Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Drugs, crime school, and Her Majesty's Pen

I gave the following 10-minute speech on the Drug-Free Prisons Act in the House of Commons on Tuesday, June 17th.

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for the great riding of Sherbrooke. It is not as great as the great riding of St. John's South—Mount Pearl, but it is a close second.
I stand in support of Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, also known as the drug-free prisons act. However, that title is incredibly misleading as the bill before us will not lead to drug-free federal prisons, I am sorry to say.
There is not a chance of drug-free prisons without two things: resources and rehabilitation.

However, the word “rehabilitation” is not in the Conservative dictionary. It is not in the Conservative budget. It is not in the Conservative mindset.

Good luck to the interpreters trying to explain the concept of rehabilitation through the Conservative earpieces. The interpreters will earn their money this evening. The bill would do nothing, if anything, to achieve drug-free prison status.
What Bill C-12 would do is add a provision to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act whereby the Parole Board may use a positive urine test for drugs or refusal to take a urine test in making its decisions on parole eligibility.

In other words, if a prison inmate and tests positive to a urine test for drugs, or refuses to take that urine test, the inmate may not get out on parole.
Now the rub with the bill before us is that the Parole Board of Canada already considers prison drug tests when making its decisions on the eligibility of offenders for parole.

Therefore, there is nothing new in the bill. It would just give clear legal authority to an existing practice that the New Democratic Party of Canada supports.

So the title, “drug-free prisons act”, is misleading, as I said earlier. There is nothing new here.
Now, oddly enough, when I was preparing for this speech and reading up on the drug-free prisons act, my thoughts kept turning to seals, for example, harp seals in the north Atlantic.

I can see from the look on the members' faces that they are puzzled.

How can I make the leap from the drug-free prisons act to seals? I will explain.
Back in early March, I gave a speech right in this very spot in support of Bill C-555, an act respecting the marine mammal regulations.

The bill would increase the distance that an unofficial observer, a seal hunt protester, for example, must keep from sealers going about their business of killing seals.

Right now, it is against the law for an unofficial observer to come within a half nautical mile of the hunt.

Bill C-555 would increase that buffer zone from a half mile to a full mile. Here is the thing: the half mile that is there now is not enforced, so increasing the distance to a full nautical mile is lip service.
It means absolutely nothing.
What I said in my speech was that Bill C-555 was a sham, a charade, an illusion, a nuisance bill to make it appear that the Conservative government was defending the seal hunt, to make it appear that the government was the champion of the seal hunt, when it so clearly was not.

Under the Conservative government, we have seen the biggest collapse of seal markets in history.

Now, back to the drug-free prisons act. What is the correlation? What is the connection? It is that the drug-free prisons act is also a charade. This is déjà vu.

Bill C-12 would have minimal impact on drugs in prison. The title is absolutely misleading.
The Conservative government is using legislation to create an opportunity to pander to its base, without presenting a real solution to the issue of drugs and gangs in our prisons.

The Conservatives will tell their base that they passed the drug-free prisons act.

Great—Conservative job done. Only the job is not done. It is more Conservative sham, charade, illusion and sleight of hand, just like the seal bill.
In fact, the government is making prisons less safe by cutting funding to prison programs such as substance abuse.

The government is making prisons less safe by increasing the use of double-bunking that leads to overcrowding, which then leads to more violence.

It is well known that a high percentage of inmates in our prisons who abuse drugs also suffer from mental illness.

At the same time, the budget of Correctional Service Canada for core funding such as substance abuse has been cut. Make sense out of that.
The Conservative government has closed treatment centres for inmates dealing with serious mental illness, but we would have a drug-free prisons act.

Problem solved; it is all good. It is a charade. A flashy title does not solve the problem.

Prisons should be renamed crime schools, crime schools that are endorsed by a Conservative government that fails to address double-bunking and gangs, a Conservative government that fails to support rehabilitation and drug abuse or mental illness.

The Conservative crime school in my riding is known as Her Majesty's Penitentiary on the shores of Quidi Vidi Lake in east end St. John's.

Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province in Canada without a federal prison. Her Majesty's Penitentiary is a provincial institution that takes in federal inmates.

The Conservatives have long promised to help build a new penitentiary, but we are not holding our breath. If we did, we would be long dead. Her Majesty's Penitentiary boasts a block that was built in 1849, 100 years before Confederation, before Canada joined Newfoundland and Labrador, a prison that is 165 years of age. Imprisoning inmates there has been compared to taking people from the 21st century and putting them back into the 19th century.
The latest story on Her Majesty's Penitentiary is from earlier today, just today.

According to a CBC story, three inmates of Her Majesty's Penitentiary were charged after assaulting another inmate over the weekend with a broom handle. The victim was treated in hospital and released, thankfully.

The story quotes the head of the union representing correctional officers as saying that the weekend assault was the fifth violent incident at that facility since last summer, and some of these incidents have included riots and hostage taking.
The leader of the union representing correctional officers at Her Majesty's Penitentiary says that it has become a more violent place, with prisoners involved with drug and gang activity inside prison walls.

I repeat, drug and gang activity inside prison walls.

Would the drug-free prisons act change that? There is not a chance, not at Her Majesty's Penitentiary and not at federal prisons around this country.

Conservatives are not addressing drug addictions in prisons or mental illness, or gangs, or overcrowding, or double-bunking, or self-harm—suicides, in other words.

Conservative legislation, such on as mandatory minimums, is leading to an increase in prison populations at the same time that prisons are closing, or prisons that should be replaced are not being replaced.
I like the advice of the federal Correctional Investigator.

The advice is this. Prisoners should be assessed at intake into a prison so that addiction problems are identified and there can be better access to rehabilitation programs.

What a novel concept: treating problems as they are assessed.

 According to the 2011-12 report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator, almost two-thirds of offenders were under the influence of a drug when they committed the offences that led to their imprisonment. Four out of five offenders arrive at a federal institution with a past history of substance abuse.

In the meantime, Correctional Service Canada devotes between 2% and 2.7% of its total operating budget on core correctional programs like substance abuse.

Is that enough? No, it is not nearly enough.

While New Democrats support the drug-free prisons act, is that enough? No, it is not enough.
If the Conservatives say different, and they will, it is just another charade, a sham, an illusion. It is the Conservative way.

Thank you Mr. Speaker. 

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