Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure today to rise to speak to Bill C-83, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another act.
This legislation proposes to limit administrative segregation in correctional facilities; replace these facilities with new structured intervention units, or SIUs; introduce body scanners for inmates; set parameters for access to health care; and formalize expectations for indigenous offenders, female offenders and offenders with diagnosed mental health issues.
I have the privilege of chairing the public accounts committee, and at committee, we work very closely with the Auditor General's office. We studied the reports the Auditor General released, and much of what I want to speak to today actually quotes from the Auditor General's reports.
One of those reports, in the fall of 2017 reports of the Auditor General of Canada, was entitled “Preparing Women Offenders for Release”. The objective of this audit was to determine whether Correctional Service Canada assigned and delivered correctional programs, interventions and mental health services to women offenders in federal custody, including indigenous women offenders, that responded appropriately to their unique needs and helped them successfully reintegrate into the community.
As noted by the Auditor General, “Under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, Correctional Service Canada is required to provide programs and services that respond to the needs of women offenders.”
What the Auditor General found was that, again, CSC had not implemented an initial security classification process designed specifically for women offenders, and as a result, “some women offenders risked being held at inappropriate security levels”. Furthermore, CSC had not implemented an appropriate tool for referring women offenders to correctional programs that were in line with their risk of reoffending, nor had they “assessed the effectiveness of its correctional programs in addressing the factors associated with a risk of reoffending”. Last, and most relevant to our debate today, the Auditor General concluded that CSC “had not confirmed whether its tools correctly identified women offenders with mental health issues or assigned them the appropriate level of care.”
Paragraph 5.104 of “Report 5” revealed, “We also found that out of 18 women offenders identified with a serious mental illness with significant impairment, 7 were placed in segregation at some point during 2016.”
According to the Auditor General's report, CSC acknowledged that segregation for persons with serious mental health issues “should be limited.” I draw my colleagues' attention to the word “limited”. The AG disagreed with limited use and recommended that CSC ensure that women offenders “with serious mental illness with significant impairment are not placed in segregation” and that there be improved oversight and enhanced observation of these offenders.
Correctional Service Canada agreed with the Auditor General's recommendations, and therefore, the public accounts committee had asked in our report that by May 31, 2019, CSC provide us with a report regarding the relocation of observation cells out of segregation ranges. Obviously, this request was thwarted by the introduction of Bill C-83 on October 16, 2018, less than five months after the public accounts committee tabled our report, which would eliminate administrative segregation and establish the SIUs, or structured intervention units.
Proposed section 32 of Bill C-83 says:
The purpose of a structured intervention unit is to (a) provide an appropriate living environment for an inmate who cannot be maintained in the mainstream inmate population for security or other reasons; (b) provide the inmate with an opportunity for meaningful human contact and an opportunity to participate in programs and to have access to services that respond to the inmate’s specific needs and the risks posed by the inmate.
In other words, CSC is simply being compelled to do exactly what it is already mandated to do: deliver correctional programs, interventions and mental health services that respond appropriately to an offender's unique needs.
As pointed out earlier, an audit by the Office of the Auditor General revealed, with respect to women offenders, that CSC has failed in its mandate. In the fall 2018 report of the Auditor General, it was also revealed that CSC has not properly managed offenders under community supervision. As of April 2018, approximately 9,100 federal offenders, or 40% of all federal offenders, were under community supervision. According to “Report 6” of the fall 2018 Auditor General's report:
The number of offenders released into community supervision had grown and was expected to keep growing. However, Correctional Service Canada had reached the limit of how many offenders it could house in the community.... Despite the growing backlog [for accommodation], and despite research that showed that a gradual supervised release gave offenders a better chance of successful reintegration, Correctional Service Canada did not have a long-term plan to respond to its housing pressures.
CSC “did not properly manage offenders under community supervision”. Parole officers “did not always meet with offenders as often as they should have”, nor did they always “monitor [offenders'] compliance with special conditions imposed by the Parole Board of Canada.”
We met with CSC last week, and we discussed this very report. These deficiencies were brought out with an action plan to correct them. However, I would humbly suggest that the Liberal government should be focused on ensuring that Correctional Service Canada fully meets its mandate, as the safety and security of Canadians depends on the successful rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders into society upon their release.
To meet its mandate, a good start would be for Correctional Service Canada to start listening to its correctional workers. I am fortunate to have Drumheller penitentiary in my constituency. Over the years, I have met countless times with wardens, correctional officers and other staff in Drumheller. I can tell members that there are concerns about this bill. Concerns have come forward to the public safety and emergency preparedness committee. Again, I am concerned that many of these correctional officers are not being listened to. In fact, Jason Godin, president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, stated that they were not consulted on Bill C-83. We have a leader of one of the unions of correctional officers, and his frustration is that the Liberal government has not consulted.
The Correctional Investigator has said:
What I would agree with is that there has been very little detail provided by the Correctional Service or the government on how this [Bill C-83] is going to be implemented. If you read the proposed bill as it's currently written, there's a lot of stuff that seems to be pushed to regulation, as prescribed by regulations. We don't know what those regulations would look like. I think that's why there's a lot of uneasiness about this particular piece of legislation.
Given the findings of the OAG, I believe that this uneasiness with respect to the safety and security of Canadians extends well beyond Bill C-83. I certainly know, from the number of calls and emails I have received from correctional workers, that considerable uneasiness exists in the Drumheller Institution. The reason for that anxiety ranges from concerns about their safety and their colleagues' safety to pay issues around Phoenix. I currently have 70 files, some inactive, on Phoenix.
We have a bill now that would affect correctional officers, and they are bemoaning the fact that the government is not listening.