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QUESTION PERIOD — Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Bill C-83--Administrative Segregation

May 7, 2019

Minister Goodale, despite intending to end solitary confinement, Bill C-83 gives broad discretion to Correctional Service of Canada staff to place individuals on a regime of at least 20 hours per day of isolation and to keep them there indefinitely.

During visits to prisons with colleagues, a number of us have been struck by glaring examples of the breadth of discretionary authority in use, as well as CSC staff not being cognizant of the law and policy that governs their actions or, worse yet, knowingly breaching same. As was recently acknowledged in the Brazeau case, the Correctional Service of Canada’s policies on solitary confinement “are more honoured in the breach than in the observance.” Prisoners learn that whether or not one moves through the system smoothly and in accordance with policy is not predictable, even if one follows all the rules.

Minister, Bill C-83 does not include judicial oversight of CSC to prevent such violations of policy, law and human rights. It instead relies on CSC staff to monitor and report human rights abuses. What measures are currently in place — not planned for some point in the future but currently in place — to change the culture within the Correctional Service of Canada to ensure that human rights of prisoners are respected, that staff are rewarded for upholding these rights and that prisoners and staff who follow the rules can get ahead?

Hon. Ralph Goodale, P.C., M.P., Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness [ - ]

Thank you, senator, for your passionate interest in this topic.

I have several comments in response. As you know, there have been a plethora of cases dealing with solitary confinement or administrative segregation. Those cases are at different stages now of going through the legal process. I would point out that in virtually every case, they relate to the system or apply to fact circumstances that existed in 2015 or earlier.

When I arrived in this responsibility for public safety, I began very early on examining the ways in which we can improve our correctional system, to make it more successful in rehabilitation while at the same time always keeping Canadians safe and secure. As I was examining that broad set of issues, administrative segregation obviously became a topic of very intense focus. We began examining options for how we could change the system, for example, providing some kind of a time limitation on the number of days that a person could remain in administrative segregation and providing a form of independent oversight.

As we examined all of those options and, at the same time on a different track, the legal cases were rolling forward, becoming intensely more critical of administrative segregation, we had the reports of the Correctional Investigator and other sources of information and advice. I arrived at the conclusion that rather than trying to build systems around administrative segregation, to try and make it a better system, in other words, more oversight, more hard limits and caps. The best conclusion was to get rid of it altogether, and that is what I am seeking to do in Bill C-83.

The courts have defined solitary confinement or administrative segregation as the lack of meaningful human contact. Bill C-83 tries to ensure that we have within our correctional system methods by which inmates can be separated, when that is necessary from the point of view of safety, but at the same time, ensure that the treatment, counselling, mental health services, Indigenous contact and so forth can continue and indeed intensify while a person is in what would now be called the SIUs.

I am determined to get this right.

I do not want administrative segregation or solitary confinement to continue in the Canadian correctional system. We need a better way of handling the situation so that our institutions can be safe and secure and, at the same time, the people who need the help of counselling, mental health services and so forth, can get that attention.

The critical thing is making sure the system is properly funded. I would note that the Minister of Finance has made a special allotment of $450 million to implement the principles in Bill C-83, to provide not just the correctional officers but the mental health services, the counselling, the access to Indigenous counsellors that will be necessary to bring the SIU concept to life.

We are also developing a system of external independent decision makers — and not just advisers — who have the authority to intervene if intervention is necessary. If a person, for example, is not getting the hours per day out of their cell that they are entitled to, the independent external decision makers will have the authority to intervene. The funding and independent decision-making will be there. I will also be appointing an external panel of experts to monitor the implementation of Bill C-83 so that it is, in fact, going to achieve the objectives that we have set for it and not somehow get diverted along the way to a lesser result.

Your passion on this subject is impressive. I hope we can find a way to work together to get to the result we both want, which is a correctional system that is sound and secure and achieves its rehabilitative objectives, and does so in a way that does not rely on administrative segregation.

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