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View Marc Miller Profile
Lib. (QC)
Kwe kwe. Unnusakkut. Tansi. Hello.
Hello.
Before I begin, I want to acknowledge that in Ottawa, I'm on the traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people.
First and foremost, I do want to say a few words for the communities, families and friends impacted by the tragic news of the children whose remains were recently found at the former Kamloops residential school located on the traditional territory of the Tk'emlúps te Secwe̓pemc people.
I'd like to thank the members for their continued advocacy and echoing indigenous voices here in Parliament.
While this discovery has shocked and disturbed the nation, for indigenous peoples across the country, these findings are deeply painful, traumatizing and triggering, although they are not surprising, particularly for the indigenous peoples who have known this truth for far too long.
Our thoughts remain with the families and communities impacted not only by this discovery but by the residential school system. It is essential that we respect and continue to respect the privacy, space and mourning period of those communities that are collecting their thoughts and putting together their protocols as to how to honour these children.
We recognize that there is a continuing need for psychological wellness services associated with childhood and intergenerational trauma. We will continue to work with our partners and the communities, first and foremost to ensure adequate access to appropriate services.
The survivors and the families affected by the indigenous residential schools system have access, among other things, to the national Indian residential schools crisis line if they need it. The Indian residential schools resolution health support program also offers access to elders, to traditional healers and to other appropriate forms of cultural and emotional support, as well as to professional mental health counselling.
In addition, all indigenous peoples can access the hope for wellness help line, online or by phone, to get help. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are offering additional support so that indigenous communities can adapt and broaden mental health services.
We also recently announced $597.6 million over three years for a mental health and wellness strategy based, of course, on the distinct characteristics of the First Nations, the Inuit and the Métis Nation. The strategy includes continuing support for former residential schools students and their families. It will be based on existing competencies and will help to fill gaps and respond to the existing, emerging and future needs of indigenous communities.
I'm here today to answer your questions on the supplementary estimates (A) for 2021-22 and to provide you with an update on continuing efforts to confront the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. I will also answer any other questions that the committee chooses.
For this year, the total authority will be $18.9 billion, which reflects a net increase of $5.4 billion. This includes support for initiatives such as funding for COVID-19 responses, including, notably, $760.7 million for the indigenous community support fund that has been so welcomed, $64 million for the continuation of public health responses in indigenous communities and $332.8 million for indigenous communities affected by disruptions to their revenue due to COVID-19, which we announced, made official and launched yesterday.
The net increase for the supplementary estimates (A) also includes $1.2 billion for out-of-court settlements to advance Canada's overall commitment to reconciliation by paving the way to a more respectful and constructive relationship with indigenous peoples.
It also includes $1.1 billion for child and family services to support a proactive agreement on a non-compliance motion before the CHRT. The funding is crucial. Since the CHRT issued its first order for Canada to cease its discriminatory practices in 2016, we have been working with first nations leaders and partners to implement the tribunal's orders, and we are in compliance. The $1.1 billion will go to communities that are engaged in activities that prevent the apprehension of kids and contribute to the transformation of the system that has been so broken.
Let me be clear once again. We share the same goal: First nations children historically harmed by the child welfare system will receive fair, just and equitable compensation. The government is not questioning or challenging the notion that compensation should be awarded to first nations children who were harmed by the historical discrimination and underfunding of the child welfare system. The question is not whether we compensate; it is a question of doing so in a way that is fair, equitable and inclusive of those directly impacted.
To this end, we have already consented to certification of the consolidated class action filed in the Federal Court by the Assembly of First Nations and Councillor Xavier Moushoom regarding the same children who were harmed by the system, as contemplated by the CHRT. Furthermore, we are currently in mediation with the partners, but as is set out in the mediation agreement, those discussions will remain confidential out of respect.
We remain committed to providing first nations children access to the necessary supports and services in partnership with indigenous peoples. To that effect, it's important to note that 820,000 claims under Jordan's principle have been processed since 2016, which represents close to $2 billion in funding.
Most notably, in January 2020, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families came into force. It is key to this conversation in transforming the relationship, responding to the calls to action and setting a new way forward. Indigenous governments and communities have always had the inherent right to decide things that people like me take for granted; that is, what is best for their children, their families and their communities. The act provides a path for them to fully exercise and lift up that jurisdiction.
As a result of this work led by indigenous communities, two indigenous laws have now come into force under the federal law, the Wabaseemoong Independent Nations law in Ontario and the Cowessess First Nation Miyo Pimatisowin Act in Saskatchewan. In each of these communities, children will have greater opportunity to grow up and thrive immersed in their culture and surrounded by loved ones.
I will now move on to an update on COVID-19.
Throughout the pandemic, and still today, Indigenous Services Canada has been aware of the particular vulnerability of indigenous communities to the virus.
From the outset, we knew that immediate, decisive measures were necessary to protect the communities as best we could. Our absolute priority was the safety, health and well-being of the First Nations, the Inuit and the Métis.
However, without the dedication and determination of all of the leaders of those communities, none of that would have been possible. I want to thank them for their continuous work over the last year, in particular in encouraging the members of their communities to get vaccinated.
With respect to vaccine roll-out, as of June 7, 687 indigenous communities had campaigns underway. In total, that corresponds to 540,581 doses administered, including first and second doses.
This means that 41% of eligible people aged 12 and over in the communities or living in the territories have received two doses of the vaccine. This is crucial in the communities where the population is predominantly young.
In addition, 80% of people have received a first dose, and if we consider those aged 12 and over, we are talking about 72%. So this is tremendous progress.
With respect to the number of cases, as of June 9, in First Nations communities, we are aware of 761 active cases, which is, fortunately, a decline from the previous week. That brings us now to just about 30,568 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of those, 29,459 people have recovered, and, tragically, 348 others have died.
I see that perhaps that you're flagging me, Bob, or do I have a couple of minutes?
View Gary Vidal Profile
CPC (SK)
Thank you.
I have probably one final question. COVID-19 magnified the realities of some of the jurisdictional quagmires around indigenous people in urban settings. You and I have had the conversation many times about friendship centres and the funding. It took some time to kind of make it through the community support funding process for the urban indigenous folks. Friendship centres offer a variety of services that are as diverse as the communities they serve. I know that friendship centres are looking for a longer-term commitment so that they can plan for their future, invest in infrastructure, make sure they have commitments to programs that are ongoing, and make good, efficient decisions.
Is there anything going on with any of the budget work or the estimate work that would provide that long-term commitment for friendship centres that serve urban indigenous people?
View Marc Miller Profile
Lib. (QC)
Yes, certainly, MP Vidal, in budget 2021 there is a large pot of funding for infrastructure that we are currently parsing out, working with community members to see how that would fold out based on need and based on shovel-ready projects. There is a lot of light and hope at the end of the tunnel.
Certainly, the amounts that we've announced through the indigenous community support fund through COVID, for which there will be four or five waves—the latest one went out last week—has a rubric, an envelope, that is dedicated to the work the friendship centres are doing, serving indigenous communities off reserve, and also with room for tribal councils serving their people who live outside their communities. That's an important element and aspect to it. What we—
View Marc Miller Profile
Lib. (QC)
Well, yes, I guess what I was trying to say was that there has been some immense work done under COVID that has been transformative in the work we will be doing going forward in highlighting that relationship. It is a different one from a nation-to-nation relationship, obviously, with friendship centres that have a different form of governance and others that serve community members. It's one that we want to work toward. Knowing the number of indigenous folks who live outside their home communities, it is so key. In budget 2021, although it was not specifically earmarked, there will be some funding for urban indigenous initiatives.
View John McKay Profile
Lib. (ON)
Do I have unanimous consent to proceed for, say, the next 20 minutes? Would that be fair?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Okay. Then I can call this meeting to order.
This is the 34th meeting of the public safety committee. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted May 5, the committee is commencing a study on the current situation in federal prisons in relation to Correctional Service Canada’s response to COVID-19, the implementation and operation of structured intervention units, and reports of sexual coercion and violence in federal prisons.
I see that Pam's hand is up.
Jane Sprott
View Jane Sprott Profile
Jane Sprott
2021-06-09 18:20
Thank you very much for inviting us to speak to you about Correctional Service Canada's structured intervention units. To date, we have written four reports using CSC's data on the operation of these new SIUs. Before highlighting any of our findings, it's important to know from the outset that none of what we found could predominantly be attributed to COVID. These issues [Technical difficulty—Editor]
Jane Sprott
View Jane Sprott Profile
Jane Sprott
2021-06-09 18:21
Absolutely.
To date we have written four reports using CSC's data. None of our findings can be predominantly attributed to COVID. It's important to understand that these problems are pre-existing.
In our first report, released almost eight months ago now, we identified some very serious issues. While there is enormous provincial variation or regional variation—
Anthony Doob
View Anthony Doob Profile
Anthony Doob
2021-06-09 18:22
Excellent. Thank you.
The presentation from Professor Sprott was really to give you an overview of some of the findings we had in the four reports that we wrote using Correctional Service of Canada data. Rather than describing what she, I hope, will be able to describe, I'd like to concentrate on the issue of the oversight of our system of solitary confinement.
One body said to be providing oversight are the independent external decision-makers, or IEDMs. In our fourth report, we document, using CSC data, that there are prisoners who are ordered by the IEDMs to be released from SIUs but who remain in SIUs for at least 61 days after their case is referred for review. We report that there are others who have been in SIUs for long periods of time without review.
As you know, if you look carefully at stays in SIUs, you will see that many of the stays fall into internationally recognized categories of solitary confinement and torture. I find it disturbing that in Canada we could have a discussion of why the rate of torture in CSC facilities in the Pacific region is so much higher than in Ontario. I never thought that in my career as a criminologist I would be comparing torture rates in institutions under the control of the Government of Canada. This is happening while oversight is being provided by these external decision-makers.
Let's talk about another form of oversight. I chaired the SIU implementation advisory panel that was established in mid-2019. We were a volunteer panel. In order to get an overview of what was happening, we asked CSC in November 2019, before the SIUs were to open, to provide us with certain administrative data that they routinely collect. In February 2020 we were told that CSC might not give us this data. No adequate justification was given. Only when the panel released its first and only report in August 2020, after its mandate had expired, did anything happen. To his credit, Minister Blair at that point apparently told CSC to provide me with the data that the panel had requested. By then the panel did not exist.
Professor Sprott and I received this data on September 30, 2020. We went to work finding out what this data told us about the operation of the SIUs. We provided a draft of our report to CSC for comment 16 days later. We released it publicly at the end of October. Professor Sprott, if she is able to get back on, will tell you some of the findings.
In our report, we were influenced by a statistician who suggested that in policy areas like this, the motto should be, “In God we trust. All others must bring data.” Our four reports total 111 pages and contain 87 tables of data, most of which provide details of the serious problems in the operation of the SIUs. We trust the data. We're skeptical of those in CSC who question the validity of our research findings, which are based on CSC data, when these same people fail to provide any evidence of their own. We need to have adequate oversight of CSC's operations of the SIUs.
Let's consider the basis for the decisions made by these IEDMs. They are almost completely dependent on CSC's accounts of individual cases. We have at this point no information about what they base their decisions on, or even what information they are given by CSC. We're not criticizing the IEDMs as individuals. It's a problem of the structure in which these people are being required to make decisions.
We also know that there is significant and substantial variability in the pattern of decisions made by these independent decision-makers. You are much more likely to be ordered to be released from the SIU by some of these IEDMs than by others. Our fourth report provides a substantial amount of data demonstrating that the IEDM system is not adequate. We also need broader oversight of penitentiaries to determine whether solitary confinement is being practised elsewhere in the institutions, not just in the SIUs.
Remember, solitary confinement is a practice, not a place. Our prisons are—
Jane Sprott
View Jane Sprott Profile
Jane Sprott
2021-06-09 18:27
Sure. I can be quicker than that. I'll pick up from where Professor Doob was talking about some of the disturbing findings that we have found.
In our third report, released almost four months ago, we found that 28% of stays in these SIUs fell within the internationally defined Nelson Mandela Rules as solitary [Technical difficulty—Editor]
Jane Sprott
View Jane Sprott Profile
Jane Sprott
2021-06-09 18:28
Perfect. I'll do that.
Another 10% of these stays constituted what would be internationally described as torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. This means that, overall, 38% of SIU stays can be described as being solitary confinement or torture.
I'm not sure if that perhaps requires repeating, but in Canada, 38% of SIU stays would be internationally defined as solitary confinement or torture.
You might have thought, when calculating [Technical difficulty—Editor]
Emilie Coyle
View Emilie Coyle Profile
Emilie Coyle
2021-06-09 18:29
Thank you. I was looking forward to hearing the rest of Dr. Sprott's testimony.
I'm very grateful to be here today with all of you. It's a pleasure to see you all, and I'm grateful that you're working on this topic. You may know about the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, for which I am the executive director.
In the interest of time, I want to make sure that everyone here is aware that we work very closely with those who are serving federal sentences in all of the prisons designated for women across the country. You know that we've been asked to speak on three issues today that are impacting federally incarcerated people. While they're disparate in some ways, I think these issues are connected by power structures that are inherent in the prisons and a lack of transparency, which we were hearing about from Dr. Doob and Dr. Sprott, which are often facilitated by a lack of data collection and reporting.
I will begin today by speaking about the issue of sexual violence and coercion. I believe all the members of this committee will have received our brief ahead of this meeting, so I'm not going to go into too much detail, but I really do hope that you read it. The women, non-binary, trans and two-spirit people in federal prisons designated for women as you all know are some of the most under-resourced, underserved and under-protected people in our communities. They are people who are survivors of trauma and abuse, which is a fact that the Correctional Service of Canada has acknowledged and reported on, but we cannot underscore it enough in this context.
I'm sure you're also aware, because he appeared before you, that the Office of the Correctional Investigator released their annual report in October 2020, and it included a national investigation into sexual coercion and sexual violence. It was entitled, very appropriately, “A Culture of Silence”. We welcome their initiative in taking the first-ever systemic examination of the issue of sexual coercion and violence in Canadian federal prisons, and we agree that Canada is behind when it comes to addressing sexual violence behind bars.
However, while the investigation includes some anecdotal evidence around incidents of sexual violence and coercion involving the actions of CSC staff toward prisoners, this was not the focus of their investigation. It is the focus of mine, because the inherent power imbalance between a correctional officer and a prisoner cannot be overstated, and these harms must be included in further research and action.
We've been made aware over the years of numerous incidents of CSC employees engaging in sexual coercion or violence against prisoners in the prisons designated for women. You can read the details of some of the reported incidents in the brief that I referenced earlier. It is extremely concerning to us.
We also recognize that much of what we are sharing is anecdotal; and herein lies the problem. We're unable to provide a clear picture of sexual violence and coercion perpetrated by CSC staff in the federal prisons designated for women because further accurate and comprehensive data is not collected on this matter.
As you know, in the report, “A Culture of Silence”, the OCI found that “CSC does not publicly report on this problem, does not collect, record or track statistics and has never conducted research in this area.” In this, I am reminded, as I'm sure all of you are, of the power dynamics and the culture of silence that has been exposed in the current investigation into sexual misconduct in the Canadian military. It begs the question: Is this a clear example of apathy on the part of CSC, or a concerted effort to use a lack of transparency to skirt accountability?
So far I've touched on the unsanctioned sexual violence and coercion that happens in the prisons designated for women. However, there are also ways in which CSC sanctions sexual assault, namely through the use of strip searches.
It is well documented that strip searches are traumatizing and harmful. The Supreme Court of Canada has described the practice of strip searching as “inherently humiliating and degrading”. For those who have experienced sexual violence, strip searches are experienced as an act of sexualized violence. The OCI has found that by definition, “a random strip search is beyond the reach of any legal or constitutional standard of suspicion, reasonableness or necessity.” It may not surprise you that CSC does not track or publicly report on the [Technical difficulty—Editor] strip searches meeting the stated objective of preventing contraband from entering the prisons.
To conclude my remarks on this issue, the power structures inherent in institutions like prisons, and the lack of transparency related to data keeping have resulted in opportunities for people to be further harmed by sexual violence while in prison.
I'm speaking very quickly. I'm trying to keep to my time.
Emilie Coyle
View Emilie Coyle Profile
Emilie Coyle
2021-06-09 18:37
Now I'll go to my comments on COVID-19.
During COVID-19, there has been less CSC oversight than ever, making prisoners even more vulnerable to abuse. This lack of oversight, we believe, has contributed to unacceptable and unlawful conditions of confinement during COVID-19 that were certainly not contemplated or foreseen by the courts at the time of sentencing of most of the prisoners.
From the very beginning of the pandemic, CAEFS, our organization, joined the calls of prisoners, prisoners' families, prisoner rights groups, academics, politicians, lawyers, health care experts and other NGOs, like the John Howard Society, which I believe you will hear from in the next hour or perhaps next half hour, to depopulate the prisons as quickly as possible. This was following the advice of the World Health Organization and actions taken by other states to keep people in prison safe. These calls were not heeded, and it resulted in prisoners being kept in torturous conditions of confinement and further exposed to the deadly virus.
We have documented conditions of confinement that have been implemented at different times for varying lengths of time throughout the last year and a half, which I can't go into because of time, but I will answer any questions you may have about them.
A commonality in the conditions is this restriction of access to mechanisms that support the well-being of prisoners, their timely release and CSC oversight. We are concerned that the conditions under which people have been held have not been to protect their health but rather for the operational convenience of CSC. All of this could have been prevented if the prisons had taken the calls for depopulation seriously and had taken swift action. CSC's operational restrictions cannot and must not be downloaded to restrict the rights and the well-being of prisoners.
Finally, with regard to the structured intervention units, I will try to be very brief, as you have the experts in the room here today, on the lack of transparency, clarity and reporting. We support all the findings of the reports put out by Dr. Doob and Dr. Sprott.
Since the changes to the CCRA through Bill C-83, we have observed that the unconstitutional practice of segregation, often colloquially referred to as solitary confinement, is ongoing. Prisoners are still experiencing the same human rights violations as they were prior to the court rulings of 2019.
The Chair: If you could just wind it up....
Ms. Emilie Coyle: I'll wrap up. This is it. I'm wrapping up.
The Chair: Thank you.
Ms. Emilie Coyle: In addition, CSC employs a myriad of other segregation methods to isolate prisoners for unregulated periods of time. I think this is what Dr. Doob was referring to.
I just want to say that we must continue to be guided by the principle that human rights are not just abstract or theoretical. We cannot simply say that someone has a right without then developing and ensuring a functioning process that enables that person to access and protect that right.
Catherine Latimer
View Catherine Latimer Profile
Catherine Latimer
2021-06-09 18:41
Thank you, Chair, and committee members. It's good to be here.
There are very few words to describe the current state of corrections in Canada today. Crisis, lawless, unaccountable and tragic would be some of them. In my 30 years as a lawyer I have never seen failings of this magnitude.
Let's start with COVID. In March 2020, CSC assured stakeholders that it was “prepared to handle any cases of influenza or other respiratory illness, such as COVID-19.” Reliance on its influenza strategy soon proved no match for a virus that we knew was far more contagious and deadly than the flu. Epidemiologists from around the world were calling for the safe depopulation of prisons, particularly for those who were medically vulnerable, but this did not happen in the federal corrections system.
Instead, CSC chose to combat COVID with extreme isolation: no activity, no family, no books, no programming, no contact—complete isolation. Inadequate consideration was given to the severe mental health impacts these lockdowns have caused. CSC might claim that these measures were required by public health officials, but ultimately CSC was the decision-maker, and it should have known that Canadian courts have found that this type of extreme, cruel isolation violates prisoners' rights and is prohibited by international human rights documents.
While CSC assured us that everything was under control, its own records show quite the opposite. December 2020 correspondence from the warden at Saskatchewan Penitentiary showed that prisoners had suicide and starvation pacts. Correctional officers kept COVID-positive prisoners in the general population and simply hung flammable shower curtains around their cells to separate them from non-COVID prisoners. This was a formula for spreading the virus.
On December 24, the same institution said, “The health and safety of our employees, offenders, and the public remains our top priority during this public health pandemic.” Further inconsistencies are revealed in internal documents, from wardens telling correctional officers to ignore the advice of health authorities, to wardens telling prisoners that correctional officers do not need to wear masks. We have lots of documented inconsistencies that we would be happy to share.
Prisoners were generally not consulted about what steps should be taken to protect their health. When protests arose, usually about correctional officers failing to wear PPE, significant force was brought to bear: concussion grenades in one case and rubber bullets in another. The correctional investigator, Ivan Zinger, in his second update on COVID in June 2020, stated, “Some of these restrictions reach beyond measures or controls contemplated in either domestic or international law. Public health emergencies must be managed within a legal framework. Rights need to be respected and restored.”
I agree with Dr. Zinger. Rights were violated and legal limits were exceeded in CSC's approach to the pandemic.
In the end, COVID-19 technically decimated the federal prison population, with more than 10% contracting the disease, six deaths and unquantified enduring health complications.
The Liberal Party made a commitment, a campaign commitment, to implement Ashley Smith's coroner's recommendation, which included limiting solitary confinement to 15 days. In 2018, administrative segregation was ruled unconstitutional in Canada as violating charter rights.
In 2019, we were told that abusive solitary confinement had ended and was being replaced by structured intervention units, where prisoners would be out of their cells for four hours a day with two hours of meaningful human contact. As we learned from Dr. Doob and Dr. Sprott, this is not happening.
Among the significant problems that have been identified, the structured intervention units are not delivering the measures the government promised they would, and 10% of the placements in structured intervention units experience the same prolonged solitary confinement condition that the courts found violated charter rights that are defined in international human rights documents as a form of torture. Yes, Canadians are being tortured by state officials.
Minister Blair accepted these findings before this committee, yet the government has not directed CSC to stop placing people in solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days.
Section 4 of the Department of Justice Act requires the Minister of Justice to see that the administration of public affairs is consistent with the laws. The Department of Justice has lost litigation in class action lawsuits on the basis that prolonged solitary confinement violates prisoners' charter rights.
The publication of the Doob and Sprott report last February should have signalled to the Minister of Justice or his staff that CSC was not administering public affairs in a manner consistent with the charter. He has not acted on his statutory obligations. This tolerance for the torture of Canadian prisoners should shock the conscience of us all and needs to stop immediately.
I'm delighted that the committee has agreed that the disclosures from CSC that are required will be made public. There is a profound public interest to know how this dire situation arose and has been allowed to persist: why 44% of SIU prisons are indigenous and 18% are Black; why Canada chooses to ignore international human rights standards, like the Nelson Mandela Rules, yet calls on other countries, like China, to respect those rules in relation to the treatment of the two Michaels; whether, as many feared, the SIUs are simply solitary confinement renamed, as the commissioner herself said in response to the Doob and Sprott finding of torture in the SIUs. She said, “I always stress with staff the importance of speaking of structured intervention units and not administrative segregation/solitary confinement.”
Whatever it is labelled, wherever it is occurring in the federal correction system, keeping prisoners in their cells for more than 22 hours without meaningful human contact is solitary confinement, and such confinement for more than 15 days is prohibited as a form of torture and a charter violation. It must end.
I know I'm running short on time so I'm going to be quick.
Catherine Latimer
View Catherine Latimer Profile
Catherine Latimer
2021-06-09 18:47
Regarding violence, images are more powerful. I would encourage everyone to take a look at the recently released video of the Black prisoner who was assaulted at Millhaven institution. I'd be happy to answer any questions on that.
In conclusion, the failure of the Correctional Service of Canada to respect the spirit of the charter and the findings against prolonged solitary confinement and the international minimum standards that prohibit the form of confinement is shocking. While this confinement has been worsened by COVID, not even a pandemic can justify the rights abuses we have seen over the last year.
I hope this committee will support the public's petition for a judicial inquiry into this fiasco which the government is required to answer by June 26.
Thank you.
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