Mr. Howard Sapers (Correctional Investigator of Canada, Office of the Correctional Investigator):
Thank you very much, Chairman.
I have never heard those words before, that I have as long as I want. That adds to the privilege I'm feeling this afternoon. It has always been a privilege to appear before this committee. I really appreciate the opportunity to meet with you for what will no doubt be my last time in this capacity.
We've had many opportunities to discuss many important issues. Some of the things I'm going to share today with the committee you've heard from me before, but as I always say, I'll repeat myself until everybody has listened. Some of it will be new, and of course there will be lots of time for questions.
Chairman, thank you again.
Joining me this afternoon is Dr. Ivan Zinger, who is the executive director in the Office of the Correctional Investigator.
The Minister of Public Safety tabled the annual report in Parliament on Halloween, on October 31, 2016. It was my 12th annual report and the 43rd annual report from the Office of the Correctional Investigator, so there's a long history and a tradition of having these kinds of discussions.
Fittingly, this year's report provides an assessment of corrections today, but also a blueprint for what I believe would be a comprehensive reform. Untypically, the report contains 27 recommendations. That's more than I think is reasonable. I thought it was necessary.
The report was directed, as you know, towards a new government, and it deliberately repeats some recommendations: some that have not been accepted, some that were never adequately answered, others that were ignored or dismissed entirely, and still others that have just languished unaddressed.
The report also includes some new recommendations targeting, for example, transgender inmate rights, the role of health providers in corrections, as well as operational concerns involving the new minimum security units at the regional women's facilities.
I believe it is a very balanced and impartial report, but as I said, it's lengthy. I hope it serves this committee well as an accountability report on the Correctional Service of Canada's operations. In spite of progress on some files, there continues to be no shortage of areas in need of improvement.
I am pleased that this year's report and recommendations have been met with a renewed and refreshing degree of responsiveness from both the Correctional Service of Canada and the minister. This is positive and encouraging, and it bodes well for a smooth and successful transition to the next correctional investigator for Canada. I leave my current position fully and completely confident in the future of the office and in its relationship with the Correctional Service.
There are a number of issues that stand out in consideration of this year's report.
Number one is the unabated increase in the number of indigenous people behind bars, now at a rate surpassing 25% of the total incarcerated population. The cycles of intergenerational trauma, poverty, and blocked opportunity that continue to bleed into our jails and prisons remains a scourge on Canada's human rights record.
There is the demonstrated but unfulfilled need for more educational, vocational, and skills training programs in corrections. More than three-quarters of all people admitted to federal custody today do not have a high school diploma. Most have never had a reliable income or held a steady job.
There has been inadequate progress in preventing deaths in custody. My office continues to investigate in-custody deaths in which the staff response was inadequate, delayed, or frankly, bungled. The prison suicide rate remains stubbornly high, while the median age of natural mortality remains persistently low, averaging just 62 years of age.
The need for alternative service delivery arrangements for offenders who are significantly mentally ill or who chronically self-injure or who are suicidal remains an urgent need and as desperate as ever.
The number of use of force incidents involving chemical and inflammatory agents is alarming. The use of pepper spray on inmates has tripled since 2011. The use of these agents is so ingrained, pervasive, and routine that it threatens to displace more dynamic, less coercive ways to deal with conflict behind bars.
The prison system is increasingly ill-equipped to provide for the health care needs of an inmate population that is growing older and sicker. We need to find better, safer, and less costly options to manage a growing subpopulation that poses the least risk to public safety yet is among the most expensive to incarcerate.
These concerns are not new. Even with the renewed responsiveness to this year's report, many of the actions and undertakings of the Correctional Service of Canada in response to my recommendations involve future study, consultation, review, or preparation of a report of one kind or another.
While consultation and careful study are necessary, the office has been reporting on many of these issues annually since my initial appointment in 2004. The problem areas are now deeply and firmly entrenched. They're well defined. They're well known, and there's been a lot of time for study.
I want to take my remaining time with you this afternoon to outline areas of mutual interest and intersecting priority among my office, your committee, and the government's stated intentions in criminal justice reform.
From the Prime Minister's mandate letters, four broad areas stand out to me: number one, addressing overrepresentation of indigenous peoples in federal corrections; number two, establishing additional legal limits on the use of segregation/solitary confinement in Canada; number three, implementing outstanding recommendations from the inquest into the death of Ashley Smith; number four, conducting a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system.
There are many ways to advance these areas without having to undertake substantial and lengthy legislative reform. Among them is included the implementation of these unmet recommendations:
Number one, appoint a deputy commissioner of indigenous affairs for federal corrections.
Number two, ensure that aboriginal-specific provisions of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act are used to their fullest and intended effect, including increasing the number of government-to-government agreements that would transfer the care, custody, and supervision of indigenous offenders to first nation, Métis, and Inuit communities.
Number three, establish 24 hours a day, seven days per week nursing coverage at all medium and maximum security institutions.
Number four, reallocate resources to better fund rehabilitation initiatives and community reintegration activities.
Number five, enhance human rights and correctional law training among front-line correctional staff.
Access to and quality of health care behind bars requires further attention. I believe it is in the public interest that the service's optimal care model of mental health care be independently validated.
It is also time for the Correctional Service to expand harm reduction measures that would more broadly mirror what is available and practised in the community.
Finally, there needs to be closer integration of institutional and community-based health services to better facilitate timely and safe reintegration.
The wider review and reform of Canada's criminal justice system needs to look at ways to strengthen independent oversight and accountability. These objectives could be achieved by the following measures:
Number one is signing the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, creating a national and international inspection system for all places of detention in Canada.
Number two is introducing independent adjudication to extend administrative segregation beyond 15 days.
Number three is establishing a patient advocate office in each of the five Correctional Service of Canada regional treatment centres.
Number four is creating a national round table on the prevention of deaths in custody.
Number five is ensuring the independence of the Parole Board of Canada's appeal division.
Progress in these areas would re-establish Canada among the world's leaders in human rights and corrections and help restore public trust and confidence in parole and correctional decision-making.
A specific review of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, CCRA, should also be undertaken in the context of broader system review.
Several aspects of the CCRA require immediate attention, including:
Number one, independent adjudication and the prohibition of administrative segregation for certain classes of offenders, e.g. those who have significant mental health issues, are chronically self-injurious, or suicidal.
Number two, a review of the purposes and principles of federal corrections to better reflect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Number three, entrenchment of Gladue or aboriginal social history factors as a mandatory requirement in any decision that impacts the retained life, liberty, or security interests of an indigenous offender.
Adding to this list, I would also include a number of areas related to parole that, if changed, could remove unnecessary barriers to safe and timely reintegration: the need to re-establish accelerated parole reviews or presumptive release for first-time, non-violent, federal offenders; a review of parole ineligibility periods; an assessment of the need for in-person hearings for post-suspension decisions and for mandatory reviews for residency conditions; and a review of record suspension provisions, including mandatory waiting periods and application fees.
Finally, there are many reforms outside of federal corrections that could have a positive impact on correctional outcomes, including the overrepresentation of indigenous people in prison and the criminalization of the mentally ill, for example: enhanced judicial discretion for victim fine surcharges; increased judicial discretion for most mandatory minimum penalties; federal funding to support legal aid representation for indigenous accused to ensure that Gladue social history factors are considered by all levels of courts and throughout their sentence administration; a review of alternatives to incarceration, including conditional sentences, bail, and specialized courts; reforms to the criminal justice system to better address the needs of offenders dealing with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
Chairman and committee, thank you for your ongoing interest in the work of the Office of the Correctional Investigator. I value the time you have given me today and I look forward to your questions.
Mr. Sven Spengemann (Mississauga—Lakeshore, Lib.):
Mr. Sapers and Dr. Zinger, thank you very much for being here. Thank you for your important work.
Mr. Sapers, to you especially, thank you for your long-standing service in this field. I offer you the very best wishes in your new role.
I would like to spend my seven minutes with you on the area of our indigenous communities and their relationship with the federal correctional system. In fact, early in its mandate this committee expressed some interest on the part of at least some members in doing something about this area. I'm very mindful of what you said about further studies, but if you could take my questions through the lens of helping this committee formulate an approach to perhaps becoming more involved with this very important issue, that might be helpful to us.
With respect to our first nations, our government has very much put front and centre the commitment to a nation-to-nation dialogue. That extends into issues we saw this week, such as the pipeline approvals. It extends into indigenous health and also infrastructure in the Far North with respect to clean water. But in few areas is the message as profound, I think, as it is in the area of corrections.
I want to put to you four general themes that I noticed from your report, but also from the third report of the Auditor General, “Preparing Indigenous Offenders for Release”. We're dealing with overrepresentation, with access to correctional programs, completion of correctional programs, and then also the very important area of release and reintegration.
I want to add to that the very important question of indigenous women. I'm mindful of the report's comments on women in general, but if we use a gender-based analysis and we combine the two sets of being indigenous and being female, we have some heightened attention on some very pressing issues.
I want to put it over to you. Can you give us from your writing, from your report, the most salient messages, maybe beginning with the area of overrepresentation? Some say that isn't really the fault of the correctional system, because upstream there's a judicial process and people are being put into the system. That's a separate question, but how can we address overrepresentation with respect to giving better access to culturally specific programs?
Then, looking at the release process, how can we make it better and eliminate the risk of reoffending but also facilitate the reintegration into society?