Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address Bill C-83. As we know, it is a bill that symbolizes the current government's approach to leadership in this country. It is an approach of ignoring the concerns of many, providing little in the way of moral leadership and transparency, and putting the safety of Canadians at risk for the benefit of political gain.
I have said many times in this place that it is and should be the top priority of the House to put the safety of Canadians first, ahead of any other issues or politics. With the bill, the House would fail to meet that expectation.
To paraphrase my NDP colleague from Beloeil—Chambly, I can think of no time when a bill has come before Parliament where there are no witnesses who support the legislation. That is exactly what happened with Bill C-83. The minister claimed the bill would end administrative segregation. The witnesses who refuted the bill included prisoner advocacy groups, civil liberties groups, former wardens, professors, correctional unions, the correctional investigator and a senator. The overriding sentiment was that the legislation lacked the detail and information needed to back up such a claim by the minister.
The minister claimed the bill responded to issues raised by the courts that segregation caused the death of two inmates. However, the facts are clear in these two unfortunate deaths that they were the result of operational and management failures in both circumstances.
The minister claimed safety and security of staff were the top priorities. However, correctional workers and former inmates testified that segregation is essential to managing violent and volatile inmates, and that the bill would create more risk to staff.
Civil liberties groups called the bill unconstitutional and said it would make things worse rather than better. They noted the bill lacked external oversight, a check against the authorities of Correctional Service Canada. The minister actually acknowledged this lack of oversight existed.
Senator Pate testified before the committee and indicated that Bill C-83 was a bad piece of legislation. The senator dismantled the minister's claims as to how the bill would end segregation. In a visit to a Nova Scotia Prison, Senator Pate noted that it had renamed the segregation unit, the “intensive intervention unit”. The minister will claim otherwise, of course. However, I will take the testimony of a senator and her eyewitness account over the minister's promise, especially given the minister's repeated track record of misleading Parliament and Canadians.
Perhaps the only accomplishment by the minister with respect to the bill is that he brought together the NDP, the Green Party and the Conservatives, who all oppose the legislation.
I would like to note the unexpected and very valuable contribution of written testimony from Mr. Glen Brown, someone who knows the system well. Mr. Brown is a highly experienced former warden and deputy warden, who now teaches criminal justice and criminology at Simon Fraser University and Langara College.
As someone once responsible for segregation units, he notes that the Ashley Smith and Edward Snowshoe cases were more about mismanagement of behavioural issues and neglect. These issues are not legislative problems. They are management, training and accountability issues. When in segregation, inmates should receive bolstered communication on current risks and mental health issues. They should have increased contact with officers and staff, and they should have an increased potential for services. All this should bring greater attention to an offender's rehabilitation plan.
Mr. Brown wrote:
The strength of a functioning administrative segregation process is that it should bolster all of those things: oversight is strengthened; case management should be more active; information sharing should be more robust; referral for clinical service should be prioritized and case management intervention to develop plans should be urgent.
After noting that science and research has shown that properly managed segregation units do not cause short- or long-term harm, Mr. Brown noted, “To respond to current circumstances with sweeping legislative reform is only to react ideologically, and to ignore science and evidence.”
On the minister's grand solution to segregation, which is to rename segregation units to “structured intervention units”, Mr. Brown noted that Bill C-83 described SIUs in such broad and vague language that the consequences of implementation were very uncertain, that the details were unknown and the details were the key. The current layout of many segregation units did not facilitate socialization and programming. The emphasis on programming suggested longer-term stays in SIUs, weeks or maybe months. SIUs would not be suitable for short-term management of volatile inmates, such as those under the influence. There was the inability to have specialized staff for particular subpopulations in a prison. Finally, he noted that given the current layout of many prisons, a wing may need to be deemed a structured intervention unit, meaning up to 96 inmates may be subject to 20 hours a day of confinement where before it would be only 16.
To be clear, someone who is an expert and has worked for years in prisons with segregation says that he cannot discern the minister's plan. Moreover, he says that prisons often lack the infrastructure, are inappropriate to what is needed and could have the opposite effect to what the minister claims.
Perhaps the only potential value in the legislation could come from an external review mechanism of segregation, because it could provide Canadians with greater confidence in offender management. The minister, however, told the committee that we did not have the authority to do this, an order the Liberal MPs on the committee followed, while the opposition members put forward mechanisms to provide such oversight, which were soundly rejected.
When we pushed the Liberals at committee to amend the worst parts of the legislation and pointed to the glaring issues raised by the many expert witnesses, we were told that Liberal MPs were voting with “faith in the minister”.
The role of committees is not to provide support and faith to a minister. It is to conduct detailed examinations on challenging issues, to hear from experts and impacted Canadians, to examine programs, spending and legislation to determine if it will meet the needs of Canadians or, at the very least, what the minister claims it will meet. On this, our committee has failed.
At the conclusion of committee debate on Bill C-83, my Conservative colleagues and I put our views on the record. We indicated that the committee failed in its role to review the legislation and ensure that it could make informed decisions. We also said that we believed the minister withheld information from committee that was clearly available to him at the time, namely the cost and how it would be used and implemented in the bill, which most witnesses said was essential to knowing if the bill would be useful. For the minister, it seemed more important that he withhold his plan from the committee. Half a billion dollars connected to a bill, where and how the money will be used is essential to know if the bill will work. We still do not have a plan necessarily for that money.
What was the response to the overwhelming criticism and skepticism of the bill? Government MPs stated that they were “making a leap of faith” and putting their trust in the minister. What was accomplished by the committee in reviewing this legislation? In my opinion, next to nothing. The Liberal members rejected amendments on how the money would be used. They rejected a requirement to publish the standards of the new SIUs. They rejected limits to reclassifying prisons. They rejected having the minister provide us with how he would implement this new plan.
On this legislation, the Liberals have turned their backs on Canadians. We are to trust the minister who has an extensive track record of misleading Canadians on things like the disastrous India trip, Bill C-59 and Bill C-71, failure to provide funding for police to tackle gangs, and I could go on.
We as a House can do better. We must do better. We can all rise to a higher level. Personally, I feel this committee failed its constituents, its communities and its country. Bill C-83 is yet another example of the many failures of the Liberal government.