Prison – Media Relations revisited

“Inmates have no rights”, published May 9 of this year was an apt title to spotlight media relations in federal prisons as governed by Correctional Service of Canada’s Commissioner’s Directive 022.  This CD provides “guidance on media relations activities, including media interviews, to staff and to offenders under the jurisdiction of the Correctional Service of Canada.”

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Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger’s 2019-2020 Annual Report addressed the legal challenges CSC risks with this directive’s procedures for inmate/media contacts, citing measures that are “unreasonable, irrelevant or not founded in law,” arguing there is no legal basis for CSC “to muzzle, deny or justify restricting citizen access to the media, including those deprived of liberty,” insisting “the wider public has a right to be informed of what goes on behind prison walls,” and warning the current policy does not comply with the Charter.

Correctional Service of Canada Commissioner Anne Kelly committed to revise policy on media relations to “acknowledge inmates’ right to freedom of expression.”  With no revision after more than a year, a May 9 letter to the commissioner this spring, and published as a postscript to the May 23 posting, questioned the delay.   No response was expected.  No response came.  After all, CSC does its best to ignore its political masters, so it would have no reservations in ignoring the people to whom it is accountable.

As a follow-up, a letter went out to Ivan Zinger on June 22:-

Dr. Ivan Zinger, Correctional Investigator,
The Office of the Correctional Investigator,
Ottawa, ON  K1P 6L4

Re: Commissioner’s Directive 022 – Media Relations

Dear Dr. Zinger:

On page 18 of your 2019-2020 Annual Report, “Inmate Access to the Media”, you note the Commissioner’s commitment to revise CD-022.  Given that intention, there was no reason for you to include that in your list of Recommendations.

I did write Commissioner Kelly in early May of this year to ask about this forthcoming change and questioned the delay in releasing the update since CSC NHQ had this in front of them for almost a year.  To this point, no revision has been released.

No doubt your 2020-2021 Annual Report has long-ago gone to press, and with your usual due diligence, I do expect you have not let this matter ‘slip through the cracks.’ 

I continue to await a satisfactory resolution that brings CSC Media practice into compliance with the Charter and hope the work you have already done does not necessitate further encouragement.

To that, a response dated Friday, August 27 did come from Stacie Ogg, Deputy Director of the Office of the Correctional Investigator:-

Thank you for your correspondence of June 2021.  I apologize for the delay in responding.  I am responding on behalf of Dr. Zinger.  The Office has been in contact with the Correctional Service of Canada regarding the Media Relations Commissioner’s Directive and as soon as we have more information to share regarding an update, we will provide you with additional information.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing for Correctional Service of Canada to do what’s right without legal action?

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What’s the big deal about inmate access to the media?  Think about “the wider public has a right to be informed of what goes on behind prison walls.”  The wider public is ill-informed now and doesn’t grasp the impact prison environments have on the community.  It’s no fault of the media, but present coverage can be limited by a lack of public interest.  Easier access to prisoners by the media, and for prisoners to the media is a portal for reform through an increased awareness.

Psst!  Wanna know a secret?  Well, in truth, it isn’t much of a secret.  Inmates can reach out to media and easily circumvent prison protocols.  However, cloak-and-dagger contacts lack corroboration and a means of verification and don’t get the same attention as information coming by way of an open process under the auspices of authorized protocols.

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A relevant reflection:  Many years ago, perhaps twenty years or more, this writer was made aware of a disturbance at Kingston Penitentiary.  The passage of time has dimmed specifics, but recollections say this was more a protest than a riot, but it was a significant event.  Resources were brought in to manage the situation, and no information escaped those high walls.  This writer spoke with a friend, an editor of a major Canadian newspaper, and the information was passed on to one of the papers investigative reporters.  In a call to the prison, the reporter was told all was well, and there had been no incident. 

There is a real need to let in the light.

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