Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak at report stage of Bill C-83.
While we were studying this bill in committee, I saw something that I have rarely seen, if ever, since I became an MP.
All of the witnesses spoke out against the bill to varying degrees, with the exception of departmental officials, of course. This is very worrisome. Context is very important with Bill C-83. This bill is a response to two legal rulings, one from the Supreme Court of British Columbia and another from an Ontario court. Both courts noted cases of abuse in the use of segregation, and they declared it unconstitutional. In response, the government appealed the decision and then introduced Bill C-56 three years ago in 2016, if memory serves. Now, it has introduced Bill C-83, which is completely different.
A question needs to be posed before we even get into the substance of the bill and the amendments. Why is the government, on the one hand, appealing a decision of the B.C. Supreme Court, and on the other hand, presenting legislation that it claims will be a remedy for the court's findings of practices, and certain abuses of said practices, that are unconstitutional?
It is a little confusing and extremely concerning when we hear the government continue to say that it has eliminated what is called, in law, administrative segregation, but what most Canadians understand to be solitary confinement. To that end, I want to quote Senator Kim Pate, who has worked extensively on many issues related to justice and public safety, in particular issues relating to the situation in our penitentiaries. One quote stands out. She wrote, “Ottawa cannot declare that segregation has been eliminated, while failing to address the horrors associated with this practice and gutting what minimal restrictions courts have placed on its use.”
The problem is that the new practice replacing segregation will eliminate a number of legal protections.
I will admit that several members from various parties sought to resolve the issue in committee.
The most striking example is that an amendment is usually about 2,000 words long. There was a lot of havoc in the House back in December. Several members raised a point of order because we did not have access to an acceptable French translation. The amendment was literally written moments before debate was scheduled to start. Not to mention that several witnesses in committee spoke out against the lack of consultation on the bill.
I want to come back to what Dr. Ivan Zinger, the correctional investigator, who is essentially the watchdog for the correctional system, said when speaking to the bill. Given that my time is limited, I will stick to the one quote that sums up the issue of improvisation. He said, “I think that's why you end up with something that is perhaps not fully thought out.”
I apologize to Dr. Zinger for not using the full quote. As I said, my time is limited. When we have an expert such as Dr. Zinger saying that something is not fully thought out, that says a lot, unfortunately, about the lack of consultation and the kind of patchwork we are dealing with here.
These are report stage amendments the Liberal members are proposing, let us be clear, after the minister came to committee with the knowledge there would be the requirement of a royal recommendation and having clearly worked with specific members so that they could propose specific amendments to fix a bill that is so unfixable. We end up with a patchwork that in some cases would leave us looking at a period of up to 90 days, potentially, before a case of abusive use of solitary confinement would actually get properly reviewed.
When we consider the work that was done in committee and the statements made by several Liberal members, including the minister, we need to understand that this was already in the mandate letters of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the Minister of Justice when the government was sworn in. Regrettably, the objectives of the bill before us today have not been achieved.
I will give a few examples of the direction we would like to take. The hon. member for Oakville North—Burlington was right to mention the situation of women. Very few women are placed in segregation, but those who are placed in segregation are often far more vulnerable. Consider serious mental health issues, for example.
After hearing several witnesses in committee, I proposed an amendment eliminating the use of segregation in women’s prisons. It was rejected.
Another example is the possibility of judicial review.
The opportunity for judicial review is one that is really important. It is something that goes back a number of years to a recommendation that was made by Justice Louise Arbour, after the situation that unfolded in the Kingston Penitentiary. She put it much more eloquently than I could when she explained that the abusive use of solitary confinement in Canada undermines our judicial system, because it comes to a point where administrators within the corrections system are playing a role in sentencing. When we get to a point where certain offenders are being treated in a certain way, and in a way that undermines their pathway to rehabilitation and any objectives the court might have set for them in sentencing, then we have come to a situation where the only remedy could be considering a judicial review.
I know others have proposed other tools, rather than just judicial review. I know in committee we heard that judicial review could undermine public safety. That is not so. To go back to the comment my Conservative colleague made that I did not have a chance to respond to, he talked about preventative segregation. That is fine. We understand that there can be a need for it in situations where riots ensue and where safety is in jeopardy, and that there should be an examination of the good use of preventative isolation.
However, that does not need to take place over a prolonged period of time. We are talking about a situation that could be resolved, arguably, in 24 hours. Those were some of the examples that were given to us by, among others, folks from the John Howard Society.
The last aspect I can think of, as I can see that my time is running out, concerns duration.
We have heard a lot about review and accountability mechanisms for prison administrators. Of course, there are the issues of appropriate mechanisms and accountability in the case of mental illness to avoid hindering rehabilitation and improving the mental health of prisoners in segregation.
That said, we missed a great opportunity given that Bill C-56—which was introduced by the same minister but never debated—was already firmly headed in the same direction. We missed the opportunity to enforce the standards established by the United Nations, the Nelson Mandela rules, which limit the duration of administrative segregation to 15 days. We missed the opportunity to directly address the greatest abuses of the system.
In conclusion, despite the good intentions behind the amendments, they are just attempts at fixing a bill that is so bad that it was unanimously condemned in committee. We cannot support this bill.
I hope that the government will seize this opportunity to go back to square one and to drop its appeals of two court decisions stating what we have known for far too long, which is that these abuses of segregation are unconstitutional.