Good morning, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
I am joined today by Sylvie Blanchet, the Executive Vice-Chairperson, and Martin van Ginhoven, the Regional Director General of the Quebec Office.
I would like to start by extending my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Marylène Levesque. What happened in Quebec on January 22, is an absolute tragedy, and something that should never happen.
We all understand why we are here today. I want to take a couple of minutes to put a frame around that.
On September 19, 2019, a parole hearing was held for this offender. Two Parole Board members reviewed his case to decide whether or not to continue his day parole. During this hearing, the parole officer presented to Parole Board members a release plan that included an element that would allow this offender to solicit women for sexual purposes. The Parole Board members categorically rejected this part of the plan. I want to be very clear about this. They ordered the offender and his parole officer to stop this activity.
The offender clearly understood this, which is confirmed in the recent court statement. The rest of the plan was approved, and a decision to continue day parole was made with a number of conditions, including to report any relationships with women, whether sexual or non-sexual.
On January 22, we were advised that this offender had been charged with the murder of Ms. Levesque. Following that, there was much misreporting and misunderstanding about the conditional release system, so I'd like to provide a few clarifications.
First, the Parole Board is an independent administrative tribunal, which means our decision-making remains free from external and/or political influence. This independence ensures that decisions made by Parole Board members are made solely on the law and the information available to them.
Second, public safety is the paramount consideration in all Parole Board decisions. That is the law.
Third, the Parole Board does not prepare offenders for release. It does not manage or supervise offenders on release. That's the responsibility of the Correctional Service of Canada. The Parole Board is a decision-making body. We conduct approximately 16,000 reviews a year which translates into about 23,000 decisions. Violent reoffending by offenders that the Parole Board has released into the community is extremely rare. About 99.9% of all offenders on day parole have not reoffended violently, and these numbers have been consistent over the past decade.
However, when an incident like this occurs in the community, we take it very seriously. A board of investigation is now under way, as is the normal practice following this kind of incident. It is being co-chaired by two independent external individuals who are criminologists. The Parole Board is fully invested in finding out what happened in this case and to see if there are things we could do better.
The motion of the House also notes concern about the appointment process of board members.
The process to become a Parole Board member is open to all Canadians. It is merit-based. There is a screening process, a written test, interviews and reference checks.
I can say with confidence that the names I forward to the minister for his consideration are all those of highly qualified individuals who could become very good board members.
The Parole Board is a community board. We are, by law, to reflect the diversity of Canadian society. Board members have diverse backgrounds spanning the fields of criminology, law, corrections, education, psychology, social work and the private sector, to name but a few.
We currently have 78 board members. Thirty-nine are full time and 39 part time. Part-time board members are appointed for three years, as prescribed by law, and full-time board members are currently appointed for five years, although the law provides for appointments of up to 10 years.
Over the past few years, the board has improved its diversity to better reflect that of the Canadian population. Fifty-three per cent are women; 7% are visible minorities and 12% are indigenous. Ninety-five per cent of board members have a university degree; 64% have direct experience in the criminal justice field and 32% have direct experience in corrections and conditional release.
Upon appointment, all board members complete an intensive 6-week training program. ln a nutshell, they receive training on relevant law, policy, risk assessment for various offender types, such as women, indigenous, lifers, sex offenders and so forth.
They are then mentored and coached by their respective regional vice-chair, other experienced board members and training staff. Absolutely no board member is assigned any decision-making responsibilities until they have completed their training and have the full confidence of their regional vice-chair. If the committee would like additional information on this training program, I would be more than pleased to provide it.
Training continues on a regular basis throughout a board member's entire mandate. Parole Board members are also supported by highly qualified public service staff. They include hearing officers, case review officers, training staff and our board member secretariat. The law and therefore Parole Board decisions are based on research that clearly shows that gradual, managed and supervised releases provide the best protection of society. The board's risk assessment model is evidence-based and has been adopted in a number of other jurisdictions.
Over the last three decades, there has been continuous improvement in the public safety results the board achieves. It achieves this in partnership with many others, including the Correctional Service of Canada and many community partners. It reflects the research that has continued to progress on risk assessment and the management of risk. In fact, when former Parole Board chairperson Fred Gibson appeared before this committee in 1990, the success rate of offenders released by the board who completed their sentence without incurring a new charge hovered around 70%. Today, it is over 98%.
As much as we strive for excellence in our decision-making, predicting human behaviour unfortunately is not and likely will never be an exact science. In the very rare instances such as this case, where an offender reoffends violently, it is devastating to me, to our board members and to our staff.
In closing, I want to extend my sympathies once again to the family and friends of Marylène Levesque.
I would like to again say to them, to members of this committee and to the Canadian public that I take these incidents very seriously, and I will review all recommendations that could help us continue to improve the board's decision-making.
I am joined today by Alain Tousignant, Senior Deputy Commissioner, and Larry Motiuk, the Assistant Commissioner, Policy.
First, I wish to express my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Marylène Lévesque for the terrible tragedy that took place in Quebec on January 22. This is not an outcome any of us ever want to see. We are committed to getting answers for everyone affected by this.
As you know, there are two investigations under way. The first is a criminal investigation by the Quebec City police, and the second is a joint Correctional Service of Canada and Parole Board of Canada investigation.
Given the various aspects of this case and involvement by two separate organizations, this joint investigation is key to getting a comprehensive account of what happened. All five board of investigation members are skilled and experienced, bringing various perspectives to this process. Two external community board members, who are also criminologists, are co-chairing the investigation. This brings added openness and transparency to the process. Once the investigation is completed, we are committed to communicating the results with this committee and Canadians.
I want to be very clear: CSC does not condone offenders seeking sexual services and I am deeply concerned by what happened. I am in my 37th year with the service and can firmly attest to the fact that this is not something that we, as an organization, endorse in how we manage offenders.
I want to be very clear with the committee that CSC does not condone offenders seeking sexual services. I am greatly concerned by what happened. I am in my 37th year with the service, and can firmly attest to the fact this is not something that we as an organization endorse in how we manage offenders. I have made this message very clear throughout the organization and ordered a review of all community strategies across the country as an added measure.
Until the investigations are completed, I cannot speak to the specifics of this case, but I can outline the case management and conditional release process.
CSC's approach is governed by a very comprehensive piece of legislation called the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. Public safety is the most important consideration that underlies everything we do. During the incarceration period, public safety is achieved by ensuring the secure custody of the offender and maintaining a safe environment for both staff and offenders. But incarceration is only a temporary solution, as the vast majority of offenders will eventually be released into the community and become our neighbours. Therefore, an equally important job of corrections is to prepare offenders to safely and successfully return to the community as law-abiding citizens.
As soon as the offender receives their sentence, CSC begins the process of assisting them to become law-abiding citizens. Each offender has their own correctional plan, which is based on addressing the specific factors that relate to their criminal behaviour. The correctional plan details all the programs and interventions to be undertaken by the offender to address the problems that led to their incarceration. It acts as a yardstick against which the offender's progress can be measured throughout the sentence.
The offender’s progress in meeting the requirements of their correctional plan is a significant consideration in any decision related to the offender, with public safety being the paramount consideration.
All offenders are eligible at some point to be considered for some form of conditional release. Federal correctional legislation sets out various types of conditional release that provides offenders with gradually increasing degrees of freedom and trust that help make their transition safer.
Conditional release, however, does not mean the sentence is over, not at all. Conditional release means the offender is serving that part of their sentence in the community, under supervision and abiding by strict conditions. Community supervision is integral to our work, as research consistently shows that the gradual, structured and supervised release process represents an effective means of facilitating a safe and successful reintegration.
The assessment of the offender's risk forms the basis of any conditional release decision made by the Parole Board of Canada. CSC provides information to the board on the offender's criminal history, their involvement in programs and interventions, their release plan and release suitability, and then ultimately makes a recommendation to the Parole Board, including a recommendation for the conditions of release. In addition, community agencies, police, victims and others provide input about an offender's ability to reintegrate successfully. This information assists the board in determining whether an offender should be released and under what conditions.
When offenders are released into the community, the community supervision is carried out by community parole officers who monitor the offender's behaviour and compliance with release conditions. As part of this supervision, the parole officer maintains regular contact with the offender, as well as with police, employers, mental health professionals, the offender's family and others who are involved in the offender's life. This ongoing appraisal by the parole officer provides a continuing assessment of the offender's risk to reoffend. If the parole officer has concern about the offender's risk to the community, the offender can be returned to custody.
ln addition to monitoring and supervising offenders, an important part of the parole officer's job is to ensure offenders are linked to community services, volunteers and programs that can help them successfully reintegrate. In general, the more ties offenders have to the community, the more likely they are to make the successful transition.
Building safer communities is a complex process and CSC cannot and does not work in isolation. As just one component of the criminal justice system, CSC not only works closely with traditional criminal justice partners but also relies on the participation and support of the community.
Communities provide services to offenders and their families that are a vital part of an offender’s safe reintegration. Our community partners include individual volunteers and community organizations such as the St. Leonard's Society of Canada and the Salvation Army.
Offenders come from the community and the vast majority return to the community. Assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens is the most significant contribution CSC can make to keeping communities safe. Having started my career as a parole officer, I have full appreciation for the nature of the work done by our staff on the front line. It is an important job with a critical role in ensuring public safety. This is why in early February, in addition to meeting with the chief of the Quebec police, I also met with the Quebec regional employees, who are deeply distraught by this tragic incident, to stress the importance of continuing their vital work of supervising offenders in our communities.
Although risk assessment is not an exact science, we manage risk through a robust framework of evidence-based decision-making using the best available information with the assistance of the best tools at our disposal. While I do not want to undermine in any way the seriousness of what happened here, it is important to note that it is incredibly rare. This was also highlighted by the correctional investigator on February 25, when he appeared before this committee. He underlined that this was an “extreme case”.
ln fact, we know that in 2018-19, 99.9% of offenders successfully completed their day parole supervision period without recommitting a violent offence. Moreover, our results show that there was an increase in the safe transition of offenders into the community.
For example, more offenders on conditional release successfully reached the end of their sentence without re-admission, in comparison with the results five years ago.
I know that the correctional investigator recently suggested that CSC is resistant to change. I want to take the opportunity to set the record straight.
We have shown much openness and commitment to making positive improvements to federal corrections. We have seen historic and transformative change in recent years. This past November, we eliminated segregation and implemented structured intervention units. Our correctional programs consistently deliver positive results in reducing reoffending and we continue to focus on improving our culture.
It takes sustained commitment, effort and dedication to deliver good corrections. We know that there is more work to do and we remain committed to self-reflection and improvement. Public safety is at the core of what we do. This is an unequivocal responsibility and a prerequisite to successfully transitioning offenders to the community.
When tragic events happen, we have a duty to closely examine our business to see what we can do better to serve and protect Canadians.
ln closing, I would once again like to express my sympathies to the family and friends of Marylène Levesque.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
First of all, I didn't do this with my first intervention, but let me express my great sympathy for the tragedy that has occurred to Marylène Levesque. Her family deserves our sincere condolences and sympathy. This is a terrible tragedy that ought never to happen again.
I want to go back to the situation, as there's been some confusion here about statutory release and this, that and the other thing. I want to quote for the record, from the Parole Board of Canada, information on the website of the Government of Canada. It talks about life sentences. It says:
A life sentence means life. Lifers will never again enjoy total freedom.
...lifers are not entitled to statutory release.
Not all lifers will be granted parole. Some may never be released on parole because they continue to represent too great a risk to re-offend.
The conditions of no parole for 15 years in the case of the life sentence of Mr. Gallese meant that he was not entitled to parole unless he could establish that he would not be a risk. That's very different from statutory release, where you have to get out after serving two-thirds of your sentence. As you pointed out, 60% of the cases are like that.
This is a special case of a person sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his wife or partner being granted parole. Therefore, a high degree of care has to be taken before a positive decision is made to release this person, who is still serving a life sentence, into the community. Am I right about that?
I direct my question to the Parole Board chair.
I too would like to start by extending my sympathies to Ms. Levesque's family and by acknowledging that this was a tragedy, but also one that was extremely rare. I think everyone has acknowledged that, including the correctional investigator when he appeared here.
I also want to start by acknowledging the good work that parole officers do in the community.
Ms. Kelly, I know that you would agree with me on that, that they do yeoman's work to keep us all safe.
I want to talk about the cuts that were made under the deficit reduction action plan under the previous government. A report was done in 2015 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. It's called "The Impact of the Harper Government’s 'Tough on Crime' Strategy". It concluded that according to front-line workers, “the Harper government’s 'tough on crime' strategy and restrictive budgetary measures undermine public safety."
Over $200 million in cuts were made. I saw the impact in Winnipeg where police liaison officers with the community were cut. There was reduced frequency of contact between offenders and parole officers. There was a lack of community programs. Even a family violence program was cut.
Ms. Kelly, I'm not asking this question to insult the work done at Corrections, but I've heard from front-line officers and I heard when I visited facilities that DRAP, as it was known, had a huge impact on being able to deliver programs. Can you talk about that?
We've tried to reinvest in corrections. I think there was $343 million in the last budget. It's hard to catch up when we are coming from so far behind.
Earlier, Mr. Lightbound talked about crass partisanship, and Ms. Damoff has just demonstrated that by talking about the budget cuts in 2008. The problems we are talking about here took place during the Liberals' mandate because of decisions made by the members that they appointed. Let me remind you that they have been in power for five years.
I want to go back to the appointment process, because it is a real problem. In 2017, there was a purge, but it all started in December 2015, when sent a letter to 33 vice-chairs of various regions across Canada asking them to resign. Now the vice-chair of the Quebec region has received a letter asking him to leave. It is part of the undue pressure on independent officers. Independent they normally are, but political pressure is being put on them so that they resign.
The 2017 purge involved not renewing any of the mandates of the members who were in place, including Quebec, where the situation that concerns us at the moment occurred. It was all done because the Liberals wanted to make sure that no Conservatives remained in place. By the way, Dave Blackburn was a candidate after being a member. Before that, he had never been in politics with us.
We have to understand that the remarks that Ms. Damoff has just made are part of an ideology that wants to make changes in the name of diversity, by including indigenous women, for example. As a result of that ideology, the Liberals removed people with the experience and expertise necessary to make decisions on prisoners and murderers like Mr. Gallese.
So what is most important?
Anybody who is appointed to the board, whether we come from.... I say “we” because I come from a correctional background. I am now a board member. I had to go through the training process.
Our board members all spend time in the region for a few weeks getting to understand what their job will be. They observe hearings, meet other board members and meet staff. They come to the national office where we bring in experts on women offenders, lifers, sex offenders, violent offenders and our risk assessment framework. They learn about risk assessment. They return to the community offices across the country and they continue their training there.
Once that initial five to six weeks of training is complete, the vice-chair will decide whether or not they should start voting on specific cases. They may be able to do day parole cases, but not more difficult cases. It's a gradual beginning. They're paired with either the vice-chair or another board member with experience.
Other than that, we have ongoing training. We have an intensive indigenous training with elders. We usually do it in Montreal for our francophone board members or out west for our other board members. For three days, together with indigenous communities, they're learning about displacement, the community impacts and those decisions that have had a significant impact, such as Gladue and Twins, that they will have to make decisions on.
Then there's ongoing regional training. Martin is the regional director general and his office is responsible for that, with the vice-chair.
Sometimes staff from Corrections Canada come to talk to us about programs. We visit halfway houses. We meet with the John Howard Society. We have our annual training, which is a week-long intensive on risk assessment for board members. It's continuous.
If at any point a vice-chair says that there is a board member who has some concerns with a different type of offender or there's a concern about decision-making, we come together with the team and bring them in.
It's not like everybody doesn't get the same thing. There's the base, and then there's.... I have 28 years' experience. I probably have a little bit less than somebody coming from a different background. We all get the same first six weeks and then we build on that.