Madam Speaker, it is great to rise this afternoon to speak on Bill C-83, an act that amends the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another act, transforming administrative segregation.
The legislation would do a number of important things, such as creating patient advocates to help ensure inmates get the medical care they need, giving victims of crime enhanced access to recordings of parole hearings and enshrining in law the requirement that Correctional Service Canada considers systemic and background factors when making decisions affecting indigenous people in custody.
Of course, the main thing it would do is replace the current system of administrative segregation with structured intervention units, SIUs, for inmates who need to be separated from the rest of the institution for safety reasons, where they would have access to rehabilitative programs, mental health care and other interventions that are generally not available in segregation, which is an improvement. Importantly, inmates in SIUs would be entitled to a minimum of four hours a day out of their cells and at least two hours a day of meaningful human interaction with staff, visitors, volunteers, elders, chaplains or other inmates with whom they are compatible and can interact safely.
One of the main questions that was asked in the early days of committee study was whether the bill would be backed up with the funding needed to implement it safely and effectively. The answer is yes. The fall economic statement included a $448-million fund to implement the legislation. It includes about $300 million for staffing and other resources for the SIUs as well as $150 million for mental health care both in the SIUs and throughout the corrections system. These investments build on nearly $80 million for mental health care in corrections in the last two budgets. In short, the Correctional Service would have the resources it needs to turn the intention of the legislation into a practical reality.
However, to make sure that these resources are put to good use and that the new structured intervention units really do work as planned, the public safety committee made several amendments to Bill C-83. Yes, the committee system does work and our government committed to that when we were first elected. None of these amendments change the nature of the bill, but they add clarity to the way the new system will work.
For instance, Bill C-83 specifies that an inmate's time out of the cell will have to be offered between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Interactions would generally be expected to happen face to face rather than through a door or meal slot. The clause that would allow hours out of cell not to be offered in exceptional circumstances now includes a list of examples, such as fires or natural disasters, to be clear that the circumstances must be truly exceptional. Also, if a warden disagrees with a medical recommendation to remove an inmate from an SIU, the matter will be elevated to a senior panel external to the institution.
However, those are the important additions that would strengthen the new system, and now at report stage, the member for Oakville North—Burlington has proposed an additional amendment that would add independent external review of SIU placements, which is something that was called for by several witnesses. The public safety minister told the committee last fall that he was open to the idea. The government has now confirmed that it will support the proposal.
Again, the role of committees is near and dear to our democracy, and it is again in Bill C-83 that we see committees doing the good work that Canadians expect them to do and that their members do with pride.
External decision-makers would get involved in three scenarios: if an inmate in an SIU has, for whatever reason, not received the minimum hours out of his or her cell or minimum hours of meaningful human contact for five days in a row or 15 out of 30; if the senior panel reviewing a medical recommendation decides to keep the inmate in the SIU; and on the 90th day of placement in SIU, and every 60 days thereafter, for as long as the inmate is there.
In the first scenario, when an inmate has not been getting his or her time out of cell, the external independent decision-maker will consider whether the Correctional Service has taken all reasonable steps to provide the inmate with opportunities for hours out and encourage inmates to avail themselves of those opportunities. If they determine that not to be the case, they can make recommendations to the service, and if, after a week, the independent decision-maker is still not satisfied, they can order the inmate removed from the SIU. The decision-maker's ruling will be appealable to the Federal Court, both by the inmate and the Correctional Service.
In the other scenarios, a disagreement about a medical recommendation and regular reviews beginning on the 90th day, the independent decision-maker will consider whether having the inmate in the general population poses a security threat or would interfere with an ongoing investigation. It will take into account the inmate's correctional plan, the appropriateness of the inmate's security classification and confinement in the penitentiary, and any other factor it deems relevant.
Bill C-83 provides extensive flexibilities to the authorities to do their jobs. In other words, inmates who currently need to be separated from the rest of the institution for security reasons spend 22 hours a day in their cells, with very little in the way of rehabilitative interventions and no external oversight. Under Bill C-83, those inmates will have twice as much time out of their cells, with a full suite of rehabilitative interventions, including mental health care, and there will be binding external oversight that could kick in after as few as five days or even sooner in the event of a health care professional's recommendation.
This is a major step forward and that cannot be over-emphasized. Bill C-83 updates issues with regard to our penitentiaries and commits the appropriate funds to do so. I am proud of the legislation. I do not sit on the committee reviewing and bringing the bill forward, but it is great to see the committee doing its work and also incorporating amendments.
Bill C-83 will also enhance rehabilitation while continuing to meet the security imperatives that must always be top of mind when we are dealing with corrections. In fact, we cannot really separate rehabilitation from security. Better, more effective rehabilitation results in better security, both while the inmates are incarcerated and, as importantly, once they have been released.
That is why I support Bill C-83, and I hope that the bill will be adopted and enacted as soon as possible by this Parliament.