Thank you, Mr. Chair,
Thank you, members of the committee.
Thank you for the opportunity to discuss my latest annual report.
I want to focus my opening remarks on aspects of the organizational culture of the Correctional Service of Canada that are holding it back from embracing change and implementing reforms that the government issued to the Commissioner of Corrections in September 2018.
Coincidentally, on the same day that my report was tabled, the Office of the Auditor General released a report entitled “Respect in the Workplace”. This audit looked at whether the Canada Border Services Agency and Correctional Service of Canada promoted and maintained workplaces free of harassment, discrimination and violence. In the case of the Correctional Service, the Auditor General found that the service knew that these problems were present in its workplace but had not developed a comprehensive strategy to address them.
It is significant that the findings of two independent oversight bodies converge on this point of a problematic organizational or staff culture within the Correctional Service. The minister's 2018 mandate letter to the Commissioner of Corrections directs her to make it an overriding priority to ensure that the Correctional Service
is a workplace free from bullying, harassment and sexual violence.
The three case studies included in my annual report suggest that certain ingrained habits, attitudes and behaviours have become barriers to reform. Though I have no mandate to fix the negative elements of staff culture or labour relations, when misconduct or non-compliance with the law creates problems or adverse effects for inmates, I have an obligation to report and act upon them.
In the first case study, entitled “Dysfunction at Edmonton Institution”, I found that both staff and management at this facility tolerated an established history of assaultive behaviour perpetrated by a group of inmates against a subpopulation of protected status inmates. Evidence showed that the recurring verbal and physical assaults on protective status inmates—which included throwing food, bodily fluids, garbage and other degrading and humiliating acts—were planned and orchestrated events that increased and escalated over a three-month period.
My findings suggest that the cruel and callous nature of these incidents must be placed in the context of an organizational culture that an independent human resource consultant concluded three years ago ran on fear, suspicion, mistrust, intimidation, harassment, vulgar language and other abuses of power and authority, and this was among staff members. What can only be described as a culture of impunity impacted how staff treated and responded to inmates. An abusive workplace culture perpetuated staff misconduct and contributed to the dehumanizing acts of violence among inmates.
Both staff and management were aware of the repeated nature of the physical assaults and verbal abuse, yet took no disciplinary or remedial measures against the aggressors or steps to protect the victims of these assaults and abuses. Though these incidents were initially reported and brought forward to senior management at Edmonton Institution by my office, it took over three months and the disclosure of indisputable video evidence to the commissioner before even the basic remedial measures were put in place.
Two other case studies help further illustrate the resistant qualities of the organizational culture of the Correctional Service. In the first instance, four years of use of force reviews reveal a recurring pattern of deficient accountability, non-compliance with law and policy, and poor performance in managing use of force incidents at Atlantic Institution in New Brunswick.
I found little evidence that implementation of a new engagement and intervention model introduced in the aftermath of the preventable death of Matthew Hines has made much of a difference in the manner, rate, severity or level of force used at Atlantic Institution. Significantly, the reliance on pepper spray to manage prison tension and conflict behind bars has not diminished at this facility, nor indeed across the rest of the service.
Finally, my office has been reporting on food issues in federal corrections for over five years. We have made several recommendations, none of which have been actioned, and things have not changed for the better.
A recent internal audit conducted by the service confirmed several deficiencies previously reported by my office, including an inadequate per diem of less than six dollars per day per inmate to spend on food, inconsistent and substandard meal quality and portion sizes, failure to meet Canada's food guide requirements, inordinate amount of food spoilage and wastage, and failure to consistently follow special diet requirements.
One of the most significant concerns revealed by this audit is that the Correctional Service rolled out its food service modernization project in the absence of an updated policy framework. To this day, the Correctional Service has not provided any evidence that this project yielded expected cost savings or efficiencies.
More significantly, the audit failed to drill down on the relationship between food and the order, safety and security of institutions. The audit did not examine lessons from the December 2016 deadly riot at Saskatchewan Penitentiary, which linked food shortages, inadequate portions and poor meal quality at this facility to the rising levels of inmate tension and protests—factors that eventually led to the riot.
The rise of food as a commodity in the inmate economy is not probed, nor is the fact that the inmate canteen now supplements or even replaces daily meals. These issues are top of mind concerns at most institutions, yet this audit failed to acknowledge and bring them forward to management for correction.
Finally, let me conclude by acknowledging the encouraging statements issued by both the commissioner and the Minister of Public Safety in response to my report. Both reiterated their commitment to ensuring CSC employees have a respectful and healthy workplace. These statements are important, but must also be seen in the context of the statutory obligation of the service to “take all reasonable steps to ensure that penitentiaries, the penitentiary environment, the living and working conditions of inmates, and the working conditions of staff members are safe, healthful and free of practices that undermine … personal dignity”.
I believe parliamentarians and Canadians have a right to know how the service intends to comply with the law and fix elements of a workplace culture that perpetuates, condones or otherwise gives licence to violence, abuse of power and mistreatment behind bars.
Thank you, and I would be happy to take your questions.