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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

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Can you tell us if you have any information about the profile of vexatious complainants, who they might be?

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

It can vary.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

I mean statistical information or any formal profile from Corrections Canada.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

I do not have statistical information on hand, and I certainly don't want to rhyme off something I'm not comfortable.... I don't have the hard statistics in front of me. I believe you're having further witnesses come in on this particular bill, and that's a question I would probably ask you to direct to someone else who would have that statistical information in front of him.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

I think you'll find that there are two main causes of vexatious complaints: mental illness and poor integration into the corrections system. The view tends to get put forward that these are just people who have nothing to do but complain, when it's actually a function of other problems, such as integration.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

That's a good point.

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

We'll go back to Mr. Leef.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

I wanted to build a bit on what Mr. Garrison was saying about a functioning complaint process. Would you agree that a functioning complaint process is one that doesn't contain frivolous, vexatious, and multiple complaints?

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Absolutely.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

In respect of injecting a mediator into the correctional system, wouldn't you agree that, by and large, the interaction between front-line correctional staff and inmates serves as the best program service and mediation process, and that the lowest-level grievance resolution process would be between the inmate and the front-line officer?

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Yes, I would agree with that, and that's exactly what I heard when I visited the institution. The warden said that they try to communicate with the inmates on that lowest level. They try to build those relationships. So, yes, you're absolutely right.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

I think we can all accept the reality that some vexatious and frivolous complaints come through that are levied in bad faith and might stem from mental illness or poor integration. I don't think on this side of the House we would accept the fact that 15% of the total complaints coming from 20 people represent an insignificant or small number. I would say that's very significant and interesting.

From my experience as a deputy superintendent of operations and a former front-line correctional officer, I saw a number of complaints come through that had nothing to do with mental illness and had absolutely everything to do with manipulation and boredom. They had everything to do with just trying to play with the system. There were complaints like, “It's snowing outside and you need to do something about that”, or “I don't like the colour of the mitts you provided us”. We did hear complaints. I collected them and was just amazed that this always occurred. There were complaints like, “My ice cream is too cold”. You mentioned complaints about the milk being too cold.

Because officers don't satisfy...or aren't able to mediate when it's an irrational complaint, it's very difficult to mediate that complaint. It moves up the chain after it's signed off, from one level to another level. These are the kinds of complaints that actually do reach the superintendent and the deputy superintendent. For them to get to the commissioner's level—now we're really talking about an overblown problem here. Even for a complaint to get to a senior correctional officer level, never mind the superintendent level, up to a commissioner for an oversized or undersized potato is not contributing to a functioning complaint process, as Mr. Garrison would like to have and that all of us would like to have.

Would you agree with that?

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Yes, I agree with you. You took the words right out of my mouth.

There is not much more I can add to that statement. I think it's important to reiterate one more time that complaints can be in the process for up to 150 days. When you think about a complaint that your potato is too small, your milk or ice cream is too cold, or whatever, these are the complaints that Bill C-293 seeks to address, for obvious reasons.

When we take a look at the actual act, the original intent was to process legitimate complaints in an effective and efficient manner. This bill seeks to make sure that happens.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

Thank you.

How much time do I have?

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

You have two minutes.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

Great.

We've heard a little bit more about the clear criteria. You talked about the intent and content of the complaints. Would you agree that the environment in which a complainant makes a complaint is important? The discretion we provide front-line officers and supervising officers reviewing these things is very important, given the wide range of environmental and contextual situations that corrections officers face in a day-to-day situation. Prescribing adherent variables in such a dynamic environment would be next to impossible and really wouldn't serve to deal with the intention of your bill. Do you agree?

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative 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 Conservative 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 Conservative 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 NDP 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 Conservative 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 NDP 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 Conservative 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 NDP 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 Conservative 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 NDP 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?