' testimony has already been referenced by members of the official opposition and the Liberal Party, but I do want to draw attention to a number of his conclusions. He points out the following:
Four out of five offenders arrive at a federal institution with a past history of substance abuse and dependancy. The use of alcohol and drugs is a criminal risk factor for a significant proportion of the offender population; however, urinalysis testing is ineffectual in monitoring or reducing the risk linked to alcohol use and dependency.
I want to underscore this. This remedy this bill puts forward will not create drug-free prisons—and the text of the bill in fact makes no pretence to having anything to do with drug-free prisons but rather punishing someone at the point of parole who might test positive—and will do nothing about one of the largest criminal risk factors, which is alcohol dependency.
When looking at this issue, we know that we need an integrated, coordinated program throughout Correctional Service Canada to redouble our efforts. This ties into another issue that has been raised recently, that some of the prison population can be radicalized to terrorist ideology when they are in prison. These are people in desperate need of mental health services and addiction counselling.
Specifically, the shooter who broke in here on October 22 had earlier begged a judge back in 2012 in a Vancouver courtroom to send him for addiction counselling, to send him to a place that could help him with mental health counselling. I believe that if we had had those services in place, we might have saved two lives on that day. Most particularly and most importantly, we could have saved the life of Corporal Nathan Cirillo, had his attacker received the help he desperately needed.
We cannot second guess these things but should be investing in mental health treatment, counselling, addiction services, and in making sure that offenders in our prison system are treated in ways that would allow them to re-enter society as contributing citizens. We should not be finding ways to deny them parole at the last minute.
I close with these words of Howard Sapers:
A better and more cost-effective way to prevent crime is to put more of our limited resources into addiction treatment and prevention programs. Zero-tolerance or punitive-based approaches to drug use and abuse and addiction simply do not work in prison.
Let us be smart. Let us do what needs to be done. Drug-free prisons are a fine goal, but the bill is a fraud on the goals the Canadian public will be told that the bill serves.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill . I find the short title of the bill slightly more interesting. The Conservative government chose to call it the drug-free prisons act.
Clearly, when we saw that title, we were very curious to find out what this promised drug-free prisons act was going to contain.
I was relatively surprised in one sense, but not in another, to see that the bill had nothing to do with drug-free prisons. Bill adds a provision to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that makes clear that, when deciding whether someone is eligible for parole, the Parole Board can take into account the fact that the offender tested positive for drugs in a urinalysis or refused to provide a urine sample for a drug test. That is already happening. The Parole Board has already been using this practice for quite some time.
We support this provision, but we realize that it has to do with the Parole Board. It has nothing to do with the inmates in our federal prisons right now.
Therefore, this title is unfortunately a bit flawed. It is sad that the government is trying to make Canadians believe that it wants to address the drug addiction problem in our federal prisons, when it is actually trying to use this bill to simply say that what the Parole Board is doing is fine and that it needs to keep doing it.
Bill therefore has a relatively misleading title. We tried to amend it at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. The NDP introduced an amendment to change the short title to better describe Bill C-12. The title we proposed was the drug test failures and parole act, which I think better reflects the bill.
I point this out because many witnesses said that Bill was not really doing what the short title suggested. The bill is not bad. I would like to tell that to everyone in the House. In committee, we all agreed that this is not a bad bill as such. However, the title was really an irritant whenever we had to discuss this bill. The short title has nothing to do with the bill. The bill is not bad, but it will not lead to drug-free prisons.
I would like to quote the member for . Replacing the parliamentary secretary, he attended the meetings of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security on Bill . He himself admitted that the short title was probably going a bit too far. We were able to see that, even among the Conservatives, not everyone was really comfortable with the short title of this bill.
I hope that the Conservatives will do their homework next time and present us with a bill whose short title will actually reflect its content.
That being said, I will not dwell on the fact that the Conservatives often play politics with their short titles or bills. The titles do not always reflect the bills they go with, but they seem very nice when they are presented to the public and Canadians see them without reading the actual bills.
We in the NDP have very clear positions when it comes to the prison population, prisons and the eradication of drug addiction. We have always supported measures that seek to make our prisons safer. However, the Conservative government continues to ignore the recommendations of correctional staff and the Correctional Investigator, in particular, that would help reduce violence, street gang activities and drug use in our prisons. Virtually all stakeholders agree that this bill will have little impact on drug use in our prisons. Almost all of us agree that there will be no impact on drug use in our prisons.
Once again, the government is going to use this bill as an opportunity to cater to the wishes of its base, without actually proposing real solutions to the problems of drugs and gangs in prisons. I am enormously disappointed in this aspect of the Conservative government's strategy on such an important issue.
As I said, Bill is not necessarily a solution to a real problem and we are all—especially the members of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security—aware of that. Members of the House, who have examined a number of bills, are at least partly aware of the situation in our prisons. We know that there are mental health, addiction and gang-related problems. There are therefore a number of problems and things to fix in our correctional system. Again, this bill could have been a good example of the sort of work we can do together as parliamentarians, but unfortunately we were not able to do it.
I would like to talk about what the bill should perhaps have included and about the eradication of addiction in our prisons. In 2012, a Public Safety Canada study confirmed that it is not very realistic to think that drug-free prisons can be created. I know that may be a shocking thing to hear, but the problem of eliminating drugs in prisons is extremely complex, for a number of reasons. The government should take a leadership role in this matter but, as parliamentarians, our work is to ensure that drugs