Prisons – IS MEDIA RELATIONS AN ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM?

WHAT DOESN’T CORRECIONAL SERVICE OF CANADA WANT YOU TO KNOW?

This isn’t one of those ethereal questions like how many angels can sit on the head of a pin, one query posed centuries ago by philosophers musing in the abstract.  Correctional Service of Canada has signed on to federal government transparency and proactive disclosure measures that its website says, “strengthen public sector management by enhancing transparency and oversight of public resources in the federal government.”  What does that mean?  No matter, one would assume CSC would welcome media scrutiny.

Oh yes, nowhere though does transparency, oversight, or accountability mention inmate input.  That’s why Correctional Investigator Dr. Ivan Zinger asked CSC Commissioner Anne Kelly to revise Commissioner’s Directive 022 (Media Relations) to bring it in line with the Charter and the law.  As we noted in “Inmates have no rights” on May 9 of this year, Commissioner Kelly agreed to do that without needing a written recommendation in the Office of the Correctional Investigator’s 2019-2020 Annual Report.

This commitment to update media relations at CSC had been before the commissioner for about a year at that time.  A May 6th letter to Commissioner Kelly was added as a postscript to our May 23rd posting, “Prison Security.  How Much?  Too Much?”  In part, it read:-

……“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.”

It has been at least a year since you undertook this review.  While there is much demanding your attention, this project is relatively minor on the one hand, but the changes will also eliminate any suspicion that the Service is trying to prevent inmate contact with the media on the other.

No response came from the commissioner’s office.  None was expected.  But, three and a half months later, with no revision in sight, “Prison – Media Relations revisited” on September 12 printed a follow-up letter to Correctional Investigator Zinger that was sent back on June 22.  Again, in part:-

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…….
..….with your usual due diligence, I do expect you have not let this matter ‘slip through the cracks.’ 
……and hope the work you have already done does not necessitate further encouragement.

An answer from Dr. Zinger’s office read in part: – 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.

It is near the end of the year and there is now a new sheriff in town.  Well okay, there is a new public safety minister.

November 29, 2021

The Honourable Marco Mendicino, Minister of Community Safety,
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0A6

Re:       Correctional Service of Canada
            Commissioner’s Directive 022 – Media Relations

Dear Minister Mendicino:

An early priority in your new Ministry should be to grease the works of Correctional Service of Canada.  A part of it is stuck in neutral.

To catch you up, reference page 18 of the Office of the Correctional Investigator’s 2019-2020 Annual Report where Correctional Investigator Dr. Ivan Zinger noted CD-022 Media Relations is not Charter-compliant with respect to inmate/media interactions.  The Commissioner committed to revisions and Dr. Zinger did not issue a Recommendation on the matter, satisfied with the Service’s intent.  As his report stated, “the wider public has a right to be informed of what goes on behind prison walls.”

A year on from this undertaking, and in the absence of a CD-022 update, I wrote Commissioner Kelly on May 6 encouraging her to avoid any suspicion that “the Service is trying to prevent inmate contact with the media.”  With no response, I further wrote Correctional Investigator Zinger on June 22 to question the revision’s delay.  According to an August 27 email from his Office, the OCI has been in contact with Correctional Service of Canada on this issue.

It is now the end of November.  ‘Nuff said.

Yours truly

WHAT DOESN’T CORRECTIONAL SERVICE OF CANADA WANT YOU TO KNOW?

Next, Justice Minister Lametti meets a commitment.

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