THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RIGHTS
OTTAWA, Wednesday, February 8, 2017
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights met this day at 11:30 a.m., to continue its study on the issues relating to the human rights or prisoners in the correctional system.
Senator Jim Munson (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good morning, everyone. Before we start our meeting, I would ask the senators to introduce themselves.
Before the senators introduce themselves and for the public watching, this is day two of our landmark study into the human rights of prisoners in the Canadian correctional system. We began last week with very informative panels and we hope as we go along to put together an update report, hopefully in June, but this is going to take some time. This may take a couple of years, but we want to be current as well and we want to come up with a strong report and strong recommendations on human rights in Canadian prisons.
Let's have the senators introduce themselves, starting with the deputy chair.
Senator Ataullahjan: Salma Ataullahjan from Ontario.
Senator Martin: Yonah Martin from B.C.
Senator Andreychuk: Senator Andreychuk, Saskatchewan.
Senator Hubley: Senator Hubley, Prince Edward Island.
Senator McPhedran: Marilou McPhedran from Manitoba.
Senator Pate: Kim Pate from Ontario.
Senator Omidvar: Ratna Omidvar from Ontario.
Senator Bernard: Wanda Thomas Bernard from Nova Scotia.
The Chair: Our guest today in this conversation is Ivan Zinger, the Correctional Investigator. Mr. Zinger, I understand you have a few opening remarks, which will be followed by many questions. Welcome to our committee.
Ivan Zinger, Correctional Investigator, Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada: Thank you for the invitation to appear before this committee. I'm delighted to be here. It's actually my first solo appearance before a parliamentary committee, but also my first one as the new Correctional Investigator of Canada.
Let me begin by commending the committee for undertaking a study of issues relating to the human rights of incarcerated people in Canada. Your examination of these issues is timely, important and welcomed by my office.
The protection, promotion and preservation of human rights behind bars require constant vigilance. Every aspect of a prisoner's life, from whether or when they have visits or telephone calls with family and friends, to when they may access services and programming, to whether and how they may practice their religion, even when they eat and sleep, is heavily regulated, subject always to correctional power and authority.
Decisions affecting security classification, penitentiary placement, use of force, search and seizure, transfer and segregation, just to name a few, have significant life, liberty and security of the person implications for prisoners. Safe custody and humane treatment behind bars can only be achieved through the recognition that corrections is in the human rights business.
The Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada was established back in 1973 on the recommendation of a commission of inquiry into the bloody, five-day riot at Kingston Penitentiary in 1971. A key cause of that riot, as well as other serious disturbances of the early 1970s, was the lack of a fair and effective mechanism for inmates to air and resolve legitimate grievances.
In 1992, the office's mandate was entrenched in legislation — the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. Under Part III of the act, the office's mandate to conduct investigations into the problems of offenders related to decisions, recommendations, acts or omissions of the Correctional Service of Canada.
The office is an oversight, not an advocacy, body. Staff members do not take sides when resolving complaints against the Correctional Service. We look for fair decision-making and compliance with law and policy. We make recommendations to the Correctional Service to ensure safe, lawful and humane correctional practice.
Under the legislation, staff has complete and unfettered access to all federal correctional facilities, to all CSC documents, and of course staff as well as offenders. Investigators regularly visit federal institutions to meet with both offenders and staff. Our presence and visibility in penitentiaries ensure timely follow-up and access to our ombudsman services.
In terms of workload, last year the office handled one of the highest caseloads in recent years, responding to 6500 offender complaints. Investigators conducted 2200 interviews with offenders and staff and spent a cumulative total of 370 days visiting federal penitentiaries across the country. In addition, the office conducted 1800 use of force compliance reviews as well as 178 mandated reviews involving deaths in custody and serious bodily injuries. It is a heavy and demanding workload, and all this is conducted by 36 dedicated employees.
It is by no means a unique observation that some of Canada’s more vulnerable and disadvantaged groups are disproportionately represented in the correctional system. Reflecting on more than 25 years spent imprisoned for "crimes against the state", Nelson Mandela once famously observed, and I quote:
It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.
Visible minorities, Aboriginal people and women are entering federal penitentiaries in greater numbers than ever before. The incarcerated population is more culturally and ethnically diverse than ever before. Nine per cent of federal inmates are Black Canadians, close to three times their representation rate in general society. Today, 26.5 per cent of the total federal inmate population claims indigenous ancestry. More than 35 per cent of the federally sentenced women population is indigenous.
A history of disadvantage and discrimination follows an indigenous person into prison. While it is of course true that the Correctional Service does not control who is sent to a federal penitentiary, ethnic or cultural identity should not determine or prejudice the experience or outcome of incarceration. By any and all measures, however, correctional outcomes are consistently and overwhelmingly poorer for indigenous offenders compared to any other group or population. Indigenous offenders are held longer and at higher security levels than their non-indigenous counterparts. Indigenous inmates experience higher rates of segregation and are disproportionately involved in use of force incidents. They are much more likely to be denied parole or have their release revoked.
Federal prisons reflect the nation’s aging demographics. The inmate population is aging and growing older behind bars. One in four federal inmates are now aged 50 or older. The number of long-serving inmates is increasing, creating a stacking effect. One in five federal inmates is serving a life sentence. Over the last decade, the number of offenders age 50 or over in custody has increased by 77 per cent. There are now 3,500 inmates over the age of 50 in federal penitentiaries. This population experiences greater hardships in prison, has worse health outcomes and is one of the most expensive age cohorts to incarcerate while posing the least risk to safety. Few terminally ill inmates are ever released to the community. Most die prematurely (average age is between 60 and 62), sometimes in less than dignified conditions.
Mental health issues are at least three times more common in Canadian prisons than in the general population. More than 30 per cent of male offenders require psychological or psychiatric services and more than half of all women inmates have an identified mental health need. Federal inmates are prescribed psychotropic medications at a rate that is four times higher than the Canadian population. To complicate matters, the majority of offenders upon admission have an alcohol or substance abuse disorder.
In a correctional setting, such high prevalence rates come with challenges — self-harming and suicidal behaviours, use of force, segregation, physical restraints, involuntary treatment and certifications under mental health legislation. Last year, mental health issues or concerns were identified in over 37 per cent of all use of force interventions. In 2015-16, 54 per cent of use of force incidents involving an offender engaged in self-injury was managed by way of an inflammatory agent, typically pepper spray. Such responses cannot be considered desirable or appropriate from a therapeutic or human rights perspective. Some significantly mentally ill offenders simply do not belong, nor can they be safely or humanely managed, in a federal correctional facility.
There is sound reason why the rule of law follows an offender into prison and why legality does not stop at the prison gate. Even while deprived of liberty, the prisoner is still a citizen. The Corrections and Conditional Release Act puts it this way: "offenders retain the rights of all members of society except those that are, as a consequence of the sentence, lawfully and necessarily removed or restricted." Imprisonment does not mean total deprivation or absolute forfeiture of rights. Prisoners maintain the right to be treated with dignity and respect. They have the right to safety and security of the person, the right to be treated humanely, and to be free from torture, degrading or inhumane treatment or punishment.
An environment where prisoners are at higher risk of being assaulted or injured, self-harming, committing suicide, dying prematurely, contracting communicable diseases or being subjected to use of force or segregation is not conducive of rehabilitation, nor is it in the best interest of public safety. Inmates who are embittered and hardened by their prison experience are not likely to be easily rehabilitated, much less adequately prepared to make their way safely back to the community.
Thank you again for the invitation to appear before this committee. I look forward to your questions.
The Chair: Thank you. That was very informative. We will turn to questions, and, as per our protocol and tradition, we will start with our deputy chair.
Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you for your presentation this morning.
There was an article printed on January 25 this year where they quoted you extensively. In the report of 2014-15, the issue of the aging prison population was singled out as an issue of concern, citing that one in four federal inmates were 50 years of age or older at the time of the report. It has been reported that your office routinely receives complaints from aging offenders who say they don't have the access they need to specialists, medical devices or diets. Last year, the Correctional Service Canada accepted your recommendation to develop and implement a strategy for older offenders, which is scheduled to be completed in 2017-18 fiscal year.
What were some of the key elements that you recommended and what did you recommend would be included in the strategy? Could you share some of that with us?
Mr. Zinger: This is definitely an issue around which we have grave concern. It is not a new issue. In terms of the emergence of the aging population growing, this issue was raised back in 2000. At that time, the Correctional Service of Canada publicly announced it would develop a strategy for aging offenders. It actually put in place a branch specializing in older offenders. Shortly thereafter, this initiative was set aside. It was very unfortunate, because since then, that segment of the population has grown dramatically.
I am pleased to hear that the service will finally put in place such a strategy. There are many aspects of that strategy that will be important. We need a strategy that will ensure that the infrastructure is responsive to their particular needs and that routines are developed around mobility issues as well as aging. We need programming and work, if work is required, that is adapted to their special needs.
We've also got to ask some really important questions about what happens to those who are, for example, palliative or require end-of-life care. The current system now, I think, violates human decency in too many cases where offenders die in prison, behind bars. It's a very costly approach to managing these offenders. It has no public safety benefits, and again, it raises human rights issues. Individuals who are palliative or terminally ill with chronic diseases that causes impairment should be released back into the community where they can die in dignity. The Correctional Service Canada has got to ensure there is bed space in the community to make the transition.
It's even more important now that we have laws with respect to assisted dying. Those decisions should be made in the community, not while incarcerated, with the hope that the release will happen just a few days before the procedure takes place.
There are some best practices. I know, for example, at Pacific Institution there is a program where a unit is dedicated to offenders who are elderly. They have trained offenders to basically provide care and support to those individuals, and they are paid for their work. There are many halfway houses out there that would welcome funding to be able to accommodate some of those cases. I hope that the Correctional Service Canada acts quickly and starts unrolling some good initiatives to address that group.
The Chair: I remind senators to put your name on the list as soon as possible. We have lots of time.
Senator Hubley: Welcome, and thank you for your presentation. I have questions on a couple of issues, but the first one I would like to have you address is the 6,500 offender complaints that had been responded to as a workload. I'm wondering if you can give us the nature of those complaints. Are they categorized in any way, or do you know what the major and lesser concerns are, if that is included in the 6,500?
Mr. Zinger: Yes. You will see a breakdown of those 6,500 complaints. In terms of data, it's at the back of our annual reports. We keep statistics in terms of the most common complaints.
In terms of percentage, health care and conditions of confinement are at the top of the list. Then we have issues around involuntary transfers and placements in segregation. We also have cell effects, when things go missing. So there is a variety of issues. Historically and consistently, access to health care and conditions of confinement have been the big two. Not that far behind are issues with respect to interactions with staff. These are the things we investigate and spend a lot of our investigative time trying to resolve.
Senator Andreychuk: I have a supplementary. Regarding the interaction with staff, is the only avenue an inmate would have is to you if there isn't a satisfactory resolution on the ground, if I could put it that way? Second, how many of the complaints are between inmates, if any, or is it really with respect to the institution only?
Mr. Zinger: With respect to avenues of redress, the Correctional Service Canada has its own internal grievance system. They have a complex system with several layers. They promote the informal resolution of issues. Then it can go into a grievance that is written to the wardens, and then it can be brought to the attention of national headquarters, with a representative of the commissioner being the last level of redress.
We have documented time and again that the process is dysfunctional, and it takes too long to resolve issues, so when we have serious matters brought to our attention, irrespective of whether the offender has filed a complaint with the internal system, we will investigate and make recommendations. Those complaints can be quite important. One about a placement in segregation or an involuntary transfer can take upwards of six months to a year to get resolved and get through all those levels of the complaint system.
With respect to the complaints we receive, it's generally always conflict between the offender population and the administration. If there's conflict between inmates — there are some allegations sometimes, for example, that some assaults could have been prevented. We investigate, of course. We review every single use of force carried out by the service. Those are the kinds of things we do.
Senator Hubley: Thank you for that intervention, Senator Andreychuk.
I was interested that access to health care was one of the main issues. What is the policy within the Correctional Service pertaining to inmates' ability to get medical attention if needed?
Mr. Zinger: The Correctional Service of Canada, by law, has the statutory obligation to provide essential health care services as well as nonessential health care services.
If the committee actually tours an institution, I strongly suggest that you always pay attention to visiting the health care unit. There are dedicated nurses and doctors. They provide dental services, and they sometimes even provide X-ray services on site.
The complaints we usually get are typically about delays in accessing services, and we would try to resolve these with the institutions. With some complaints, we have challenges in terms of responding. For example, offenders will come to us and complain that there has been a change in their medications. There are a lot of contentious issues around pain medication, as well as psychotropic medication, because in the correctional setting there are some views that, given their past history of substance abuse, the majority of those offenders may be seeking medication for other purposes.
It's a constant tension and a very difficult position for Corrections to be in. I think it's a no-win kind of situation on these cases because if they don't provide the medication, they can be accused of not providing the proper health care, and if they provide a lot of medication, they can be accused of trying to drug their inmate population. It's a really difficult situation.
The fact is that so many are on psychotropic drugs, and when we ask pointed questions to the Correctional Service of Canada about what conditions they are for, they at this point can't tell us for which purposes those drugs are being used, whether they are being used off-label or not. However, they are working on it, and with a bit more time for them to computerize their pharmacies as well as their health care files, I think we will see a better ability to gather some of that information and get a better understanding of what those drugs are being prescribed for.
Senator Hubley: Thank you very much.
Senator Bernard: I wanted to follow up on the question asked by Senator Hubley and your response, Mr. Zinger, around the nature of the complaints. I'm wondering if your office does any intersectional analysis of those complaints. For example, is there evidence of patterns of unconscious bias or discrimination based on sexual identity, sexual orientation or issues of race? Is your office able to provide that kind of information in terms of the nature of the complaints you're investigating?
Mr. Zinger: Unfortunately, our computer system is quite outdated, and we have been waiting for central agencies to assist us in terms of changing our platform, which would allow us to do more refined searches and be able to better identify trends. Now, after many years, we’ve finally been told which system we can use, and we will move our data collection through that new system, which I'm hoping will be able to provide us a better ability to look at that kind of data.
It's always a little bit difficult. We have complaints from offenders dealing with, for example, allegations of prejudice or discrimination and racism. With those ones, we have a tendency to refer them to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. They're in a better position in terms of expertise, and it's really consistent with their mandate. For these types of issues, we tend to often refer cases like that.
When we talk about mental health, as you know, it's a big issue right now in corrections. For example, we often get complaints about segregation placement or transfer. The complaint would be in our system labelled as challenging a decision to transfer an individual to a higher security classification or a placement in segregation. When we start digging, we find out that what prompted the issue was mental health.
There are often things on the surface of the complaint where we categorize it, because that's the decision being challenged, but underneath we may find issues around mental health. It could also be negative interaction between staff and inmates that triggered an incident, which could have been fuelled by offensive language or something like that. So we'll look at that and investigate it.
As I say, I'm hoping in the future we will have better data for this.
Senator McPhedran: Thank you for your presentation. I think I caught you inserting reference to having 36 staff.
Mr. Zinger: Yes.
Senator McPhedran: I will ask two questions related to that. Before I ask the questions, I want to express my regrets to the committee; I'm also on the Defence Committee and it has a conflict, so I'm shuttling. I'm not leaving out of a lack of interest.
First question: Is this adequate staffing? Is this optimal staffing?
The question in addition to that is: Are there non-monetary changes, systemic changes perhaps, that you think would support your mandate if those changes were brought about?
Mr. Zinger: You're talking about within my current allocation. Is that what you mean?
Senator McPhedran: Yes. The first question is obviously financially related, in asking about adequacy or the optimal number of staff. The second question is not with a focus on an infusion of money but rather systemic changes or policy changes that might be needed to more efficiently meet your mandate.
Mr. Zinger: Yes, it's a challenge. I certainly feel that with more resources, we would be in a better position to fulfill our mandate. I can tell you that, yes, we have developed a business case to try to go after some additional funding.
It's very difficult for a small agency. This is something that I can raise. I have a budget of just over $4 million, and 80 per cent of that budget is for salaries. It's difficult for small agencies when doing a business case and trying to get $1 million. Big departments have processes where they can go to cabinet and can get these things approved, but usually they're dealing with much larger amounts. We don't have that luxury. I'm certainly hoping that in the next business cycle, we will do what we've done before.
I certainly would like to do more with those systemic issues, investigations. I think they have great deal of benefit in terms of addressing issues that may, in the end, lower your number of individual complaints. Instead of constantly dealing with individual complaints, if you resolve it at a systemic level then hopefully you will do better.
This government has put forward some very ambitious commitments to address issues related to the overrepresentation of indigenous people. They've also made commitments to address the issues around administrative segregation, the criminalization of the mentally ill and their overrepresentation in the criminal justice system, as well as the 104 recommendations of Ashley Smith. We could assist the government in terms of making some sense of these, and we could certainly do some work in some of these key areas.
As I said, we have a problem in terms of our information system that could be improved — all sorts of things. So thank you for raising the issue and, yes, we could do with a bit more. With little over 4 million, I don't have the ability to do more than what we do. We're a very omnipresent agency. We've gained a lot of credibility. We have a website that has over 7 million hits a year, which is unheard of for a small agency of our size. That's all I can say.
Senator Pate: Dr. Zinger, congratulations on your new role.
I would like you to comment on a couple of things from your current perspective as well as from the perspectives you have had in the past working for the Correctional Service Canada and Public Safety Canada, and as a psychologist and a lawyer.
One of the things your office has done and you have been part of in your previous roles is to really look at some of the systemic as well as the individual human rights issues that have arisen in prisons. There are a couple of things I would ask you to comment on, first and foremost being the manner in which the law has been interpreted by corrections, although it's influenced by others within the government.
In particular, I want your comments on the areas where you could be seeing people released right now into a more appropriate setting — sections 29, 81 and 84 in particular — and the manner in which, instead of applying those sections in a way that is more robust and allows for individuals to be in the community, whether serving their sentences or on parole, we've seen them applied in a very restrictive way. I would like you to correct me if you think I'm wrong, but my read is that, with section 29, we could be seeing many of the individuals you appropriately have documented, Ashley Smith and others, in appropriate mental health settings in the community. Sections 81 and 84 would allow for not just indigenous people who are now in prison or on parole but also other ethno cultural and racialized groups, as well as other groups such as aging or trans populations, to be in the community in appropriate settings, serving their sentences and/or on parole. I'd like you to comment, if you can, on how the policies have actually limited what the law says could be done right now.
If there's time — and I don't want to get into other senators' times — talk about what you see some of the biggest challenges being in this area in terms of how we move forward in terms of promoting human rights on a systemic level. We will hear a lot about individual complaints, and you hear lots of individual complaints, but maybe you could start with that.
Mr. Zinger: Maybe I could illustrate a little bit my concern about how the law is seen to be sometimes applied in an almost discretionary fashion.
As you may know, I've published an article that reviewed correctional outcomes between 2005 and 2015. During those years, there was an unprecedented number of pieces of tough-on-crime legislation. The outcome of those has been that, despite fear that we would end up like an American system and there would be mass incarceration, the number of offenders did increase by a factor of 10 per cent over 10 years.
However, what happened is that the impact was not so much on the numbers but on how the offender population profile changed. We saw that certain groups did not fare very well under those 10 years. We saw a huge growth in terms of Aboriginals, who were already grossly overrepresented. We saw increases with women and Black offenders. It's a question of social justice and how those pieces of legislation moved things.
When I did some work around that, I looked at a series of prison health indicators: what happens to the numbers of complaints, the placement of segregation, involuntary transfer, use of force, death in custody, suicide, et cetera? The correctional outcomes for that decade were very poor, so there was an impact.
I said, "Okay, that's that decade, but what happened since 2015?" I wanted to know whether a new government, with a new approach and new, clear commitments in terms of views of the world, would have an impact. I reviewed and pulled out the statistics from the Correctional Service Canada on the impact of the new government.
I found that despite the fact that there is no new criminal law that has been tabled by this government and no new budget allocation to corrections or to the criminal justice system, and we still have the same senior management team and the same commissioner at the helm of the Correctional Service Canada, despite nothing having changed, we have actually seen some improvements on a number of indicators.
We've seen more releases into the community; more section 84s, which are community releases typically granted to Aboriginal individuals. We have seen reductions in the number of complaints and grievances and a drastic reduction in terms of administrative segregation placement. We've also seen reductions in use of force, death in custody, suicide, attempted suicide, self-injury, serious bodily injuries and double bunking.
The question for me remains. The law and regulations haven't changed, the people in place haven't changed, the budget hasn't changed, so how come, with a simple change of government and distancing ourselves from a tough-on-crime stance, the system is improving so much?
On the one hand, I would say this is great news. It means that the Correctional Service Canada, as an impartial part of the civil service, is responding to the new government and the new direction of the new government. That's great for democracy, and I'm actually very happy that all those indicators have improved.
But the cynical part of me suggests, "Well, if the law hasn't changed, how come the law is being applied differently?" How come we're seeing more recommendations to grant parole? How come the parole board is recommending more? How come we've seen a drop of 800 offenders being admitted? In terms of the sheer inmate population since the government has taken power, we saw a reduction, so now the inmate population at the federal level is about 14,200, a reduction of 800 people. That's two medium-sized penitentiaries, with no changes in criminal law.
It looks like simply corporate focus can actually dictate how the law is applied and how rigorously the law is applied. For me, that's troubling. Especially when we talk about parole, the test is in the law. The law hasn't changed. The individual is an undue risk to society; that hasn't changed. With segregation, there are no changes. It's supposed to be the last resort. In fact, we're down to 375 offenders in segregation, back from about two or three years ago when we were at 800. Why is it suddenly that we're seeing these things?
The rule of law seems to be subjected to corporate focus, let's put it that way, and it can have negative effects or positive effects. We're seeing some positive effects, which I'm very happy with.
Senator Pate: To clarify, with the particular questions about the policies that are in place, is it your view that sections 81 and 84 interpret the law in the way that the law was intended?
Mr. Zinger: Section 84 is less problematic than section 81. Right now, a third of releases of Aboriginal offenders are done through section 84, so that's about 400 individuals on release with the section 84 agreement. This is when Correctional Service of Canada negotiated with Aboriginal communities for the supervision of Aboriginal or indigenous offenders.
The problem is with section 81. It was a wonderful provision from 1992. Since then, it was about negotiating with the Aboriginal community for the custody of an indigenous individual. We have less than 100 bed spaces for that, often below capacity, and that has never been implemented as it was designed. I think it falls short, and the investments have all been for institutional corrections, which is dictated by the Correctional Service Canada and isn't responsive, in my view, to the needs of Aboriginal offenders. I would sure like to see a huge change in terms of endorsing those provisions. Parliament has made it clear that this was the way to go. In my view, those provisions have not been implemented to their fullest.
The Chair: We have 15 minutes. Time is always our enemy, but you're coming back to see us. I know that because we need to hear more from you.
Senator Martin: Thank you, Mr. Zinger, and to my colleagues for their very interesting and probing questions. My focus goes to some of the stats you have shared regarding mental health. From my own experience, dealing with services for mental health in civil society is very complicated. There is the silo effect between health authorities and privacy issues. It's really challenging for anyone to navigate their way to receive the services.
I'm wondering how that plays out in the prison system, not just the mental health and well-being of the prisoners, the prison population and what needs to be done and the complexities around that, but also the correctional officers. I'm curious whether your review of what's happening in the system regarding mental health and the challenges in dealing with it would also capture what's happening with the Correctional Service personnel, or is it focused purely on the inmates and prisoners? In dealing with these challenges, what are those key recommendations that should inform not just Corrections Canada but Health Canada and perhaps other departments that need to be working together to address this growing issue in and out of prison, but specifically in the correctional system?
Mr. Zinger: Again, Corrections is one of those rare departments that provides health care directly to the population covered under their legislation.
There is some need, and we have been quite critical in commenting on this issue now for a decade. It's not going away. The latest concern that we have, and maybe that's where I should start, is that Correctional Service of Canada developed a mental health strategy and revised that strategy on a few occasions. The latest thing they did was deciding to implement what they call the "optimal model of care" from the World Health Organization. They modified it. They don't call it optimal, but "refined model."
In essence, Corrections has five regional treatment centres designated as hospitals to provide psychiatric/psychological beds for offenders. In the system, there were about 700 of those beds in those five regional treatment centres. After many years of us advocating for implementing intermediate care units across the system, which would provide opportunities to reduce the number of segregated offenders by providing an environment that would be more responsive to the mental health needs of those individuals that didn't require hospitalization, the service shut down two-thirds of their psychiatric beds to finance the capacity for intermediate care. That was an incredibly drastic and bold approach. I don't believe for a moment that two-thirds of those individuals who were somehow hospitalized in psychiatric beds didn't require hospitalization. What we heard from wardens across the country is that the capacity should have been increased, not decreased, for those psychiatric beds.
So we're quite pleased that intermediate care units have been rolled out throughout the service. That was good, and I think part of the success of the service to reduce their numbers of offenders in segregation is partly attributable to the fact that they've done this, but it raises a lot of questions, and we suggested that this be evaluated independently because it's problematic for us. Hopefully you will visit some of those regional treatment centres, and if you talk to the health care professionals, you'll see that they're also concerned.
When there's an incident, even in those regional treatment centres, the first responders are almost invariably correctional officers. That's the big difference, and that's where we have a lot of problems. The response should be a therapeutic one. It should be led by health care professionals. These individuals are patients first. Yes, they're prisoners as well, but they're patients first.
That's the difference between the model that exists in the community, in best practices. So if you go to Pinel or Brockville, you'll see that at those facilities, the first responders are always health care professionals. Security is at the back to make sure there are no incidents. When I talk about incidents of self-harming, it shouldn't be correctional officers responding because their response will be one of use of force and pepper spray. In a sense, we're putting correctional officers in a very awkward position to do something that they shouldn't be doing. We have to look at how to completely change the responses to those kinds of medical distresses, emergencies or incidents of mental health crisis.
Senator Martin: Chair, I will ask a follow-up only if there's time after other senators have asked their questions.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you, senator. I have to leave shortly, so it's really kind of you to let me get my question in.
Dr. Zinger, I'm looking at your website, and I want to first congratulate you on its clarity. I wish other governmental agencies were as clear on what funds were used and how many staff were involved. It's really clear and accountable. So congratulations to you on that.
I know that you have 36 FTEs. What's not noted in this report, and I ask the question so that perhaps you will note it in your report, is how do these 36 FTEs measure up to your commitments under employment equity? Do you exceed these commitments because of the nature of the work you do and because of the demographic makeup of individuals who are prisoners in our system?
Mr. Zinger: Thank you for the positive comments on our website. I'm glad to hear it, because we have still objected to the pressure for us to go under the new web renewal initiative, which would roll us into the canada.ca website. We are still fighting that one in terms of ensuring that we remain independent in the way we are perceived by the public and in fact.
Because we're a small agency and below 100 people, we do not fall under the employment equity requirements for our workforce. But of course we are in the human rights business, so we try our best. I don't have numbers, because we don't officially keep numbers on that, but I have a number of staff who are Aboriginal, Black and even members from the LGBTQ community. I am quite proud of the diversity we have in our office. We also have a significant number of women in our office. We have to lead by example, even if the law does not require us to do so.
Senator Omidvar: Congratulations on that. Even if the law doesn't require you to do so, I would publish those figures as a best-in-class kind of example, if that's what you think you are.
Could I have another little tiny question, chair?
The Chair: Yes, you may.
Senator Omidvar: I want to ask you a question about whistle-blowing and whether correctional officers and correctional staff have adequate routes and safeguards to voice complaints, to dissent, or to oppose policies or instructions that are in the institution?
Mr. Zinger: This is a bit outside my mandate, but indirectly it does touch my mandate. I encourage you to look at the ethical survey that was conducted in 2012 by the Correctional Service of Canada. It's a survey of its employees. There was a subsequent survey of all employees for the public service. There's another one dated 2014.
You will find that the service work environment has much lower and worse results than most of government with respect to harassment and discrimination. They don't fare well. I have some figures here. Both surveys found about the same things, with slight differences in numbers but the same trends.
Thirty-one per cent of staff that responded to the survey for Correctional Service of Canada claimed they experienced harassment in the previous two years compared to only 19 per cent for the rest of the public service. Part of what troubles me is also the source of that harassment. It is twice as more likely that the harassment comes from colleagues or supervisors than from offenders. For me, the issue is that when the work environment is not optimum in terms of health, safety and employer of choice, it may have an impact on the delivery of their mandate, and it may affect offenders.
I think this is an issue that needs to be addressed. It's probably better addressed by the Canadian Human Rights Commission than by my office. But I am concerned that if there is a bad relationship with management, labour and there is an environment that is poisoned, it can have an impact on offenders.
Those surveys also provide a clear indication that staff are not coming forward because of fear of reprisal. That also is concerning to me, because they acknowledge witnessing harassment, bullying and abuse, and the good staff are fearful to come forward. Again, that directly impacts my mandate. I'll leave it at that.
The Chair: Thank you. It's very important for us to know that.
Senator Bernard: I don't think there will be time for Mr. Zinger to actually answer my question in the time we have, and there are others waiting.
The Chair: Put your observations on the table.
Senator Bernard: In your opening remarks, Mr. Zinger, you talked about the history of disadvantage and discrimination and how that follows indigenous persons into the prisons. The same is true for Black prisoners. We often use the term "school-to-prison pipeline." I don't want a response now, because I'd like a fuller discussion of this, but looking specifically at the Black prisoners, what steps are Correctional Service of Canada taking to strengthen programming both inside prisons and in the community for Black prisoners? Also, what's being done to improve the human rights of Black inmates, which has been well documented by your predecessor as somewhat problematic?
Again, as I said, they are big questions that cannot be answered today, but if you could take them, and if there is a return visit . . .
The Chair: We would like to have you give the committee the answers in writing, if you could, to these two very pertinent questions. I think it would be helpful. I don't think you would mind doing that.
Mr. Zinger: Not at all. I will be happy to do it within the next couple of weeks.
The Chair: Senator Martin wanted a brief observation, and then we have to go to the next panel.
Senator Martin: It's a comment, and I'm wondering what the best practices look like. When you say first responders should be health professionals, I'm trying to envision it. In a prison environment with a violent outburst, how would it work? I know pepper spray isn't something we want to see, but in response to just containing the situation and to ensure the safety of that individual as well as others, I would like to look at what some of those best practices are and talk about them. What does this statement look like in practice, and how can we improve the systems?
Mr. Zinger: I can actually offer suggestions to the committee. When you do decide — and I understand you may visit some institutions across the country — given the high prevalence of mental health issues in institutions, you should go and visit Brockville or Institut Philippe-Pinel in Montreal to see how it's done, given the same kind of population that they're managing. Then you will see that it's night and day. Go see some best practices. There are some other ones in Alberta and Nova Scotia at the provincial level. If you wanted to see how it's done and how it should be done, then please do so.
The Chair: You took away my last question. I was going to ask: Where would you recommend we go first? We're going to a lot of institutions, and we see increases in indigenous, women, Black population and mental health. Those are the four issues I see emerging. If you were sitting in my seat, where would you go first?
Mr. Zinger: Human rights issues are problematic and may be more acute in higher security institutions than in lower, but there are also concerns about human rights issues in minimum security. I would even go further.
Back almost 20 years ago, when I worked for the Correctional Service of Canada, I was part of a working group on human rights. We did a report on community corrections and the issues around human rights. I think there are also human rights issues and concerns in the community, because corrections can very easily return a person back into prison. There is a lot at stake and a lot of possibility for abuse. It is not without abuse in the community.
I think you should see the best practices, the best institutions, and the ones with a problematic and long history of concerns. You should visit women's institutions and men's institutions. I'm happy to provide some suggestions to the committee.
The Chair: Please do, yes.
Mr. Zinger: I will do that as well in my written response.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Zinger, for being with us. As I said before, it was a very informative discussion and provided a lot of evidence that we need. We hope to see you back here soon.
On our second panel today, we welcome, from the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, Jason Godin, who is the national president. I thought you were going to have two other folks with you, but you're on your own, sir. You have an opening statement, I understand, and we'll have many questions, as you probably heard from the previous panel.
Jason Godin, National President, UCCO-SACC-CSN:
Thank you very much. I want to thank you for the invitation. I will go over my presentation. I wasn't sure exactly what the committee was looking for, but I'm going to put my material on the table from the union and we'll see.
Again, I'd like to thank you for inviting the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers to speak with you today. I'm joined by my colleague Éric Thibault, National Vice-President. Our union represents over 7,200 members working in all federal institutions across Canada, including treatment centres. We are first responders behind the walls of institutions when incidents occur, acting sometimes as police officer, paramedic and firefighter.
As our mandate says, we contribute to public safety by actively encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control. We do this 365 days a year, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, and I can assure you that's no easy task.
Correctional officers in our country are working under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which clearly states that "offenders retain the rights of all members of society except those that are, as a consequence of the sentence, lawfully and necessarily removed or restricted."
Among those fundamental human rights, there is the right to security of person. To ensure this right is preserved and to fulfill our mandate, correctional officers need many tools, one of which is the use of administrative segregation. Over the last year, there has been a lot said about this practice, and it's fair to say there are a lot of misconceptions around the use of segregation in Canada.
First, as the words can be misleading, it is important to say that in our view there is no such thing as solitary confinement in our country. We are not a Third World country, and solitary confinement is best left to the Hollywood movie producers.
We use administrative segregation to separate an inmate from general population for a multitude of reasons, such as preventing inmate-on-inmate assaults, inmate-on-staff assaults, self-harming inmates that need direct observation, disciplinary cases and those inmates that seek protection for numerous reasons.
While solitary confinement isolates inmates from any human contact for 22 to 24 hours a day, in administrative segregation, the inmates are in contact with staff regularly and sometimes even more than when they are in general population.
Also, it's important to understand that for correctional officers, segregation is always a last-resort solution. Although the reality of our work environment would not allow us to carry out our mandate without this tool, we never use it lightly.
During the past decade, the offender population has changed. According to CSC's Strategic Plan for Human Resource Management, 2007-10, the changing offender population presents significant security and reintegration challenges. That trend continues today. In recent years, the offender population has been increasingly characterized by offenders with extensive histories of violence and violent crimes, previous youth and adult convictions, affiliations with gangs and organized crime, serious substance abuse histories and problems, serious mental health disorders, and higher rates of infection with Hepatitis C and HIV.
Although the numbers of incidents have not increased significantly, these numbers do not tell the true story in terms of the intensity of violence of the incidents that occurs in the institutions. In the past, inmates would take great care to hide from correctional officers an assault or an attempt to murder a fellow inmate. That is no longer the case. Increasingly, officers report inmates are launching brazen attacks with no effort at all to shield their violence. Those trend lines are clear and continue to demonstrate a more intensive need for security in federal penitentiaries.
Effective management of these situations and of this more complex offender population requires greater resources, increases in specialized services such as mental health care for offenders, more distinct and targeted interventions, and new training and equipment for staff.
Also, as an essential tool, the use of administrative segregation is paramount in keeping staff and inmates safe inside the walls. As I stated previously, administrative segregation allows correctional officers to manage disruptive inmates, ensuring that the rights of staff are protected and the rights of inmates are respected.
Another important matter for us is how to manage inmates who suffer from mental illness. This constitutes a growing sector of the incarcerated population of federal institutions. As a union, we do not debate the wisdom or the morality of this shift. Our priorities are the security of the institutions and the safety of inmates and staff.
UCCO-SACC-CSN's position is to maintain an integrated approach to the management of this class of inmate. The union fully supports psychological treatment but insists on the need to recognize that the potential for violence and unpredictable behaviour remains, as does the resulting need for proper security protocols. In order for effective treatment to take place, the institutional environment must be safe and secure.
The primary role of correctional officers in our treatment centres is to provide that safe and secure environment for treatment to take place. We need all correctional officers to be trained on mental health issues, not just a targeted select group. In order to do this, more resources are required.
In addition to health care professionals available at treatment centres and regional hospitals, the union has repeatedly advocated for the government to resource funding for all institutions across Canada to ensure that health care staff are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to deal with inmates with mental health issues who are not housed in treatment centres.
In 2014-15, correctional officers conducted over 2,000 medical interventions with inmates. Many of those interventions were related to mental illness, and although this work is part of our mandate, we don't have all the skills of health care professionals; yet we are expected to perform this role with limited training. The presence of these professionals at all times in the institutions is a necessity to ensure that we're able to carry out our mandate.
The other demographic group we want to bring to the attention of the committee today is the high-risk women offenders. It is a constantly growing group, as the federally sentenced women incarcerated population has increased by almost 38 per cent over the last 10 years. The high-risk female inmates we're referring to are those violent, high risk — risk to public safety, risk to escape and to the institution as a whole — and those with serious mental health conditions that elevates them to a higher level of risk to be a danger to themselves, staff and other inmates.
The series of violent confrontations at the Kingston Prison for Women in April 1994 were a catalyst for sweeping changes to the Correctional Service of Canada policies governing the incarceration the federally sentenced women. From this, five women's prisons and one female healing lodge were built, with housing units similar to men's minimum-security institutions on the basis of community living. In 2002, maximum security units were built within the compounds, which consisted of a small segregation range on each of three or four cells maximum.
The Commission of Inquiry into certain events at the Prison for Women in Kingston, led by Madam Justice Louise Arbour, issued a number of recommendations that continue to inform the management of the network of institutions for women that was subsequently developed in each of CSC's administrative regions across the country. One of the commission's key recommendations concerned the use of segregation: "that the practice of long-term confinement in administrative segregation be brought to an end."
Unfortunately, violent incidents in institutions for women still give rise to prolonged segregation of inmates. Disturbances in segregation areas continue to occur on a regular basis, accompanied at times by interventions of the institutional emergency response team. In recent years, correctional officers, other CSC personnel and inmates have been taken hostage, assaulted, injured and threatened with death in a wave of incidents that repeatedly involved a hard core of female inmates.
The small segregation units have a low cell count of three to four — not one larger in our five women's institutions. The segregation ranges are not only being used for administrative segregation but also as the secure observation ranges for those inmates who require a high, often constant, level of mental health monitoring. There are no other observation ranges available in the women's institutions outside the segregation ranges that are located on the maximum security units.
Although the management protocol has been dismantled and replaced with what CSC has named "mental health monitoring" — Commissioner's Directive 843 — this is no different to a segregation placement outside of the legal documentation presented on their institutional files. When placed at this cell level with direct observation by a correctional officer, they may not be an "administrative segregation placement," yet still limited when it comes to cell effects, unsupervised or unescorted movements and interventions.
With these cases, our mandate as correctional officers by CSC now is to enter immediately once an inmate becomes violent toward themselves. In so doing, it usually results in these inmates refocusing their violent self-injurious actions toward us, the correctional officers. These frequent assaults on staff are some of our highest assaults/acts of violence we encounter/experience, often daily with these women inmates.
The frequency with which these events recur invalidates the notion that new models of incarceration in new institutions by themselves would resolve most of the problems that were common in previous penitentiary approaches. The direct impact of these incidents on staff and inmates should not be underestimated. We have no choice but to conclude that a certain percentage of maximum-security female inmate population represents an ongoing and unacceptable threat to the security of units.
Presently, the only structural option for some of these inmates is at our Regional Psychiatric Centre in the Prairie region. This is a specialized psychiatric unit specific to female inmates with specific needs. The issue here is that inmate classifications are not considered. Those of all classifications are housed here while participating in counselling. All movement of these inmates are conducted the same, not always monitoring the risk to us. The staffing level of correctional officers is very low on this unit, and it does not compare to women's institutions. To date, the sending institution must have consent from the inmate to be transferred to this treatment unit, and this unit does not have the cell capacity to house all our violent, mentally ill inmates and is by no means a high-security unit available for higher-functioning, maximum high-risk inmates.
Even if the correctional model described in the Arbour report remains an attractive goal, punitive discipline persists as a feature of prison life for incarcerated women, simply because no other safe alternatives exist. Offenders sometimes serve long terms of imprisonment in segregation pursuant to what used to be called the offender management protocol but now exists as a mental health monitoring — or simply no longer — administrative segregation stays as the only safe option.
Increasingly, both the high-risk violent inmates, those at a high risk to public safety as well as those who are at a high risk to assault themselves and all others, have different needs and require greater supervision and specialized unit structures than do most women inmates in maximum-security institutions. These inmates continue to be repeatedly transferred between the five institutions, but the receiving institution is usually no better equipped to deal with the high-risk inmate. Another institution is thus exposed to a predictable cycle of violence without any consistent interventions, mental health professionals or institutional routines. These multiple transfers prompt us to associate them with an escalation in the violent acts committed by these inmates.
The current procedure for handling these cases has a direct impact upon the daily operations of the secure units where your regular population of maximum-security inmates is housed. Often these inmates residing on the segregation ranges are being managed on secure movement plans where it takes all three officers designated to this unit to complete any of their daily movement outside cell level. This completely mobilizes the daily operations of the secure unit, thus allowing inmates to avoid our dynamic security.
Any planned staff intervention with our higher-risk inmates, the general secure-unit inmates, must cease their activities and return to their cells. Terminating their activities in this way and limiting their movements over a long period creates a dissatisfaction and increases the level of tension in the unit.
In addition, many of the general max inmates require much heavier supervision due to antisocial personalities or severe mental health disorders. Isolating them from interaction with the personnel can lead to an increase in their level of anxiety. We can then be confronted with aggravated situations, with a nonetheless limited staff capacity to take action. Accordingly, this compromises the security of staff, the inmates and indeed the entire institution.
While segregating high-risk women for very long periods of time does effectively provide a means for managing the risk they represent, the union is conscious that this practice in no way responds to their considerable needs. The fact that these inmates cannot work and be remunerated causes problems at the other levels within our institutions. In addition to a restrictive milieu, we decrease their autonomy by impoverishing them and preventing them from treating themselves to miscellaneous canteen, hygiene and clothing
The mental health inmates who are housed on the segregation unit often have daily physical interventions by us to cease their self-injurious behaviours and, more times than not, they have to be physically placed in soft restraints — the PINEL bed — in an alternative makeshift room also on the secure unit. This again ceases immediate injury to the inmate. It is a tool for us to stop self-inflicted injuries, repeated entries and potential assaults on us, but again, this automatically ceases any other operations of this unit and often limits general max populations to cell level movements, not even pod or module movement.
However, we cannot turn a blind eye to women who make regular use of violence and those who are sentenced to complete federal time in our institutions. We must instead work to find an appropriate response to this phenomenon — a response that will preserve staff and inmates’ rights to a secure and safe environment and have the medical professionals working with the correctional officers 24 hours a day.
In 2005, the union submitted a report recommending CSC create an appropriate infrastructure for high-risk female inmates, both those of high risk to public safety and those who pose a violent risk to themselves and others with severe mental health diagnoses. This proposed unit would enable them to receive programming and treatment, and to engage in daily activities and movement routines. More than 10 years later, we are still waiting for a real discussion around our recommendation.
Thank you for your attention and, if you have any questions, I'm happy to answer them.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Godin. We have a list and will begin with the deputy chair, Senator Ataullahjan.
Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you for your presentation this morning. The one issue you didn't discuss and I would like you to elaborate on a bit is an article that was in the Globe and Mail
last July, which said that PTSD affects 36 per cent of the male prison officers. You were quoted as saying there is no help available to you, but other professions, whether it is army officers or police officers, have that help available. Has anything changed since then?
Mr. Godin: A couple of things have changed. We participated in an occupational stress injuries committee under the public safety committee. There are 15 recommendations on the table now for the government. We haven't seen any drastic changes at this point, but they are only recommendations. Some of these recommendations include establishing a national treatment centre for public safety officers at the national level to help them with occupational stress injuries, and there is also a recommendation where the federal government is suggesting to the provincial jurisdictions that they adopt a presumptive legislation around PTSD treatment.
Ontario is the first province in the country to recognize correctional officers under that category, a presumption for first responders, and the federal government has called upon that. We are working with our commissioner on the Road to Mental Readiness program, and all of our correctional officers are receiving that training, which is a good step, but a lot more needs to be done. We are curious to see whether this government takes seriously the recommendations on the table and adopts some of these treatment programs. There is a lot more to be done, and we continue to strive to improve upon our EAP program, which sorely lack the resources that we require to make sure that our officers are getting the treatment they need.
Senator Ataullahjan: If an officer needs help, who would they turn to? Would they be turning to their own health care doctors? Is there someone on site or other help available?
Mr. Godin: We have an employee assistance program where officers can phone for assistance and they get referrals to counsellors.
I will give an example of one of our problems. We had a riot at Saskatchewan Penitentiary in December, which was quite was traumatic. There was an inmate death while that occurred. We had some problem getting counsellors to assist officers before the Christmas period because some of our EAP services had been moved to Health Canada, and sometimes Health Canada just doesn't have the resources or ability to provide the services we need. So we sometimes run into those situations.
In terms of a WSIB claim for post-traumatic stress or an occupational stress injury, from what we have seen, and it's kind of early to tell, but it's going fairly well in Ontario because they have adopted the presumptive legislation. In Ontario, when someone is diagnosed with an occupational stress injury, there is a presumption there and we're moving forward. We are also looking at best practices and options on where to treat some of these officers. We are working with Corrections Canada to see about the available clinical options to help correctional officers.
There is a lot of work to be done, and we're counting on the government, as one of their mandates, to step up to the plate around the mental health of its employees, and we're waiting to see what they do with the 15 recommendations.
Senator Hubley: Thank you for your presentation, Mr. Godin.
In December 2016, Howard Sapers testified before the House of Commons Public Safety Committee. There were a couple of things of interest that I'm wondering if you would comment on. Specifically, the use of pepper spray on inmates had tripled since 2011. He noted that the use of agents such as pepper spray had replaced less coercive means of conflict intervention. Might you comment on that?
Later, he noted outstanding recommendations from the inquest into the death of Ashley Smith, including the need for CSC to enhance human rights and correction law training among front-line correctional staff. Have you seen any advancement on these recommendations?
Mr. Godin: I think it's noteworthy. First, I want to make the statement that 80 per cent of our use-of-force incidents are spontaneous. They are often very unpredictable. Even Mr. Zinger testified earlier today that our use of force is down a little bit, and that's an encouraging sign because we don't want inmates or staff to be hurt.
Can more be done? Of course. We're always seeking more training on all fronts. Certainly, we have dynamic security training that occurs once a correctional officer joins the service and while inside. We could add more techniques around de-escalation training. More can be done in those areas.
On the Smith inquiry, the union agreed with a lot of those recommendations, if you recall some of the press that went out. In fact, some of the comments I made were that the jury got it right on a lot of aspects of it. A lot of the practices were already in place.
One of the key concerns for us was around ensuring that 24-hour health care was available at those facilities and in all the facilities across Canada. That was one of the recommendations we had agreed upon, so there is a lot that can be done.
Use of force unfortunately is a reality of our business. I've been in the service a long time. I've been a correctional officer on the floor for 14 years. It's not anywhere that anybody wants to go. It's always a last resort, but because of the unpredictable human behaviour we deal with, unfortunately that's how it goes sometimes. It's encouraging to hear that the use of force is down a bit, and that's a good news story for correctional officers and everyone working inside institutions.
Senator Hubley: Are there any of the recommendations that evolved from the Ashley Smith incident that you find should have some movement that isn't being done? Are there any of the recommendations you will like to see?
Mr. Godin: As I said, some recommendations have been implemented, for the most part. There are quite a few recommendations that have been implemented. For us, the biggest issue with the Ashley Smith case is that the fact that if we are going to have these women in custody, we want a facility to manage them. There are infrastructure issues. I understand there are community hospital settings. There are Brockville and Pinel. But if you look at Brockville, there was a situation that occurred with a female offender last year where staff got hurt. They just didn't have the infrastructure to manage that.
The other issue that we also have around our treatment centres is that we don't have the option to use chemical restraints. This is something used in the provincial hospitals, and this is something that we don't have access to. For us, we say, "Look, it's either give us a facility to manage them in conjunction with the health care staff, or put them in a facility where they can be managed, where people don't get hurt."
Correctional officers are caught in the dilemma where the provincial hospitals won't accept them. That's a big problem, and sometimes if there is a security incident they are sent back to us, so we can't really win as correctional officers, and these most difficult cases put a tremendous strain on correctional officers. They put a strain on the resourcing of the institutions. There is not a multitude of these offenders. There is a handful of them, but at the same time, we can't be half and half. We can't say that we sent the person to the province and it didn't work. They're too dangerous and they're a security risk for us, so we're sending them back. That's why the unions has been calling in what I won't call a "special handling unit" but a unit where we can work with the health care professionals to manage these most difficult cases.
Senator Martin: Thank you very much for being here. I want to say as a former educator that some of my students have gone into your profession. I think it's a real calling to be able to do what you do, with the challenges that are faced, as with other professions. I know the passion with which some of my students talk about the work and the challenges that you're being met with, so I really appreciate the work you're doing and doing the best work you can to address what is happening in our correctional system.
I have two questions, one in regard to the diversity of the population in our system in that language barriers and cultural barriers sometimes will unnecessarily escalate a situation, because they are there. Would you talk a bit about how you're addressing some of those barriers and whether you're seeing more diversity in your profession? Is that something you're working towards to address the growing diverse population?
Mr. Godin: We currently have cultural diversity training, which is essential, and we also have many ethnic minorities working as correctional officers, and this is a good thing. The cultural awareness training occurs from the get-go, from the time a correctional officer enters the Correctional Service of Canada. There are steps being taken for that cultural awareness. It is important to correctional officers. We work 24 hours a day with offenders, and we need to be aware of those situations, and the more training we get or the better understanding of those cultural differences is important for us to do our job on the floor.
We have a lot of indigenous correctional officers that work in our healing lodges and more predominantly in the Western provinces, where we have high Aboriginal populations. I talk to a lot of those officers, and they always give me lessons on this and that, and I learn quite a bit from them because, frankly, I never had the training.
There are some steps being taken. In terms of communicating with inmates generally, if we need to do that, we have the resources available. We'll go to Corrections Canada. We'll say sometimes we have officers that are bilingual, or they may speak different languages that may be helpful, although translation is not a part of our job description technically. For the most part, we make it work one way or the other, and I think there are those communication issues being dealt with by the service.
Senator Bernard: Thank you for that question. I want to make sure I heard you correctly. You were saying, Mr. Godin, that you talk with a number of indigenous correctional officers and they train you, in essence on the job. You find it helpful because you never had the training, but you also said that cultural sensitivity training is mandatory.
Mr. Godin: Maybe I'll make myself clear. Unfortunately, I haven't had that initial training because this has come on line a few years ago. I am aware it is a training program. When correctional officers enter to become correctional officers, they go to the training facility in Regina, and this is part of their initial recruitment training to have that kind of training. Again, I'm speaking out of the box; I learn a lot when I talk to other correctional officers. For me, I haven't been able to get that kind of training.
Senator Bernard: So it's mandatory for new officers.
Mr. Godin: Correct.
Senator Bernard: What happens on an ongoing basis with an officer who is there for 10, 20 or 30 years? Is there ongoing training?
Mr. Godin: I'm not aware of any ongoing cultural or diversity training for correctional officers that have been in the service for a number of years. I'm aware it exists on the front end when you enter at an entry level as a correctional officer. I'm not aware of refresher training that goes along down the line.
The Chair: Should it happen?
Mr. Godin: To be honest, the more training we have, the better it is. I think in any profession you will hear that, whether from correctional officers or doctors or lawyers or whomever. The more training we have, the better off we're suited, so you won't get any argument from the union whatsoever on any types of training, including cultural and diversity training, at any level of your career; that's for sure.
Senator Ataullahjan: You speak of having officers from different cultural backgrounds. Different people speak different languages. Is there help available to you if you don't understand what an offender or a prisoner is saying and you don't have anyone from that ethnic background? Who do you turn to in those circumstances?
Mr. Godin: One thing that correctional officers would normally do, and I've personally encountered it once at Kingston Penitentiary many years ago, but when we went to management to ask for assistance, they were able to manage those particular cases. In my experience, I was only involved in one case and it worked out well. This individual spoke Portuguese and they were able to converse. In fact, we had two officers working that day who were Portuguese. But if we don't have those people available to us, if we can't communicate with an inmate, it's our responsibility to go to management and tell them what the situation is and seek their assistance.
I'm not aware of this being a huge issue, to be honest. I think maybe that's what you're getting at. I don't hear of this often. We have our francophone inmates, and from what I'm aware, if they want to use French as their first language, it's not a difficulty from my understanding. It's not a problem I hear a lot of, to be honest with you.
Senator Martin: My second question was regarding one of your final comments in your testimony about the appropriate infrastructure for high-risk female inmates. It seems to this is a critical recommendation that would really support the system, prevent the high-risk inmates from hurting themselves and others and address that growing challenge in the facilities. You say it has been 10 years, but have you been at the table with officials and the new government? Is this something on the radar, and could you expand on what you're referring to?
Mr. Godin: We have been very public about our position around infrastructure for high-risk offenders. We have a high-risk male offender unit, known as the "special handling unit" in Quebec. Infrastructure-wise, it's there to manage the most difficult cases.
When I'm talking about infrastructure, I'll give you an example. Oftentimes, we're asked to look through a food slot to observe an inmate who may be suffering from a mental illness, and if you want to talk about infrastructure, there is a perfectly good example of why we have concerns with that.
Maybe I'll give you an example. I toured a treatment centre in the United States this summer, and I went into their psychiatric unit. What was interesting was not only did they have 24-hour-a-day health care available to them, unlike our system where it's only available in the treatment centres in the regional hospitals, but in that particular unit they had a full glass wall, where the officer, in conjunction with the health care professionals, could sit and observe very clearly any self-injurious behaviour. When I speak of infrastructure for those types of cases, that's sort of what I'm speaking about.
From personal experience, you can't imagine how difficult it is trying to observe inmates through cell windows and through food slots. I've known officers to lie on the floor and talk to inmates for hours on end while no health care professionals are there, trying to make sure that that individual doesn't harm themselves. It's an infrastructure issue for us.
Like I said, we don't want to interrupt the other programing of the other inmates. Sometimes that is what is happening. So if you're dealing with one of these high-risk women offenders, or males as well, you end up interrupting the programs and the other routines for the inmates. This creates a tension in the unit. So we want to ensure that when we have those very distinct, high-risk cases, that we have the proper infrastructure to use.
The other interesting thing about this treatment facility was the use of chemical restraints. This was in a federal institutional setting in Maryland, and they had more tools available to them that we might not have.
I want to be clear; it's not about mortar and bricks. We have to realize that's not what this conversation is about. We'll engage anybody willing to sit down with us to have a real conversation around what we need to manage it. We're more than willing to work with health care professionals and do what needs to be done, but let's make sure it's done safely and we have the infrastructure required.
If you look at Brockville, there was an issue there where a nurse was stabbed in the neck. They clearly didn't have the infrastructure to manage that particularly high-risk case.
Senator Martin: Could we request something in writing regarding infrastructure needs that you would recommend that would greatly improve the system? That would be useful for our report.
Mr. Godin: We'd be more than willing to provide you what we're looking for, yes.
The Chair: We'd appreciate that.
Senator Pate: It's nice to see you again, Mr. Godin. We've known each other for a long time. While you've never worked in the prisons for women, I certainly have worked with many of your members and, as you know, have a great deal of respect for the incredible work that gets done on the ground and the challenges that are faced. As you probably also know, increasingly, with the frustrations of not being able to address some of these issues, individuals would come to me in my previous position, confidentially, and raise some of these issues.
I want to talk a bit about the issues that you were just talking about with Senator Martin. I know the actual recommendation you're talking about goes back not just 10 years but 20 years and led to, at one point, the identification of the management protocol, which you talked about, that was developed by the union first and then adopted by the Correctional Service of Canada.
It was ultimately terminated because it was found to actually have been escalating violence and to be problematic and also unlawful in the end in terms of the way it was being used, and in fact the manner in which women, most of whom were indigenous women, were held, and one Black woman and non-indigenous woman, non-racialized woman. The manner in which they were held actually ended up being an escalation. But when we visited this special handling unit for men, where there were 57 men and seven women on the protocol, in fact the measures used were even more secure and more limiting than what was existing in the special handling unit.
I'm really glad to hear your comments about the Ashley Smith recommendations because before the inquest, the report put out by the union about Ashley Smith described her as constantly assaulting staff, as being constantly violent, and yet when the examination at the inquest happened, staff member after staff member appeared and talked about how they liked her and they got along with her. The image that became very clear was that most of them had first had an image of her as constantly assaultive from reports, not from actual experience with her. While she did often resist while they were trying to cut ligatures off, that was after she had been in a situation where many of them described her situation as incredibly desperate.
Two observations I have is that over the years that you and I have been doing this, increasingly there are more spontaneous uses of force, less use of dynamic security, and just in the last few years I've been in prisons where they have started to pepper spray even as I'm offering to intervene in a situation. The staff themselves commented that the ability to call in other people who they know might assist in de-escalating has been more and more limited.
Given that part of your mandate as officers is to try to diminish the uses of force and those kinds of violent interventions, and to assist in the reintegration, I'm curious as to what you would recommend in terms of seeing a way to breathe life into those provisions so that officers, like you when you were in those positions and your colleagues, can actually fulfill that mandate of assisting in the safe reintegration of individuals into the community ultimately, because that's the mission and mandate that you have.
Also, if you can comment on the satisfaction survey that was done around staff that showed that the majority of staff felt that in fact if they came forward with information and raised concerns — and we heard it again in the Ashley Smith inquest — that in fact they would be harassed or treated poorly by either their colleagues or their supervisors. We know about the situation of staff being told not to intervene with Ashley, for instance, and people being in fear. Do you have any comments on that and how the process can be assisted so that the good work staff do on the ground can be encouraged and supported?
Mr. Godin: One thing that's very clear is dynamic security varies by level of institution. I think you have been around the system long enough to know that as well. Certainly, the security sometimes dictates.
By the way, I have worked with female offenders in my previous life in the provincial system, so I have a little bit of familiarity with that, but not in our current system.
The dynamic security piece for us is very frustrating because, as I mentioned earlier, more training is always the best we can do, and we continue to do that, but unfortunately correctional officers never get recognized for the thousands of verbal interventions they are doing every day. This is extremely frustrating.
Although we watch a videotape where the outcome looks like it's very horrific to the public, no one realizes that there have already been about 20 to 30 minutes, maybe an hour, of conversation before it gets to that point. One thing I hear from my members, and often hear in incidents — and I've seen everything from having to use lethal force to use of force — often, when you talk to the officers, they will say, "Jason, we tried everything. We tried to talk the person down. We made every effort we possibly could." To answer your question, I think it's really to focus more around the training we get.
When it comes to dynamic security as we're getting ready to release offenders back in the community, obviously the level of dynamic security at a minimum security unit or institution is oftentimes quite a bit different than it might be in a maximum security institution. Often our correctional officers are doing resocialization escorts into the community and assisting with work programs. That's a good news story, because you have to realize that correctional officers live in the very same community these people will be released in, so correctional officers do care about that. They care about dynamic security.
They care about the second part of their rehabilitative mandate, but as you know, our first priority as correctional officers is the public safety and security of Canadians. That's number one mandate. And at the same time part of our mandate is the successful reintegration of offenders, and we do that by encouraging and assisting through the mission statement and also through dynamic security.
The spontaneous use of force, as you heard in earlier testimony, is down, and that's a good sign. Again, the more training that we have, to be quite honest with you, the better it is.
Maybe the answer to your second question about fear of reprisal is we were very clear in the Smith inquiry about our members being under a tremendous amount of duress. I know you're very familiar with the report we released around the fact that our members were fearful of their jobs at the time. They were being given orders to not intervene, and you can imagine the stress and the emotional burden that put on some of these members.
I know those members that were involved in that case very well, and have had conversations with them about the emotional stress and toll it took on them, because they were being told, " Look, you didn't do this right, you didn't do that right," even though some of these correctional officers had impeccable records. They had impeccable records as correctional officers on the floor. They were trainers, actively involved, and at the same time they were being told that you're doing this wrong, and if you refuse this order — one of our recommendations that we agreed with in the Smith recommendations was simply, look, we can't fear reprisal from our employer if we come forward and say that we don't agree with this order. That's just one example.
As correctional officers, we oftentimes go to the administration and say that we don't agree with the approach they're taking or with this policy or the routine. It could be for many reasons. The more training we have, that is good, and certainly we want to make sure that we have no fear of reprisal from the employer. We made that very clear in the Smith situation.
Senator Pate: As you know, we might have differing views on this whole issue of how many women are high-risk or violent, and any documentation you have around that would be useful. There are two very different pictures emerging, in particular, where those individuals have been predominantly individuals with mental health issues who are resisting situations where they're in restraints. Every bit of information we have is that for most of those incidents, if you compare an incident in a prison for men versus women, it doesn't compare in terms of risk and public safety issues.
Mr. Godin: There are a few cases in the system, and again I mentioned those few cases, if we could manage them in an area where it doesn't disrupt everyone else. That is our goal. I wouldn't pretend to say that the numbers are the same on the male side versus the female side. We're just looking for more options. As you know, for us, it's that fine line of a diagnosis of a mental illness versus behavioural problems. You are familiar with that situation where sometimes you have inmates with behavioural problems or disciplinary problems, or they're doing contraband or are involved in gang activity, but then we also have the mental health side. As a correctional officer, we're walking that fine line. We're not necessarily the experts to determine that. We see a behavioural problem, and obviously we can't let that affect all the other inmates in the institution, so that's part of the issue.
Senator Pate: Would a section 29 option where a mental health unit is available for individuals who predominantly have mental health issues, whether it's Ashley Smith or others, that kind of recommendation, would that be something the union would see as a positive thing?
Mr. Godin: It would be a positive thing, but you have to realize we're always caught between the two. You know in certain situations with the high-risk female offenders, on more than one occasion our members have said, "Look, this person needs to go to a treatment facility outside the institution." We have tried desperately, and you know that, to do that.
If we are going to manage these offenders inside the federal population, then give us the tools we need. If you are not going to give us the tools, I guess the organization or CSC has to look at alternatives. We're not completely opposed to that, but there are things we could do in our own system to manage those high-risk cases, infrastructure issues and those types of things but again that's not a decision for our union to make.
We can only say it's one or the other, and we can't be half and half. We send someone somewhere and then, no, this is not working out for us, and they send them back to us and we're right back to square one. I know of a particular case where that's exactly what the member said to me, "Look, they were there, and they couldn't manage, so ow they're back doing the same old behaviours they were doing before.".
What it leads to for correctional officers is burnout. They get tired. It's a constant. Every day they have to manage that particular high-risk case and the other offenders in the unit. We're not necessarily stuck on one or the other, although we've maintained a position about a special unit, but we want a solution. That's the most important thing.
The Chair: We've had a lot of statistics in front of us in the past two days of hearings, and we have a long way to go, and you say that you never get recognized for the thousands of interventions you make. You used the term just now, "burnout." We have statistics in terms of mental health. We have numbers for indigenous, Black men and women. Where does a correctional officer go who is suffering from mental stress, and at what point? Is there an empathetic management and system and protocol that happens, and do you have any numbers that indicate how difficult that can be in the position you have worked in?
Mr. Godin: The most telling numbers are the statistics around PTSD and occupational stress injuries. If you look, over the last couple of years, the occupational stress injuries amongst correctional officers are higher than any other first-responder public occupation in the country. Our Associate Deputy Minister of Public Safety testified in the occupational stress injuries report that 36 per cent of male correctional officers were suffering from an occupational stress injury or PTSD.
Like I mentioned to your colleague, a lot more needs to be done. I'm not disrespecting my colleagues, the paramedics, firefighters and police officers, but inside the walls of an institution we're all three of those occupations. I don't know whether that's an explanation as to why the rates are higher, but correctional officers, one minute we have to uphold the law because someone has contraband, and then five minutes later we're responding to a situation where someone is seriously injured and we have to apply first aid. Then we don't have health care staff available to us after a certain hour.
It's very important that the government take a serious look at how to treat these cases as quickly as possible. Correctional officers, and many of them whom I know suffer from occupational stress injuries, all they want to do is get better and come back to work. They take a lot of pride in their job, and sometimes they can't come back to work.
There are a lot of things occurring, a lot of discussions around mental health of employees, as well as inmates in the system, but at the same time, we need to see some action items by this government around the 15 recommendations from the Public Safety Committee that studied occupational stress injuries and heard testimony from various first-responders.
The Chair: I asked this question of Mr. Zinger. We're going to be on the road soon. There are four or five issues out there, and you have been inside the system. Is there a physical place and a critical area we should be going, and a critical area of subject matter that we should be focusing on? This study will take some time. We want to have updates and/or observations, because we know the government is looking at changing some of the legislation, and that may catch up with the study, but we want to be ahead of the curve, so to speak.
Mr. Godin: I strongly suggest you talk to many professionals inside, including correctional officers. Certainly visit one the women's facilities, in particular RPC, one of the regional psychiatric centres in the Prairies, to see what is occurring there. The more information and discussions you can have with all of the staff inside, not just correctional officers but health care professionals, on what we should and shouldn't be doing, I strongly encourage you to look at women's facilities.
For us, one important element is to understand the workings of administrative segregation and why we utilize segregation. One thing that correctional officers are extremely fearful of in the system is a knee-jerk reaction to segregation policies where they just automatically cap the number of days. We're very concerned by that. Even in my discussions with Mr. Zinger, they're not necessarily in favour of that either. We have to recognize in some cases where they have restricted the use of administrative segregation, the number of incidents have risen. Again, I experienced that a bit this summer in talking to New York State, and I've been talking to my provincial colleague in the province of Ontario. So take a serious look at segregation and why we're using it and what the impacts are, if there is a restrictive policy there that ties our hands, because that administrative segregation piece is a tool for correctional officers. It helps us manage the population and complete our mission. We want to make sure that disruptive inmates are not disrupting all of the other inmates inside the facility. That's very important.
Try to see as much as I can. It's a big system, and the more you see, the better it is.
Senator Pate: One of the recommendations of the Ashley Smith inquest was to get rid of segregation and, until such time, limit it according to the UN standards. Actually, one of the recommendations of the jury was to eliminate segregation.
As you know, there have been times in the Correctional Service of Canada where there have been prisons that have not had segregation units for all kinds of reasons — retro-fitting, movement or closing. In those times, we've actually seen more dynamic security and more positive interventions.
I would urge you to look at this again. It's part of the reason the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and Howard Sapers recently said that, at least for women and those with mental health issues and young people, we should be starting to eliminate the use of segregation. In fact, other jurisdictions are looking at that as well.
I would be happy to continue that conversation, but given that you've decided to end there, it's important to remind the committee and others that, in fact, all of the reports that are being done most recently are calling for ending the use of segregation, particularly for certain groups. The UN now considers it torture at 15 days, and some of our courts have started to look at it as cruel and unusual punishment for any period up to that period as well.
Mr. Godin: For us, the abolishment of segregation is not an option. We have clearly positioned ourselves as to why that is. On the limitation of segregation, sometimes we don't have an option. We don't have a choice. We've had cases where inmates have been in segregation, in some cases long term, and then all of a sudden they're released back out into a population unit and they stab an inmate. This is what we have to be cognizant of.
Again, administrative segregation for us is a population management tool. It's a tool we use to try to make sure that everybody is safe inside, including the inmate themselves. So that's not one of the recommendations we're in agreement with. We had agreed with some of the recommendations in the Smith inquiry, but certainly the abolishment of segregation is not one of those.
Senator Pate: The last four times I went to a federal prison, including Joliette in December and Nova last month, there were no women in segregation.
Mr. Godin: As I said, it's a last resort. It's encouraging that the numbers are down, but at the same time, the pushback that we get from our members is, "Do you know, Jason, some of these guys don't belong back into the population because they are disrupting and creating other problems again."
We have to be very careful. Certainly the government and the committee have to realize that in some cases where segregation has been emptied out, let's make sure that we're cognizant and aware if there is a rise in incidents, because that's what we're seeing in other jurisdictions. There are obviously good moves where we're putting inmates back into population, and certainly the mental health piece is another piece, but those disciplinary and severe behavioural problems, when you start releasing those back into general population, creates a ripple effect on the rest of the population. That's why we maintain our position around administrative segregation.
Senator Pate: Could you provide details of those? I'm not aware of those kinds of incidents in the women's prisons. If you could provide details to the committee, that would be useful.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Godin, for being here today. It's been very helpful for us all. I say this because we mean it, and as was said before by Senator Martin, you have a tough job, and we appreciate what you do. You've added a lot of information to our thought process in this work. We just want to thank you, as well, for what you do.
Mr. Godin: My pleasure. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
(The committee adjourned.)