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View Marc Miller Profile
Lib. (QC)
Kwe kwe. Unnusakkut. Tansi. Hello.
Hello.
Before I begin, I want to acknowledge that in Ottawa, I'm on the traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people.
First and foremost, I do want to say a few words for the communities, families and friends impacted by the tragic news of the children whose remains were recently found at the former Kamloops residential school located on the traditional territory of the Tk'emlúps te Secwe̓pemc people.
I'd like to thank the members for their continued advocacy and echoing indigenous voices here in Parliament.
While this discovery has shocked and disturbed the nation, for indigenous peoples across the country, these findings are deeply painful, traumatizing and triggering, although they are not surprising, particularly for the indigenous peoples who have known this truth for far too long.
Our thoughts remain with the families and communities impacted not only by this discovery but by the residential school system. It is essential that we respect and continue to respect the privacy, space and mourning period of those communities that are collecting their thoughts and putting together their protocols as to how to honour these children.
We recognize that there is a continuing need for psychological wellness services associated with childhood and intergenerational trauma. We will continue to work with our partners and the communities, first and foremost to ensure adequate access to appropriate services.
The survivors and the families affected by the indigenous residential schools system have access, among other things, to the national Indian residential schools crisis line if they need it. The Indian residential schools resolution health support program also offers access to elders, to traditional healers and to other appropriate forms of cultural and emotional support, as well as to professional mental health counselling.
In addition, all indigenous peoples can access the hope for wellness help line, online or by phone, to get help. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are offering additional support so that indigenous communities can adapt and broaden mental health services.
We also recently announced $597.6 million over three years for a mental health and wellness strategy based, of course, on the distinct characteristics of the First Nations, the Inuit and the Métis Nation. The strategy includes continuing support for former residential schools students and their families. It will be based on existing competencies and will help to fill gaps and respond to the existing, emerging and future needs of indigenous communities.
I'm here today to answer your questions on the supplementary estimates (A) for 2021-22 and to provide you with an update on continuing efforts to confront the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. I will also answer any other questions that the committee chooses.
For this year, the total authority will be $18.9 billion, which reflects a net increase of $5.4 billion. This includes support for initiatives such as funding for COVID-19 responses, including, notably, $760.7 million for the indigenous community support fund that has been so welcomed, $64 million for the continuation of public health responses in indigenous communities and $332.8 million for indigenous communities affected by disruptions to their revenue due to COVID-19, which we announced, made official and launched yesterday.
The net increase for the supplementary estimates (A) also includes $1.2 billion for out-of-court settlements to advance Canada's overall commitment to reconciliation by paving the way to a more respectful and constructive relationship with indigenous peoples.
It also includes $1.1 billion for child and family services to support a proactive agreement on a non-compliance motion before the CHRT. The funding is crucial. Since the CHRT issued its first order for Canada to cease its discriminatory practices in 2016, we have been working with first nations leaders and partners to implement the tribunal's orders, and we are in compliance. The $1.1 billion will go to communities that are engaged in activities that prevent the apprehension of kids and contribute to the transformation of the system that has been so broken.
Let me be clear once again. We share the same goal: First nations children historically harmed by the child welfare system will receive fair, just and equitable compensation. The government is not questioning or challenging the notion that compensation should be awarded to first nations children who were harmed by the historical discrimination and underfunding of the child welfare system. The question is not whether we compensate; it is a question of doing so in a way that is fair, equitable and inclusive of those directly impacted.
To this end, we have already consented to certification of the consolidated class action filed in the Federal Court by the Assembly of First Nations and Councillor Xavier Moushoom regarding the same children who were harmed by the system, as contemplated by the CHRT. Furthermore, we are currently in mediation with the partners, but as is set out in the mediation agreement, those discussions will remain confidential out of respect.
We remain committed to providing first nations children access to the necessary supports and services in partnership with indigenous peoples. To that effect, it's important to note that 820,000 claims under Jordan's principle have been processed since 2016, which represents close to $2 billion in funding.
Most notably, in January 2020, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families came into force. It is key to this conversation in transforming the relationship, responding to the calls to action and setting a new way forward. Indigenous governments and communities have always had the inherent right to decide things that people like me take for granted; that is, what is best for their children, their families and their communities. The act provides a path for them to fully exercise and lift up that jurisdiction.
As a result of this work led by indigenous communities, two indigenous laws have now come into force under the federal law, the Wabaseemoong Independent Nations law in Ontario and the Cowessess First Nation Miyo Pimatisowin Act in Saskatchewan. In each of these communities, children will have greater opportunity to grow up and thrive immersed in their culture and surrounded by loved ones.
I will now move on to an update on COVID-19.
Throughout the pandemic, and still today, Indigenous Services Canada has been aware of the particular vulnerability of indigenous communities to the virus.
From the outset, we knew that immediate, decisive measures were necessary to protect the communities as best we could. Our absolute priority was the safety, health and well-being of the First Nations, the Inuit and the Métis.
However, without the dedication and determination of all of the leaders of those communities, none of that would have been possible. I want to thank them for their continuous work over the last year, in particular in encouraging the members of their communities to get vaccinated.
With respect to vaccine roll-out, as of June 7, 687 indigenous communities had campaigns underway. In total, that corresponds to 540,581 doses administered, including first and second doses.
This means that 41% of eligible people aged 12 and over in the communities or living in the territories have received two doses of the vaccine. This is crucial in the communities where the population is predominantly young.
In addition, 80% of people have received a first dose, and if we consider those aged 12 and over, we are talking about 72%. So this is tremendous progress.
With respect to the number of cases, as of June 9, in First Nations communities, we are aware of 761 active cases, which is, fortunately, a decline from the previous week. That brings us now to just about 30,568 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of those, 29,459 people have recovered, and, tragically, 348 others have died.
I see that perhaps that you're flagging me, Bob, or do I have a couple of minutes?
View Gary Vidal Profile
CPC (SK)
Thank you.
I have probably one final question. COVID-19 magnified the realities of some of the jurisdictional quagmires around indigenous people in urban settings. You and I have had the conversation many times about friendship centres and the funding. It took some time to kind of make it through the community support funding process for the urban indigenous folks. Friendship centres offer a variety of services that are as diverse as the communities they serve. I know that friendship centres are looking for a longer-term commitment so that they can plan for their future, invest in infrastructure, make sure they have commitments to programs that are ongoing, and make good, efficient decisions.
Is there anything going on with any of the budget work or the estimate work that would provide that long-term commitment for friendship centres that serve urban indigenous people?
View Marc Miller Profile
Lib. (QC)
Yes, certainly, MP Vidal, in budget 2021 there is a large pot of funding for infrastructure that we are currently parsing out, working with community members to see how that would fold out based on need and based on shovel-ready projects. There is a lot of light and hope at the end of the tunnel.
Certainly, the amounts that we've announced through the indigenous community support fund through COVID, for which there will be four or five waves—the latest one went out last week—has a rubric, an envelope, that is dedicated to the work the friendship centres are doing, serving indigenous communities off reserve, and also with room for tribal councils serving their people who live outside their communities. That's an important element and aspect to it. What we—
View Marc Miller Profile
Lib. (QC)
Well, yes, I guess what I was trying to say was that there has been some immense work done under COVID that has been transformative in the work we will be doing going forward in highlighting that relationship. It is a different one from a nation-to-nation relationship, obviously, with friendship centres that have a different form of governance and others that serve community members. It's one that we want to work toward. Knowing the number of indigenous folks who live outside their home communities, it is so key. In budget 2021, although it was not specifically earmarked, there will be some funding for urban indigenous initiatives.
View John McKay Profile
Lib. (ON)
Do I have unanimous consent to proceed for, say, the next 20 minutes? Would that be fair?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Okay. Then I can call this meeting to order.
This is the 34th meeting of the public safety committee. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted May 5, the committee is commencing a study on the current situation in federal prisons in relation to Correctional Service Canada’s response to COVID-19, the implementation and operation of structured intervention units, and reports of sexual coercion and violence in federal prisons.
I see that Pam's hand is up.
Jane Sprott
View Jane Sprott Profile
Jane Sprott
2021-06-09 18:20
Thank you very much for inviting us to speak to you about Correctional Service Canada's structured intervention units. To date, we have written four reports using CSC's data on the operation of these new SIUs. Before highlighting any of our findings, it's important to know from the outset that none of what we found could predominantly be attributed to COVID. These issues [Technical difficulty—Editor]
Jane Sprott
View Jane Sprott Profile
Jane Sprott
2021-06-09 18:21
Absolutely.
To date we have written four reports using CSC's data. None of our findings can be predominantly attributed to COVID. It's important to understand that these problems are pre-existing.
In our first report, released almost eight months ago now, we identified some very serious issues. While there is enormous provincial variation or regional variation—
Anthony Doob
View Anthony Doob Profile
Anthony Doob
2021-06-09 18:22
Excellent. Thank you.
The presentation from Professor Sprott was really to give you an overview of some of the findings we had in the four reports that we wrote using Correctional Service of Canada data. Rather than describing what she, I hope, will be able to describe, I'd like to concentrate on the issue of the oversight of our system of solitary confinement.
One body said to be providing oversight are the independent external decision-makers, or IEDMs. In our fourth report, we document, using CSC data, that there are prisoners who are ordered by the IEDMs to be released from SIUs but who remain in SIUs for at least 61 days after their case is referred for review. We report that there are others who have been in SIUs for long periods of time without review.
As you know, if you look carefully at stays in SIUs, you will see that many of the stays fall into internationally recognized categories of solitary confinement and torture. I find it disturbing that in Canada we could have a discussion of why the rate of torture in CSC facilities in the Pacific region is so much higher than in Ontario. I never thought that in my career as a criminologist I would be comparing torture rates in institutions under the control of the Government of Canada. This is happening while oversight is being provided by these external decision-makers.
Let's talk about another form of oversight. I chaired the SIU implementation advisory panel that was established in mid-2019. We were a volunteer panel. In order to get an overview of what was happening, we asked CSC in November 2019, before the SIUs were to open, to provide us with certain administrative data that they routinely collect. In February 2020 we were told that CSC might not give us this data. No adequate justification was given. Only when the panel released its first and only report in August 2020, after its mandate had expired, did anything happen. To his credit, Minister Blair at that point apparently told CSC to provide me with the data that the panel had requested. By then the panel did not exist.
Professor Sprott and I received this data on September 30, 2020. We went to work finding out what this data told us about the operation of the SIUs. We provided a draft of our report to CSC for comment 16 days later. We released it publicly at the end of October. Professor Sprott, if she is able to get back on, will tell you some of the findings.
In our report, we were influenced by a statistician who suggested that in policy areas like this, the motto should be, “In God we trust. All others must bring data.” Our four reports total 111 pages and contain 87 tables of data, most of which provide details of the serious problems in the operation of the SIUs. We trust the data. We're skeptical of those in CSC who question the validity of our research findings, which are based on CSC data, when these same people fail to provide any evidence of their own. We need to have adequate oversight of CSC's operations of the SIUs.
Let's consider the basis for the decisions made by these IEDMs. They are almost completely dependent on CSC's accounts of individual cases. We have at this point no information about what they base their decisions on, or even what information they are given by CSC. We're not criticizing the IEDMs as individuals. It's a problem of the structure in which these people are being required to make decisions.
We also know that there is significant and substantial variability in the pattern of decisions made by these independent decision-makers. You are much more likely to be ordered to be released from the SIU by some of these IEDMs than by others. Our fourth report provides a substantial amount of data demonstrating that the IEDM system is not adequate. We also need broader oversight of penitentiaries to determine whether solitary confinement is being practised elsewhere in the institutions, not just in the SIUs.
Remember, solitary confinement is a practice, not a place. Our prisons are—
Jane Sprott
View Jane Sprott Profile
Jane Sprott
2021-06-09 18:27
Sure. I can be quicker than that. I'll pick up from where Professor Doob was talking about some of the disturbing findings that we have found.
In our third report, released almost four months ago, we found that 28% of stays in these SIUs fell within the internationally defined Nelson Mandela Rules as solitary [Technical difficulty—Editor]
Jane Sprott
View Jane Sprott Profile
Jane Sprott
2021-06-09 18:28
Perfect. I'll do that.
Another 10% of these stays constituted what would be internationally described as torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. This means that, overall, 38% of SIU stays can be described as being solitary confinement or torture.
I'm not sure if that perhaps requires repeating, but in Canada, 38% of SIU stays would be internationally defined as solitary confinement or torture.
You might have thought, when calculating [Technical difficulty—Editor]
Emilie Coyle
View Emilie Coyle Profile
Emilie Coyle
2021-06-09 18:29
Thank you. I was looking forward to hearing the rest of Dr. Sprott's testimony.
I'm very grateful to be here today with all of you. It's a pleasure to see you all, and I'm grateful that you're working on this topic. You may know about the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, for which I am the executive director.
In the interest of time, I want to make sure that everyone here is aware that we work very closely with those who are serving federal sentences in all of the prisons designated for women across the country. You know that we've been asked to speak on three issues today that are impacting federally incarcerated people. While they're disparate in some ways, I think these issues are connected by power structures that are inherent in the prisons and a lack of transparency, which we were hearing about from Dr. Doob and Dr. Sprott, which are often facilitated by a lack of data collection and reporting.
I will begin today by speaking about the issue of sexual violence and coercion. I believe all the members of this committee will have received our brief ahead of this meeting, so I'm not going to go into too much detail, but I really do hope that you read it. The women, non-binary, trans and two-spirit people in federal prisons designated for women as you all know are some of the most under-resourced, underserved and under-protected people in our communities. They are people who are survivors of trauma and abuse, which is a fact that the Correctional Service of Canada has acknowledged and reported on, but we cannot underscore it enough in this context.
I'm sure you're also aware, because he appeared before you, that the Office of the Correctional Investigator released their annual report in October 2020, and it included a national investigation into sexual coercion and sexual violence. It was entitled, very appropriately, “A Culture of Silence”. We welcome their initiative in taking the first-ever systemic examination of the issue of sexual coercion and violence in Canadian federal prisons, and we agree that Canada is behind when it comes to addressing sexual violence behind bars.
However, while the investigation includes some anecdotal evidence around incidents of sexual violence and coercion involving the actions of CSC staff toward prisoners, this was not the focus of their investigation. It is the focus of mine, because the inherent power imbalance between a correctional officer and a prisoner cannot be overstated, and these harms must be included in further research and action.
We've been made aware over the years of numerous incidents of CSC employees engaging in sexual coercion or violence against prisoners in the prisons designated for women. You can read the details of some of the reported incidents in the brief that I referenced earlier. It is extremely concerning to us.
We also recognize that much of what we are sharing is anecdotal; and herein lies the problem. We're unable to provide a clear picture of sexual violence and coercion perpetrated by CSC staff in the federal prisons designated for women because further accurate and comprehensive data is not collected on this matter.
As you know, in the report, “A Culture of Silence”, the OCI found that “CSC does not publicly report on this problem, does not collect, record or track statistics and has never conducted research in this area.” In this, I am reminded, as I'm sure all of you are, of the power dynamics and the culture of silence that has been exposed in the current investigation into sexual misconduct in the Canadian military. It begs the question: Is this a clear example of apathy on the part of CSC, or a concerted effort to use a lack of transparency to skirt accountability?
So far I've touched on the unsanctioned sexual violence and coercion that happens in the prisons designated for women. However, there are also ways in which CSC sanctions sexual assault, namely through the use of strip searches.
It is well documented that strip searches are traumatizing and harmful. The Supreme Court of Canada has described the practice of strip searching as “inherently humiliating and degrading”. For those who have experienced sexual violence, strip searches are experienced as an act of sexualized violence. The OCI has found that by definition, “a random strip search is beyond the reach of any legal or constitutional standard of suspicion, reasonableness or necessity.” It may not surprise you that CSC does not track or publicly report on the [Technical difficulty—Editor] strip searches meeting the stated objective of preventing contraband from entering the prisons.
To conclude my remarks on this issue, the power structures inherent in institutions like prisons, and the lack of transparency related to data keeping have resulted in opportunities for people to be further harmed by sexual violence while in prison.
I'm speaking very quickly. I'm trying to keep to my time.
Emilie Coyle
View Emilie Coyle Profile
Emilie Coyle
2021-06-09 18:37
Now I'll go to my comments on COVID-19.
During COVID-19, there has been less CSC oversight than ever, making prisoners even more vulnerable to abuse. This lack of oversight, we believe, has contributed to unacceptable and unlawful conditions of confinement during COVID-19 that were certainly not contemplated or foreseen by the courts at the time of sentencing of most of the prisoners.
From the very beginning of the pandemic, CAEFS, our organization, joined the calls of prisoners, prisoners' families, prisoner rights groups, academics, politicians, lawyers, health care experts and other NGOs, like the John Howard Society, which I believe you will hear from in the next hour or perhaps next half hour, to depopulate the prisons as quickly as possible. This was following the advice of the World Health Organization and actions taken by other states to keep people in prison safe. These calls were not heeded, and it resulted in prisoners being kept in torturous conditions of confinement and further exposed to the deadly virus.
We have documented conditions of confinement that have been implemented at different times for varying lengths of time throughout the last year and a half, which I can't go into because of time, but I will answer any questions you may have about them.
A commonality in the conditions is this restriction of access to mechanisms that support the well-being of prisoners, their timely release and CSC oversight. We are concerned that the conditions under which people have been held have not been to protect their health but rather for the operational convenience of CSC. All of this could have been prevented if the prisons had taken the calls for depopulation seriously and had taken swift action. CSC's operational restrictions cannot and must not be downloaded to restrict the rights and the well-being of prisoners.
Finally, with regard to the structured intervention units, I will try to be very brief, as you have the experts in the room here today, on the lack of transparency, clarity and reporting. We support all the findings of the reports put out by Dr. Doob and Dr. Sprott.
Since the changes to the CCRA through Bill C-83, we have observed that the unconstitutional practice of segregation, often colloquially referred to as solitary confinement, is ongoing. Prisoners are still experiencing the same human rights violations as they were prior to the court rulings of 2019.
The Chair: If you could just wind it up....
Ms. Emilie Coyle: I'll wrap up. This is it. I'm wrapping up.
The Chair: Thank you.
Ms. Emilie Coyle: In addition, CSC employs a myriad of other segregation methods to isolate prisoners for unregulated periods of time. I think this is what Dr. Doob was referring to.
I just want to say that we must continue to be guided by the principle that human rights are not just abstract or theoretical. We cannot simply say that someone has a right without then developing and ensuring a functioning process that enables that person to access and protect that right.
Catherine Latimer
View Catherine Latimer Profile
Catherine Latimer
2021-06-09 18:41
Thank you, Chair, and committee members. It's good to be here.
There are very few words to describe the current state of corrections in Canada today. Crisis, lawless, unaccountable and tragic would be some of them. In my 30 years as a lawyer I have never seen failings of this magnitude.
Let's start with COVID. In March 2020, CSC assured stakeholders that it was “prepared to handle any cases of influenza or other respiratory illness, such as COVID-19.” Reliance on its influenza strategy soon proved no match for a virus that we knew was far more contagious and deadly than the flu. Epidemiologists from around the world were calling for the safe depopulation of prisons, particularly for those who were medically vulnerable, but this did not happen in the federal corrections system.
Instead, CSC chose to combat COVID with extreme isolation: no activity, no family, no books, no programming, no contact—complete isolation. Inadequate consideration was given to the severe mental health impacts these lockdowns have caused. CSC might claim that these measures were required by public health officials, but ultimately CSC was the decision-maker, and it should have known that Canadian courts have found that this type of extreme, cruel isolation violates prisoners' rights and is prohibited by international human rights documents.
While CSC assured us that everything was under control, its own records show quite the opposite. December 2020 correspondence from the warden at Saskatchewan Penitentiary showed that prisoners had suicide and starvation pacts. Correctional officers kept COVID-positive prisoners in the general population and simply hung flammable shower curtains around their cells to separate them from non-COVID prisoners. This was a formula for spreading the virus.
On December 24, the same institution said, “The health and safety of our employees, offenders, and the public remains our top priority during this public health pandemic.” Further inconsistencies are revealed in internal documents, from wardens telling correctional officers to ignore the advice of health authorities, to wardens telling prisoners that correctional officers do not need to wear masks. We have lots of documented inconsistencies that we would be happy to share.
Prisoners were generally not consulted about what steps should be taken to protect their health. When protests arose, usually about correctional officers failing to wear PPE, significant force was brought to bear: concussion grenades in one case and rubber bullets in another. The correctional investigator, Ivan Zinger, in his second update on COVID in June 2020, stated, “Some of these restrictions reach beyond measures or controls contemplated in either domestic or international law. Public health emergencies must be managed within a legal framework. Rights need to be respected and restored.”
I agree with Dr. Zinger. Rights were violated and legal limits were exceeded in CSC's approach to the pandemic.
In the end, COVID-19 technically decimated the federal prison population, with more than 10% contracting the disease, six deaths and unquantified enduring health complications.
The Liberal Party made a commitment, a campaign commitment, to implement Ashley Smith's coroner's recommendation, which included limiting solitary confinement to 15 days. In 2018, administrative segregation was ruled unconstitutional in Canada as violating charter rights.
In 2019, we were told that abusive solitary confinement had ended and was being replaced by structured intervention units, where prisoners would be out of their cells for four hours a day with two hours of meaningful human contact. As we learned from Dr. Doob and Dr. Sprott, this is not happening.
Among the significant problems that have been identified, the structured intervention units are not delivering the measures the government promised they would, and 10% of the placements in structured intervention units experience the same prolonged solitary confinement condition that the courts found violated charter rights that are defined in international human rights documents as a form of torture. Yes, Canadians are being tortured by state officials.
Minister Blair accepted these findings before this committee, yet the government has not directed CSC to stop placing people in solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days.
Section 4 of the Department of Justice Act requires the Minister of Justice to see that the administration of public affairs is consistent with the laws. The Department of Justice has lost litigation in class action lawsuits on the basis that prolonged solitary confinement violates prisoners' charter rights.
The publication of the Doob and Sprott report last February should have signalled to the Minister of Justice or his staff that CSC was not administering public affairs in a manner consistent with the charter. He has not acted on his statutory obligations. This tolerance for the torture of Canadian prisoners should shock the conscience of us all and needs to stop immediately.
I'm delighted that the committee has agreed that the disclosures from CSC that are required will be made public. There is a profound public interest to know how this dire situation arose and has been allowed to persist: why 44% of SIU prisons are indigenous and 18% are Black; why Canada chooses to ignore international human rights standards, like the Nelson Mandela Rules, yet calls on other countries, like China, to respect those rules in relation to the treatment of the two Michaels; whether, as many feared, the SIUs are simply solitary confinement renamed, as the commissioner herself said in response to the Doob and Sprott finding of torture in the SIUs. She said, “I always stress with staff the importance of speaking of structured intervention units and not administrative segregation/solitary confinement.”
Whatever it is labelled, wherever it is occurring in the federal correction system, keeping prisoners in their cells for more than 22 hours without meaningful human contact is solitary confinement, and such confinement for more than 15 days is prohibited as a form of torture and a charter violation. It must end.
I know I'm running short on time so I'm going to be quick.
Catherine Latimer
View Catherine Latimer Profile
Catherine Latimer
2021-06-09 18:47
Regarding violence, images are more powerful. I would encourage everyone to take a look at the recently released video of the Black prisoner who was assaulted at Millhaven institution. I'd be happy to answer any questions on that.
In conclusion, the failure of the Correctional Service of Canada to respect the spirit of the charter and the findings against prolonged solitary confinement and the international minimum standards that prohibit the form of confinement is shocking. While this confinement has been worsened by COVID, not even a pandemic can justify the rights abuses we have seen over the last year.
I hope this committee will support the public's petition for a judicial inquiry into this fiasco which the government is required to answer by June 26.
Thank you.
Jeff Wilkins
View Jeff Wilkins Profile
Jeff Wilkins
2021-06-09 18:48
Thank you and good evening, Mr. Chair and the members of this committee.
I'm Jeff Wilkins, the national president for the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.
I'm going to focus my opening statement more on the first part of the what the committee is looking into, and that's the current situation in federal prisons in relation to the Correctional Service response to COVID-19, but I'm more than happy to answer any questions you may have with regard to the structured intervention units or the reports of sexual coercion and violence in Canadian prisons.
I'd first like to express my pride in representing such an incredible group of professionals, the correctional officers of Canada, who have worked through this pandemic with pride, who have sacrificed their own health and safety in their mandate to protect the Canadian public, and who all too often are unrecognized for the vitally important role they play in the criminal justice system.
Over the last 15 months, our members have been on the front lines battling this pandemic and performing the duties of all first responder groups. Arguably, one of the most dangerous occupations in the country is that of a correctional officer, and the global pandemic only increased the danger for our members. While countless public servants were sent home and workplaces were closed, our members continued to don their uniforms and enter the institutions.
Over the last 15 months, there have been significant outbreaks within institutions in every region except the Atlantic region. In recent statistics, it is known that there have been approximately 5,000 reported cases of COVID among federal public servants of the core public administration. Correctional officers represent nearly 450 of those cases, meaning that our members represent approximately 10% of the recorded cases of the entire public service. That's interesting when you calculate that our membership represents only 2% of the core public administration. Furthermore, our members were unable to telework, so our rates of infection were, for the most part, a result of work.
The waves of this pandemic resulted in a turbulent wake that some institutions are going to feel the effects of for years to come. We saw cases where the workforce of correctional officers was depleted in some of our institutions to about 30%. Forced overtime became a reality for our members in many of our institutions.
The pandemic choked the induction training programs for new correctional officers entering the service, just when that relief was needed. When restrictions began to lift after the first wave, the service scrambled to try to put on as many correctional officer training programs as they could; however, we're still behind, and our members will face another summer where forced overtime will be a reality.
UCCO-SACC-CSN was encouraged at the beginning of this pandemic when virtually all provinces moved to strengthen the front lines by providing a hazard allowance, while also creating and promoting morally inspiring messages about those working on the front lines. For those who stepped into the line of fire, it is both important to reward that bravery and to provide messages of thanks, respect and encouragement. Rightfully, front-line workers have been portrayed as heroes across this country, and I would like to highlight to this committee that the members of UCCO-SACC-CSN, Canada's federal correctional officers, are heroes as well.
The heroes I represent have not made the spotlight of recognition. Nowhere have I witnessed a message of thanks for the correctional officer. Since the beginning of this pandemic, UCCO-SACC-CSN has been asking about that recognition in the form of a hazard allowance from this government to help encourage and recognize the work being performed for the public. Unfortunately, the government has not moved in a direction to recognize this. However, this government does remain committed to subsidizing the provinces to recognize the essential workers in their jurisdiction. For the members of UCCO-SACC-CSN, this failure is demoralizing.
This pandemic has brought on many challenges for corrections, to say the least. The very nature of a penitentiary is to provide control by restricting movements and associations, while working to rehabilitate the population to become law-abiding citizens. Ironically, the way to control the spread of a pandemic in civil society is also to restrict movements and associations. Our institutions are essentially communal living facilities, not much different from long-term care homes. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it's how quickly the virus can spread in places where there's an inability to create individual space.
Of course, the population in our structured intervention units, our SIUs, has also been affected. The SIU model, which replaced segregation in November 2019, can only be assessed based on the four months it was running before the pandemic took hold in March. Though the members of UCCO-SACC-CSN and other institutional staff have worked tirelessly to meet the mandate set forth in the CCRA, it has proven extremely difficult to do with the necessary institutional restrictions.
UCCO-SACC-CSN has been vocal on many fronts with our employer, as well as the government, throughout this pandemic. We have raised and debated everything from personal protective equipment to leave restrictions, institutional routine change, risk mitigation strategies, vaccination priority, hazard pay and now, obviously, the work being done to return to normal routines.
As COVID fades into our history, we'll always need to be aware of the devastation that comes with a pandemic of this magnitude and be prepared for a future crisis.
As we come out of this pandemic, proper attention needs to be given to the mental health of our first responders and essential workers, who have made sacrifices for the public. Essentially, a battle has been waged against this virus since March 2020. All of those who have been on the front line, as well as those helping to stop the spread by following public health orders, are tired, physically and mentally. Mental health will need to be on the forefront of any agenda moving forward.
I thank you for the opportunity to make this opening statement, and I welcome any questions from the committee.
View Tako Van Popta Profile
CPC (BC)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you to all the witnesses for being here today and for being patient with us.
Thank you for your evidence. It was really quite shocking in particular to hear about so many of our inmates in structured intervention units not coming within the Mandela guidelines. I'm really quite shocked by that. That 33% would be coming to the definition of torture.
Dr. Doob, you stated in your evidence that you waited a long time for data from CSC but that it finally did come. How reliable is that data? What is the integrity of it?
Anthony Doob
View Anthony Doob Profile
Anthony Doob
2021-06-09 18:55
These are administrative data. They're the basic, ongoing records that CSC has of all prisoners, including those in structured intervention units.
Any administrative data I've worked on from the last 50 years has had errors in it, but there's no reason to believe the errors would be in any particular direction. We found some things that were obviously errors, but the story that they tell is consistent. It's consistent across time and locations. You can see certain things that are errors, but we have confidence in those.
Among other things, Correctional Service of Canada is required by law to keep these data. This is nothing new for them. My suspicion is that they simply didn't like what those data told us.
Anthony Doob
View Anthony Doob Profile
Anthony Doob
2021-06-09 18:56
No. The delay came from their not wanting to give us the data. They didn't know at that point what the data really showed. They told me on the phone in February 2020 that they weren't sure if they were going to give us the data because they didn't think we needed the data. It was an absolutely astonishing thing for them to say to us.
View Tako Van Popta Profile
CPC (BC)
Thank you for that. That is quite astonishing.
The last part of Bill C-83 was to get rid of solitary confinement and move over to structured intervention units. Was there more than just a change in format? Was there a substantive improvement at all?
Anthony Doob
View Anthony Doob Profile
Anthony Doob
2021-06-09 18:57
The simple answer to that, based on data, is that we don't really know since the data we have date from the beginning of the SIUs on November 30, 2019.
Certainly what we can say is that the bill to abolish the practices, which established the SIUs, did not work. Those practices still exist.
Just to respond to something else that was said by another witness, I will tell you that these problems existed before COVID. There is no way under the sun that you could blame the problems that we have described on COVID.
View Tako Van Popta Profile
CPC (BC)
All right. Thank you.
I think the other witness said that maybe it was worse because of COVID but not necessarily caused by COVID.
Anthony Doob
View Anthony Doob Profile
Anthony Doob
2021-06-09 18:58
Our data would suggest otherwise. Our data would suggest that the problem was fairly consistent. There was variation across institutions and variation in some of the measures, but it would be hard to say that the problems that we've identified are COVID-related problems.
View Kamal Khera Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Chair.
Thanks to all our witnesses for being here. First I want to apologize for all the time you had to wait.
Thank you for your testimony. I wish I could ask all of you questions.
Ms. Coyle, I'll start with you.
I want to talk about data collection. We know there is a serious problem in our correctional service system as it relates to sexual coercion and violence. There are certainly many layers to that problem, the reporting and collecting the data of those crimes being one of them.
What can you recommend to ensure that CSC collects the necessary data to help better inform that issue of sexual coercion and violence within the federal prisons?
Emilie Coyle
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Emilie Coyle
2021-06-09 18:59
I think we have to step back a moment from that question, because I actually don't have the answer to that. However, I do think what we need is something akin to what's happening right now with the public independent inquiry into sexual misconduct in the military.
I think a public independent inquiry on this issue would be well served, and then recommendations could flow from that.
View Kamal Khera Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you for that.
Would you say that the other programs and resources available to women offenders are adequate, and what needs to change, or what can be improved?
Emilie Coyle
View Emilie Coyle Profile
Emilie Coyle
2021-06-09 19:00
They're certainly not adequate. The reason is that there is always a fear of reprisal or that your personal information will be shared with others within the prisons.
One of the recommendations we have is to ensure that there is outside counselling and treatment available for folks who come forward, or who would like to come forward, and some mechanism involved that is separate from the current structure.
I know this is not one of your questions, but I just want to say it would be quite easy for CSC to stop strip searching in federal prisons. The current legislation is permissive; it doesn't say that it has to happen, and there is absolutely no evidence that it currently is doing what it says it's doing. I would make that as another recommendation.
View Kamal Khera Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you. I was going to ask about that, so thank you for bringing that forward and for saving that time.
Ms. Emilie Coyle: That's great. Thanks.
Ms. Kamal Khera: Dr. Doob, again, thanks for all the work you do.
In one of your reports, you raised concerns regarding the lack of clarity on meaningful human contact requirements. How do you define “meaningful human contact”, and are there any examples, including from other jurisdictions, internationally, maybe, that can help staff better conceptualize the term?
Anthony Doob
View Anthony Doob Profile
Anthony Doob
2021-06-09 19:01
It's not well defined in the legislation, and that is a problem, or certainly would be a problem if CSC were even capable of providing meaningful human contact of any kind to a substantial number of prisoners.
What we're finding is, however it's defined, even CSC is telling us they're not accomplishing it.
My own feeling is that meaningful human contact is something we should be concerned about defining. At least what we have to do is to make sure that people have some form of human contact. Then we can worry about how to make it more meaningful and perhaps more human. At the moment, we're not even getting there. We're not even at the first step, let alone defining how good it is.
View Christine Normandin Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to the witnesses for being here today.
I, too, want to apologize. Unfortunately, I missed the first two witnesses' opening statements, so I apologize if any of my questions are redundant or have already been asked.
I have a question about other rights that may have been jeopardized because of the COVID‑19 pandemic. I was wondering about access to counsel. Were any problems flagged in that regard because of the pandemic?
Ms. Latimer, I see you nodding.
Catherine Latimer
View Catherine Latimer Profile
Catherine Latimer
2021-06-09 19:03
Yes. We found that access to legal services has diminished during COVID, mainly because there were extremely serious lockdowns. People were confined to their cells for excessive periods of time. They weren't getting the medical treatment that they needed for other underlying conditions. They weren't getting access to counsel.
The internal audit of the CSC indicates that when they did get access to counsel, they were often listened to, so the solicitor-client privilege element was violated. There is a whole slew of human rights abuses that go well beyond solitary confinement, but it has to be one of the most serious, given that it is defined as a form of torture. It's just inconsistent with the values of Canadians that it would be persisting in the way it is.
Emilie Coyle
View Emilie Coyle Profile
Emilie Coyle
2021-06-09 19:04
I would like to add that one of the challenges we've seen in the prisons during COVID-19 is a lack of access to private spaces to speak with lawyers. As well, in some of the prisons, people have been asked to submit reasons why they would need to speak with their lawyer, which would certainly go against privilege and confidentiality.
I want to clarify to everybody here that I hope none of the comments I made earlier would suggest that reform is going to change anything in the prisons designated for women. We cannot reform our way out of this particular issue.
I would also point to some of the recommendations made by Louise Arbour in the report on certain incidents at the prison for women to guide this committee's work as well.
View Christine Normandin Profile
BQ (QC)
Thank you.
I'm wondering how much better the situation might have been had some detention centres not been in such disrepair. I'm referring to confinement, the spread of COVID‑19 and the violation of solicitor-client privilege. Having practised some prison law, I have been to a few centres, and they were extremely dilapidated.
Would problems have been avoided had federal correctional facilities been given a little more TLC?
Catherine Latimer
View Catherine Latimer Profile
Catherine Latimer
2021-06-09 19:05
I think a lot of things could have been improved if there had been goodwill and more of a creative way to approach these things. I mean, you can see this. I talked to a lot of prisoners during this period, and they kept asking, “Why are you putting the prisoners who are ill in the hole?" That's the former segregation, which is a very untherapeutic environment. At that point, nobody was using the trailers, which make quite nice accommodation for personal family visits. Why not put the sick people in there, where they would be away from the rest and isolated? They could get the treatment they needed without infecting others.
We found throughout that there was a real problem with isolating those who were testing positive for COVID-19 from those who weren't. I think that's why you saw the huge spread, the quick spread, of COVID in those institutions where it took root. There were also fairly inexplicable things like six or seven prisoners from the reception unit at Joyceville who were transferred to other institutions in the Ontario region. They all tested positive. Why they were transferred, I don't know.
View Jack Harris Profile
NDP (NL)
Thank you, Chair.
To the witnesses, I want to thank you for coming forward, for your patience and for your dedicated work over the years on these issues.
It's very difficult to spend four minutes asking any questions that can deal with this situation, which has been called a crisis, lawless, tragic and state-sponsored torture, with sexual coercion and violence in the prisons going unrecognized and unhelped. Is it possible to fix this? We've had the Supreme Court of Canada. We've had changes in legislation. We've had your work. Still we don't see any improvement. What is the hope for this? Do we need to have a judicial inquiry?
If I could have a quick yes or no on that from the witnesses, I'd like to hear that, but I'd also like to move my motion, which will take up all of my time, to continue this study next week. When we're talking about state-sponsored torture on an ongoing basis, when we're talking about the kind of treatment we are hearing about of prisoners who are suffering from mental health issues, who are not being properly looked after, with ongoing solitary confinement, we need to continue this study. That's extremely important.
Dr. Doob, can we have a quick answer on whether a judicial inquiry is required to do this?
Anthony Doob
View Anthony Doob Profile
Anthony Doob
2021-06-09 19:08
I'm not sure what would be the best way to deal with this problem. It would seem to me that one of our first problems is that CSC is not addressing any of these issues.
Anthony Doob
View Anthony Doob Profile
Anthony Doob
2021-06-09 19:09
One of the things our report shows over and over again is a huge variability across the country. Some places are much worse than others. Why can't we learn from those experiences?
View Jack Harris Profile
NDP (NL)
But who can fix it? They're not learning, from what you say, and they're not even relating properly to you. I guess we have to find that out: How do we fix it?
Anthony Doob
View Anthony Doob Profile
Anthony Doob
2021-06-09 19:09
My own feeling is that part of what is necessary but not sufficient is a decent form of independent overview of what's going on. We don't have that. That would be a starting point.
Laura Tamblyn Watts
View Laura Tamblyn Watts Profile
Laura Tamblyn Watts
2021-06-08 11:06
Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to address you today about the pressing issue of pension reform.
My name is Laura Tamblyn Watts and I'm the CEO of CanAge, Canada's national seniors advocacy organization. We're a pan-Canadian, non-partisan, not-for-profit organization. We work to advance the rights and well-being of Canadians as they age.
With me today is Brett Book, policy officer, with whom I will be co-presenting.
Canadian pensioners need protection from corporate default, particularly during and post COVID-19. Compared to other jurisdictions, Canada lags significantly in its protection of pensioners. With this bill, government can protect pensioners at exactly zero tax impact to other Canadians. This bill puts the risk back where it belongs, in the hands of corporations.
Members of the committee, seniors vote. Overwhelmingly, 72% of all seniors vote in every election, and 89% voted in the last two federal elections. This is an election issue for them. The issue of pension protection recently scandalized the nation with the catastrophe of Sears pensioners, but it has happened many times before, and will continue to happen again until real change is made by government.
CanAge has three key arguments in support of this bill and pension reform.
First, pension protection is long overdue and COVID has changed the landscape; second, old arguments against pension reform are incorrect and outdated; and third, the financial security of seniors matters.
First, pension protection is long overdue and COVID has changed the landscape. I'd like to tell you a story about a member who reached out to us this year. I'll call him Bob. He works at Laurentian University, where his DB plan is located. Laurentian is now in dire straits. Bob's wife worked at Sears and lost her financial security when she lost her Sears pension. He cried to me, heartbroken, on the phone, and asked how it could possibly be that they both worked their whole lives and contributed to their plans, and now face poverty because they are last in line for their own money?
We know that during COVID-19 many seniors faced hard financial times, with increased costs and low interest rates. With austerity assuredly in sight soon, we also know that more employers are likely to fail. Unless government acts now to protect the deferred wages of pensioners, more seniors will be robbed of their hard-earned money and left to a future of financial insecurity. With an aging population, this is an issue of escalating importance.
I will now turn to Mr. Book to continue.
View Robert Kitchen Profile
CPC (SK)
I call the meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 35 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.
The committee is meeting today at 3:41 Ottawa time.
We will hear from the Auditor General, officials from Public Services and Procurement Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada as part of the committee's study on the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I'd like to take this opportunity to remind all participants at this meeting that taking screenshots or photos of your screen is not permitted.
To ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few rules.
Interpretation in this video conference will work very much like a regular committee meeting. You have the choice at the bottom of your screen of floor, English or French.
When you wish to speak, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are ready to speak, you can click on the microphone icon to activate your mike. When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute.
To raise a point of order during the meeting, committee members should ensure their microphone is unmuted and say “point of order” to get the chair's attention.
The clerk and the analysts are participating virtually in the meeting today. If you need to speak with them during the meeting, please email them at the committee email address. The clerk can also be reached on his mobile phone.
For those people who are participating in the committee room, please note that masks are required for all staff at all times. MPs may remove their masks only when they are seated.
I will now invite the Auditor General to make her opening statement.
Ms. Hogan.
Karen Hogan
View Karen Hogan Profile
Karen Hogan
2021-06-07 15:43
Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss our audit report on securing personal protective equipment and medical devices during the COVID‑19 pandemic. The report was tabled in the House of Commons on May 26. I am accompanied by Jean Goulet, who was the principal responsible for the audit, and Milan Duvnjak, who was the director for the audit.
The audit focused on whether the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada, before and during the COVID‑19 pandemic, helped to meet the needs of provincial and territorial governments for selected personal protective equipment such as N95 masks and medical gowns, and medical devices such as testing swabs and ventilators. The audit also focused on whether Public Services and Procurement Canada provided adequate procurement support to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
The audit showed that there were issues in planning and stockpile management before the pandemic. For example, we found that the Public Health Agency of Canada had not addressed long-standing and known issues with the systems and practices used to manage and operate the national emergency strategic stockpile.
The agency knew of these issues because they had been raised in audits and reviews going back more than a decade. As a result, the Public Health Agency of Canada was not as prepared as it should have been to deal with the surge in requests for equipment from the provinces and territories triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, from February to August 2020, the agency could deliver only 4% of the N95 masks and only 12% of medical gowns requested by the provinces and territories.
The audit also showed agility and responsiveness. Overall, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada and Public Services and Procurement Canada helped address the needs of provincial and territorial governments for personal protective equipment and medical devices. Faced with a crisis, these organizations worked around their outstanding issues with the management and oversight of the emergency equipment stockpiles, and they adapted their activities.
For example, during the pandemic, the Public Health Agency of Canada improved the way it assessed needs and allocated equipment to help meet the demand from the provinces and territories for personal protective equipment and medical devices. It also outsourced much of the warehousing and logistical support needed to deal with the exceptional volume of purchased equipment.
Similarly, Health Canada reacted to the increased demand created by the pandemic by modifying its management of licence applications from suppliers for personal protective equipment and medical devices. Public Services and Procurement Canada also made adjustments by accepting some risks to facilitate the quick purchase of large quantities of equipment in a highly competitive market where supply was not always keeping pace with demand. If the departments had not adapted their approaches to the circumstances, it is likely that the government would not have been able to acquire the volume of equipment that was needed.
Our recent audits of the government’s pandemic response continue to show that when the people who make up the federal public service are faced with a crisis, they are able to rally and focus on serving the needs of Canadians.
However, these audits also show that issues forgotten or left unaddressed have a way of coming back, typically at the worst possible time. Canada was not as well prepared to face the pandemic as it might have been had the stockpile of emergency equipment been better managed. If there is one overall lesson to learn from this pandemic, it is that government departments need to take action to resolve long-standing issues and to see the value in being better prepared for a rainy day.
We made recommendations to the audited organizations and they agreed with all of them.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening statement. We welcome all of your questions.
Thank you.
View Pierre Paul-Hus Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, Ms. Hogan.
First, I would say that we all understand that the circumstances were special at the beginning of the COVID‑19 crisis and that means had to be taken to act more quickly. This does not take away the responsibility of the civil service and the government to manage public funds well.
I would like to ask you about paragraph 10.100 of your report, where it says: “We found that the value of the advance payments made in the contracts we examined [...] totalled $618 million.”
Do you agree that the $618 million in advance payments to companies was surely exceeded?
Karen Hogan
View Karen Hogan Profile
Karen Hogan
2021-06-07 15:49
I can only imagine that that is indeed the case, given that this $618 million represents the payments made in advance for the contracts we audited, 39 of 85.
Karen Hogan
View Karen Hogan Profile
Karen Hogan
2021-06-07 15:49
I couldn't make an estimate, because I don't have all the data. This is not an accounting comparison.
View Pierre Paul-Hus Profile
CPC (QC)
Karen Hogan
View Karen Hogan Profile
Karen Hogan
2021-06-07 15:49
That is correct. All of the contracts that we audited included one of the items that we looked at in our audit, i.e. medical gowns, N95 masks, screening swabs and ventilators. We did not include all equipment that was purchased in our sample.
View Pierre Paul-Hus Profile
CPC (QC)
Fine, thank you.
You also say this in the report: “[...]Public Services and Procurement Canada took steps to recover amounts that were paid in advance when no goods were received.”
In the documents you've seen, how many contracts were there where the Government of Canada had to initiate proceedings to recover its advances because the material had not been supplied?
Karen Hogan
View Karen Hogan Profile
Karen Hogan
2021-06-07 15:50
In our sample of 39 contracts, advance payments were made in 14 cases. We found that one contract was paid in advance but the equipment hadn't yet been received. Public Services and Procurement Canada is taking action with regard to this company.
View Pierre Paul-Hus Profile
CPC (QC)
I suppose that this case concerns Tango Communication Marketing. We know that a legal process is under way. The case is public. Is this about Tango?
Karen Hogan
View Karen Hogan Profile
Karen Hogan
2021-06-07 15:51
In the case of Tango, I believe that the equipment was received, but the quality wasn't acceptable. There will probably be an exchange or a refund.
For this contract, no equipment was received.
View Pierre Paul-Hus Profile
CPC (QC)
So the government made advance payments, but didn't receive any equipment. Do you have any idea how much the contract is worth? Is it several million dollars?
Karen Hogan
View Karen Hogan Profile
Karen Hogan
2021-06-07 15:51
We've been asked to keep that information secret, since the process is still ongoing. However, it's indeed a few million dollars.
View Pierre Paul-Hus Profile
CPC (QC)
Okay, thank you.
The report refers to the emergency delegation of authority. You said the following in paragraph 10.98:
We found that the department could not always demonstrate that its officials properly followed the new emergency delegation of authority. In 41% of the original contracts examined (16 out of 39), the documentation did not show whether approval was given at the appropriate level of authority.
As mentioned, you looked at the results of the contracts where advance payments were made. However, did they meet the Treasury Board standards? We can see that, when advance payments were made, the audits weren't always done properly. What are the results?
Karen Hogan
View Karen Hogan Profile
Karen Hogan
2021-06-07 15:52
We conducted audits for the 14 contracts where advance payments were made. We looked at whether certain audits were done.
Several audits can be conducted when it comes to procurement. Not all these audits were done for procurement contracts during the pandemic. For example, a company's financial integrity or financial capability should have been assessed, as required by the procurement policies. However, we found that this analysis was done in only 50% of cases, or for seven contracts.
That's why we recommended that this assessment always be done, even in the event of a pandemic where the government decides to assume some risk in order to act more quickly.
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