Canada’s Auditor-General Karen Hogan added her voice to charges that Correctional Service of Canada facilities “haven’t taken action” to address systemic racist barriers faced by Indigenous and Black prisoners. Her report, released on May 31, is only the latest condemnation of our prison industry’s practices in its treatment of racialized offenders.
Over the last 20 years, the Office of the Correctional Investigator, Status of Women Canada, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, Public Safety Canada, and the Auditor-General’s office, along with academic studies, have released numerous findings and reports citing outstanding issues with the prison industry’s attitude towards Black and Indigenous prisoners. From the moment they come under CSC control, these men and women are more often sent to higher security institutions compared to their white peers and aren’t paroled as often as others when they first qualify for early release.
A Globe and Mail 2020 investigation found that Correctional Service of Canada’s risk-assessment tools, for instance, continued to be systemically biased against Black and Indigenous inmates. All the while, CSC acknowledges the concerns that come to its attention, agrees there are steps to be taken, and will even move to initiate apparent remedies. Nonetheless, from day one to warrant expiry, racialized men and women are held hostage by intransigent internal elements seemingly impervious to the demands for change.
Last year, a proposed class-action lawsuit was filed against the federal government on behalf of tens of thousands of current and former prisoners for its racist and discriminatory use of risk mechanisms.
Correctional Service of Canada can no longer be trusted to do what it must, some who study prison environments say. Change must come from “higher government echelons”, they say. What does that suggest about the lack of government oversight of federal prisons all along? Is CSC free to run its own show?
Okay, so now Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino has finally “ordered” CSC to establish the position of a deputy commissioner of Indigenous corrections. That’s a start. CSC Commissioner Anne Kelly has told the minister she’s on board and the minister “expects the CSC will hit the ground running to……work to address systemic racism and the overrepresentation of Black and racialized Canadian and Indigenous peoples in the justice system.”
But hold on. CSC spokesperson Esther Mailhot, probably one of the agency’s communications and engagement staffers, reported that while they’re in the process of setting up this new office, she added that this is a “complex issue.”
Red light, red light. We dropped off a letter to the minister:
June 5, 2022
The Honourable Marco Mendicino, Constituency Office,
Toronto, ON M6A 1A3
Re: Deputy commissioner for Indigenous corrections.
I have a February 24. 2020 letter from CSC Commissioner Anne Kelly to Correctional Investigator Dr. Ivan Zinger, in response to his of December 18, 2019. Ms. Kelly’s letter confirms that a revision to Commissioner’s Directive C-022 – Media Relations is underway to make it Charter compliant, as Dr. Zinger recommended. The Commissioner expected the revision would be available by the end of June 2020. As of now, no revision has appeared.
Okay, so COVID slowed things down but for how long would the government allow productivity to be impacted by the virus? I have a February 8, 2022, email from Associate Assistant Communications & Engagement Commissioner Colette Cibula addressing the delay. “The renewal,” she wrote, “is still underway. It was delayed as the tempo of media relations as well as the need for communications with inmates, staff, stakeholders increased significantly during the pandemic. I can assure you that is now nearly complete. We have conducted external consultations and are finalizing internal reviews before publishing it.”
As for your order to have CSC establish an office of deputy commissioner of Indigenous corrections, CSC spokesperson Esther Mailhot said this is a complex issue that requires collaboration, including with various levels of government and Indigenous communities.
How many years do you think will pass before you notice nothing has happened?
Oh, that’s right. The ‘new’ media relations policy has still not been published.