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Evidence of meeting #36 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 restitution.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Ross Toller  Deputy Commissioner, Transformation and Renewal Team, Correctional Service of Canada
Alexandra Budgell  Counsel, Department of Justice
Susan O'Sullivan  Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

This is meeting number 36 of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, Tuesday, May 1, 2012. Today we continue our study of Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders).

In our first hour, we will hear from the Correctional Service of Canada, Mr. Ross Toller, deputy commissioner of the transformation and renewal team; and from the Department of Justice, Ms. Alexandra Budgell. I would invite each of you to make an opening statement on behalf of your different departments. Then we will proceed with a few rounds of questioning by members of Parliament.

Welcome. Mr. Toller, go ahead.

3:30 p.m.

Ross Toller Deputy Commissioner, Transformation and Renewal Team, Correctional Service of Canada

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.

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, Mr. Toller, and counsel.

We will proceed to the first round of questioning.

Ms. Hoeppner, you have seven minutes.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Ms. Budgell, and Mr. Toller, for being here. We appreciate your being here at the onset.

We spoke to the introducer of this bill and we heard from him. We got a good sense of why he introduced this bill. He talked a lot about people in his riding who are victims and have been victims of crime. He talked a lot about the children and spouses of the offenders also being victims and many times suffering because of what the offender has done, including not being paid things like child support or spousal support.

We got a good sense of the reasons, but it's good to have you here for some very specific questions.

Mr. Toller, in your comments you said at the onset that you wanted to make the distinction that Bill C-350 applies not only to an offender initiating a lawsuit or a claim against the Correctional Service of Canada, but also to monetary awards to offenders across all government departments.

You did explain how monetary settlements would be awarded regarding CSC. Could you give us some examples or explain how inmates would possibly receive monetary settlements from other departments?

3:35 p.m.

Deputy Commissioner, Transformation and Renewal Team, Correctional Service of Canada

Ross Toller

An inmate, for example, could have a human rights complaint and receive a monetary award from a department that way. There could be claims against CSC, but you wanted a response more in terms of the ones outside the other department here.

3:35 p.m.

Alexandra Budgell Counsel, Department of Justice

We wouldn't be aware of very many of them, but presumably an offender could sue another government department for something unrelated to the Correctional Service of Canada.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

You're just making the distinction, obviously, that it's any monetary award that's made by the Government of Canada to an inmate. But that would be primarily through CSC if there were a complaint launched against CSC?

3:35 p.m.

Deputy Commissioner, Transformation and Renewal Team, Correctional Service of Canada

Ross Toller

Yes. I was trying to make the distinction that in cases where a fine has been imposed by courts, we would receive that through the system. Monetary awards that might be awarded from outside, even from the government, we would generally not be made aware of—and at this point in time we would have no kind of ability to sort through them.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

You would not be made aware of an inmate being awarded those. Can you square that then with the OMS, the offender management system? Can you describe that a little bit more? If you were carrying out that plan, wouldn't you be able to find out?

3:35 p.m.

Deputy Commissioner, Transformation and Renewal Team, Correctional Service of Canada

Ross Toller

The offender management system is our own internal system that we use for managing information on offenders. For example, if we receive from the courts...and I'll talk about the payments that are due that could be contained in the documentation that comes to us. There could be a victim surcharge, for example, or a fine or a restitution order. Right now those are inputted into the offender management system. We have a screen for that, and correctional officers and parole officers would have the ability to access that and then have a determination made of what fines are owed.

What we wouldn't get from that at this particular point in time is whether there were fines imposed or restitution orders from family court or a civil court. It's more from the criminal activity.

Monetary awards that could happen within our own service, as I mentioned there, could include a claim against the crown or even an out-of-court settlement when it looks as though we have been negligent. We would be well aware of that from our own department, simply because of the actions that have been taken.

That financial award would go into the inmate's account. We have an account system in which that would be registered.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

At this point that money would go in, but then through the management system would the restitution be paid to the outstanding orders that are in this system?

3:35 p.m.

Deputy Commissioner, Transformation and Renewal Team, Correctional Service of Canada

Ross Toller

They wouldn't in its purest form, unless the inmate were willing to do that.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Okay. So they are not obligated.

3:40 p.m.

Deputy Commissioner, Transformation and Renewal Team, Correctional Service of Canada

Ross Toller

Exactly.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

You're aware of it, but they're not obligated to do so, unless they would choose to do so.

3:40 p.m.

Deputy Commissioner, Transformation and Renewal Team, Correctional Service of Canada

Ross Toller

Exactly.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

I guess we can see right there the obvious necessity for this bill.

I'm sure you're aware that we also heard testimony—and I think we're all aware—that if civilians are mandated to pay child support and they don't, their wages are garnished and there's a process for that. Different provinces have different ways of getting those funds. Unfortunately, with offenders, that isn't the case.

Can you talk a little bit as well about the whole issue of accountability and an offender fulfilling his or her obligation and how that contributes to their rehabilitation in your view?

3:40 p.m.

Deputy Commissioner, Transformation and Renewal Team, Correctional Service of Canada

Ross Toller

Sure. One of the foundations of our work is to have offenders accept responsibility and become law-abiding citizens in the future. In cases where we have fines that are outstanding, we do a lot of intake at the front end and basically get material from the courts and the sentencing judges on the crime's impact on victims, for example. When we have that information the parole officers assigned to those inmates actively encourage them to accept their levels of responsibility and to pay the fines that are owing, and to look at their family relationships in cases where they are looking to continue to support family for their obligations.

So anything that basically looks at fulfilling the obligations that have been imposed on them by the courts or by other normal functions of their having to accept their responsibility is pretty well the foundation for a lot of encouragement and active support for inmates.

As well, as far as their needs and plans are concerned, inmates are identified so that they can participate in programs that have been identified as meeting some of their activities. For example, if an inmate comes in who has been unable to demonstrate control of his anger and we determine that he needs need to concentrate on that, the accountability would be on us to provide the tools for him to participate in real terms, in functional terms, in the desire to correct his behaviour so that he can return to....

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Thank you.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

We have eight seconds, but we'll give that to Mr. Garrison, because we know he has seven minutes and 10 seconds' worth of questioning.

May 1st, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to Mr. Toller, and Ms. Budgell, for appearing today.

On this side we voted to bring this bill to committee, because we accept that there is a good principle involved here in encouraging responsibility and accountability. But we have some questions about the mechanisms used in this bill.

Mr. Toller, you said at the end of your remarks, which are quite measured, I would say:

This includes measures that would ensure that offenders assume greater responsibility and accountability

It seems to me that you're saying that Bill C-350 is only one of the tools in rehabilitation, re-insertion, and such. Would you prioritize the other tools that might be available in the toolbox for promoting this, besides this bill?

3:40 p.m.

Deputy Commissioner, Transformation and Renewal Team, Correctional Service of Canada

Ross Toller

We look at each case individually in terms of the development of correctional plans for each. In some cases, the control of their violence, for example, might be the activity that we would want to concentrate on first. For others who have less education, the latter might be another area where we would look at developing levels of accountability and responsibility. I think any tool that comes into the toolbox to encourage their acceptance of responsibility is good.

Even internally we have mechanisms in place for expected levels of behaviour. We have offence report considerations. We develop and outline correctional plans, as a result of Bill C-10, for expected behavioural considerations. We expect inmates to participate in the programs we've identified that they need. We expect them to follow the rules and regulations. We expect them not to be disrespectful to staff. We expect them to prepare for their release.

So it's a large toolbox. It's difficult to say whether one tool would take priority over the other, except to say that we manage cases individually by the needs we have identified and the risks they pose.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

I think you've made an important contribution to our consideration of this, in that the correctional system's understanding of responsibility and accountability isn't limited to financial responsibility and accountability, but to those larger issues you mentioned as part of your presentation.

3:40 p.m.

Deputy Commissioner, Transformation and Renewal Team, Correctional Service of Canada

Ross Toller

Absolutely. Our goal here is to contribute to public safety, and whatever mechanisms and means we identify in terms of their needs are exactly what we want to concentrate on.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

I'm going to presume that Ms. Budgell can comment on the questions I'm about to ask.

We had some concerns about the constitutionality in this bill. I don't know whether your expertise is in that area, but can you make any comments that might help us understand whether this would be constitutional, given the division of federal and provincial responsibilities on property?