Second reading of Bill C-228, An Act to establish a federal framework to reduce recidivism

By: The Hon. Jim Munson

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Hon. Jim Munson: I recognize we are gathered this evening on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabeg people.

I am grateful to speak tonight as the friendly critic of Bill C-228, An Act to establish a federal framework to reduce recidivism. I thank my dear friend Senator Martin for sponsoring this bill in this Senate. Collaboration can be a good thing when there’s a good thing on our agenda, like this bill.

This legislation is meant to establish better outcomes for individuals, their families and our communities. As Senator Martin has said, It would ask the federal government to proactively outline ways for inmates to succeed upon release from their institutions.

I see this bill as a way to encourage change in our correctional system toward what it should be — a place for rehabilitation. I happen to believe in second, third and even fourth chances, because it can work.

In her remarks, Senator Martin covered the intent of this legislation by the sponsor in the other place and my fellow New Brunswicker — even though I’m an Ontario senator, my heart is always in New Brunswick — MP Richard Bragdon. Therefore, I would like to use my speaking time to focus on my personal observations in relation to the principle of the bill at second reading. I hope by sharing my experiences, senators will see why this legislation deserves the Senate’s study and attention.

I’d like to reflect on my time as chair of the Senate Human Rights Committee when we undertook a massive study of Canada’s federal prisons. The study has continued past my membership on the committee, but I know my time working on that study made me — not an expert, but I understood, when I walked inside these institutions, what was taking place. It gave me an opportunity to learn on the ground about experiences in federal institutions.

These experiences have stayed with me and have had a profound effect on how I see our institutions. Along with other senators, I was able to visit and engage directly with correctional staff, as well as men and women incarcerated in federal institutions in both Ontario and Quebec. Much of what I learned and observed can be directly linked to why this private member’s bill deserves our support and vote.

Through our committee’s hard work at that time, we had conclusions — it’s not finished yet, but there was an interim report that came out in February 2019. In those conclusions, we observed, during our visits to minimum-, medium- and maximum-security institutions, there were many concerns, and they were universal. Some of the most important included the lack of availability of and access to adequate education, meaningful training and relevant skills development. One example that stood out for me was the lack of or minimal access to computers and relevant technologies. Even this one thing can be a large hurdle to finding employment once released.

Removing barriers to vocational training and education would have a major impact on the success rate of inmates finding employment once released, and it will help reduce recidivism. In fact, according to the Office of the Correctional Investigator, or OCI, in their most recent report, 2019-20, Correctional Service Canada’s, or CSC’s, learning policies are outdated despite the fact that a CSC evaluation found that, “Involvement in correctional education, vocational training and apprenticeship programs decreases recidivism,” and, “The more education, the greater impact on recidivism.”

I would like to talk briefly about the vulnerable groups. This bill would have an impact for vulnerable and marginalized Canadians as well. Inmates living with a disability, particularly a learning or cognitive disability, are at an even greater disadvantage when it comes to accessing programming and educational services.

We were told that resources, training for teachers and the process of getting formal diagnosis for a disability in our federal institutions are all barriers. There’s something missing here. I think this bill will really help this out.

Resources and diagnostic challenges, as well as treating mental health for addiction issues were also brought up during our visits. Without suitable treatment and care, mental health issues can become barriers for individuals to successfully integrate back into a community when they are released.

Inadequate training and resources for persons living with a disability or mental health illnesses are particularly relevant given a 2016 study that found that both men and women with a traumatic brain injury had more than twice the risk of ending up in a federal prison in Ontario than their uninjured peers.

We also know, honourable senators, that about 25% of people released from federal prisons end up back in prison within two years. This number rises to 40% for Indigenous persons who are released. The Indigenous community continues to be overrepresented in federal prisons, representing about 30% of our federal prison population. There are many unjust reasons for these numbers.

In creating a framework for addressing recidivism, our federal institutions would be required to look at programs that do work. I felt it profoundly on one of our visits to a healing lodge in the province of Quebec, north of Montreal. I’m thinking of our committee visit to that healing lodge — a place that gave focus to rehabilitation through cultural connection, spiritual guidance and community supports, and providing better outcomes for those who are able to participate. Having the opportunity to visit the healing lodge was a positive light in my learning experience. I hope this legislation will play a part in stopping the unfair cycle that has too many Indigenous Canadians in federal prisons.

In conclusion, I believe that Bill C-228 will help some of the most marginalized and vulnerable persons in this country. This bill is about building better people, families and communities in Canada. The Senate has already given attention to some of the issues this bill raises, and I know this legislation will benefit from our study at committee. I want to personally thank MP Richard Bragdon for this initiative and the support that came from all corners of the other place. I am ready to support this bill at second reading, senators, and I hope you are too. Thank you.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Will the senator take a question?

Senator Munson: Go ahead.

Hon. Marie-Françoise Mégie: Senator, you just said that educational services are very important to the reintegration of inmates. That is well established. However, we are now talking about cuts that the government will soon be making to the educational system in federal institutions. Don’t you think those cuts fly in the face of what is advocated in Bill C-228?

Senator Munson: Thank you very much for that question. Absolutely, I believe these cuts go against what this legislation entails. The work of our Human Rights Committee and the work that was done by Senator Bernard and other members, Senator Ataullahjan and Senator Cordy, when this final report comes out — and I wish it would come out during this session because there has been a delay in it — it will show that the last thing we need in this country right now is more cuts within our federal institutions. I want to thank you for that question.

These private members’ bills — and I’m a living example — really can change lives with initiatives like this. For me personally, the initiative on autism it took some time but it changed the face of the autism community in this country. Kindness — well, it couldn’t be a better place. I look across the way at the smiling faces of Senator Martin and Senator Plett and a few of us who are in this wonderful and kind place. That, too, will change the face of this country each and every week.

I am happy you asked this question, Senator Mégie, because prisoners are people just like us. Maybe a mistake has been made in life, but why should you be punished for the rest of your life if you are willing to take a program of rehabilitation?

Regarding computer technology, when we were in a prison in Kingston, they didn’t want them to have these computers because they could connect with the outside world and create mischief. Why not? Perhaps there is some in-house computer technology that you can connect with the outside world and they could create mischief. Why not have some in-house computer technology where you could use those skills at the rapid pace we’re working at in social media?

A prisoner who went to prison 15 years ago is now walking out and facing iPhones, iPads and so many different things. It’s absolutely frightening for those of us who are getting older and trying to deal with these things. Thank you for that question. We should not have these cutbacks, and particularly in educational programs in Canada’s prisons.

Hon. Julie Miville-Dechêne: Senator Munson, may I ask you a question about this bill? First of all, I agree completely with the objectives of the bill. Rehabilitation and the means to return into society are important. I have a technical question. It seemed to me that in private bills you could not spend money, and in this case you want to make a framework but you also want more services for inmates. How do you do that in a private bill such as this one?

Senator Munson: Thank you for the question. That’s what these bills are about, because it is about the framework. If you set a table with a framework and people come to that table with new and different ideas and share experiences, the table is then set for the government to move forward on the framework that this bill describes.

I have come to this bill late, but certainly not late in terms of supporting it. The money aspect I get, but then maybe the government will get what this bill is about. That’s where the individual initiative counts so much, and I think that is what we’re missing in both houses. We sometimes look at these bills and say, “Can we get them in and get them passed?” I know if you keep trying you can, and I know that governments and other institutions pay attention to what we’re saying here. So let’s set the table for the government, let’s get on with the job and spend some real money on rehabilitation.

Hon. Patti LaBoucane-Benson: I have a question.

Senator Munson: I will take the question. I thought Senator Martin should be answering all these questions. Now that I’m on board, yes, absolutely.

Senator LaBoucane-Benson: Thank you for taking my question, senator, even though you are the critic. I’m happy that you mentioned Waseskun House and the healing lodge that you went to visit. I don’t want to criticize the clause that talks about funding faith groups, but I wonder how that interacts with Indigenous self-determination.

My understanding is that Waseskun House focuses on an Indigenous way of knowing and Indigenous ceremony. It talks about traditional Indigenous teachings. They are very focused on helping people, and the men who live there reclaim their positive identities as Indigenous people. Much of that is done through ceremony. As the critic, do you have some concerns that this bill does not include Indigenous healing lodges or Indigenous ways of knowing?

I will preface that by saying that this was part of my life’s work before I started, and I know the success that comes from helping Indigenous people using their own teachings and their own understanding of who they are. Recidivism is greatly reduced when people have that opportunity. I wonder if you could comment on that for me, and maybe that’s something that could be studied at committee. Thank you for your time.

Senator Munson: Thank you very much for that. I’m looking at the content of the bill, and clause 2(c) says, “support faith-based and communal initiatives that aim to rehabilitate people who have been incarcerated”.

I would think that “communal initiatives” would have a deep and abiding respect for the Indigenous community and the healing that goes on within that environment.

What I found out in that particular lodge area that you mentioned is that in and around the area there were no fences; there was no barbed wire. The people in that community were not fearful of those living in that environment because I think they recognized the initiatives that were being taken by Indigenous leaders within that particular healing lodge area. So I would think that we should take a close look at those “communal initiatives.” In fact, I think those of us who come from a different faith, even myself as a rebellious United Church minister’s son, could learn a lot more from the healing aspects of the Indigenous community and the help that goes on there. I’m not fearful of it and I think we should embrace it.

I think that as quickly as we can get this to committee and discuss it, perhaps we can again be at the forefront of helping those who need help from us. Thank you.

Hon. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu: My question is for Senator Munson. I’m a strong supporter of this bill, but there is one thing that worries me a lot. My question stems from the 2019 Auditor General’s report, which told us something we already knew: None of the stats on the risk of reoffending take into account those serving a sentence of less than two years. According to information I found, we know that 50% of inmates serving a sentence of more than two years in federal institutions had previously received sentences of less than two years. That means our understanding of recidivism rates for former federal inmates is inaccurate.

Shouldn’t the committee look at that issue too? If we’re looking for ways to reduce recidivism but our understanding of recidivism in Canada is inaccurate or incomplete, shouldn’t we take a close look at this issue to make sure we have an accurate and complete understanding of recidivism rates?

Senator Munson: Thank you, senator. I appreciate your question very much. I am on a learning curve as well when it comes to dealing with this particular bill. Through my experience as a journalist — and I’ve been inside prisons before as Chair of the Senate Human Rights Committee — I’ve seen individuals reaching out wanting to almost touch you in the sense of “I don’t want to come back here again. I don’t want to come back to this institution. I really want to settle in society.” I don’t think that we have enough instruments of education in terms of rehabilitative programs inside our penitentiaries.

I look, though, at clause 2(a), to “initiate pilot projects and develop standardized and evidence-based programs aimed at reducing recidivism . . . .”

That is my short answer. I wish I could give a longer answer, but I’ll probably get myself into trouble because I like to speak to what I know. I think that your observations, Senator Boisvenu, and the history that you have and your expertise with this would be very important to present to the committee and discuss. Thank you very much.

Hon. Kim Pate: Thank you, Senator Munson, for your leadership in initiating the study with the Human Rights Committee that you spoke about and that you thanked other senators for as well.

As you will also probably recall from that study, there are three main challenges to reintegration for individuals coming out of prison: a place to live, a community of support and education and employment opportunities that provide something meaningful for people to be able to engage in.

I’m curious as to how you see this fitting with Bill S-208, which talks about the ability to move on from records, particularly in light of the report that was just released in Ontario about the challenges of people being able to get housing or undertake employment or education because of criminal records?

Senator Munson: That’s a very tough question for me. I don’t really have a complete answer. Senator Pate, you’ve had a lot of experience with this. Again, if I look like I’m bobbing and weaving, well I am because I cannot give an honest answer to your question; I think you know the answer to that question.

I think, once again, as I said to Senator Boisvenu, that the place for that question and to build on this particular bill — it’s a framework. It’s setting a table, as I said. It’s a framework for governments to put into their budgets the things that you’re actually talking about so that people who are leaving prisons never have to return again. They don’t currently have the tools to walk back into society. I think that’s what we should be looking at.

I want to thank you for it. I was sitting here tonight thinking that Senator Martin, who proposed this bill — and she’s looking at me here in the Senate— would rather answer all of these questions too. But after 17 and a half years in the Senate, I have learned from former senator Allan MacEachen — who is one of my heroes — who said, “You don’t get into trouble for what you don’t say.” So I’m not going to say anything more.

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