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

4:05 p.m.

Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada

Don Head

Yes, we are finding in the early stages. We have ten institutions right now that are doing ADR—alternative dispute resolution—and about 34% of the cases since November have been resolved through ADR. So we're happy with that.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you.

We'll now go back to the opposition. Mr. Garrison, please.

March 27th, 2012 / 4:05 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to the witnesses, in particular Mr. Head for appearing here multiple times. We always find your testimony valuable.

I think I'm going to fall into the same trap I discussed about this bill, that it tends to take our attention away from the larger contributions of a complaint system to a well-run correction system. I talked before about how this helps identify problems within institutions. It helps relieve pressure by providing an outlet for those grievances, and it does help settle individual problems. By focusing on this small group, we tend to veer away from those positive contributions. Having said that, I'm going to do that myself.

You said something interesting. You said that you have a profile on the 25, I believe, and I'm presuming also on the 136 that are the most prolific. Have you assessed any patterns to the causes there, and have you explored solutions or programming to address them?

4:05 p.m.

Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada

Don Head

We looked at each of the cases. We've identified factors that are mostly unique to each individual. I'll just give you an example.

There is a case we had several years ago. An individual who was doing a very long sentence had basically done many of the programs that he could do earlier on in his sentence, now had basically time to do, and decided to start to fill his time by writing two or three grievances a day. There really wasn't much in terms of programs we could do for him. We needed to find other things to occupy his time. When we did that, then he just found things that he didn't like about how his day was being filled, and he started to complain and grieve about those activities.

We know there are some individuals who have made it their raison d'être to flood the system, to keep the system occupied with these kinds of grievances. There's not much we can do. A couple of these individuals were relatively high-functioning individuals, well-educated individuals, and they made a very concerted effort to flood the system. This proposed bill, or something along these lines, will help us to deal with those individuals.

Your earlier comment, from my perspective, is right on: for the vast majority of offenders who have complaints, there's some legitimacy somewhere there. Most of it is being dealt with at the complaint stage, either giving offenders more information or correcting something, or setting them on the right path to resolution. It gives us an indicator if there are certain issues developing in a specific institution. But if our time is being taken up with those very few who are flooding the system with a significant number of frivolous and vexatious grievances, we're not able to serve the vast majority of offenders who may have some kind of legitimate issue.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Of those who are filing a large number of complaints, do you find serious complaints mixed in with the what you call frivolous and vexatious? Or would you find simply 100% of them frivolous and vexatious?

4:10 p.m.

Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada

Don Head

The odd time there is something in that mix or in that list that has some merit, but nothing I would say that would be of absolute concern from a life, liberty, or security perspective. It's usually something from a procedural perspective that wasn't followed with that individual or his case. But the odd time there is something in there that ends up being upheld, or upheld in part, more than just an issue related to timeframes not being met.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

In using some kind of system like the bill proposes, where there's no volume threshold, do you see any danger that you might cast a kind of pall on the whole complaints system? In other words, people who have legitimate complaints might be reluctant to file some of those complaints for fear of being labelled and designated.

4:10 p.m.

Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada

Don Head

No. Again, the vast majority of offenders who have filed complaints file fewer than ten a year. I think our average across the country is maybe four to four and a half complaints in a twelve-month period.

When you think about living in an environment where your day is very regimented, is controlled by others, four times a year where you might think you have a grievance about the way somebody managed you doesn't seem out of the norm. I don't think that's going to change anything for the vast majority of the offenders. Really, our read of this bill is targeting those 25 to 136 offenders who are submitting more than two a month.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Once these 25 or 136 are designated, then what happens with these people? Won't they simply turn to other methods of disrupting the system, if that's what you seem to be saying is the main goal?

4:10 p.m.

Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada

Don Head

That's a good question. Depending on how this bill takes final shape and the processes that are in place, there's still going to potentially be the opportunity for them to bring forward issues. How they get reviewed or the frequency with which they get reviewed is yet to be determined.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Thank you.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, Mr. Garrison.

Ms. Hoeppner.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Thank you very much to all three of you for being here.

As I'm listening to this I'm shaking my head and thinking that a lot of Canadians outside of the Ottawa bubble would be shaking their heads, rightly or wrongly, because we have a process whereby convicted criminals can tie up the system by complaining that their egg is too small or their ice cream is too cold, and that process can go all the way to you, Mr. Head, and it possibly could go to court.

When we have people around this country.... Whether it's health care, education, food, housing, we know the challenges that law-abiding Canadians face. And hearing that we have a system in place.... I would just say, Mr. Head, that you are a much more patient man than I am a patient woman. I would really have very little patience for that, so it's good that you're doing that job.

I'm wondering if you could tell me how front-line officers react when they have to deal with this kind of.... And let's be clear, we're not talking about just one vexatious complaint. This bill would address individuals who make multiple vexatious complaints or grievances. Can you please tell us how front-line officers feel about the ability of inmates to do this, and how they feel about this bill?

4:15 p.m.

Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada

Don Head

Thank you. That's a really good question.

This committee has heard me speak volumes before about how proud I am of my staff. They are ultimate professionals in terms of the job they have to do, day in and day out.

It is a challenge for them, whether it be the front-line correctional officers, parole officers, program delivery officers, nurses, and other staff who are sometimes the target of these multiple vexatious and frivolous grievances. It takes a toll, because in the vast majority of investigations into those complaints and grievances.... The staff have done their jobs, they've done them well, and they continue to act as professionals. But when you have certain individuals who continually file grievances against them....

You can imagine, given your previous profession, what it would be like to have a couple of citizens constantly filing grievances about the way they thought you interacted with them. At some point you step back and start to feel, “Am I doing a good job? Is this the job I want to be in? Is this the kind of environment I want to be in, where individuals are allowed to get away with making those complaints?” And there's really no recourse to their filing those in a frivolous and vexatious manner.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Are you saying the correctional officers who would be the target of these vexatious complaints really have no way of defending themselves, even in the sense of clearing their good names?

Can you give us an example, without actually giving us any names, of a vexatious complaint that was made against a specific correctional officer? Was that correctional officer able to defend himself or herself and able to come out of the whole process with head held high, or would it have been demoralizing in many ways?