Logic & the politics of public service

A Toronto Star workplace safety piece in its July 28 edition was headed, “PTSD rates high among male correctional officers.” According to the Department of Public Safety, 36 per cent of men working as guards in federal prisons report the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, reflecting what the guards say is “the dangerous and emotionally corrosive atmosphere” inside prisons. No information was released for female prison workers.

The article went on to compare the levels of the disorder among some occupations subject to disruptive stressors, and the population in general. The point of the report though was the continuing difficulties these men can have getting the help they feel is needed because not enough attention is paid to their predicament.

This isn’t the first time the complaint has come to the notice of the media. But nowhere has there been a mention that prison conditions subjecting employees to excessive stress always includes components under which inmates are affected by the same stressors. But, inmates are more often than not expected to ‘suck it up.’

Care not for the welfare of criminals if you will, but given the circumstances, why would anyone be surprised the problem for uniformed staff is so persistent?

August 2, 2016

The Honourable Ralph Goodale,
Minister of Public Safety,
House of Commons,
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

Re: PTSD & prison guards

Dear Minister Goodale:

The media is again referencing the high rate of post-traumatic stress disorder among federal prison guards, and the difficulties they encounter qualifying for treatment and compensation.

One factor always overlooked which exacerbates the challenges for guards is the incidents of PTSD among federal prison inmates. The environmental conditions stressing CSC staff members also affect the men and women on the other side of the bars in the same way and to the same degree. Some inmates may already display symptoms of the disorder when they first enter the prison system, a result of their life’s experience.

The difference for inmates is that assets which guards access in the community, or to which they can petition for redress, are not available in prison health-care units, or are withheld arbitrarily, or have a limited efficacy. The result is an overall highly charged negative atmosphere. Given those circumstances, it is no wonder a large percentage of guards in our federal prisons are asking for help.

Solutions must include remedies for everyone behind the walls.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

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Reality…..politics…..’angry lawyers’.

The April 28th letter to Anthony Laycock, Executive Director of the Criminal Lawyers Association, questioned the lack of response from the legal profession to conditions in Ontario’s jails. Not only are inmates awaiting trial and the lawyers who represent them placed at a disadvantage, but administrative, procedural, legal, and human rights irregularities and violations affect the entire provincial penal system population, and bring the justice system we are to respect into disrepute. This letter was published as part of the May 15 “Where are the angry lawyers?” There’s been no response, and one is not expected.

The same question went to a busy, highly qualified, and well thought-of associate in a Toronto criminal law firm. Edited for privacy/confidentiality, the email answer began, “….I don’t want you to think that we do not care about the issues at CSC”….(meaning the provincial Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services, or CSCS). It goes on, “They are very real and live concerns, but unfortunately, fall outside my mandate. I am a defence lawyer. I represent….on criminal related matters………your frustration with the system is shared, but in order to attack it, there needs to be someone with that as their primary function. Unfortunately, the world has too many problems for one person to tackle on their own.”

Understandable.

Also understandable, this part of our question was not addressed, “If criminal lawyers and their firms are too busy to confront problems within CSCS which exacerbate the challenges of providing the best service possible to their in-custody clients, why then are assets not put in place to exercise the beneficial options available?”

Improved client/lawyer communication and case preparation, and a potential profit centre are reasons enough to act. Alone or collectively, criminal law firms simply enlist civil/human rights litigators to take our provincial government to task for redress of complaints, and petition for financial compensation. If our public institutions won’t respond to the scrutiny and criticisms of the media and citizens’ groups, the professionals who are a daily witness earn the right to benefit.

Why hasn’t this materialized? Why has the work been left to the grassroots, to the little guys? One hypothesis suggests those in the best position to do the most good are reluctant to risk being scratched off the government’s Christmas card list.

So then, where does this leave our allegiance?

………..still dancing!

“And the music goes on and on……” from February 28 of this year examples but one exercise in why our governments’ expenses appear so out of control. Why do our civil servants spend so much time and money to achieve so little? Why hasn’t our collective wisdom found a solution to expediently meet our needs from the bodies we set up to govern? A debate for the ages, that.

We’ve been patiently waiting for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada to make a determination on our requests for information Correctional Service of Canada has withheld pertaining to July 22, 2014. Stephen Fineberg in Montreal, who is acting on Brennan Guigue’s behalf, has seen incremental steps toward that end, but his long experience in this area has nonetheless left him frustrated by the delays.

Here is the bulk of a July 11 update email:

…………. I was hoping it would be possible to supply you with news of a concrete development that I am waiting on. I can see now it is unrealistic to wait further, so I am writing with my news, such as it is.

As you already know, being dissatisfied with the results of our access and privacy requests to CSC’s access and privacy coordinator, I wrote on September 3, 2015 to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to initiate a complaint with the object of obtaining at least some of the material then withheld. On September 11, the OPC wrote to acknowledge receipt of our correspondence.

The OPC subsequently responded that, despite the existing correspondence confirming CSC recognizes me as Brennan’s representative, a new authorization signed by Brennan would be needed before I would enjoy that status with the OPC. Such authorization was provided by Brennan to the OPC, and on November 13, 2015 I wrote again to the OPC to initiate our complaint. I highlighted the fact that it made little sense for CSC to claim there were no entries in the medical file since Brennan’s previous privacy request (which predates the incident of July 22, 2014), and that we have been given CSC reports admitting rules were not followed, but have been prevented from reading the descriptions of those violations.

Eventually Brennan was able to view the shared video material and informed us that the hand-held camera footage is cut off early, so that material of great interest has not been made available In February I wrote to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to communicate Brennan’s position on the hand-held camera sharing.

On March 11, 2016 the OPC called. I imagine it was at this point that an investigator had made sufficient sense of the file to discuss it for the first time. The OPC asked me if Brennan was still insisting on what they term “a standard investigation,” meaning that the OPC would demand the entire record from CSC and examine it to determine if the existing sharing was in compliance with the law. I answered in the affirmative. The call proved a useful opportunity to help them understand what we needed, especially in terms of visual material.

On April 5, 2016, I called the OPC and spoke with Chantal Latour, Senior Privacy Investigator. Despite her evident wish to assist, it was impossible to get an idea of when there might be results in our file.

On May 2, 2016, I received an undated letter from Mme. Latour confirming the nature of Brennan’s allegations to her office. It reads in part, “Based on the information you provided, a complaint file has been opened and it has been assigned to me. I have notified CSC of the details of your complaint and asked for a copy of the information held in the processing files that is relevant to your complaint. (….) I will make every effort to complete the investigation as soon as possible. Should you have any additional information or wish an update on my investigation, please do not hesitate…”

This is where things stand. I was hoping there would be something concrete to report from the OPC investigation, but I don’t know if that will take another month or another year. At some point Brennan will need to file in court if he wishes to hold CSC responsible in a civil suit, and that point must be before the third anniversary of the July 22, 2014 incident. You will remember that my mandate was to obtain material evidencing the illegal conduct of CSC so that Brennan (and you) could decide if it is worth pursing before the courts. What we have obtained to date is undoubtedly of some help, but Brennan claims the most damning visual evidence is that which has been withheld, and as of today we cannot know if the OPC will succeed in locating and sharing more, and, if so, when.

The civil litigation rules regarding discovery may succeed in turning up more than the access and privacy route has produced to date. Your dilemma, as I see it, is that you were hoping to have the material illustrating Brennan’s allegations before deciding if you should underwrite civil litigation. It may prove necessary eventually to decide on the basis of what you have. Still, you are not at the deadline for that decision yet…………

Our thanks for this status update were emailed to Stephen Fineberg along with two questions, one pertaining to the availability of the civil litigator he had recommended back in 2014, and the other on a point of clarification arising from the last part of his report. Was it correct to assume that CSC may not provide as much information to the OPC as they may be required to make available under a court order?

Imagine how many of your tax dollars have been spent to this point, and we have yet to go face to face with Correctional Service of Canada.

Cheers to Eric Hoskins

Naloxone is an opioid antidote. Ontario’s Ministry of Health restricts the distribution of this first-aid treatment to clinics that hand out clean needles to addicts. Public health doctors have asked the government for the last three years for take-home kits to just-released provincial inmates, who can be in particular danger of overdosing on opioids after they leave jail.

In spite of requests from a Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services’ senior medical consultant to regional medical officers of health for these kits, Health refused to act. Dr. Eric Hoskins, Ontario’s health minister stepped in and ordered his ministry’s staff to begin distributing naloxone ‘immediately’ to newly released inmates at high risk of overdosing.

Regardless of the benefit expanding the program may have, what is most notable here is that a politician stuck out his neck in support of what he sees as a good cause, and contrary to his bureaucrats’ policy. In spite of the support some CSCS officials have for the project though, a monitoring oversight is needed to ensure orders are followed.

Instructions from ‘head office’ can become corrupted ‘in the trenches’, and the case of Christina Jahn examples how orders go unheeded. Ms Jahn was held in solitary confinement for a total of seven months in 2011 and 2012 at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre without the support and medical attention she needed. She filed a human rights complaint, and the two sides agreed to a settlement on the first day the hearing was to begin in 2013.

Ms Jahn was awarded a sum of money, and Correctional Services was required to commit to 10 “public interest remedies” so no one would be in the same position again. But, her lawyers took action against the government in 2015 for violating the terms of the settlement, alleging some Ontario jails were failing to live up to their obligations. New explicit mandates and directives were subsequently issued by CSCS officials to all institutions. The matter is considered as resolved but there is no process to ensure compliance, and third party surveillance would still uncover some failures.

Nevertheless, Minister Hoskins deserves a laurel for the action he took.

July 11, 2016

The Honourable Dr. Eric Hoskins,
Minister of Health & Long-Term Care,
Hepburn Block, 10th Floor,
80 Grosvenor Street,
Toronto, ON M7A 2C4

Re: Congratulations! Naloxone program.

Dear Minister Hoskins:

The 1980s Britcoms “Yes, Minister” and “Yes, Prime Minister”, knowledgeably written by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, offered an advanced study of how civil service bureaucrats stymie the best intentions of Ministers of the Crown.

It’s refreshing for a government member in your position to overrule staff and order the immediate distribution of naloxone to some newly released provincial inmates. (How refreshing too for ‘immediate’ to appear in government lexicon.) This writer wonders if anyone described the decision as courageous for a politician. Regardless, we need more of this from all areas of administration.

After almost thirty years of observing CSCS, I offer a note of caution. An instruction in place is not the same as an instruction followed. I give you but one sample of good work undone.

After seven months in solitary confinement at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre in 2011 and 2012, Christina Jahn filed a human rights complaint, and settled in 2013 for a sum of money and a commitment by MCSCS to 10 “public interest remedies”. Her lawyers took action against Ontario in 2015 for violating terms of the settlement, alleging some Ontario jails didn’t follow instructions despite direct orders from CSCS officials. Even today, compliance can be an issue.

Consider employing at-arms-length program inspectors.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen
cc David Orazietti, MCSCS

Inmates’ protest.

Our recent attention has focused on Ontario’s provincial jail system. The corrections arm of the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services is a ‘soft target’, providing rich fodder for complaint, and we could reasonably argue it’s a composter feeding a garden from which we harvest a cornucopia of colourful information to support a critical eye.

One inmate’s judgement that ‘corrections’ does not correct was equally directed at both federal prisons as well as this province’s jails, but the Ontario system’s lack of transparency and accountability make CSCS a particularly menacing Leviathan, an antithesis of the community safety branch of the same government office.

Only by chance did we come across Dan Taekema’s Toronto Star article, “Inmates protest against more lockdowns at Toronto South Detention Centre” published on Friday, June 10 in the on-line edition of the paper.

On Thursday evening, June 9, as many as 160 inmates from the four units on the third floor refused to return to their cells for a lockdown by sitting peacefully in the prison’s yard. The protest was a demonstration against one inmate’s description of “inhumane conditions” because of frustration over frequent lockdowns. This has been an ongoing issue since the superjail opened two years ago, and is a particular problem at Toronto South where lockdowns are frequent (did we say ‘frequent’) and can last for hours or sometimes days.

For public consumption, Andrew Morrison, a spokesperson for the ministry, and OPSEU correction’s division chair Monte Vieselmeyer passed Thursday night’s protest off almost as routine operational procedure. Staff and inmates on the ground saw it differently. The crisis intervention team was brought in, “they got rough with everybody”, according to one account, and guards said the inmates involved were “going through hell.” One inmate’s take: “The guards are tearing the whole place upside-down, taking everyone’s stuff, their clothes and leaving them all in their shorts. They take their mattresses and leave them in their cells with the hatches closed. TVs are off, no phone, no showers for God knows how many days.”

Monte Vieselmeyer explained it was a “peaceful protest” but said he wasn’t sure why the inmates were protesting. We couldn’t leave that uncontested:-

June 28, 2016

Monte Vieselmeyer,
Chair, Corrections Division,
OPSEU,
100 Lesmill Road,
Toronto, ON M3B 3P8

Re: How was Mars?

Chairman Vieselmeyer:

The on-line Toronto Star for June 10 ran Dan Taekema’s “Inmates protest against more lockdowns at Toronto South Detention Centre.” In this piece, you weren’t sure why the inmates were protesting!

You were once on staff at TSDC, and may still be. There’s no Toronto South guard, civilian employee, administrator, lawyer, social/health care worker, volunteer, professional or family visitor, inmate, CSCS minister, deputy minister, or assistant minister who is not familiar with the relentless pattern of lockdowns there, as there are also at other provincial institutions.

Courts are equally well-informed. Superior Court Justice Douglas Gray awarded two Maplehurst inmates $85K last month over the lockdown issue. Also in May, Ontario Court Justice Mary Hogan was prepared to award a TSDC inmate an enhanced credit for time served until his defence and the Crown came to terms on a sentence. Lockdowns are why the media has paid so much attention to Ontario jails.

It’s claimed most lockdowns result from staff shortages, and CSCS has begun a long overdue hiring blitz to address the problem. But, there is another cause of staff shortages; that is, the number of uniformed staff members who do not report for work as scheduled. Access to Information requests indicate dozens of employees are sometimes absent from Toronto South. No doubt the same is true in other jails.

With the clamour over lockdowns, one wonders just where you’ve been to have missed it all.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

blind copies (The blind copies went to CSCS Minister David Orazietti, TSDC Superintendent Mike Wasylyk, and the Toronto Star’s Dan Taekema.