THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL AFFAIRS, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
OTTAWA, Wednesday, May 15, 2019
The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, to which was referred Bill C-83, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another Act, met this day at 3:15 p.m. to give consideration to the bill.
Senator Chantal Petitclerc (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.
I am Senator Petitclerc from Quebec, and it’s a pleasure to have you all here this morning.
Before I give the floor to our witnesses, I ask my colleagues to introduce themselves, beginning with the deputy chair.
Senator Seidman: Judith Seidman, Montreal, Quebec.
Senator Ravalia: Mohamed-Iqbal Ravalia, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Senator Pate: Kim Pate, Ontario.
Senator Dasko: Donna Dasko, Ontario.
Senator Mégie: I am Marie-Françoise Mégie from Quebec.
Senator Munson: Jim Munson, Ontario.
The Chair: Today, we continue our study of Bill C-83, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another Act.
With us now is our first panel. We thank you for agreeing to appear before the committee today and contributing to our study. Joining us are Elana Finestone, Legal Counsel, Native Women’s Association of Canada, Richard Sauvé, Facilitator, Breakaway, and Renee Acoby, as an individual.
I remind witnesses that you have five minutes for your opening remarks, to be followed by questions from members of the committee.
We are ready, Ms. Acoby, to hear your opening remarks via video conference.
Renee Acoby, as an individual: I don’t believe that the new bill would change solitary confinement. It would actually make the situation worse than it is right now. There is no independent oversight, and there hasn’t been for decades. Even if the CSC is recommending some independent oversight, they haven’t made clear who it would be or what stakeholders would possibly be involved.
I was in segregation for eight years on a super-max routine. Of those eight years, I spent six years on 23-hour lock-up. I had been incarcerated for about 18 years before finally being released on parole last year. In total, I had probably spent close to two-thirds of the 18 years in and out of segregation with six years straight in 23-hour lock-up.
There was no attempt by CSC to get any independent oversight. I had to go through Elizabeth Fry and lawyers for many years before I was finally able to get attention into what was going on with my situation. A lot of people were horrified when they found out I had been in solitary confinement for that many years on end.
I don’t believe anything being proposed right now by CSC will change the situation. By suggesting that they will put in a structured intervention unit so that people will have more human contact and more rights, that’s not the case.
As has been demonstrated by CSC, what will happen is that they will change the name of segregation to either the enhanced secure unit, management protocol or now this new term, but it’s still solitary confinement.
It actually took decades for them to get to some of the recommendations of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. I don’t believe anything they’re putting on the table right now will happen overnight. I am not optimistic about anything changing right now in solitary confinement. It needs to be abolished, and there needs to be independent oversight involving people independent of CSC.
Elana Finestone, Legal Counsel, Native Women’s Association of Canada: I would like to start by saying that for the Native Women’s Association of Canada, or NWAC, criminal justice reform begins and ends with Indigenous communities. That is why NWAC supports Senator Pate’s call for more effective and less costly alternatives to Bill C-83. NWAC would like to see isolating and restrictive practices like SIUs abolished in women’s federal prisons.
Indigenous women require the most support to heal from the legacies of Canada’s history of colonization, yet they are the most punished in federal prisons through restrictive and isolating conditions. SIUs are no exception.
When I attended the Bill C-83 stakeholder round table this January, I was told that the new SIUs would be what we formerly called administrative segregation units.
I would like to focus on section 81 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act as an alternative to Bill C-83. Broadly speaking, section 81 of this act would allow federally imprisoned Indigenous women the opportunity to serve their sentences in Indigenous communities and receive culturally appropriate care.
As legal counsel for the Native Women’s Association of Canada, I had the opportunity to engage with Indigenous women and Indigenous community leaders with the power to implement section 81 in their own communities. From these consultations, I learned that section 81 is inaccessible to many Indigenous communities, yet is filled with possibilities.
Section 81 offers Indigenous women the opportunity to go home to their communities, to be with their families and to heal. A sense of cultural belonging is part of healing. When an imprisoned Indigenous woman is healed, her children are also healed.
Rather than continue to punish Indigenous women in federal prisons, this government needs to step back and allow section 81 to unfold in communities by trusting Indigenous communities and Indigenous women as experts in their own healing and self-determination.
In the alternative, NWAC would be grateful if the following recommendations from our briefs and written submissions were made so that Indigenous women could receive culturally appropriate care.
The amendments listed in the NWAC standing committee brief and written materials for the NWAC stakeholder round table are about, first, ensuring systemic and background factors affecting Indigenous people are applied correctly and only used to assess a prisoner’s needs; second, making trauma-informed and culturally sensitive support available for federally imprisoned Indigenous women when they request it, knowing that Indigenous communities, and importantly Indigenous women, need to be consulted and know what is culturally appropriate in their communities; and third, clarifying which Indigenous organizations and groups can be part of section 81 and section 84 arrangements so that the law is accessible to them.
For the stakeholder round table, NWAC charted Parliament’s progress in implementing these recommendations starting on page 3. There was some progress but not nearly enough.
You, the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, are a last hope to ensure that federally imprisoned Indigenous women are in the best position to heal from the effects of colonialization. Thank you.
Richard Sauvé, Facilitator, Break Away: I am in my 41st year of a life sentence. I was patrolled in 1995 on full parole. I’ve been continuously going back into federal institutions in the Ontario region since the end of 1998.
Recently, last week actually, I was in Collins Bay with Senator Pate. When we went into the segregation unit, we heard the beating of the doors and the yelling, just asking for recognition and for help. Although I’ve never spent a lot of time in segregation, I was in segregation in county jails and in the Collins Bay Institution, but not for behavioural problems. When I heard that, it triggered a lot of emotions I still had inside from doing the kind of work I’ve been doing and from my own experiences of being in segregation.
Even though most people wouldn’t notice it, when I walked in, my sense of smell triggered emotions in me. It brought back the feeling of being in a segregation unit. I was listening to the men yelling out, just wanting to be heard and to have somebody listen to their concerns.
Afterward, we met with a number of prisoners. Some of them had gone through the program that I’ve been delivering at various institutions in the Ontario region. One of the men had spent a significant amount of time in a special handling unit. He had read over the bill. When he looked at the new unit as it was called, his comment was, “This sounds a lot like special handling unit. It sounds a lot like SHU to me.”
This needs to be done right. When I read about the oversight, my first thoughts were: Who is going to be doing that? Is somebody independent from corrections going to be meeting with the prisoners as soon as they go into the unit? They’re not doing that now.
Those are my concerns. Thank you so much.
Senator Seidman: Thanks to all of you for your presentations this afternoon. It is really important testimony.
I will direct my question to you, Ms. Finestone, but I would very much like to have responses from both Ms. Acoby and Mr. Sauvé, if I could.
In an article that was written by the Minister of Public Safety, the Honourable Ralph Goodale, and published today in The Hill Times titled: “Answering the Tough Questions on Bill C-83” in reforming our approach to corrections, he says:
Under Bill C-83, there will be two to four SIU cells at each women’s site, but their use will be exceptional. At women’s institutions, CSC will mainly use the new resources to run medium-security Enhanced Support Houses where well-trained staff will deliver interventions to challenging inmates in a safe and supportive environment, reducing the need for reclassifications to maximum security or transfers to SIUs. This model has been developed in consultation with the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies and the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
Were you indeed consulted by the federal government during the development of this particular model, and was your advice heeded?
Ms. Finestone: My policy staff attended that meeting. It’s left to be said whether the advice is heeded. They haven’t really been finished or implemented yet.
What our policy staff said, after coming back from the meeting, is that the proof is really in the pudding. Words are really nice, but trauma informed and culturally appropriate are not just words that we can throw around. They need to be implemented.
We need to see what that looks like. We offered recommendations, but we need to see what happens.
Senator Seidman: I guess my question is that you gave advice. Your advice is being ascribed to the model being used in the legislation around women’s institutions specifically.
I’d like to know if indeed you think this bill represents your best advice and the kind of model that you recommended.
Ms. Finestone: Our best advice would be not to have them in the first place. I think we’d like something rather than nothing. We made some recommendations, but we’d rather not have it at all.
Senator Seidman: That’s helpful.
Ms. Acoby, what would you say? I know you started out by saying that these units are pretty much no change from status quo in your opinion.
What would your advice be to us as we sit here looking at this legislation and thinking about how we could improve it?
Ms. Acoby: Perhaps they are going to keep some form of solitary confinement. I don’t think that they should, period. If they were to keep some form of it, it would have to involve people independent of corrections who are able to make recommendations and oversee the solitary confinement process.
By continuing to do it this way, it is flawed in the sense that inmates offend the people who put them in segregation and they still rely on them to make recommendations for release and reintegration.
Even more, to push it even further, there should be more focus on implementing and utilizing sections 81 and 84 for those who are following an Indigenous path. It should not be limited to Indigenous offenders. It should be for anyone who is following that path however they identify.
There should be more focus on it because it’s underutilized and affects the reintegration process. It contributes to overcrowding, double bunking, et cetera. They have to look at a bigger picture than just segregation itself. They have to look at community reintegration and utilize the resources they have contracts with right now.
Senator Seidman: That’s helpful.
Based on what you said to us, Mr. Sauvé, thank you for your very evocative testimony. We have in this legislation four hours of meaning human contact ascribed to people in the SIU, but there isn’t a clear definition of what meaningful human contact really is.
Would you have something to tell us about that?
Mr. Sauvé: I would. When I read that, about meaningful human contact, my first thought was: Meaningful human contact with whom?
There have been a number of occasions on inmate committees while I was in prison where I was brought down into the segregation unit to meet with prisoners who were locked in seg.
A number of times, in the work that I’ve been doing, wardens at different institutions have asked me to talk to prisoners who were in real crisis situations.
Two prisoners in Gravenhurst were on hunger strikes. One had been on a hunger strike for quite a period of time. The warden said, “We don’t know who else to send down. Would you please go down?”
My first thought is: Why not have people down there as soon as they go in? Historically, corrections used to use segregation as a first response. I believe that you need somebody from the outside who can go in and talk to the person before they go into segregation. Then it may not be necessary to put them in segregation.
It is not that I ever believed it’s fully necessary to put somebody in segregation, but I think that could be a viable alternative using peer support or using somebody from the community that can go in and do that kind of mediation.
Senator Munson: My question is for Mr. Sauvé. I don’t think all the committee knows your unique record of good things you have done in the last many, many years.
I was just looking at an article in The Globe and Mail about your receiving the Ed McIsaac Human Rights in Corrections Award and talking about notching up two victories at the Supreme Court, earning multiple university degrees behind bars, and the mainstay of a lifeline.
You didn’t say anything about that too much when met before, so I wanted to have that on the record, and I think it is important to have it on the record.
I am not that familiar with Break Away and gang disaffiliation, but the report of the Parliamentary Budget Officer dealing with this matter indicated that a successful gang disaffiliation could improve safety and overall costs in the justice system and could possibly give rise to some offsetting cost savings.
How has the Break Away gang disaffiliation program in diverting criminalized persons from segregation been working? Do you think we should have an amendment to Bill C-83 to ensure that Break Away can be implemented on a national scale?
Mr. Sauvé: It has been working on crutches. There hasn’t been much funding coming for it. Senator Pate has helped in that regard.
Senator Munson: How does it work?
Mr. Sauvé: It began when some young gang members came to me one of the times I was in the institution and said, “You used to be a member of a motorcycle club. You were serving a life sentence. How did you get away from that lifestyle? How did you break away and put that life behind you?”
I talked to them about self-discovery and putting things behind you. This was an evolution from the Straight Talk Program that I ran while I was inside prison where we would bring young offenders into the institution and work with them so that they could see where their lives could be in the future and where our lives were in the past. It was not scared straight. That does not work.
I got permission to work with a couple groups on a trial basis. The warden allowed me to go in to do it. Word started spreading, not by me but by the guys who were taking part in that group. They felt they were developing beneficial skills they could relate to.
The word started spreading. They kept asking me, “Could you come in and do another group?” They were asking for help. I’ve done nine to ten groups now. I will go into maximum security tomorrow. Finally, the cell door cracked to get in to do that.
As I’ve been delivering these groups, some of these men have gone on. Most of them were very young men when they came in. Most of them are from visible minority groups, Indigenous groups. Very young men come into the institution and get lost in the prison.
They are the ambassadors of the group. They’re the ones that are encouraging this activity and this kind of group. They’ve taken ownership not only of the program but ownership of their lives. Some of them have moved down into minimum and some of them are on full parole now. They’ve succeeded, as I did, in prison. It is not because of prison, but in spite of prison.
Senator Munson: They avoided segregation.
Mr. Sauvé: I don’t know of any that have ended up in segregation.
Let me back up for a second. One fellow was in segregation for a short period of time. Now he’s in minimum security and he’s one of the biggest ambassadors of the group.
Senator Munson: It’s something for us to ponder. I appreciate it very much.
Senator Mégie: I have two questions, one for Ms. Acoby and the other for Mr. Sauvé.
Ms. Acoby, what can Bill C-83 do to address the intergenerational trauma that some indigenous peoples experience? Will it do anything? Is an amendment necessary to address the issue of intergenerational trauma?
Ms. Acoby: I think there are some good points in the bill in that regard, but I think it needs to be expanded to include First Nations communities and elders, rather than just focusing on having Indigenous women and men in prison working with the elders hired or contracted by CSC. NWAC and Indigenous women are aware of their own culture and teachings. They should be allowed to choose elders from their communities, independent of CSS, that they know and trust. That should be an option as well, and that would help.
Trust takes a long time inside. Sometimes a lot of good elders are inside prisons that are contracted by CSC, so it’s very hard to trust them. Involving the First Nations community is as essential to healing as allowing women to make choices as to whom they want to work with, as opposed to saying, “Here are the elders we have inside. Work with them.”
Senator Mégie: That brings me to the question I have for Mr. Sauvé. Meaningful human contact comes down to two possible scenarios: either the inmate has no interest because they are in crisis and don’t want to meet with anyone, or the inmate wants to meet with people. That’s fine if it’s someone they trust. If it’s someone chosen by the prison administration, would you say, given your experience, that the inmate feels the same mistrust Ms. Acoby talked about in the case of Indigenous peoples?
Mr. Sauvé: My belief is that when you bring people from the community they become the window to the community. They bring fresh, new approaches into the institution.
I am still serving my sentence, but one of the best things I experienced when I was in custody was having outside volunteers coming in. They were people could relate to. When you’re in prison and you’re dealing with security staff, often you don’t see the person. You see a uniform. It really surprised me, because sometimes when I see them out of uniform I wouldn’t recognize them.
Having somebody come in from the outside to work with them before they go into segregation and sees them while they’re in segregation is key. I really believe that is key.
You can’t have somebody from a distance looking at trying to figure out solutions without actually engaging the person. To sit down and talk to somebody through a slot on their hands and knees is not meaningful communication. A lot of the communication takes place now through a little slot in the door.
Senator Mégie: In situations where the person with whom an inmate wants to meet isn’t reliable and can’t be counted on to participate consistently in the process, does the correctional service bring it to the inmate’s attention? Can the service prevent an inmate from meeting with someone because it has doubts as to that person’s reliability?
Mr. Sauvé: I’m sorry. I couldn’t hear your question.
Senator Mégie: If an inmate wants to have meaningful human contact with someone that the correctional service deems to be unreliable or untrustworthy, what would you suggest as an alternative solution?
Mr. Sauvé: Thank you for your question. I’m still serving a life sentence, and I’ve been going into the institution since the end of 1998. I go on to the ranges. I go into the bowels of the institution. Am I trusted to go into the institution by Correctional Service Canada? They have the keys. They are allowing me in.
We used to do this on a regular basis. There used to be 26 in-reach workers across the country that would go into all the institutions in the country, and the door was closed on us. The door was shut. They shut us out of the prison.
We’re still knocking on the door saying, “Hey, we want to come back in. We want to be part of the solution.”
Senator Mégie: I see. Thank you.
Senator Ravalia: My questions are directed to Ms. Acoby and Mr. Sauvé. While incarcerated, have you had to access health care and in particular any type of mental health supports?
If so, how would you rate your access to this care? How would you envision improving this care? There are aspects of the bill with respect to changes in health care that are somewhat disconcerting to me.
Ms. Acoby: Based on my experience, access to mental health inside prison was very poor. I was on the management protocol super-max routine, as I explained. I was supposed to meet with a psychologist. They removed all of the furniture from the room. They put me in one corner and put the psychologist in the other corner. They had two correctional officers stand on either side of me.
This was for a long time. I refused to participate in meeting with the psychologist, which actually hindered me from moving head. It was one of the many reasons they said prevented me from reintegrating or moving through the steps of the management protocol. I said that I would not participate in psychological meetings where there is correctional staff present.
When I refused to participate in assessments that were being written or submitted by CSC psychologists, they would conduct a file review that CSC officials chose. They would select different files to send them, and they would make recommendations based on a file review.
My experience inside with psychologists and psychiatrists has not been good. It wasn’t until I started working with an independent psychiatrist in 2015, who does not have to disclose anything to CSC, that I was actually able to work through a lot of trauma and abuse I had encountered throughout my life prior to prison and while in prison.
If I had to say anything, I would say that access to an independent psychiatrist or psychologist outside of CSC is something that is essential.
Senator Ravalia: Mr. Sauvé.
Mr. Sauvé: I concur with a lot of what I’ve just heard. One would assume that there would be more psychologists and psychiatrists working inside the prisons, but there’s an overreliance on risk assessments as opposed to real casework.
A lot of times there is hesitation if you somehow get access to a psychologist or a psychiatrist. When making open disclosure to the people you look at as the ones treating you and instead they’re assessing you, that can haunt you because sometimes there’s inaccurate reporting of what the conversation was about.
That can go on for decades before you get in front of the parole board where you’re at your most vulnerable point. If you’re lucky enough and you’re talking to a psychologist or a psychiatrist 10, 15 or 20 years down the road, what do you remember? With multiple life sentences and the ending of the faint hope clause, how do you remember 25 or 30 years ago the trauma you experienced as a child? That doesn’t build trust. That builds mistrust.
I agree that having independent psychologists and independent psychiatrists for treatment purposes as opposed to assessment purposes is paramount in the institutions.
Senator Pate: I want to go back to something that both of you have raised. Ms. Finestone, I believe you were in some of the consultations where we heard reported from the Commissioner of Corrections that one of the ways “meaningful” human contact will be achieved will be by having correctional officers present.
Given what you’ve reported, Ms. Acoby, could you talk about what it means to have contact with individuals when you have correctional officers standing there? The issue often raised is that the individual is otherwise likely to be a risk to either the professional, the staff or other prisoners, and that’s why correctional officers are required.
I’d like you to comment on that and talk about actual contact you had with outside people in the times you were in segregation, whether it was your children, your other loved ones or anybody else outside the community, aside from the organizations that may come in.
How has that changed over the years, if can you comment on that at all?
Ms. Acoby: Just for a minute there I thought that I was having heartburn from lunch, but I actually realize I am really angry at the idea that an organization such as NWAC would make an absurd suggestion that correctional officers should be present. I also am not really surprised because my experience with NWAC in the past has not been good.
Senator Pate: I am sorry to interrupt. They were at the consultation. It was the Commissioner of Corrections who indicated that there would have to be two staff there.
Ms. Acoby: So it wasn’t NWAC.
Senator Pate: No, no.
Ms. Acoby: Good. You kind of got me all riled up there.
In my own experience, I’ve seen it done with a lot of different women and men because they did keep us in the men’s penitentiary at one point. Correctional officers were required to be present while either I personally or other women in segregation units were in meetings or with elders. If we wanted to smudge, we had to do it through the hatch with two correctional officers on either side of the elder. It would end up that we would have to bend down and try to get the smoke in. The elder would use a feather to brush it through, and the officers would be standing outside on either side of the cell door while this was taking place.
Their rationale was that other women or I could possibly grab a lit ember and throw it at staff or the elder. So you don’t want to participate in smudging and, like I said, it has ramifications because of every restriction they place on you. Whether it’s having correctional officers present for meetings or even smudgings, you don’t want to participate because you can’t be honest or you don’t feel like being vulnerable when two correctional officers are present.
Like I said, the ramifications are that they start saying, “No, you’re not participating in spiritual activities,” and “No, you’re not participating in psychological interventions.” You get looked at as being uncooperative or not fully participating in your correctional plan.
There’s really no way for you to move ahead. With all the barriers and restrictions they are imposing, you pull back. How are you supposed to access your spirituality or actually say privately to an elder, “I am hurting?” This is what you are going through when you have two correctional staff on either side listening to everything and then using observations, statements and officer reports to record everything you’re saying.
What was the second question?
Senator Pate: It was about contact with your family and other loved ones.
Ms. Acoby: It was really difficult to have contact with my daughter. My sister was taking care of my child after she was removed from me in the healing lodge. I had a really difficult time getting access to any type of human contact. They would give them the phone for a few hours. They let me stay on the phone as long as I wanted, provided I was paying for it or my family was calling into the institution. At one point they had that option for women who were on the super-max routine.
It was really hard getting access to even a pen or paper because they had to be earned as well. There were limits on how many pieces of paper I could have in my cell, or pens and paper had to be returned by four o’clock. If they weren’t returned by a certain period of time, you would lose your pen privileges or your writing privileges until they determined that you earned them back.
This stuff happened in multiple institutions. No reintegration plan was ever the same. Trying to establish some sort of family contact or consistent contact was difficult. As anyone knows, if you’re on a super-max routine you’re not allowed any visitors and you’re definitely not allowed to go to the private family visiting house.
Mr. Sauvé: I never suffered the indignity of being in segregation for extended periods of time. When I was in Millhaven, they had the SHU there. When I was triggered by going into the hole last week, I remember vividly flashing back, smelling the tear gas and hearing the guys yelling that somebody had just been beat and taken down to segregation. They were asking to contact the media or to contact whoever to come in and see them.
The times I was in segregation in the county jails was because of the nature of my offence. I hadn’t been to trial yet. We didn’t have any access to anybody. We were just kept in seg.
In Collins Bay, when I was in segregation, it was over an investigation that had absolutely nothing to do with me. I was put into a strip cell. It was in the old two-block which bars. There was no toilet. There was nothing. I was put in there naked because the police wanted my pyjamas and that was all I had on. I was naked in there.
I asked if I could call a lawyer and they said, “No.” I didn’t know why I was in there. I had no contact with anybody until they were finished with their investigation and they released me.
I pulled my seg file because I was doing some research by going through all my files. I had boxes of files, and I pulled my seg file and all it said, strangely, was: “Locked up by the OPP. Released by the order of the OPP.” That’s all that was said.
Senator Kutcher: My first question is for Ms. Acoby. We heard you say that you don’t think the SIUs are any different from was there previously. We’ve heard that from other people as well.
One of the issues raised as being very positive in testimony we’ve heard has been an increase from two hours to four hours of contact a day. I would like you to share with us your thoughts on whether you think that increase has any demonstrable difference in the lives of people who would be in segregation.
Ms. Acoby: No, I don’t think that would have any impact or make any difference at all. If an inmate is being seen as unpredictable or difficult, CSC still has the option of not allowing inmates, especially male inmates, to come out of their cell for the day or to shower every two days. There is still something built in that hasn’t changed in that regard, not that I am aware of. They would still have the decision-making power to decide if somebody gets two hours out.
If they want to use it as a punitive measure, which is often the case, they can say, “No, you’re getting an hour out.” I can’t see how that’s effective. When two hours of human contact is put into context, you’re still in solitary confinement. I don’t think that would change anything and I don’t think it would help.
Senator Kutcher: Mr. Sauvé, I want to thank you for using language more clearly. I must admit during the course of this discussion I have been confused by the word segregation being euphemistically used to mean solitary confinement. You called it “the hole,” which has a very different connotation to it than does the word segregation.
We have been told in previous testimony is that at times inmates ask to be separated from other inmates, or they are kept separated from other inmates for their own protection. Are there better ways or alternative ways to provide separation as opposed to solitary confinement if an inmate who wishes to be separated from others or who needs to be separated for their own protection?
Mr. Sauvé: I think there are better ways. I know of guys, prisoners, who sometimes can’t transfer from one institution to another because somebody says, “You have an incompatible there.”
Can I use an informal resolution to try and deal with that? No, they are not going to allow that to happen. Why can’t we use informal resolution? Why can’t we bring in some mediation? Why can’t we set up some way of resolving this without saying, “No, we’re going to keep you in segregation; we’re going to keep you in the hole?”
As I hear so often, when Senator Klyne and Senator Pate were in Collins Bay I heard that some of the prisoners wanted to be in segregation for their own safety. Why isn’t someone talking to them to find out what those issues are?
I hear people say that they need to go into segregation because they’re suicidal or have mental health issues. Why aren’t they being treated for that instead of being isolated?
It makes no sense to me to use segregation and separation as the first response. It isn’t segregation. It is a hole. There is no question about it. It is a hole.
Senator Dasko: In some ways my question follows up on the question Senator Kutcher was just asking.
As far as the Canadian public is concerned, they tend to be concerned with issues of safety and security of inmates and staff. We’re not entirely sure from what we’ve heard if there will be a transition, but if there is a transition from segregation to SIUs and just thinking of your own experience in the institutions, are there any security or safety concerns that either of you think are relevant?
Ms. Acoby: The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers receives a lot of training. They practise a lot by using the situation management model to deal with matters of emergency inside prisons or to assess situations. I feel they get a lot of training to deal with situations, and they do.
I am not saying that prison is not without risk. It’s prison. It’s not Mister Rogers’ friendly neighbourhood. Overall, I don’t feel there is a lot of inherent safety risks in prison. I feel a lot of people who want to make positive strides and reintegration efforts to be released back into the community.
No one really likes prison. There might be some people who have been in for a long time that gradually become institutionalized and maybe a bit fearful to get out into the world, but I honestly don’t believe anyone really likes prison. I don’t think there are a lot of safety risks involved.
Mr. Sauvé: I am concerned about public safety. I am concerned about my family. I am concerned about my neighbourhood. I am concerned about the people that work inside the prison. I am concerned about the prisoners that are in there.
What strikes me as kind of strange is that volunteers from the community can go into a maximum security prison and sit with 20, 30 or 40 prisoners, with no staff in the gym or in the classroom. I see individual parole officers meeting with clients. Two security officers will bring them down, put them in the office and leave.
Sometimes there is the perception of danger. Yes, prison can be a dangerous experience. When I was in the maximum security prison, not as long as my colleague, what struck me is that when the prisoners were moving about, the staff was locked up. When the prisoners were locked up, the staff was moving about.
It used to strike me that I would see an odd guard walk down the range when everyone was out and the prisoners would go out to talk to them. If we keep the perception of danger and fear constant, it creates a more volatile situation.
My belief is that there should be more interaction. There should be more community people coming into the prisons. We used to have the Special Olympiad for Exceptional People at Collins Bay. Hundreds of people, volunteers and people with disabilities — no, they didn’t have disabilities — would run into the institution to work and be free inside a prison. You would have prisoners who were godbrothers to the people coming into the prison.
I don’t remember any violence that would take place. I don’t remember any fear that would take place. By shutting out the community we’ve kept the myth that prisons are horrendous, horrendous, horrendous. They are, but we’ve created that. I believe one to one is the ratio between staff and prisoners.
Senator Dasko: It doesn’t sound like a schoolroom, does it?
Mr. Sauvé: It doesn’t sound like a school room.
Senator Munson: When I was on the Human Rights Committee we went to the prisons you talked about. One of the big issues was creating release plans for inmates approaching their parole dates. Every one of them said they weren’t psychologically ready.
They need a release plan to get out, and that kind of thing wasn’t taking place. They weren’t prepared to have the documents either psychologically or emotionally.
Is there anything in this bill that helps this or changes that whole thing? They’re ready to go, but they’re not prepared to go by what should be happening inside the prison.
Mr. Sauvé: I have been to Grand Valley a few times, but I haven’t been there for a number of years.
I believe in and follow a philosophy that I use when I work with men inside the prisons. I prepare people to be successful on parole, not to get to the gate but once you’re through the gate to live a productive life.
I admire how sound my colleague is after so long in segregation. I don’t think I could do it. I don’t think there is enough emphasis inside prisons about life after prison. It’s all about getting you to the gate, but what happens beyond that? That’s where it’s lacking.
Senator Pate: Linking to what you just spoke about, Mr. Sauvé, perhaps both of you could speak to these issues. How often have you seen section 29 transfers for people with mental health issues to go out into hospitals? How often have you seen section 81 transfers or movement of men or women into Indigenous communities to serve their sentences? What is the effectiveness of the grievance process that exists?
Ms. Acoby: I haven’t seen a lot of section 29 transfers to mental health facilities for women. I have seen a few where women were transferred against their will or certified for a few days and there had to be interventions. I think you were involved in a couple where people called you right away and stuff like that. I really haven’t seen it as an option.
I know at one point they had a contract with Brockville, which I believe is a psychiatric facility near Ottawa. There are only two beds for women who actually could use the resources of a psychiatric facility rather than a prison. Even trying to get to a facility was difficult because there were two beds. It’s really hard to get transferred to a facility because usually those who suffer from mental health issues are put in segregation and deemed the highest risk, as was the case of Ashley Smith, whom we all know very well.
Sections 81 and 84 are really underutilized. Section 81 would be more pragmatic. For people with DO designations or doing life sentences or just long sentences, section 81 would actually allow them to be reintegrated into the community at any point in their sentence.
I am not saying that someone who just got 25-year bid will be able to go into the community after two years inside, but it makes it easier for long-term offenders to start the reintegration process, to get familiar with the community and to maybe see what new technology has come up so that when they get out they’re not fearful.
I want to tell a quick story of a male friend of mine. He was a prisoner who had been in since he was 19 and got out on parole in his 40s. He didn’t know how to work a Keurig, the single coffee machine. I don’t use that machine, but something as simple as that has changed things for people who have been in for a long time. They don’t know about all this stuff.
Even having access to escorted temporary absences on a regular basis, which are also really hard to get, would help facilitate timely reintegration or even just reintegration for short or long term inmates overall. There has to be an independent committee involved in reintegration and facilitation of ETAs. It is kind of difficult to rely on an institution to decide when you get your reintegration and when you’ve earned your freedom if you’ve offended them a lot in the past.
Mr. Sauvé: There is not a lot I can add to that. I know I’ve raised this with you, Senator Pate, but a young man got his life sentence at 16 years old, a life 7. He was an Indigenous prisoner who went from foster care, to training school, to prison. He has been inside 17 years. He was recently transferred from one prison to another because they said he was engaged in a physical altercation.
The comment I heard was: “We’ve tried every intervention we can think of.” I said, “Have we tried reintegration? He’s never had a chance in the community.”
Ms. Finestone: Perhaps I could speak to my consultations about section 81. A lot of people didn’t know that they existed. I heard talk from people on the inside during my consultations who said they were often told to withdraw their application if a prison guard didn’t get to them, or if they didn’t they wouldn’t support them.
To echo my colleagues about reintegration, the same woman basically said that the first time she went home, which was in a different province than the prison, she had no idea what to do after getting off the plane. There was no one to help her.
Mr. Sauvé talks about how to succeed. People need support to succeed. There are examples such as finding houses for the first time so that they’re not on the street committing crimes. These are things that we need to think about when we think about reintegration.
The Chair: I thank all three of you for the valuable testimony you brought to our study. I also have a special thank you because I know you had to accommodate your schedules to be here today since we asked you to appear at the last minute. This committee really wanted to hear what you had to say, so thank you for making yourselves available.
We are going to continue our study of Bill C-83. Before I introduce our witnesses, we will have to suspend our meeting at 5:15 as the bells will be ringing for a vote at 5:30, after which we will come back with our third panel.
Welcome to our second panel. This is the time that we will have with you for your opening remarks and questions.
Joining us now are Jason Godin, the outgoing National President of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers-CSN, and Glen Brown, Criminal Justice Instructor at Langara College.
I would like to remind you that you have five minutes for your opening remarks, followed by questions from the senators.
Jason Godin, Outgoing National President, Union of Canadian Correctional Officers-CSN: We represent over 7,300 members working in all federal institutions across the country. As law enforcement professionals, we represent a critical component of Correctional Service Canada enabling the service to achieve its public safety mandate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Recently there has been much consideration given to the role segregation plays within Canada’s correctional system, both provincially and federally. It has been thoroughly studied and its effects analyzed and debated by both academics and by critics of justice systems globally.
With the recent introduction of Bill C-83, CSC will be forced to significantly change the way it manages its offender populations. The passage of Bill C-83 will result in changes to operational policies.
I will try to slow down for the sake of the translators. I may skip over some parts of my presentation, but there are some parts I want to highlight.
Should the bill be successful, CSC will be forced to implement policy which will drastically alter the way the most difficult segments of its populations are managed. As we’ve seen through recent CSC policy changes to CD 709, by eliminating segregation and replacing it with structured intervention units CSC will further struggle to achieve its mandate of exercising safe, secure and humane control over its inmate populations.
We are concerned about policy revisions that appear to be reducing the ability to remove an inmate either for their safety or that of staff, which is section 37.3. This is not to suggest that the bill is not without its merits.
While UCCO-SACC-CSN recognizes that effective corrections requires the ability to adapt, our members are also tasked with ensuring the safety and security of all offenders and staff in our institutions.
By eliminating disciplinary and administrative segregation, the ability to maintain control over diverse populations will be significantly impacted. We accept that an overreliance on segregation as a disciplinary consequence may lead to negative outcomes. However, there are incidents where swift and immediate responses to dangerous behaviour is a necessary option.
We witness the unintended impact of changes to correctional policy, namely CD 709 and CD 843. These policies significantly reduce CSC’s ability to manage its institutions through the use of segregation. Although well intended, this quickly led to a sharp increase in violence within federal institutions.
Early data released through the Office of the Correctional Investigator on the impact of these amendments provide some indication of the operational outcomes of these changes. An analysis of the numbers found a clear correlation between release back into the regular population and violent incidents.
Consideration also needs to be given to the transitional nature of Bill C-83. Should the bill be implemented, all inmates who are subject to disciplinary segregation will no longer be the subject of the sanctions in sections 39 and 40. This will result in an immediate change to the management of violent offenders in institutional populations without apparent consideration for how they will be managed moving forward.
Bill C-83 seeks to amend the way the most difficult portions of institutional population are managed. SIU inmates will be provided with the opportunity to interact with other inmates for at least two hours, as well as the right to spend four hours outside of their cell. While these changes are undoubtedly well intended, they are not feasible under the current staffing and infrastructure models.
Many of the inmates currently managed within segregation units are highly vulnerable and are segregated for their own protection. In order to provide them with the amount of interaction prescribed within the new bill, they will require direct and constant supervision from an already limited number of correctional officers and health-care staff.
In general, should we proceed to the SIU model as a replacement for segregation, it is our hope these changes will be implemented gradually so they can be properly assessed and amended as necessary.
It is promising to note that discretionary powers remain with the commissioner to extend the proposed SIU status over 30 days, allowing correctional officers to manage high-risk, volatile or self-harming offenders without hard-capped time frames. Unfortunately, there has been a recent decision which has now hard capped the time frames. I’ll speak on that a little later on.
As a result of the implementation of SIUs, the ability for CSC to repurpose existing infrastructure to meet the criteria of Bill C-83 is still unclear. Policy changes resulting from the passage of the bill will restrict an institution’s ability to respond to the needs of specific inmates and the broader population, to meet its current mandate and to provide a safe work environment for its staff.
Should these changes occur, in order to continue to meet critical strategic priorities effectively significant infrastructural changes at the institutional level are absolutely necessary.
Additionally, we’ve been calling for the creation of a special handling units for female offenders since 2005. Despite every effort, some female inmates exhibit behaviour that simply cannot be safely controlled in regular institutions within the current infrastructural model. In similar instances involving male offenders, CSC can transfer otherwise unmanageable inmates to the special handling unit in Quebec.
Historically, due to the lack of alternative options, this has resulted in female inmates being placed in segregation for exceedingly lengthy periods of time. However, under the new guidelines of Bill C-83, CSC may be forced to involuntary transfer these inmates on a regular and ongoing basis to be in compliance with the law.
The same set of circumstances that marked Ashley Smith’s incarceration will become even more prevalent. This will serve neither the inmate nor CSC’s legislative mandate. Yet, until changes to the existing infrastructure are realized, they will be a necessary reality.
As a result of eliminating the segregation tool, CSC will be forced to rely on managing groups of inmates through the creation of subpopulations. Effectively, they are segregating inmates without physically placing them in segregation. This is already occurring through the use of a variety of alternative measures. For instance, inmates are increasingly restricted to their cell or range during the day. Additionally, restrictions on when different groups of inmates are eligible to use recreation yards will now become more prevalent.
While these options are certainly viable, they are entirely dependent upon the existence of physical infrastructure to support them. To implement these options in physical spaces, never originally designed for such purposes, elevates risk and places an unnecessary strain on the staff and inmates working and living within them.
The recent CCLA decision suggests that inmates placed in administrative segregation beyond 15 days constitutes cruel and unusual treatment. This decision is the opposite of the Burnside decision from the Superior Court in Nova Scotia, wherein Justice Kevin Coady said that he was satisfied the inmate knew the path to living in a unit but could not control his behaviour to achieve that goal within the framework of an institution. Therefore he found that the inmate’s placement in the administrative segregation was reasonable given his pattern of behaviour.
In recent court filings by the government where an extension was granted not to impose a 15-day cap, immediately the government suggested that imposing 15-day cap at any time would throw penitentiaries into a state of chaos. We agree with that analysis.
In an affidavit filed with the interim stay motion, the warden of Joyceville Institution in Kingston stated that 15 days would not give staff enough time to adequately assess potentially dangerous new inmates before having to turn them from isolation cells back into the general population with other inmates. In many cases, inmates refused to move from segregation after 15 days, forcing correctional officers to use force.
CSC indicated that there have been instances where a forceful attempt to remove an inmate from administrative segregation had been met with violence by the inmate toward other inmates or staff members, or self-harming behaviour with the objective of being maintained in or returned to administrative segregation.
In closing, we recognize that changes to strategic priorities and adapting to emerging trends and corrections in operational policies are realities of our work. However, including our members in conversations around these changes prior to their implementation is critical to ensuring their effectiveness. CSC and the government in issuing its mandates need to realize that changes to these policies could substantially increase the potential for volatile situations within its institutions, which will directly impact the safety of staff and inmates.
Accordingly, we hope you take our concerns into consideration and allow work with us as partners moving forward to ensure the best possible outcomes are achieved.
I’ve provided my brief to the committee, in which there is a series of recommendations.
Glen Brown, Criminal Justice Instructor, Langara College, as an individual: Oddly, and maybe sadly, I’ve been looking at topics like this one for over 40 years now, having studied criminology out of high school, having spent 33 years with federal corrections, and having taught corrections in criminology at Simon Fraser University and Langara College for the last four years. I teach mostly about correctional issues.
I joined CSC in 1978, in the wake of the MacGuigan parliamentary report on the penitentiary system. That was the beginning of 25 years of pretty progressive change in Correctional Service Canada. In 1996, at the time of the release of the Arbour report, I was appointed to the Matsqui Institution as associate warden, becoming warden in 2006. In these positions I was responsible for the segregation unit.
I will talk a bit about psychological harm. To some extent, the horse is out of the barn on that one, but I feel that I need to speak to it.
For years, I have interviewed segregated inmates on at least a weekly basis and always face to face. We’ve heard much about the food slot. It was mentioned again today. It was mentioned in the recent court decision. I can tell you that when I spoke to inmates on a weekly basis, it was face to face, either with the cell door open, in my office or in an interview room. Cases were always carefully considered, with input from correctional officers, case managers, nurses, psychologists, chaplains and elders. Any sign of mental health concerns was a rarity.
I’ve tried to reconcile this disconnect between my finding of an absence of mental health consequences arising from segregation and recent court findings of strong and causal connections. Courts in B.C. and Ontario come to their conclusion without a single piece of Canadian research that confirms psychological harms from segregation. There was no evidence from practising clinicians confirming harms in CSC institutions. Nor did they ever adjudicate the facts of any particular inmate in segregation coming to their findings in respect of these decisions.
Instead, these courts have relied heavily on American researchers who habitually testify on this topic. Craig Haney, a University of California psychologist, testified to an American Senate committee in 2012 on the way he perceived solitary confinement as being confined 23 hours a day, windowless cells, long-term confinement of perhaps years, a lack of meaningful social contact, no contact visits, not even contact legal visits, limited cell possessions and use of restraints outside of the cell.
With my 12 years at Matsqui, I find every one of these elements to be patently false. Yet our courts and others are happy to accept this characterization of the U.S. super-max environments to define experiences in Correctional Service Canada segregation.
The discussion has become positional and ideological, and it is not based on evidence. I find it particularly unsettling that in the most recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision the court based their conclusion of psychological harms on the evidence of a lawyer and a sociologist. In the B.C. court, they give weight to decades-old phenomenological research and inquiry and discount more sophisticated research inquiries which better understand the process of segregation.
To my knowledge, the study of this bill in both the House of Commons and the Senate has been a parade of testimony from lawyers and advocacy groups, without evidence from any person expert in mental health or in correctional or forensic environments.
Having said that, I don’t claim that segregation is at all psychologically healthy, and I do believe that its use should be constrained. However, I don’t think structured intervention units are the best way to go. They largely remain undefined in operational terms. They may have contradictory and unintended outcomes. There is a real risk that they will become attractive refuges for many inmates and actually increase the overall numbers of inmates in some form of restrictive housing.
If the goal is to sequester inmates for the short term to solve a pressing problem, why are we equipping these units for long-term care? With SIUs, inmates will essentially move to another unit and to another institution in some cases, where the case management team and the warden become less engaged with and less accountable to the particular inmate. There may even be a change of case management team.
Inmates are typically admitted to segregation at a time of crisis, a crisis that presents an opportunity for an intervention. It’s not a time to diffuse accountability or to break or sever those relationships with the case management team with which that inmate may have worked for months or even years.
The minister has indicated an investment of about a half a billion dollars. Imagine if these funds were directly invested in resources for addictions, mental health, Indigenous and other racialized groups, and in community corrections.
Obviously there is a need for change. My preference would be not to spend that money on SIUs, but to rely more significantly on independent external review to give Canadians the confidence they need in a system of segregation.
Changes need to embrace the Mandela Rules, support a healthy correctional environment for both staff and offenders, limit the use of segregation, and keep things simple. Reviews need to be predictable and have a clear accountability structure.
Wardens should have full authority through the first 15 days. Wardens should continue to review cases at the 24-hour, the 5-day and the 15-day marks. A regional review should be conducted by the deputy commissioner at the 30-day mark, and then the case should go to an independent external examiner at the 60-day mark. The independent external examiner should be appointed by Governor-in-Council and not the minister, hold hearings and make binding decisions.
Investments should be made in improving activity and program space. Additional resources should be provided to psychologically monitor and assist inmates in administrative segregation, and CSC needs to expand their relationship with universities in having research done in institutional settings. There really is not much being done at this point in time.
In conclusion, we need to move forward on the basis of evidence, not on ideology. Thank you.
Senator Seidman: Thank you both for your presentations. Mr. Godin, we heard a lot about 900 new positions being created to deal with the demands of these changes. You’ve mentioned in your recommendations supplementation of existing training and implementation of new training to provide correctional officers with additional tools.
What are your thoughts on how adequately this legislation and the resources to be provided will fit with the way you’ve assessed the situation?
Mr. Godin: I think we have to be careful about 900 positions. It’s actually around 700, and those positions are actually to replace retirees and transitional people that are moving out. It’s not 700 correctional officers or 700 staff for SIU units.
We have a problem when we’re talking about resources. If we’re running a segregation unit, or let’s call it a SIU, we may have up to 54, 55 or maybe 76 inmates in there. I’ve seen that many in some of these units. The problem is resourcing that to make it safe for everybody usually means when we go open a door it’s two correctional officers to make sure the most volatile inmates are escorted safely and to make sure that the health-care professionals, the psychiatrist and those people are safe.
When we’re talking about four hours a day out of a cell, let’s use the number of 55 inmates. That’s a considerable amount of resources to try to manage that over the course of an 8-hour or 16-hour day. That doesn’t include showers, phone calls or lawyer visits; all the things we are obliged to do under the law.
As it stands right now, it’s going to be extremely difficult to manage those types of populations or those large numbers of populations without resources. We’re a little concerned about the resourcing. The 700 that you’re referring to is not going directly to SIUs.
In fact, we’re already embarking on discussions now around what the staffing models will look like. We’re having some difficulties in those areas even trying to comply with policy to get the number of staff to do the job. It will be very challenging.
Senator Seidman: You talked about the need for an assessment and a gradual transition through this process. You expressed a degree of concern about how it would play out.
How would you like to see that transition managed?
Mr. Godin: The concern is with the cap. The court has now imposed a 15-day cap. Sometimes that’s not enough time to make a proper assessment to reintegrate the offender safely back into general population.
We have to be cognizant of gambling debts, other ongoing gang activities and threats on the individual’s life. Sometimes 15 days isn’t enough. Now we’re seeing inmates who don’t want to come out of segregation that are now actually being forcibly removed out of segregation, which is not what we want either. We have to be careful about how we rerelease the offenders back into general population.
I honestly can’t describe it any simpler than to say: If I am an individual on Wellington Street this afternoon and I am wielding a knife in my hand, chances are I am going to be removed to a different area. I am probably going to go to the Ottawa Carleton police station or the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre.
We are really the same thing. We’re trying to make sure the general population inmates have access to programs and that they have the things they need to do. When there are disruptions, sometimes moving an inmate from administrative seg back into a general population range can disrupt everybody else. We have to be cognizant of that as well.
It’s a bit of a balancing act, and 15 days for us, in some cases and not all cases, will not be long enough to assess that safe reintegration back into the inmate population.
Senator Poirier: Thank you both for being here and for your presentations.
My question is for Mr. Godin. Over the couple of meetings we’ve had on Bill C-83, we’ve heard different stories and different people explain about administrative segregation and what it is.
Could you walk me through a day in segregation, as you understand it? How does it work on the ground for the correctional officers and for the inmates? Explain in your view what is a day in segregation.
Mr. Godin: Sure. I can relate to personal experience. I’ve worked in segregation units in Quinte Detention Centre, in Kingston pen and in Millhaven, so I have some good familiarity with them.
To be honest with you, there’s a lot of ongoing activities in segregation units. It’s our obligation, first of all, to make sure that the inmates are getting visits. We do that in segregated units like we do in the general population. We have to make sure they’re fed, showered and things like that. We have to make sure they get yard time. We have to make sure they have access to legal services, which we do.
There’s a lot of activity there. We also make sure that they can safely integrate with behavioural therapists, psychiatrists or anybody else who is required to come in and see them. The nursing staff usually comes in sometimes up to four times a day to make sure medications are correct and all of those things.
It is a flurry of activity. That 16-hour period is quite busy. Having worked in a seg unit with over 50 inmates, it’s pretty busy trying to manage all that while. At the same time the interactions are constant. I barely ever remember sitting anywhere. You’re always on your feet because you’re interacting with offenders all day long.
It’s unfortunate that the American movies paint such a bleak picture of our correctional system, but it’s not what’s happening. Personally, I take offence to the hole or solitary confinement because that really doesn’t exist in Canadian prisons. It may be in a Third World country, but not here in Canada.
There’s a lot of ongoing interactions. We’re successful sometimes. We’re successful at bringing in an offender, making sure they get the programming and sometimes releasing them very quickly. Sometimes we’re able to do that. Other times, we have behavioural issues where we may not be as successful, or we may have a mental health issue which requires additional support. That’s a challenge in itself. We’re also providing mental health services inside of segregation while the inmate is there. It’s a pretty active place.
Senator Poirier: Mr. Godin, you have people on staff who can help with mental issues. Are those people on staff 24-7, or is there a period of time in the day where that staff is done and then everything falls on the correction officer? If it does, how do you handle it if a situation happens at eleven o’clock at night, overnight or something?
Mr. Godin: This is the frustrating part. This is what we’ve put in our brief. We’ve been advocating very adamantly to make sure we have 24-hour a day health-care staff. Unfortunately, as it stands right now, in our regional hospitals we do and in our treatment centres we do, but in the rest of the facilities we don’t. If we have an inmate who is self-harming or dealing with a mental health issue, sometimes after four o’clock or after seven o’clock at night we don’t have the health-care professionals we need to help us. We’re usually the ones doing the interactions.
I always say that we’re the social workers, psychiatrists, police officers, firefighters and the paramedics. We’re doing all of that after four o’clock. Some of our guys and gals are skilled at doing it, but we need to have the 24-hour a day health care and we don’t have it right now.
We continue to advocate. Everywhere we go, every table we sit at, we’re pushing to have that. It would be very helpful on a back shift to have access to an occupational therapist or nursing staff to help us.
We will be there to support, but we’re not necessarily the experts on this. Even in the brief I presented, we were asking for different types of training to help us from a mental health perspective or a de-escalation perspective. That would be something that is on our wish list for sure.
Senator Eaton: Are the prisoners given a mental health assessment when they first arrive at the correctional facility? Have our prisons become our mental health units? As you know, in most large cities we’ve closed down long-term mental health care. I am wondering if we are just using our prisons more and more for that.
Mr. Brown: Clearly there’s a high rate of mental disorders and mental health issues within prison populations. It depends on what kind of disorder you’re characterizing, for example, substance abuse or anti-social personality disorder.
Senator Eaton: I am thinking of those who are bipolar. I am thinking of people who have had more than the usual psychotic breaks and people who have been homeless for a long time.
Mr. Brown: It’s obviously very much higher than the general population. There’s some variability. In terms of acute psychotic disorders, probably anywhere from 3 per cent to 10 per cent.
Senator Eaton: Do they get a mental health assessment when they come in?
Mr. Brown: When they come to the reception centre, they’re in a reception process for eight weeks. Upon arrival, a preliminary assessment is done. A brief screen and a preliminary mental health assessment are done. If there is a significant history of violence or some other indication of mental disturbance, a more intensive psychological risk assessment is done.
In some cases, if there’s a more acute state of psychosis or some major psychiatric condition, the inmate will be immediately transferred to the psychiatric unit. The reception process would be continued within the context of a designated psychiatric hospital.
Senator Eaton: I’ll ask you the same question, Mr. Godin. Do you have anything to add?
Mr. Godin: Certainly I agree with what you’re saying, senator. There are a lot of challenges. Some 72 per cent of our offenders are identified as having some form of mental illness. The problem we have is that we only have so many treatment centres, as Mr. Brown was referring to.
Senator Eaton: There are only so many beds, as our previous witness said.
Mr. Godin: Exactly. The other big challenge we have is that it’s not as simple as our picking up our telephone and saying we’re going to send these inmates to the psychiatric facilities in the province. A lot of times the province won’t take them. If they take them, they have to be there voluntary. If they allude to any kind of violence, they are shipped right back to us.
That is our challenge in managing the 72 per cent of our offenders identified as having a mental health issue. There’s 28 per cent who don’t but they can be behavioural issues.
You’re exactly right in what you’re saying. We just don’t have the capacity to manage them all. The most severe or acute cases generally go to the treatment centres.
We continue to wrestle with this issue. The fact that we can’t send these individuals to psychiatric facilities in the province is a major challenge for us. At the same time, we don’t have health-care professionals lining up at our door to come and work in corrections either. Those are some of the challenges that we’re faced with.
The Supreme Court decision out of B.C. is very concerning because part of the problem in that decision is that there is no definition of mental illness. We all know that the United Nations can’t really define mental illnesses because each day there are some added and there are some subtracted.
Part of our concern is when we’re managing offenders. To give an example, gambling is recognized as a mental health issue. If I am, and excuse my term, the gang banger or the guy who is a habitual criminal and member of a gang, I can very easily look at my psychiatrist and say, “Listen, I have a gambling addiction so you can no longer separate me the rest of the population.” Meanwhile, all kinds of other things could be happening with that particular individual.
We totally agree that the more programs and the more access to mental health services for the 72 per cent identified are obviously beneficial. We just don’t have the capacity to manage all of that, so we have to prioritize those cases. There are assessments when they come in, as my colleague pointed out. There are immediate assessments done as soon as they walk in the door to determine what stream they should be going into, whether it’s intermediate mental health or acute mental health.
Senator Eaton: Could this bill be more progressive in the sense of allocating more money, as you so rightly said, Mr. Brown, to more training and helping inmates to get back into society?
We’ve heard in past committees from witnesses who said that people should be trained in prison so they have a job or a skill when they get out. Could we do something like that in this bill? Is there room in this bill to take the emphasis off segregation and put it on more positive things?
Mr. Brown: There’s certainly no end of needs and a lot of opportunities to invest in vocational skills, mental health, substance abuse and addictions. The needs are practically endless. I am not certain how it would fit into this bill.
When I was listening to earlier testimony and thinking about the money, there was a question about what kind of interaction these guys will have while they’re in prison. We talked about correctional officers and therapists, going to talk to a correctional officer, and the kind of work Mr. Sauvé has done. I know that some of the work ex-offenders have done in the Pacific region is pretty remarkable. It is not that expensive and there is not a lot of investment in that kind of activity.
There is a very modest investment in having ex-offenders work on some correctional issues. There may even be a role for them within SIUs if we look at what meaningful contact means and who is going to talk with these guys. There are some correctional officers who are quite remarkable in terms of their skills to interact with offenders. There are others who are more challenged in that kind of environment. Inmates are different. Some will respond to a correctional officer, some to a therapist and maybe some to an ex-offender.
Senator Eaton: Somebody who has been there.
Mr. Brown: Right. You mentioned employment. One area that CSC has been pretty slow to pick up on is the use of educational technology. How do you use offline educational resources? That’s an area that could actually work well in an SIU.
The Chair: I remind everybody that we have to leave at 5:15 for the vote. Time is short and I still have five senators on my list, so I ask for everybody’s cooperation in terms of brief questions and precise answers. Thank you.
Senator Mégie: I’ll be asking my question in French. How did correctional officers react to the Bill C-83 amendments?
Mr. Godin: I’ll be honest with you. There is a lot of skepticism among our group, and I know there’s some skepticism among health-care professionals. The operational reality for us can be very challenging.
Although we’re well intentioned in trying to deliver mental health programs and we’re trying to have more interaction for offenders, we could have one or two offenders disrupt that whole unit. That will suck up time and resources. We could have a self-harming offender; we could have anything. That’s part of the challenge we will have.
Unfortunately, there are some offenders from an operational standpoint who don’t want to come out of their cells. To be quite honest with you, who are we to force them out of their cells? That’s not where we want to go.
There’s a lot of skepticism around the bill. However, to be honest with you, we’re more than willing to give it a try because we’re concerned that we have courts imposing decisions that will have major detrimental impacts on the system. We would rather try to take control of that through Bill C-83.
There will be some hurdles, but we’ll have to try to figure it out as we go along because this is the reality we’re in now.
Senator Mégie: If Bill C-83 passes, how are you going to balance employee safety, inmate welfare and respect for human rights? Will the bill change anything or make no difference at all?
Mr. Godin: Obviously the hope is that there will be a difference. We’re obviously hopeful. Correctional Service Canada hasn’t always done everything right with administrative segregation, but a lot of things went well with administrative segregation.
It’s interesting because we’ll really have to see what the impacts are. I’ve been testifying fairly regularly, and it has struck me as very ironic that two previous offenders I testify with are also saying the same thing, that we should continue to maintain administrative segregation.
When you have the front-line people who live and work in there 24 hours a day, it’s not just the union or correctional officers saying that we have to continue to use the old model. Maybe we have to welcome some change to see if it will work, but in a lot of ways we didn’t necessarily agree that administrative segregation needed to be changed. Maybe it needed to be enhanced or looked at or maybe it needed more oversight. I don’t think we object to that, but we’re not sure how Bill C-83 will impact us because we’re sort of the cart before the horse. This is going to come very quickly. June 17 is the extension deadline now with the courts. Unfortunately, we will be making up this new unit as we go along, and that’s a bit scary.
We’re concerned for our members. I know some inmates are concerned. They have openly spoken to me while I am walking through institutions. They are saying, “We’re not sure this is going to work.” There are incompatibles. There are protective custody cases. There are inmates who have behavioural problems. We are kind of in limbo, but our initial position was: Let’s not replace administrative segregation; let’s try to fix it. There are some broken pieces in that.
Senator Munson: Mr. Godin, you talked about taking offence at the terminology “hole.” We just heard that terminology used by Mr. Sauvé. I’ve been inside Millhaven and Collins Bay. It’s not exactly a suite at the Royal York inside solitary confinement. You say that is not Third World. It’s not that much farther away.
If you’re a prisoner inside that particular room, it’s not a very accommodating, comfortable place. It’s bleak, dark and cold. Perhaps they did something wrong to be there. I want to put on the record my perception of what it is, having taken a look at what it is for the prisoners who have to be in there.
You talked about the administrative segregation units and solitary confinement. What is the difference? People are saying it’s a shell game, a new term for what really is. The question I have for you is: Are you happy with the status quo? Does this have to stay this way? Is there a remedy beyond solitary confinement?
Personally, I don’t quite follow the words “administrative segregation.” You’re still alone. You’re still by yourself. You’re getting four hours instead of an hour or two, whatever the case may be. Are you satisfied? Are the correctional officers satisfied that this is the correct way to rehabilitate or try to rehabilitate a prisoner?
Mr. Godin: Senator Munson, to be honest with you, prisons are not pleasant places. At the end of the day, I can tell you that correctional officers believe very much so in administrative segregation being the last resort. To be honest with you, we want to come into a unit. We want to be able to interact with defenders and do our job, but unfortunately there are those cases where we have to separate or isolate offenders from other offenders for the safety of other offenders.
Yes, the interaction levels in administrative segregation are restrictive, but at the same time there are some interactions with other offenders as well. We do that now. It’s not that they’re completely isolated from human contact. As I mentioned earlier, there is a lot of staff interactions over the course of the day based on visits, based on health-care professionals coming, or based on all of those things. Are there better ways to do business? We’re always looking for better ways to do business.
Like I mentioned earlier, we would be very pleased to have health-care professionals with us. If we’re dealing with someone who is self-harming, sometimes we don’t have a place to put those individuals and unfortunately administrative segregation becomes the alternative. That’s not necessarily what we want. Obviously we want to be able to get offenders into treatment centres.
I wouldn’t disagree with your comment. I just don’t like to characterize our system the way the American movies do. Unfortunately that’s the way it’s characterized sometimes, and that’s not really what’s happening. You heard my colleague mention how skilled correctional officers are in dealing with offenders 24 hours a day when they’re trying to talk them out of suicide, trying to deal with their situation or trying to get them help somewhere.
There are things that we could do better. One of the things we would love to see is more access to health-care professionals. Like I mentioned, we have a major recruitment problem and that’s one of the areas.
Senator Munson: Would that constitute meaningful contact? The words “meaningful contact” have been thrown around here for the past few weeks by the minister.
What, in your estimation, is meaningful contact? I still don’t get that. Has there been meaningful contact in the last five or ten years? It doesn’t sound like it.
Mr. Godin: I think that in itself is on a personal basis. I’ll give you an example. Some offenders would like to come out of ranges where it’s noisy, where sometimes it’s crowded or where they’re not getting along with other offenders. They like to be quiet.
It depends on the individual. There are some offenders that need lots of interaction and that does happen. It depends on whether they’re willing to engage in their correctional programs. If they’re willing to engage in their correctional programs, there’s more interaction than the person who says, “I am not really interested in my programs and I prefer to be here quietly.”
To be honest with you, senator, I think that definition is up to the individual. It’s usually gauged by the staff working in the unit and certainly by the inmates themselves. It’s not unusual for us to make sure that we seek somebody out. Sometimes we have to call in a psychiatrist if we think that’s appropriate.
Meaningful interaction is really in the eye of the beholder. That’s what I believe, anyway.
Mr. Brown: One of the important metrics, whether it’s segregation, SIUs or visits, is how much time the offender is spending with their family. In Canada, whether or not you’re in segregation, you’re entitled to visits. Most of them are closed visits. There is a provision for open visits. A simple metric going forward would be: How many hours a week are inmates spending in visits with their families? How many hours a week are they spending on the telephone with their families?
When I would go into segregation, sometimes I had difficulty finding space in the interview room to interview the inmate face to face because there was a psychologist, an elder and a parole officer all there at the same time wanting to have face-to-face engaged conversations with the offender. Some of that is measurable.
Mr. Godin: To add to what my colleague said, we’re exploring different technologies. If you are talking about meaningful interaction like families, as Mr. Brown mentioned, we’re looking at technologies like Skype where we can have more access for offenders to have more meaningful interaction with their loved ones or their families.
There are things we can do that we’re working on. CSC is moving in that direction right now to allow that to happen.
Senator Kutcher: I have a two-part question. A substantial amount of money has been identified for hiring new health-care and correctional staff. I will paraphrase something that was told to us: We don’t see any problem in hiring professionals with mental health experience. I would just like your opinion on that.
On the second part of the question, I realize correctional officers have a challenging role. I am interested in what kind of training correctional officers get to help them with that role so that they can identify inmates who have substantive mental health-care needs and that they know how to identify and separate behavioural disturbance from behaviour caused by an illness. What skills do they use or competencies do they have to practise therapeutic human connection intervention?
Mr. Godin: I will certainly elaborate. We are clearly having a recruitment problem with health-care professionals. There is no question about it. A psychiatrist in the community can make four or five times money as they can in Correctional Service Canada.
This is not an easy task. This will be one of the biggest challenges with the bill. I say openly and honestly that we don’t have a long list of people running and putting up their hands to work in a prison. It’s a little nicer to work in the community than it is in an institutional setting.
On the mental health piece, we have advocated very openly about mental health training for correctional officers. In fact, they started two cases of mental health training for all of the workers in the treatment centres.
That was a good step forward. It was good for correctional officers, but the unfortunate part is that it went by the wayside and people are forgetting about it in the organization. We continue to advocate for it. The bare minimum we should have is at least two solid days of an understanding of mental illness. The problem is they didn’t extend that beyond the treatment centres. I mentioned earlier in my testimony that 72 per cent of our offenders are suffering from a mental health illness.
I see a major problem with the lack of training. Some correctional officers on the floor have some pretty good skills, but at the same time things like de-escalation training would be useful for correctional officers. It is another component we need to have with the mental health part.
My wife is actually a mental health professional. She teaches me because I’ve never had that type of training. Correctional officers oftentimes are left alone with inmates and no health-care professionals around. It would be useful for them to be able to identify or pick up on it quickly and say that it is the result of an individual’s medication or this is the result of something else. We’re really missing that.
Bill C-83, to be honest, without 24-hour a day health care is like putting the cart before the horse. We need to do all kinds of other pieces before we get into the operationalizing of Bill C-83. There is a lot more that can be done.
Senator Pate: I thank both of you for your work. I was surprised by the description of all the activities. Mr. Brown. When was the last time you were in the seg unit in Matsqui?
Mr. Brown: I haven’t been in Matsqui’s seg unit for five years. I’ve been in the seg units of Mountain and other facilities.
Senator Pate: I was there last month with one of my colleagues. In fact, what you described is not what we observed. The room had a window but it had actually been covered over. There was virtually no ventilation. It had been freshly painted before we got there. We didn’t see the types of activities mentioned as a number of us have been visiting.
I wanted to focus on a couple of things you said about the lack of research. You may not be aware that there were affidavits and in fact prisoners from Canada did testify in those court cases.
Mr. Brown: I understand that, yes.
Senator Pate: Because you worked in corrections, you’re probably aware that about 20 years ago the research capacity of Public Safety, then the Solicitor General, was taken in house by corrections. It basically became a bit of an echo chamber of researching and developing their own policies to the exclusion of bringing in outside people.
Would you see that as part of what has contributed to the lack of Canadian research outside of corrections’ own research?
Mr. Brown: When masters and doctoral students talk about where they want to do their research, they talk about the barriers to getting inside prisons and conducting research in those environments. I can’t say that is because CSC is creating a wall. There are also ethical and procedural barriers to doing research in a prison setting but there’s a lack of it, whichever way.
Senator Pate: I am trying to be quick because I know we have limited time.
You both talked about the need for mental health resources. Would you support an expansion of section 29 to ensure that those who have mental health issues could actually be in mental health facilities rather than in prison?
Mr. Brown: I would have clearly said yes two or three years ago, particularly when it came to women. When you look at the Pacific region there are maybe 85 women in custody. You might have one or two women at any one time in acute crisis. Why not transfer her to a forensic hospital which is 35 kilometres down the freeway and is equipped for that environment?
I’ve recently talked to clinicians in the federal and the provincial systems. They tell me they’re more comfortable with the status quo. In fact CSC in the relationship between the FBI and the Pacific Institution/Regional Treatment Centre has more robust capacity to respond to those issues than they would in the provincial hospitals. That’s what I am hearing.
Senator Forest-Niesing: I can defer to Senator Pate if she has some additional questions.
Senator Pate: Renee Acoby, who just presented, was in the region. She was one of the individuals that resulted in the position that you co-took on handling units. Yet, as she indicated and confirmed today, it wasn’t until she had access to an outside therapist that she was able to trust and do the work that was needed.
Given that, would your position change in terms of keeping it in house for corrections?
Mr. Brown: I think the psychiatrist is probably on contract in any event. There is a conflict for some inmates because psychologists generally do risk assessments. They have relatively little time for treatment interventions. I think that is a real rub for some inmates.
Obviously, for some offenders that will be less of a barrier if someone is seen as independent.
Senator Forest-Niesing: My question is going to be a doozy. I would tend to believe from what we’ve heard to date from various witnesses that a culture change is warranted.
I’d like to hear from both of you whether you agree or disagree with that. If you disagree, the response will then be short. If you do agree, though, I would be interested in hearing from you what positive changes we could then make that in your opinions would bring about perhaps some required change in culture.
The Chair: Thank you. Senator Forest-Niesing asked if you agree or you don’t. I would ask that you make it a yes or no answer, but I will welcome a written answer because the bell is ringing. There is a bit of a walk to get to the chamber. I hate for my colleagues to be late for the vote.
Mr. Brown: Corrections is a duality. You have the control part and the assistance part. There’s a competing tension. In this day and age we’re very much in a safety culture. That has had an expense in terms of the therapeutic endeavour.
I actually don’t have an easy answer to that question, but culture does need to shift. It is more on that control side. It needs to move more now to the intervention side.
The Chair: Thank you. We will need to suspend. Feel free to send to the clerk anything that you will want to add. Thank you for your testimony.
We will suspend until after the vote.
(The committee suspended.)
(The committee resumed.)
The Chair: We’d like to thank you for being here today. We are continuing our study of Bill C-83, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another Act. For our last panel of the day, we have, from the Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada, Ivan Singer, Correctional Investigator of Canada, and Marie-France Kingsley, Executive Director. From the Canadian Human Rights Commission, we have Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner, as well as Fiona Keith, Senior Counsel.
You have five minutes for your opening remarks, followed by questions. We will begin with Mr. Zinger.
Ivan Zinger, Correctional Investigator of Canada, Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada: Thank you very much for inviting us to appear before the committee on such an important topic. I am joined by Marie-France Kingsley, Executive Director in the office. She has extensive experience in investigations.
There are many things that are good about Bill C-83, and I would like to highlight some of them. It prohibits solitary confinement as defined by the Mandela Rules, the most restrictive form of incarceration. It incorporates some degree of external oversight on SIUs. It reintroduces the principle of least restrictive measures. It reaffirms the principle of professional autonomy and clinical independence of health-care professionals. It also introduces patient advocates to federal corrections. Finally, it reaffirms the application of Gladue factors to federal corrections.
However, Bill C-83 is significantly flawed. This is very surprising because this is the third attempt at coming up with a legislative scheme. If you recall, we first had Bill C-56. Then we had Bill C-83, and now we have Bill C-83 with additional sections that provide external oversight. Of course, this was done in response to negative court decisions.
The draft legislation is now a good case study on the struggle of the Government of Canada to develop sound policy. Again, three attempts and still flawed. It’s a very narrow approach to prison reforms. It’s a piecemeal approach. There was no substantive consultation with stakeholders or external experts whatsoever prior to the tabling of those three bills.
Nothing proactive was done. It has all been done fairly secretively and in response to litigation. This insular policy development dictated primarily by Correctional Service Canada, an organization known for its limited openness, transparency and accountability, is quite problematic.
In terms of additional context, there have myriad lost court cases in the last five years. Yet CSC continues to avoid enhanced accountability measures. This bill is now being rushed through at the 11th hour when concerns have been documented for years if not decades.
The government committed significant resources of $140 million a year and rolled out those resources even before the bill was passed. I don’t get a sense that there is much openness to make significant changes to this bill, and I remain quite skeptical.
Little known about how these SIUs will work in practice. Corrections do not publicly share its proposed operational or staffing models for these units. Correctional Service Canada could have introduced those SIUs years ago without legislative change by reallocating resources, which seem more than adequate amount.
We have also learned that CSC is now introducing limited voluntary association ranges. This is brand new. These are protective custody ranges for those who are long-term segregation cases. Yet again, CSC could have introduced those ranges years ago to reduce the numbers in administrative segregation.
There is also potential for SIUs widening the net. I can certainly envision SIU-like units without due legislative process. That is going to become a significant problem.
Finally, I am also concerned that many observers, including Professor Debra Parks, Professor Allan Manson and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, consider Bill C-83 to be unconstitutional.
I am not a constitutional expert, but if I were a gambling man my money would be on those observers, after being told three times that the CCRA provisions were constitutional and after their being deemed not to be in Bill C-56 and the first version of Bill C-83.
As part of a strategic planning exercise, my office drafted CCRA 2.0, which is more consistent with evidence-based law and policy and incorporates best correctional practices domestically and internationally.
There’s a need for a comprehensive review of the CCRA, which is now over 25 years old. We started by reviewing the basic principles and modern correctional practices around the world. My team collaborated to see what significant legislative reform would look like. We are also very thankful for the assistance of Mary Campbell, former director general at Public Safety Canada, who greatly assisted our office in this strategic planning exercise.
The proposed bill is certainly not perfect, but is a significant improvement over the current CCRA and Bill C-83. My hope is that the proposed legislation will inspire much needed comprehensive legislative review.
Thank you. I would now be pleased to answer any questions you have.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission: Thank you for inviting the Canadian Human Rights Commission to participate in this important study of Bill C-83, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another Act.
The commission has been encouraged by the spirit and intention of this bill. We have been public in our concerns about solitary confinement for years now, and so we acknowledge this government’s efforts to address this human rights issue. Upon close review, we have serious concerns about this bill in its current form. We believe that with some amendments, this bill could better protect the health, lives and human rights of inmates in federal custody.
We will provide a written submission that outlines our proposed amendments. They fall into three main categories. The first is legislated exceptions, because some inmates should not be placed in structured intervention units. The second is closer internal monitoring of conditions of confinement in structured intervention units. The third is judicial oversight at key points.
I’ll speak first about the need for exceptions. Time and again, research has shown the long-term damage that isolation can do, particularly for vulnerable individuals. Courts in British Columbia and Ontario have held that inmates with mental illness and those who self-harm should not be isolated.
I am concerned that more and more human rights complaints are being filed by inmates with mental illness or histories of chronic self-harm who end up in isolation. ln fact, the number of those complaints has increased steadily over the past decade. That is why our proposed amendments include making clear exceptions for people who should not be put in the structured intervention units.
Specifically, we urge that this bill recognize exceptions for inmates with mental disabilities; young offenders, whose brains are still developing; and women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or have just given birth.
Second, we call for this bill to include additional concrete measures for internal monitoring and fewer levels of internal review. We believe this is essential.
The current provisions of the bill that provide for additional reviews by CSC are complex and cumbersome. Legislative protections in this area should be simple and direct. Clear rules are needed to make compliance possible and to better protect the human rights of an isolated inmate. It will prevent people from falling through the cracks, which tends to happen in complex administrative schemes.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we call for the bill to ensure that judicial oversight is prompted at specific points during confinement to a secure intervention unit. It is clear there are too many human rights issues at stake not to have judicial oversight.
We are therefore calling for judicial oversight of the following key points: that an automatic notice of confinement be filed with the Federal Court when a person is confined to a structured intervention unit; review by a judge when conditions of confinement are similar to solitary confinement for more than five days; review by a judge when CSC does not follow the recommendation of a registered health-care professional to remove an inmate from a structured intervention unit; review by a judge when an inmate is confined to a structured intervention unit for more than 15 days; and review by a judge when an inmate is confined to a structured intervention unit for more than a total of 60 days in the same year.
To conclude, we acknowledge the intention of this bill. While we have concerns with the bill in its current form, we believe that accepting our proposed amendments will help ensure that it strikes the necessary balance between ensuring safety and respecting the human rights of the individuals.
Thank you. My colleague Fiona Keith and I look forward to your questions.
The Chair: Thank you very much to the witnesses for their presentations. We will now move into the question and answer portion.
Senator Munson: Thank you for being here. You have given a whole new and different meaning to zinger. I hope we can all take a deep breath. It’s such serious business.
Mr. Zinger, when we heard your language of significantly flawed, very narrow approach, piecemeal, rushed through at the 11th hour, skeptical, and agreeing with the constitutional aspect of the particular bill, I sometimes think: What are we supposed to amend?
Obviously you don’t like it, but there are parts that deal with sections 29, 81 and 84. Would you support an amendment to Bill C-83 to prioritize these three agreements for the release of those with mental health needs to appropriate health-care facilities and Indigenous prisoners to their communities?
I will have a question for Ms. Landry.
Mr. Zinger: I started my opening remarks by stating that there were certainly some valuable sections in the bill, and I believe I listed six of them. Absolutely, there are some valuable things.
My concern is more around the SIUs. That’s where there will be some great opportunity to rethink the SIUs. The commission comes up with judicial oversight. Independent adjudication would probably deliver comparable oversight, but there are some big flaws in the bill.
We heard the union talk earlier today about disciplinary segregation. For some odd reason, we are now to have a disciplinary system where we have an extremely high due process, with the highest level of a full proper hearing that you can have. The consequences for violating a serious disciplinary infraction will be limited to a fine or a loss of privilege.
Even under that scheme, I don’t think an independent chairperson would be required to even provide legal access to a lawyer for such a hearing because the potential loss of liberty is non-existent.
A lot of things haven’t been fully thought out. Anyway, I’ll leave it at that because I have exceeded my time.
Senator Munson: I think others will be talking about SIUs because it is extremely serious. It’s the crux of the whole reason we’re here.
Ms. Landry, are you supportive of an immediate prohibition on segregation for women, youth and those with mental health issues? If so, how could sections 29, 81 and 84 of the Correctional and Conditional Release Act help to achieve this?
My question is for Ms. Landry, but both of you can answer it.
Ms. Landry: We’re certainly in agreement that for inmates with mental health issues this institution is not the appropriate place for them because they need care. I will pass the question to my colleague.
Fiona Keith, Senior Counsel, Canadian Human Rights Commission: We will be filing a written brief as well as detailed proposed amendments in both official languages.
The proposed exceptions that the commission is putting forward to the committee include a prohibition for inmates with mental illness, youth, as well as women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or have recently given birth. All of the proposed amendments are consistent with the Mandela Rules and with the Bangkok Rules.
We are also proposing that there be a delay in bringing into effect any provisions relating to secure intervention units for women. This is consistent with the position that the commission has taken for a number of years that there should be a moratorium with respect to the use of segregation for women. As we all know, there are few women in segregation at any time. On May 8, I believe there were only three women in segregation in federal correctional facilities. It’s quite clear that alternatives to segregation can be found for women.
Mr. Zinger: I point to section 70 of the proposed CCRA 2.0. It includes a prohibition on solitary confinement as defined in the Mandela Rules. It also lists five different prohibitions based on pregnancy, having recently given birth, chronic self-harm, being suicidal, a mental disorder, needing medical observation or mobility impairment. We recognize these as being critical and important prohibitions.
I don’t believe there is a need for SIUs or administrative segregation for women. We already have some very harsh conditions of confinement in secure units. In my view, those secure units are tantamount to the SIUs. They should be used very rarely, only to separate a few women who in the past would have been segregated via administrative segregation.
Senator Pate: Thank you to all of you for being here and for the work you do on an ongoing basis. Because of your CCRA 2.0, I have some questions. I would certainly invite the commission to answer the questions I am going to ask.
Subsection 21(1) of your CCAA 2.0 document indicates:
That the service shall assign a security classification of maximum, medium or minimum to each inmate in accordance with regulations made under paragraph 134.
Subsection 21(3 )indicates:
That security classification of an inmate shall be based on empirically validated and reliable methods, and all methods shall have been independently validated for male and female inmates, Indigenous persons and other groups.
In your 2016-2017 annual report, you indicated a shared concern with the Auditor General that Indigenous persons are more likely than non-Indigenous to receive higher security classifications and recommended that the level system for maximum security for women be rescinded.
As well, given the fact that the Moira Law report, commissioned by Correctional Service Canada in response to the Canadian Human Rights Report of 2003, recommended that all women start at a minimum security classification, do you think it would be beneficial to crystallize that guarantee in this legislation? Would you support an amendment to classify women, as a starting point, as minimum security at the beginning of their sentences?
Mr. Zinger: That’s a tough one. I agree with the idea of Dr. Moira Law that upon admission you should basically classify the person at the lowest possible classification, see whether they can actually adjust, and then only for those who cannot adjust would you raise the classification. It’s a very clever and thoughtful idea. It’s worth experimenting with. It’s certainly more consistent with creating choices as a background. It would be quite innovative.
The problem is that you would have to probably change the culture significantly before you could innovate it. If you’re trying to innovate in an environment that is reluctant to accept innovation, the end result will be problematic.
Senator Pate: That’s given rise to a bit of a supplementary question.
Would it surprise you to hear that then Justice Louise Arbour indicated that one way to change culture, as she said in her commission of inquiry report, was to actually change legislation? Would you agree that sometimes the fastest way to change the culture is to have a legislated requirement to have to do things differently?
Mr. Zinger: I would absolutely agree with that. That’s why a full and comprehensive review of the CCRA is required to set a different philosophy or a different culture and to give the commissioner a template for reform. I don’t think a mandate letter by a minister will be sufficient to turn things around.
Senator Pate: Would the commission like to comment?
Ms. Keith: Thank you for your question, Senator Pate. The commission is studying the issue of security classification, including for women. We are aware of the research of Dr. Moira Law.
We don’t have a final position on it yet, but we agree that the practice of classifying all women as minimum initially would be consistent with creating choices.
Senator Pate: Thank you.
Senator Mégie: My question is for Mr. Zinger. You described Bill C-83 as a third flawed attempt at a legislative scheme. Did you give any consideration to the possibility of introducing changes through correctional policy revisions, rather than through legislation? Would revising existing correctional policies to make changes be easier or more complicated?
Mr. Zinger: The astonishing thing about Bill C-83 is that, prior to the external oversight component being introduced, all the measures in the bill could have been adopted by way of the Correctional Service of Canada’s internal policies. For instance, policy can be used to increase the number of hours that an inmate can spend in a structured intervention unit. In fact, the correctional service decreased the period of time that an inmate can spend in confinement from 23 hours to 22 hours, so nothing prevents it from reducing the period to 20 hours. That’s what was most surprising about the initial bill.
You’re absolutely right to think that the Correctional Service of Canada could have made these changes through policy. That is true for the new protective units designed to reduce the use of administrative segregation. All of that could have been implemented years ago.
Five years ago, approximately 800 inmates were in administrative segregation every day. Now that number has dropped to 350. The law didn’t change, however, so what is the reason behind the reduction? It’s simply the result of will. The will didn’t come about on the service’s initiative, though. It emerged because the service found itself having to fend off all kinds of court challenges, all of which, it lost. A series of decisions where the correctional service was found to be in the wrong are now part of the case law, so it no longer had a choice. To be clear, it wasn’t the result of some benevolent desire.
Senator Mégie: Thank you.
Senator Poirier: My question is for Dr. Zinger. On your website you talk about recruitment and retention of the mental health-care professional. When the minister was here last week or so, I questioned him about my concerns for the 900 staff that he talked about hiring. We already know that there is sometimes a lack of manpower to have the number of people needed in the health professions to answer needs in the community and that the same problem exists within our prisons.
They weren’t concerned about it because basically there were 43 institutions spread over seven different provinces. They didn’t feel that there would be any real issues in recruitment and retention of employees.
A little while ago we heard from Mr. Godin who mentioned in his testimony that one of the challenges they were facing was that the salaries of health-care specialists in private practice, specifically psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, were a whole lot higher in the community than they were within institutions. Definitely it is a challenge to get the number of people they need within.
I have two questions following that. What would be the average time right now that people within institutions have to wait to see a mental health-care professional? Do you feel that we will be able to answer the need, as Mr. Godin was saying, to provide health care 24-7 within institutions to make sure they are able to help everybody?
Mr. Zinger: I think recruitment and retention are always an issue. The commissioner has worked quite hard to try to address that in partnership with central agencies to try to make sure salaries are competitive.
The situation varies depending on the province, which makes it more difficult. The federal rate is the same rate across the country. You’re competing with provincial salary systems, so it can be challenging. The service has made some gains in that regard.
In terms of the full continuum of services from primary care to secondary and intermediary care, to hospitalization and to discharge, it is important to realize that some significant issues need to be addressed. For me, the most troubling cases are those of individuals who are in the acute phase of their mental illness, chronically self-harm or are suicidal.
These individuals should not be in the correctional system. They should be transferred out to external psychiatric hospitals. The service has plenty of money to ship its resources to ensure a more appropriate therapeutic environment where there are front-line staff or health-care providers, not correctional officers. There is a real need for us to challenge that segment.
You can certainly ask the service how they track access. Our view is that the prevalence is very high. The demand for those services is high. Sometimes we are dismayed at how the service has rolled out the intermediate care units. They are supposed to be therapeutic units inside federal penitentiaries. Yet we know of several of them have simply been put in former segregation units. There is nothing therapeutic about segregation units full of bars and with concrete walls and concrete slabs in their yards. There is no attempt to add carpets or furniture to develop common areas with couches. There is no attempt to remove some of the concrete in the yards and plant some grass. There is nothing therapeutic about them.
If the SIUs were based on a slightly less therapeutic than intermediate care units, we’re in trouble because there has been no money assigned to address the infrastructure.
Senator Poirier: When taking them out of the penitentiary and putting them in health-care facilities, do they have the security and protection they need until the patient or the person who needs care is in a place that is safe for everyone?
Do you know if those health-care facilities are available within the health-care system?
Mr. Zinger: I think that’s a real concern. The service runs five regional treatment centres. They got $140 million a year to try to increase the number of people hired as mental health professionals. The problem is that the front-line staff is very much dominated by correctional officers that are still in those regional treatment centres.
When there are issues about transferring them outside, you need a partnership and you need to buy those beds, which costs money. There is plenty of money in the system. It’s just a question of priorities.
The numbers are not that high. Probably a dozen women need to be transferred out. Yes, it would be a bit more expensive, but if you calculate how expensive it will be, it’s a bargain. We know of some provincial facilities that have the resources and, if appropriate, would take that on easily.
Ms. Landry: I can provide some details on the number of complaints.
The lack of services and the lack of health care alleged in the complaints that we receive.
Those are among the complaints we receive, specifically the increase in the number of complaints received. It has to do with the lack of mental health services in correctional institutions.
Senator Ravalia: My question revolves around the situation of marginalized groups who are incarcerated, such as LGBTQ, minorities and African Canadians. Do you envisage a plan that could be put in place that would allow these individuals to be released into their communities? Do we have any examples of this? What do you think the outcomes might be?
Mr. Zinger: I think the service is still struggling with the LGBTQ incarcerated communities. Recently, there have been some positive policy changes, but it’s still a struggle.
There is overrepresentation of Canadians of African descent in prison. They represent about 8 per cent whereas in the community they represent about 3 per cent. We’ve made several recommendations to try to improve programming and access to rehabilitation that is more culturally sensitive to the needs of those offenders.
CCRA 2.0 promotes some shift in the balance between institutional and community corrections. The service has spent only 6 per cent of its entire budget on community corrections. I think there needs to be some serious reconsideration of how you can transfer some of those resources to support more alternatives to incarceration.
Our infrastructure in corrections is aging. We have three penitentiaries that are over 100 years old. The majority of penitentiaries are 50-plus years old. This is based on an old philosophy. It’s not modern corrections by any stretch of the imagination. Often it’s not an appropriate setting to try to address the needs of individuals who are mentally ill, Indigenous or women. The list goes on.
We have some really big infrastructure problems in this country.
Senator Ravalia: Could part of the solution be a better representation of the LGBTQ, African Canadian and other minority groups working as corrections officers? Has there ever been a proactive attempt to recruit, train and sensitize individuals?
We’ve heard a lot about a culture that exists and a culture that perhaps is embedded. Are there constructive ways we can look at the way in which we train and recruit correctional officers to be more sensitive to some of these concerns?
Mr. Zinger: This is a good one for the commission.
Ms. Keith: Yes, that has been the position of the commission. As you may know, the commission is also responsible for administering the Employment Equity Act. We are aware that there are representation gaps in many of the occupational groups and that more hiring of targeted populations would improve the delivery of correctional services and would assist in changing the culture of corrections.
The Chair: We have a few minutes left.
Senator Pate: Picking up on Senator Ravalia’s question, could you envision sections 81 and 84 being used for some of those groups as one option? The subsections of those groups allow them to be used not just for Indigenous prisoners but also for other groups.
One area that has been examined is the idea of sentencing agreements and possibly including options like those which exist in the Youth Criminal Justice Act or the deferred prosecution agreements that were introduced recently for corporations.
Would you support as a matter of principle something that would allow this sort of intervention for adults? You could actually look at having people referred for treatment or for some restorative justice initiative in the community and then coming back to court and, if they fulfilled their obligations, not even ending up with a prison sentence.
Ms. Landry: We at the commission think that the language of the act in general is sufficiently broad to permit special measures for minority groups or special groups. If the willingness is there, if the wish is there, it could be done.
Mr. Zinger: There is a great need, and this was in my last annual report, to rethink how we make corrections. We would probably get better correctional outcomes for three specific groups, for example, if we were to shift the resources to the community in a very significant way.
First, we could see a significant transfer of roles and responsibility for the care, custody and supervision of Indigenous offenders to the community. Second, there are certainly those who are mentally ill that require a more therapeutic environment where correction does not meet their needs. Third is aging offenders. It’s extraordinary that we have individuals in our penitentiaries that require palliative care, are terminally ill, have dementia and have severe mobility issues. The list goes on. If any of these individuals can be managed more humanely and appropriately in the community, the service should reallocate funds internally to do that.
Marie-Claude Landry and I did a systemic investigation on aging offenders and our conclusions are fairly clear that what is ongoing right now is not in line with Canada’s place in terms of human rights compliance and human dignity.
The Chair: Senator Munson is asking for a very quick 30 seconds.
Senator Munson: Mr. Zinger, if you were sitting in our chairs, what would be one major amendment you would like to see to this bill? We have to make those decisions tomorrow because of the timeline we’re in.
Mr. Zinger: I understand the pressure the government is under right now with looming deadlines. I also understand that you don’t want to be in contempt of court.
If there were one amendment, I would seriously look at strengthening the oversight of SIUs, whether independent adjudication or judicial oversight. You have to bring in much more openness, transparency and accountability.
If I were commissioner, I would welcome that. It’s the only way that she will be able to change that culture to a culture that is respectful of human rights, which promotes human rights, that detects human rights violations and that remedies human rights violations. You need some enhanced oversight.
Senator Munson: Thank you very much.
The Chair: Ms. Landry seems to agree.
Ms. Landry: Indeed. I completely agree.
The Chair: Thank you all for your cooperation. Thank you to the witnesses for contributing to our study of Bill C-83. We will resume our study tomorrow morning with clause-by-clause consideration. If there are no further questions, the meeting is adjourned.
(The committee adjourned.)