I call this meeting to order.
Good day, everyone.
I would note to committee members in particular that we have a hard 5:30 stop for the House resources. I just want you to be aware of that. We cannot go beyond 5:30.
Why don't I open this, Ms. Shanahan, and then I'll come to you right away.
Welcome to meeting number 49 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3), the committee is meeting today as part of its study of the document entitled “Report 4, Systemic Barriers—Correctional Service Canada.”
I'd like to welcome our witnesses.
From the Office of the Auditor General, we have Karen Hogan, Auditor General; Carol McCalla, principal; and Steven Mariani, director. From Correctional Service Canada, we have Anne Kelly, the commissioner; Alain Tousignant, the senior deputy commissioner; and Larry Motiuk, assistant commissioner, policy.
I'll give you my response.
The problem is that every one of these meetings is important and, of course, whenever something comes along, there's always the risk of going into committee business. Next week, obviously, we're dealing with Arctic waters and then, after that, cybersecurity.
I think we should proceed with the committee business today. We received a letter from the Auditor General, which I think is noteworthy and it's regarding next steps.
I've allotted 20 minutes at the end, but if the questions are still overlapping, I'm not going to just end at 20 minutes before. If we're still on a roll, we'll go into the business time. The business time is to discuss the Auditor General's letter, which is really a reiteration of a response to us in committee last week, and there is a motion that is coming. With the 5:30 hard stop—and I know a few members here are very good at talking out the clock—my intention is to not allow any time for that debate. It is just a discussion of the letter.
What you're asking for just pushes off the inevitable into next Monday. I'd sooner deal with it today.
Is there unanimous consent to move up committee business to next week?
It's not my intention to move it on my own, but if there's unanimous consent, I will. Otherwise, let's get on with it.
I'm hearing no opposition, so in that case I will move the 20 minutes of committee business to the end of Monday's meeting, which will be in public as well.
Thank you for your patience, everyone.
Ms. Hogan, you have the floor for five minutes. Go ahead, please.
Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss our report on systemic barriers, which was tabled in the House of Commons on May 31, 2022. I would like to acknowledge that this hearing is taking place on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people. Joining me today are Carol McCalla and Steven Mariani, who were responsible for the audit.
In this audit, we examined whether Correctional Service Canada, or CSC, was meeting the diverse needs of its offender population. We found that CSC had failed to identify and eliminate systemic barriers that persistently disadvantaged certain groups of offenders. The overrepresentation of indigenous and Black offenders in custody had worsened, with higher security classifications, late delivery of correctional programs and delayed access to release on parole.
We raised similar issues in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and this audit found that CSC had done little to address the differing correctional outcomes, particularly for indigenous and Black offenders. Disparities were present from the moment offenders entered federal institutions. For example, indigenous and Black men were placed at maximum security levels at twice the rate of that for other offenders, and they made up half of all maximum security placements.
We also found that indigenous women were placed at maximum security levels at more than three times the rate for non-indigenous women, and they made up almost 70% of the women in maximum security.
The reliability of CSC's custody rating scale for initial security placements had not been validated since 2012, and its use for Black offenders had never been validated at all. We found that corrections staff frequently overrode the scale's security rating to place indigenous offenders at higher security levels with little consideration of culturally appropriate and restorative options.
Correctional programs are intended to prepare offenders for safe release on parole and to support their successful reintegration into the community. We found that timely access to correctional programs had continued to decline across all groups of offenders since our earlier audits, and it worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. By December 2021, only 6% of men offenders had completed the programs they needed before they were first eligible to apply for parole.
While the majority of offenders were released on parole before the end of their sentences, indigenous offenders remained in custody longer and at higher levels of security until their release.
Since the onset of the pandemic, indigenous and Black offenders were more likely to be released at their statutory release date. Indigenous and Black offenders were also more likely to be released directly into the community from maximum-security institutions.
Indigenous women made up two thirds of those released from maximum security at women’s institutions, and were unable to benefit from a gradual transition to the community that supports their successful reintegration.
With respect to its workforce, CSC’s efforts to support greater equity, diversity, and inclusion fell short. CSC committed to building a workforce that reflects the diversity of its offender population, but it had not yet established a plan to bridge these representation gaps.
We found workforce representation gaps across institutions with regard to indigenous and Black offenders as well as gender representation gaps among staff at women’s institutions.
This is our fourth audit since 2015. It shows poor and worsening outcomes for different groups of offenders. CSC has taken little concrete action to change the seemingly neutral policies, procedures, and practices that produce these outcomes.
CSC acknowledged in November 2020 that systemic racism is present in the correctional system. It is long overdue that CSC remove the systemic barriers identified in this report.
This concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and committee members.
I would also like to acknowledge that we are on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people.
Joining me today are Alain Tousignant and Larry Motiuk. It is a pleasure for me to appear today with my colleagues to discuss actions we have taken in response to the Auditor General’s report on systemic barriers. I thank the Auditor General and her office for their recommendations, all of which I have accepted.
I will focus my remarks today on the highlights of our progress to date. Through this report, and other incidents in the news, we are reminded of the existence of systemic barriers and racism within the criminal justice system, and how we collectively need to do more.
Since becoming commissioner, I have made it CSC's priority to create a safe, respectful, diverse, and inclusive organization. CSC continues to make this a priority while, at the same time, doubling down on our efforts to overcome the operational disruptions caused by the pandemic.
This includes working to address the overrepresentation of indigenous and Black offenders within the federal correctional system. We know that the rate of admissions of indigenous people into federal custody continues to grow as it has for the past 10 years. For example, last year indigenous offenders represented 35% of our admissions.
While CSC cannot influence the decisions that bring offenders into our custody, it is our responsibility to improve outcomes for offenders by providing them opportunities for effective rehabilitation. We have implemented a number of initiatives to accomplish this, and we are are in the process of hiring a deputy commissioner for indigenous corrections.
We have also been working to develop a national Black offender strategy to identify new opportunities to address Black offenders' unique lived experiences and the barriers they may face.
I'm encouraged that our efforts are yielding positive results. For example, in 2021-22, high percentages of indigenous and Black offenders were not readmitted to federal custody within the five years following the end of their sentences.
In her report, the Auditor General raised concerns about CSC's custody rating scale or CRS. The CRS is one component of a systematic and comprehensive process with respect to how we assign an initial security level to federally sentenced offenders, but it does not define the final placement decision. In addition to conducting ongoing research to ensure that our actuarial tools are reliable and valid, CSC signed an MOU with the University of Regina, which is working at arm's length to develop an indigenous- and gender-informed security classification process.
In collaboration with four external experts, CSC is also undertaking an extensive exercise to validate the custody rating scale for Black men offenders and to revalidate it for women and indigenous offenders.
One of the ways that we can better meet the needs of offenders is through correctional programming. Results indicate that CSC's correctional programs are equally effective across a broad range of ethnic groups. Offenders who participate in programs are less likely to recidivate than are non-participants, regardless of ethnic background.
However, as the Auditor General has indicated, timely access is key. Offenders who are serving short sentences and who have an identified program need are being prioritized and, in fact, we have already seen an increase in the percentage of those who complete their program prior to their first release. We also have a virtual correctional program delivery initiative, which will modernize program scheduling, referrals and assignments, and ultimately improve offenders' timely access and completion of correctional programs.
In addition to the measures I just mentioned, we are working to better reflect the diversity of the offender population among the staff who work with them.
The Correctional Service of Canada has set ambitious targets for Indigenous and visible minority representation within its workforce, which take into account the offender population at each of our facilities.
The Service is also formalizing its goals for gender representation in women's facilities. Currently, in the five women's institutions and women's healing lodges, all management positions are held by women, some of whom are Indigenous and visible minorities. In addition, 75% of the front-line workers in our women's institutions are female.
Since the release of the Auditor General's report, we have conducted an employment systems review, which has informed the development of our comprehensive Employment Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Plan.
In conclusion, it has been a challenging few years. I want to thank all our employees for their ongoing hard work, dedication and commitment as we continue to balance many priorities and make important progress on numerous fronts.
As commissioner, I remain steadfast in my commitment to support positive outcomes for indigenous, Black and other racialized Canadians in the correctional system. This includes taking meaningful action to address the recommendations made by the Auditor General, the correctional investigator and other external advisory bodies to sustain lasting positive change.
I want to thank the witnesses for their attendance today and for all the hard work they've put into this report.
I want to preface my questions by informing the witnesses, and informing other members of this committee, that I come to this particular committee today with 30 years' legal experience as a Crown prosecutor prior to my election in 2021. I was in the trenches dealing with systemic racism in the criminal justice system.
My first question is for you, Ms. Kelly. You made a broad statement with respect to the criminal justice system generally, although this particular study is about the Auditor General's report regarding Correctional Services. Do you acknowledge that, in addition to that broad statement, courts across this country, prosecutors across this country, are actively taking steps to reduce the overincarceration rate of indigenous inmates—men, women and youth—as well as Black inmates—men, women and youth—through the use of specialized courts, such as the indigenous peoples court, gang-related courts in some of the larger centres and things of that nature? Do you acknowledge that?
In terms of indigenous offenders, right now 32% of the population is indigenous. For women it's 47%. For Black offenders it has actually gone down. It used to be 9.2%. It's gone down to 8.7%.
Since 2017 we've put in place a number of initiatives. For example, for indigenous offenders we've created indigenous interventions centres in some of our institutions. What happens there is that they get programs earlier. In terms of section 84 releases, where you have to engage the indigenous community, that starts right at the beginning when they are admitted to federal custody. Basically, they work with an indigenous community liaison officer if they want to go back to the indigenous community.
The other thing is that we have Pathways in our institutions. Basically, Pathways can be arranged in the institution so that offenders can continue to practice their culture and traditions. We have indigenous correctional programming that's culturally appropriate for the offenders. As well, after they complete a program for indigenous offenders, there's an automatic review of their security classification. We also have healing circles. When they go before the parole board, instead of a normal hearing they have a healing circle.
We've done a lot—
I'm not sure. Actually, that's the Parole Board. I'm just going through the beginning of sentence up until release.
The other thing is that we've trained 1,500 employees. We've done the blanket exercise. All the executive committee has done it as well. In terms of representation, 10% of our staff is actually indigenous. We have around 140 elders. We have a national elders working group as well as a national indigenous advisory committee. Actually, we're meeting with them in a month. We talk about barriers. We talk about what's going on in the institution. They provide advice to me.
The other big thing is that we are in the process of hiring a deputy commissioner for indigenous corrections. Hopefully, that will help advance our mandate.
Certainly, we are working really hard. We have different initiatives that are specific to not just indigenous but all offenders. For example, we have digital education pilot projects where it's the curriculum from the province. We have received very good, positive feedback from the offenders. We have virtual correctional program delivery, where we will be able to have offenders who require a program get together from different institutions. That will be the class. It will be done virtually, but with a teacher in the classroom.
That will help us basically meet the demand for programs, because programs are key in CSC.
Yes. Certainly, Larry can speak more to this.
The indigenous correctional programs have been developed with indigenous people. Clearly, with indigenous people we see that there is a lot of trauma as well, so that's included in the program. Too, there are elders who participate in the program to help them so that they can speak about what they've experienced.
In June 2019, Bill , actually considering the indigenous social history, was enshrined in legislation. We've done a ton of training on indigenous social history. What I will admit, though, is that, with regard to how it translates in the recommendations and the decisions, we still have a little bit of work to do. We actually are very good at gathering the information and the indigenous social history, but then, looking at all these factors when we make recommendations and decisions, there is room for improvement.
Over the past 50 years, we have done significant work.
I have been with the Correctional Service of Canada for nearly 40 years. I deeply believe in the mandate to help and encourage offenders to become law-abiding citizens. I truly do. They are going to be our neighbours, your neighbours, and clearly we want them to be better citizens upon their release than when they enter our institutions. That is important to me, to Mr. Tousignant and to Mr. Motiuk.
We have clearly made progress over the past 50 years. Let me share a story that illustrates that point. Every week I send messages to staff and inmates, and several offenders write to me. One day an Indigenous inmate wrote to me. He told me that since his arrival in the institution, he had been difficult. But along the way, he met people, educators, correctional officers and program officers, and he decided to change his life. This offender is about to obtain his Bachelor's degree in psychology. He asked me if he could come back to the institution to help other Indigenous offenders once he had returned to the community and proven himself. There are many such stories.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I find it troubling. I often come to this committee, and I often find the Auditor General yelling at the top of her lungs about the conditions that are often facing indigenous and Black people in Canada, and the systems continuously stay the same.
I'm an MP who actually went to visit people in these penitentiaries. I went to the Edmonton women's penitentiary and asked them what their needs were. They are great.
I'm hearing my colleagues ask questions. Obviously, being a Crown prosecutor doesn't give you the kind of education that would be necessary to understand the conditions of indigenous peoples and how they get up to that place. This is not an indigenous and Black issue. This is a Canadian justice issue. It's an issue of our justice system, not of the individuals who are failed by it. The residential school system, the sixties scoop, the planned and targeted genocide of indigenous women—it's clear.
This isn't me saying this. This isn't even many indigenous people who've been saying this. I want to give light to the words of the Auditor General in a quote from just today. I hope all members will pay attention to this really important piece—I'm looking at my Conservative colleagues in particular—and listen to the important pieces this has to offer. I often hear them talk about “getting tough on crime” without understanding the people they're getting tough on and why they're there.
The Auditor General says the following: “This is our fourth audit since 2015 that shows poor and worsening outcomes for different groups of offenders. CSC has taken little concrete action to change the seemingly neutral policies, procedures and practices that produce these outcomes. CSC acknowledged in November 2020 that systemic racism is present in the correctional system. It is long overdue that CSC remove the systemic barriers identified in this report.”
These are real people. Why is it taking so long to address the very basic human rights of people? I had to look these women in the eye and tell them that I was going to try to do better for them. It's tremendously difficult.
To the member from Edmonton West, that penitentiary is right in your backyard, the Edmonton women's penitentiary. I asked them—
A voice: [Inaudible—Editor]
Mr. Blake Desjarlais: I don't care if you've been there. I'm wondering if you've listened to them. They're asking for help. The conditions in those prisons are terrible.
I've spoken to the elders who assist there. They're overwhelmed—overwhelmed—with one elder being asked to serve hundreds of people.
To the commissioner, I don't know how to put this any other way, but these people aren't all the same either. We have one federal penitentiary for indigenous women in the entire Prairies. From Winnipeg to Saskatchewan to Alberta, they're all lined up in one penitentiary and dropped off in my community of Edmonton Griesbach, where they find themselves houseless. They find themselves without support. They are forced into crimes of desperation and exploitation. Simply, our systems are failing them—especially CSC.
I am lost for words. The reports are there. The numbers are there. All I can do is ask that we see these people for who they are and the conditions that they're in. They're not there because they want to be there. They're there because this country has forced them to be there. Whether it's because they've taken their children.... I've spoken to elders who are in the maximum security prison there, old women who have been there for decades, because they fought in desperation to find their children and failed in doing that. The first question I was asked when I was there was, “Can you help me find my daughter?”
These are real people who are missing their family members. They can't even go and visit them, because they're from Winnipeg. Their daughters are missing. They want to talk to their families. This is one of the most egregious reports I've seen. These people can't wait. They're going to die in this place without ever seeing their family again. We need to help these people. They're not there because of reasons within their control.
I'll probably run out of time in this segment to ask any questions, but I hope you see how real this is. It's taken people like me to get elected to get this message all the way to this place, because I haven't heard it once yet. I hope my colleagues can see the need to reframe our minds on this.
We need a policy in Canada that reforms these systems away from the simple slogan of “getting tough on crime”, because that contributes to genocide in this country. Yes, people who break the law should be punished, but those who find themselves in conditions because of what Canadians have done...? You need to do some reflection. How have Canadian laws disproportionately impacted these people—my relatives?
Those Gladue reports are important pieces of information. I hope Crown prosecutors also do their work in understanding the value of those reports when seeking so desperately to put our people in jail. It's important that we do this work. It's called by elders who have passed away....
The calls to action in the TRC are clear. In my continued statements later on, I'll ask about the TRC and what you've done—
I truly appreciate the words of my colleague Mr. Desjarlais. They were appropriate. They were heartfelt.
I thank you for that, sir. I do take to heart what you had to say. I have one little push-back. I prosecuted in indigenous peoples court for 10-plus years. I made a difference in hundreds of lives of indigenous offenders. I've seen successes. I've seen more successes than I've seen defaults and tragedies. I just want to say that prosecutors do take Gladue reports very seriously, but thank you for your intervention.
Going back to you, Ms. Kelly, I had just formulated a question when I ran out of time in the first round. I talked about the very large percentage of gangs, almost 50%, that are composed of Blacks and indigenous offenders, with those individuals committing very serious, violent offences that are harming people, killing people and exposing great danger to communities. It's probably no wonder—to me, and I hope you share the same view—that upon their initial placement in a federal institution, given the nature of the conviction, which quite often is not a first-time conviction but rather a pattern of dangerous-like convictions.... You don't wake up one day and decide, “You know what? I'm going to join a gang, and I want to kill somebody.” It's often a series of tragic mistakes that lead you to ultimately end up in prison.
My point is that it ought not to be a surprise to the auditors and to the Auditor General that the system itself is classifying these individuals who are deemed at high risk at the maximum level. Do you agree?
I want to thank all the witnesses for coming today.
I want to say to you, Mr. Desjarlais, that your opening remarks really touched me. It's not news to us, but I really admire that you have a very focused purpose of being in this place, not just in this committee but in the House as well. We've been through this many times, and I see the consistency and the persistence in your pursuit. I think all members felt it and felt the same thing.
Let's get to the specifics.
Commissioner Kelly, what really stood out for me when I read the report is that the custody rating scale has not been updated since 2012, and the one for offenders I think hasn't been updated at all. Why is this? What are you doing to change that? It's an important tool to determine the level of security.
It's absolutely an important tool.
Actually, on the CRS, the development of the custody rating scale was in response to a recommendation from the Auditor General back in 1994. That's why we developed the custody rating scale. It has been empirically tested—and Larry could speak to that—many times.
What we're doing, however, is that, for indigenous offenders, we have an MOU with the University of Regina, and they are working at arm's length to develop an indigenous-informed, gender-informed security classification process, because there are certain factors that are gender neutral, like age and criminal history—
Ms. Kelly, I have the same question for you.
As you indicated earlier, there is good representation in some cases. However, representation does not necessarily mean understanding.
Last fall, Radio-Canada reported that 498 employees participated in your most popular training session, out of a total workforce of 18,000. That is a 2.8% participation rate. It was the Indigenous cultural bias training.
I don't know whether those employees understood, but not many of them participated in that training. Is there anything new you can share with us about this?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank my colleagues on both sides for what I think is very important questioning and your patience with what is a very difficult study for me.
I've been on the opposite end of this for a long time, and I have only seen it get worse. You can call it what you want. You can say that improvements are being made. The reality is, Commissioner, you made an important statement: The number is increasing.
I don't necessarily believe that the Correctional Service is to blame. I believe, like many indigenous folks, that this is a holistic problem that will require a holistic solution. You made mention of that in your remarks, and I appreciate that. I also recognize that your department has accepted this in the past. Absent my being here, your predecessor sat here and agreed three times to the Auditor General's recommendations to make things better.
The TRC has been out for a long time—since your entire appointment, and I'm sure the gentlemen with you as well. I'm not sure if you've even read it, and that's the question I'd like to know. What is your literacy in terms of the TRC? Do you know what the Truth and Reconciliation call to action number 35 is?
Larry, I'll perhaps ask you that.
There's policy. There are the objectives. There's the question of values, and then there's the question of implementation. I think we've had a lot of thoughtful and moving comments made about policy, ideas and values. Usually in this committee, we deal with implementation. I want to really drill into that in my questions.
For eight years, the government has been talking about, as a policy objective, addressing the problem of the overrepresentation of certain communities in our justice system. It seems from the data that they're not addressing it. They may be talking about it. They may be sincere in their motivations. However, as far as implementation goes, in fact the needle is moving in the wrong direction as it pertains to indigenous peoples. We have to acknowledge that's a failure of implementation.
I want to start by asking the Auditor General this. Is it fair to say—correct to say—that regardless of good intentions, and perhaps powerful words at times from the government, they are not making progress when it comes to the issue of responding to the overrepresentation of certain communities in the criminal justice system?
First of all, we've developed an ethnocultural action framework. There's some training in diversity and cultural competency. The results are good in terms of people who have participated.
We also have qualitative research, which we've done with the Nipissing University. They're talking to Black offenders to get their lived experiences. That's going to inform our policies and practices going forward.
We also have an ethnocultural advisory committee that's very active. One thing we're piloting is the Black offender social history. Similar to the indigenous social history, we're looking at the Black offender social history. This is something that they're quite excited about.
These are the types of things...and reaching out to the communities. One thing, both for indigenous and Black offenders, is that it's fairly well structured in the institution. They have access to programs and to elders. However, when they go back out to their communities, sometimes the supports aren't there. We're doing an outreach initiative as well, to bring in the communities to the institution so they can offer support when the offenders are released.
Thanks, Mr. Williamson.
Mr. Desjarlais, I appreciate your comments.
One of the issues on the several visits I've made to the women's penitentiary in our riding is allowing open drug use. One is allowing predatory males on site. A big one—and Mr. Desjarlais brought it up—is a lack of facilities in western Canada. You've talked about indigenous recruitment. We don't have a school in western Canada to train women CSC employees. They have to go out east.
I made a request to the government two years ago. I got no response. This obviously is a vital issue. I think it would go a very long way to solving some of these systemic issues. This was a perfect example of a systemic issue that we know about that we are forcing upon the system.
Is CSC considering a school so that we can recruit and train local indigenous people from the Prairies to help out? Also, are there plans for another facility in western Canada so we're not uprooting family? Family support is very important. It's impossible for many of these families to come out from even neighbouring Saskatchewan to visit and give support. Are there plans for that?
I have just a really quick last question, and this is for the AG as well, maybe.
Mr. Brock was getting at how the inflow of indigenous and other communities in the prison system is very heavily weighted, it seems, with more violent offenders. Are we adjusting for that or are we continuing on, as Mr. Dong brought up, the system that you have to allocate prisoners to maximum or minimum security?
It hasn't been updated for years. Are we going down the wrong path when we need to address this influx of perhaps overly violent offenders? Is your system preparing for that, or are you preparing to make changes for yesterday's problems?
My concern is with the scoop and the history in this country of separating indigenous children from their families of origin. This is a concern.
What I've learned is that the Kitchener community is quite supportive of the female prisoners we have there. A number of employers offer them employment opportunities. Some of the women are able to go out to work in the community. In particular, there's a very lovely restaurant that supports them, and the Elizabeth Fry Society does as well, but what happens when they're released is that there are no halfway houses in our area, so they get uprooted again and moved even further east, over to Kingston.
They're moved even further away from all the support services that were there supporting them during their four years or whatever. They're uprooted again and moved even further away. Not only that, but in order to get their children back, they have to prove that they can provide a home—accommodation—and of course we know that these days hardly anybody can afford to do that, let alone someone who's just coming out of a penitentiary system.
It's a heartbreaking thing here. I mean, these people obviously made a bad choice at some point, you know, but they could end up losing their children forever because of a mistake they made when they were younger. We keep moving them further and further away from their supports, both their original ones and then the ones they established in our community. What can be done to address this? It just seems that we're making a problem worse.
I want to thank my Bloc Québécois colleague and all my colleagues for what I think is a very important line of questioning, because I think this is....
What I'm hearing is that we care about this issue, all of us. I really hope—I really, really hope—we don't have to return to this audit again in the way it is. That is more than a challenge; that's a demand. It's a demand for just basic morality and basic levels of understanding on this issue.
I still don't have confidence that CSC has the cultural competency from the top to do this work correctly. That is why so many indigenous people feel neglected and not heard. I want to know what actions you've taken to educate your own selves about the history of this country. You spoke at great length and mentioned six or seven times now this indigenous social history. I made remarks at the very beginning to clarify that this is not an indigenous or a Black problem. This is a Canadian problem in terms of how we think of fellow human beings.
The TRC is clear about many of these outcomes, and I just wish.... Take five minutes and read it. Take five minutes. Memorize it. People died for those things. Take just five minutes. There are seven calls to action for your department. There are not that many. There are seven calls to action. I need confidence today that, when I leave this room, you're going to do something about your own learning and you're going to make efforts to rebuild that trust. I might not be here forever. You might be able to wait me out, but I hope you can remember this for as long as you possibly can in your service to Canadians: that these are real people too and they deserve a chance.
Do you know the history of this country well enough to understand why these people are in the position they are in? If not, that's okay. We can help—the government benches here, and the opposition will support. What resources do you need to change this?
Do you know the history of colonization in this country?
I have, and that's the problem, Commissioner. They're worse. They're not working. I am telling you that indigenous people are being left behind, and something needs to change. It needs to change at the top.
If you don't believe that you have the resources to do this job, we need to know. I need to know that you have confidence and that you understand the issue well. I will tell you again that this isn't a matter of blaming people. It's a matter of understanding. There is a failure here. We're talking about the failure of your department. We're not talking about the success of your department. We're talking about the abject, overt, objective failure.
It's not that I am saying this. The Auditor General, the top independent office in this country, has told you that you have failed many times over. There needs to be confidence. I need that—indigenous people need that—to know that these systems aren't a sham, where you can contract a university to do the work that should be done by indigenous community members. I won't talk about that today, but it's something that I hope you will take seriously. Community members are the ones who know best.
The TRC, if you'd read it, actually says that. Call to action 38 makes explicit note. It doesn't say consult with the universities. It doesn't say consult with the government. It doesn't say consult with other persons. It says you need to find ways to consult directly with community members.
I want to ask about something that's not in the report, which is on spiritual care or chaplaincy services in prisons. We've heard from various groups about access by minority faiths to that system. I'm of the view that certainly chaplaincy services are important. Ensuring that people from different faith backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, are able to access chaplaincy services that provide them with spiritual support is important.
I don't often quote Nietzsche favourably, but I think he was right to say that he who has a “why” to live for can bear almost any “how”. A sense of the purpose of life, a sense of someone's ultimate meaning, I think plays a very important role in rehabilitation.
Maybe we'll start with the Auditor General.
Were you able to identify any inequalities in access to spiritual care or issues around representation within the provision of those services? If it wasn't part of your work, then we'll go to Corrections after that.
Thank you very much, Mr. Fragiskatos.
I'd like to continue to discuss how important it is to heed the advice of the folks I met with, in particular on the crisis of murdered and missing indigenous women. You oftentimes deal directly with women in these penitentiaries. In the one I visit, the one that Mr. McCauley referred to and also visited, we heard the same things I'm sure.
One of the biggest calls to action, and I really want to thank Ms. Bradford for bringing it up, is on the pain these women have—and it's going to be difficult for me to say this—when they're not with their children. Many of them have children, and they've never seen them since they were taken into these systems. The psychological pain.... I asked a question earlier about your understanding of colonization and the deep impact it has. When you lose your children, that's how you break a whole nation.
One of the first steps to healing for these people needs to be the establishment of those cultural and traditional healing lodges. It must be. I've spoken to the about this. He came to my riding and visited another penitentiary, the Stan Daniels centre, a low-security prison for men. They often talk about this as well, and I don't want to avoid the fact that these men are also suffering from this, but these women spend their entire lives—obsession—in those places thinking about where their daughter is, where their kids are and whether they're alive. Some of them have lost their children to the murdered and missing indigenous women crisis, and they don't even get to go to the funerals.
Why can't this change? What is the barrier? Mr. McCauley asked, why not build the resources these women need? There have been years—decades—of this kind of treatment. Reconciliation in this country is not possible until the fundamental pieces of this kind of justice are heard by people like you and deeply felt. Imagine that you were never to see your children again. How painful that would be amongst a whole nation of people who've also endured that pain. What do you have to live for after that?
This is a punitive system that hurts indigenous people. I need to know what steps you're going to take to ensure that traditional healing lodges, the model of restorative justice that better, smarter and wiser people than me have called for, which nations like mine have built...and they've survived for thousands of years until the last, let's say, one hundred. To destroy our system in lieu of a punishment system like this...it's catastrophic. What steps are you taking to ensure the restorative justice model that is called for by indigenous women, men, two-spirit and non-binary folks...? They're calling for that.
They need to know what your action plan will be for building these traditional healing lodges. If it's resources, please tell us, Commissioner.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to all the witnesses for being here.
I was wondering if we could try to step back and look at the big picture a bit.
If the name of the your department is Correctional Service Canada, it is implied in the name that something has gone wrong in the first place. Otherwise, we wouldn't be correcting something. I was wondering if you could step back and look at the big picture, think of all your years of experience in this sector and answer for the committee what could be done to have fewer people interacting with the justice system in the first place.
It would be nice if we didn't have people committing crimes in the first place. It would be nice if we didn't have 15,000 people incarcerated in this country in the first place.
What can we do? Do we need better education? Do we need better poverty reduction? What can be done?
Thank you very much, Chair.
I want to say how much I appreciate the remarks we have heard from our colleague Mr. Desjarlais today, especially around how this issue is not just about indigenous marginalization; it's an issue of Canadian justice. I think the restorative justice system we have had the privilege to learn about from first nations people is one that can and will transform that justice system.
That being said, we are talking about systemic barriers today, so I would like to ask the Auditor General a question.
One of your recommendations, Ms. Hogan, was that “Correctional Service Canada should improve its collection of diversity information for offenders, ensure that the information is complete, and align its collection methodology with that of Statistics Canada.” Why is that?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thanks to my Bloc colleague for allowing me additional time to really make certain that the conditions of these places are understood by Canadians.
To be frank, I wish that the commissioner was more frank and, I'd say, transparent, with the reality of how these places look and the resources they receive. I can't name one person I've met in my entire life working with indigenous people and living in community, who have had an opportunity to heal the way they would have wanted to. We have a long way to go. We're only in the very infant stages of understanding this country's history in a way that provides a level of justice and a playing field that would be fair in the consideration of these traumas.
TRC call to action number 36 is in relation to the survivors of sexual abuse. The intersectionality between survivors of sexual abuse and colonialism is great. It doesn't take much other than asking many of our residential school survivors to talk about that experience. There were children in the most vulnerable positions who were taken advantage of because of this country's policies, a kind of injustice that is still pervasive in our population today. Few criminal charges have ever been laid against those perpetrators. They get to walk out in the free world here in Canada, many of them still among us, while these women have to stay in prison.
The call to action asks you to look into the effects of that, to build resources and supports for survivors of sexual abuse and to bring that into your understanding of their experiences in those places.
Our justice system is unjust. I don't think I have to tell you that, Commissioner Kelly. You know that. You have to deal with the unfortunate realities of a broken justice system, in one of the hardest roles in our country, and the attempts to find ways to do the work of healing when this country has done so much damage. You probably hear, if you've spoken to the women, how unjust it feels for them to be attacked constantly their entire lives, and then to be left in the position they are in, while their perpetrators get to walk.
It's clear that our systems are overrepresenting indigenous and Black folks, but they also need to find ways to represent that these people are living traumatic lives of their own and are forced by our policies—
Thank you, Chair. It's a very interesting topic.
I feel sorry that there were a lot of pointed questions toward Commissioner Kelly.
For individuals who end up in your care, there have been a series of failures in these individuals' lives at different stages.
The questions about better education, better programming and the social history are all good questions, but I doubt whether you have much control over that person's earlier part of life. However, you do have responsibility when the person enters your control.
I looked at the portion where it talked about preparation for release. That touched upon the correctional part of it. There are shocking stats for indigenous populations, who are delayed in getting parole or released early compared to other individuals. Why is that? Is it because of a lack of resources to prepare for their release? I can't understand.
I'm afraid that is our time today. I appreciate everyone's comments, and heartfelt comments as well, and the co-operation amongst committee members to split time.
I want to thank the commissioner and her team for being here today and the Auditor General and her team for being here today.
I also want to take a moment to recognize that we have with us a delegation from several countries—Senegal, Rwanda and Vietnam—and I'm asking committee members to hold back for a few minutes. We'd like to get a photo with some of these auditors and, I believe, lawmakers, who are here learning what I'll call “best practices” in auditing.
Welcome to cold wintry Canada. You've actually come at a bit of a temperature break. Last week it was -25°C. Today, I think we're around zero.
With that, I will adjourn today's meeting and again urge members to hold back for a few minutes. Thank you.