Evidence of meeting #34 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 complaint.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Howard Sapers  Correctional Investigator, Office of the Correctional Investigator
  • Ivan Zinger  Executive Director and General Counsel, Office of the Correctional Investigator

4:30 p.m.

Correctional Investigator, Office of the Correctional Investigator

Howard Sapers

That's right.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Should anyone suggest that you're not, they're—

4:30 p.m.

Correctional Investigator, Office of the Correctional Investigator

Howard Sapers

We conduct ourselves within the legislation. I suggest that CSC should, as well.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

They do, as well.

Thank you. I'll pass it over to Mr. Leef.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

You have two minutes.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Yukon, YT

I feel that we're losing sight a little bit of what the bill was designed to do, which is really to allow the commissioner to deem people multiple frivolous and vexatious complainants, and that alone. I don't think anybody disagrees with the oversight and the function of correctional staff, wardens, and the rule of law.

It was interesting when you talked about the number being upheld at that third level of grievance. We'll recognize that there are probably some issues with the grievance process itself. But wouldn't it provide additional security, oversight, protection, and complete fairness in the process, if those things were moved up to the commissioner level versus being sat on at the warden level? If we were giving the warden level, or even lower levels, the opportunity to deem somebody frivolous and vexatious, I could see the concerns you're raising.

Don't you think moving this right up to the commissioner level is a positive step?

4:30 p.m.

Correctional Investigator, Office of the Correctional Investigator

Howard Sapers

The simple answer is yes, within that context. The problem is with the premise; that is, I think it's an inappropriate process. If it has to be done, should it be done by the commissioner? Sure. The real question is, should it be done? My suggestion is that it shouldn't be.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Yukon, YT

Obviously you and the commissioner disagree on that point. It reminds me of a comment I heard. I don't have the stats exactly accurate, but I think it makes a point economically. It says that two out of every three Canadians have a mental health issue, and if your buddies seem normal, it's probably you.

My point is that we introduce the concept that inmates may have mental health issues. We know that the inmate population has a higher level of mental health issues, but it doesn't mean they can't reason between frivolous and vexatious. It doesn't mean they can't function and understand, and that when they launch complaints of sexual harassment or sexual assault or very damaging and demeaning comments against staff, they don't fully appreciate and understand what they're doing. They can very well have mental health issues, but they can also fully understand and appreciate what they're doing. I think those are the things we need to highlight, protect staff from, and stop.

If you or your staff were subject to frivolous, vexatious, and vile complaints of that nature—only so someone could get personal satisfaction from either clogging the system or attacking you—you'd want control over that.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Leef. Unfortunately we don't have time for an answer.

Mr. Rousseau, you have five minutes.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Thank you very much.

Let us discuss the bill. It is said the commissioner will now have the discretionary power to decide whether or not a complainant is vexatious. Do you not believe that this discretionary power will mean that some kinds of detainees will be categorized and stigmatized? Will the system allow for any other remedies for those who are designated?

4:35 p.m.

Executive Director and General Counsel, Office of the Correctional Investigator

Dr. Ivan Zinger

The Correctional Service of Canada already has a procedure for the designation of a vexatious person. A process for prioritizing complaints already exists. Currently, there is talk of including this procedure in the bill rather than simply having it as a Correctional Service of Canada policy.

There is one problem. When an offender is designated as a vexatious complainant by the commissioner, that person may still file new complaints. These complaints must in any case be subject to an assessment as to their merit by the decision-maker, who is often the prison warden.

All of that entails work, particularly as the bill indicates that an offender designated as a vexatious complainant must file documentation to demonstrate the merit of the complaint. We can therefore expect that among these offenders, some will continue to file complaints and appeals. They can also appeal the judicial review, which is much more expensive to administer for the Correctional Service of Canada, because it has to pay for lawyers.

April 24th, 2012 / 4:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Pardon me, Mr. Zinger. I have a question that is perhaps more for Mr. Sapers.

Is the system not indeed too congested and burdensome? I work in the area of labour law and dealing with grievances requires very rapid responses in the workplace in order to settle problems. If there are more than 20,000 complaints filed per year in the prison environment, this is a problem that must be dealt with. Is there no way of dealing with backlog in this context by trying to relax the procedures and make them more flexible?

4:35 p.m.

Executive Director and General Counsel, Office of the Correctional Investigator

Dr. Ivan Zinger

I agree with you entirely. That is why we must try to maximize informal solutions at the institution level by giving Correctional Service of Canada the tools it needs in order to get the most benefit from this solution.

If a complaint truly is frivolous and vexatious, they must respond to it. That takes a certain amount of time and is part of the Correctional Service of Canada's work. If a complaint gets further along in the process, it can be resolved very quickly. If it is the subject of a judicial review, the courts and tribunals will certainly not be in a good position to respond to those kinds of things. I entirely agree. Complaints must be resolved at the lowest level and as informally as possible.

We have also indicated that the Correctional Service of Canada must capitalize on the information it has on all complaints. If there are 28,000 complaints per year, we must try to see if there are not systemic problems and try to fix them. For example, if there are some 15 or 20 complaints on the lack of access to a dentist, we must try and solve the problem rather than taking in 15 or 20 complaints and trying to settle them one at a time. You have to try and resolve the problems on a systemic basis.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

You also spoke about mental health issues. I imagine that alcoholism and drug addiction must also cause some problems. Is the major problem in the prison environment not that we don't go after the real problem, which is mental health of prisoners and their rehabilitation?

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Go ahead, Mr. Zinger.