Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon to all members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss private member's Bill C-350. I would like to introduce Ms. Alexandra Budgell from the Department of Justice, who is here with me today. I will be making comments on behalf of both of us.
Mr. Chair, at the outset it is important to make the distinction that Bill C-350 does not only apply to an offender initiating a lawsuit or claim against the Correctional Service of Canada but also to monetary awards awarded to offenders across all government departments. That being said, I would like to take a few moments today to discuss the current process whereby CSC receives and processes lawsuits or claims by federal offenders. I would then like to outline how we currently track certain obligations owed by offenders.
Mr. Chair, offenders have the same rights as others with respect to their ability to access the legal system. In doing so, inmates are provided with reasonable access to legal counsel and the courts, as well as to legal material, as per the corrections and conditional release regulations and CSC policy. Offenders can make use of the provincially operated legal aid system, or retain private counsel and pay legal fees from their own funds.
Most often, legal challenges by offenders against CSC concern specific decisions or actions. These could include our response to an offender grievance, a security reclassification, offender transfer, or when offenders have sustained a physical injury and believe that CSC is at fault. In these cases, CSC is normally represented by counsel from the Department of Justice. If our legal counsel determines that there is a legal basis to consider that we may be liable and the offender has incurred damages, then an out-of-court settlement may be reached. Otherwise, we will defend the case in court.
In addition to formal legal action, we have a policy framework for identifying how offenders can submit claims for compensation if they have suffered a loss. Commissioner's directive 234, “Claims for Staff Personal Effects and Inmate Personal Effects and the Offender Accident Compensation Program”, lays out the process by which an inmate may register a complaint against the crown. This directive states that an offender claim will be allowed when it has been determined that CSC has not exercised reasonable care to protect an offender's personal property in the institution. It also allows claims in instances of damages to or loss of personal effects. When an offender submits a claim, CSC reviews the circumstances to determine whether there was negligence by CSC or the offender.
If it is found that CSC was negligent, the claim is allowed and an amount up to the replacement value of property is paid. If CSC denies the claim and the offender is dissatisfied with this decision, he or she can avail himself or herself of the formal offender complaints and grievance process.
CSC does manage certain information regarding an offender's financial obligations relating to victim restitution orders, victim surcharges, or fines imposed at the municipal, provincial, or federal level. This information comes directly from the courts and is recorded in the offender management system, or OMS.
In light of changes resulting from Bill C-10 that require CSC to include court-ordered obligations in an offender's correctional plan, we are updating OMS so that it is easier to track and record an offender's civil and criminal obligations. Our processes at this time are limited to recording the information when known, and encouraging inmates to accept their accountabilities as awarded by the courts. Bill C-350 would, in essence, require that CSC establish a different process to track and record debts owed by offenders that would include formal evidence by any creditors of the debt in question and amounts still owing.
Mr. Chair and honourable members, I would like to thank you again for the opportunity to appear before you and discuss the effects of Bill C-350 on CSC. In closing, I would like to state very clearly that CSC views rehabilitation as a two-way commitment. We are responsible for providing offenders with the opportunity to learn the skills they need to correct criminal behaviour. In turn, offenders are responsible for using the tools and opportunities we provide them to return to society as productive, law-abiding citizens. This includes measures that would ensure that offenders assume greater responsibility and accountability for their rehabilitation and responsibilities to society.
We would be pleased to answer any questions.