Thank you so much, Chair.
I filed a motion last week with the clerk, and it has been distributed. I'm hoping that we can deal with this quite quickly, because we need to turn to a very important private member's bill that's before us today on recidivism. I thank Conservative MP Bragdon for bringing that forward.
Last week, following the tabling of Bill , our government's new firearms legislation, the National Firearms Association took to their show, NFA Talk, where extremely dangerous words were uttered. This video from the NFA now has close to 7,000 views.
My motion today seeks to have our committee condemn this behaviour.
During the broadcast, NFA president, Mr. Sheldon Clare, said the following, and it's in the motion: “...revisit our old woodworking and metal working skills and construct guillotines again. [Laughter followed.] That would really be the best kind of Committee of Public Safety to get re-established. If they want to make it about public safety that was the way.... [T]he sound of this [person's] voice was not one that is joking. He was not joking. I don't think they understand that this is not New Zealand, this is not the United Kingdom, this is not Australia. This is a country made up of people who've been here for thousands of years, [our] aboriginal people, immigrants from Europe who fled tyranny, who fought against tyranny and know tyranny when they see it. And this my friends is tyranny.”
Mr. Chair, words matter. We saw in the Unites States, on January 6, what happens when inflammatory words provoke insurrection and violence. We've seen it here in Canada, with someone breaching the grounds of Rideau Hall and someone else following NDP leader .
It sent a chill down my spine to hear talk of building guillotines when referencing the Committee on Public Safety by the NFA and its leadership.
By no means are these the only statements that the NFA has made, and I want to read some of the other ones that have been made by NFA executive director Charles Zach on social media.
In June 2020, he posted this, along with a photo of four men holding large rifles: “Coming to a Canadian Main Street near you. If the police will not protect you during a violent riot, you will have to protect yourself and others who cannot defend themselves from dangerous and armed organized domestic terrorists.”
On June 25, 2020, Mr. Zach posted an article about gun and ammunition sales soaring, with his heading saying, “Buy more guns and ammo. The police will not protect you.”
In May 2020, Mr. Zach said, “Perhaps we would see organized demonstrations in front of the homes of these civil disarmamentalists”—his term.
There is another one in which he posted a caricature of me and Minister Freeland that says, “But... but... think of the women!!”, with another picture of two women holding firearms saying, “I think we'll be fine”—talking about our firearms policy.
Mr. Chair, I think I'll leave it there with the statements I'm going to read, but what I find extremely concerning is that when confronted with the concerns around their statement, the National Firearms Association has actually doubled down.
In a Global News story yesterday, Mr. Clare is quoted as saying “I've merely related comments from upset people who have a real big problem with tyranny. And I think the virtue-signalling woke liberal left has a problem with being called out as being tyrants.”
Mr. Zach has called me “a rabid anti-gun civil disarmamentalist”, and remember he called for organized demonstrations in front of the homes of “civil disarmamentalists”—his term—in May 2020.
Mr. Zach also told Global News, noting that his use of the metaphor is intentional, “We're locked and loaded.... And I say that unapologetically and unabashedly.”
Today Mr. Zach posted, “If the Liberals feel offended for being called 'tyrants'—then should stop acting like tyrants”, but still has not apologized for talking about the need to start constructing guillotines.
Mr. Chair, this kind of language is dangerous. Sharing these comments on their platform—which, as I mentioned, has had 7,000 views—can lead to violence, as we saw in the United States. The storming of the U.S. Capitol by an armed mob was spurred on by similar language.
These calls for violence against those who want a safer community are not tolerable, and it is incumbent on all of us to condemn them. I'm asking the members of the committee to support this motion and condemn the National Firearms Association and the statement made last week.
Mr. Chair, I ask that the motion be amended at the end to include “and the committee report this to the House”.
I'm hoping we can deal with this quickly and vote on this right away.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thanks, Mr. Chair. I appreciate your coming to me, and I hope the committee will indulge me a little bit as I go through a couple of the issues that I see and develop this from my personal perspective.
I first want to say, Pam, that if there is a perception of a personal or public safety threat to either members of Parliament, specific to the public safety committee or in general or to you, then I need you to know that I take that, as do all Conservative members on this committee, extremely seriously.
We hope...and I would invite you to say, if you wish, whether or not that complaint has been made to police, as should be the case; perhaps the chair can confirm whether or not such a complaint has been made to the Sergeant-at-Arms, which should be the case if the comments constitute a threat to members of Parliament at large.
I would note—and I guess this is why we ought to get to the place of having this discussion in camera—that any matters related to MP security and safety are generally dealt with in camera, from what I understand of the procedure and House affairs committee. I understand that PROC just did a briefing on security risks for members of Parliament, and the entire thing was in camera, because of course it's about the safety of MPs, and because that is the committee that deals with those issues.
I really need you to know how seriously I take this or take the concept of the safety and security of individual members of Parliament being threatened or feeling threatened. Since being elected in 2015, I have received personal and direct threats to my safety and security. On two separate occasions, I and the three female staff members in my constituency office in Two Hills have also faced direct and personal threats to our personal security and safety.
In one incident, the RCMP was called to our constituency office. The office was put on lockdown, and that individual was removed from the office property. He showed up at the office; he was screaming and swearing, and said he no longer identified as Canadian and was not subject to their laws, and there was no place in this world for elected officials or their staff. In the second incident, a man had begun on the phone by screaming at my 19-year-old female staffer. He was then transferred to her manager, another woman, whom he proceeded to swear at, and he told her he hoped that she would be raped and that she would die. We reported that incident to the Sergeant-at-Arms to be dealt with, and we do have a very close relationship with the RCMP detachment, which happens to be two blocks from my constituency office.
I'm also aware that another member of this committee—and I'll let him speak for himself, if he wishes—a Conservative colleague of ours who sits with us here, has also faced personal threats. Those personal threats resulted in the laying of charges and the conviction of the individual who was making threats.
If this motion is prompted by a perception or an interpretation—and all of that is legitimate, because we are all thinking, considerate, rational people who all have the equal right to perceive and to debate and to interpret the way comments are made—then I do hope that those complaints have been made to the proper authorities. But I would also say that it would necessitate that this committee have this discussion in camera and that we must be extremely careful not to be seen to be politically influencing or interfering with what ought to be—by now, I hope, if this is the motivation—an actual current and ongoing legal investigation.
If, on the other hand, this is an attempt to have the public safety and national security committee function as a tool to be a judge and jury of individual Canadians or organizations, and to wield the special privilege, scope, status and power of members of Parliament and a parliamentary committee against individual Canadians or organizations about comments that may or may not be considered in their full context, then of course I have no desire to get into that.
Also, of course, in the motion we're debating right now, there are key comments missing. That's why the motion starts with an ellipsis. There's also, right in the middle of the motion and the quoted comments, even a sentence that's missing.
My view would be that I think Conservatives certainly don't believe that a parliamentary committee ought to be used as a judge and jury and a condemnation of comments made by individual Canadians or organizations, comments that may or may not be taken out of context and that may not be fully considered in context right here in the case of this motion, where perceptions and interpretations can legitimately differ and can legitimately be debated by fair-minded, honest, good-willed people. Personally, I believe that if the committee were to take such an action, there are real, important issues relating to fairness and serious power imbalances if this were to become a tactic of parliamentary committees as a matter of course, which I would find concerning.
Again, I must reiterate that if a member believes comments have been made that constitute a threat to personal and/or public safety, then those should be reported to authorities—in fact, I hope they have already been, if that is the interpretation—and committees should not influence that process.
Either way, I would move that we continue this conversation in camera, for all the reasons I've just outlined.
I, too, believe it is critical for us as a committee to move on with a very important initiative by our colleague Richard Bragdon on legislation to prevent recidivism of offenders, to protect the public safety of all Canadians and victims of crime and to reduce repeat offences, about which I know all members on this committee, across all parties, are seriously concerned.
Thank you very much for that clarification, Chair.
I suppose my next question, then, would be, has either the Sergeant-at-Arms or the police, if the committee has been elevated with them, suggested this course of action insofar as the argument is being made that this may or may not constitute a threat to public or private safety? Obviously, we need to know that, if this committee has been advised in this way to undertake this discussion. If that hasn't been their advice, then I would suggest that very answer, especially if we also learn that a complaint has been made to the police, is very much the reason why this committee should continue that discussion in camera.
Of course, we all know that as members of Parliament, or members of an extremely powerful parliamentary committee with extraordinary scope, we would never want to be seen to be attempting to influence, wag the dog, intervene, comment on, opine on or contribute to an ongoing official investigation in any way. I know that we would all be concerned about not wanting to give that appearance.
Perhaps we can double-check with the clerk, but I think my motion takes precedence over Mrs. Stubbs'.
As you said yourself, there are a number of things being conflated here. The entire video is available online if people want to watch it, but the statements made by the National Firearms Association specifically reference the committee of public safety and talk about constructing guillotines.
They laughed about it. They have refused to make any kind of statement subsequent to that. As I said previously, given what happened in the United States and what has happened in Canada when organizations make inflammatory comments like the National Firearms Association did last week, I think it is incumbent on this committee to condemn their statements. It's time to stop accepting this kind of rhetoric, and vague threats and suggestions to their membership that guillotines start to be constructed. It's time that we as a committee take a stand.
The Committee on Public Safety was mentioned by them. This has absolutely nothing to do with what the Parliamentary Protective Service is or is not doing. That is absolutely separate from this discussion.
I think we need to take a stand. We need to shut down this kind of language, this way of talking and thinking that it's okay to talk about building guillotines and laughing about those kinds of comments in a public forum. I think we as a committee need to condemn this kind of language, and that's the reason I brought this motion forward. I really hope that other members of the committee will support it.
I don't need to ask for a separate motion to report it to the House, as that's contained in the main motion. That being the case, we will now return to the main business.
I apologize, Mr. Bragdon and witnesses, for the further delay. That being said, we will stick with what we talked about, which was a five-minute presentation by Mr. Bragdon, followed by five-minute presentations from the witnesses, and then we'll do a five-minute round of questions, and see where that leaves us. Let's start there.
Am I missing anything else procedurally, Mr. Clerk, before I call on Mr. Bragdon?
I consider it an honour to be able to speak with regard to this private member's bill. It's been a labour of passion, and I'm truly excited to hear from the witnesses tonight. I'll get out of the way as quickly as I can so that you can hear from those who are truly on the front lines of making a real difference and impact in reducing recidivism.
I know that all of you, or perhaps most of you, are aware that nearly 25% of those who have been released from federal prisons—and that statistic is much higher when they're coming out of provincial prisons—end up back in the federal prison system within two years. The rate amongst indigenous communities is nearly 40%. It is also a sad reality that the children of those incarcerated are seven times more likely to become incarcerated themselves. It is abundantly clear that we must stop this cycle. We must arrest this cycle.
This bill aims to address the ever-revolving door within our prison system and to break this perilous cycle that sees individuals consistently reoffend. This bill will make the establish a task force and create a national framework to reduce recidivism. We'll do that in part by looking at some of the working models that have had some tremendous success internationally, as well as some that are having some good success here locally and within Canada.
I'm very excited to hear a little bit later.... Here this evening you'll hear from Ms. Naidoo, who's going to be sharing a model that's had tremendous success south of the border in the big state of Texas. It's called the Texas Offender Reentry Initiative. She'll speak about the statistics that relate to that. I'll just say this. She recently—I guess it was in 2016—received from then president Obama a champions of change award for the tremendous work that this initiative has done in reducing recidivism in her state. Now it's growing exponentially. You'll be hearing from her.
I'm also honoured to have Mr. Nicholas here. He has a tremendous background, obviously, in knowing the law, in being a former judge, in being a former lieutenant-governor and in being a person from the Wolastoqiyik first nation community. I'm so glad that Mr. Nicholas will be here to offer his perspective.
Of course, I see that Ms. Latimer is here from the John Howard Society. There's tremendous work that they do in helping people reintegrate back into communities.
Needless to say, there are some tremendous models and organizations that we can learn from, that are doing great work on the front lines, and hopefully we can import some of the best practices and contextualize them to the Canadian context. I feel that, as we look at that, we can find great hope.
I won't get down into the specifics of how some of these programs work, but I feel that what I would call the sweet spot of lasting societal change is oftentimes found at the interface where we break down the silos and get various sectors working together—whether they're governmental, non-profit, private sectors—bringing all their various gifts, talents, abilities and resources to the table to bring about that lasting change.
One thought that is really one of the centrepieces of this—I heard this one time and it stuck with me—is called the principle of three. When someone is serving time, if the work begins for that lasting change while the individual is on the inside, if within the first three minutes someone trusted is meeting them at the gate to make sure that the individual has someone to walk with in those initial steps upon being released, if within three hours living arrangements are being made and put in place for the individual, if within three days life skills development, employment and other programs are starting to come around the individual, if within three weeks there are education completion programs, etc., and if within three months the individual is making noticeable progress and transition is complete, then, within three years we are going to witness and see a lasting lifestyle change and that individual contributing back to society.
I'll close with this, Mr. Chair. I don't know how much longer I have, but I'll just say this in conclusion. I'll never forget the first time that I visited a prison. It was with my dear friend—Mr. Nicholas probably knows of him; he's passed on now—Mr. Monty Lewis, who started an organization called Bridges of Canada. He himself had served time in federal prison. He was from Cape Breton. He made some tough choices along the way. He didn't have an easy upbringing. He and his wife, upon release, felt a passion to start a ministry, an organization, a non-profit to help those who had found themselves in similar situations but wanted to successfully get back into the community.
Once we went to a prison. It was my first visit. It was Dorchester Penitentiary. He said—and you have to understand how he talked; he had kind of that rough accent—“Now, Richard, I want you to know something. You're going to a place where there's the highest concentration of the worst kinds of vile actions and feelings, anger and dysfunction that there could ever be. It's behind the walls of this prison that you're going to today. I want you to also know that you'll never visit a place where there's a higher concentration of the incredible power that the opportunity of a second chance, forgiveness and hope can bring. I've been a recipient of that in my own life, and if you start on this journey, you'll never be the same; you'll never regret it.”
I was very naive, and I must confess, when the doors were closing behind me to go in for my first visit, I felt a little bit of anxiety. However, I'm glad to say that several years later, I've seen many lives that have been changed, and for the better. They're back in community making a big difference for themselves and their families, and everybody comes out ahead.
I want to thank you for considering this bill. I'm excited. We can offer together the gift that transforms all lives, and that's the gift of hope. I look forward to hearing from these witnesses.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I've taken too long. I'm all excited. Over to you.
Good afternoon, everyone.
Good afternoon, members of the House of Commons who are studying this private member's bill, Bill . I am grateful for this opportunity to share some experiences I had during my days as a social work student, as a lawyer representing persons before the courts in New Brunswick, and as a provincial court judge.
I am a member of the Wolastoqiyik Nation from the Tobique First Nation. I worked with indigenous persons who are incarcerated at the Guelph Correctional Centre as a social work student during my studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in a field placement in January to April, 1973. Persons who were sentenced to two years less a day served their imprisonment there. It was an eye-opener for me, because I was already a lawyer before I went to study for my master's degree in social work. I defended indigenous and non-indigenous persons charged with summary and indictable offences under the Criminal Code of Canada.
When a client is found guilty or pleads guilty, information gathered by a probation officer is very crucial in making submissions to the sentencing judge on behalf of their client. As a probation officer, your duty is to make the best submission on their behalf to a judge for an appropriate sentence.
As a provincial court judge, you must listen to what is presented by the Crown prosecutor and the victim, read the victim impact statement, and listen to the submissions of the defence counsel and the accused, who may wish to speak. You must also read what is in the pre-sentence report and letters of support, and you must apply the principles of sentencing found in the Criminal Code. Whatever sentence you decide to give is not easy and is subject to appeal.
I have seen many persons who were repeat offenders. It could be because of their psychological state of mind, addictions or a deliberate refusal to abide by the conditions of a probation order or bail conditions, or because they didn't care. I call them “the walking wounded”.
There are no winners in the criminal justice system. The victims and the communities have legitimate fears that the offender will exact revenge unless fundamental changes are introduced into their lives. Programs must be made available for the rehabilitation of the offender. It depends on the length of the sentences in institutions or in the community, which need the resources to change the behaviour of the offender. Often, counselling may continue beyond the time served, and this can be put into the conditions of a probation order.
Indigenous persons have a high and a sad representation in penal institutions in our country. There are many factors that contribute to these statistics. Many are historical, many are because of poverty, and many are because the current justice system does not reflect the values of their communities. There have been many studies done to recommend fundamental changes in the criminal justice system, but not enough has been done to implement them.
I want to commend the initiative of the member of Parliament, Mr. Richard Bragdon, and your other members who have introduced this important legislative blueprint.
Thank you very much. Woliwon.
I can stay until about 5:45 your time.
Good afternoon, Chairman and Mr. Bragdon.
Thank you, members of the committee, for inviting us to be a part of this.
My name is Tina Naidoo, and I am the executive director of the Texas Offenders Reentry Initiative, also known as “T.O.R.I.” We have been in operation for 17 years and have had the opportunity to serve over 30,000 returning citizens throughout Texas.
Texas is widely considered the incarceration capital of the United States. In fact, 70,000 people return to Texas each year from prison. Despite paying their debt to society, these individuals will find themselves saddled with collateral consequences of a criminal record. They will face discrimination in employment, housing and education and will come home to a fractured support system. This will lead to their nearly inevitable recidivism.
We, too, began with a call from elected officials when our program’s founder, pastor and global thought leader Bishop T.D. Jakes founded the T.O.R.I. program in 2005.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, one in 32 Americans is under the control of the criminal justice system. I can say with clear certainty that by allowing the problem to continue, you will only build more prisons and broken families.
T.O.R.I. began with a federal challenge grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service, meaning that every two dollars we spent on the program was matched by the government with one dollar. This initiative was a five-city collaboration that targeted the cities in Texas considered the five hot spots for most releasees—Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Fort Worth and Dallas. We served more than 400 returning citizens that initial year, with a staggering 13% recidivism rate, proving that the intervention was both replicable and effective.
In the coming years, T.O.R.I. was awarded funding through the Second Chance Act by the United States Department of Justice. These initiatives better equipped the returning citizens upon release and increased cross-sector partnerships.
This type of relationship, in which a federal framework filters to the states—or in this case, provinces—makes a real impact that is critical to lasting change. This position was further emphasized years later when T.O.R.I. worked in partnership with the Institute for Urban Policy Research at the University of Texas at Dallas. The evaluation confirmed that comprehensive re-entry services provided through community-based initiatives significantly impact this social issue when provided in partnership with government entities.
The program evaluation revealed that 18 case management sessions led to a rise in self-sufficiency outcomes. In this project, the success rate of the participants was over 90%. These individuals, who statistically had an income of around $10,000 U.S. annually, emerged from this program making a living wage, effectively lifting their families out of poverty and propelling themselves into socio-economic mobility.
Following T.O.R.I.’s successes, the program was afforded the opportunity to become the first provider in the nation to partner with the Department of Housing and Urban Development—otherwise known as “HUD”—through its local housing authority. The partnership provided government-subsidized housing for returning citizens working toward self-sufficiency. This type of housing assistance was previously off limits to those with a criminal background. However, through this resource over 500 families were reunited. This equated to diminished post-incarceration homelessness, stronger families and safer communities.
As you likely know, Canada reports a recidivism rate of close to 35%, compared to 65% in the United States. This gives me hope for the incredible impact this bill will have on recidivism reduction in Canada.
At a recent T.O.R.I. client graduation ceremony, United States Senator Tim Scott provided the commencement address and applauded T.O.R.I.’s efforts, proclaiming the program a national model to reduce recidivism.
After studying the bill before you, I believe unequivocally that this would set you on the path to immeasurably improved outcomes. The answer is in the cross-sector collaboration this would foster. As we have seen, the interplay of these systems has the power to address the issues through all the sectors, leaving no cracks to fall through.
Finally, you may have concerns about the ability to implement such a program in the shadow of COVID-19. The common perception is that returning citizens have a technology gap in addition to a skills gap. Let me assure you that this perception is inaccurate.
At T.O.R.I., we were forced to adapt to a virtual service platform in a matter of days at the onset of the pandemic. We were able to serve more individuals in less time while eliminating transportation barriers. Clients were able to participate in rehabilitative services and counselling more effectively. In the heart of the pandemic, our client employment rate rose by over 30%. The outcomes were remarkable.
Those who will benefit don't always fit the stereotype. One young lady joined us, stripped of her licensure and unable to work, despite having two master's degrees. Today she is a practising registered nurse fighting on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. She is an example of the kind of restoration that is possible here.
Truly, this bill is one that will place Canada at the forefront of criminal justice reform and recidivism reduction. This is a true definition of government working for the people. Returning citizens of Canada must simply be given an opportunity without penalty, based on the merits of their rehabilitative efforts.
It's a great pleasure to be before the committee and to share John Howard's views about Bill .
John Howard Society, as many of you know, is a charity that serves more than 60 communities across Canada. It's committed to just, effective and humane responses to the causes and consequences of crime, but our roots are really in supporting the reintegration of prisoners and looking at prison reform.
We enthusiastically support Bill . While there may be differing opinions about the appropriate quantum of sentences and the best way to discharge people's debt to society, I believe there is broad agreement that we want those leaving prisons and returning to communities to be law-abiding, contributing members. Not only does this help the individual rejoining the community, but it prevents further victimization, saves state resources and benefits us all.
The road back for former prisoners is a tough one. It's as tough in Canada, in many ways, as it is in Texas. Many face loneliness, stigma, grinding poverty, discrimination in employment and housing, barriers due to race, religion and gender, inadequate identification, gaps in the continuity of mental and physical health care, challenges reuniting with families, inadequate skills, serious marginalization and fear and hostility from community members. For some, drugs and alcohol are a temptation to blunt the discomfort they feel, and post-release drug overdoses are high. Suicide rates in the first year after release are significantly higher than they are for the average person.
Given the hardships they encounter, it is a testament to their enormous resilience and willpower that the majority of those released do not return to prison. However, far too many do return to prison. Much more can be done and should be done to facilitate a successful transition.
The Department of Public Safety gave the John Howard Society of Canada a small grant to do a series of podcasts involving peers and interviewing former prisoners about the challenges they faced reintegrating into the community, with a view to providing advice to others. For those interested, those podcasts are called Voices Inside and Out and can be found on your podcast providers.
While there were many individual differences in the challenges faced, there were many key elements that were similar, including housing, employment and health care. Many felt that correctional authorities had not adequately prepared them for release, not even provided acceptable identification, and with only a two-week supply of prescription medication.
Solutions to the challenges were often creative. Those who had help valued it enormously, and the help came from peers, organizations active in criminal justice, family, good Samaritans and others, who assisted them in navigating a slew of municipal, provincial and federal requirements and resources.
The framework proposed in Bill would be enormously helpful in ensuring that the key elements for successful transition are identified through a collaborative effort, which I hope would involve those with lived experience as well as those from organizations that provide reintegration services, and representatives from municipal, provincial and federal governments and communities, including indigenous, Black and faith communities.
The provisions of the bill that would require the to report back on progress on the implementation of the framework would be an important impetus to having the framework as something more than words on paper. We could actually see progress being made.
Collaboration here is key. We identified an absence of housing post-custody as a serious impediment to successful reintegration, and received funding from CMHC for solution labs to tackle complex housing as a complex problem: post-custody homelessness. We've been partnering with Public Safety, Correctional Services, Employment and Social Development Canada, the National Associations Active in Criminal Justice, former prisoners with lived experience, a number of John Howard societies, Lansdowne Consulting, community organizations and housing experts on this project. What was emphasized to us is that it's not just the housing. We need the whole supportive community pulling together to aid the successful reintegration of these prisoners.
In conclusion, I would urge you to support the passage of Bill . The tragic death of Kimberly Squirrel, who died on the street exposed to freezing temperatures just three days after being released from a provincial prison in Saskatchewan, should be a wake-up call to us all that we must do better. The framework is a tool to make progress towards reducing crime and making our communities safer.
Thank you, Mr. Bragdon, for bringing forward this private member's bill.
I had the pleasure of being in your riding and seeing first-hand the benefits this has for your community, for the not-for-profits there and for the people who are actually benefiting after coming out of prison. It's fantastic.
We all know that there has been a bit of a pattern in Canada where government tries to do everything itself rather than bringing groups and communities together. That's been a pattern for decades. Your bill is intended to break down silos and to have governments and non-government groups work together.
Am I understanding that correctly, Richard?
Thank you very much, Mr. Motz.
My experience was with the ones who come back to the courts, I guess. When I was a provincial court judge, recidivism was high as well, but I found that if an individual actually had an option of going to a particular residence where, for example, like Mr. Lewis, as Mr. Bragdon mentioned, and then other bodies here.... They're more receptive, because they're treated with greater respect. They're accepted as a person, even though they maybe have tripped in their lives. For their psychological needs, they can get the counselling they need, and they can get camaraderie as well, from other individuals who are in the same particular area. That helps them in their self-confidence and self-esteem as well. I found that very productive.
Mind you, some of these agencies do get government monies, but I think they can run better programs than what is in the institutions.
It's a little annoying because I had some questions for Mr. Bragdon. I'm going to hear from the other witnesses anyway.
I see that Mr. Bragdon is back.
First of all, I wanted to thank him for introducing his bill. Recent cases, such as that of Eustachio Gallese and Marylène Lévesque, show that there are cases of recidivism in society and that the mechanisms that already exist fail to protect the population. It is therefore important to stop there. Moreover, the report that we were able to study with the Correctional Investigator of Canada also shows that there are clearly flaws in the way the federal government manages the reintegration of inmates into society.
Before we get to the heart of the matter, since the bill raises some questions, I'd like to hear from Mr. Bragdon and the other witnesses about mandatory minimum sentences.
Mr. Bragdon, I'm reading what you pointed out in the preamble of the bill:
Whereas nearly one in four people who have been incarcerated reoffend within two years of their release;
Some people think that imprisonment only makes behaviours worse for some individuals who would be at risk of recidivism. So I'd like to know what you think about mandatory minimum sentences.
Thank you very much for your kind words, Ms. Michaud.
In regard to sentencing and on the front end, obviously anything we can do to create an environment that prevents disadvantaged young people at risk—youth and others—from making choices that will lead in the direction that could eventually lead to incarceration, that is always a worthwhile investment of time and resources and supports. Those supports can't be overstated. It's critical.
This bill in particular addresses the period post time served. It's the plan for when someone has completed serving their time and for how we can best make sure they don't go back into the system upon having served time. There obviously can and should be some great work done on the front end, and I commend efforts to make sure we are preventing people from going into the system, but this is to address that revolving door on the back end.
The primary emphasis is, what are the best working models out there that we can look at and try to emulate here? Which ones are doing great work here in Canada that we can partner with and maybe contextualize across the board to keep bringing those rates of recidivism down so that revolving door stops? That's really the approach we're emphasizing. This bill is really about the period post time served.
It also very much compromises certain indigenous people who may be going back to communities that are rife with substance issues. It's very difficult for them to keep away from it, because it's in the same household they've been paroled to. It's a huge problem, and it's one that we really need to tackle, particularly the continuity of care.
John Howard's position is that there should be a provincial health care system that provides support for the prisoners so there's no gap between their release from prison and coming back into the communities.
It's particularly challenging for people with mental health issues. They're released with two weeks of prescription medication, and it takes much longer to get lined up with a psychiatrist who can continue to fill those prescriptions. We're sending people out into very difficult circumstances without appropriate continuity for mental health care, and it's a challenge.
Similarly, with addictions, far too many people are coming out of prisons and ending up overdosing, because the realities of the demons they fight are not being appropriately addressed. They're not getting the kind of counselling and support they need to successfully and safely come back into the community and deal with some of these issues in a constructive way.
Sure. Ms. Latimer gave a solid, comprehensive answer. Thank you.
That again speaks to the absolute importance of effective partnerships in the after-time-served aspect. That's what this bill is endeavouring to address. It's not a one-size-fits-all. It's going to sometimes take a contextualized approach, making sure we're working effectively with various sectors, including job opportunity placements.
With so many, when they come out, they have a criminal record. They have such a hard time being able to crack into the workforce. However, if you have those organizations and others that work with them, or potential employers who will say they want to be part of this person's journey, there are some real bright spots out there.
We're hearing some great news stories. We need to accentuate that, build around that. Some of the organizations doing this great work, like John Howard and others across the country, and, of course, with what we've seen so effectively done through the Texas Offenders Reentry Initiative...inspiring models that we could perhaps contextualize to the Canadian context, to say that this is how we can make sure people have an effective bridge back to the community.
It's not just one particular sector; it's multiple sectors working together. It can be done. We're seeing the models work. The stats are there. The effectiveness in reducing recidivism is incredible, plus the pathway to wholeness. We're addressing the needs of the whole individual, not just one aspect. I think that the comprehensive approach is the best.
Thank you, Mr. Van Popta.
What I can add to that conversation, to help with some insight, is that we are a faith-based organization, or we started as a faith-based organization. To then step into government entities and collaborate, 17 years ago, was new to us. There is separation between church and state. As we're jogging alongside, we're finding common threads, and one common thread was the housing issue that returning citizens were facing. Our local housing authority had specifically written in its policies that persons who had a criminal background were not allowed to apply for any type of government-subsidized housing.
We had a brilliant CEO on the local level, who looked at the definition of special needs and expanded it to include returning citizens. Once that was accomplished, it took my clients to the top of the list, and the list had 14,000 people waiting for subsidized government funding.
We've been doing this now for about 13 or 14 years, working with landlords at a grassroots level. Landlords, even if they have a paying tenant, believe it or not, still don't want them. We had to convince them and have these conversations.
The relationship that we had as the intermediary—which is what I consider us to be—was with the government entity but also with the private sector, the landlords and the people on the local level, to garner trust. Lots of times I explain to my clients that it's kind of like co-signing for credit. I have good credit; you have bad credit, and you need me to co-sign.
This is how we did that job on a local level with housing. I hope that answers your question.
Thank you, Mr. Bragdon, for your tremendous work on this bill.
My question is for Ms. Latimer. First, allow me to thank you for the tremendous work that the John Howard Society does.
Ms. Latimer, in 2015 you published an article declaring that it was time to move beyond this “tough on crime” rhetoric. You noted that while “electoral success” can be gained by this narrative, it is inconsistent with the facts. You also noted that improving “community-based corrections” and “prisoner rehabilitation” will “protect society against recidivism” by ensuring that fewer prisoners will leave custody “angrier” and that they will be better equipped with perhaps more social and mental health supports.
I'm hoping that you can speak a bit more on your thoughts here on the harms associated with this “tough on crime” rhetoric we hear and on how we can actually make systemic change. Perhaps you can talk a bit about how we can address the overrepresentation of indigenous and Black Canadians in prisons and why it's so important for the government to partner with not-for-profits like yours, like the John Howard Society, to address this.
I'd be happy to talk about that. I think it takes us away from the focus of this bill a bit, which is really focusing on what I would call rehabilitation and reintegration. The quantum of the penalty and how that debt to society should appropriately be discharged is probably not the focus of this bill, but this bill will go a long way in terms of reducing crime by preventing recidivism.
I think the Texan experience is similar to ours. Where you see heavy recidivism is in people who are addicted and committing lower-level property crime, where they're feeding the habit by committing crimes. You really need to get a handle on those addiction issues.
What you see coming out of federal prisons is that about two-thirds of the people in federal prisons are there for violent crimes. Violent crimes scare people, but unnecessarily so if you actually look at the recidivism rates. Those who are serving life sentences probably have the lowest recidivism rates of anybody when they get into the communities. You just need a slightly different approach for people who have exhibited violence.
It's quite a significant challenge to deal with those who are the cyclical property offenders. That's a real challenge in terms of breaking that cycle, but we need to figure out the appropriate supports to put in place depending on the individual's criminogenic factors and what would lead them back into crime. Certainly, some of the basics—being poor, not having a place to live, not having your mental health issues addressed—are all problems, and this bill really stands a good chance of building a framework to support an effective re-entry of people into the community. I think it's really good.
I'd be happy to talk to you at length about whether “tough on crime” approaches generally work well, but this reintegration support really does.
Thank you, Ms. Michaud, for your very good question.
I definitely want to emphasize the importance of this respecting provincial jurisdiction. Obviously, we know that those who are closest to the ground and closest to the situation within their provinces, the provincial governments and the provincial departments of public safety, know far better their area of jurisdiction than those of us at a federal level. I think our role is to put out a national framework of ideas, a collaboration of thoughts and best practices, and then enable and empower those provinces to contextualize the program to their region.
For La Belle Province, Quebec,
it would be important for them to be able to contextualize it to the needs of Quebeckers, of the Québécois. It's the same thing for the province that I come from, New Brunswick. We're a unique, small maritime province, which I say is an advantage when it comes to pilot programs. We're nimble and small enough to be able to roll out a pilot and be able to measure outcomes perhaps quite quickly. Again, the situation and how it may apply to Alberta would be different from how it would apply to New Brunswick or Quebec.
Definitely, respecting provincial jurisdiction is absolutely a key part of this as well. By no means is it a one-size-fits-all approach or some grand program that will work in every province. No, this is about fostering an environment where individual provinces can roll out projects and potentially pilots that would aim at reducing recidivism in their jurisdiction.
No, Mr. Harris is famous for too long questions.
We're going to bring the questions to an end here. It's 6:08.
I've asked the legislative clerk to be available to us. All of the proposed amendments are in order. Normally, I would be in a situation where I could simply proceed with a kind of schedule, which I don't have in front of me, so I'm going to lean very heavily on our clerk to keep us going in some sort of order.
Before we start that process, I want to thank our witnesses. They may or may not wish to stay around. Bismarck once said that there are two things that you shouldn't see in life. One is the making of sausages, and the second is the making of legislation. We are in the process of making legislation here today.
Mr. Bragdon, I'm sure, will want to stay around.
With that, I'll turn to the clerk and ask him to call the first item, since I don't have a thing in front of me that would say what's the first item I'm supposed to call on this bill.
NDP-1b is an amendment to subclause 2(2) that adds after paragraph 2(2)(d) a paragraph 2(2)(e). It's an addition, one that is related to my question. It would be:
(e) evaluate and improve risk assessment instruments and procedures to address racial and cultural biases and ensure that all people who are incarcerated have access to appropriate programs that will help reduce recidivism.
I discussed this with Mr. Bragdon last week. I believe that you will find him to be in agreement with it.
It's related to the question that I asked Ms. Latimer, and it's, you know, to make sure that the access to programs is not inhibited by the risk assessments, which have already been demonstrated to be seriously inadequate and, in fact, racially biased by at least the study by Mr. Cardoso, which is very compelling. I believe that this work would make a big difference to the opportunities for those incarcerated to be more successful in achieving a lower rate of recidivism and a better life, obviously.
I appreciate Madame Michaud's expansive change to this, but I want to say that the amendment was specifically designed to address what has been identified as a serious problem with the risk assessment tools as they exist now, in that they need to be fixed in order to give access to programs to people who are indigenous or people of colour who are not served by the system.
I suppose you could say that “racial and cultural biases” could be the expansive part by talking about “cultural”, so it may be including some of the categories that you're interested in, but I think I'd rather keep this motion because it does exist, what has been identified as systemic racism, frankly, within the prison, as it affects indigenous people and people of colour.
I'd like to keep mine, thank you, and perhaps if you wanted to add one of your own, that would be great.
Let's call it the Bragdon bill.
Shall the preamble carry?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the long title carry?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the bill as amended carry?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the chair report the bill as amended to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.