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View Pam Damoff Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Pam Damoff Profile
2019-06-19 23:27 [p.29457]
Mr. Speaker, Parliament has been studying Bill C-83 for the last nine months. Its essence and objective are the same now as they were when the bill was introduced: to provide a way to separate inmates from the general population in an institution when doing so is necessary for safety reasons, without cutting off those inmates from rehabilitative interventions, programs, mental health care and meaningful human contact.
The main feature of the bill is the replacement of administrative segregation with structured intervention units, or SIUs. In SIUs, inmates would get a minimum of four hours out of the cell every day, twice as much as they currently get in administrative segregation, and for the first time, there would be a legal entitlement to meaningful human contact of at least two hours every day.
In addition to these legislative changes, the government is investing $450 million so that the Correctional Service will be able to hire the staff necessary to provide programs, interventions and mental health care in SIUs and to do it all safely. This investment is critical to the success of the SIUs.
During my conversations with both the Union of Safety and Justice Employees and the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, as well as during visits I made to corrections facilities in Edmonton and Saskatoon last year, something I heard loud and clear was that there was a need for meaningful investments in corrections to atone for 10 years of cuts by the previous Conservative government so that we can ensure the best rehabilitative outcomes for inmates, and just as importantly, ensure the safety of those who work in corrections.
My friend Stan Stapleton, the national president of the Union of Safety and Justice Employees, wrote an article in May 2019, and I would like to read from it now:
Correctional Service Canada's use of solitary confinement must change. The long-standng practice of managing difficult offenders by [the use of]...solitary confinement is totally unworkable. As Canada's courts have said, it is also profoundly inhumane. Men and women serving federal time are broken and desperate human beings in need of meaningful contact, not further isolation.
At the same time, federal prisons are fraught with danger. The pressure cooker environment and threats of violence lead some prisoners to seek time away from the general population for their own sanity and safety.
Other offenders with a strong propensity for violence and few coping skills simply cannot manage long periods with others without posing a real threat. In a system with few safety valves, administrative segregation (or solitary confinement) has tragically become one of the few.
The new legislation proposes significant changes to solitary. Bill C-83 definitely won't solve everything, but it's a worthy next step. It will mandate that Correctional Service Canada dedicate the appropriate human resources for sustained rehabilitative efforts. Until now, the opportunity for parole officers, program officers, and teachers to spend quality time with the highest needs offenders has been minimal, if existent.
It will render offenders separated from the general population a priority, instead of an after-thought, within Corrections. It will enforce better reporting and accountability mechanisms.
I believe the proposed segregation units will benefit from independent oversight outside of Corrections, as is proposed by the Bill. This is crucial. But to ensure that the Bill does what is intended, the Correctional Service needs to glean the ongoing wisdom of those on the front lines of rehabilitating offenders every day....
A commitment to keep all Canadians safe means serious investments in rehabilitating all offenders in federal prisons, 90 percent of whom will be released back into the community, ready or not. I am hopeful that Bill C-83 passes so that the real work can begin.
That is the end of the article.
I want to thank Stan for his years of service to corrections, for his assistance with my understanding of our corrections system and for providing all of us with the critical perspective of those working in corrections.
Let me return to Bill C-83. The amendments made at the public safety committee last fall addressed practical concerns raised by certain witnesses to help ensure that the new system would function as intended.
The committee heard from indigenous groups, including Dr. Allen Benson and the Native Women's Association of Canada, who called for changes to the definition of indigenous organizations to ensure that it properly captured the diverse range of indigenous groups and organizations working on these issues across Canada.
Following the discussion, the committee was able to unanimously approve an amendment that called for indigenous organizations to predominantly have indigenous leadership. We also heard about the need for CSC to seek advice, particularly in matters of mental health and behaviours, from indigenous spiritual leaders or elders. I was pleased that my amendment to that effect was adopted at committee.
The bill has changed in significant ways since it was first introduced. I am proud to work for a government that is amenable to feedback and was receptive to amendments, informed by witness testimony that we heard at the public safety committee, that make the bill even stronger.
At report stage, we made a major additional amendment, one that I am incredibly proud to have introduced, that creates a mechanism to provide binding, independent, external oversight of SIUs.
The Senate has sent the bill back to us with some additional proposals. I appreciate the intent of all of the Senate's proposals and I am glad the government is accepting several of them, in whole or in part.
Those that we are accepting include the following: mandatory mental health assessments for all inmates within 30 days of admission and within 24 hours of transfer to an SIU; adding precision to the section of the bill that requires the Correctional Service to consider systemic and background factors in decisions affecting indigenous inmates; establishing the consideration of alternatives to incarceration, where appropriate, as a guiding principle of the Correctional Service; and minimizing the use of strip searches.
Other proposals from the Senate are interesting ideas, but they really should be studied as stand-alone items rather than included as amendments to this bill. For example, the idea of expanding the use of measures developed for indigenous corrections to non-indigenous inmates might be valid. When I visited the Pê Sâkâstêw and Buffalo Sage healing lodges in Edmonton last year, I saw first-hand the incredible impact that the programming in these institutions was having on outcomes for inmates who are serving their sentences there.
At Buffalo Sage, I was honoured to take part in a circle with Elder Vicky and hearing from strong female offenders, women who have survived what life has thrown at them and are now on a healing journey, immersed in their culture and on the road to rehabilitation and reintegration. These were women who had escaped violent abusers and themselves ended up in prison, women whose lack of housing and poverty led them to the criminal justice system, and women who lost their children to the foster system. One individual at Buffalo Sage shared with me that for the first time since entering the correction system, at Buffalo Sage she felt that she was able to heal.
I also had the privilege of visiting Pê Sâkâstêw, a men's healing lodge, where I had a memorable meeting with a 39-year-old indigenous man who first came into the justice system at 12 as a young offender. After a life in and out of jail, a life that included abuse and addictions, he was serving a sentence for robbery and now was on a successful healing journey. He lives as a man in prison and a woman outside, and prefers the “he” pronoun. He had reconnected with his community for the first time in 20 years.
I have a lot more that I could say in support of healing lodges and their impact on correctional outcomes for indigenous offenders, but a lot of work would have to go into determining how the Senate's vision would be executed, including what aspects could be borrowed from indigenous programming, what elements would have to be redesigned, what kind of community support exists and where the funding would come from without diminishing from the services provided to the indigenous prison population, which we know is the fastest-growing prison population in Canada.
Another example from the Senate is a proposal designed to deter misconduct by correctional employees and to support inmates affected by it.
It is important to point out that the vast majority of correctional staff are trained professionals doing a very hard job with skill and dedication. They are individuals for whom I have the utmost respect, who work in a job that gets little in the way of accolades from Canadians. Whenever there is an issue with someone working in corrections, we must absolutely address those situations. However, in my opinion, the Senate's proposal of shortening inmates' sentences because of the conduct of correctional personnel is not the right approach.
The Senate has also proposed an amendment that would require the authorization of a provincial superior court for any SIU placement longer than 48 hours.
Once more, I understand and share the objective of ensuring that SIUs are properly used. Robust oversight will help see to it that SIUs will be a last resort, that placements in SIUs will be as short as possible, and that inmates in SIUs are receiving all the time out of cell and meaningful human contact to which the bill entitles them.
It is important to note that in the context of administrative segregation, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has found that placements must be examined by the fifth working day by a reviewer who is “completely outside the circle of influence of the person whose decision is being reviewed” and ”able to substitute its decision for that of the person whose decision is being reviewed.” The court was explicit that the reviewer need not be external to the Correctional Service Canada and, in fact, recommending “an administrative review provided by the Correctional Service of Canada.” While this finding was specifically in relation to administrative segregation and not SIUs, Bill C-83 would create a review process for SIUs consistent with what the court required for administrative segregation.
Under Bill C-83, SIU placements will be reviewed by the fifth working day by the institutional head who does not report to the initial decision-maker and who has the authority to overturn the initial decision. Importantly, whether in the context of administrative segregation or SIUs, no court has required judicial oversight and no court has set 48 hours as a timeline for review of any kind.
I would remind the House that robust oversight was discussed at length at the public safety committee, and has already been added to the bill in my report stage amendment.
Independent external decision-makers would be appointed by the minister to review any case where an inmate in an SIU does not get 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 situations where Correctional Service Canada does not accept the advice of a health care professional to remove an inmate from an SIU or change their conditions. In addition, they will review all SIU placements at 90 days and every 60 days thereafter for inmates still there at that point.
The determinations of independent external decision-makers will be binding and reviewable by the Federal Court. All of that external oversight is on top of regular reviews within the Correctional Service, beginning on the fifth day of placement in an SIU.
There are several advantages to using independent adjudicators rather than judges to provide oversight in this context. For one thing, our courts already have a heavy case load. Giving them additional responsibilities would mean giving them additional resources, namely increasing the number of Superior Court judges, which involves changes to legislation and making budgetary allocations both at federal and provincial levels.
That raises another problem. There are provincial Superior Courts. We should not be adding to their workload to this extent without engaging in thorough consultations with the provinces.
Also, the flexibility of a system of independent adjudicators is a big advantage in this context. A few of them could be stationed in different parts of the country and could be reactive to needs in different provinces. With judges, they are appointed permanently to a specific court and only deal with cases in their jurisdiction. Even for the current system of administrative segregation, the courts have not said that a judicial review is required. The Ontario Superior Court actually expressed a preference for non-judicial review, so decisions could be made faster.
Ultimately, while I appreciate the intent of the Senate's proposal about judicial review, an independent adjudication system already in Bill C-83 can meet the need for oversight without the drawbacks of using the courts.
I appreciate all the Senate's contributions and hard work. This bill has gotten a lot of attention from parliamentarians over the last nine months, and rightly so.
We entrust Correctional Services with the task of carrying out sentences that are supposed to be a deterrent to and punishment for criminal activity and we entrust it with the physical separation of potentially dangerous people from the rest of Canadian society. At the same time, we charge the Correctional Service with the rehabilitation through measures including behaviour counselling, anger management programs, mental health care, substance abuse treatment, education and vocational training.
In a country like Canada, we demand that these tasks all be carried out humanely and with respect, even for the rights of people who have done terrible things, and in accordance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Bill C-83 would help ensure that all these goals can be achieved.
When I spoke to this bill at report stage, I said that I felt strongly that the legislation, combined with the additional investments from our government, would transform our correctional system. That is why I support the legislation and the motion before us today. I urge my colleagues to do the same.
This is the last time I will be speaking in the House before we rise. I would like to acknowledge my staff who are present today: Hilary Lawson and Conor Lewis. This legislation benefited from the input of Hilary, and it would not be the legislation that it is right now without her hard work. Conor has worked with me on the status of women committee. I can quite confidently say that I have the best staff on the Hill. I thank them both for all of their efforts.
I would also like to extend my thanks to the members of the public safety committee who are here tonight. I am sorry I do not know their ridings, but they have both spoken tonight. They have both been incredible members to work with. It is rare that we see members work across the aisle as well as we did on the public safety committee on issues that were by nature very controversial. We always found a way to work together, and even when we did not agree we always did it in a very agreeable way. I would like to commend them for their work, as well as my Liberal colleagues on the committee. We got a lot of good work done, and this bill is one that I am very proud of. I will be going back to my riding knowing that we have passed legislation that will truly be transformative for our corrections system.
View Pam Damoff Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Pam Damoff Profile
2018-11-02 12:44 [p.23212]
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the member's motion regarding Bill C-83, which the House has already voted on and passed at second reading.
The hon. member for Durham just mentioned that sometimes politics gets done in this place, and I would argue that the only thing being done by the Conservative Party right now is playing politics.
I cannot imagine what the family of Tori Stafford has gone through or any family that has lost a child in this manner. My heart goes out to all families who have lost children to crime.
I will start by discussing Bill C-83 and some concerns that have been raised about the working conditions of those working in corrections. It is challenging work. From guards to parole officers, program staff to medical professionals, corrections employees work hard, around the clock and in challenging environments to keep our institutions safe and in support of effective rehabilitation, which ultimately protects Canadian communities. They represent a professional workforce of nearly 18,000 employees, all engaged in the success of the corrections system and the fulfilment of Correctional Service Canada's mandate. That is complemented by some 6,000 volunteers in institutions and communities, not to mention elders, chaplains and the many other unsung heroes working in corrections. I want to assure all of those individuals that as we study Bill C-83 at committee, their voices will be heard and we will be listening to them.
Regarding the transfer referred to in this motion, when it came to the attention of the Minister of Public Safety, he asked the commissioner of corrections to review the transfer decision and the long-standing policies in place, which existed prior to our becoming government, that led to the decision, to ensure that they remain appropriate or to recommend if they need updating. As the Minister of Public Safety indicated in the House, he received the report from the commissioner of corrections late yesterday, a report that came with several policy options for him to consider. The minister is studying the report carefully and has said that if there are any changes that need to be made to these long-standing policies, they will be made in the near future.
In the meantime, the public safety committee is expected to begin its study of Bill C-83 next week. This transformational piece of legislation will eliminate segregation in Canadian corrections facilities, but is unrelated to the issue of this particular transfer. Through Bill C-83, the government is demonstrating its commitment to ensuring that we not only have the tools to make guilty parties accountable for breaking the law, but also create an environment that fosters rehabilitation so there are fewer repeat offenders, fewer victims and, ultimately, safer communities.
Virtually everyone in federal custody is eventually going to be released. It is in the best interests of public safety to ensure that when offenders are released, they are well prepared to participate meaningfully in society and that they are unlikely to reoffend. That is why we are strengthening the federal corrections system and aligning it with the latest evidence and best practices so that offenders are rehabilitated and better prepared to eventually re-enter our communities.
Bill C-83 would replace the long-standing practice of using segregation and replace it with the use of structured intervention units, or SIUs. This is a bold new approach to federal corrections. An offender may be placed in an SIU when there are reasonable grounds to believe that they pose a risk to the safety of any person, including themselves, or the security of the institution. It will protect the safety of staff and those in their custody by allowing offenders to be separated as required, while ensuring that those offenders receive effective rehabilitative programming, as well as interventions and mental health support. These things are not in place right now but we would put them in place with Bill C-83.
Currently, placement in segregation basically suspends all interventions and programming for an offender. The offender is essentially kept isolated from everyone. In a structured intervention unit, on the other hand, the offender will have a minimum of four hours outside of their cell and a minimum of two hours of meaningful interactions with other people, including staff, volunteers, visitors, elders, chaplains and other compatible inmates. They will have access to structured interventions to address the underlying behaviour that led to their placement in the SIU. These will include programs and mental health care tailored to their needs. It is a system that will allow for the protection of inmates, staff and the institution while ensuring that the time an inmate spends there does not interrupt his or her rehabilitative programming. Make no mistake, rehabilitative programming is essential to ensure that when the person is released from corrections, they will be able to live a life free of crime.
We will ensure that the correctional service has the resources it needs to ensure the safe and secure management of offenders within the SIU while delivering all of the important programming and allowing for visitations.
In addition, the new system will be subject to a robust internal review process. By the fifth working day after movement to an SIU, the warden will determine if the inmate should remain there, taking into account factors such as the inmate's correctional plan and medical condition. If the inmate remains in the SIU, subsequent reviews will happen after 30 days by the warden and every 30 days thereafter by the commissioner of corrections.
Reviews can be triggered by a medical professional at any time, and will be strengthened by the fact that Bill C-83 also enshrines in law for the first time the principle that health care professionals within the corrections system must have the autonomy to exercise their own medical judgment. As recommended by the Ashley Smith inquest, it would create a system of patient advocates who will help ensure that people get the medical treatment they need.
Bill C-83 would also enshrine in law the principle that offender management decisions must involve consideration of systemic and background factors related to indigenous offenders. These amendments are based on the 1999 Gladue case and reflect what the Supreme Court has found to be the constitutional right of an indigenous offender.
The bill would also improve support for victims. Currently, victims may attend a parole hearing of the perpetrator of the crime. Alternatively, victims can request audio recordings of the parole hearing if they are unable to attend. Unfortunately, due to a glitch in the existing act, if a victim attends in person, he or she is not able to receive an audio recording. We have heard from victims that parole hearings can be such an emotional time that afterward the victim often cannot remember the full details of what transpired. Bill C-83 would ensure that even if the victim attends in person, he or she will be able to get a copy of the recording.
The legislation would also allow CSC to use body scanners for the first time. These scanners are a less invasive way of searching inmates and visitors to a penitentiary while ensuring that correctional staff have the tools they need to detect and prevent contraband.
During Stephen Harper's time in office there were many inmates in healing lodges who had committed very serious crimes. In fact, dozens were convicted of murder and at least 14 were convicted in cases in which the victims were children. They were sent to healing lodges under the Harper government because, apparently, the Harper government understood that healing lodges were in the interest of rehabilitation and public safety. I would like to read a quote from the member for Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, who said, “Healing lodges developed in collaboration with aboriginal communities provide supportive healing and reintegration environments.”
In our country, we rely on our courts to deliver sentences and the corrections system to supervise offenders, to uphold public safety and to rehabilitate those in their care. We do not have a vigilante system in Canada. We do not allow public opinion or political rhetoric to determine the penalties dealt to individual offenders. Yet the opposition has been playing political games with this case and our entire justice system during the past weeks.
Let us be clear. There is no doubt that this offender should be in prison. There is no doubt that she remains in prison. The facts of the case are well known and they shake us to the core. She was tried and sentenced to life without eligibility for parole for 25 years. She has been in the custody of Correctional Services Canada since sentencing. Let me reiterate that she is still in prison and continues to be supervised while incarcerated and will remain under supervision for the rest of her life.
Neither the Minister of Public Safety nor the House has the ability to overturn the decision on where that individual offender should be serving her sentence. To make the public believe that we do is irresponsible for the opposition, and I, for one, do not want to live in a country where our justice and corrections systems rely on political rhetoric and public opinion in their decision-making processes.
Recently, we had the new commissioner of corrections at the public safety committee. She stated several times, just as the Minister of Public Safety has done here as well, that she was asked to review the circumstances surrounding this transfer decision, as well as the long-standing policies regarding transfers in general. As I mentioned earlier, the Minister of Public Safety received the commissioner's report late yesterday and is in the process of reviewing it.
Both of committees that I sit on, the status of women and public safety committees, tabled reports in June on the corrections system and, in particular, on indigenous people in corrections. The public safety committee's report was unanimous in calling for additional funding for healing lodges. Members from all parties heard from witnesses and agreed that healing lodges were doing excellent work and should be expanded and supported. The Conservative members of the committee agreed with us that they play an integral role in our corrections system. The status of women committee also recommended additional funding for healing lodges and heard extensive testimony on their benefits.
I wonder how many on the opposition benches have actually visited a women's medium-security institute or healing lodge. I have visited both. I suspect most people, including those in the House, expect prison to look more like what they see on television and in movies. They might be surprised to see what a medium-security institute like Grand Valley actually looks like.
Let me be clear. A healing lodge is still a secure corrections facility. Perhaps if it were called a women's indigenous corrections facility, we would not even be debating this issue, nor having the motion before us today. It is not a spa. It is not a summer camp. There are no luxury linens. Prisoners must follow the rules if they want to stay there.
A healing lodge is different from what Canadians might expect a prison to look like, but these institutions are also very different in their outcomes for prisoners, and in turn, better for Canadians and public safety in the long run. In fact, I would argue that is why the Harper Conservatives sent individuals who had been convicted of murder to healing lodges, because they recognized the benefits for offenders when they spend time in these institutions.
Claire Carefoot, executive director of the Buffalo Sage Wellness House, an Edmonton healing lodge, has 29 years of experience in corrections. She appeared before the public safety committee during our study, and stated:
It's not a get-out-of-jail-free [card].... We have the same kind of supervision and restrictions they have in a prison. Only we're doing it in a healing way.... they have to accept responsibility for their offences, for their victims, and they have to accept responsibility for their own behaviour.
Our government knows that a corrections system focused on accountability rather than simple retribution is better for corrections outcomes and, therefore, better for the public safety of all Canadians. We know that taking a rehabilitative approach is the best way to protect the public safety of Canadians. I think Canadians would agree that when people leave prison, we do not want them to commit a violent crime. It is not in the interests of public safety.
As we know, regardless of the length of their sentence, the vast majority of those incarcerated in our system will be released from prison at some point. They may very well move into our neighbourhoods. What kind of person do we want released from prison at the end of his or her sentence living next door to us? I feel strongly that, regardless of our feelings, public safety is best served when we take steps to prevent violent recidivism.
I mentioned the fact that the previous government sent individuals who had committed murder and individuals who had committed crimes against children to healing lodges.
I would argue that is the problem with the Conservative Party today. It has no moral centre. It has no principles around which to build policies. Conservatives simply swing from one issue to the next, with no sense of cohesion or principles to guide them. Almost every issue or policy that the Conservatives supported in government is one that they have a knee-jerk reaction to while in opposition.
It is the reason the member for Beauce has left the Conservative Party and founded a new Conservative movement. He says that today's Conservative Party of Canada has become “morally corrupt”, and that Canadians need a new coherent Conservative—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
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