Liberal MP Rob Oliphant sits on the Commons Public Safety and National Security committee, and it's a week that the Conservatives have decided to go full-bore on their “tough on crime” agenda – Bills C-36, C-31, C-54, C-55, C-19, C-53 and C-35 were all brought up on the Order Paper, and most of those bills deal with keeping people in prison longer. I spoke to Oliphant after Question Period today.
Q: You were out of the House last week on a Parliamentary trip – tell me about it.
A: Public Safety and National Security [committee] travel – we’re doing a study on mental health capacity in our federal prison system. The Corrections Investigator has labelled some severe deficiencies in our capacity in federal prisons to handle the increasing number of mental health cases, and addiction issues. The estimates are, and we heard this repeatedly on our tour, that approximately eighty percent of inmates have mental health and/or addiction problems, and yet the capacity to handle them in terms of psychologists, nurses, psychiatric nurses, psychiatrists, social workers, occupational therapists – all of that – is just very limited, and we’re not there yet. We were in prisons in Saskatchewan – two in Saskatchewan – Kingston, Laval, and Moncton/Dorchester, New Brunswick.
Q: I know the government has put forward their raft of “tough on crime” bills on the order paper this week, and most of those deal with keeping people in prisons longer. As someone’s whose been visiting the various institutions across the country, what would you say to those proposals?
A: First of all, when you’re having a tough week, and you are lying through your teeth constantly, and you are attacking good public servants, you have a justice week – kind of ironic. So they try to change the channel, and my hope is that the media doesn’t fall for it, as they have for the last year. The issue is not this justice agenda – the issue is this government’s incompetence and inability to handle the foreign agenda. That’s the issue.
So they’re bringing forward a bunch of “get tough on crime” issues, and I say no – we get smart on crime. There are criminal problems in Canada. The crime rate, however, is being reduced – it’s not going up, and the Conservatives think this is a good item of business for them – it’s a false item of business. Canadians are smarter than this, and we know we have to get smart on crime, because we want to stop it. Much of crime is related to addictions. If people aren’t addicted before they go to jail, they get addicted while they’re in jail. I think that the Minister of Public Safety has a responsibility for keeping drugs out of our jails, and he doesn’t seem to do it. But he also has to reduce the demand for drugs in our jails, and he doesn’t seem to understand that. We have to do that through prevention programmes, through mental health programmes, through addictions programmes, and through a whole different way of looking at corrections. What this government does is criminalises mental health problems. We recognise right now that our jails are full – they’re full to capacity, and the mental health facilities have waiting lists all across the country. The more that they put people in jail, the less they will get treatment, and the more we will criminalise people with mental health [issues]. Right now, frankly, prison is a risk factor for mental health and it shouldn’t be that case when people need help.