I call the meeting to order.
I understand a couple of people are in the room although I'm not seeing them. I'm obligated to note that we keep to two-metre physical distancing, wear non-medical masks and maintain proper hygiene.
Before I ask for the two witnesses, Josianne Grenier and Sandra Wesley, I want to entertain a motion. At the subcommittee meeting we arrived at four decisions, and the report of the subcommittee has been circulated to members. I ask for a motion to adopt the subcommittee report. Pam is moving it.
(Motion agreed to)
The Chair: Thank you very much. I won't go into any detail because we are running really tight.
With that, I'll welcome Ms. Wesley and Ms. Grenier, and ask you to speak in the order that you are listed on the notice.
We are running very late as you can see, so the overall hour is going to become 45 minutes. I'm going to arbitrarily take a minute off everybody's time. I apologize to the witnesses. I know it's difficult to get here, but we are dealing with the realities of virtual parliamentary proceedings.
With that, Madam Grenier, you have six minutes, please.
Good afternoon. Thank you for this opportunity.
I represent Projet intervention prostitution Québec, or PIPQ. We work specifically to address sexual exploitation and prostitution on three fronts.
First, we provide a place where people can go for their basic needs.
Second, we work to prevent youth sexual exploitation. We provide workshops and education not just in schools, but also in places where youth are more vulnerable such as youth centres. In those settings, we focus on protective factors such as self knowledge and healthy relationships.
Third, we are active on the ground, reaching out to those on the street who do not have ties to an institution. We provide support based on their needs. We also work directly in settings where sex work takes place, such as strip clubs, escort agencies and massage parlours, including the one where Marylène Levesque worked.
The PIPQ also does a lot of work with community agencies, schools, and the health and social service network, as well as prosecutors, the Quebec City police service and researchers. Through that co-operation, we can contribute our knowledge and expertise, and examine the prostitution phenomenon from all angles.
The PIPQ is ideologically neutral on the matter of prostitution. We maintain that prostitution covers a spectrum of realities, from exploitation to full consent, and everything in between. It is up to the person experiencing the situation to define and name their reality, and we help them accordingly. If the person wants to leave prostitution, we support them through the process. If they want to practise prostitution, we make sure they can do so as safely as possible.
It is out of respect for this wide range of realities and concern for the safety of the people we help that we are in favour of decriminalizing prostitution.
It was from that perspective that I wanted to appear before the committee. In light of the case that has brought us together today, I think it's essential to take a broader look at what happened, beyond the parole aspect.
Marylène Levesque's murder received considerable media coverage, not only because she was a beautiful woman with blond hair and blue eyes, but also because the circumstances surrounding her murderer revealed potentially glaring institutional failings. Many sex workers are killed in Canada, ranging from indigenous and racialized individuals to people who are trans and those living in poverty. Their cases, however, do not draw the same media attention, and the authorities may not try quite as hard to find the perpetrators. It is clear, then, that other factors need to be examined if the safety of all sex workers really does matter. One of those factors is the legislation governing prostitution—legislation that has undeniably fallen short of its objective, protecting workers.
The ideology behind the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act is clear from its name alone. The act's very existence and some of its objectives perpetuate the stigma around sex work, suggesting that it is necessarily wrong and shameful, that it should be hidden or even that it should not exist at all. The stigma is nevertheless a direct cause of the dangers associated with sex work. If you remove the stigma, sex work is not inherently dangerous. The danger stems from the fact that the person talks less about it with their family and friends. No one knows what the person is doing or where, so their circle of protection is small. Furthermore, people often see sex workers as objects, instead of women, making violence against sex workers somewhat socially acceptable.
The act also suggests that those who practise sex work are necessarily exploited, representing a significant value judgment. Here, the spectrum I mentioned earlier is important. When the legislation, policies and programs that receive funding deny an entire reality on the spectrum, or a major part of one, regardless of people's values, it is a recipe for failure: a segment of the affected population is cast aside. It's easier to put on the blinders and forget that those people exist. In doing that, the government is lending credence to a value judgment that overrides people's safety.
Safety-wise, the act is especially problematic in two ways.
First, criminalizing clients of the sex trade has done nothing to end the demand, or even curb it, for that matter. Truth be told, it puts sex workers at risk because clients, who are scared of being caught, bring workers to places that are more isolated—places where help is not available and it is harder to escape. It also prevents workers from taking the time to vet clients before getting in the car with them, since the client is in more of a hurry.
On top of that is the fact that the act is seldom enforced. In Quebec, for instance, just 233 clients have been charged since 2014, fewer than 40 clients a year. It can't be said that the legislation has had a positive impact. All it has done is prevent sex workers from better protecting themselves.
The same is true for the criminalization of third parties who may benefit from the sex work of others. In fact, that aspect of the legislation was deemed unconstitutional by an Ontario judge less than a year ago.
That brings me to a study that came out on Thursday, by Anna-Louise Crago, a researcher at the University of British Columbia. It reveals who sex workers turn to for help when they are in danger. The findings are telling and range from one extreme to the other.
To begin with, more than 40% of the sex workers surveyed said they turned to other sex workers or those in the sector, such as security staff or managers at the establishments where they worked. That means sex workers feel safest around their co-workers and third parties—those considered criminals under the act.
Consider this. Had Marylène been able to meet her client at the massage parlour, in the presence of a third party who was keeping watch, it is reasonable to think that the perpetrator would not have had time to stab her 30 times and kill her, regardless of his criminal history or the conditions of his release.
The study also revealed that only 5% of sex workers turned to police for help because they wanted to protect third parties.
The criminalization of third parties forces sex workers to choose between two options: forgo police protection in an emergency or put themselves, their co-workers or their bosses in potential legal jeopardy.
That means violent clients are not reported, and the knowledge that they won't be reported gives clients a sense of impunity, something that can prove extremely dangerous for sex workers.
Those were a few—
I had planned to give my presentation in French, but given how little time I have, I will give it in English. I'll be able to get through it faster.
I'm the executive director of Stella, l'amie de Maimie. We're an organization by and for sex workers. We were founded in Montreal 25 years ago. Every year we make, on average, between 5,000 and 8,000 contacts with sex workers here in Montreal. We are fully by and for sex workers, meaning that our staff, our board, our members are sex workers ourselves. We represent and are accountable to our community.
As you probably know, in the Bedford case of the Supreme Court, criminalization of sex work was declared unconstitutional on the basis that it violated our rights to health and safety.
That right to safety which the Supreme Court talked about is precisely the right to not be murdered, the way Marylène Levesque was. The response of the government at the time was to fully criminalize sex work for the first time in the history of Canada and create a set of laws that does not aim to protect us, that does not aim to improve our working conditions, that does not aim to make sure we can screen clients appropriately. The only objective of this law is to eradicate sex workers from Canada. When we have a government that chooses as an objective the elimination of sex workers, we cannot be surprised when aggressors choose to be violent towards us and take up that call to eradicate sex workers from Canada.
It's pretty rare that Parliament cares about sex workers and invites us to speak, and we know there has been no such committee for the dozens of other sex workers who have been murdered since this change in the law.
Specifically in the case of Marylène Levesque, many parts of this story are very clearly tied to the criminalization of sex work. We can look at the fact this man had been a client of a massage parlour on several occasions and had been banned from that massage parlour because he was violent. It was impossible for that massage parlour at the time to call the police or to call the Parole Board because sex work is criminalized and calling the police on a violent client usually means maybe people getting arrested, people losing their source of income, attracting more police repression to our workspaces. As sex workers, it's not possible for us to do that. If they had been able to contact the police or the parole officer when he first acted violently towards a sex worker, he would have been sent back to prison and would not have had the opportunity to escalate his violence and murder Marylène Levesque.
We also know that hotels have been targeted by police repression when it comes to sex work. In the summer of 2019 police forces across Quebec launched RADAR to encourage hotels and other tourism businesses to detect sex workers and to report them to police under the guise of potentially protecting them from exploitation. We know that when Marylène Levesque walked into that hotel on that night she was preoccupied with making sure she was not detected as a sex worker. She could not tell the receptionist she was seeing a client and that if she wasn't seen in an hour or two could she be checked on. She couldn't make any arrangements for her protection because that would have led to being detected, being kicked out of the hotel and possibly arrested or having her money seized.
We also know as sex workers that when we're victims of violence, when a situation is scary with a client, we might not scream. We might try to de-escalate on our own, because we know that if we make a scene in a space like a hotel, we will face the consequences of the criminalization of sex work.
It's very clear that the criminal laws against sex work that are in place put Marylène Levesque in a position where she was not able to screen her clients. No client will agree to provide ID and go through a background check before booking an appointment in a context where he can be arrested for buying sex.
We also see in the reaction to this murder that the response from Corrections Canada and the Parole Board have been mostly to say that they are against the purpose of sex, period. Once again we're focusing on sex work as the harm instead of the actual violence that someone has experienced.
I don't have a lot of time, but one important point I want to make is that this is not a tragedy; this is not irrational or hard to predict. This is the direct effect of the decision the government made in 2014 to criminalize sex work. It is the continued impact and it is to be expected. More sex workers will be murdered if we keep these laws.
The only recommendation this committee needs to start with is the full decriminalization of sex work.
I represent thousands of women. A lot of us have been victims of violence. A lot of us could have been Marylène Levesque.
We know for a fact that if Marylène Levesque were sitting in front of you today fighting for her rights to work safely, you would be dismissing her the same way you've been dismissing sex workers for over 40 years and refusing to give us the rights that we should have.
I encourage you to make sure that the work of this committee leads to actually respecting sex workers, understanding that we will continue to exist and continue to work, and giving up this foolish and problematic quest to eradicate us from Canada. We need to be talking about our rights as workers.
We need to be making sure that we don't just pass the blame to the Parole Board of Canada and Corrections Canada, because in many cases this murder could have happened with no involvement from Corrections Canada, the same way that many sex workers have been murdered in the past few years. I would even add that on the same night Marylène Levesque was murdered in Quebec City, another young sex worker was murdered in Montreal. No one has been talking about her death, and there hasn't even been a proper investigation.
That is the reality of all marginalized sex workers across Canada. We die. We hold vigils for ourselves and try to be resilient, but Parliament maintains the position that we should be criminalized.
We know that sex workers do not report most instances of violence to police. At Stella we have a bad client and aggressor list that we've been running for 25 years. Sex workers report to us incidents of violence so that we can share that information with the community and protect ourselves. We know that since the change of law in 2014, it's even harder to denounce anything to police, and we know that police won't necessarily help.
It's also important to point out that, in terms of women who are incarcerated, a large proportion of incarcerated women are sex workers, former sex workers or future sex workers. We're very concerned about this general anti-sex work sentiment that's coming out of the investigations into this murder and about the effects this will have on women who are also coming out on parole and might be punished if they engage in sex work if there's this big anti-sex work attitude.
As you said, the vast majority of offenders are not violent and are not a threat to sex workers. This man was a threat to sex workers, not because he liked to purchase sex but because he was a violent man who targeted women in a very specific way. As sex workers, we need clients. We like the clients, and any attempt to restrict good clients from accessing our services only puts us in a situation where we have fewer good clients and more need for money, and we end up having to make compromises on our health and safety.
Thank you to the witnesses for being here. I very much appreciate their participation.
I'm going to start with Ms. Grenier.
You said in your opening statement that Marylène Levesque's case had probably received so much media coverage because she was a beautiful woman with blond hair and blue eyes. Unfortunately, you're probably right. Another reason, though, is that the case brought to light egregious errors by the government institutions involved, and that is what interests the committee. Errors were made both by the Parole Board of Canada and by the Correctional Service of Canada. At any rate, parliamentarians should pay more attention to the potential tragedies that can befall sex workers.
Specifically, I would like to follow up on a question Mr. Motz asked earlier.
You said that case management teams were not in the habit of alerting massage parlours even if they knew the offender frequented the establishment. It likely has to do with the fact that parlours fear retaliation by police.
Is it common for individuals on day parole or parole to see sex workers? Do you have any information on that?
You mentioned sex workers having access to third parties. How might that work?
I'd like to hear your comments on that.
All right. I'd be glad to answer all your questions.
As far as third parties are concerned, under the current criminal law regime, anyone who helps a sex worker practise is considered a pimp, or procurer. Therefore, if I work with a friend, one of us could be considered the other's pimp. A driver or receptionist could also be considered a procurer. Basically, under the definition of procuring, anyone who contributes to our work is considered a criminal, even if they aren't earning any money. Benefiting financially from sex work is a separate criminal offence.
Of course, third parties tend to be people who are very helpful in the practice of our work. Thanks to them, we can implement all kinds of safety measures and establish a dynamic where we have more power over clients and would-be attackers. They see that we are protected and that someone will know if anything happens to us.
In Marylène Levesque's case, I think the perpetrator was very aware of how important it was to her that no one at the hotel realize she was a sex worker. All kinds of things could have happened. For example, if she was naked, would she risk running out into the hall and being found out, only to realize that the situation wasn't as dangerous as she had thought? Those factors make a big difference.
As for how many former inmates see sex workers, it's impossible to know. There aren't any statistics on that. Keep in mind that people from all walks of life and every occupation see sex workers for a variety of reasons. Parliamentarians are just as likely as former inmates to seek out sexual services, in a wide range of circumstances. What's more, those circumstances tend not to revolve around exploitation or violence.
I want to thank both of the witnesses for their very important evidence. I think we haven't heard that perspective before this committee on this issue.
Clearly, it seems to some extent we may be barking up the wrong tree when it comes to the kind of questioning we've been placing before the CSC and the Parole Board, for example. I think it's good that there is a point of view we haven't considered in this context.
Thank you very much for your presentations, both of you.
I know it may be very difficult to answer from your points of view, Ms. Wesley and Ms. Grenier, but is there anything the Parole Board or the CSC should have done differently? As was pointed out, mistakes were made, decisions were made that led to this very unfortunate consequence for Ms. Levesque, and there is clearly some blame to be placed on the CSC and the Parole Board for their actions.
Is there something you can suggest that could have been done or should have been done differently that may have prevented this death?
Yes, there are many things.
I think the first mistakes in this case date from the very first time this man was ever arrested for violence against women and from every time after that. From what we've seen from the record, he was essentially warehoused in a prison for 15 years and then let out without any meaningful rehabilitation. We don't believe in a punitive carceral approach. We believe in serious meaningful rehabilitation and in finding ways to make sure that if someone has been incarcerated, on the day they come out they are in a different position.
When it comes to violence against women, it's an area that's particularly mistreated in the criminal justice system at every step. We are in solidarity with a lot of the demands of women who experience intimate partner violence, in terms of the criminal justice system simply not being able to address that. A lot of men are violent towards women and only towards women, and that's not addressed.
We're glad there will be training on intimate partner violence. However, that doesn't address the case here of Marylène Levesque, who was a sex worker who was murdered at work, so not in the context of an intimate partner relationship. We think that should be included. When I heard about this training, my first thought was that obviously, once again, they will talk about us without ever consulting us regarding what should be said in that training and how that should be implemented.
I think it goes beyond training. We need actual policy changes. We need to review why we incarcerate people, what we do with them while they're incarcerated, how we identify those who can't be rehabilitated, and what conditions we can put on them.
I'm quite concerned that one of the outcomes of this will be to make it harder for inmates to get out on parole. We know that a majority of people trying to get parole are in prison because of poverty, colonialism and racism. We know that indigenous people are overrepresented and Black people are overrepresented. Is the outcome going to be that the actions of this one white man will lead to more problematic incarcerations of Black and indigenous people? We're quite concerned about that.
We need meaningful reform, not simply training and statements against the sex industry.
First, the legislation criminalizes not only the purchase of sexual services, but also all activities related to sex work. This means that the sex worker commits a criminal act every time she sells her sexual services. This is much broader than simply criminalizing clients.
The impact is enormous. All sorts of information is available to show the impact.
In our community, we can see very clearly that this puts us at high risk of contracting HIV. We know that decriminalizing sex work in Canada would reduce new infections among sex workers by about 33%.
Moreover, as a result of the legislation, it's much more difficult to report violence and to access protection.
There are also many crackdowns on sex work. We've seen extreme and very traumatic cases of police crackdowns. For example, we've had 10, 20 or 30 police officers come into our establishments to catalogue our tattoos and piercings. They told us that they'll be able to identify our bodies when they find us dead. The police officers now have a mandate to convince us to stop working in the sex industry.
The criminalization of sex work has also exacerbated the overdose crisis.
With regard to missing and murdered indigenous women, we've seen that the criminalization of sex work creates vulnerabilities. The women in our communities who are most likely to be arrested or to have hostile contact with the police are also the women who are most at risk of being victims of murder, violence or other criminal acts.
Colleagues, just take note that we have five votes on Wednesday, which on the present extraordinarily efficient system will probably take us somewhere into seven o'clock, so unless something changes, I don't propose calling a meeting on Wednesday. That's not final, and certainly if people have other ideas, I'm open to them. I would be open to any suggestions or alternatives, but at this point, Wednesday does not look like it's going to work.
Thank you to the witnesses for their co-operation. As you can see, we've run the clock a bit hard here. I'm proposing that we finish by 5:45 p.m., because other members have meetings immediately beyond this.
To the clerk and members, I don't have the list of questioners. If that could be texted to me before the questions start, that would be helpful.
I want to welcome the witnesses and we will start with Mr. Henry.
I apologize, Mr. Henry. I'm going to cut you back from seven minutes to six, and it will be the same for Mr. Stapleton or Mr. Neufeld, whoever is going to occupy their six minutes. We'll cut back questioners by a minute each as well.
The other thing I would say to the witnesses is that if you would take a look at the screen at around the four-minute mark, I'll try to give you an indication of how much time you have left.
With that, Mr. Henry, you have six minutes, please.
The association's member organizations provide services in various areas. Almost all halfway houses, or about 30, in Quebec are members of the association. We also bring together organizations that specialize in employability; organizations that manage community work programs; organizations that provide specialized services for mental health, addiction, women offenders and restorative justice; organizations that provide services for the families of incarcerated people; organizations that provide advocacy services; and so on.
The foundation of the ASRSQ's work is based on empowering citizens, including offenders, to take charge of the crime issue in partnership with the government and other social groups in the community. The ASRSQ believes that the community's active role in resolving crime-related issues contributes to social development and, as a result, to the well-being of our community. The solutions must be fair and satisfactory for the victim, society and the offender.
Halfway houses are organizations that serve as a base in a community for offenders who are going through a social reintegration process and who are participating in a gradual release process. Halfway houses give individuals the opportunity to meet their basic needs. The individuals can then continue their social reintegration process, including their job searches and personal development. Halfway houses provide programs that vary from one organization to the next. These programs may focus on addiction, anger management, domestic violence, sexual offending, social skills, or other areas. For example, Maison Painchaud provides a dozen programs to its residents.
There are three types of halfway houses in Quebec: community correctional centres, or CCCs, which are managed by the Correctional Service of Canada; community residential facilities, or CRFs; and community shelters.
The ASRSQ brings together only CRFs and community shelters.
CRFs are community-based non-profit organizations. These organizations are managed by a board of directors made up of volunteers who are from the community that they serve. The halfway houses select their residents. An assessment process is put in place to determine whether the CRF is willing to support and guide the individual in the community.
I want to make it clear that the ASRSQ has no authority over its members. Member organizations are independent community organizations managed by their own boards of directors. The ASRSQ isn't involved in the day-to-day activities of its members. The ASRSQ also shouldn't be seen as a union. We're a group of organizations. As a consensus-building body, the ASRSQ is involved in various working groups with the different correctional services.
All the CRFs and community shelters in Quebec are certified by the federal and provincial correctional services in a compliance process. The compliance standards outline all aspects of the administration and operations of halfway houses in Quebec. The standards complement the contractual agreements signed between these organizations and the Correctional Service of Canada. The standards govern the organization of services, the qualifications of community workers, the programs provided by the house, the admission procedures, the accommodation requirements, the clinical supervision standards, and so on.
Halfway houses are undeniably successful when it comes to social reintegration. A study conducted in 2014 by a student from the Université de Montréal's criminology department established the recidivism rate, with or without violence, at 1.25% over the course of a stay.
I'd like to invite the committee members who wish to do so to come and visit a halfway house. There's one in Gatineau, not far from Parliament. If you want to visit the house, I'll make arrangements as soon as health conditions permit.
I'll provide some historical background to help you understand why and how the principles of what's known as direct supervision were put in place in Quebec.
The 1977 Sauvé report is a historical reminder that community organizations established the first structures for supervising people on parole in Canada.
In direct response to some of the recommendations in the 1938 Archambault report and the 1956 Fauteux report, the federal government created the National Parole Service in 1959. The organization reported directly to the National Parole Board.
With the establishment of this organization, the goal was to make these supervision activities available across Canada. Nevertheless, this didn't prevent the system from still relying heavily on the services provided by community organizations, which were then known as post-sentence agencies.
In the years that followed, a number of these community organizations chose to move away from this area of activity. The organizations considered that they had achieved their goal of providing universal access to parole. However, other organizations continue to provide this type of service. On that note, we should recall that, in 1971, Minister Jean-Pierre Goyer spoke of a fifty-fifty arrangement between the NPB and NGOs.
In the 1980s, the arrival of new players—
USJE represents all parole officers, program officers, teachers and other federal correctional employees who work in non-active security functions in Canada's 43 federal prisons, 92 community parole offices and sub-parole offices, 14 community correctional centres and four healing lodges.
The murder of Marylène Levesque was of course a tragedy, a devastating event not just for the family of the victim but also for those employees in the correctional system who work each and every day to rehabilitate offenders. Respectfully, because of an ongoing disciplinary process, USJE is not in a position to comment on any of the specifics of the case today, but we will speak to the role of parole officers in federal corrections more generally.
At any one time, there are approximately 9,000 offenders under supervision in communities throughout the country who parole officers and case management teams are mandated to supervise. Many people mistakenly believe that parole officers only work in the community, like provincial probation officers, but in fact the process to safely reintegrate offenders back into the community begins at their assessment by an intake parole officer upon their arrival at a federal institution. Once the federal inmate is assessed for criminal history, security risk and their potential for rehabilitation, the wheels are already set in motion for their release into the community.
Very few offenders enter a federal facility with no prospect of leaving it. This is equally true of offenders with a history of violent offences. It is not parole officers who make these rules but the judges who give the sentences. Additionally, it is the Parole Board of Canada, as you know, who is mandated to carefully review an offender's application for parole. It is the Parole Board who imposes the conditions under which offenders are supervised in the community.
There is no doubt that federal parole officers who work directly with the offenders while they are incarcerated play a crucial role in making recommendations about the conditions for the offender's release. Ultimately, however, these are just recommendations. That being said, parole officers play a pivotal role in preparing offenders and advancing public safety. Sadly, however, they are not always treated that way. In the case of a violent offender, such as someone who has murdered his or her spouse, you might think that parole officers are given more time to carefully assess the background and circumstances of an offender with a history of committing a homicide. This is not the case. Caseloads are extremely heavy in federal corrections, and no distinctions are made based on complexity or the violent past of the offender.
You may also think that a parole officer would have clerical support to support the acquisition of crucial court documents that are often hundreds if not thousands of pages in length. This is not the case either. Many clerical positions were cut by Correctional Services of Canada in 2016 and have not been reinstated. In fact, parole officers sometimes wait months if not years for these documents, in certain cases. Privacy considerations prevent the release of material from police agencies and such other relevant bodies as victim services, children's aid, etc. Consequently, many parole officers are left to navigate complex administrative processes to receive relevant information. The requests from parole officers do not receive special consideration. They must get in the queue like other players in the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, they don't always get what they need when they need it.
You might also assume that parole officers receive leading-edge training on an annual basis that equips them with the best assessment tools and provides a meaningful opportunity to talk with their peers about best practices. This is also not true. In fact, due to cuts, almost all training has been virtual for a number of years and does not always align with what parole officers need. This is something that federal parole officers believe has been of significant detriment to their profession.
It is for these and so many other reasons that in 2019 USJE released the groundbreaking report entitled “Protecting Public Safety: The challenges facing federal parole officers in Canada's highly stressed criminal justice system”. For this study, USJE invited parole officers from across the country to share their perspective on the status of the correctional system and their role in it. Hundreds responded. Most had never been involved in our union. Overwhelmingly, they said that Canada's correctional system is stressed and nearing a breaking point, with the majority of parole officers asserting that their working conditions often prevent them from properly assessing, supervising and preparing offenders for their safe return to society.
High offender caseloads, chronic understaffing and significant changes to correctional programs and services are cited as presenting insurmountable challenges to the managing of offenders' risk. More than two-thirds, 69%, of parole officers surveyed worried that they are not able to sufficiently protect the public given their current workloads. Ninety-two per cent agree that an increase in staffing would improve their capacity to keep Canadians safe and 85% agree that a decrease in the number of offenders assigned to them would improve public safety.
We submit this report as part of our testimony today and ask that it be considered for making recommendations.
You would think that this report would have been the catalyst for an important dialogue within CSC on how to improve the system. Instead, it fell on deaf ears. USJE has had no formal response to the report since it was released in June 2019.
In conclusion, it is appropriate for the parliamentary committee and the joint board of investigation, which has now released the report, to look at what got missed in the case management around the homicide of Marylène Levesque. Without a systems-wide analysis on how to better equip and enable parole officers and the correctional employees who are on the front lines doing the work of supporting the reintegration of offenders each and every day, USJE fears another tragedy is just around the corner.
Hi there. Thank you for that.
In our report that was released in May 2019—again, that's almost two years ago—there were a number of recommendations that were made. We went back to the Correctional Service of Canada and tried to have very serious discussions about them. However, to date, very little has changed, and it still remains a very large concern for our union and particularly our members.
One of the first things we talked about is how our workloads are not divided or given out amongst the staff based on the complexity of the cases. Rather it's simply based on the number of cases that you have. For example, if you have a very high-risk, high-needs offender who comes into the institution at the front end of the sentence, you don't get additional time to work with potentially more complex, high-needs offenders. In fact, it would be the same amount of time that you would get for everybody else. One of the things that we're really saying is that workload needs to be more than the numbers; it also needs to be the amount of actual time it takes to do proper risk assessment and proper interventions with the offenders.
The other thing that we have been calling for is in relation to the mental health needs of our offenders. Institutional parole officers repeatedly told us that the mental health of the offender should be a determining factor for a caseload size. As you can imagine, those individuals who come into our system and who require more assistance with their mental health needs require more time. Ultimately, what a lot of parole officers have been telling us is that more time means that we need to have more parole officers available to do the work. In fact, that has not changed, and I know that the Correctional Service has been under a lot of pressure for many years to reduce its budgets. That goes back to the deficit reduction action plan and then also in recent years to making sure that we're trimming everywhere we can to make sure that the budgets are not exceeded. It's very difficult to do that.
Other policy changes as well, such as working with indigenous offenders, have been extremely challenging. There have been some additional positions created over the years, but as it relates to parole officer work and even in terms of programs, we need to make sure that we're giving the time to those offenders and meeting with them to understand who they are, their backgrounds, what brought them into their criminal activities and what it's going to take to ensure that they stay out of crime. It's very crucial.
Quickly, I want to summarize and say that for parole officers to do their work properly, they need to be able to have the time to have meaningful interactions with everybody on their caseload. When we're talking about highly complex cases, that means we need to have the time for those meaningful conversations to understand their worlds and to understand, if they are to be released back into the community, what those conditions are that they're going to be released back into. What are those relationships that are going to be important to them and their reintegration back into society? What supports are they going to have?
I'll leave my comments there, and maybe there will be more questions.
Thank you to all of our witnesses for being here.
I'm going to start with the USJE.
In 2016, you very graciously took me on my first prison tour. I visited the parole office in Winnipeg. I can remember very distinctly the manager talking about the deficit reduction action plan and the cuts that had been made. I said to her, “You're far too good at your job because you're managing to still do the good work that you do in spite of the cuts that have been made.”
Stan and David, you and I have talked about this. How critical is it for us to be making investments in the community? I think it's about 6% or 7% of the Correctional Service budget that goes to communities to support offenders when they're released. How important is that community support, both for increasing the number of parole officers as well as supports in the community for people once they're released?
I think, probably, David Neufeld, you would take that one.
In terms of community resources and managing risk in the community, it's absolutely crucial that we have organizations we can link with to provide referrals for our offenders in managing cognitive deficiencies or those things that trigger their criminal behaviour—that they are able to get the help they need.
One of the major cuts we saw a number of years ago was in relation to that of psychological counselling for offenders in the community. Again, as you can imagine, with highly complex cases needing access to psychological intervention, on top of a meaningful contact that should be taking place with not only parole officers but also with correctional program officers we have in the community who are delivering programs to these offenders, we also have other needs, such as access to residential substance programs.
These are things that were cut as a result of the need to reduce the budget, and these are absolutely crucial pieces to our overall intervention plans and making sure that when these offenders are being released to the community, they have the supports they need.
Really, when it comes down to what Corrections does, we understand that people have the ability to change and that we have a responsibility and accountability to managing risk. However, we need those resources in place to ensure that no matter how long that particular offender has been in the community that we're fully aware of what they are doing with their time, making sure they are getting the help they need, and making sure that if they are living next to you or to me or your friends or your family, we can be confident that we know what they are doing, how they are using their time, and, of course, that they are not falling back into their old criminal behaviour.
Thank you, Chair, and thank you to the witnesses.
I'd like to direct this question to the parole officers.
I'm looking at the report that was prepared in May and released in June 2019, which I have a copy of. I note that workload is a very important issue. As you pointed out, Mr. Stapleton, in your evidence, 70% of parole officers reported that they don't feel they can adequately protect the public given the current workload.
I think it is important for anyone listening to this to know that we have parole officers in the institutions who are assessing the capability of someone for parole, and there are parole officers in the community as well. You people are perhaps the ones who are assessing the risk more than anyone else in terms of each individual's potential for reoffending.
I see that some of the workload issues are identified here in responses to questions as staff reductions, lack of resources, parole officer positions being left vacant, insufficient clerical support despite increased workloads, other support positions being left vacant, and cutbacks to funding, all of which speak to an inadequate number of people doing the jobs you do. Yet we heard from the correctional investigator that the ratio of correctional officers to inmates in our prisons is higher than it is in almost any other comparable institution.
Could you square that circle for me? Are we dealing with a misallocation of resources? Are we dealing with a lack of spending the money in the right place, or are we dealing with a lack of money altogether?
I'll quickly comment on that.
Ms. Damoff indicated earlier that about 6% to 7% of the overall Correctional Service of Canada budget is spent in the community, and the vast majority is spent on institution structure and of course dynamic security. I think it's very important to understand that how much money we invest in reintegration is absolutely important. In terms of overall work in the Correctional Service of Canada, I would say every employee plays a very practical and important role in the reintegration of offenders, but it's very important to understand that if you're not investing in the community at the same time, that's where the rubber meets the road. For the offender who's living inside the institution, it's not like life on the outside, and it's important to understand that anybody can do time. I don't know if you've ever heard that saying, that anybody can do time. It can be a very hard time, but when you come into the community, you have to now live again and have a bank account and work and support your family, perhaps. For whoever's a part of your life, there are always problems.
If resources aren't put in the right places, it's absolutely an issue. I really do believe that CSC needs to take a look at how much money it's investing in the community. The institutions are absolutely important but there needs to be more money invested in terms of how we're doing supervision in the community.
I'll turn it over to Stan.
I would just add that one of the parole officers replied to the survey by saying, “I don't have enough time to see my offenders on my caseload and write reports. It's important to meet regularly with offenders...so you gain a better understanding of the person you are working with. The workload doesn't allow for that.”
That seems to say it all, Mr. Neufeld, in terms of the consequences of an inadequate level of community service support for the parole officer and the community risk.
Rather than go to Mr. Stapleton on that point, I would like to discuss another point that is raised in your report that has to do with a lack of resources for assessing offender risk. Speaking of offenders, for example, the CSC methodology for assessing risk ends up with an overrepresentation of certain offenders, primarily indigenous offenders, and higher levels of security classification; and that affects their ability to get effective programs or opportunities while serving time. That was pointed out in a Globe and Mail article in recent days, and you say that too many offenders don't qualify for programs and actually need them.
Again, in terms of assessing the risk and the ability of someone to operate in the community, they do have to have access to programs within the institutions as well.
Would you or Mr. Stapleton care to comment on that problem, the lack of actual programs available in the institution for people to prepare themselves to be able to live on the outside?
Thank you, Mr. Stapleton.
Unfortunately, we're going to have to leave it all there. We have a virtual meeting coming in behind us, so the clerks need a chance to get things organized here.
On behalf of the committee, I want to thank you for your time, your patience and your co-operation. This has been a very difficult study. We appreciate all the efforts that all three of you put in on a daily basis to make the public safety of Canada that much stronger, so thank you for that, and on behalf of the committee, thank you for your appearance here today.
Colleagues, with that we'll call an adjournment. Unless things change, I don't anticipate a meeting on Wednesday. Maybe we could have some offline discussions as to what needs to happen after that.
With that, unless my clerk says otherwise, the meeting is adjourned.