moved that Bill C-83, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, given the nature of the legislation we are about to discuss today pertaining to the correctional system, I want to take this moment to recognize that the family, friends and colleagues of a correctional officer, the late Lesa Zoerb, will be gathering tomorrow for her funeral service in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan. Lesa lost her life in a vehicle crash while on duty last week. She was born in Regina. She had two children. She had worked as a federal correctional officer for 20 years.
I know everyone in this House will want to join with me in extending our deepest condolences to all those who are mourning the loss of Lesa, especially her loving family.
May she rest in peace.
I will now move on to the legislation at hand. What we are doing today is opening the second reading debate on Bill C-83, which amends the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
The act is all about greater safety, security and effectiveness within Canada's correctional system. It follows two superior court decisions that have imposed certain deadlines on Parliament, which will be coming up toward the end of this year.
Our government's top priority is protecting Canadians from natural disasters, threats to national security, and, of course, crime. We are doing a number of things to protect Canadian communities from criminal activity.
To protect Canadian communities from criminal activity, we are supporting law enforcement and ensuring that the brave women and men who serve our communities have the resources they need to do their jobs. We are funding programs that help keep young Canadians out of gangs and provide them with more positive opportunities and choices. We are addressing some of the social determinants of crime, like poverty, housing and education. We are combatting gun smuggling at the border and the flow of illegal cash into organized crime. We are also advancing new legislation to tackle some of the most serious threats to the safety of our communities, like gun violence and impaired driving.
Another significant thing we can do to enhance public safety is to make our correctional system as effective as possible at dealing with people who have committed crimes, so that when their sentences are over they are prepared to go straight and not commit new crimes.
Certainly, there are some offenders who have received life sentences from the courts and who may never be granted any form of conditional release by the Parole Board. However, the vast majority will eventually return to our communities, which is why the main responsibility of our correctional system is to do as much as possible to ensure that when offenders are released, they are ready to leave their criminal past behind them and to lead safe, productive, law-abiding lives.
We all want fewer offenders, fewer victims and safer communities. Achieving that is obviously no easy task. It involves an expert, accurate assessment of each offender's issues, needs and criminogenic risk, both at intake and on an ongoing basis. It involves meeting those needs and reducing those risks through appropriate interventions, programming, education, skills training and gradual supervised release, as opposed to simply sending an offender cold turkey straight from maximum security back into society.
It also involves any required treatment for addiction or mental health. The Correctional Service of Canada estimates that about 70% of all inmates exhibit symptoms of some form of mental illness. In administrative segregation, more than one-third of men and virtually all women have moderate to high mental health issues.
The legislation before us today would significantly strengthen the ability of our correctional system to achieve the objectives of the system and to keep Canadians safe. Safety is job number one.
To begin with, the bill introduces an innovative new way of dealing with offenders who for one reason or another cannot be housed within the general population of a correctional institution. At the moment, those offenders are placed in administrative segregation. Segregated inmates are allowed two hours out of their cell per day and interactions with other people are tightly limited. While the correctional service tries to avoid interruptions and interventions in programming, practical considerations make that very difficult to do.
Intense debate about administrative segregation has been ongoing for many years. Despite the fact that the practice harkens back to the treatment of Nelson Mandela on Robben Island and has been branded by some as a form of torture, particularly by comments at the United Nations, there are those who have defended administrative segregation as a valuable security management tool.
On the other side of the debate, the use of segregation has been vigorously criticized by the correctional investigator, by the coroner's inquest into the death of Ashley Smith a number of years ago, by many NGOs and most recently by a number of Canadian courts.
Within the last year, courts in both Ontario and British Columbia have ruled in different ways and for different reasons that administrative segregation as currently practised is not constitutional. Those rulings have been appealed, one by the government and one by the other party, but at the moment they are scheduled to take effect in just a few months, toward the end of this year and the beginning of next year, and we as a Parliament need to be prepared for that eventuality. That is part of the reason for the timing of Bill C-83 today.
There can be no doubt that within a correctional institution it is essential to have an effective way of separating certain people from others be it for their own safety or for the safety of staff and volunteers or for the safety of other inmates.
The question that we have been examining is how to do that effectively while maintaining as much as possible the offender's access to the programming, the mental health care and the other interventions that are available to the general population, especially given that the people who end up in segregation often have needs and risks that are particularly acute.
The solution that we are proposing in Bill C-83 is to completely eliminate the existing practice of administrative segregation and replace it with a new approach, and that is the creation of structured intervention units, or SIUs.
These units will be separate from the general population so that the safety imperative will be met. But they will be designed and they will be staffed and resourced to ensure that the people who are placed there will receive the interventions, the programming and the treatment that is required.
Inmates in SIUs will be out of their cells for at least four hours daily, with a minimum of two hours of meaningful interaction with staff, volunteers, elders, visitors or other compatible inmates.
Additional mental health professionals will be hired and assigned specifically to the SIUs. The legislation will make it clear that inmates are not to be separated from the general population any longer than necessary.
This new approach will help to ensure the safety of correctional institutions and the public by strengthening the capacity of the Correctional Service of Canada to promote rehabilitation in a secure environment.
Bill C-83 also includes several other related measures to further that same objective. For example, it would implement a key recommendation from the coroner's inquest into the death of Ashley Smith to establish a system of patient advocates for inmates with mental needs. Patient advocates would work with offenders and correctional staff to help ensure that people in federal custody receive appropriate medical care.
The legislation would also enshrine in law the principle that medical professionals working in the corrections system must be free to exercise their professional judgment autonomously on the basis of their own medical expertise. These measures would, ultimately, enhance public safety because offenders whose medical and mental health issues are under control are more likely to achieve safe and successful rehabilitation and less likely to reoffend after they have served their sentences.
The bill would also formalize the obligation on the part of the Correctional Service of Canada to take into account systemic and background factors affecting indigenous people when making offender management decisions. The consideration of these factors is, in fact, an obligation that was established by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 1999 Gladue decision. For 15 years, Correctional Service Canada has had policy directives in place implementing that obligation, but now it would be enshrined in law.
As we all know, indigenous people are dramatically overrepresented in our corrections system, and that is a harsh reality that we all have to work hard to change. While the socio-economic factors that cause this overrepresentation must generally be addressed by other departments and agencies before incarceration occurs, it is the responsibility of the corrections system to provide indigenous offenders with both appropriate consequences for criminal activity, as well as effective and culturally appropriate rehabilitative interventions. The changes made by this bill would help ensure that is the case.
This legislation would also expand the access of victims to information related to parole hearings. Currently, a victim who does not attend a parole hearing is entitled to receive an audio recording of the hearing, but for some reason, if victims do attend, they lose their right to receive a recording, and that just does not make much sense. Attending parole hearings can be a very difficult experience for victims of crime and their families, and we have seen that demonstrated in recent days. They cannot possibly be expected to retain every word of what is said, nor should they have to. If, after the hearing is over, it is all a bit of a blur and they would like to listen to the proceedings again in a more comfortable setting, they should be able to do that, and this bill would give them that right.
This bill would also allow for the use of body scanner technology to help keep contraband substances out of federal correctional institutions. These kinds of devices are already in use in many provincial correctional facilities. They make it easier for officers to detect when someone is trying to smuggle in drugs or other illicit materials and they are less invasive than other methods of security, like strip searches, for example. Keeping contraband out of correctional facilities would help make institutions as safe and secure as possible. The safety of employees, volunteers, visitors and inmates is an absolute prerequisite for all the other work that Correctional Service Canada does.
In other words, the legislation that is before us today in Bill C-83 recognizes two things. The first is that institutional security is an absolute imperative that the Correctional Service of Canada must always meet.
Second, the safety of Canadian communities depends on the rehabilitative work that happens within secure correctional institutions. The new structured intervention units being created by Bill C-83 will help keep institutions safe by ensuring that inmates can be separated from the general population when that is necessary and they will help keep Canadian communities safe by ensuring the continuity of rehabilitative programming and the accessibility of mental health care for the inmates in these units.
Let us be clear. Providing quality, rehabilitative programming and mental health care is not about being nice to criminals. Rather, by having a correctional system that is as effective as possible at preventing people who have broken the law from breaking it again, we are increasing the safety of our communities. That is our priority and that is why we are introducing this legislation, taking full account of the most recent decisions of Canadian courts. I look forward very much to the constructive input of all colleagues in the House, both during today's debate and throughout the legislative process on Bill C-83.