Prisons for profits….the end?

The United States of America heralds itself as the world’s premiere champion of democratic principles and human rights, but with only 5% of the earth’s population, it has 25% of its prison inmates. Notorious human rights offenders like China and Iran don’t incarcerate its citizens to the same degree as the U.S. The United States was also in the forefront of privatizing prison services……..prisons for profits.

Reducing the numbers of Americans in prison is an issue during this year’s presidential campaign, but it’s a backburner item. A concern for the centre and left of centre, prison populations involve states’ rights which are more a conservative cause. This won’t be front of mind for the candidates.

But now to the question of who runs U.S. prisons. As the Washington Post recently reported, after years of documented human rights abuses by the private prison industry, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is finally ending its use of privately-run, for-profit prisons. As Senator Bernie Sanders put it in a press statement responding to the DOJ decision, “Study after study after study has shown private prisons are not cheaper, they are not safer, and they do not provide better outcomes for either the prisoners or the state.”

On the contrary, corporations in the business of operating prisons for profit are planning for growth, looking for cost cutting efficiencies, and opportunities to benefit from criminal activity.

Unfortunately, the U.S. federal prison population currently stands at about 193,000, and is dropping due to changes in sentencing policies over the last three years. Of this, only 22,660 inmates are living in federal private prisons. While this represents a small minority of the total number of men and women imprisoned in the country, the feds example should spur state governments to take a closer look at their penal systems.

The Justice Department’s decision doesn’t put an immediate end to their partnership with the private prison industry. It instructs officials to decline to renew contracts or to limit a contract’s scope, with a goal to reduce and eventually end the use of privately operated prisons.

This doesn’t cover private prisons used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is asking the U.S. government to act on these centers as well. “The Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whose civil immigration detention facilities form a far larger component of private prison contractors’ portfolios, must immediately follow the DOJ’s example. Locking up immigrants, including families and children fleeing extreme violence in Central American, should not be a source of profit for huge corporations, particularly given private contractors’ terrible record providing inadequate medical and medical health care to dying immigrants.”

Whatever criticism can be levelled at government operated prisons, here or in the U.S., there is still no excuse to allow for-profit corporations to use crime to fuel a growth industry, abuse the human rights of individuals, criminals or not, and promote recidivism rates at the risk of community safety.

The Neptune Four – an update

Take a minute to review “Confidence and trust” from March 13 of this year. Four black teenagers are stopped by police a way back in November of 2011, assaulted, arrested, charged, released, and vindicated. They’ve become known as the Neptune Four after the street on which their homes are located.

The teenagers are suing the police. The two Toronto officers who first came into contact with the young men were subsequently charged with misconduct. The Toronto police disciplinary tribunal for the two charged officers is scheduled for this month, October of 2016, almost five years later!

As matters stood in March, the Ontario Human Rights Commission wanted standing at the discipline hearing. It was a rare request for intervenor status, unprecedented for a police tribunal. The OHRC intended to ensure the tribunal considered racial profiling which it believes is a clear factor in the alleged misconduct.

But, on Monday, July 11, the Toronto police hearing officer ruled that, because the tribunal does not have the ability to grant the human rights’ commission involvement in the process, its request to participate had to be denied. The Toronto Star later ran an editorial calling on the regulations to be changed.

The teens were originally charged with assaulting police, and one who did not want to answer police questions was charged with threatening death and assault with intent to resist arrest. All charges were withdrawn. The Office of the Independent Police Review Director found the youth were not misbehaving and that the stop and subsequent questioning violated their charter rights.

Jim Rankin at the Star has been on top of this story from the beginning. Given how long it has taken to get this far, we shot a note off to him in the summer suggesting we should hope these four former teenagers who are now men will not be sending their own kids to mentoring sessions before this wraps up. His response…… “Amen!”

We shouldn’t be surprised if this hearing drags on for months, with postponements, delays, and legal challenges. One thing we can conclude with certainty. In the end, the City of Toronto and its taxpayers will be turning over a handsome albeit undisclosed and confidential settlement to the complainants.

There’s a point that needs to be made here too in view of incidents like this, and the even more unsettling interactions between police and young black men in the United States. African-American and African-Canadian mothers and fathers are well-advised to “police proof” their sons at an early age.

One of many memorable quotations in the lexicon of Jack Bernstein, the revered head of film for Famous Players during the 1970s and 80s may be suitable here…..”So, to this it’s become!”

Matthew Hines died. Chapter the second.

The September 25 posting to Justice for Brennan Guigue, “What say you, Minister?”, was prompted by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s response to the death of inmate Matthew Hines at Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick on May 27 in 2015.

CBC News has added two additional postings on this – “Correctional service admits ‘staff misconduct’ in inmate’s death”, and, “Prison watchdog investigates death of N.B. inmate pepper-sprayed 5 times by guards”

The ‘prison watchdog’ is Howard Sapers, Canada’s Correctional Investigator.  He’s been looking into this since Matthew Hines died when his department’s investigation asked how and why guards beat and then repeatedly pepper-sprayed the inmate before his death.  According to Sapers, his office has been held up by one missing piece, the New Brunswick coroner’s report showing a definitive cause of death.

Correctional Service of Canada cites privacy legislation which prevents it from discussing specifics of Matthew Hines death, or why the original story CSC offered of the incident differs from its own investigative report issued more than a year later.

Likewise, Ralph Goodale’s office won’t comment beyond the statement it released on August 24 because of the ongoing CSC investigation.

Canada’s privacy legislation has been a boon to our government ministries.  Correctional Service of Canada makes frequent use of it.  In the matter of Matthew Hines, CSC is still referencing it even though the principal is dead.

In the meantime, the RCMP has reopened its investigation into this death-in-custody. Initially, foul play was ruled out and the file was closed, but “additional information” has persuaded the police to take another look, although it wouldn’t say what new information was uncovered.

Scott Harris, the CSC regional deputy commissioner for the Atlantic region, admitted there was “staff misconduct” and “excessive force” in the case of Matthew Hines.  One staff member was fired and three others have been disciplined.  “We take this case very seriously and we’re trying to learn from it,” Harris said.

CSC’s internal board of investigation found at least 12 instances where staff did not follow policy.  Harris’ statement listed changes the agency is making because of this death-in-custody, including more front-line staff training with the handling of mental health issues.

Scott Harris followed what seems to be Correctional Service of Canada’s standard operating policy when it concedes there’s been an operational wrongdoing.  Use privacy legislation to limit disclosure, underscore the serious concern for policy violations, announce the changes that are intended, and express an intention to learn from the experience.   We shouldn’t discount CSC’s sincerity when its spokespersons toe this line. There are no doubt components within the system that have the best interests of all stakeholders in mind.  But, neither is there any question about what lessons can be learned and by whom and for what purpose.  It depends on perspective.  To Don Head, the Commissioner of Correctional Service of Canada, the in-custody death of an inmate where policy and human rights violations are in evidence are black marks his already beleaguered department can do without.  To the tiers of management working under him, how professionally misadventures like the mistreatment of inmates are handled when information becomes public may impact future career outcomes.  To the guards in our prisons and their immediate institutional superiors, one of their own has been fired and three others disciplined (although we can’t know what that entails) following the investigation of this event.  Minimizing public exposure in all aspects of job performance is a priority. Remember that Brennan Guigue was removed from RCC in Montreal within hours after the OC assault, sent to Donnacona (CSC had to make room for him on a ‘load’), immediately placed in segregation there to keep him out of sight, and the institution’s health care unit refused to document his injuries.

Matthew Hines two sisters have hired a lawyer.


What say you, Minister?

Matthew Hines died in the Dorchester Penitentiary on May 27, 2015. For 13 months, his family in Cape Breton believed what they were told by Correctional Service of Canada, which said that Hines, who had a history of seizures, died from a drug-induced seizure.

CSC’s press release at the time said Hines was “found in need of medical attention” and staff “immediately” performed CPR.

Correctional Service of Canada’s own internal board of investigation report was released to the family in June of this year, and among other findings, noted that correctional staff were with Hines throughout the incident and prison medical staff did not treat him. It’s likely the cause of death was oxygen starvation after Hines was pepper sprayed five times by guards, four times by one guard within one minute.

No matter the CSC policy, it is common practice for prison guards to not only target the face, but the mouth in particular. The agency didn’t comment on the particulars of these policy violations.

Not only has a coroner’s final report on the cause of death not been released after 15 months, but Gregory Forestell, New Brunswick’s chief coroner, won’t say when the information will be made available.

It’s at this point that CBC News stepped in with its own August 22nd and 24th investigative reports. Google “Matthew Hines” for two relevant entries:- “Prison guards in N.B. used ‘inappropriate’ force”, and “Public must know what happened to Matthew Hines”.

In the second posting, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale insists that allegations of inappropriate behavior be “thoroughly and transparently investigated.”

First, we wrote the New Brunswick coroner on August 24. After all, it doesn’t inspire confidence in our public institutions to have agencies from two levels of government appear to collude in withholding important information from the family and to which the public is entitled.

August 24, 2016

Gregory J. Forestell, Chief Coroner,
Office of the Chief Coroner,
Department of Public Safety, Province of New Brunswick,
P.O. Box 6000,
Fredericton, New Brunswick E3B 5HI

Re: Matthew Hines

Dear Chief Coroner Forestell:

I am a Correctional Service of Canada ‘specialist’, which means I would defer to an ‘expert’, but have nonetheless tracked the agency for over twenty years. I characterize CSC as dishonest, abusive, morally and ethically corrupt, and a blot on the landscape of this country. Supporting evidence is plentiful, and the circumstances around the death of Matthew Hines is a recent example.

According to “CBC Investigates”, fifteen months after Mr. Hines death, your office has not submitted a final report as to the cause of death and gives no indication when it will.

One wonders why. Speculation of your reasons for the delay can only fuel a distrust of the good work your office undertakes, and misgivings for your intent. Mr. Hines family is more than entitled to know your findings, no matter the consequences.

I encourage you to act promptly.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

We made an unsuccessful attempt to reach one of Matthew Hines’ sisters, intending to encourage her to speak to a lawyer. Her voice mail was full and it’s probable she’s had all the advice needed to pursue a remedy for the ordeal her brother suffered.

Then we dropped Ralph Goodale a line.  Again, if he feels so strongly about transparency in the public service, why are we having such difficulty getting Correctional Service of Canada to produce relevant material about Brennan Guigue’s July 22, 2014 tortuous experience in Montreal.

September 19, 2016

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

Re: Matthew Hines/Brennan Guigue

Dear Minister Goodale:

“But let me be clear that there can be no tolerance for inappropriate use of force or other serious misconduct.”

This is part of the statement issued by your office Wednesday evening, August 24, referencing the death of inmate Matthew Hines at Dorchester Penitentiary back on May 27, 2015. You not only insist the public has a right to know what happened to Mr. Hines, but “any allegation of inappropriate behavior must be thoroughly and transparently investigated.”

I agree. You reserve comment because this is under investigation by Correctional Service of Canada, but it’s no secret to federal inmates that guards using OC in aerosol cans target the mouth area, violating both policy and best practice.

If this is your position with respect to Matthew Hines, it should be no different in the matter of inmate Brennan Guigue who was pepper sprayed at the Regional Reception Centre in Ste-Anne-des-Plaines on July 22, 2014. Mr. Guigue did not die as a result of this assault but the actions of CSC guards are no less questionable, disturbing, and deserving of a thorough and transparent investigation….and public disclosure.

There are a very few distinctions between the two incidents. One of import is that an OC aerosol can was used on Mr. Hines while guards at the RCC in Montreal deployed an OC canister with a nozzle to ‘paint’ Mr. Guigue’s naked body with pepper spray. Extensive data is published at, scroll to Justice for Brennan Guigue.

It begins with “Just another day on the range? The Guigue summary”, published on September 26, 2014; three posts later see “Material/evidence requested from CSC” from November 2 of 2014. Of particular note much later is “… we have the names” from April 17 of this year.

Correctional Service of Canada management confirms there were “violations of law or CSC policy” on July 22, 2014, but thumbs its nose at our attempts for disclosure. We have not had a satisfactory and complete response from CSC to our information and privacy requests, the agency is withholding incriminating video evidence in particular in spite of the alarming nature of the assault, and all staff members involved are still employed by CSC. In the meantime, the outcome of an investigation by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is pending.

“….there can be no tolerance for inappropriate use of force or other serious misconduct.”

What say you, Minister!

Charles H. Klassen

cc Honourable Bill Morneau
Stephen Fineberg
Brennan Guigue


Hallelujah III!

A letter went to Correctional Services Minister David Orazietti back in the second week of July, commenting on conditions in Ontario’s jails that have been ongoing since the last century ….maybe longer. This letter was sparked by Health Minister Eric Hoskins’ use of an executive order in his ministry to override bureaucratic objections to a program he felt benefited Ontario, and he put it into play under his own authority. Would Minister Orazietti consider such a move to avoid protracted delays and initiate progressive measures at CSCS?

July 12, 2016

The Honourable David Orazietti,
Minister of Community Safety & Correctional Services,
25 Grosvenor Street, 18th Floor,
Toronto, ON M7A 1Y6

Dear Minister Orazietti:

You are the latest in a long line of CSCS ministers during my almost thirty years of observing Ontario’s jails.

Liberal, Conservative, or New Democrat, all have overseen a system rife with continuing, and for the most part ignored, human rights violations and operational issues. Our courts have remedied specific complaints from time to time, like the recent award to two Maplehurst inmates, but a fundamental reboot of this ministry branch hasn’t materialized.

Yasir Naqvi, your predecessor, began a review of segregation policies, and addressed staffing concerns that lead to rampant lockdowns, the two current “flavours of the month.” Unfortunately, the policy process Mr. Naqvi initiated may meander through a bureaucratic maze for months with minimal or no progressive results. Dr. Eric Hoskins’ refreshing ‘executive order’ to begin distributing naxolone kits to at risk newly released inmates is an option you also have in your arsenal to effect changes with segregation and SHU policies.

Staff shortages continue to drive almost daily lockdowns in some institutions, but are not always related to too few guards, albeit that contributes to the problem. CSCS is now engaged in a recruitment/hiring blitz, assuming that will resolve a long-standing complaint from OPSEU. However, tucked away almost out of sight, is the matter of the number of uniformed staff who do not report for scheduled shifts, making lockdowns/partial lockdowns unavoidable.

An analysis of absenteeism might prove enlightening.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen
cc Yasir Naqvi, Attorney General

‘Courageous’ actions by politicians are rare. They are, after all, politically risky. We got what we expected from Mr. Orazietti.

And now, along has come the ‘lockdowns’ class-actions which will challenge the government to pay up, and put up, in that order. There is no short-cut or easy path to reform. After all, your governments have plenty of your tax dollars, and influence, to waylay the crusaders, “kettle” the troops in the rain ‘til the armour rusts, and all the while argue the kingdom is orderly and nothing is amiss, nothing is amiss, nothing is amiss, nothing………!

Remember too, experience tells us that just because a court supports a claim and orders restitution and action for fairness in policy doesn’t guarantee the expected and anticipated outcome. Only the vigilance of the people will have an impact.

To that end, we wanted to be heard again.

September 13, 2016

The Honourable David Orazietti,
Minister of Community Safety & Correctional Services,
25 Grosvenor Street, 18th Floor,
Toronto, ON M7A 1Y6

Re: Class-Actions

Dear Minister Orazietti:

Regrettably, you didn’t respond to my July 12th letter. Your silence could be construed as backing the status quo. My staff absenteeism in provincial jails comment, and research through information access requests indicates this is a contributing factor to the rampant lockdowns leading to the three class actions against Ontario’s government.

The suits are a start in support of reform, accountability, and transparency, although your senior bureaucrats no doubt will disagree. But then, I don’t expect otherwise when conditions in the provincial jails have been as they are for so long, and tolerated by public servants in a position to right what is so obviously wrong.

It isn’t only the tyranny of lockdowns that discredit CSCS. These institutions can be taken to task for a number of infringements of civilized and professional conduct that society at large wouldn’t accept. From the vagaries of health care, through failures to follow prescribed procedures and policies, to the malfeasance of authority to act on violations of operational practices, there is tinder enough to fuel more legal actions. To boot, inmates have no substantive recourse for redress outside the courts. Only the want of private will and resources saves the government from telling embarrassments.

You’re not responsible for this, but you are today’s CSCS point person. I am but one of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of aware Ontarians…….waiting, waiting, waiting.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

copied to:
Kathleen Wynne, Premier, Province of Ontario
Yasir Naqvi, Attorney General, Province of Ontario
Matthew Torigian, Deputy Minister, Community Safety & Correctional Services,
Margaret Welch, Assistant Deputy Minister, Community Safety & Correctional Services
Rohan Thompson, Chief of Oversight & Investigation, MCSCS
Christina Danylchenko, Assistant Deputy Minister, Institutional Services, MCSCS
Nancy Sanders, Assistant Deputy Minister, Operational Support, MCSCS
Paul Dubé, Ombudsman, Province of Ontario
Amy Dempsey, The Toronto Star
Patrick White, The Globe and Mail


Hallelujah II!

We wrote Anthony Laycock of the Criminal Lawyers Association back on April 28, challenging him, the association he heads, and its members to confront the Ontario government over its operation of the province’s jails. “Where are the angry lawyers?” was published on May 15, along with the letter and some supporting background. No response was expected, although some of you assumed one would follow, but Mr. Laycock has so far been silent.

We had an extensive exchange on the issue with a criminal lawyer who carries a large case load. It began amiably but dissolved into an unintentionally contentious debate when we appeared to question why peer relationships within the practice of law and government ministries might outweigh the best interests of clients. Quite simply, we were accused of being impertinent and insulting. So be it.

Now that class actions are in the works, we went back to Mr. Laycock. Don’t expect him to comment this time ‘round either.

September 2, 2016

Anthony Laycock, Executive Director,
Criminal Lawyers Association,
189 Queen Street East, Suite #1,
Toronto, ON M5A 1S2

Re: Provincial Jails – Encore

Dear Director Laycock:

My April 28th letter questioned the apparent reluctance by those in positions of advantage to champion reforms in Ontario’s provincial jails and initiate calls for change. I had looked forward to your comments.

A criminal lawyer with whom I discussed this admitted that conditions in the jails were troubling and difficult, but suggested I didn’t understand how the justice system functioned. On the contrary, my business career before I left to pursue other interests was dominated by the politics of business and the business of politics. I’m not a lawyer, but business relationships have similar characteristics across the full spectrum of human experience.

It’s heartening to have Superior Court Justice Douglas Gray take up the cause of two Maplehurst inmates in a May judgement against the province for excessive lockdowns. Even more impressive, the Koskie Minsky LLP filings of three class actions against Ontario are a victory for progress. The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services has had enough latitude to do its job, and should be penalized for its complacency and failures.

Your association can best serve justice by calling on its members to assist jailed clients in connecting with Koskie Minsky. This surely cannot be an onerous burden, and I encourage you to act.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen


“As many as 200,000 current and former Ontario inmates could be headed for a massive payday if allegations contained in a new lawsuit against the provincial government hold up in court.”

This is how Patrick White began his “Inmates file lockdown class-action suit” in the Tuesday, August 16th Globe and Mail. He later referenced in his article the May award of $85,000 in damages to two Maplehurst inmates for excessive lockdowns, calculating this worked out to $21,250 for every year these two men spent in custody. (See “Do your job…..or pay”, published June 19) He went on to suggest, “Scale that up to thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of inmates and the total payout could be colossal.”

Toronto-based Koskie Minsky LLP, one of Canada’s premier class-action law firms, added in its own announcement the day before, “The action alleges that endemic lockdowns arising from the Province of Ontario’s failure to properly staff its correctional institution facilities have caused and continue to cause tremendous physical and psychological damage to inmates across the Province.”

The action is open to almost all inmates who have spent time in an Ontario jail since 2002. That’s when judges first began awarding compensations in their sentencing decisions for the province’s practice of locking down ranges because of short staffing levels.

According to Jonathan Ptak, one of the lawyers involved, “We’re talking about an extremely large claim.”

The class action announced on August 15 excludes prisoners of Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre (solely with respect to their incarceration at the facility), as a separate action was filed earlier on their behalf. A judge certified this suit on August 24, allowing it to go forward.

Koskie Minsky had already announced on August 11 the commencement of a class-action against the Government of Canada and the Province of Ontario alleging human rights violations relating to the treatment of immigrant detainees in Ontario’s prisons. It accuses Canada Border Services Agency and the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services of negligence, breach of fiduciary duties and violations of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by holding immigrant detainees in Ontario jails.

Current and former prisoners are encouraged to visit or call 1-866-777-6339.

Class-actions have a history of taking a long time to reach a resolution, but the wait can be rewarding for the complainants.

Don’t you just hate it when that happens!

“Torture us no more. Now for the feds…..”, was published on June 5. Reprinted in it was a letter to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, encouraging the minister to move forward with long overdue federal prison reforms. It included yet another warning of Correctional Service of Canada’s reluctance to accept outside recommendations, let alone government directives. We didn’t expect an answer. We didn’t want a response. We wanted action.

Nonetheless, a letter arrived in early July over the minister’s signature. Unfortunately, it met the criteria for implausibility. Here’s what Mr. Goodale had to say:-

‘Thank you for your correspondence of June 1, 2016, in which your express you concerns regarding the use of administrative segregation in federal correctional institutions.

Our government is committed to implementing the recommendations from the inquest into the death of Ashley Smith on restricting the use of administrative segregation and the treatment of those with mental illness.

That said, the law provides for administrative segregation in limited circumstances to help ensure the safety of all inmates, staff and visitors. Specific legal requirements are set out in section 31 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and must be met in order to place an inmate in administrative segregation, including that there be no reasonable alternative and that the inmate be released from segregation at the earliest appropriate time.

We recognize that the challenges raised by these issues are complex and require careful consideration. Canadians expect us to do better – and we will.

Thank you again for writing.’

Should this just be put to file with a shrug? Is objecting to a public servant’s disappointing, cursory, scripted shuffle meat for further correspondence?

Don’t you just hate it when that happens!

As Minister Goodale’s letter sat pending a second look, the August 19 Globe and Mail ran Patrick White’s story, “Court ruling a rebuke of prison system’s use of solitary confinement.”

In this account, three inmates at the maximum-security Edmonton Institution were placed in solitary confinement in late June when a manager learned from a confidential informant that the three men were planning an assault on a group of guards. No criminal or institutional charges were laid. Of the three, one suffers from bipolar disorder, the other two are aboriginal.

CSC is legally obliged to provide inmates with detailed reasons for a segregation placement. This didn’t happen, and the men, without lawyers, filed an application of habeas corpus, and forced a judicial review of the decision to isolate them.

Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Joanne Veit freed the men from segregation because prison authorities ignored factors around procedural fairness, aboriginal identity and mental health history. “Given the basis on which the inmates were sent to solitary confinement, and the individual mental health and aboriginal circumstances of each inmate, the decisions to send each of them to solitary confinement is not reasonable,” the judge concluded. “In the totality of the evidence on this application, I am unable to conclude that the institution had available reliable and credible information that these applicants were planning a serious assault…….,” she added.

Further, and just as serious, the judge found that despite CSC’s commitment to the accommodation of aboriginal identity and mental-health issues, Edmonton Institution gave no considerations to this.

So here we have three prison inmates doing this hard work from segregation on their own, so that others in the same situation can use this decision, and because they were tired of having CSC staff and management take the law into their own hands.

Don’t you just hate it when that happens!

Minister Goodale needed another shot………

August 22, 2016

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

Re: Unreasonable delays

Dear Minister Goodale:

The July 4 response to my June 1 letter was unexpected. Your time is valuable, and a template letter is both patronizing and not worthy of your high office. Surely, you cannot believe section 31 of the CCRA holds sway with Correctional Service of Canada’s operation when it doesn’t suit their interest.

The 104 recommendations that came out of the Ashley Smith inquest are now more than two and half years old. I don’t doubt you and your government’s commitment to implementation. I do strongly doubt CSC’s cooperation under its current management. The agency has had more than enough time to initiate substantive progressive reforms without prodding.

And yet, as the Globe and Mail reported on August 19, “Court ruling a rebuke of prison system’s use of solitary confinement”, Justice Joanne Veit of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench found grounds to underscore CSC’s continuing and ongoing failures.

One wonders just how long before action replaces “careful consideration.”

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen
cc Don Head, Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada

A start……….

It wasn’t until August 1 that the Globe and Mail reported that Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Rabould had organized a meeting that took place on May 19 and 20 with sitting judges, criminal lawyers, and former Prime Minister Kim Campbell to discuss what should be next on her agenda after the assisted-death bill had passed.

The group concluded her first priority should be to reduce the numbers of men and women in this country’s jails and prisons.  “There wasn’t one person who felt that what’s happened in the last 10 years in criminal justice is healthy,” according to a participant. While that was the consensus around the table, a confidentiality clause prevents disclosure of specific accounts. Justin Trudeau mandated this review of the previous government’s punitive agenda, and the May meeting summary stressed a core need to help individuals avoid conflict with the law. “The criminal justice system is rarely the answer and should function as a last resort.”

Sean Fine’s “Private meeting convened by justice minister decides focus should be on prison reform” ran on the Globe’s front page that first day of August. It’s an interesting read. Four judges were a part of the panel, two currently serving, along with four criminal lawyers, the country’s chief statistician, and a strong aboriginal contingent, among others. There was only one police representative, no one to speak for victims, and one prosecutor, retired at that, and with a background in aboriginal justice to boot.

We noticed one particular weakness in the group…….the omission of anyone actually involved with the running of our federal prisons, or the monitoring of their operation.

August 8, 2016

The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould,
Minister of Justice,
House of Commons,
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

Re: Private meeting convened by justice minister decides focus should be on prison reform. (Globe and Mail, Monday, August 1, 2016)

Dear Minister Wilson-Raybould:


Your mandate to review criminal justice and reduce the numbers in Canadian jails is to be applauded. I suggest though this is somewhat like the sound of one shoe dropping.

Public Safety’s Ralph Goodale must be integral to progressive, sustainable reforms. The Corrections and Conditional Release Act is past due for rewrite, as is the need to reboot Correctional Service of Canada.
Howard Sapers, Canada’s formidable Correctional Investigator, is a terrific resource to your end. He’s ready with a wealth of researched material on all aspects of our prison operation, from the use of solitary confinement, health care concerns, programming limitations, the self-serving withholding of information, the very necessary review of inmate pay scales, and much more.

As well, a study of prisons in any number of European countries would positively enhance the outcome of the project you’ve undertaken.

Be encouraged, Be creative. Be firm.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

cc Mssrs Trudeau, Goodale, Sapers

….the answer is blowin’ in the wind…

Justin Trudeau has set a very different social agenda for the government he heads from the previous administration’s regressive backslide to the caves. Now that the troglodytes have been banished to the political hinterland, fresh breezes are breathing relief into many federal ministries.

No doubt though our staid civil service bureaucracy has entrenched elements committed to components of medieval feudalism, a characterizing resistance to change predating Confederation, and favouring traditional conservative perspectives. Too often, the most protectionist of the senior mandarins are in the best position to exert a negative influence on the best the service has to offer.

Mr. Trudeau, his ministers, and the members of his caucus are likely to experience a baffling frustration in executing the progressive measures they’ve promised. The more liberal the policy proposals, the tougher the going may be, and might easily resemble a nightmarish prospect akin to herding cats in the rain.

It is up to us in the community who support the initiatives this government is undertaking to be encouraging, a buttress against the darker self-serving forces of yesterday, and a prod to the turtles who people so much of the Canadian landscape.

The window of opportunity to move this country forward before the inevitable cynicism and lethargy eventually engulfs even today’s best-intentioned reformers may be short lived.

Cheer the dragon slayers now!

It’s a simple matter of a few key strokes to send your support to government members through their sites, and avoid what’s become the onerous task of actually putting pen to paper, and the attendant coping with envelope, stamp, and a walk to the mailbox. It should be noted however that our best information indicates that politicians pay the most attention to hand-written letters, believing the sender feels strongly enough about a position to go to those lengths to air their opinions.