Thank you, members of the committee.
Thank you for the opportunity to discuss my latest annual report.
I want to focus my opening remarks on aspects of the organizational culture of the Correctional Service of Canada that are holding it back from embracing change and implementing reforms that the government issued to the Commissioner of Corrections in September 2018.
Coincidentally, on the same day that my report was tabled, the Office of the Auditor General released a report entitled “Respect in the Workplace”. This audit looked at whether the Canada Border Services Agency and Correctional Service of Canada promoted and maintained workplaces free of harassment, discrimination and violence. In the case of the Correctional Service, the Auditor General found that the service knew that these problems were present in its workplace but had not developed a comprehensive strategy to address them.
It is significant that the findings of two independent oversight bodies converge on this point of a problematic organizational or staff culture within the Correctional Service. The minister's 2018 mandate letter to the Commissioner of Corrections directs her to make it an overriding priority to ensure that the Correctional Service
is a workplace free from bullying, harassment and sexual violence.
The three case studies included in my annual report suggest that certain ingrained habits, attitudes and behaviours have become barriers to reform. Though I have no mandate to fix the negative elements of staff culture or labour relations, when misconduct or non-compliance with the law creates problems or adverse effects for inmates, I have an obligation to report and act upon them.
In the first case study, entitled “Dysfunction at Edmonton Institution”, I found that both staff and management at this facility tolerated an established history of assaultive behaviour perpetrated by a group of inmates against a subpopulation of protected status inmates. Evidence showed that the recurring verbal and physical assaults on protective status inmates—which included throwing food, bodily fluids, garbage and other degrading and humiliating acts—were planned and orchestrated events that increased and escalated over a three-month period.
My findings suggest that the cruel and callous nature of these incidents must be placed in the context of an organizational culture that an independent human resource consultant concluded three years ago ran on fear, suspicion, mistrust, intimidation, harassment, vulgar language and other abuses of power and authority, and this was among staff members. What can only be described as a culture of impunity impacted how staff treated and responded to inmates. An abusive workplace culture perpetuated staff misconduct and contributed to the dehumanizing acts of violence among inmates.
Both staff and management were aware of the repeated nature of the physical assaults and verbal abuse, yet took no disciplinary or remedial measures against the aggressors or steps to protect the victims of these assaults and abuses. Though these incidents were initially reported and brought forward to senior management at Edmonton Institution by my office, it took over three months and the disclosure of indisputable video evidence to the commissioner before even the basic remedial measures were put in place.
Two other case studies help further illustrate the resistant qualities of the organizational culture of the Correctional Service. In the first instance, four years of use of force reviews reveal a recurring pattern of deficient accountability, non-compliance with law and policy, and poor performance in managing use of force incidents at Atlantic Institution in New Brunswick.
I found little evidence that implementation of a new engagement and intervention model introduced in the aftermath of the preventable death of Matthew Hines has made much of a difference in the manner, rate, severity or level of force used at Atlantic Institution. Significantly, the reliance on pepper spray to manage prison tension and conflict behind bars has not diminished at this facility, nor indeed across the rest of the service.
Finally, my office has been reporting on food issues in federal corrections for over five years. We have made several recommendations, none of which have been actioned, and things have not changed for the better.
A recent internal audit conducted by the service confirmed several deficiencies previously reported by my office, including an inadequate per diem of less than six dollars per day per inmate to spend on food, inconsistent and substandard meal quality and portion sizes, failure to meet Canada's food guide requirements, inordinate amount of food spoilage and wastage, and failure to consistently follow special diet requirements.
One of the most significant concerns revealed by this audit is that the Correctional Service rolled out its food service modernization project in the absence of an updated policy framework. To this day, the Correctional Service has not provided any evidence that this project yielded expected cost savings or efficiencies.
More significantly, the audit failed to drill down on the relationship between food and the order, safety and security of institutions. The audit did not examine lessons from the December 2016 deadly riot at Saskatchewan Penitentiary, which linked food shortages, inadequate portions and poor meal quality at this facility to the rising levels of inmate tension and protests—factors that eventually led to the riot.
The rise of food as a commodity in the inmate economy is not probed, nor is the fact that the inmate canteen now supplements or even replaces daily meals. These issues are top of mind concerns at most institutions, yet this audit failed to acknowledge and bring them forward to management for correction.
Finally, let me conclude by acknowledging the encouraging statements issued by both the commissioner and the in response to my report. Both reiterated their commitment to ensuring CSC employees have a respectful and healthy workplace. These statements are important, but must also be seen in the context of the statutory obligation of the service to “take all reasonable steps to ensure that penitentiaries, the penitentiary environment, the living and working conditions of inmates, and the working conditions of staff members are safe, healthful and free of practices that undermine … personal dignity”.
I believe parliamentarians and Canadians have a right to know how the service intends to comply with the law and fix elements of a workplace culture that perpetuates, condones or otherwise gives licence to violence, abuse of power and mistreatment behind bars.
Thank you, and I would be happy to take your questions.
Dr. Zinger and Ms. Kingsley, thank you so much for your report and also the good work that you do. I can't tell you how happy I was to see the two reports that I initiated on indigenous people and indigenous women in the criminal justice system and corrections included in your report. Good work was done in this committee and in the status of women committee. I am hopeful that some of the recommendations will come to fruition.
One of the things that has been a concern of mine since I visited Edmonton Institution for Women was what women were being trained for when they leave. You mention it in your report that textiles business line is 83.5% of CORCAN's work with women in the workplace.
Last night I was reading the government's response to our status of women report. It says that:
In 2017-18, the current employment skills training opportunities were reviewed and CORCAN...identified opportunities for additional employment and employability skills training at women offender sites to be implemented in 2018-19.
Then it says:
...consideration of labour market gaps, industry needs, and the offenders' skills.... In 2017-2018 there was an increase in on-the-job and vocational training at two women offender institutions specifically in the areas of construction and maintenance-related training such as flooring, painting, and chainsaw safety.
Dr. Zinger, where is the disconnect there?
Even when I spoke to the warden at Edmonton Institution for Women, she indicated that it's okay to have women learning how to sew. While I challenged her on that, it looks as if that kind of thinking is still permeating our institutions.
Good morning, everyone.
I would like to thank the witnesses for being here today.
There was talk earlier about funding, and you said that's not necessarily where the problem is. Yet, when systems don't work well, it's often due to a lack of funds.
You're saying there's money, that there should be one employee per inmate and an annual amount of $120,000 per inmate. Now, from what you've observed, the problem is one of priorities.
Could we come back to those priorities? What are they?
I believe the service is ripe for a major overhaul. In my view, three groups of incarcerated individuals should be provided with different transfers and accommodation. I believe it is important to consider an alternative approach in the case of indigenous individuals.
First, sections 81 and 84 of the act allow the Minister of Public Safety to enter into an agreement with indigenous communities or groups for the transfer, custody and supervision of indigenous inmates. I believe that the Correctional Service should significantly realign its budget to fund this transfer of responsibility.
Last year, I produced a report jointly with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The report is entitled “Aging and Dying in Prison: An Investigation into the Experiences of Older Individuals in Federal Custody”. It found that too many older people who do not pose a risk are being kept in penitentiaries. Often, these people are at the end of their lives, they are receiving palliative care, and they have reduced mobility. In some cases, they are even bedridden. I see no advantage to that. Keeping them incarcerated is incredibly expensive. I think there are other alternatives.
The last group is smaller. It is composed of individuals who suffer from acute mental health problems, who are suicidal or who chronically and severely self-harm. This group of individuals should not be in a penitentiary. They should be transferred to the community, to secure hospitals that can meet their medical needs.
For these three groups, there is talk of reallocating funds currently held by the Correctional Service.
There's also the community component. Penitentiaries in Canada are very old. There are three penitentiaries that are over 100 years old: Stony Mountain Institution, Saskatchewan Penitentiary—the inmates in these two penitentiaries are overwhelmingly aboriginal—and Dorchester Penitentiary. All three of these penitentiaries are over 100 years old and have old infrastructure.
On average, the vast majority of penitentiaries are between 40 and 50 years old. Once again, they were built at a time when correctional philosophy did not recognize the primacy of rehabilitation.
For example, there was a lot of talk about Edmonton Institution, which is 42 years old. It's concrete everywhere. There are very few rooms, very few lights, and very few hallways. It's an extraordinary infrastructure.
I suggest that all members of this committee and other committees go and visit penitentiaries. You have a statutory right enshrined in the act. If you have to legislate in criminal matters, go and visit penitentiaries to find out exactly what the consequences of the laws you put forward are.
Thank you, Dr. Zinger, first and foremost for being here but most importantly for all the work you have been doing, especially on this particular report.
The report certainly raises many pressing issues, which include gaps in services and care for the most vulnerable populations in our federal institutions. Correctional Service Canada, I know, has put a path forward. I know is working very closely with the CSC to ensure that real progress is made. I want to talk a little bit, however, about safe and timely reintegration.
In your report you cite the Senate's “Study on Human Rights of Federally-Sentenced Persons: The most basic human right is to be treated as a human being”. It states that:
An important consequence of discriminatory policies is that federally-sentenced persons, especially those who are women, Indigenous, Black and racialized, have difficulty accessing culturally relevant...programming.
It goes on:
Without access to these programs, federally-sentenced persons are ill-prepared to reintegrate in their communities, which places them at a higher risk.... Tackling this issue is particularly urgent for federally-sentenced Indigenous and Black persons who are significantly overrepresented in the correctional system.
Within your study it is stated that the population of indigenous persons has increased from 19% to 28% in 2018-19 and also for black persons has increased from 7% to 10% in 2015-16, though now this increase is slowly reversing. However, 37% of all discrimination complaints are from black persons.
Can you elaborate a little on the overrepresentation of vulnerable populations, especially of indigenous, black Canadians, as well as racialized communities, in the Correctional Service?
First, I would like to take the opportunity to provide sincere condolences to the family and friends of Ms. Marylène Levesque.
I have two preoccupations with this case. The first one is that this is an extreme case. It's a very rare event when somebody who committed murder is released and commits murder again. To my knowledge, this only happened more than eight years ago. The preoccupation for me is that those extreme cases test the system as a whole. There is always the danger that those extreme cases can result in bad policy and bad law. Bad cases make for bad policy and bad law. We should be conscientious about that extreme case. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be looked at very carefully, because it's a blatant failure of the system.
My second preoccupation flows from the first one. When such an extreme case happens, what kind of investigation do you need to put in place? For me, it has to be a very credible investigation. That requires independence, certainly, and also the level of investigative tools and powers associated to ensure that you get to the bottom of it. What I find in this case is that we have an investigation that's going to be conducted that was convened by the commissioner and the chair of the Parole Board jointly. It's basically an internal investigation. In terms of the process, I think that is problematic. When you have an allegation of wrongdoing where you possibly will be looking at negligence in carrying out their duties, you shouldn't ask the agency responsible for that to investigate themselves. That is never done in policing. That should never be done.
I've made similar recommendations when egregious cases happened in corrections. Last year I made the recommendation to the Minister of Public Safety that when there is death in custody following a riot or following a use of force by correctional officers, these things should be investigated independently, with all the right tools. That can only be done, in my view, under the Inquiries Act, not by an internal investigation.
The fact remains that what the inmates are injecting is still a drug that was brought in illegally.
Basically, we wouldn't need needles if drugs were not coming into the penitentiaries.
To deal with this, we've already talked about having full-body scanners. They would prevent, I am told, the entry of more than 90% of the drugs that are brought in by visitors. They would be scanned automatically.
Don't you think we should focus on that and speed up the installation of the scanners?
I'd also like your opinion on the clear opinion expressed by Correctional Service Canada officers. In their view, the Prison Needle Exchange Program is very dangerous and they have been denouncing this project from the beginning. They are also lobbying for scanners to be available as soon as possible.
What do you have to say to our officers about this?
I'm glad to hear that there has been some progress with respect to some of the ID cards. For me, the frustration is that some parts of the service do that very well—there are some best practices—but it is not nationally available. The challenge for the service is to implement best practices, so that the ID card issue is resolved.
As to section 81 and section 84, part of the push-back from the service has always been that some indigenous communities have no interest in taking on some of those responsibilities, or don't have the capacity. I think we have to challenge that and really engage those communities to see, for example, over a 10-year period, how one could change the face of corrections and really shift that responsibility to indigenous communities. It has to be part of a very large initiative that would see the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars to indigenous communities over a 10-year period.
These things are big ticket items that bureaucracy is, unfortunately, not always well equipped or adapted to do, which is to hand over money, as opposed to retaining the funding.
Such an approach would be quite bold and would require a lot of effort, partnership and sustained change. Governments are often ill equipped to deal with these kinds of major initiatives.
Thank you, Mr. Harris and Dr. Zinger.
On behalf of the committee, I want to acknowledge that you have shone a light on the system, and it's not a very pretty light.
I take note that the Auditor General has released a report, that there are two House of Commons committee reports and that there is one Senate report, all of which seem to say the same thing. Subsequently, there is agreement by everyone acknowledging that these are the recommendations and that they are very important recommendations, but not much seems to change.
I appreciate your persistence. I'm rather hoping that the committee will see some means by which it should follow up.
Again, thank you for that.