Reform? One good reason.

Political malpractice, dubious policy, sanctioned abuse….gotta go!

Toronto’s financial district’s steel, glass and concrete canyon walls tower over congested streets, where hurried pedestrians crowd the sidewalks…..no time to notice, late, keeping up, running away. It’s not a friendly oasis for society’s disadvantaged, for the addicted, the homeless, and the lost. Yet, these corridors of corporate power and wealth attract numbers of hopeful, desperate men and women who don’t fit into the boardroom profile or the trading floor hustle.

Outsiders, sometimes tolerated but not welcome, nuisances, obstructions. But still, a few years ago there was one Bay Street heavy hitter with a different perspective. On his way to the club for lunch one afternoon, and stepping over and around people who made the streets their home, he recognized a missed opportunity. Here was a population of lost consumers and potential contributors to community growth and prosperity. What if progressive and inclusive social programs replaced rejection and exclusion?

What if?

‘What if’ is good for the street. ‘What if’ is good for the cellblock, too. This country spends billions of tax dollars annually supporting provincial and federal prison industries, and though prisons will always be with us, the agencies that operate them misrepresent the word “correction” that is in one form or another always a part of their corporate names. Public safety may be the priority and isolating a few thousand people partly achieves that, but “correction” gets a failing grade.

What if cutting recidivism was a top priority? What if the efficacy of programs and their delivery was under constant review? What if there were no restrictions on the availability of services? What if every inmate was judged as potentially the next commissioner of ‘correctional’ services in Canada? What if, what if, what if?

The last four ‘Justice & the Penal System’ posts pry open a window on Correctional Service of Canada, our federal prison agency, the largest of these operations in the country. That there is so little public interest in prisons and the inmates they house is one of the intended aims of this tax-supported industry. The lack of accountability and scrutiny that results are black marks on Canada’s claim as a human rights champion, and a loss to good order and prosperity in our communities.

Let’s open that window wider.

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FORD & buck a beer

…….the second of two brief interruptions to the “Political malpractice” series.

If there’s anything positive to be said about Ontario’s new provincial government, it’s how easily its policies can be targeted by the majority of voters who don’t support a regressive agenda.

Mr. Ford’s “buck a beer” campaign promise is a frivolous and silly sideshow to more serious issues, but it offers an opportunity for a little fun.

We dropped him a note:-

August 7, 2018

Doug Ford,
Queen’s Park,
Toronto

Re: Buck a beer!

Mr. Ford:

This is a good idea! Adding incentives to bring more breweries on board and offering the consumer a greater range of choice may increase alcohol consumption.

That’s good for you and the rest of the conservative infestation at Queen’s Park.

People won’t feel the pain when your “efficiencies” screw them.

Keep it up. It’s good for the opposition.

How could we resist?

TRUDEAU & human rights

…….the first of two brief interjections between entries of the “Political malpractice” series.

So, the Saudi crown prince doesn’t like being told his country is afraid of its citizens, treats them shamefully, and expects the rest of the world to be passively pliant. Saudi Arabia’s response to Canada’s criticism of its human rights record is simply a shot across our bow. Canada is an easy target with little to risk on either side. Our government made the right move, and we said so in a letter to Justin Trudeau, but we needed to remind him too that we live in a glass house.

August 10, 2018

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau,
Prime Minister of Canada,

Re: Saudi Arabia

Dear Prime Minister:

Thanks to you and Chrystia Freeland and the government of Canada for its criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. Thanks too for standing your ground.

Unfortunately, this country is not the human rights paragon in practice that it champions in principle. True, abuses in Canada are not the extremes common elsewhere, but none the less there are violations in every part of this land.

You and your ministers should stand up for the rights of all people, and that includes Canadians. Don’t hide your head in the sand and pretend we’re virtuous and angelic simply because the mandarins around you insist all’s well.

Stand anywhere in this country, move one of your feet and kick over the rock that’s under it. Take a close look.

Dubious policy……

…….through sanctioned abuse, and political malpractice

Okay, so we know it’s the inmates who pay for their phone service…that’s according to the government itself. On top of that, the government gets a kickback from what inmates spend on their phone service.

Now we move to October of 2013. Stephen Harper is still the prime minister. He and his government initiate a move by Correctional Service of Canada to CUT inmates pay by 30%. One source noted CSC’s enthusiasm for the policy. The new directive also took away the pay incentive for CORCAN jobs, what CSC calls its ‘training centre.’ CORCAN is a business run by the prison system using inmate labour to produce products and services which are primarily for prisons and the military. It offers inmates both work and work ethics experience, but there are very few positions available relative to the size of the prison population.

The agency claimed these cuts were to pay for room and board and the inmate phone system. The government added that this would make inmates more accountable and save the system about $4 million on its $2.6 billion annual budget. The government should also have noted that this was the basest kind of b.s. But then, perhaps the obvious didn’t need to be labelled.

So, what challenges inmates faced as things were now entered the realm of farce. An environment already rife with a vibrant underground economy, and ever-evolving inventive contraband pipelines, only spurred a stimulus that CSC cannot fully contain for a problem of its own making.

A group of inmates took the government to court in the fall of 2014 to contest pay policy. Jarrod Shook was one of the lead plaintiffs, and a Google search using his name will bring up a wealth of insight into this and other prison practices. He’s worth a read. In any case, the inmates lost, the court ruling they hadn’t proved the harm in the changes, and that it wasn’t up to the court to rule on the ‘wisdom’ of government decisions.

With the change in government, and Justin Trudeau’s mandate letter to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould calling for a review of the criminal justice system, it was hoped an intelligent assessment of prison conditions would yield enlightened and progressive legislation.

More on the way……..

Sanctioned abuse…….

…….political malpractice……..getting worse

Even as inmate finances in federal institutions were neglected over the years, there was one welcome although conditional relief in the first decade of this century……the cost of telephone calls. Even this wasn’t accomplished though without a duplicitous arrangement between Correctional Service of Canada and a major Canadian corporation. And, since this will bear on a morally repugnant government decision in 2013, we’ll pause to “talk on the telephone.”

We’re referencing life in federal prisons in this series and not conditions in provincial jails. Financial support for provincial inmates comes solely from friends and family. Provincial inmate telephone services are provided predominately by Bell and all calls are made collect. Generally, local calls are $1.00 but tariffs increase with distance. Burdensome to some families, although stays in provincial jails are short-term, and there’s no incentive for the relevant ministries to consider alternatives.

What is common in all telephone service provider contracts with provincial jail AND federal prison agencies is a “kickback”, a percentage of what the telephone companies take in from inmate calls. How much of a cut the government gets is a corporate trade secret and not subject to access to information legislation.

But, back to “talk on the telephone.” Federal inmate calls had been collect for decades. Even as competition and improvements in telecommunications drove costs to consumers lower, and the packaging of services became the norm, prisoners continued to pile up telephone charges to their families and friends, and Correctional Service of Canada and Bell Canada in particular profited.

At the beginning of 1998, the Service introduced the ‘Millennium’ telephone system to enhance security. With that came an increase in charges. In the succeeding years, no measures were taken to bring costs in line with those in the community, and no assessment of the system’s benefit as a security mechanism was undertaken. Naturally, this was contentious with both inmates and the Office of the Correctional Investigator.

A dozen years ago or so, Correctional Service of Canada undertook to rectify an obviously untenable position, and put out a tender to provide inmates with calling cards. Under this arrangement, each inmate received a card registered to their name and to which the institution placed up to five pre-approved telephone numbers. On a monthly specified date, and at the inmate’s request, cards could be loaded with funds from an inmate’s account, and telephone tariffs were competitive with what was available in the community. For an inmate who ran out of funds on a card before it could be reloaded, or an inmate with no money, all calls would be collect, and the charges for those collect calls reverted to the older and more expensive scale.

Bell Canada was awarded the contract for this service, and as long as inmates can keep a positive funding position on their cards, it’s worked well. The one drawback that comes to the Correctional Investigator’s attention now is access to telephones.

But, hold it. There was one snafu, one kerfuffle in this neat contracted process that was closeted.

When the bids to provide this telephone service to inmates were unsealed, and keeping in mind that Bell had been a big player all along, Correctional Service of Canada subsequently asked them to ‘repair’ their offer. Following the request, Bell was then awarded the contract.

Telus screamed foul, and took their argument to the federal government department charged with ethics and best practices. Telus lost. Why? It was ruled that judgments could be made only in circumstances where government money, taxpayer money, was involved. In the matter of telephone services for prison inmates, it was inmate money, citizen’s money, in question. The committee had no authority to intervene. Further, and to its discredit, no comment was made on what lead Telus to bring its case forward in the first place.

This should have come back to bite the government’s butt in a 2013 policy decision. It didn’t.

Read on……..

POLICING – compelled to interject……..

Only three and a half months after “The POLICING file – Farewell & Good Luck?” on April 1st, the heat from recent events demands comment:-

NEPTUNE FOUR: In November of 2011, four black teenagers walking to an early evening program in their apartment complex, and armed with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms….and an attitude of entitlement to its protections, are confronted by two Toronto Police TAVIS (anti-violence) officers armed with protective vests, revolvers…..and their own attitude of empowerment. What ensued has been heavily covered in the media.
Now, at a June 19 police disciplinary tribunal hearing this year, Constable Scharnil Pais, one of the two officers accused of unlawful arrest that night so long ago, claims he was “scared” during the confrontation. His partner, Constable Adam Lourenco, did not testify.
“Scared” of what? “Scared” he’d get caught?
This is simply standard operating practice to vilify police victims.

SAMMY YATIM MURDER: Constable James Forcillo’s lawyers are seeking leave to appeal his conviction to the Supreme Court of Canada on a technicality used by the Crown to gain an attempted murder conviction. Forcillo is currently in custody, serving his sentence. The application announced on July 10 is a long-shot but then, the police have a big purse….your deep pockets.
James Forcello should have been convicted of second-degree murder.

THE DEATH OF ORLANDO BROWN: A 32 year-old black man, Barrie resident Orlando Brown, was arrested early in the afternoon on June 22, and died in hospital later that day. There was an active non-violent domestic dispute warrant for his arrest, and he was arranging bail before turning himself into police. A paralegal who was to represent him viewed a passerby’s video of the arrest. He’s convinced “excessive and reckless violence was utilized.”
A cousin told Brown to surrender quickly, telling him, “The last thing I want to happen to you is that you walk in the streets and police kill you.”
The SIU is investigating. The family want to see the video of the police booking Mr. Brown.
A July 9 letter went to the Barrie police chief:-

Kimberley Greenwood, Chief,
Barrie Police Service,
Barrie, ON L4M 6K9

Re: The death of Orlando Brown

Dear Chief Greenwood:

No doubt you have men and women on your force who are proactively engaging the people of Barrie to build positive working relationships.

And then, as everywhere in policing, there are the ‘cowboys’, officers who don’t get that Orlando Brown’s tax dollars contributed to the cost of their training, paid for the uniforms they wear, and supplied the weapons used to kill him.

The SIU investigation cannot change the most compelling outcome of this event. This man did not have to die on June 22.

ARE WE STILL TALKING ABOUT ‘CARDING’?:- Believe it or not, Jennifer Evans is still the chief of the Peel Regional Police. The June 29th Globe and Mail published “Police chief slams crackdown on carding”, her rant on the pressure to end ‘street checks’ by police services in Western Canada.
This definitely needed attention, and a July 6 letter followed:-

Jennifer Evans, Chief, Peel Regional Police,
Mississauga, ON L5N 8M5

Re: Police chief slams crackdown on carding, Globe and Mail, Friday, June 29

Chief Evans:

“….because of abuse by the police.”

That’s Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s response during a press scrum outside the House of Commons in 1972 when asked why his government gutted the Criminal Code’s vagrancy law. Of the three sections in the legislation, three of the five subsections in section 1 were repealed, as was section 3. One tends to remember when the first minister of the Crown chose the accusatory language Mr. Trudeau knew would be widely reported.

Canada’s police services have creatively developed resources to circumvent the intent of those changes ever since.

Carding is one of the more odious.

If street checks are a warranted important investigative tool, why not push the envelope. Why not press for ultimate control, incarcerating every person, subject to release upon a proof satisfying your officers there’s no threat to good order.

Extreme, you say? How much less so is carding?

Let’s just call if for what it is.

Carding is code for police state.

Police chiefs in Edmonton and Vancouver were copied, along with Ontario’s premier, the mayors of Toronto and Missisauga, and the Toronto Police director of communications.

Enough. Now, let’s get back to the government sanctioned abuse in our federal prison system.

Sanctioned abuse……..

……..through political malpractice

So, the pay scale set up by Canada’s government in 1981 to help federal prison inmates cover the cost of what Correctional Service of Canada didn’t provide, to finance links with family and the community, and to give men and women in custody a head start on their release, hasn’t been adjusted from day one. Not even to accommodate inflation.

And, no one noticed. Right? No one at Correctional Service of Canada, or in succeeding governments over the years, Liberal or Conservative, thought about what a 1981 dollar bought in 1995, or in 2001, or in 2010….or today. Is that what we’re supposed to believe?

Of course not. The inmates noticed. They spoke about it often. They complained about it often. They made submissions often.

So did Howard Sapers. Referring to his 2002-2003 annual report when he was Canada’s Correctional Investigator, and under a section titled Inmate Financial Resources, he wrote…..

“As I have repeatedly indicated, adequate levels of inmate pay are important for two primary reasons:
(1) to combat the effects of the illicit underground economy that prevails in institutions where inmate funds are overly scarce, and
(2) to provide offenders with sufficient means on release to support their successful reintegration to the community.”

The Correctional Investigator went on to again make recommendations to resolve the increasing deficiencies with the compensation program.

The Correctional Service of Canada’s response to the CI:
“To address the complexities of the current pay system, CSC is examining all policies related to inmate monies, pay and the management of these funds. The study will address issues raised by the CI (Correctional Investigator), as well as those raised by the public. Stakeholders, including the OCI will be consulted.”

What happened? Nothing. The last posting here on June 24 referred to a 2006 report from that same OCI office targeting the same issue. It comes up year after year after year.

But wait. Isn’t what we read from CSC back in 2002-2003 typical bureaucratic double-speak anyway?

Nonetheless, Mr. Sapers went on to politely note all those years ago that:
“As to income pay in general, we the found the response (from Correctional Service of Canada) was vague as to timing and as to the specific offender problems that were the basis for our recommendation.”

Things were going to get a lot worse, we said.

It’s coming……