The “Drug Free Prisons Act” (Bill C-12)

First, I note a continued trend in how the Government titles its legislation. When the anti-crime legislations started to roll out, I just thought they were appealing to the desire of the Conservative core voter to have “down-to-earth”, “straight talk” (etc.) about the purpose of various Bills. Lately,though, I’ve come around to realizing that these titles are a series of magic wands. The idea is to say what will be accomplished if the prescriptions of the legislation are implemented. Not what is hoped will be accomplished. Not what can reasonably be assumed will be accomplished. Just the results!

No nuance, no partial results, no pious hopes with this gang. This Bill, conservative voter, will solve the problem.


But I digress.

Let’s look at the latest Bill in the great anti-crime crusade.

Bill C-12, in essence, does three things in the name of fighting (nay eliminating) drugs in prisons:

a) it gives the Parole Board of Canada supposedly new powers to reconsider the case of an inmate who deals in, uses or possesses drugs between the time the Parole Board orders his release and the time he actually hits the street

b) it specifies that conditions may be applied to parole regarding the use of alcohol and drugs where this is identified as a risk.

c) it permits Regulations to “further the purposes and provisions” of Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA) PART II (conditional release) [1]

Firstly, “a” and “b” are arguably unnecessary. As I read the CCRA, the Parole board already was the authority, as does CSC, to suspend a parole at any time they believe a new risk has been created. As well, conditions on abstaining from the use of alcohol or drugs are already routine in a huge number of cases.

So why the Bill? In my view it is to reduce discretion in circumstances where drug infractions take place. It requires the Board to re-visit parole decisions in the specific case of drugs.

So, what’s the problem? Druggees get stopped before they get to the door.

The devil is in the bureaucratic details. It takes time, lots of time, for the Board to review a case and make a decision ( whether a written decision or a decision at a hearing). This Bill, as far as I can see, requires the Board to take that time – even where case managers or security staff might have informally resolved the matter much more quickly and decided not to suspend the upcoming parole. It will take time even where the inmate is determined not to have done what they were charged with. It will take time to start over and to look for a new half-way house opening in the hundreds of over-crowded facilities in our urban areas.

It will take time.

So, Mr. or Ms. inmate, count on losing at least two months of your release if you are charged with misbehaviour regarding drugs after you’ve been granted parole.

The real issue, though, is the third feature of the Bill – to permit regulations related to drug misbehaviour.

Using this authority, the Government has already proposed regulations that will increase the fines that inmates can receive for internal disciplinary offences. For serious offences (involving serious breaches of security violence, harm to others etc) maximum fines are raised from $50 to $100. For minor offences  maximum fines are raised from $25 to $50. For repeat offences, fines are raised from $50 to $100 for minor offences and from $100 to $200 for serious offences.

Note that these fines can apply to any offences, not just those involving drugs. Note also that it is rare for inmates to be able to retain counsel for minor offences- which are “heard” in ways that are unfair or non-compliant with legislation in a significant number of cases.

The purported purposes of the increased fines, according to CSC, are:

a) to live up to the Government’s 2007 promise that inmates possessing or dealing illegal drugs would suffer increased punishment

b) to provide a deterrent for drug use inside.

So, again, what’s the problem? Cons get punished for having drugs even after they are incarcerated.

The problem is several facets of reality.

1. $50 or $100 is a huge amount for a person inside who might have earned as much a $6.90 before the 30% pay cuts of October, 2013. The loss of funds through fines could have a very detrimental effect on ability to support families or preparation for release.

2. The fines will have further effects on the level of frustration and disrespect for authority that are a growing feature of our penitentiaries these days. As well, those deprived of funds will resort to other measures to get what they want. Down the road it could get ugly.

3. There are  already many ways to deter the use of drugs inside – consequences regarding parole and temporary absence eligibility and security classification being just two. So the real motive, as is the case with many other prison policies, is simply to punish and to let the public see that punishment is happening.

4. The real culprits are often those who control drugs at a higher level and get other inmates to d their bidding. The “big fish” will not be caught – ergo the whole strategy won’t work.

4. The approach of successive governments to drugs in prisons – the almost exclusive emphasis on deterrence,detection,  interdiction, security and sanction and the paying of lip service to a health care orientation to drug use – does not work and is only exacerbated by these new measures. The bottom line is that you do not deter somebody who is dependent and lacking in the skills necessary to address the dependency.

5. Finally, just a thought. The regulation says nothing about punishment or deterrence of, well, people other than inmates and their visitors who might be involved in drug importation.

So, yet another Bill that waives a wand.

Maybe somebody should tell the authors that, while some pens resemble Hogwart, none of them are.


[1] see text of Bill C-12:




This enactment amends the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to

require the Parole Board of Canada (or a provincial parole board, if applicable)

to cancel parole granted to an offender if, before the offenders release, the

offender tests positive in a urinalysis, or fails or refuses to provide a urine

sample, and the Board considers that the criteria for granting parole are no

longer met. It also amends that Act to clarify that any conditions set by a

releasing authority on an offenders parole, statutory release or unescorted

temporary absence may include conditions regarding the offenders use of

drugs or alcohol, including in cases when that use has been identified as a risk

factor in the offenders criminal behaviour.



1. This Act may be cited as the Drug-Free

Prisons Act.



2. The Corrections and Conditional Release

Act is amended by adding the following after

section 123:


123.1 If an offender has been granted parole

under section 122 or 123 but has not yet been

released and the offender fails or refuses to

provide a urine sample when demanded to

provide one under section 54, or provides under

that section a urine sample for which the result

of the urinalysis is positive, as that term is

defined in the regulations, then the Service shall

inform the Board of the failure or refusal or the

test result.


3. Section 124 of the Act is amended by

adding the following after subsection (3):

(3.1) If the Board is informed of the matters

under section 123.1 and the offender has still

not yet been released, the Board shall cancel

the parole if, in its opinion, based on the

information received under that section, the

criteria set out in paragraphs 102(a ) and (b ) are

no longer met.


4. Subsection 133(3) of the Act is replaced

by the following:

(3) The releasing authority may impose any

conditions on the parole, statutory release or

unescorted temporary absence of an offender

that it considers reasonable and necessary in

order to protect society and to facilitate the

offender s successful reintegration into society.

For greater certainty, the conditions may include

any condition regarding the offender s use of

drugs or alcohol, including in cases when that

use has been identified as a risk factor in the

offender s criminal behaviour.

5. Subsection 156(1) of the Act is replaced

by the following:

156. (1) The Governor in Council may make

regulations providing for anything that by this

Part is to be provided for by regulation,

including defining terms that are to be defined

in the regulations for the purposes of this Part,

and, generally, for carrying out the purposes and

provisions of this Part.


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