Evidence of meeting #32 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

  • Don Head  Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada
  • Michael Côté  Director General, Rights, Redress and Resolution, Correctional Service of Canada
  • Shane Dalton  Acting Analyst, Offender Redress , Correctional Service of Canada

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

Do I have more time, Mr. Chair?

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Yes, you do. You have another two minutes.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

What I'm hearing you say—and maybe I'm picking this out of your words or something—is that in fact this bill will give you a tool to use to break the cycle of vexatious complaints, which some inmates are obviously consumed with.

What I'm hearing you say is that then you're in a cycle of complaints upon complaints, because they're going to complain about the earlier complaint upon the earlier complaint. This then gives you a tool to use to break that cycle, and hopefully get these inmates the attention and help that they need.

4:25 p.m.

Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada

Don Head

Very much so. You did hear me correctly. Right now, under the existing legislation, regulations, and our policy, we can deem something to be a frivolous and vexatious complaint, but the offender can disagree with that, and then take it to a grievance. Under the scheme that is being proposed here, I have a tool that will allow me to stop that process, and then to start to work with the offender in a different way.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

In other words, instead of a negative, spiraling complaints process where people are not able to break out of that because they just continue, you then have an effective tool to use to break them out of the cycle, and do something more positive with their time while they're in incarceration.

Just another quick question, if I still have the time, Chair—

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Make it really quick.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

—and that is around the price of all of these complaints.

You had quoted numbers of around $5 million this year. Of course we still need to have a system in place for legitimate complaints. Nobody is talking about getting rid of that. So if you were to take out these vexatious complains, what is the percentage, in terms of the $5 million in total? How much of it do you think it would be in savings that you could use for something else?

4:25 p.m.

Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada

Don Head

In grosso modo terms, in looking at the 25 individuals filing more than 100 complaints a year, in terms of following the process defined in this bill, I would say it's between $250,000 and half a million dollars a year, just with those 25 individuals.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you.

Ms. Boivin, you have five minutes.

March 27th, 2012 / 4:30 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Thank you very much.

I want to thank the witnesses. This is absolutely fascinating. I do not claim to be an expert on this topic, and I am here replacing one of my colleagues, but I have a few questions off the top of my head.

I worked as a lawyer in labour law, especially in the area of collective agreements and grievance adjudication. The major dilemma is always deciding which process works the best and is the most effective and fair for everyone involved. I have always advocated the most direct processes. You have the first, second, third and fourth levels. Eventually, there's no end to the never-ending process, and you often go around in circles.

I know that my colleague Mr. Chicoine asked this already, but I'm not sure I heard your answer properly. Wouldn't it be better to reduce the number of levels in order to become more effective? If there were fewer levels, you would be less bogged down by all the complaints you receive.

4:30 p.m.

Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada

Don Head

No. Again, to be clear, and I apologize if I wasn't clear before, I think as we go forward there are going to be more opportunities for us to look at how we can be more effective and efficient. That may include looking at whether it's possible to reduce some levels, but that needs to come in concert with a few other pieces, including this.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

So one doesn't exclude the other—

4:30 p.m.

Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada

Don Head

Yes, exactly.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

—it could still be done. Because it seems a pretty heavy process, in my opinion, at this point in time, especially considering the type of grievance or complaint that sometimes you're getting. I do hope you don't have four paliers for somebody who has cold ice cream. I would be really pulling my hair out.

That being said, when I read the law—because it's always interesting to read the law—and you look at subsection 91.1(2)

proposed, you see that it says the following:

The Commissioner may designate an offender as a vexatious complainant when, in his or her opinion, the offender has submitted multiple complaints or grievances that are of a vexatious or frivolous nature, or not made in good faith.

I want to begin with my question. How do you think you, in your capacity as commissioner, will go about this? How many complaints constitute multiple complaints? The wording “vexatious or frivolous nature, or not made in good faith” is used.

I want to go back once again to my experience as a lawyer in labour law. In the area of evocation, when we would be talking about behavioural concepts “of a vexatious or frivolous nature, or not made in good faith”.... In life, one of the most difficult things to prove is bad faith because people's good faith is always presumed.

I am trying to see how these new powers will help you and whether you will not instead be bogged down, under proposed clause 91.3, when faced with a mountain of appeals for judicial review of your decisions.

Is the system being modified and weakened through another system? That is sort of what I think about when I read this kind of legislation.

4:30 p.m.

Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada

Don Head

Those are very good questions. I have a couple of responses.

I'll deal with your latter questions first. In terms of weighing down, given that this is a very significant decision being made in terms of an individual who's under the care of the state, I actually see within my organization—whether it rests with me or if I'm able to delegate it to my senior deputy commissioner—that it's the right level for these kinds of designations.

Again, based on our current numbers, I would see anywhere between 25 and just over 100 a year that could possibly be deemed to meet these criteria, and I think that warrants the most senior review within the organization, given that these people are under the state's care.

In terms of differentiating, I imagine, based on your previous career in terms of labour law, you would know when one side is bargaining in bad faith. It's just so evident to you. I've got over 34 years in corrections now, and a lot of my senior managers have many years as well. It's one of those things you can tell. At the end of the day, we're going to have to justify our decisions, because they could go to judicial review. They're going to have to be well documented, knowing that they could be subjected to judicial review, and we've got a lot of experience in that area in terms of the concept of duty to act fairly, the rule of law. So I feel comfortable that we're able to determine and distinguish frivolous and vexatious from a good grievance, for lack of a better word.