Thank you, Mr. Chair. Given the time of year, I've been debating as to whether I'll declare you dependants on my income tax, I've been here so often.
Anyway, good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. I'm pleased to have the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss Bill C-293, which would make amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to identify and manage offenders who could be considered vexatious complainants.
I'm joined this afternoon by Mr. Michael Côté, the Correctional Service of Canada's director general for rights, redress, and resolution; and Mr. Shane Dalton, acting analyst, offender redress.
I would like to begin by outlining the current offender complaints and grievance process and providing you with some facts and figures. I will then briefly discuss the impact on CSC should Bill C-293 come into force.
The complaint and grievance process provides offenders with a means of redress when they are dissatisfied with an action or decision by a staff member. Providing offenders with a fair, impartial, and expeditious complaint and grievance process is mandated by law. It also has many benefits. Among these, it encourages offenders to deal with issues in a pro-social manner. It empowers them and provides another forum whereby their concerns can be heard and dealt with appropriately. The process can also be used as a monitoring tool to identify trends that are linked to increased tension or discontent among the inmate population.
This is a four-level process. Offenders must first submit a complaint to a correctional manager or their case management team, who will seek to resolve the issue at the lowest level possible. If this is not possible, the offender can submit a first-level grievance, which is responded to by the institutional head. Any grievances unresolved at the institutional level then proceed to regional headquarters, where the regional deputy commissioner is the decision-making authority. Finally, if the grievance cannot be resolved at the regional level, it's elevated to national headquarters, where a comprehensive review and analysis of the grievance is completed within the policy and research sector, and submitted to the senior deputy commissioner, to whom I have normally delegated my decision-making authority.
It should be noted that if an offender is not satisfied with the decision at any level, he or she can seek a legal remedy, normally through the Federal Court.
In fiscal year 2010-11, CSC received 28,858 complaints and grievances. This fiscal year we have received about 26,717 up to February 26, 2012. Last year 25 inmates submitted over 100 grievances each. They are the frivolous or vexatious grievers who are the focus of this bill. Within this group of 25 there are a small number who submit many hundreds, as in more than one per day.
By way of explanation, we consider “frivolous” to mean that the complaint was submitted with no serious purpose; “vexatious” encompasses grievances submitted for the purposes of harassment for their own personal means, or to disrupt the system. Both are equally disruptive and consume hours of analysis and review by my staff.
On the financial costs of the process, last year over $3.8 million was dedicated to the salaries of the grievance analysts and operating costs. This year the figure is over $5 million. This increased cost is because CSC has made significant investments in the offender grievance process in order to increase the potential efficiency and effectiveness of this program, as well as to provide adequate and appropriate resources.
Specifically, CSC recently launched a pilot program based on an alternative dispute resolution process, with approximately $1 million of dedicated funds. An additional $1 million was allocated to address the anticipated increase in offender grievances and the backlog of grievance responses at the second and third levels.
Should Bill C-293 come into force we believe it will be much easier for CSC to identify and manage these offenders. The Corrections and Conditional Release Act would be amended to allow us to create a specific policy that would provide a process required to identify an offender as a vexatious complainant. This internal policy would lay out the steps required to assess and identify an offender as vexatious, including how the offender would be notified of the decision.
Staff inside institutions, at regional headquarters, and at national headquarters will have more time to focus on offenders who do not misuse the system and ensure that high-priority grievances are addressed in a timely manner. It will limit the ability of vexatious complainants to monopolize the grievance process and attempt to use this very legitimate system for illegitimate means.
As the honourable member who sponsored this bill pointed out, these changes would also be of ultimate benefit to the vexatious complainants themselves. A single-minded focus on lodging complaints is counterproductive to the correctional process. Offenders' time would be better spent on following their correctional plan in order to better prepare them for release and ensure safer Canadian communities.
Mr. Chair, as I indicated previously, the complaints and grievance process is an important part of the federal correctional system. It provides vital checks and balances to ensure the Correctional Service of Canada carries out its mission and mandate while respecting the fundamental rights of offenders. We must take seriously any allegations that CSC has failed in this regard. Unfortunately, the efforts of a small number of offenders who abuse this process take precious time and resources away from offenders who avail themselves of the system with legitimate intentions.
This bill will hold to account those who disrupt a well-functioning redress mechanism. It would alleviate pressures in terms of time and resources and it would reaffirm the commitment of the Correctional Service of Canada to a fair, impartial, and expeditious complaint and grievance process as mandated by law.
Thank you once again for the opportunity to appear before you today. At this time I would be happy to answer any questions you may have of me or my staff.