Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.
It's nice to be back with you once again dealing with another piece of very important legislation concerning the security and the public safety of Canadians. That is Bill , which is legislation that would amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another act.
I am pleased to be joined here today with representatives of the Correctional Service of Canada. The commissioner of the service, Anne Kelly, is to my left. Fraser Macaulay is the acting senior deputy commissioner. Jennifer Wheatley is the assistant commissioner for health services.
To my right, from the Department of Public Safety is Angela Connidis, the director general of crime prevention of the corrections and criminal justice directorate.
In every aspect of corrections, our priority is always the safety of staff, inmates and the public. The best way to ensure that is to support safe, effective rehabilitation.
Institutional safety and staff safety above all is a prerequisite for all the rehabilitative work that happens in the federal corrections system. For safety reasons, sometimes certain inmates need to be separated from the general population.
Currently, the tool for doing that is administrative segregation, which involves keeping someone in their cell for as many as 22 hours a day, with very little in the way of rehabilitative programming, interventions or meaningful human contact.
However, in the last year, two court cases—one in Ontario and the other in British Columbia—have found in different ways and for different reasons that segregation is unconstitutional, as currently practised. Those decisions are currently being appealed. One is being appealed by the government, while the other is being appealed by the other party.
As things stand, those rulings will take effect in the coming months. In fact, with one of them in December and another one in January, we need to be prepared for those legal inevitabilities.
Bill proposes to eliminate segregation altogether and establish structured intervention units, or SIUs, as an alternative. These units will be separate from the general population, so that the safety imperative in our institutions will be met, but the SIUs will be designed and they will be resourced to ensure the people who are placed there receive the interventions, the programming and the treatment that they require.
There will be a minimum of four hours daily out of the cell and a minimum of two hours daily of meaningful interaction with other people, including the staff, volunteers, elders, chaplains, visitors and other compatible inmates. There will also be a particular focus on mental health care, with new mental health professionals hired and assigned to the SIUs.
The idea is to ensure that people can be separated from the general inmate population, when that is necessary for important safety reasons, but only for as long as necessary and without sacrificing the access to rehabilitative programs, mental health care and other interventions that help reduce the risk that offenders pose, both while they are incarcerated and upon release.
There were a number of issues raised by various members about this part of the bill, during second reading debate in the House, and I will try to address as many of them as I can.
First, the question of staff safety was brought up several times, so again, I will underscore that the safety of correctional personnel is absolutely priority number one. Employees, including correctional officers, parole officers, program staff, health care providers and others, do a very important, difficult job in challenging circumstances. But only when they are safe is it possible for the correctional service to achieve its mandate, which is carrying out sentences and rehabilitating offenders.
Under this legislation, Bill , institutions will retain the ability to separate offenders who pose a safety risk from the general population, and within SIUs incompatible inmates will never be mixed together. In other words, the new system will not increase the safety risk to correctional staff in any way.
Questions were also asked during the debate about why the bill doesn't include an external oversight mechanism and a cap on the number of days an offender can spend in an SIU.
The fact is that these were measures proposed as a way of guarding against the overuse of administrative segregation, because that system has been criticized as having harmful effects on inmates' mental health.
The point is this. We are getting rid of administrative segregation. The arguments pertaining to administrative segregation are thus no longer relevant. Structured intervention units will, compared with the previous system, have mental health care at their core, along with other interventions, programs and meaningful human contact. They are therefore qualitatively different from segregation.
Nevertheless, there is a robust system of review built into this legislation. The law is clear that placement in an SIU may only last as long as absolutely necessary, and the warden will review an SIU placement within five days to ensure that the necessity remains the case. If a person is still there after another 30 days, the warden will conduct another review. The commissioner will conduct her own reviews every 30 days thereafter. Additionally—and this is an important point—a health care professional can recommend removal from the SIU at any time.
Having said that, we of course understand the important need for accountability. To ensure that the new system is implemented as intended is our goal. To that end, once SIUs are up and running, the correctional service will publish statistics on a quarterly basis so that Canadians can see exactly how many people have been in SIUs and for how long. The commissioner will notify the correctional investigator whenever someone hits the 30-day mark and every 30 days after that. Community partners, such as the John Howard Society, the Elizabeth Fry Society, St. Leonard's Society of Canada and others, will be welcomed into the SIUs to see how they are functioning and to provide important feedback. That feedback and transparency are an important part of the way we want to make this system work.
Finally, speaking of making it work, we know that the new system will require new resources. Providing interventions, programs and treatments to offenders outside of the general population is a labour-intensive proposition. We understand that and we will be providing the resources necessary for it to happen effectively and safely.
Safety is the bottom line. The legislation prioritizes the safety of correctional employees and of the people in their custody. In fact, by enhancing the interventions and treatment provided to inmates who pose a particular risk, the new SIU system will help lower that risk and make the institutions safer. Ultimately, when their sentences are over, offenders are more likely to return safely to our communities if they have received effective rehabilitative programming, interventions and treatment.
I've only dealt with one aspect of the bill, that dealing with the SIUs, which is the largest aspect of the bill. There are several other components to this legislation. I would be happy to answer questions about those other components.
I would just make the point that they are all in aid of the same objective, to run a system that is safe and secure, and to run a system that is ultimately successful in rehabilitation so that in the future we will have fewer offenders, fewer victims and safer communities.
I think the two names in themselves are indicative. On the one hand, you have administrative segregation where the focus, obviously, in the title is on separation and the important issue of security.
With a structured intervention unit, the security emphasis is not lost, but what is added is the notion of intervention. The way the existing system of administrative segregation works.... Even though the correctional system will try very hard to continue with interventions, treatment programs, outside visitations and so forth, the way administrative segregation is structured it's just very difficult to accomplish anything but the segregation.
Under the new approach, there will be separated facilities, or units within facilities, that will accomplish the purpose of getting people apart when that is necessary to maintain safety and security, but they will be physically designed and resourced in such a way that the interventions will continue.
By definition, the people who are likely to be in a structured intervention unit are the ones who probably need the greatest attention and treatment and have the need for those external interventions.
It's a bit counterproductive when you just put them into a segregated area and are not able to continue the interventions. We're trying to maintain all of the dimensions of security that are necessary but to make sure that the structure and design and resourcing.... As I indicated, we'll be hiring additional mental health professionals, among others. The whole point is to continue the treatment, the interventions, the attention and the programming that they need to reduce the risk that they pose.
Thank you very much, Chair.
Minister, thank you for being here.
I just want touch on this issue of independent review. You'll recall that in the 1990s, when Justice Arbour commented on the situation, her notion was around this fact that essentially power was being taken away to a certain extent from the courts because of the abuse and misuse of solitary confinement.
She would probably not like me paraphrasing, but I'll do my best. Her assessment was that, essentially, the courts were being to a certain extent impeded on because the nature of the punishment was changing through the way that solitary confinement was being used at the time. From what we've seen with these court decisions, arguably that hasn't changed. She called for judicial oversight.
In Bill , there is this notion that with the commissioner—and I say this, of course, with all due respect—and the institutional head, the warden essentially, will be reviewing and that's satisfactory. However, my issue is that even the Ontario decision, which didn't go as far as the B.C. decision, says that the person who is reviewing shouldn't be in any way influenced, or in the circle of influence, or reporting to the person who made the decision.
If the commissioner is designating an area and designating an inmate, and the warden is then the one who is reviewing every—what is it?—five days or so, does that not contravene what the judge's assessment was about the circle of influence that can prevent this review from being truly independent?