……on Bill C-83, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another Act.
Currently in third reading, Bill C-83 responds to the B.C. and Ontario legal actions against Ottawa over the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons. But more, it’s intended to bring CSC operating policies in line with progressive recommendations Liberals touted in the 2015 campaign, and then mandated to the relevant ministries after taking office.
But, in “Solitary Confinement” posted on February 3, we noted that as it is now C-83’s purpose “is to mollify all stakeholders by yielding a little to everyone.” In other words, what may appear as meaningful changes are mostly more of the same using different language.
The Canadian Bar Association, “a national association of over 36,000 lawyers, notaries, law students and academics, with a mandate that includes seeking improvement in the law and the administration of justice,” sent a November 19, 2018 five-page letter to the government with its appraisal of the Act.
Whittled down to the barest skeletal basics, those five pages say:-
This Bill should be a big deal. Don’t rush. Talk to prison lawyers and specialist in criminal justice before finalizing the legislation.
There’s too much discretion for prison staff to deprive prisoners of basic rights, along with a lack of independent oversight.
“Some entire institutions are now administered similar to a segregation unit.” Cut that out! Bring back the principle of least restrictive measures, legislate protection for prisoners’ rights during lockdowns, and limit the use of lockdowns.
Different security levels within an institution means more higher security level beds and more restrictive measures on more prisoners. That’s “inconsistent with an evidence-based approach to corrections.” What’s up with that?
“Structured Intervention Units” in the Bill are a good move, but these sections are “too vague and do no provide the necessary procedural safeguards…” The CBA letter uses more than a page to outline its position on segregating inmates. In a few words, too much discretion in C-83 and little attention to currently recognized standards
Don’t turn someone inside out looking for contraband. Body scans are preferable, but not body scans and strip searches and dry cells.
Bill C-83 includes “several positive health care obligations”, and “recognizes the professional and clinical independence of health care professionals”, but the legislative requirements are again vague and don’t include enforceable standards. Health care providers should partner with federal and provincial Ministries of Health, without the influence or interference of prison administrators, and without any CSC staff supervision or oversight. And, add legislation to ensure confidentiality between health care providers and prisoner patients.
Reduce the number of Indigenous prisoners in custody and at higher security levels using stronger provisions as recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “More should be done to support Indigenous communities’ self-determination by ensuring sufficient community and mental health resources to avoid Indigenous people becoming involved in the justice system in the first place.”
The CBA supports the provision to establish patient advocacy services but these advocates should be independent of the CSC. Also, there’s a need for legal aid services for prisoners across the country. Variations in the levels of legal aid for prisoners show that almost nothing is available in the Prairies and Maritimes for instance, but nowhere in the country is it adequate.
Bill C-83 makes no mention of “the urgent need to legislate fair pay rates for prisoners.” The scale established in 1981 has not increased and was in fact reduced in 2013 with deductions for additional room and board. Do something!
Now, putting the Canadian Bar Association aside, and challenging a different perspective, this is the body of a self-explanatory letter sent to Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus in Ottawa on February 20:-
Today, while researching the status of Bill C-83, Corrections and Conditional Release Act amendments, I came upon your comments in the House on October 23 of last year.
You referenced Jason Godin, President of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, who you quoted as saying there would be a blood bath in the penitentiaries if Bill C-83 were passed.
Citing Jason Godin as an authority on what is best practice in the operation of our federal prison industry is akin to taking Donald Trump’s tweets as gospel.
But then, I doubt there is a Conservative who supports progressive prison reform.
Forget the Canadian Bar Association comments. Wanna bet C-83 will be watered down even further?