Good morning. Thank you for having us here today.
I started my career at Drumheller Institution in 1980 as a correctional officer. In 1983, I transferred to Edmonton Maximum Security Institution. In 2002, I transitioned to a program officer.
USG represents over 15,000 employees working in 16 government departments and agencies, including the RCMP, Correctional Service Canada, the Department of Justice, the Parole Board of Canada, Public Prosecutions, and several others.
Federal employees who are represented by USG do a wide range of jobs in both penitentiaries and policing environments. What is notable about the work is that many of our employees are constantly interacting with inmates and offenders within and outside federal penitentiaries. As you can appreciate, there is always some amount of risk working directly with offenders who can be dangerous, volatile, and unpredictable even after years in custody. At the same time, many of the federal employees that USG represents from the RCMP and other agencies are actively involved in supporting the investigation and prosecution of crimes and are monitoring potential and ongoing criminal activity.
As such, while they may never leave their desks, they frequently encounter violent and often traumatic stories and images. As you are no doubt aware, long-term exposure to direct and vicarious trauma puts our members at risk for operational stress injuries. What distinguishes the work that our federal employees undertake in the world of corrections and policing is they do it without the protection of bars, windows, and firearms.
With the exception of correctional guards, USG represents approximately 7,000 employees who work in Correctional Service Canada, both within and outside federal prisons. This includes thousands of parole officers, program officers, teachers, aboriginal liaison officers, tradespeople, clerks, case managers, and many others. USG also represents thousands of public servants within the RCMP and front-line staff in every RCMP detachment across the country, who undertake a wide range of tasks, including interacting with highly distressed members of the public.
In more rural and remote locations, our members answer 911 calls in detachments where no other 911 services exist. They oversee other aspects of crisis management in communities where the RCMP detachment is one of the few resources in that community. USG also represents several thousand other public servants, including the federal sex offender registry analysts who are exposed on a daily basis to details of the worst kinds of sexual abuse; transcription clerks, whose job it is to read and transcribe statements and files regarding offenders and their crimes on a daily basis; and Parole Board of Canada employees who prepare the cases of offenders seeking parole for the review of the parole board. Not surprisingly, the cumulative effect of this work can lead to experiences of vicarious trauma because of the ongoing exposure to devastating stories and the images related to sexual offences, child abuse, and violent crimes.
Clearly, working in corrections and other public safety institutions over an entire career can take a serious toll on workers' mental health. We are only now beginning to understand the extent of operational stress on our members working in corrections, the RCMP, and other departments. To this end, USG is doing its own internal inquiry into the effects of trauma and stress on our members who are public safety office holders. We applaud this committee for embarking on this study and going beyond the arena of first responders. We are very confident that this study will go a long way to breaking the stigmas surrounding mental health and put into place tangible measures to assist all public safety office holders.
I will now turn to my colleague, David Neufeld, who will speak on the specific realities of parole officers.
I would like to thank the members of this committee for allowing us this opportunity to speak with you today on this very important topic.
I started my career with the Correctional Service of Canada back in 2001 as a community parole officer. I did not start my career like most parole officers. I was hired off the street and did not have any prior penitentiary experience.
From the age of 12, I knew that one day I wanted to have a career where I could help people. In fact, this was ingrained in me by my grade 6 teacher who had predicted that one day I would become a social worker. Little did I know that my teacher was onto something at the time.
What I didn't know when I entered into my career with the CSC is the sheltered life I had lived. Learning to work with offenders in the community provided me with a new perspective on life. I realized I was fortunate to have never experienced or witnessed family violence, substance abuse, chronic unemployment, and so on, but many people do. I can tell you that this work has profoundly changed me and how I see the world.
While the work of correctional officers and the incidents they face on an ongoing basis are more sensational and easy to understand, the complex accumulation of trauma that is faced by parole and program officers is more insidious and difficult to define.
You are all aware that parole officers or program officers have been attacked, threatened, and even killed while on the job. The case of Louise Pargeter looms large for nearly everyone at CSC, a parole officer who was murdered while visiting a former offender in Yellowknife. It provides a devastating example of the dangers of this job.
While there's always a risk of physical safety, most of the trauma is a result of the cumulative effect of collecting all the bits and pieces of detailed accounts of trauma and violence related to the offenders. By reading these accounts, the employees we represent become secondary witnesses to rape, abuse, violence, and death.
Parole officers, like many of the other jobs performed by USG members who work at the RCMP and in the other agencies, spend most of their days reading detailed accounts of horrific acts committed by a person against their victims. These accounts are full of horrific, graphic content outlining the physical and mental harm done to people, including small children. Then parole officers read victim impact statements and relive the accounts of the offences from the victim's perspective.
In the words of one of the correctional staff employees that USG represents, I want to quote a fellow community parole officer about the impact of this work on her well-being.
“After becoming very familiar with an offender's history...it gets worse because you have to meet with the people, the offenders who were capable of doing these things. You meet with them and talk with them a lot. You have to offer them meaningful engagement, treat them with respect, offer support, talk to them, try to encourage them to change. Talk to them about horrible things. You listen to the offender deceive and rationalize and excuse their behaviour or malign and blame victims and then you have to calmly and rationally challenge them on these things. You are at war with yourself.”
“During all of this, you must empathize with the offenders to be effective, but you must never sympathize. Never compare your experiences, never cry, never emotionally react. Offer encouragement or verbal support, but not too much. Challenge the offender, but do not put yourself in harm's way. Model effective behaviour. Don't cross boundaries, don't give them a grip on you, show no vulnerability or it can be—and probably will be—exploited. Then you listen to the offenders' disclosures of their own trauma. Sometimes it's the first time they've told someone and they relive the trauma when talking to you. Stories of how they were abused, sold, drugged, neglected, and abandoned. How they repeat the cycle with others. They offer up those experiences and leave those with you, too.”
“You go into random homes to meet with offenders. You don't know who is there. You don't know if you have to beat a hasty retreat. You have no partner, no support. How is your car parked? Where are the exits, are there unexpected vehicles? You assess the person at the door: are they drunk, high, angry?”
“You do all this because it's your job. It's the right thing to do. You're trying to prevent horrible things from happening to anyone ever again in any way you can. You can't own their successes or failures, but you can't help but ask yourself what more could you have done when an offender on your caseload hurts someone else, robs someone, rapes someone, kills someone, kills themselves.”
“You didn't make that choice, but you feel responsible. It's your job to keep the public safe from the people you watch. What did you miss? Who didn't you call? What didn't you see? Imagine the stress all this creates every day. Imagine the changes in your brain over time. Imagine how your sense of safety changes. You are more watchful of the people you encounter, more weary, more prone to react quickly. You are more vigilant with your kids. Taking them to pools, public places, becomes more difficult after everything you've seen and heard.”
“Imagine when an offender starts threatening you.”
The following six measures would be enormously helpful to many of the individuals represented by USG.
Externally commission a study by Public Safety Canada to assess the degree and extent of occupational stress injuries by non-officers and non-guards who are directly engaged in keeping Canada safe.
Reduce the workload of parole officers who are overseeing too many offenders within and outside a federal correctional facility.
Restore the community corrections liaison officer program within Correctional Service Canada. These liaison officers were part of an innovative, integrated police and parole initiative across the country that provided key information on activities of offenders in the community, and crucial backup when an offender had to be apprehended back into custody.
Federal employees need better access to qualified psychologists who deal with this sort of trauma, and there must be more training for managers and supervisors to support those dealing with an operational stress injury.
The option of early retirement should be extended to non-officer members of the RCMP and other employees in the federal department, who work in high-stress policing and correctional environments.
Lastly, the recommendations from the CSC advisory committee on community staff safety, which regularly assesses the working conditions of correctional staff in the community, should be reviewed annually by the minister's office.
Thank you very much for this opportunity.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, for giving us the opportunity to speak to this committee. At VIA Rail, mental health is paramount to the overall health and safety of employees, and we take it very seriously. VIA Rail has adopted the national standard for psychological health and safety in the workplace, a set of voluntary guidelines promoting employee psychological health. We're also participating in a study by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
Now, more specific to our higher risk employees, who are our locomotive engineers, in 2010 we were noticing some significant, long disabilities following critical incidents. Critical incidents are typically due to somebody committing suicide in front of one of our trains or a level crossing accident, where the locomotive engineers not only get subjected to the incident, but also have to, occasionally, offer care and supervision at the incident while awaiting the authorities to come to support them.
We were having some significant issues with their mental health and their length of disabilities. In 2011, in co-operation with the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference union and Université du Québec à Montréal,, one of the doctors of psychology assisted us in creating a help protocol. We call this the critical incident support guidelines to operating crews, and the intent of this protocol is to normalize the situation for them as much as we possibly can, to treat them at—
That's fine. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
To add to that, the protocol calls for an immediate and mandatory three days off for locomotive engineers following any critical incident, with a strong suggestion of meeting a counsellor prior to returning home from work. We also provide employee assistance programs. They can also choose to seek the therapy of their favoured provider.
In 2013 we decided to adjust the protocol after assessing its effectiveness, and decided they would take a mandatory three-day holiday whenever an incident occurred. They could have an extra two days off at their request, no questions asked. Again, that's with strong support for continued therapeutic help from either a counsellor or a person of their choice. Since that time, we have significantly reduced the duration for claims for disability.
We're also participating with
the University of Quebec in Montreal
with Dr. Bardon and Dr. Mishara, in a study that is measuring the effectiveness of our protocol, to make sure it is delivering all of the desired results, not only from an employee-continuing-to-work perspective but their overall mental health and their quality of life. This study will go on until July. We're looking forward to the results.
Another strong pillar of helping us with this type of incident is that we provide peer support training by Dr. Solomon, a well-known expert in psychological assistance. He's worked with police forces all over the United States, railways in the United States, the FBI, and with VIA since the early nineties. We provide two sessions per year of peer support. You have people in each terminal across Canada who can provide peer support when one of their colleagues is injured. As well, in the event they've never had an incident, it can prepare them on how to deal with it ahead of time. And if they've had such an incident, this three-day full-time workshop, with 24 to 30 participants, goes a very long way toward improving the mental health of our locomotive engineers.
For the sake of time, I'll end it there and pass the microphone over to Mr. Pastor.
I would be willing to answer any questions you may have. Thank you.
From my end, while Marc was managing the safety aspect and the train operations aspect of this issue, I was handling the HR side and the disability management. In terms of disability management, you may be aware that one of the rules is that the longer the employee stays off work, the fewer chances there are that the employee is coming back to work. After three months, it is a critical moment for the employee to be able to return to work in a successful manner.
When we started in 2010, we had a few cases, and we needed to think from the perspective of how VIA would be able to bring the employees back to work in a safe manner. Marc already talked about peer support. He talked about the EAP provided. There are another couple of things I would like to add in terms of disability management.
We have a specialized nurse on trauma and grief, who has been helping us for the last three or four years. She is the liaison with workers' compensation. She supports employees with the paperwork and with the processes. She is going to be doing the link with treatment centres. She identifies needs for treatments and locates those centres that can help our employees. At the end of the day, she accelerates the return to work of our employees.
Again, without going into too much detail on those other two project initiatives Marc mentioned, in the last couple of years we've been using a firm in Montreal that uses neuro-feedback: brain mapping and neuro-feedback training. This is something that has been used by the U.S. Army for several years already to help their veterans who are coming back from conflict and suffering from PTSD. For the last couple of years, we have been using it with a couple of our locomotive engineers. After a very few sessions, they are coming back to us and saying that the results are incredible. In regard to the before and after of those sessions, the feedback we are receiving from them is very significant.
For the very last thing, it is my understanding you have a graph before you. This is the summary of what we've been doing for the last three or four years in terms of results. The number of incidents, as Marc was referring to, remained stable. We are talking about 14 or 15 incidents a year, times two locomotive engineers, so we're talking about 30 cases. What we are measuring here is the number of claims and the absences, the number of claims to workers' compensation or CSST, and the average duration of their absences.
You can see that in 2009 we had nine cases. The average duration of the absence was 271 days, for a total of 2,500 days lost that year. Then we see what we can call an anomaly in 2013, where there was a big incident, a big collision where six people died that day. That is the reason that can explain that peak, but you can see that in the last two years, 2014 and 2015, we almost don't have cases or claims to workers' compensation. Actually, for the last one we had in 2015, the employee didn't miss a day.
Secondly, I'm going to request that the recommendations of members from the various parties that could go into the report, or that would be part of the report, be submitted by Friday at five, before we go away for a week of break. That will give the analysts time to put them in and weave them into the report. It's a constituency week.
The last thing is, we'll have a meeting on Thursday. We're going to try to hear some witnesses for one hour, and then give directions to the analyst for a second hour. We're still firming up some extra witnesses for that last meeting.
The meeting is suspended. Go and vote.
Thank you for inviting me on behalf of the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada. We're glad that we got an opportunity to present some information that we have on our first nations first responders. Of course, I deal with mainly the firefighters, the fire departments, the structural firefighters within the first nations communities of Canada.
My name is Richard Kent, and I am the acting president of the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada. We represent the interests of Canada’s first nations firefighters.
In 2015, a study paper on mental health was produced by the National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health, by Sherry Bellamy and Cindy Hardy. The study was entitled “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Aboriginal People in Canada: Review of Risk Factors, the Current State of Knowledge and Directions for Further Research”. The indicators are that aboriginal people in Canada are more likely than non-aboriginal people to experience traumatic events in their lifetimes, including historical, collective, and individual trauma. Demographic, individual, and environmental factors such as being female, stressful living conditions, poverty, and violence all contribute to increased risk for developing PTSD in aboriginal populations. In addition to the review of potential risk factors, the paper overviews the current knowledge, prevalence, health impacts, resilience, and treatment options of PTSD within an aboriginal context.
The paper’s summary states:
|| Even though Canada is recognized as a country in which citizens enjoy a high standard of living, many health and lifestyle benefits are not extended to all Aboriginal peoples. There is general consensus among researchers investigating the health of Aboriginal peoples that historical and intergenerational trauma have resulted in collective psychological and emotional injury that has directly and indirectly led to considerable distress among Aboriginal peoples.
|| Today, Aboriginal peoples in Canada are more likely than non-Aboriginal people to experience traumatic events in their lifetimes. In addition, they are at increased risk of developing PTSD as a result of historical, collective and individual trauma, compounded by stressful current living conditions resulting from high levels of poverty and abuse. It is crucial that more culturally appropriate services are made available to Aboriginal peoples in all communities across Canada. Further research is needed to investigate cultural factors that foster resilience in order to understand the complex interactions between risk and resilience in Aboriginal communities. Interventions that honour Aboriginal holistic values and traditions and promote resilience factors that are already present in Aboriginal culture are most likely to be met with success.
|| Further, there is a need to develop and implement interventions and treatment programs that aim to heal families and communities as these types of interventions are most likely to foster improved health and well-being collectively, and thus reduce some of the environmental factors that work to reinforce and perpetuate trauma within communities. The protection of future generations is dependent on healthy families and communities.
In my own limited research into post-traumatic stress disorder in relation to Canada’s first nations emergency responders, I could find no information that was specific to them. But what I do know, after being in the fire service for 35 years, is that responding to traumatic situations is very stressful in itself.
When we look at Canada’s first nations emergency responders, we must be aware that the people they respond to who need their help are more often than not friends, relatives, or acquaintances.
Our first nations communities are very close-knit communities where everyone tends to know everyone. This definitely adds to the emotional injuries that they will be suffering from.
I certainly think we have to look beyond the traditional view of first responders. For example, if you work inside a prison, oftentimes you're not considered a first responder, but the reality is that you are.
I'll give a personal example. When I was a program officer and my task was to liaise between the inmate committee and the warden and senior management, if there was trouble, I was one of the first ones sent.
I was sent to the kitchen one morning at 7:30 because there was something brewing. I got there. I talked with the chief of food services. We heard a scream. We looked over to the inmate coffee area, and one inmate had poured what we thought was water on the back of another inmate. The screaming didn't stop, so we ran over and were the first ones on the scene. It had been boiling oil from a deep fryer, and you can imagine when he pulled his tee-shirt off.... We were there. We were getting control of the other offenders who, as you can understand, were agitated.
We're not considered first responders, but the reality is that we are in many situations. Certainly within an institution, we are the first responders.
Thank you to all of our witnesses, and apologies for the disrupted schedule with votes today.
Mr. Stapleton, I think we had a very good session with prison workers and prison guards last week, describing I think in their words, that one day they could be a paramedic, one day they were like a police officer, another day they're a firefighter, depending on the needs of the situation.
I have to be honest, Mr. Neufeld, I've never considered parole officers to be first responders per se. How would you best describe the role?
That is something, again, even within our own world of CSC, we've been saying for many years that people don't understand what we do in corrections, and in particular what parole officers do.
As I mentioned earlier, I started off as a community parole officer, and the learning curve was very large. What I learned very quickly is that we don't fit in as a police officer. We don't fit in any certain niche. We have a very unique job. We have a job that has, in some ways, more power than police.
The example I will give is that when we are supervising offenders on the street and we are continually assessing risk—again, our focus is on reintegration and rehabilitation—our focus is trying to make sure that when the offenders are under our supervision, that is done in a safe way and that the public is safe. We are often making judgment calls and assessing where the offender is at and whether it is safe for them to be on the street. There's a lot of accountability and responsibility that comes with that.
To answer your question, Mr. O'Toole, it's very unique. It doesn't fit in to a first responder job. Although I will argue that there are times...and I can think of a specific incident that happened with me. I went into a fellow's home and he became very volatile in the moment that I came into that room. The offender I was working with could have lost his handle on the situation, and it could have been very ugly. In trying to calm down the situation, I leaned that in a way I am a first responder. If I hadn't been there, I don't know what could have happened.
In terms of parole officers, they're very unique. They're often compared to police because there's nothing to compare them to. Again, the powers that come under the CCRA and under policy that we follow are very unique.
Thank you, gentlemen, for being here with us today.
My questions will be addressed to you, Mr. Stapleton and Mr. Neufeld, and will deal with your recommendations.
We have talked about treatments a lot. That is important, and I would never deny it. However, I think it is desirable to provide resources to avoid situations where someone has to suffer from post-traumatic stress. I am thinking for instance of your recommendation concerning the number of officers.
Currently there is a resource problem. If I understand what you said correctly, if we solved that problem, we could avoid more serious problems in future. In that way we would use prevention rather than reaction and treatments.
One of the things we hear consistently from our members in the institutions primarily is about the ratios that were changed under the deficit reduction action plan. In a minimum security institution there's one parole officer for every 25 inmates. In a medium security institution there's one parole officer for every 28 inmates; and in a maximum security institution there's one parole officer for every 30.
Prior to that it was 1 to 25 across the board, but that was changed. One of the challenges we face, and something we brought to the Correctional Service as well is that we feel there should be a resourcing formula similar to what we have in the community, which we've had for a number of years now, and where we measure the activities of a parole officer throughout the management of a particular case. Then the resourcing is attached to the previous years' indicators.
That is something we feel would be very helpful for our parole officers in the institutions.
We need to provide more information to both the federal government and the community leaders, the elected officials themselves, on how to handle the PTSD and emotional problems within the communities.
I heard you mention the non-traditional first responders in relation to corrections. If you want to talk about non-traditional first responders you need not look any further than first nations. When we have a fire there the entire community responds; it's not the fire department.
Our fire departments are true volunteer fire departments in 95% of Canada. That means they don't get paid anything if they respond to a fire, if they take training. Our other volunteer departments across Canada get paid a wage when they're responding to a fire.
When we go or I go or I send someone and train firefighters, I'm training a new batch of firefighters every time because we have to make sure somebody shows up at a fire and hopefully somebody with some training. When the fire trucks show up at a fire, the entire community is there to grab a hoseline and fight the fire.
We have non-traditional first responders because we're talking about an entire community. We have to look at it in that light, and that needs to be studied a little further.
Over the years, having been a correctional officer in the early eighties, I can tell you that the role of the correctional officers has changed significantly.
In the early eighties, correctional officers were much more like the other individuals in the institution. You didn't carry pepper spray. You didn't carry weapons. You didn't have your vests or protective gear. Now correctional officers have all this stuff, whereas the members we represent don't have any of this equipment. We're in there by ourselves, interacting in a much more natural environment than that of correctional officers.
We have a decent relationship with correctional officers, but we play much different roles. It is our members who are, for the most part, providing the tools the offenders will have when they reintegrate into society and get back into the community.
I'm afraid we need to end there.
Thank you for your testimony today. It was very helpful to us.
I want to remind the committee that on Thursday we'll have witnesses in the first hour. Be prepared to give instructions to the analyst on Thursday. Recommendations for the report will be received until Friday at 5 o'clock. The other reminder is that the minister will be coming on Thursday, June 2, for supplemental (A) estimates, so get yourselves ready.
That leaves May 31 as an orphaned meeting. We don't need a decision on this, but I'd like to give a heads-up. Howard Sapers has been given a one-year extension on his order in council, and it has been referred to us, whether or not we want to take the opportunity to question it. The order's been done. This gives us a chance to say whether we agree with it or not, and it also gives him a chance to talk to us. I was thinking about that as a possibility for the meeting of May 31. Thoughts?