Mr. Speaker, it is my turn to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-83, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another act.
Before I begin my remarks on Bill C-83, I would just like to comment on what I have been hearing since this debate began.
We live in a world where we appear to want to rely on the goodwill of others. We think that everything will be fine, that nothing bad will happen and that everything will go smoothly just because we amend a bill. We think inmates and guards will magically change their behaviour.
Unfortunately, that is not how it works in real life. There is a group of people we have not talked about enough since this report stage debate began. I am referring to correctional officers. They are the ones responsible for security in prisons, for the safety of inmates and colleagues, and for the inmates' well-being. We do not talk about them enough.
For some time now, I have had the pleasure of being the official opposition critic for agriculture and agri-food. This reminds me of some people's perception of farmers. Farmers take excellent care of their livestock, but many people think they do not care about the animals' health at all. People think farmers do not care about making sure their livestock are treated properly. The truth is that farmers care deeply about the well-being and safety of their livestock.
I think that is also what correctional officers want. They have a role to play with regard to inmates. They are there to guard individuals who are in prison and keep them away from the community. Many people think guards are only there to rap inmates' knuckles and maintain law and order. Since I know a few correctional officers, I know that they care about taking care of the inmates and ensuring their well-being. They also care about their rehabilitation. I think that is important to mention, before getting into the substance of Bill C-83.
Why am I talking about correctional officers? Because, from everything I have seen and everything I have read about Bill C-83, correctional officers have unfortunately not been consulted about the impact the bill will have on their daily reality.
No correctional officer would wilfully and maliciously deprive a prisoner of his or her rights. There are rules to follow. Some situations require correctional officers to take action. Unfortunately, the government missed a good opportunity to listen to them, to consult them and to ensure that the bill would enabled them to act and do their job to the best of their ability.
Bill C-83 proposes to eliminate administrative segregation in correctional institutions and replace it with structured intervention units. It also proposes the use of body scanners for inmates. It proposes to establish parameters for access to health care. It also proposes to formalize exceptions for indigenous offenders, women and offenders with diagnosed mental health disorders.
The legislation also applies to transfers and allows the commissioner to assign a security classification to each penitentiary or to any area in a penitentiary. We will have an opportunity to come back to that.
Unfortunately, Bill C-83 does not address the safety of inmates and correctional officers as a priority. As I mentioned, all those who participated in the study of the bill criticized the lack of consultation. The only people who were consulted were the people around the minister and the minister himself. Members of civil society working for inmates' rights and the inmates themselves have found that the bill does not at all meet its objectives.
It is obvious that the Liberals did not do their homework for Bill C-83. Before beginning report stage discussions, several motions were moved, including Motion No. 17.
The motion contains seven pages of amendments to the bill. The reality is that the Liberals realized that they had not done a good job. One does not move a seven-page motion if the work is done properly. They moved this motion because they realized that they had not consulted and listened to other people. They made mistakes because they improvised. That is what happened. Once again, the government improvised because two rulings were handed down.
Instead of doing things properly, the government chose to improvise, move quickly, not consult anyone, bulldoze ahead and then clean up the mess. The main problem with this bill is that it will not in any way solve the problems we sought to address. It is not a coincidence that most people disagree with the bill and that everyone opposes it.
I will quote some of the comments heard in committee. The president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Workers, Mr. Godin, said that this bill is probably dangerous for others because “[s]ometimes the safety and security take precedence over mental health treatment because of the safety and security of other inmates.”
That means that we wanted to give priority to something without considering the reality of the prison environment.
Mr. Godin also said:
...by eliminating segregation and replacing it with structured intervention units, CSC will further struggle to achieve its mandate of exercising safe, secure and humane control over its inmate populations. We are concerned about policy revisions that appear to be reducing the ability to isolate an inmate, either for their safety or for that of staff...
Sometimes using segregation is an entirely legitimate way to protect staff and the other inmates. That is what Mr. Godin said. Unfortunately, this bill does not take that into account.
The correctional investigator of Canada, Ivan Zinger, said that:
Eliminating solitary confinement is one thing, but replacing it with a regime that imposes restrictions on retained rights and liberties with little regard for due process and administrative principles is inconsistent with the Corrections and Conditional Release Act as well as the charter.
As you can see, people on both sides disagree.
Today, at the last minute, the government tried to somehow save the day. Why did it not do what had to be done, namely start all over, consult and come back with a good bill that would be acceptable to stakeholders?
The government must amend the bill in order to meet expectations. In other words, it must improve security, ensure respect for the rights of inmates and support the rehabilitation of inmates when possible. If the bill's provisions support these objectives, the Canadian prison system will be cited as an example instead of being challenged in the courts again.
This government's main problem is its failure to consult. The Liberals consult one another and talk at cabinet meetings behind closed doors. Afterwards they cannot justify why they made these decisions because they cannot talk about what was discussed in cabinet. This means that we cannot get the actual rationale for the changes even though Canadians have the right to be given all the answers on this issue.
In closing, I would like to thank my colleague from Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles for his excellent work on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.