“Inmates have no rights!”

Again, the Senate of Canada’s appraisal of our federal prison industry:-

“The security features inherent to federal correctional facilities are designed to keep people in as much as they are to keep people out.  As a result, the management of the federally-sentenced population is largely conducted away from public scrutiny.  Invisible to the general population, federally-sentenced persons are often forgotten.”

While the focus remains almost entirely on Correctional Service of Canada, provincial institutions present the same challenges.  From sea to sea to sea, there isn’t much to choose from among the provincial and territorial jails.  Correctional Service of Canada, as head honcho of the collegiate collection of carceral coolers, has a national profile, and is the repository of men and women incarcerated for longer sentences, giving us a model vantage point to scrutinize how we treat the people who violate our laws.

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“Inmates have no rights!”  So says a seasoned, long serving federally-sentenced man who is one of many low-profile prison activists throughout the industry.  No matter what the law decrees, or what decisions come down from the Courts, no matter the policies Correctional Service of Canada lays out for its employees, or the pronouncements of its management and spin doctors on the efficacy of its operations, in the trenches inmates know that none of it carries any weight against the immunity every CSC staffer claims for whatever actions or behaviours arise from the performance of their duties.

Correctional Service of Canada makes every effort to throw a blanket over day-to-day life within its institutions.  This is the entry point for reformation.  Accountability and transparency have no meaning when self-administered by bodies that do not, for one, even know what its guards are doing.  The deaths of Soleiman Faqiri in an Ontario jail and Matthew Hines in a Nova Scotia federal prison example the extremes of the lack of responsibility to which the perpetrators of crimes in custody are held when wearing a uniform, and the absence of transparency in the overseers of penal institutions.  Notice too, in an industry where protecting one’s butt is an occupational priority, how CSC and the provincial agencies protest what critics have to say.

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One first step to letting in the light on the CSC prison environment as inmates and guards and other staff members interact every day is to rewrite Commissioner’s Directive 022 which governs media relations.  According to the CSC website, its purpose is “to provide guidance on media relations activities, including media interviews, to staff and to offenders under the jurisdiction of the Correctional Service of Canada.”

What?  Why are “offenders” included in a media relations directive as they are?

It’s good policy and wise business practice to dictate the relationship between Correctional Service of Canada, its management and its employees with the media.  Of necessity, CSC must speak with one voice, just as every corporation, business, and government bureau does, no matter how twisted the message.  But, there is no legal basis for CSC “to muzzle, deny or justify restricting citizen access to the media, including those deprived of liberty,” as Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger wrote in his 2019-2020 Annual Report.

Further from that same report, “….we found that some of the policy criteria set out in Commissioner’s Directive 022 – Media Relations to be unreasonable, irrelevant or not founded in law.  In unreasonably denying or delaying an inmate’s access to the media, the Service may be in violation of recognized democratic principles and constitutionally guaranteed rights.  An incarcerated person does not forfeit the right to freedom of expression and the wider public has a right to be informed of what goes on behind prison walls.”  The report does accept that there are reasonable security and operational restrictions that need to be considered when connecting inmates and the media, but they must be “grounded in law rather than how CSC thinks an inmate might behave or say to the media.”

Correctional Investigator Zinger wrote that the Service agreed to review CD-022, given the issues he raised.  “The Commissioner committed that the revised policy on media relations will acknowledge inmates’ right to freedom of expression. in accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  It will also reaffirm that media interviews may proceed so long as they do not jeopardize the safety and security of the institution, other inmates, or any person.”  There’s potentially negative subjectivity there but the end result will tell.

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It’s been about a year since the Commissioner agreed to this undertaking, and while it can be argued that a revision of the media policy is the relatively simple matter of an executive decision, this is ‘government.’  No doubt Commissioner Kelly asked that a committee be struck to study changes, given six months to submit recommendations, followed by an analysis of the ramifications of a rewrite, and ending with the release of an amended C-022 in due course.

CSC National Headquarters may need some prodding and a reminder.  That is in order.  A year should be a sufficient allowance for this work. 

As we wait, an examination of some Security functions needs a look.  Next.

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