Mr. Speaker, that is why we are proposing to remove these terms. Even so, of course, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms will continue to apply to everything the Correctional Service does.
The other amendment that we are proposing to partially retain has to do with strip searches. The Senate is proposing to prohibit any strip searches conducted as a matter of routine and we wholeheartedly endorse that objective. It would not be pleasant for any of us to be strip-searched.
People in prison have often experienced trauma, including sexual abuse. Strip searches can cause them to relive that trauma and can even deter people from participating in programs like work release if they know they will be strip-searched on their way out or on their way back in. The Correctional Service should do everything possible to minimize strip searches.
That is why Bill C-83 would allow for the use of body scanners similar to what exists in airports as recommended by the United Nations. Rather than a blanket prohibition though, the government is proposing that the law require that Correctional Service use a body scanner instead of a strip search whenever one is available. That accounts for the fact that it will take some time for body scanners to be installed in every institution and it recognizes that sometimes machines break down. In those situations, correctional staff still need to be confident that inmates are not smuggling drugs, weapons or other contraband. That is important not only for staff safety but for the safety of other inmates as well. As body scanners become more available in federal institutions, strip searches should become increasingly rare.
I will now turn to the proposals from the Senate with which we respectfully disagree.
To begin with, there are two relatively similar ones that would take existing concepts used for indigenous corrections and expand them to other unspecified groups. This would apply to section 81 of the act, which allows for community-run healing lodges and section 84, which allows for community-supported release. Both of these concepts have proven valuable and successful in an indigenous context and the idea of expanding them is indeed worthy of serious consideration.
Certainly, there are other overrepresented groups in federal custody, particularly Canadians of African descent. Our government is wholly in favour of examining whether strategies that have worked for indigenous corrections can be successfully applied in other contexts and with other communities. We are opposing this amendment not because we disagree with the principle but because the serious consideration and examination I mentioned has not happened yet.
Before moving forward with something like this, there should be extensive consultations to determine which groups would be interested. Where does the capacity exist? And how the experience of the relatively few indigenous communities and organizations that run section 81 facilities is or is not applicable more broadly.
It would be a major policy change and potentially a positive one, but the study and analysis should come before we change the law, not after.
We also respectfully disagree with an amendment that would require the Correctional Service to approve the transfer to a provincial hospital of any inmate with a disabling mental health issue. As I mentioned earlier, in the 2018 budget, our government increased funding for external mental health beds. The use of provincial hospitals may be appropriate in some circumstances. The fact is, though, that it can be very difficult to find provincial hospitals willing and able to house and treat federal inmates. If we want to change the law without the aim of bringing about the transfer of a significant number of people from federal correctional institutions to provincial hospitals, it is imperative that we consult the provinces first.
It is also important for the sake of preserving the clinical independence of the health care providers who work in corrections that the law not pre-empt their professional judgment. The law already allows for these kinds of transfers where possible and appropriate and where recommended by medical professionals. At the same time, we are dramatically bolstering mental health resources within the federal correctional service so that inmates receive high-quality mental health care wherever they serve their sentence. We are also proposing not to accept an amendment that would allow sentences to be shortened on application to a court, due to acts or omissions by correctional personnel deemed to constitute unfairness in the administration of a sentence.
Once again, the goal of deterring improper conduct by correctional staff is commendable. There are a great many people working in federal corrections who are committed professionals doing excellent work. Anything less should be deterred, denounced and the persons potentially disciplined or dismissed. Inmates who are negatively impacted by inappropriate conduct on the part of correctional staff already have recourse, in the form of grievances or lawsuits, for example. The idea of retroactively shortening court-imposed sentences in these circumstances would be a major policy change. Before enacting this kind of provision, there should be consultations with stakeholders, including victims groups as well as provincial partners and other actors in the justice system. Parliamentarians in both chambers should have the opportunity to study it at length. It is not something that should be tacked on at the end of a legislative process that did not contemplate this kind of approach.
We also respectfully disagree with the recommendation to have the new system reviewed by parliamentary committees after two years rather than five. This House added a five-year review to the bill, and that is a reasonable time frame. It gives the new system time to get off the ground and be fully implemented and that will actually make Parliament's review more meaningful and impactful when it happens. In the interim, the minister will soon be appointing an advisory panel to monitor implementation of the SIUs as they roll out. That panel will be able to visit sites, meet with inmates and staff, provide feedback to the commissioner and sound the alarm if something is really not working out as it should. Of course, parliamentary committees do not need legislation to tell them what to study. Even without a legal requirement, if committees of this House or of the other place want to review the SIU system two years from now, they are perfectly free to do so.
Finally, the government respectfully disagrees with the proposal to institute judicial review of all SIU placements after 48 hours. Bill C-83 already has a strong system of binding external oversight.
Independent external decision-makers appointed by the minister will review any case where someone in an SIU has not received the minimum hours out of cell or minimum hours of meaningful human contact for five days in a row, or 15 days out of 30. They will also review cases where the Correctional Service is not following the advice of a health care professional to remove an inmate from an SIU or change their conditions. They will review all SIU placements at 90 days and every 60 days thereafter for any inmate still in the SIU at that point. That is in addition to regular and robust internal review at five, 30 and 60 days.
Simply put, judicial review of SIU placements is unnecessary. Colleagues do not have to take my word for it. At the public safety committee, the correctional investigator supported using the independent chairperson model to oversee SIUs. That is a model that uses ministerial appointees, not judges.
Plus, while no court has considered the new SIU system proposed by this bill, courts in Ontario and B.C. have rendered decisions about the kind of oversight they deem necessary for the current system of administrative segregation. In B.C., the court found that oversight of administrative segregation must be external to the Correctional Service but did not say that judicial review was required. In Ontario, the court actually found that internal review was preferable, saying, “The reviewing tribunal can have adequate independence without having all the attributes of a judge.”
Beyond being unnecessary, requiring judicial review of all SIU placements longer than 48 hours would have considerable impacts on provincial superior courts. There would need to be new judges appointed to handle the caseload. Those judges would be paid for out of federal funds and they would require support staff paid for by the provinces. There would also be changes required to the Judges Act, as well as to corresponding provincial legislation. In other words, accepting this amendment would mean imposing legislative and financial requirements on the provinces without so much as a phone call to check and see if they are on board.
If judicial review were the only way to ensure that this new system works properly and to provide the procedural safeguards required, then one could make an argument that all of these complications, making legislative amendments across the country, finding the money in federal and provincial coffers, and fast-tracking the appointment of a bunch of new judges would just have to somehow get done. However, judicial review is far from the only option. There must absolutely be robust oversight of the new system proposed by Bill C-83 and review by independent external decision-makers meets that need.
I thank all hon. senators for their efforts and their contributions. At this point, the bill truly is the product of the Parliament of Canada as a whole.
If the version we are sending back to the Senate receives royal assent, it will be a piece of legislation drafted by the government, amended by Liberal, Conservative, NDP and Green Party members, and amended by our colleagues in the Senate, as well.
For all of our frequent disagreements, this bill is a good example of the strength of the legislative process in our parliamentary democracy. Most importantly, it will significantly improve Canada's correctional system, enhancing the safety of the people who work and live in federal institutions and improving the system's effectiveness when it comes to rehabilitation and safe, successful reintegration.
I look forward to the passage and the implementation of Bill C-83.