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 actually.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you both very much.

We'll now move to Mr. Chicoine.

You have seven minutes.

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Ms. James, thank you for coming to talk to us about your bill today.

With this bill, you seem to want to deal with vexatious complainants. Are the individuals affected the ones who repeatedly make unfounded complaints and want to discredit the correctional authority?

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

When we talk about vexatious complaints, it could be one of the components of it. Someone who is a vexatious complainer is doing it for a purpose. They're not doing it to resolve a particular issue. It's a frivolous complaint that's intended to either harass or cause trouble within the grievance process, to clog up the system. I know that was a concern during my first and second reading, the terminology in regard to vexatious.

I want to expand on this a bit because I think there's been some misinterpretation between the term “vexatious complainant” and a “multiple griever”. A “multiple griever” is someone who can submit multiple grievances or complaints through the process. It does not necessarily mean they're a vexatious complainant. It just means they have multiple grievances that they filed, and each and every one of them could be a legitimate complaint. Again, the vexatious complainant is someone who is doing it wilfully to abuse the system, to cause an undue hardship. They're making a game out of the entire complaint process.

March 13th, 2012 / 4:50 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

I share your opinion to a certain extent. It would be wise to exclude people who make frivolous complaints. However, we have some reservations about your bill because, among other things, it does not contain specific criteria for identifying a vexatious complainant. Consequently, the Commissioner could perhaps abuse this power.

People from the Office of the Correctional Investigator and some correctional officers have mentioned that more educated inmates are submitting a large number of complaints on behalf of other inmates. The fact that these inmates are considered to be vexatious complainants because they are filing grievances on behalf of others poses a problem.

Are you not concerned that, without specific criteria for identifying vexatious complainants, the Commissioner may deem them to be vexatious complainants? They do make many complaints, and they may be frivolous at times, but they are doing it on behalf of other inmates.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you for that question.

I just want to go back to the definition of “vexatious”. I'm actually going to read you the definition of vexatious, so maybe that will help to clarify the parameters in regard to someone who makes a complaint. These are basically complaints that are not made in good faith. They could be done “to harass; to pursue purposes other than a remedy for an alleged wrong; or to disrupt or denigrate the complaint and grievance process”. Those are the parameters for a vexatious complainant.

I also want to point you to proposed section 91.1 of the bill itself and to some of the changes with regard to this particular bill that I'm proposing, Bill C-293. I'm going to read this for you, because I want to reiterate that the commissioner is not going to be able to just designate someone. Things have to be written down. This has to be communicated back to the offender.

The steps include ensuring that, one, the offender receives written notice of the consideration; two, the offender is provided with all of the information reviewed by the commissioner of CSC; and three, the offender is given the opportunity to rebut the designation or present an alternative plan to address his or her needs.

I want to make it clear once again that this bill is only going to target a small number of offenders who are abusing the system. It is not intended to be and will not be used by the commissioner in any other fashion. I hope that has answered your question.

I know that you also actually mentioned someone filing complaints on behalf of others. As well, this should not impact that, because even though someone may be filing the complaint, the complaint should be logged under the original complainant or the offender who has raised that issue.

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

An individual could make a frivolous complaint believing that it is legitimate. They could also make many complaints. We are concerned by the absence of fixed criteria for identifying who is a vexatious complainant. When referring to multiple complaints, does that mean 200 complaints? There are no criteria.

Would you not prefer to specify criteria, such as the number of complaints made, for clearly identifying these complainants rather than being vague and giving the commissioner complete discretion?

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

I think it's important to note that it's not necessarily the number of complaints that are logged; it's the intent or the content itself of the complaint that is logged. It would be hard to put an actual number on it, for various reasons.

Again, I want to reiterate that under proposed section 91.1, the offender is going to receive written notice of the consideration, and please keep in mind that someone who is labelled as a vexatious complainant has filed probably several complaints. In many cases, they've been declined at the first level, then probably appealed, and declined at the second level, and then probably appealed. All of that information is recorded. It's kept on file. When the commissioner sees that information, he actually has all of that in front of him to make the proper determination. It's not just on a whim that he's giving this discretionary vexatious complaint label. He has the information to back up that decision.

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

You mentioned in your presentation that the complaint process takes up many resources at the second and third levels. Could there be a lack of resources at these levels, which prevents the quick and effective resolution of the complaint?

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

I think the bulk of the complaint processing is actually done at the first level, in many cases. Actually, in one of my speeches in the House on this I talked about the informal process of dealing with complaints themselves. Within the institutions, inmates will be hired to deal with complaints on a very informal basis. So a lot of the complaints, instead of actually making it to the actual complaints process—going through the paper- and computer-based system—will actually be dealt with on an individual, on-the-ground level.

Also, the correctional staff who I spoke to when I visited the institution indicated that in many cases they as well will deal with the issues to assist the inmate. So when we talk about going to the second and third levels, there is not necessarily as much paperwork and administration required. They're reviewing it, but again, a lot of the complaints are actually dealt with at the very first level, and a lot of them are sorted out and resolved.

Again, this bill deals with those complainants—a handful of 20 inmates—who are abusing the current system and trying to take it right through to the top to bog down the system.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, Ms. James and Mr. Chicoine.

We'll now go back to the government side.

Ms. Hoeppner, please, for seven minutes.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I probably won't be using all of my seven minutes. I'll share it with Mr. Leef.

Thank you very much, Ms. James, for being here. I also want to congratulate you on bringing this private member's bill forward and bringing it to this stage.

I think the majority of Canadians would be very disturbed to hear that a small number of inmates can use this loophole to take advantage of what I think is a very generous process for them to make complaints.

I have a specific question regarding part of your bill. Proposed subsection 91.1(6) says:

The institutional head shall ensure that a plan is developed to assist any offender who has been designated as a vexatious complainant to break the cycle of complaints and first-level grievances.

We've done several studies, so we know about the correctional plan. We understand what a plan is. It's usually quite a large, extensive document.

You refer in your bill to a “plan”, and I was wondering if you could tell us your interpretation of that. I'm concerned about possibly creating more work for our correctional officers and any of the staff that would be involved.

Would you mind telling us your interpretation of that section, please?

5 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you. I really appreciate that question.

When I read it and I went to the institution, I spoke with the wardens and they actually brought that up. When I went back and reread how the bill stood, I could understand very clearly why they were concerned with that particular terminology of the word “plan”, as Ms. Hoeppner mentioned.

Basically, within the correctional system a plan is multi-faceted, multi-paged, long term, administrative, and so on. The intention of this bill, and the way I had interpreted it when I put the bill together, was that it was going to be a very simple outline. It would be a generic document that would be used to assist inmates; it would not be an individual plan that would be hours or days or weeks in the making.

Again, it's a generic document that would be applied to all offenders to assist them in changing the direction of how they're logging their complaints.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Thank you very much.

I'll turn the rest of my time over to Mr. Leef.

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Mr. Leef.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Yukon, YT

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Ms. James, for coming today.

You talked a little bit about the 500 complaints an inmate can file in a year and that some of them are averaging around 100; the 20-plus are averaging around 100 per year.

Do you have a rough percentage—it doesn't need to be exact—of how many of those 100 complaints would be substantiated, and how many of the 100 from those 20 would be considered vexatious?