For real…..or for ruse.

‘Poor Howard Sapers’, is how we began the November 27 posting, “It’s a wonderful life…..when you can pass the buck.”

Howard Sapers became the country’s Correctional Investigator in 2004, acting as an ombudsman for Canada’s federal prisoners. He studied criminology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, worked for the Parole Board of Canada and the John Howard Society, and was a Liberal MLA in Alberta for two terms before Paul Martin appointed him to the office he’s held for 12 years.

Every year he issued an annual report to the ministry overseeing Correctional Service of Canada with observations and details of investigations he and his staff conducted during the period. Recommendations to improve the operation and outcomes of our federal prisons were included. Those reports were eventually tabled in Parliament, along with a response from CSC.

On January 2 of next year, and three days after leaving his CI job, Howard Sapers takes on the roll of an independent adviser to Ontario’s government, leading an external review of segregation policies in the province’s jails. Media coverage of segregation/solitary confinement policies in particular has been long-running, extensive and universally critical.

Mr. Sapers’ mandate is broad, and will include several aspects of the penal system, from regulation to policy to recruitment to training and infrastructure. One newspaper account describes the present system as “troubled”, and for instance, is facing three class action suits recently initiated just around the thorny lockdown issue, a practice so common in Ontario as to render some jails almost entirely segregation facilities on a frequent basis.

This appointment is welcome news, at least in this embryonic stage, and we sent a letter to Mr. Sapers:

November 21, 2016

Howard Sapers, Correctional Investigator of Canada,
Office of the Correctional Investigator,
Box 3421, Station ‘D’,
Ottawa, ON K1P 6L4

Dear Mr. Sapers:

I’ve admired your work as Canada’s CI for years, but sir, you are a glutton for punishment. If the obstinacy of Correctional Service of Canada was an irritant, welcome to the quagmire that is Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

Julian Portelli, Senior Policy Advisor to Minister David Orazietti, notes your January 1, 2017 appointment as “an independent adviser on corrections reform.” Allow me to independently offer a little focused advice of my own.

Segregation/solitary confinement comes in many and varied forms.

SHU units in Ontario jails are an addendum and alternative to segregation; they’re basically segregation with a television on the range wall. CSCS will argue otherwise, but ask for a log of the number of days or partial days SHU units are locked down, rendering them de facto segregation ranges. Staff shortages are common in some institutions and when guards are needed to cover elsewhere, SHUs are simply locked down, sometimes for days.

Entire institutions can be segregation units. Security incidents warrant jail-wide lockdowns, but consider this. Toronto South Detention Centre was shut at least for Saturday, Sunday and Monday, October 29 to 31. All visits were cancelled. Why? From 7pm Friday, October 28 to 7am Tuesday, November l, 100 uniformed staff members were unable to work their shifts. (See attached copy of November 16 response to request number CSCS-A-2016-05043) There was no security issue at TSDC. Halloween is what there was, and it’s not a stat holiday.

Mr. Sapers, I wish you bon chance with this new assignment. Know that many of us are looking forward to your assessments.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

A few days later on December 3, both Toronto’s Globe and Mail, and Star newspapers ran the announcement that Ontario’s Ombudsman, Paul Dubé, will look into the use of segregation (Toronto Star), or solitary confinement (Globe and Mail) in the province’s institutions.

The terminology is interchangeable and that’s an important distinction; any confinement that resembles either is defined as the same. That comes into play to a greater degree with the federal government and its prisons, where it has insisted there is a difference. Correctional Service of Canada is alone in that position, while all other stakeholders prefer the old adage: If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, then it’s a duck. But, that’s fodder for a later entry.

For now, we sent Mr. Dubé the same letter that Howard Sapers received only a few days earlier.

For someone with knowledge on the subject, the conclusions these two men will reach are almost forgone. What will be interesting is how Ontario reacts……and acts.


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