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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 offender.

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

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Thank you.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, Mr. Garrison.

Ms. Hoeppner.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative 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 Conservative 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?

4:15 p.m.

Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada

Don Head

I'll use the example of a maximum security institution. A good example is when an inmate is playing the radio and turns up the volume. They do that for all kinds of reasons. Security problems are created when that happens. The staff member will go down the range and ask the offender to turn down the radio. The offender refuses. The staff member then gives an order to the inmate. The inmate refuses. Then the inmate can potentially be internally charged for refusing an order.

The inmate's recourse then is to file a complaint, a grievance. In those cases a grievance would normally be denied, assuming that the officer interacted with the inmate in an appropriate manner. But if the inmate doesn't like that, they can file a second-level grievance and a third-level grievance, and each time we go back to the staff member and ask them to explain why they did the job they were supposed to do.

You can imagine, if you get an offender who then waits for you to show up on every shift and watches your every move and then puts in a complaint, and then a grievance on that, it really is demoralizing for the front-line staff member--knowing that when he or she comes on and is on that floor to protect the safety of the inmates and the safety of his or her colleagues, to protect, ultimately, the safety of Canadians, the offender is writing up a complaint or grievance on every step he or she is taking. It does become demoralizing after a while.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much.

Madame Morin.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

I would like to begin by thanking Mr. Head for appearing before our committee again.

Thank you. Your testimony is appreciated. I want you to confirm something for me. As Bill C-10 will finally become law, the prison population will probably increase considerably. We know that there will be more issues with complaints management because there will be more people in prison. Can you confirm that?

4:20 p.m.

Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada

Don Head

I've been in front of so many committees over the last little while I can't remember what I've told to what committee.

The population projections we put together back in 2008 have not come to fruition. The growth in our population is significantly less than what it has been. There has been an increase, but nowhere near what our projections were four years ago.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Aren't you concerned that preventing prisoners from complaining may result in more prison violence, which would be exacerbated by the increase in the prison population?

4:20 p.m.

Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada

Don Head

I'm not overly concerned about this. The way this bill has been proposed and the way we've read it, depending on the number range there, between 25 and 136 inmates could potentially be deemed as vexatious grievers. That works out to maybe a maximum of two inmates per institution, at best.

As far as the kinds of concerns you're raising, I'm not overly concerned about them. Once we designate those individuals, we'll obviously need to have the staff continue to work with them. There's another issue behind why they're doing that. We want the staff to spend time working on that, as opposed to all the frivolous and vexatious complaints they're bringing forward.

March 27th, 2012 / 4:20 p.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Apparently, Quebec's Donnacona prison is a model for other prisons in terms of complaints management. They have an informal complaints management process. According to the Mullan report, 45% of grievances are settled through a somewhat more informal process—either by inmate committees or through co-operation.

Why can't the Correctional Service of Canada adopt that approach by using existing directive 081?

4:20 p.m.

Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada

Don Head

We are. That's why we've implemented the pilot project in ten institutions—the alternative dispute resolution. On the overall legitimate complaints that are coming through, we believe that with an ADR approach, an informal resolution process, we'll deal with the vast majority of complaints.

As Mr. Côté pointed out earlier, about 71% of all the matters brought forward are resolved at the complaint stage. This is good. We want to continue to resolve them at the lowest level possible. If they're going on to the first-level grievance, second-level grievance, and third-level grievance, there's potential for a larger problem. We want to resolve things at the lowest level. Our pilot project is intended to build on the very point you've raised.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Do I have any time left, Mr. Chair?

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

You have a minute.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Wouldn't you prefer to have a more comprehensive bill that applies to all prison complaints? Wouldn't you benefit more from that kind of an approach?

4:20 p.m.

Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada

Don Head

From my perspective this is one of the key problems. If we're able to address the issue of frivolous and vexatious, I believe there are other processes in place to deal with the normal grievances that are not filed in a multiple way by offenders. We can manage them. But the amount of time and energy we have to spend on these vexatious and frivolous grievers and grievances takes away from the time we have to deal with the others.

I have to say I'm actually pleased with the thrust of the bill, because it focuses on a specific problem area. If it were broader than that, it still wouldn't allow us to address the root issues that we know exist in our system.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much.

We'll now move back to the government side, and to Ms. Young.

Ms. Young, you have five minutes.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

Thank you so much for being here. Your presentation was excellent in terms of the information that you provided.

You said something just now about there being a cause behind people filing vexatious complaints. I'd be interested in knowing your thoughts around that.

In addition, when Ms. James presented her bill, proposed subsection 91.1(6) states that “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.” So, first of all, what do you know, or what research have you done into how and why you manage this? Secondly, do you have any thoughts about how you're going to put some processes in place to deal with these vexatious complaints? Thirdly, if so, will this develop another system that you are then going to have to implement, manage, etc.?

4:25 p.m.

Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada

Don Head

That is a very good question.

If the bill were not as prescriptive, there would be possible ways of getting at the frivolous and vexatious issue, which is a problem for us. The overall intent of the bill, from my perspective, is a very good one. But because of the way it's laid out there, we have to do some thinking, and put in some processes that can be dealt with in a different way.

In terms of your first question, there are some root issues behind why these inmates are putting in these complaints. They usually do not have anything to do with the actual words they're putting on paper. It's because their time isn't being filled properly. That's our responsibility. We need to get them more engaged in programs or activities.

But under the current system, I don't have anything to persuade them to go that way when they can just continue to write about that. They can then put in a complaint against my staff that they're being harassed to go into programs, and then I've got to deal with that complaint, and those three levels of grievances.

One of the things this bill does is allow me to give that designation to certain individuals—albeit they have to meet the criteria of being persistent and not just doing this one time—and then we can work on what needs to be done, in terms of trying to get them focused on the things they need to focus on, in order that they can return to the community as law-abiding citizens.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

Do I have more time, Mr. Chair?

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Yes, you do. You have another two minutes.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative 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 Conservative 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—