moved that Bill C-293, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (vexatious complainants), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, Canadians gave our government a strong mandate to deliver safer streets and communities with our tough on crime agenda. That includes holding offenders accountable and building a correctional system that actually corrects criminal behaviour. That is why I am particularly pleased to rise today to talk about this important piece of legislation that will help complete part of that task, a task which Canadians have sent us here to do.
My private members bill, Bill C-293, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (vexatious complainants),, would correct a costly problem that currently exists in Canada's correctional system.
Correctional Service of Canada receives approximately 29,000 grievances a year from various offenders. Out of a total of approximately 23,000 offenders in CSC custody, a small group of approximately 20 offenders file more than 100 grievances per year. This accounts for a whopping 15% of all complaints filed. In fact, there are even a few cases where offenders have filed in excess of 500 grievances.
The increased volume of frivolous complaints significantly delays the process for other inmates to have actual legitimate concerns addressed. High complaint volume also ties up resources and has become taxing on our hard-working, front line correctional officers.
Bill C-293 would allow the Commissioner of Correctional Service of Canada to label an offender as a vexatious complainant when the offender submits multiple complaints or grievances that are of a vexatious or frivolous nature or not made in good faith. The bill would enable CSC to minimize the impact of those who file such grievances and it would ensure that the grievance process maintains the integrity to accomplish its intended goals.
I will explain for my colleagues the fair grievance process we currently have here in Canada. Currently there are four levels through which a complaint may progress. Complaints may be resolved at any stage. However, it is the inmates who get to determine if they are satisfied with the outcome of the decisions made by a warden or regional deputy commissioner.
The first level in the grievance process is called the complaint level. A prisoner fills out paperwork at the institution, which is then reviewed by the department or section manager and, if unresolved, makes its way to the warden. For high priority cases, the file will be reviewed within 15 working days or in 25 days for routine priority files.
CSC distinguishes high priority complaints and grievances as those that have a direct effect on life, liberty or security of the person, or that relate to the griever's access to the complaints or grievance process. Once reviewed, a decision will be made by the warden who will either approve, approve in part, or deny the inmate's claim. Should the prisoner be unhappy with the decision, the prisoner has the right to appeal.
Grievances at the complaint level can be an extensive process. Documents are filled out by the offenders and placed in mail boxes. Submissions are collected by a grievance coordinator who assesses and assigns it to a department. The complaint will then be logged into the computer system.
Next, the individual responsible for the area of the complaint will seek out more information and may interview staff or the offenders as required. The complainant will then receive a formal response from the institution. The status of a file will be noted in the computer system, depending if the offender believes that the complaint has been resolved.
It is important to note that offenders can request an interview at any time during this process. This can quickly increase the processing times of complaints due to staff and scheduling constraints.
Complaint processing initially occurs at the lowest level possible, which means that this whole process can cascade three times from the individual involved, the department or section manager and then to the warden.
While every effort is made to resolve an offender's grievance, it is apparent that the complaint level of the grievance process requires a great deal of resources to properly administer. Many institutions will also provide offenders the opportunity to be hired as inmate grievance clerks. These offenders are interviews and, if hired, will be provided the appropriate training and education.
Inmate grievance clerks play a role in reducing the number of complaints as they are attempting to resolve the situation without resorting to the formal grievance process.
CSC deals with hundreds of complaints per day which are dealt with by this very informal manner. This is a useful tool for standard grievances. However, dealing with these situations informally is not always enough for some offenders who make it a hobby of filing complaints.
The second level of the grievance process occurs at the regional level. CSC has five regions and the files from the first complaint level are sent to the appropriate regional office. The regional deputy commissioner will review the files and in the same timeframe as the initial complaint level. Once again, if unhappy, the prisoner is granted the opportunity to appeal.
At the next stage, level three, the senior regional deputy commissioner will review the prisoner's grievance. This person must now assess the original grievance and additionally consider the responses provided by the institution warden and the regional deputy commissioner. Due to the increased volume of documents, the review times at this stage are 60 working days for high priority and 80 days for routine priority files. Again, if unsatisfied with the decision of the senior regional deputy commissioner, the inmate may appeal, which moves the claim to the fourth and final stage.
It is important to note that, up until this point, grievances can be in the system up to 150 working days. If appealed, the level four grievance means the prisoner's claim will be sent to the commissioner of CSC. At this stage, grievances will again be approved, approved in part or wholly declined. This is a much shorter review timeframe since the commissioner's office will receive summaries from all other levels to assist in making the final decision. Furthermore, the timeframe is much shorter because the commissioner's office has a greater number of staff and expertise as its disposal.
It is important to also note that, throughout the entire grievance process, prisoners may also approach federal courts, the office of the correctional investigator and tribunals as methods for addressing their complaints. These other avenues for addressing grievances require that the offender has exhausted the complaint process currently available in their own facility.
This process is generous, extensive and provides three opportunities for an inmate to accept solutions to his or her complaints. The current system does not prevent all inmates from filing frivolous grievances and, as such, prevents the necessary jurisprudence to allow CSC personnel to do their jobs appropriately and efficiently.
The current legislation is not as efficient and fiscally responsible as law-abiding Canadians deserve and expect it to be.
How does the current process fail us? I will explain this in six brief points. First, the current system does not require that grievances be filed in good faith. Section 90 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act states:
There shall be a procedure for fairly and expeditiously resolving offenders’ grievances on matters within the jurisdiction of the Commissioner....
A system required to process all claims regardless of merit diminishes the fair and quick resolution of legitimate complaints.
I am certain that by amending section 91, the labelling of vexatious complainants, it would improve offender access to section 90, fair and timely resolution, of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which is central to the purpose of this bill.
Second, the current system is a financial burden on the taxpayer. An incredible amount of resources and tax dollars are wasted when inmates are able to control a system that moves through four reviews and up to 150 days of processing time.
Third, the system allows prisoners to act like they are the victims. Proceeding through the correctional system with a sense of victimization is a problem. Our government was given a mandate to support Canadian families and law-abiding citizens, and this means supporting those who are the real victims of crime.
Fourth, allowing prisoners to file numerous frivolous complaints detracts from their ability to focus on their rehabilitation. Inmates should be focused on their correctional plan, the end result of which will mean their more effective reintegration into society. Making a hobby of filing meritless grievances makes a mockery of our correctional system and the entire grievance process.
Fifth, the present system creates a negative impact on the morale of staff involved in managing the grievance process. The knowledge that inmates are continuously filing grievances to cause trouble is not helpful to the morale of staff. On my recent visit to a prison, front line prison staff expressed the challenges of spending large amounts of time processing meritless complaints, especially when offenders choose not to seek resolution through informal channels.
Finally, the current system is too generous when it comes to the initiation of grievances. Inmates are attempting to manipulate a fair correctional system. Prisoners are in jail for one reason and that is to pay their debts to society. This certainly does not include bogging down the system with undue administrative hardships. It is evident that vexatious complainants are attention-seeking inmates who wilfully abuse the fair complaint process and prevent it from functioning properly.
Do members know that offenders are currently permitted by law to file a second complaint while a first is already in process? Often this second complaint will be an exact duplicate of the first. Offenders may do this because they are displeased with an initial response or they may not believe that their matter is being addressed in a timely fashion.
One particular example of this was an inmate who had an issue regarding a radio that he owned which, after his transfer to a new institution, no longer worked. He filed a complaint and while this grievance was in process he began to work through claims against the crown process as well. He then filed another complaint on the same issue while his first grievance was still being evaluated in conjunction with the institution that he had been transferred from.
When corrections staff attempt to resolve inmate issues in a timely manner, offenders should not be breathing down their necks for an answer or bogging down the system. Solutions take time and this procedure should be respected.
CSC staff noted that the offender saw the grievance process as a game and was determined to take advantage of it. It is important to note that staff feel the complaint process is an extremely important and useful tool but only when it is used for legitimate complaints.
As I said, our government believes in delivering a correctional service that actually corrects. There are key programs with CSC that have a real impact in the effective rehabilitation of inmates, for example, CORCAN. CORCAN is a key rehabilitation program of Correctional Service of Canada. CORCAN's mission is to aid in the safe reintegration of prisoners into society while providing employment and employability skills training to offenders incarcerated in federal penitentiaries and sometimes even after they are released back into the community.
Inmates who co-operate within the system also have access to an adult basic education program. This program offers inmates the opportunity to pursue a grade 12 education and is available year round in Canadian correctional institutions. This program is offered to offenders who have education in their correctional plan or who require upgrading in skills as a requirement for either continuing education or reintegration programs.
Correctional plans are professionally developed and implemented documents that outline an inmate's needs and what he or she needs to do to become responsible and accountable individuals in society. Under Bill C-10, the safe streets and communities act, these correctional plans would play an even more fundamental role in the way inmate rehabilitation is structured. As they pay their debts, these are the efforts inmates ought to be taking for reintegration into society. It is important to realize also that these programs come at a substantial cost to taxpayers and should not be taken lightly.
What are the exact changes proposed in my Bill C-293? In simple terms, the bill would allow the commissioner of Correctional Service of Canada, or his assigned representative, to designate an offender as a vexatious complainant. Once this has occurred, the offender would be held to a higher standard of proof for future claims.
Additionally, someone designed as a vexatious complainant could have his or her complaint shut down in the initial stage if the institution decided that the claim was vexatious and not made in good faith. Bill C-293 would considerably improve how grievances are processed in our correctional system.
Who exactly would benefit from the bill? Vexatious complainants themselves would benefit from the bill. They would be held accountable by focusing more attention on paying their debts to society. Their time will be better spent completing their correctional plan. This bill would work within the existing process to ensure prisoners are learning responsibility for their actions. Continuous complaining is counterproductive to those goals.
Taxpayers would benefit from a system that no longer forces correctional staff to process large volumes of meritless complaints, resulting in better use of tax dollars.
Correctional staff would also benefit. They would be freed from processing claims made in bad faith.
Our existing system would benefit. The existing grievance process would function more effectively and in the manner that it is supposed to. It would be able to resolve grievances in the way that it was intended to and actually focus on legitimate complaints.
By cracking down on vexatious complainants, Bill C-293 would help to make offenders more accountable, ensure greater respect for taxpayers and take the unnecessary burden off hard-working front line correctional officers.
I hope that all hon. members will support this legislation.