Evidence of meeting #30 for Public Safety and National Security in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was complaints.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Yes, I agree with that. You touched on it as well in your statement. Front-line correctional officers at the very lowest level will try to deal with complaints on a one-on-one basis. They don't want to see them go through the system. They want to make sure they are resolved.

People who are taking them to the next level and appealing them are getting the same answers at every level, but they're pursuing them to bog down the system. These are not legitimate complaints.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Yukon, YT

Going back to proposed subsection 91.1(6), which deals with trying to break the cycle of those vexatious complaints, I think that's a commendable section of the bill. It's not designed to hit them hard, but to actually help them move on as productive inmates within the correctional environment, and then productive members of society.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Leef. We'll leave it at that.

We'll now go back to Madame Morin for five minutes.

March 13th, 2012 / 5:20 p.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Thank you.

First, I would like to thank you for coming here today, Ms. James.

With respect to your bill, there are a few things that have been bothering me since the start of our meeting.

We know that the complaint system was established to prevent riots or other violent protests. In fact, I am concerned that inmates will be prevented from making complaints. Could this not spur them to use more violent means to revolt? This could endanger guards, support staff, other inmates and public safety. What do you think about this situation?

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

I think when we talk about the current complaint process, the original intent was to deal with legitimate complaints. The ones you are talking about—complaints that deal with a particular issue that's going to affect the life, liberty, or security of an individual inmate—would actually be included in that. If you think of a handful or maybe 20 inmates across Canada bogging down the system with complaints that are frivolous, that are without merit, they're actually preventing the ones that are legitimate, that need to be heard, that could result in that situation you just talked about, from being addressed or heard in a timely manner and resolved.

I think this bill is actually seeking to do exactly what you're concerned about. Again, the complaint process should be and was originally intended to be for legitimate complaints, rather than a method or a game used by a certain group of inmates.

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

We are talking about legitimate complaints and, during our discussion, there was mention of frivolous complaints, inmates' intentions and making a game or a mockery of the system. I am certainly not talking about milk that is too cold or any such thing. However, who would have the authority to decide if a complaint is frivolous and to deny it? How far can an unfounded complaint go?

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

An unfounded complaint that's made—a frivolous complaint, one without merit—can actually go right up to the top. That's the problem we have with the current system: it has a loophole that does not require grievances to be filed in good faith. That's the particular issue that this bill seeks to address.

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

I do not want to know to what level a complaint can be taken. I would like to know what constitutes a vexatious complaint and what constitutes a legitimate complaint. At what point can we say that a complaint is without merit? A little earlier you spoke about milk that is too cold and potatoes that are the wrong size. What criteria must be added to ensure that a complaint is deemed to be vexatious?

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

I think that through my answers I have talked very specifically about the definition of vexatious. It deals with the content or the intent of someone who files a complaint. It's to harass, to abuse the system, to bog down the system, and so on. So when we talk about legitimate complaints, those are complaints filed that are not without merit.

I think common sense around this table dictates that a complaint that a potato is too small is not a legitimate complaint. I want to reiterate that there are inmates who are hired within each institution to deal with complaints and to help assist prisoners deal with those types of issues. If an inmate decides to actually file the complaint through the formal complaint process—you know, they drop that complaint in the box, it's heard, it's read, it's filed, and it's put in the computer—the hard-working front-line correctional officer will try to deal with that complaint as well.

So if someone complained—let's say we're using the potato example—I would think someone from that institution would talk with that inmate to try to resolve that particular issue. Again, the current system allows that inmate to actually control the entire system. If they don't like the answer, they don't like being told that their potato is not too small, they're going to appeal it and take it to the next level.

Those are the types of complaints this bill seeks to address.

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

I would like some clarification about vexatious complaints. The explanation is unclear; I find it very subjective. Is there not a risk that legitimate complaints will be denied?

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Absolutely not. Keep in mind that labelling someone as a vexatious complainer is done by the Commissioner of CSC. He or she has at hand all of the information on that particular person: the complaints they have filed, the resolution or lack of resolution, the fact that someone has appealed it. They have all that information at hand. They're not going to have the discretion simply to label any inmate as a vexatious complainant.

Again, this bill is going to seek to address that small loophole we need to close to make sure our system actually works the way it was intended to.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, Ms. James.

Mr. Norlock you can have a quick question, and then I see our clock shows close to five-thirty.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

This is just something that may have been missed, not to comment on the suggestion that we are all automatons of the minister's office. I would just like to go through proposed subsection 91.2(3), which says:

A decision-maker may not refuse to hear a complaint or grievance that would result in irreparable, significant or adverse consequences.

So there is a protection there.

The next protection I noticed is in proposed section 91.3, where it says:

A vexatious complainant...may seek judicial review of this designation.

There is actually an appeal process so that if someone disagrees with the vexatious complaint nomenclature, they can appeal, and there is a provision that sets out in legislation an offender's right to seek the review of the commissioner's decision to designate him or her a vexatious complainant in Federal Court.

If you wanted to you could expand on that, or perhaps you actually have covered that particular part of it.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Norlock.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Yes, thank you for actually bringing that to this meeting.

It is important to point out that there is an alternative route to the formal complaint process within our institution, and that is through judicial review. That is a method that is still available to anyone who is labelled a vexatious complainant. Again, the provisions in those sections, the various points, actually do allow someone who has been labelled as a vexatious complainant to still have a legitimate complaint heard if it deals with life, liberty, security, and so on.

So there's no need for this committee to be concerned that an actual issue of importance will not be dealt with. That will still occur.