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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

4:35 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 NDP 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 NDP 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 Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Go ahead, Mr. Zinger.

4:40 p.m.

Executive Director and General Counsel, Office of the Correctional Investigator

Dr. Ivan Zinger

The Correctional Service of Canada has established that approximately 35% of people entering penitentiaries are suffering from mental health issues and require either psychological or psychiatric treatment. You are quite right to say that this is probably one of the most serious problems the Correctional Service is currently facing.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau NDP Compton—Stanstead, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Zinger.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you.

I want to thank you for coming. Before we part, I would just like to get a little better understanding of how the process works with the Correctional Investigator.

Our commissioner said that last fiscal year CSC received 28,858 complaints and grievances. Would some of those that came through CSC be passed to you, or is there a separate way that offenders—because you do advocacy on behalf of the offenders, and you take their complaints—have to bypass the CSC? Is there any way then that they have to get those complaints to you, Mr. Sapers?

4:40 p.m.

Correctional Investigator, Office of the Correctional Investigator

Howard Sapers

As an ombudsman's office, we are not an office of last resort. So an inmate in fact may file a grievance through the Correctional Service of Canada grievance process. They may contact my office. They may contact the Office of the Official Languages Commissioner or the Canadian Human Rights Commission as well. They may contact the college of physicians and surgeons if it's a complaint related to health care. Each one of those complaint resolution offices or processes has its own protocol and process.

In our office, we receive the complaint. We review the merits of the complaint. We determine whether or not we have to proceed to an investigation. We conduct the investigation. We come to a conclusion. If it's founded, we make a recommendation to implement a change.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

He also said in his notes:

...last year there were 25 inmates who submitted over 100 grievances each. These would be the frivolous or vexatious grievers who are the focus of this Bill. Within this group of 25, there is a small number who submit many hundreds—as in, more than one per day.

So they are constantly submitting these grievances. Even if some of these grievances did not go through the exact system we have now, could those grievances still be brought to your office?

4:40 p.m.

Correctional Investigator, Office of the Correctional Investigator

Howard Sapers

They could still be brought to my office. In fact together, the commissioner and I could probably name those 25 individuals, because they are well known to both our offices. One of the issues, though, is that there is a confusion in the labels that are being used, because an individual may be frivolous, may be a multiple griever, and may be vexatious. It's even possible to be all three, but they're not synonymous so a multiple griever may have multiple legitimate complaints. A vexatious griever may be a one-time-only griever, but the grievance could be vexatious.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Have there been cases then...? Say this legislation was to pass and those same complaints did make it to your office, where you could look at some of them and you would understand they were probably on the vexatious list, could you then still advocate on their behalf back to CSC?

It is possible.

4:40 p.m.

Correctional Investigator, Office of the Correctional Investigator

Howard Sapers

It's possible for us to receive a complaint from somebody who's been labelled. Correspondence and communication between an inmate and my office is privileged, so an inmate who may have been labelled under this legislative scheme would not be prohibited from contacting my office.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much.

There still would be an opportunity for them to have their grievances voiced, although CSC, which may be concerned about the time and the effort for those ones who are putting in more than one per day, could say, “We don't want not to listen to grievances. It's just that these are getting a little ridiculous.” There still is that opportunity.

Thank you very much. I wanted to know that. I needed to understand that.

I very much appreciate your being here, and thank you, committee.

With that, we are going to adjourn.