THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RIGHTS
OTTAWA, Wednesday, February 27, 2019
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights met this day at 11:30 a.m. to study the issues relating to the human rights of prisoners in the correctional system; and, in camera, to examine and monitor issues relating to human rights and, inter alia, to review the machinery of government dealing with Canada’s international and national human rights obligations (consideration of a draft agenda — future business).
Senator Wanda Elaine Thomas Bernard (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good morning and welcome. I would like to begin by acknowledging for the sake of reconciliation that we are meeting on the unceded traditional lands of the Algonquin peoples.
I would also like to acknowledge that today is Pink Shirt Day, so thank you all who are wearing a pink shirt, the symbol for anti-bullying.
My name is Wanda Thomas Bernard. I’m a senator from Nova Scotia. I have the honour and privilege of chairing this committee. I’ll now invite my fellow senators to introduce themselves.
Senator Brazeau: Patrick Brazeau from Quebec.
Senator Boyer: Yvonne Boyer, Ontario.
Senator Hartling: Nancy Hartling, New Brunswick.
Senator Pate: Kim Pate, Ontario.
Senator Ngo: Thanh Hai Ngo, Ontario.
The Chair: Thank you.
Our committee has been studying the human rights of federally sentenced persons. During this study, the committee has held public hearings in Ottawa as well as in various regions and has conducted fact-finding visits to 29 facilities. As we draw our study to a close, we are hearing from government services involved in corrections.
In our first panel today, we are hearing again from the Correctional Service of Canada. Let me introduce Anne Kelly, commissioner. I’ll ask you to introduce the people that are with you, and then you will present your opening remarks. Thank you.
Anne Kelly, Commissioner, Correctional Service Canada: Thank you very much, madam chair and honourable committee members. Thank you for inviting me here today. I’m happy to have this opportunity to update you on the progress made by the Correctional Service of Canada and contribute to your work as you complete your study on the human rights of federally sentenced persons.
I accompanied by Mr. Alain Tousignant, the Senior Deputy Commissioner; Ms. Jennifer Wheatley, the Assistant Commissioner, Health Services; Dr. Kelley Blanchette, the Deputy Commissioner for Women; and Dr. Larry Motiuk, the Assistant Commissioner, Policy.
I appeared before you a little over two years ago, in my previous role as senior deputy commissioner, as you were embarking on this extensive study. Since that time, I know you have heard from many stakeholders and travelled from coast to coast, visiting many of our facilities to learn more about our work, our institutions, our programs and the people under our care and custody.
I would like to begin by thanking the 18,000 employees of the Correctional Service of Canada, as well as our many volunteers. Over the course of my 35 plus years of service with the Correctional Service of Canada, I have seen firsthand the dedication and commitment the employees bring to work day in and day out and how their efforts directly contribute to the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders and ensure the safety of all Canadians.
I would also like to thank the committee for its recent interim report. We are in the process of reviewing the report’s findings, and we will continue to work hard to address the many issues raised.
Racism, sexism, homophobia or any sort of discrimination or misconduct have no place in our institutions and work environment. Such reprehensible behaviours will continue to be addressed and condemned.
As you may be aware, Minister Goodale provided me with a mandate letter this past September upon my appointment as the new commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada. The letter calls for instilling within CSC a culture of ongoing self-reflection, which is very much in keeping with my vision of continuous quality improvement. Self-reflection means continually looking at our policies and operation, asking what works and changing what doesn’t. It also means welcoming constructive good-faith critiques and being forward-looking about innovative ideas.
Since my remarks today are to be brief, I have chosen to highlight two areas where we are taking new approaches to long-standing challenges.
First, as you have noted over the course of this study, the over-representation of Indigenous peoples in Canada’s criminal justice system, including federal corrections, continues to be a critical concern, particularly for Indigenous women.
In the last year, we have implemented Aboriginal intervention centres as a core strategy to improve reintegration results for Indigenous offenders. These centres are intended for Indigenous people, particularly those with shorter sentences, who, at intake, will begin Aboriginal programming, work with an Elder and initiate a section-84 release plan, if appropriate.
Another area of focus for CSC is doing more to address the mental health needs of the most vulnerable inmates. As you are undoubtedly aware, rates of mental health disorders among offenders are higher than in the Canadian public. The 2017 and 2018 federal budgets included $78.2 million for mental health care services, and the recent fall economic statement included another $448 million for corrections, of which $150 million is specifically devoted to enhancements to mental health, such as early diagnosis, improved mental health care and establishing a patient advocacy system for inmates.
These new investments will help establish a mental health system consistent with what is available in the community. This will improve our capacity to provide proactive care and treatment to respond appropriately to the needs of patients who may be most vulnerable.
The remaining investment of $298 million will support the transformation of the correctional system, including the introduction of a new correctional interventions model, while ensuring that our institutions provide a safe and secure environment that is conducive to inmate rehabilitation, staff safety and the protection of the public. It will also help ensure that our correctional system continues to be progressive and takes into account the needs of a diverse population.
Further to these investments, Bill C-83 calls for an end to segregation and would, amongst other things, strengthen the legislative framework governing the use of structured intervention units, legislate oversight mechanism and strengthen the role of health care professionals in our facilities.
Note that we are monitoring the progress of Bill C-83 through Parliament and will ensure that changes to our policies and training are in place to support its implementation.
Before I wrap up my remarks, I also want to take a moment to highlight a few areas where we have seen success. For example, we have seen an increase of 23 per cent in the number of offenders managed in the community since 2012-13. In fact, there are now more women under community supervision than in federal custody. Of note, both the number of Indigenous and women offenders on conditional release have increased substantially over the past five years, an increase of 36 per cent for Indigenous offenders and of 50 per cent for women offenders. In addition, we saw the highest number of day parole releases reported since 2012-13, an increase of 43 per cent, and the fewest number of revocations, a decrease of 27 per cent. Finally, in 2017-18, we had the highest rate on record of offenders not returning to federal custody within five years of the end of their sentence, at 85 per cent. These results are a testament to the hard work of countless individuals in making CSC’s mission a reality.
In conclusion, as I say often, there is no greater responsibility than having the care and custody of other human beings. As commissioner, I appreciate the work of our partners, stakeholders and parliamentarians, including this committee, in examining our work, visiting our facilities, speaking with staff and with offenders and making recommendations on how we can improve.
Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to appear before you today. My colleagues and I would be happy to respond to any questions you may have.
The Chair: Thank you very much. I want to welcome our two deputy chairs who joined us, Senator Cordy and Senator Ataullahjan.
Senator Cordy: Thank you for coming before our committee so we can ask some questions about some of the things that we saw when we travelled across the country.
I have a few questions. The first one is about segregation. In November, the house Public Safety Committee made the following recommendation regarding Bill C-83, and I’ll read it:
That, given the testimony that the Committee heard from the Correctional Investigator and other stakeholders, and the fact that there are only ten women currently housed in administrative segregation units across the country, the Committee strongly encourages the Correctional Service of Canada to consider alternatives to segregation in women’s institutions such as the pilot program proposed in 2016 by the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies. . .
Now, according to the investigator’s data, in January 2019 there were only three women in segregation in federal penitentiaries. I would like to know what your position is on this recommendation that was made by the house committee and whether or not you have taken any steps toward evaluating the feasibility of this recommendation, whether or not it could be put into place?
Ms. Kelly: Thank you for the question. First, I want to share with you that today there are no women in seg. That changes from day-to-day, but today there are none.
In terms of segregation, as you know, with Bill C-83, we would eliminate seg. That also applies to the women’s facilities. What we’re introducing is structured intervention units.
When we had the stakeholder round table, we heard some feedback from the participants. Kelley can speak more to this, but one thing — and this is not finalized — that we’re looking at is the possibility of having what we call an enhanced support house for women. Because we won’t have segregation, that’s where they would go, and they would be able to benefit from increased interventions from parole officers and program officers.
Kelley Blanchette, Deputy Commissioner for Women, Correctional Service Canada: To add to that, like the commissioner said, we haven’t finished the consultations specific to women yet. I have some planned in March. There will be more consultations ongoing.
The vision behind the enhanced support house is to offer intensive interventions in the house. We know, based on our data, looking back on segregation, that it was mostly medium security women. There were proportionally more medium security women in segregation, so we feel with the enhanced support house, it would be a house within the medium minimum compound of the institutions, the five regional facilities. With more structured support in the house, we feel like we can avoid placement in the SIU. We still need the SIU model within the maximum security structure for those cases where the risk is not assumable in medium security.
Senator Cordy: When we travelled to the prisons across the country, most were doing away with the formal segregation before the bill is brought forward, but sometimes I got the feeling that there was segregation. It might not have been called a segregation cell, but if somebody is in their cell for 23 hours a day, then, to me, that’s segregation. They are not getting the use of the facility. Is it still going to happen that somebody is in their cell for 23 hours a day or 22 hours a day? That is still segregation.
Ms. Kelly: When we eliminate seg and create these structured intervention units, what we want to have is interventions people, so a parole officer, a program officer. We’re going to have mental health professionals work with the offenders. Our goal is to return them to the mainstream population as early as we can. The whole premise of the structured intervention units is truly to intervene with the offenders.
Is there a possibility that some offenders may not want to avail themselves of the interventions that are going to be provided? That’s a possibility. Right now, even in our segregation units as they stand now, we are looking at — and it’s already started in different institutions — opening some units where, especially those that don’t meet the threshold for segregation, we can move them to those units. Despite our best efforts, there are some offenders that refuse to leave. We have to continue to work with them and try to influence them so that we can return them to the general population.
Senator Cordy: I see that you’re going to be doing more to address mental health needs, which is really important. I can remember walking into a prison in Saskatchewan where it was set up for those with mental health issues. Walking into the unit, the first thing that crossed my mind was, what are they doing in prison? They shouldn’t be in prison. There should be another facility for them, a health facility, not a prison facility. That was sort of shocking, one of the shocking things that I saw.
I’m really pleased to see that you’re establishing a patient advocacy system for inmates, because we did see that in one prison. It seemed to be working well, although sometimes I think we have to remember that the patient advocates also need support because, if you’re spending a night with somebody who is attempting suicide, then you really need some decompression yourself. It scares me. What are you establishing compared to what is available in the community? While things are getting a bit better, we still don’t have great supports for those with mental health in the community. I guess I’m wondering how you are going to set up the patient advocacy system. How will it be proactive care and treatment to respond to the needs of patients? How do you remove the stigma of mental health — it’s in our communities, and I’m sure that it’s also in the prison system — so that those who need the help are going to get it in a timely way? We have also heard a lot about huge waiting times for physical health, and the same thing is true for mental health.
Ms. Kelly: I’ll start, and then I’ll ask Ms. Wheatley to speak about the patient advocacy system.
Certainly, with some of the funding, there is going to be enhancements to mental health. We’re going to be able to do earlier diagnosis, which means we’re going to be able to proactively treat offenders. I believe that’s going to be of help.
With some of the funding we received in 2017 and 2018, we were able to establish intermediate mental health care units in both maximum- and medium-security institutions. We also have a contract with l’institute Philippe-Pinel, and we’re looking at increasing the number of beds that we have there. We also have our treatment centres, which are accredited. There was also an announcement recently that there is going to be a new health care centre of excellence at Shepody. That is going to mean an increase in the number of beds that we have and 10 more beds for women, which is going to help treat the mental health needs of our offenders.
Jennifer Wheatley, Assistant Commissioner, Health Services, Correctional Service Canada: For patient advocacy, we’re looking at it through two lenses. One is that the function of patient advocacy is a fundamental role for all health professionals, whether they are health professionals working in corrections or in the community. We’re working to reinforce that as a fundamental core responsibility for all the health staff that are providing care to patients who are currently federally incarcerated. In addition to that, we are looking at patient advocacy as a discrete service where you would hire people and where that’s their fundamental job. We are doing a literature review and reaching out to the community, looking at what the various models of patient advocacy are across Canada and doing consultations to see how that model or the various models, because there is not just one, would fit into our environment. That’s on our work plan right now. We’ll finish it in the upcoming months.
The Chair: Senate Pate had a supplemental.
Senator Pate: Thank you all for being here. It’s very helpful to have the updated stats and see some of the directions that things are moving.
When we visited the prisons and saw the maximum security prisons in particular, every prison had a whole series of segregated units being created. Is that what you’re envisioning in terms of the intensive supervision units? When you say there is nobody in segregation, how many people are in any kind of isolation — for mental health reasons, observation or any of those considerations? We have certainly heard of those kinds of situations from prisoners and staff, and we have observed it ourselves.
Ms. Wheatley, related to the point that you raised in terms of patient-peer advocacy, we met with a group of men when we were in Stony Mountain who were doing peer-patient advocacy or peer advocacy, and are relied on. It struck all of us that they were talking about doing interventions that psychologists and nurses would do and certainly, in some context, other professional staff would do. They weren’t getting credit for it, they weren’t getting training aside from some basic supports, and they certainly weren’t getting paid for it, nor were they being put in a position where that training would assist them to get employment once they left the prison. I’m curious as to how you’re addressing those issues. I appreciate you talked about staff training, but how are you going to mesh that with some of the other objectives that CSC has?
Ms. Kelly: Your first question, was it around women?
Senator Pate: Both. When we went into the maximum security prisons for men as well, they were all living in segregated units. Many of them were on lockdown while we were there, with very few programs. To us, they looked like segregation units.
Ms. Kelly: In maximum security institutions, at this time they do have segregation units. Those that aren’t in seg obviously have access to programs. I will say that in maximum security institutions, there are often lockdowns or searches that are going on. This is something that, for me, as commissioner, we have discussions at the executive committee to increase the participation of maximum security offenders in programs and in interventions. That’s the goal.
Alain Tousignant, Senior Deputy Commissioner, Correctional Service Canada: Currently, we have, in our male institution, approximately 350 inmates that are administrative segregation. The expectation is they are out of their cells two hours a day, plus a shower, and they are visited on a daily basis by the institutional head as well as a health care professional, so there is that contact that takes place every day. As the commissioner said earlier, some inmates decline the offer to go to yard or get out of their cells and just wish to stay in, but the expectation is that they be out of their cells two hours a day plus a shower on a daily basis.
Ms. Wheatley: For peer support, you mentioned the PALS program at Stony Mountain. We have other peer support programs such as the RTC in the Pacific region, as you know, and other local initiatives.
What we’re doing right now is looking at how to create modules to support peer support. There would be a basic module to give peer support people the skills needed, and then specific training in support of the type of peer support that they are offering, whether it be peer support for older offenders or people who are more vulnerable for mental illness and infectious disease so we can build on those and customize the peer support program for the population that we’re working with at various institutions.
In the past, we have had Goodwill, for example, provide peer support training to the women, and they were given a certificate from Goodwill that recognizes that training. We are looking at the revitalization of peer support and driving to increased standardization where we can partner in the community so that the peer support workers can get recognition that they can then take with them on release to show their skills.
I have had recent conversations, but I’ll follow up further to your comment with the regional deputy commissioners about peer support as a job in the institution. It is a job, so we’ll reinforce the message about making those payable jobs in the institution as meaningful employment training.
Ms. Kelly: The other thing is that because we have an aging population, we’re also looking at peer support for those offenders. This is something that we’re exploring.
Senator Ataullahjan: I would also like to raise a couple of concerns that we heard. The one thing that we heard consistently was that all the federally sentenced persons provided us with disturbing personal accounts of health and dental care services, most often involving doctors or dentists hired by the CSC on contract. Overall, we heard many examples of how security concerns of staff grew to routinely trump health, especially the mental health needs of prisoners. We also heard about how the witnesses and the inmates all expressed concerns about the relevance, accessibility and lack of CSC’s employability programs, particularly CORCAN. Can you provide some information on that?
Ms. Kelly: Actually, yes. CORCAN provides on-the-job skills learned through employment offered through CORCAN. I can give you the number of certificates that were earned. In fiscal year 2017-18, there were almost 15,000 certificates earned. They are broken down by over 9,100 certificates by non-indigenous men, almost 1,300 for non-indigenous women, 3,400 for Indigenous men and almost 700 for Indigenous women. There are employment coordinators, staff and contractors that also assist offenders when they are released under community supervision, and they helped 2,667 participate in community job placements. There is a lot of work done through CORCAN in jobs for offenders.
As you know, the other thing is that we have reopened the farms in Ontario, so right now, the offenders at Collins Bay are working on the management of the land and, in the spring, we’re expecting some cattle to arrive. That’s going to be both at Collins Bay and Joyceville. When we’re done, that’s going to mean between 40 and 60 direct jobs.
The other thing is, in 2017, we received money. It was mostly for CORCAN initiatives for Indigenous offenders to set up community industries in both Edmonton and Saskatoon so offenders could learn basic construction skills and then be able to apply what they have learned when they are released to the community.
Senator Ataullahjan: What about health and dental care? We heard horrific stories of the dental care where they felt that quite often, instead of having cavities filled or other treatment given, the teeth were being pulled. That was the one thing we heard consistently when we went from one end of the country to the other.
Ms. Wheatley: We’ve been measuring wait times for numerous specialized services. In most areas, we exceed or meet community standards, with a few exemptions, and dental being one of them where we have experienced longer than desirable outcomes and wait times for dental services. So that’s certainly a priority area focus for us, both increasing the availability of dentists across the service but as well looking at how we run our dental clinics to make sure that they’re as efficient as possible and we have really good patient flow so we can see the maximum number of people. That’s a focus for us going forward, and we will continue to measure our results to see where the improvements are and see where we need to continue to push the system.
Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you.
Senator Boyer: Thank you all for appearing today. I have a question that I’d just like to pick up from what Senator Cordy had mentioned and you spoke about it as well, on the $150 million enhancements to mental health care. You also mentioned the two institutions that had beds under section 29 agreements, but I’m wondering how many you’re planning on it increasing to and what plan is in place to use section 29 agreements within that $150 million.
Ms. Kelly: Again I’ll ask Ms. Wheatley to elaborate. In Budget 2018, we received money to establish contracts with external psychiatric hospitals. We already had beds at l’Institute Philippe-Pinel. The plan is to increase the number of beds that we have there. In terms of other psychiatric hospitals, we’re constantly actually reaching out to hospitals to see if they would be willing to enter into a contract so we could send offenders there. At this point, it’s mostly l’Institut Phillippe-Pinel.
Ms. Wheatley: Maybe the one piece I can add is we hear from women that travelling great distances is a barrier to care, so they’ll either not agree to being transferred to the hospital or they’ll discharge themselves early from care when they’re still not quite stable enough because they want to stay close, understandably, to their home community, to their families and children. Ideally, what we would like is access to hospital beds across the country close to the regional women’s facility so they don’t have to travel great distances to Saskatoon or Pinel.
We’re continuing to engage the psychiatric hospitals close to our women’s facility so we can access a small number of beds for our women at that site so we can reduce the travel and reduce that barrier of care. But as the commissioner said, it’s difficult. Psychiatric hospitals, I think, struggle with bed availability for all Canadians, so this is a challenge for everyone, but we’re continuing to stay engaged and seize opportunities as they arrive.
Ms. Kelly: I think the other good thing is again the new health Centre for Excellence in the Atlantic region is going to also provide us with some beds for women, which is a good thing.
Senator Boyer: How many beds are we looking at and when, was what my question was really.
Ms. Wheatley: We’re in discussions with Pinel to expand the number of beds. I don’t want to commit Pinel yet because we haven’t finalized the MOU, but our expectation is that that will be wrapped up this spring and we’ll be in a position to share more information about that —
Senator Boyer: So we’re looking at maybe 10 or more, 20?
Ms. Wheatley: We received new funding in Budget 2018. Pinel won’t be able to provide all the new funding. But once again, I think having a centralized resource for women is not what the women tell us they need. The women want availability at hospitals across the country close to their home and community. So in addition to working with Pinel on some expansion, we’re going to continue to engage the psychiatric hospitals across the country to see if we can access more beds locally to the women’s facilities.
Senator Boyer: I understand that, but I was wondering if we have any actual numbers or any dates as to when this is projected to be completed.
Ms. Wheatley: We can share the Pinel numbers in the spring once we finalize the MOU with that organization. At this point, there isn’t another hospital that is ready to sign a MOU, but we’re continuing to engage and ask.
The Chair: I wonder if we could ask you folks to send us that detail when you have it.
Senator Pate: I have a supplemental to that. Certainly information not just about women but about men and when the Brockville contract was terminated as well as the status for — in negotiations that have been happening between the Ontario government and Correctional Service Canada and the Nova Scotia government in particular. My understanding is those negotiations have been ongoing for over a decade and still not been resolved, in large part because of funding issues.
Ms. Wheatley: I’m not sure funding is the sole issue. I think it’s more capacity in various provinces. The provinces are struggling with the bed capacity, just like most health systems around the world, but we can follow up with the information.
Senator Pate: In some ways coming back to some of the discussions around what we’re looking forward to with Bill C-83, if it comes into law, the structured intervention units are described in ways that many of us, including me, have described as really renaming segregation. Given that we’ve already had discussion about max units, I’m interested in what efforts are being taken to ensure that all of the research that’s been done on the — you mentioned people not wanting to come out of seg cells, for instance. The reality is we now know the impact of isolation, and it causes brain damage as well as psychological issues and creates mental health issues.
There have been recommendations made by people you’ve hired yourselves within the Correctional Service Canada, Dr. Moira Law’s recommendation, for instance, to start all women at low security. We’ve heard evidence before this committee from two women who were labelled at one time dangerous offenders — well, one still is — and the difference between how they are described in the prison versus the behaviour once they’re in the community is marked and certainly was something that we noted.
What efforts are you taking to actually move away from more and more structure involving guards? Because even when we had nurses here at the last hearing, we heard about the fact that there’s going to be a requirement now, in order to have more human contact, when cell doors are open, to have two guards there. How do you characterize that as voluntary treatment, first? Because if, in fact, you require two guards, there would be a question about whether it’s voluntary or coerced.
When we’ve been in the prisons, we’ve seen a lot of correctional officers in the guarding capacity evident, but not necessarily program staff. So it certainly has struck me and some of my colleagues going in that the more secure all of the institutions are becoming, there are fewer options to assist people to get out. We certainly heard that not just from prisoners but from staff as well about the concern that there is more and more reliance on security. Despite what looks to be an approach within the legislation, what we actually saw is very different from that.
Related to that, how do you see the sections 29, 81, 84, actually being used more to get people into the community and what part of that, the increase of the number in the community, is actually Parole Board decision-making or correctional work that you’ve done internally?
Ms. Kelly: Okay. There was lots there.
Certainly with the structured intervention units, yes, we will be needing more correctional officers, but we’ll also be hiring, as I said, interventionists, so program officers, parole officers, social clinical workers and occupational therapists. The goal, again, is to ensure that they get out of their cell more often. Obviously the correctional officers are there to ensure the safety and security of staff and of the environment, but the intervention people are the key to the structured intervention units, being able to provide targeted interventions and programming to the offenders that are there. It’s truly to work with them and, as I said, to get them to the mainstream population as soon as we can. That’s the goal, and that’s what I expect the staff will be doing.
There are also going to be mental health professionals that are key to that. Everyone will have to work together. We’re hoping that with the mental health enhancement, the fact that we diagnose early, that we’ll be able to do better triage and better treatment of offenders in terms of having a plan to move forward.
Where we’ve seen security, health and case management interventionists work better together is with our new engagement and intervention model. When there’s an incident, we’ve changed it. It’s often the case where there’s a security incident and correctional officers are involved, but sometimes it turns into an incident where an offender may be in medical distress. It highlights the fact that we need to work as a team, and we all have a role to play. That would be my first thing.
In terms of section 81, we have five right now. We are always open to expressions of interest. If people are interested in a section 81, we will work with them and tell them what’s required. We’re looking at one for women in the Prairie region. I’ve also spoken to the regional deputy commissioners in the regions where we do not have a section 81 to see if they could do some work and look at the possibility of establishing a section 81 in those regions.
In terms of section 84, the numbers are increasing. The one good thing that we’re doing is, in seven of our institutions, one in each region and three in the Pacific region — this is for Indigenous offenders — we’ve created the Aboriginal Intervention Centres. The Aboriginal Intervention Centres actually integrate intake programs and reintegration. What we’ve done is embedded Aboriginal community development officers so that the release planning with these offenders starts not six months before they’re about to be released to the community but right at intake. What we’re seeing in the numbers — and this is something I wanted to share. We believe the AICs are working, because we’ve noticed an increase in discretionary releases — this is for Indigenous offenders — from 26.8 per cent in 2012-13 to 40.4 per cent in 2017-18. Over the past five years, we have more Indigenous offenders on conditional release and we have seen a 5 per cent decrease in the return to federal custody and a drop in the rate of revocations. I think these are elements of success.
Senator Pate: Thank you very much for that.
In terms of sections 81 and 84, though — and you mentioned you explained to communities what’s required. Are you looking at ways to ensure that the policy actually adheres to the legislative intent that was originally created? They weren’t supposed to only be for minimum security; they were supposed to be for any level of security. They weren’t supposed to be for only Indigenous people; they were supposed for all prisoners. Are there plans afoot to amend that policy to bring it in accordance with legislation?
I haven’t heard any comment yet around the recommendation that all women be started at minimum security because the discriminatory classification scheme that’s been discussed.
Finally, I would ask about the numbers talking about the specific designations of how many people are in each institution, particularly when we’re talking about staff. How much money will be going to correctional officers, how much to specific — and not just in numbers, but how much of the time and percentage. We certainly heard from the correctional investigator the concern that the money that is being allocated can’t achieve the objectives that are in your mandate letter or were part of the objective of the government and articulated objectives in terms of bringing forth Bill C-83. That would be useful.
Ms. Kelly: Just to respond to starting all women as minimum security, as you know, we have actuarial tools. When offenders are admitted to federal custody, we apply those tools. The tools we use have been validated for both women and Indigenous offenders. In terms of the security reclassification tool, there’s one that’s specific to women. The tool basically gives us a rating, and then that informs the parole officer’s assessment and a security classification is assigned. We wouldn’t start all women as minimum security. As I said, we have actuarial tools that help us determine at what level they should be assigned. Then, based on their participation in programs and on the correctional plan, we obviously do security classification reviews and then women can move from one level to the next.
Ms. Blanchette: Most women start at minimum security. We have 51 per cent that are initially classified as minimum security, and the remaining 45 per cent are medium security, with fewer than 5 per cent starting at maximum security.
Mr. Tousignant: I would just pick up on a point you made, Senator Pate, about SIUs being segregation by another name. We’ve heard that comment many times. It’s an important distinction to make that it’s not. If we were to overlay our current policy on segregation and the proposed plan for SIUs, which are focused on interventions, it would be very clear that the SIUs we’re proposing going into the future are quite different from the current administrative segregation that we have.
Senator Pate: It certainly takes away all the procedural safeguards arguably, but in terms of the practices and in particular having more correctional officers there as opposed to interventions without correctional officers present, it is different. Part of the reason I raise the issue of the two women who are out now who were designated as dangerous offenders is that one was based solely on how she was treated in prison, and as soon as she had access to an external therapist, there was a massive change once she had someone she could trust to move forward. Very different behaviour. It really underscores the need to be looking to external resources, I would suggest, rather than more correctional officer interventions.
Mr. Tousignant: As the commissioner said, we envision that we’ll be at the inmate’s door on a regular basis, from morning to afternoon interventions, interventions with parole officers, with elders, with chaplains, with behavioural therapists, to get the inmates to buy into the correctional plan and become motivated. I absolutely agree that if we’re going to shift from where we are, this has to take place.
The Chair: We’ll invite people to be concise in the questions and responses so we can finish this panel. Clearly there is a lot of interest.
Senator Brazeau: I welcome all of you to our committee.
My question is for Ms. Kelly. In your speaking notes you mentioned that there are still problems in terms of Indigenous peoples being over-represented. I hate to admit it, but I started my career in Indigenous politics 20 years ago. That was a fact 20 years ago, and it is still a fact today. You said that it continues to be a concern. So, twenty years later, it is still a concern.
When you took office, you received a mandate letter from the Minister of Public Safety calling on you to instill a culture of ongoing self-reflection. That said, in your practice, or as part of that concept of self-reflection, does the Correctional Service of Canada have a duty to make recommendations to the government, regardless of political stripe, to improve the system and reduce the over-representation of Indigenous peoples? You know your client population and the problems they have in terms of socio-economic, mental health and addiction issues, among others. You know the Indigenous people in your institutions. Are you making recommendations to the government with a view to improving the system?
Ms. Kelly: I received the mandate letter from the minister, which made reference precisely to Indigenous peoples. Indigenous offenders are over-represented in our institutions. That’s partly because we do not control who is taken into our institutions. Unfortunately, 24 per cent of the people at intake are Indigenous. That’s obviously a problem. We want to reduce that offender population. That is why we created the Aboriginal intervention centres, including three in the Prairie region.
We are doing our best to work with Indigenous offenders while they are in the correctional system, so that they can participate in programs in a timely manner. We try to do interventions in accordance with section 84, not just before their release. There is work to do years in advance of their release. We are doing everything we can to reduce the number of these offenders.
Senator Brazeau: In your role as Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada, do you make recommendations to the government to try to improve the system?
Ms. Kelly: CSC makes every effort to manage the Indigenous offender population and reduce the number of offenders. As you said, we know our client population in the institutions. We know what initiatives did not produce the outcomes expected. In my opinion, the Aboriginal intervention centres are working, according to the results I gave you. That is still quite new, however.
Senator Brazeau: Conversely, do governments issue recommendations to try to change the system or do more to meet the specific needs of the Indigenous people in our prisons?
Ms. Kelly: Some of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada relate to section 81 and the provision of programs.
We have a good understanding of the mandate the minister entrusted to us in his letter. We try out different interventions to see whether they work. We are hoping that the Aboriginal intervention centres will produce the expected outcomes.
There is a component in the community. An initiative based on Indigenous social history is yielding good results. We provided training to parole officers. We find that the quality of reports has improved, and the Parole Board of Canada shared its observations on the quality of reports. That also helps.
Senator Brazeau: I would like to ask more questions, but we have run out of time.
Senator Ngo: Thank you for being here. I’d like to follow up on Senator Ataullahjan’s question. She mentioned that witnesses and federally sentenced persons have argued that the effect of many CSC policies is to discriminate against individuals on the basis of race, gender, disability, mental health status, ethnicity, religion, language, the whole thing. Can you tell us what policies you have in place to address this?
Ms. Kelly: Well, I don’t believe our policies discriminate, actually. I would say that for every offender, it’s a case-by-case basis. There’s a correctional plan that’s done for every single offender. Dr. Motiuk can speak to this, but we do a comprehensive intake when they arrive. We certainly ask a lot of questions. It’s a correctional plan that’s individualized. In terms of, for example, Indigenous offenders, we take into account the Aboriginal social history, and we actually trained staff to do just that.
In reading your interim report, I saw that the other concern is around Black offenders and the fact that we have 8 per cent, but in the Canadian population it’s 4 per cent. One thing that we are doing is looking at taking into account the unique circumstances of the Black offenders as well in our reports. These are the types of things we do.
Larry Motiuk, Assistant Commissioner, Policy, Correctional Service Canada: Our development policies are always grounded in our mission and core values, which respect rights. We also have an offender redress process in which we look at rights, redress and resolution, and offenders have the ability to file complaints and grievances. Some can be on the grounds of discrimination and harassment. They are analyzed and responded to at an individual level across the board, and we’re quite concerned whenever these allegations are brought forward. We have been monitoring our intake of grievances for some time and are quite pleased that we have been able to significantly reduce the backlog of grievances filed by inmates across the service for a variety of reasons, to the point now that it’s manageable. That’s a very important process for us. We do have a duty to listen to the offender population in terms of what they would bring forward in terms of issues such as discrimination and other kinds of complaints as well.
Senator Ngo: Excuse me, but you didn’t answer my questions here. The witnesses and the federal persons in prison say that many CSC policies to discriminate against these guys. That’s what we heard.
Mr. Motiuk: I don’t see where that would be, but we would certainly entertain any kind of feedback where that would be viewed. When we construct policy, we actually go to the inmate population and inmate committees and consult with them on each and every one of our Commissioner’s Directives — and there are over 200 of those — for feedback. This is something on which we would give them an opportunity, and we would be concerned about it as well.
Ms. Kelly: If there are examples, if they could be shared with us? For me, as commissioner, with the mandate, I really like this culture of ongoing self-reflection. I think it’s something we should always do to continually look at our policies, practices and procedures and continually look at what works and what doesn’t work. If it doesn’t work, then we need to change it. I’m very serious about that. Again, to be clear, we never write policies thinking, “Oh, let’s discriminate,” never. But if there are policies that you say you’ve heard from offenders that discriminate, then it would be good to hear about that.
The Chair: We will follow up. We have Senator Hartling with a question, but I want to remind the senators that clearly there is a lot of interest in this panel. We could have had our whole time with you. If there are other questions, we will send them forward. I would encourage the senators to get them to us by the end of this week so that we can follow up in a timely fashion.
Senator Hartling: Would you rather that I send it?
The Chair: No, go ahead. We’ll take a few minutes.
Senator Hartling: Thank you very much for being here.
One of the things we keep hearing is about mental health. That’s not just in institutions but in our Canadian society. I know that your employees are working very hard. But you also have about 6,200 volunteers. Of those volunteers, how many would actually go into the federal prisons and in what kind of role? Can they help in terms of the mental health issues? Are they able to contribute anything in that area as volunteers to help with those issues?
Ms. Kelly: We have about 6,000 volunteers that we work with. Volunteers do a variety of things. Sometimes it’s volunteers to speak to the offenders. I’m not sure if we have volunteers that are — I don’t think they would act as a psychologist, but certainly the volunteers are there to support the offenders. We have some volunteers that will even escort offenders into the community. So they do a variety of things.
It’s very hard to transition from an institution to the community, and I often say in the community the offenders are — we offer quite a bit. There is lots of staff. There are programs. There are interventions. You can speak to mental health professionals. But when you’re released in the community, if you’ve been incarcerated for a long time, things have changed, and sometimes I have seen offenders that don’t know how to use an ATM. So volunteers are there to help them navigate when they return to the community.
In terms of mental health, I’ll ask Ms. Wheatley to speak to it.
Ms. Wheatley: Specifically for health, our volunteers tend to play two roles. One is as an advocate for the patients under our care. We frequently see various NGOs and their staff and volunteers coming in as patient advocates. That’s certainly welcomed in our system. The second role is more around the social piece within an institution. We know mental health recovery and the road to wellness is more than just what happens in the treatment room. Having a sense of belonging and having purposeful and meaningful activities is a big part of wellness for our patients. Volunteers contribute immensely in that area of recovery for the people under our care.
Senator Hartling: Thank you, because I think it could be an expanded role. There are a lot of us that have those skills that might be able to augment some of the things you are doing. Thank you very much.
The Chair: Thank you all very much for being with us this morning and for taking our questions. As I indicated previously, we will follow up with some additional questions that we have. Thank you.
Ms. Kelly: Thank you very much.
The Chair: In the second part of our meeting today, we are going to hear from officials from the Parole Board of Canada. Let me introduce the chairperson, Jennifer Oades, and she will introduce those who are with her and share her opening remarks. Thank you.
Jennifer Oades, Chairperson, Parole Board of Canada: Thank you. Good afternoon, madam chair and honourable members of the committee. I want to thank you for inviting the Parole Board of Canada to speak to you today regarding your study on the human rights of offenders in the correctional system. I’m certainly pleased to be here and hopefully we can help inform your study.
I would like to introduce my colleagues: Daryl Churney, Executive Director General, who works in the national office with us; and Michelle Van De Bogart, Regional Director General, Ontario Region.
As you may recall, the Parole Board of Canada first appeared before this committee in relation to this study back on April 5, 2017. Today, I will focus my remarks on the parole board’s current operating environment and the corporate priorities I have established since being appointed at its chairperson on January 31, 2018, and then I would be happy to answer any questions you have.
As you are aware, the board is part of the criminal justice system. It makes independent, conditional release and record suspension decisions, and clemency recommendations. The board contributes to the protection of society by facilitating, as appropriate, the timely reintegration of offenders as law-abiding citizens. The board delivers on this commitment in an open and accountable manner, while respecting the rights and dignities of both offenders and victims.
Since our last appearance before this committee, the board is now also responsible for expungements, following the coming into force of the Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act on June 21, 2018. This legislation allows for the destruction or permanent removal of judicial records for historically unjust convictions, which currently includes eligible offences involving consensual sexual activity with a same sex partner that would be lawful today.
However, it is the conditional release area that remains the board’s largest area of responsibility. The protection of society is the paramount consideration for the board in the determination of all cases.
The board strives to ensure the application of fairness in its policies; to respect the gender, ethnic, cultural and linguistic differences among offenders; the special needs of women and other groups with special requirements.
We have worked hard over the past year to build an organization that is knowledge-based and that is nimble in its ability to respond to changes within a dynamic operating environment.
We work in a challenging environment that is subject to public scrutiny, quite a bit of it, and we are also subject to effectively aligning the Government of Canada’s outcome of a safe and secure Canada. While the board’s mandate is relatively focused, its work is complex and demanding. Board members deal on a daily basis with two fundamental aspects of life: the liberty of individuals and the right of society as a whole to feel safe from crime. Every day, we deal with the management of risk and the effective reintegration of offenders. We are continually working to better understand risk and our approach to risk assessment and to ensure our approach to conditional release decision-making meets the diverse and complex needs of the offender population while ensuring the highest standard of public safety.
One of the key corporate priorities I have identified since being appointed has been to strengthen the board’s responsiveness to the needs of Indigenous peoples. The over-representation of Indigenous people within the criminal justice system is well-known, and we are working to ensure that Indigenous offenders, Indigenous victims and Indigenous communities are aware of their rights with respect to conditional release and that there are no systemic barriers to their participation in it. The board continues to provide policies and training that recognize the unique societal and cultural factors related to Indigenous offenders and their communities. We continue to use alternate models for parole hearings, including the use of elder-assisted hearings and community-assisted hearings.
We are also looking into ways to be more responsive to the needs of women offenders. We know that what works for men offenders does not work for women. We are exploring ways to introduce gender-informed decision-making as part of our conditional release decision-making process in an effort to contribute to improved outcomes.
The board is undertaking an analysis of all instances where sex and/or gender information is collected, used and displayed at the board. This includes all internal/external publications, forms, and computer applications, et cetera. The results will be analyzed and feed into future gender-based analysis conducted by the board and guide any future program and publication changes.
Following my appointment as chairperson, I also quickly recognized that there was potential for the board to become a more outward-facing community and partnership-oriented organization. To support this objective, I made one of the board’s key corporate priorities to enhance communication of our policies and programs to partners, victims, applicants, offenders and to all Canadians. We have been actively working to expand our external partnership in an effort to engage with and learn from the communities we serve and, in so doing, identify ways that we can adapt to meet the needs of a changing offender population.
Over the past year, we have also sought out increased opportunities to help educate the public about our mandate, given that parole is so often misunderstood. I hope that we can continue to increase our public education and awareness efforts and engagement with community partners. This will help change some of the attitudes and misconceptions people may have about the parole board and its role in contributing to public safety. This kind of engagement also allows us to consider and develop new, innovative and meaningful, lasting ways to support a renewed approach to community corrections.
Thank you. I would now be pleased to take your questions.
Senator Cordy: Thank you very much for being here today. It’s nice to hear from you. Some of us were fortunate enough when we were in one of the prisons to actually witness a parole board hearing that was taking place.
Are the parole board positions filled across the country? A few years ago, I remember that people from Atlantic Canada were having to travel out west or to central Canada because there was a shortage of people who were able to do this.
Ms. Oades: I’m glad to report that we are almost up to the levels that we should be. We are hoping for a few more appointments in the next few months. At this point in time, I would say that we’re probably a little bit short on board members in the Pacific region, but everywhere else is fine.
I would also like to say that there has been a huge improvement since we last appeared in terms of the diversity of the parole board. There are 79 board members, 44 full time and the others are part-time, and 54 per cent are now women. We have 43 women on the board. The last time we were here, it was 11. There are 9 per cent Indigenous, 6 per cent visible minorities, and 4 per cent disability — sorry. I can actually send you the breakdown. But there has been huge progress in becoming a more diverse board and becoming more reflective of the communities we serve.
Senator Cordy: What are the wait times? Somebody is eligible for parole and they have to wait to go before the parole board hearing. What is the wait time generally, or is that all done months before the person is eligible and these parole hearings are set up? How does that work?
Ms. Oades: People should know when they are sentenced, whatever sentence they get. Not to get too complicated, they receive a sentence, and with that sentence we kind of divide it into thirds. They are eligible to apply for a full parole at one third of their sentence. For day parole, they are eligible to apply six months before their full parole eligibility date. Research says that gradual, structured, supervised releases are the best way to reintegrate in terms of protecting the public. One would hope, in the best of cases, that they get that day parole six months prior to their full parole date, and then they go to full parole. Then, for those who are not successful or do not apply for parole, generally they are released at the two-thirds point of their sentence. So they serve two thirds and then they are released statutorily. The board not have a decision in that release. Where we make a decision is with the conditions that the offender would be under with that particular release.
Senator Cordy: How are prisoners prepared for the board hearings? Or are they prepared so that they understand what their rights are when they appear beforehand? So they are not going in there cold, and not knowing what their rights are, what the responsibilities are. Is there training set up for them beforehand?
Ms. Oades: Training for —
Senator Cordy: Training is the wrong word. Preparation for the prisoners before they go to their hearings so they understand what the process will be. I would think it would be somewhat intimidating. This person is basically holding your life in their hands. What are prisoners given? I used the word “training,” but consultation or —
Ms. Oades: We have what we call an in-reach program. We have been doing, I think, a lot more of them in the last year and a bit, where our staff will go in to speak with inmates about the process. They will speak to staff about the process. I think what happened is we used to go in and speak more to parole officers and tell them all about it, but I don’t think that was actually getting to the offenders. Now we’re going in and meeting with offenders and telling them about their rights, how parole eligibility works and what to expect when they are going to appear before a board. Certainly, with Indigenous offenders, we would be speaking about a range of different opportunities in terms of whether they would prefer an elder-assisted hearing or a community-assisted hearing. So yes, we are doing in-reach.
Daryl Churney, Executive Director General, Parole Board of Canada: I can add a little bit to that. The chairperson mentioned Indigenous offenders. Obviously, all of us know that’s a particular challenge for the correctional system. I can tell you that in 2018-19, the Parole Board conducted 31 outreach and in-reach events with communities and institutions across the country.
Outreach events involved community partners and NGOs working in the correctional field. Sometimes there are local justice committees in the community. The in-reach events, as the chairperson mentioned, we have done specifically targeting Indigenous offenders, meeting with Indigenous persons who are incarcerated, parole officers and correctional management. These kinds of things help to educate them about what to expect in a parole hearing, what kinds of questions the person is likely to encounter and how the parole hearing will unfold to try to reduce that level of anxiety before the person gets to the room.
This year, we have also had some conversations with Correctional Service Canada to reintroduce the parole board in training for parole officers. We used to do this years ago and, for some reason, it fell off probably about 10 years ago. When parole officers are hired and when they are doing continuous professional development, the Parole Board has not been involved for about a decade in having those conversations about what the parole board does, what a parole hearing looks look like, what to expect and how a parole officer can actually prepare themselves and the offender for the expectations of board members. In April 2019, we will recommence doing those presentations with parole officers when they are doing their continuous professional development. Phase two of that, later in the year, would be to talk to new recruits about what to expect at a parole hearing.
Senator Cordy: Parole officers are under your jurisdiction?
Ms. Oades: No, they are under Correctional Service Canada.
Senator Cordy: Thank you.
The Chair: Could I ask a quick supplemental? You promised to send us the breakdown of the diversity that you have reflected in the Parole Board members. When you do that, could you actually disaggregate the information under the visible minority category?
Ms. Oades: Absolutely.
Senator Martin: I’ll continue and build on what Senator Cordy has asked regarding processes, access to information and training preparation for offenders. You had mentioned in your presentation that you aim to meet the individual needs of offenders and make it personalized in that needs can differ from offender to offender. I was also thinking about the range of inmate population and the differences in different parts of our country.
You mentioned systemic barriers and trying to break those down, but I wanted you to elaborate more on what systemic barriers you have noted through the work that the board has done and what you have done to break down some of those barriers. You do mention the different specialized attention you’re giving to Indigenous inmates and women, but I was curious about some of the other individualized approaches that you are taking to eliminate and reduce the systemic barriers as much as possible to focus on the individualized efforts that you’re making.
Ms. Oades: That’s a really good question. To be honest, we still struggle with some of it. I am of the belief that, for every offender, the risk they pose is very individualized and it’s not just looking at a risk assessment tool. It’s really looking at a more global approach.
Indigenous is obviously the big one, where we have gone in, working with Indigenous communities and offenders to break down some of the barriers. With Indigenous offenders, the sad part of this story is the board doesn’t see very many of them. They are much more likely to waive their parole hearings, whether day or full parole. Part of this in-reach is to try and encourage them to come to see the board and apply for a day parole or a full parole. That’s one of the barriers right there, just trying to get them to apply.
For ethno-cultural offenders, that’s another area where there are concerns. We have been doing a lot of training with our board members in that area. We have an annual training session every year for five days, and every year we have included diversity issues. The upcoming one in Kingston is totally on the theme of diversity and trying to ensure that our board is diverse. It’s not as diverse as it could be —w e still have more work to do — so that they understand that, in the offender population, there is diversity there that they need to understand and be attuned to in terms of how they ask questions and how they set up a parole hearing. I think there is lots of progress still to be made. That’s why we’re having this upcoming training session specifically on diversity.
Mental health is another huge population where there are lots of issues. We should not be doing video conferencing for people with mental health issues. We know that is not the best way to hold a hearing for someone with mental health issues. For example, for someone who is very agitated, we will encourage board members to let that person stand up and move around a little bit during the hearing, if that’s going to make the hearing a better hearing. I
n the end, it’s the offender’s right to be heard. It’s the offender’s hearing, so we need to make sure that that hearing reflects that offender’s reality and cultural reality. I’m not saying we’re doing the greatest job, but we’re working on becoming better.
Senator Martin: I have a question about how you are reaching out. You’re preparing, you’re training and you are doing your best to reach the offenders. If there is a gap, is there a partner or someone within the prison? Who would facilitate that gap? It sounds as though you’re making quite an effort and that there is training and you’re talking about all the individualized considerations you have to make. It seems that there is still is this gap. Is there a way to bridge and facilitate?
Ms. Oades: Are you talking about more in terms of the actual hearing itself?
Senator Martin: Even to provide information and preparation. You’re saying the prisoners themselves are waiving their privilege or opportunity, but is there perhaps something that can be done? I’m wondering if there is a bridging agent. How do we increase the participation or acceptance of what you’re offering?
Ms. Oades: Our partners who we work with in the community from the NGOs are aware of this issue. They are in prisons a lot and they are trying to help.
To be perfectly honest, what the board has to do is work closer with the Correctional Service Canada in trying to figure out why these people are waiving. I am sure that in some cases there are good reasons, but just knowing the sheer number of offenders who waive, there’s something else going on.
Senator Martin: For example, in the medical system, you have families and you have the patient. I know that a very effective person who helps, reaches out and helps connect the program to the families or the patient are social workers. We heard from social workers when I was at a previous meeting. I’m just wondering about the role of the people who are already on the ground working in the system and perhaps finding the best people that could help bridge that gap. What are the roles of social workers, for example?
Mr. Churney: I think the role of our voluntary sector partners is critical — organizations like the John Howard Society and the Elizabeth Fry Society. All of those folks who do community aftercare really are our partners. Sometimes they get viewed as stakeholders, people who are somehow just interested, but we really do see them as partners in our process. They are typically the organizations to which we entrust the care of these individuals once they’ve been released from prison.
I think it’s fair to say the system may not always do a really good job of including those community partners in release planning and preparation and bringing them into the person’s sentence as early as possible so that those release plans are prepared and so the system knows what the plan looks like for the community. Where will this person reside? What programs and resources are required in the community to support this person?
We know the system is generally geared to have people do programming and to check off they have completed certain programs so that that can be reflected for the board. Certainly that’s important, but CSC’s own research has demonstrated that about 40 per cent of the federal inmate population is low risk. We know the research has said that if you over-program with low-risk people, you’re often doing more harm than good.
We have to, as a system, be more considerate about where we expend resources and focus those resources on people who are high risk and high need and do less with the low-risk people to move them more expeditiously through the system. I think that would be helpful.
We just had some conversations with community partners last week. All of them are committed to playing a more participatory role. I would make a very quick plug that many of these partners receive core funding from the government, but that level of funding has generally been consistent for about 20 years or so. They do a phenomenal job on a very small budget. I think that’s always worth considering.
Senator Martin: Thank you.
Senator Boyer: I have a question about the Security Threat Group status, or STG. We heard from witnesses over the past month or so about how difficult it is to have that status made inactive on your file. There doesn’t appear to be a way to remove it. I’m wondering how that status plays into any parole decisions.
Ms. Oades: I’m not quite sure. It’s interesting you say this because we just heard the same thing last week at a think tank from a number of people about the difficulty of this label or it appearing years after someone has been released. It is a concern. I’m not sure if it’s still showing on someone’s application for parole. I would say that if it’s still active, there will be some fairly detailed questions about that designation. If it’s inactive, it shouldn’t be a part of the overall assessment in terms of the index offence.
Senator Boyer: Okay. That’s good to know. If it’s inactive, it wouldn’t have any bearing on the parole decision, then?
Ms. Oades: Well, it wouldn’t have any bearing in terms of going forward. It would have more bearing on how this was your index offence, you were involved with this gang, but you’ve made progress and you’re now inactive. It would be difficult to have some risk to that if it’s inactive.
Senator Boyer: Thank you.
Senator Pate: Thank you all for being here, and thank you for all the work you do.
We heard about the increased number of releases and conditional releases in the past year from the previous panel. It’s hard to determine whether that’s because of a change in the Correctional Service Canada or a change in the Parole Board. I invite you, if you feel you can comment on that, to feel free to comment.
My question is around the types of releases. When we were visiting the prisons, we saw many instances of people who were very ill, physically ill or mentally ill. When we asked about exceptional releases, the implication was that no one gets exceptional releases unless they’re about to die. Yet the legislation, as you’re aware, is quite permissive in terms of when you can have exceptional releases. As well, there’s a provision for transfers under section 29 for health reasons.
We’ve also heard that many people are being discouraged from applying for parole by their parole officers. When you mention the number of waivers, that seems to mesh with that evidence we’re hearing. Also, people are being discouraged from applying for things such as sections 81 and 84. In that whole range of your jurisdiction, my understanding, when we watched the parole hearing, is that there is an inquisitorial function that the board serves to ask questions about the individual, but how often are you able to initiate a request that an exceptional release be considered or a section 81 or 84?
I’m asking in part because you’ve indicated that you’re making new approaches to working with, in particular, ethnocultural, Indigenous prisoners and women. It strikes me that one of the options might be educating people and also doing more of an interrogation around why those particular options haven’t been examined. I’m just not sure how broad a reach you have, how often you’re able to use those mechanisms, whether the impediment is the application or if there’s something else. Sorry, it’s very wide-ranging.
Ms. Oades: Thank you. Those are some good questions.
On the last one, it’s interesting, because I have been told a few times now that the board should own its authority. There is more authority there that we could be doing than we currently do., and that would be asking offenders to actually return to the board to review their conditions of release. I say that in particular with regard to offenders serving indeterminate sentences who are now out in the community and have been out in the community for perhaps 20 to 25 years.
I was a parole officer. I can tell you that it’s great having lifers on your case because they’re generally the easiest cases to manage. You’ll often hear people say they’d rather have 30 lifers on their caseload than a mixture just because they are generally more stable in terms of the longer they’re out in the community, but it’s very rare that they actually come back to look at varying the conditions of their release.
I don’t know if there’s a reluctance by parole officers in the community to actually say that maybe we should come back to the Parole Board, but I don’t think the Parole Board should wait. I think part of our authority is that when we’re granting parole, we say, “By the way, we’d like to see you in five years and see how you’re doing on those conditions and whether they should be varied or not.” I really do think that the board should be doing more of that. They’re supposed to be the least restrictive and tied to risk. After five years, I think lots can change. After 10 years, I think more can change, and that magic number is sort of around eight or nine years into the community. That person has the same likelihood of reoffending as all of us around this table. I think there is some work we can do there.
In terms of aging offenders and dying offenders, we have had some discussions with Correctional Service Canada on this. We have had some very good results after that conversation in terms of needing to know at the earliest time, because we can get a board together quickly if you let us know as soon as possible, whether we can do parole or parole by exception.
I’m going to ask Michelle to speak to it because she had a case in her region. It was probably an incredible case that was put together very quickly to get someone out so they could die in the community.
Michelle Van De Bogart, Regional Director General, Ontario Region, Parole Board of Canada: We’ve actually had two recent cases like that, with a partnership between Correctional Service Canada and ourselves from the time we were notified at the board that this individual was near the end of their life. What we did was work collectively to get all the information that was needed.
We’ve also modified our policy to be more flexible in the last little while. The medical information that is required can come not necessarily just from the doctor, but also additional medical practitioners, which allows for more flexibility.
In both cases, within a very short period of time — one of them was within 48 hours from being notified to getting all the information before our board members to having them vote. We allowed both of these individuals to pass away without security in the room and with their families.
When our chairperson came, she asked us, as regional directors general, to speak to our counterparts at CSC in the regions and engage in those conversations. That was done with all of my colleagues across the country and it’s been working very well in Ontario since we’ve had those conversations.
Senator Pate: Would it be helpful to have a recommendation from a group like ours or some other recommendation that the board be able to take more of an inquisitorial function? Let’s say you’re getting five or ten women or five or ten Indigenous people or other groups coming before, and you don’t see an application for section 81 or 84. For the board to have that authority to inquire, is that something you already have that you could use?
Ms. Oades: I’m not sure, but I think it’s worth looking at, absolutely.
There is just one other thing I wanted to mention. The law was changed in 2012, and during that time the government changed the definition of day parole to allow for another place. Day parole has always seemed to be you’re going to a halfway house or you’re going back to an institution or somewhere that CSC has designated as meeting its requirements. When the law changed in 2012, it allowed for another place. It left it open. We have changed our own internal policy that really didn’t support allowing for another place, because I think it really speaks to some people who live remotely.
It is day parole, and people say, “Doesn’t that sound like full parole if you’re, perhaps, living at home?” I would argue no, because I think the difference between day role and full parole is really how short the leash is. With a day parole, someone may be going to a home, a nursing home or somewhere else, particularly those in remote areas, and then you put the conditions that make that release a little more structured than a full parole.
I just thought I’d put that out there because I think it is an important change for the board and I think it’s important change for CSC. It’s relatively new, so it’s going to take a little bit of time to get everyone used to that.
Mr. Churney: Part of the strategy in doing that was not only to align ourselves with the legislation and the authority that’s there, but also, in some ways, to assist CSC. They have a number of pressures and challenges with bed spaces in the community and at community-based residential facilities. There is sometimes a preponderance to send individuals to a halfway house that maybe don’t necessarily need to be there. By expanding the scope of our policy to say other locations may be permissible as long as that’s suitable for that person’s risk, whether that’s mom’s house or grandma’s house, if that’s suitable for that person, then that should be fine. That’s partially a way to get at some of the accommodation pressures that CSC has in the community.
Senator Hartling: Thank you very much for being here. It’s very interesting, and it sounds like things are progressing.
I liked what you said about the difference between treating men and women or looking at their situations differently. Could you expand on that? I was also thinking about how we now have other identities. We have trans people. Is that a consideration that comes about in that?
Ms. Oades: I think so. We’re starting with women. I was the Deputy Commissioner for Women with the Correctional Service Canada, so it is a priority of mine in terms of ensuring that we do things differently.
When I came to the board, I was somewhat surprised that a hearing is done exactly the same way for a man as it is done for a woman, knowing that women have come into crime on very different pathways, and the trauma. I was worried if we always started with that index offence. We have a set structure for how a hearing goes, and if we’re coming into a hearing with a woman and starting to talk about that index offence right away, why would we be surprised when she shuts down, because we’ve just re-triggered trauma? Is there a better way to hold that hearing? Should women have more choice in how their hearing is set up?
We have some great practices already that have been in practice for some time, such as Nova Institution. Nova is not a traditional setup of the Parole Board sits here and you sit there and we ask questions. Parole Board members come dressed somewhat more informally. It’s usually a circle. That’s for any woman who wants it that way. There is a choice there. You don’t have to be Indigenous to have a circle. It’s shown some better results and much better interest in applying for parole because it’s a less intimidating way.
Michelle is co-chairing a committee that is looking into this and seeing what best practices are. I was actually quite taken aback when I found out some of my American colleagues were already doing this. We’ve never held up the U.S. as models of this, but there are actually some states that have already started to look at doing more gender-informed hearings.
This is where we’re starting, and we’re doing some research. We’re doing literature reviews. But it’s just the start. It would go through more in terms of transgender, gay, lesbian and the whole gamut. It would spread out to there. I also think that what generally works for women has actually shown, by practice, at least, to work for men, so I would hope that there would be a trickle-down effect.
Senator Brazeau: Welcome to all of you. I believe you mentioned that the Parole Board tries to address the ethno-cultural offenders in terms of the questions they ask. Can you give examples of such questions?
Ms. Van De Bogart: During a hearing process, as an example, for an Indigenous offender, we’ll often have elder-assisted hearings. Part of that elder-assisted hearing is if the men or women who come before us have been participating with elders in Indigenous programming, we would engage in conversation about the types of ceremonies they’ve been involved in, the teachings they’ve been involved in and how they’ve learned. That is included in our risk assessment. We look at all sorts of things for our risk assessment. Our chairperson alluded to that when she was talking about parts of the history and what they’ve done during their incarceration and where they want to go when they get out. The information and the involvement in ceremonies with elders, with different diverse cultures, with those who are interested in assistance in religion, would take all that information into consideration.
It’s hard to come up with an example of a question because our board members look at each case individually and decide how they’re going to engage in those conversations. Definitely that information is absolutely taken into consideration.
Senator Brazeau: Okay. That clarifies that point.
Second, I believe you also mentioned that many Indigenous people, in large numbers, waive their right to appear before the Parole Board. Are you aware of any reasons why that is?
Ms. Oades: No, other than they don’t feel they’re ready or they feel intimidated by coming before the board. They figure they will get a negative answer. As the law currently states, if you get a negative response from the Parole Board, there is a waiting time. It’s not set in stone. In some ways, I think it is. You have to wait a certain amount of time before you can reapply again. If you have a relatively short sentence, I think people who feel they haven’t done their programming, they’re intimidated, they’re not going to go to the board on their first try because if they don’t get it they will have to wait maybe a year until they can reapply again. I think that’s part of it.
I would say our in-reach activities have helped to try to dispel some of the myths. I have also established a chairpersons’ Indigenous circle, and I have some really amazing people, such Ron Sky and Chief Benedict from Akwesasne. There are some good people who are providing advice to me who are involved in their communities and in the whole corrections process. That was one of their main concerns: Why are Indigenous offenders waiving their parole hearings? We are looking into it. It’s one of the things I think we need to work a lot closer with the Correctional Service Canada on.
Senator Brazeau: What could be done, in your opinion, to better support Indigenous inmates to put more chances on their side to appear before the Parole Board?
Ms. Oades: I think we can do a couple of things. We can look at the programming. I think we can look to ensure that they are getting the programming at the right time in their sentence so that they’re well prepared in a more timely basis to come to the board. Definitely reaching in and explaining how it works. Here are all your options. Do you want a regular parole hearing? Do you want an elder-assisted hearing? I think it helps in giving them options.
Also working with their community. There’s the pushing out and also the pulling out. I think the pulling out is actually more successful in terms of having communities actively support people coming back into their communities and having the support systems that are there. As a board member, I need to know that your release plan is viable. Your risk to reoffend may be moderate or low, but what are the supports that you have in your community that are going to help mitigate the risks that you may pose? Are there mental health issues? Is there programming and counselling in your community? Are there other different sorts of programs that might be required to mitigate someone’s risk? It’s not just the inside; it’s the outside as well.
Mr. Churney: The committee had previously mentioned section 81 and 84 agreements. It’s challenging for the board to get at that because we can only get at it indirectly. Section 81 and 84 agreements fall within part 1 of the act so they’re under the jurisdiction of our colleagues at CSC. We can try to get at that through training with parole officers or discussions with our colleagues at CSC to try to encourage that.
I’m aware that our colleagues at Public Safety Canada have been running a program that’s worked with Indigenous communities for a number of years. They will go in and do community safety plans, which, as I understand, have been quite successful. It’s an opportunity for the community to articulate for itself what it sees as its public safety needs. It’s not the government developing a plan for the community; it’s the community developing its own plan, which I think is quite important. We really only know this anecdotally, but it sometimes seems there is resistance in some Indigenous communities to have someone come back, particularly if it’s a sex offender, for example, and there is a large degree of stigma around that person. Maybe there are some worries and concerns. Expanding the scope of those kinds of programs and opportunities to reclaim their sense of public safety and what they want for themselves, I think, is a good model.
Senator Pate: One of the things the committee has heard going into a meeting with the folks inside are the number of people talking about how difficult it is to get access to programs. They’re told if something is in the correctional treatment plan, they have to take it. If they’re serving a longer prison term, they’re bumped to the end. If they have a STG label, there’s no way to mitigate that in terms of putting information forward. When we’ve been having discussions about putting in requests for those, we’re told that they are discouraged from putting in requests for programs that they won’t have access to, even though that might be assisting the board in knowing that they have a motivation, but the course isn’t accessible.
Are there recommendations you could make that would be helpful if this committee considered that area? It seems to me it’s a huge issue, particularly for Indigenous and other racialized prisoners. Then we see examples like we heard from some men involved in the breakaway program in Collins Bay. It’s not a recognized program. It’s not funded and completely done externally, yet it’s the only intervention for someone who faces this Security Threat Group.
Ms. Oades: The STG.
Senator Pate: The STG. Thank you.
Ms. Oades: I think we need to look at programming from a broad range. It’s not within my mandate, but I think the evidence and all of the research shows that most programs are much more useful and much better in terms of offender results if they’re delivered in the community.
Mr. Churney: The research is clear that any degree of programming is generally good, but the results are better if it is delivered in the community as opposed to in the institution.
The system has felt the effects of deficit reduction measures over a number of years. I think about a program such as lifeline, which is a program that used to be run by our colleagues at Correctional Service Canada that was a peer-support program for persons serving life sentences. It was tremendously successful but unfortunately was a casualty of budget reductions. That program in some form or another does continue in that there are community volunteers running a shell of that program. There is a real concerted effort on the part of some community partners to keep that going in the absence of government funding. I think that could certainly be an area the committee may consider in terms of recommendations.
Again, I go back to our NGO partners being quite willing to deliver programs if there were resources available.
I know that once upon a time, when I worked in Public Safety Canada, my job was to work with Corrections Canada and assess their performance. I know roughly about 2 per cent of their overall budget is dedicated to programming. Whether that is enough or not is not for me to conclude, but I just point that out. Within the scope of a very large budget, a fairly small amount is dedicated to programming, so I think that’s worth considering.
Ms. Oades: It’s also worth considering the assistants that come to hearings. Every offender has a right to have an assistant at a hearing. I think they provide, for the most part, some real value to a hearing, certainly some real value to that offender in being and feeling that they are more supported. I think if you looked at the results — I’m not sure if we have — of an offender who has an assistant at the hearing and the decision that is made, and an offender who doesn’t and a decision that is made, it could be quite interesting. Because from what I have seen, where there is an assistant helping an offender, it seems to be a better hearing because they can help the offender if the offender doesn’t understand something and explain it to them. So I think it adds a richness. It would be nice to see. Queen’s University has a great program where there are law students that help offenders at their hearings, but I think there could be a richness right across the country in that area.
The Chair: Thank you. I just have a couple of questions. I know we’re short for time, but there are a couple of things I want to inquire about.
I wonder if you could give us a bit more information on what community-assisted hearings look like. What does that involve? Who typically would use them?
Ms. Van De Bogart: With a community-assisted hearing, the format is similar to our elder-assisted hearings which are held on the inside. I would describe it as two portions of the hearing. The first part is the ceremonial portion of the hearing, and then the risk assessment portion.
We would go into the community in which the offender is being returned, and there is a significant amount of work that is done before we actually go there for the hearing itself. That work is done by CSC and by the board. We go out and we meet the community. We explain the process, and we engage in questions and answers to make sure that everybody understands.
For the hearing portion itself, our board members go out. Our staff go out. The offender is there, his or her supports are there, individuals of the community may be there, and we start with the ceremonial part. That can be — and it should be — specific to the individual that is before us from a cultural perspective. An example would be a prayer and an opening smudge. Then we do the risk assessment. The risk assessment portion is exactly the same as any risk assessment we do at the board. It’s a rigorous risk assessment.
It’s all done in a circle, but part of the risk assessment and the hearing itself involves hearing from individuals. We would then render our decision. So it’s essentially the same format as our elder-assisted hearings in the institution. It’s done on a larger scale because we tend to have more people from the community that are interested in them. It’s done within the community itself.
The Chair: Thank you. I have one more point. A number of my colleagues have talked about the statements you made about many Indigenous prisoners not applying for parole. People have asked follow-up questions, and number of really important points have been raised. I wanted to note that one of the things that I have heard specifically from a number of Black prisoners in different institutions is that one of the reasons they don’t apply for parole is because they witness what happens with some of their fellow prisoners who have gone for parole. That experience is less than positive and, if they are denied parole, they are less likely to apply for a parole themselves. I have heard that for a number of years. I know we don’t have time now, but I wonder if you could reflect on that just provide us with any information you may have that would address that, and also what the Parole Board could do to address that issue.
Ms. Oades: Thank you. I will reflect on that because I have often thought that even if someone is being denied parole, I expect that experience to be a positive one. So I expect, “Yes, we’re denying this time, but here is what we think you should work on,” that sort of thing. I will reflect more on that.
Senator Pate: Could we also receive information about the new training programs that you’re doing with parole board members and what you’re doing going into the prisons, as well as the number of releases? And if we could also have the numbers of pardons and the stats and the trends are that you’re seeing?
Ms. Oades: Okay.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your time this afternoon and for your testimony. It has been really insightful. We appreciate that.
Colleagues, I remind you that we have some administrative matters to discuss. Is it agreed that the meeting continue in camera?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Thank you.
(The committee continued in camera.)