Toronto’s two largest dailies, the Star and Globe & Mail, gave front page coverage last week to an investigation into the reporting of inmate deaths in Canada’s federal prisons. The August 2nd “In the Dark: An Investigation of Death in Custody Information Sharing and Disclosure Practices in Federal Corrections” was issued by Howard Sapers, our Correctional Investigator, headquartered in Ottawa.
This year-long 41 page study was in response to a number of complaints from the families of prisoners who died while in custody, but were not receiving complete, timely and uncensored information about the death of a family member. In some cases, and Ashley Smith’s death is one example, Correctional Service of Canada took days to even locate a body, or CSC cremated remains before family had an opportunity to make arrangements. Some families had to submit Access to Information Requests even years after a death to get reports which were often heavily redacted. Appropriately, CSC’s insensitivity was a component of Mr. Sapers’ findings.
But beyond the concerns raised by families, Howard Sapers launched this investigation after years of failing to get our federal prison system to act on progressive recommendations from his office. Ominously, and just as important, the OCI office’s examination of relevant material also suggested that CSC redactions implicated failures on the part of the agency to follow policy. “There were some redactions that I think Correctional Service of Canada is going to have to explain”, Sapers said in an interview. While the present government’s commitment to openness and accountability encouraged Mr. Sapers to initiate this work, have no doubt Correctional Service of Canada will do whatever it can to remain condescending, aloof and defiant.
How does this impact on Brennan Guigue and the work that is underway to hold CSC responsible for the circumstances in which he was involved in July of 2014?
Our own information request asking CSC to confirm that the six guards and the officer overseeing them on the day of the incident are still employed by the agency is complete. All seven still work in the system, but we hesitate to publish names at this time without advice. For now, that isn’t of particular import. What is of note though, based on the correctional investigator’s conclusion in his report on deaths in custody, is the effort CSC will make to withhold as much information as it can, even pushing the ‘legal envelope’ in the process. Our experience to date justifies the cynicism.
Remember, these are your public servants.