Mr. Speaker, it is a great opportunity to stand again. I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans—Charlevoix.
I am rising to speak to Bill C-83, the flawed reforms to our correctional system the Liberals are trying to push through. This issue is very important to me because of the hundreds of correctional staff who call my riding home and who rightfully expect me to stand up for their safety and best interests.
The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers told me at meetings that the government did not bother to consult front-line correctional officers on these reforms. These people put their lives in harm's way every day to ensure that the most dangerous and violent offenders do not harm the innocent. These courageous men and women, at the end of the day, should be able to go home safely, and we must consider how these changes will affect their safety in the workplace.
Recently I had the opportunity to meet with the union representatives who interact with these criminals. These people have first-hand knowledge and experience of what is happening in the system. These are the people we should be looking to for solutions. They are very concerned about this legislation and many other policies the Liberal government is bringing forward with regard to correctional reform. These concerns involve the safety of correctional officers. They believe that the government is ignoring them and running over them with legislation that would grant extraordinary new privileges to prisoners at the expense of public safety and rehabilitation.
One of the main problems is the policy of administrative segregation. This policy is used to separate dangerous, violent offenders who are threats to the safety of fellow inmates and staff. Administrative segregation is a means to both protect and punish. It acts as a deterrent to committing violence against staff and inmates. Some cases brought to me by correctional staff have included inmates telling each other that it is not a big deal to assault a corrections officer, because they will only get five days. This is exactly the kind of thing we need to deter.
I wonder why the Liberals are reducing punishments for inmates who assault staff and make the workplace dangerous for those who serve in this risky environment.
Let us be clear. We are not talking about an oppressive system like that outlined by the United Nations. We are not even talking about how prisons operated in decades past. Canadians, when they think of administrative segregation, might conjure up images from movies such as The Shawshank Redemption, where corrupt wardens can place inmates in solitary confinement, in darkness, with no amenities or opportunities for meaningful human contact. That is simply not the case.
Although there have been mistakes in the past, several government members today have noted that the CSC has taken great strides in recent years to improve administrative segregation.
Administrative segregation is restrictive, but we are not talking about Club Med resorts. We are talking about prison. Inmates in administrative segregation have the right to exercise and leave their cells for an hour each day. These cells are lit, not dark. Prisoners have access to services to better themselves. If one listened to some groups, one would believe that these inmates were being thrown into a hole and forgotten about, and that is simply not the case.
It is clear from several high-profile cases that administrative segregation cannot be used as a replacement for effective psychological health services in the prison system. I know that Correctional Service Canada has taken many positive steps in recent years to integrate recommendations to ensure that past poor practices are reformed.
Many of those suffering from mental health challenges have been administratively segregated, and the consequences to their health and the overall outcomes for rehabilitation have not been positive. No one wants to see anyone fall through the cracks, and ensuring that services are available to those who need mental health services is absolutely critical, but this does not mean that we have to get rid of administrative segregation. It means that we need new tools to address these issues. Reforming administrative segregation needs to involve an assessment of risk and needs to seek the improvement of rehabilitation and mental health outcomes.
I am sure we could all agree that people who find themselves in the prison system are troubled individuals, but that does not mean that all criminals suffer from mental health issues. Abolishing administrative segregation as a practice would take an essential tool away from front-line personnel for protecting themselves and the inmates. In that sense, although these new secure intervention units may hold some promise, there is no reason they could not operate alongside an effective and responsibly used system of administrative segregation.
Those who do not suffer from mental health issues and who choose to assault other inmates or staff should not be rewarded with the secure intervention units. In fact, the union representing correctional officers is asking that these tools be maintained. The government is ignoring the wisdom of front-line personnel who put their safety on the line every day.
The Liberals' action to move full steam ahead in abolishing administrative segregation is a concerning move, but they are also introducing other means for threatening staff and other inmates by condoning drug use and needles in prisons.
Most Canadians would be shocked to hear that the Liberals are pushing forward with a policy to provide needles to prisoners so that they can self-administer harmful drugs. Not only is this counter-productive for the rehabilitation of prisoners, it is a threat to the security and safety of prison staff.
Violent incidents are not uncommon in a correctional environment, and handing out needles to prisoners can be akin to handing out weapons. Vulnerable inmates, guards and other staff will now live in a state of new fear that these potent tools could be used against them, possibly even lethally.
Most Canadians would also be shocked to learn that the Liberals even intend to provide cooking spoons. These are not my words. It is what the union of correctional officers is telling me. Prisoners will be able to cook and produce their own drugs so that they can self-inject. This policy is seriously ill-informed, because as I have been told, lighters have been banned from prisons, because they have been used to start fires in the past. How are they even supposed to cook the drugs with these cooking spoons if they are not even allowed to have lighters?
The Liberals are rolling back best practices that have been learned from experience by our front-line personnel and implemented. The government is rolling back these best practices and putting people at risk. This does not make sense.
Many look to Europe for an example for Canada to follow, but the government is selectively choosing which European policies to adopt while ignoring how the overall system works. Yes, needles are used in some European prisons, but there is no European country where needles are provided in all prisons. The eventual agenda of the Liberal government seems to be that all prisons, regardless of security classification, should have access to needles.
In Europe, administrative segregation is used in the case of an assault on a police officer. It changes from country to country. This is not seen as a viable option for the future for the government. Why is it not being maintained here?
I just wonder what policy objective the Liberals intend to achieve through prisoners receiving needles. Do the Liberals want to protect prisoners from infectious diseases? Correctional staff have informed me, and I have seen the statistics on this, that over the past 10 years, the rate of infectious diseases, such as HIV, have been reduced drastically. I think 50% was the model. I do not see how introducing new needles would decrease the likelihood that dirty needles will be used. This permissive approach to this abuse is likely to cause more of the same problem the Liberals are looking to get rid of.
When actions are brought before the courts, it seems that the policy of the Liberal government is always to cave in and run. Some courts have ruled that the widespread use of administrative segregation is a violation of prisoners' charter rights. It is clear that in the cases cited earlier, oversight was the issue and the indefinite period of time was the issue. That does not mean that administrative segregation in and of itself is a flawed concept.
We have charter rights, but when people go to jail, they give up some of those rights. They are not absolute. The right to liberty is an example. We have to draw a line. What about the safety of our correctional staff? Where is their right to safety in the workplace?
Correctional staff have every right to expect that the government will ensure that they have a safe working environment. This legislation, combined with allowing needles in prisons, would endanger the safety of correctional staff.
It is time for the Liberals to take a stand, uphold the will of the people and the will of those who serve on the front lines and stop taking away the tools they need to do their jobs.