Prisons vs the dreaded media

“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.”
THE SENATE OF CANADA, HUMAN RIGHTS IN PRISON, FEBRUARY, 2019 (Reprinted last in November of 2022)

That’s how Correctional Service of Canada wants it.  Accountability and transparency are what it says they are.  So, when CSC jurisdiction over media scrutiny through contact with inmates came into question in 2019, damage control ramped up.

The revision to Commissioner’s Directive 022 – Media Relations has been under observation here since late 2021, when it seemed apparent changes promised by CSC Commissioner Anne Kelly in February, 2020, hadn’t materialized.  Numerous entries in this space catalog the process from Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger’s introduction of the subject to CSC late in 2019, to the present, where we are still waiting to see the fruit of this policy reshaping.

Through an access to information request almost a year ago, we received a copy of Commissioner Kelly’s February 24, 2020, letter to Correctional Investigator Zinger, acknowledging his December 18, 2019, letter to her on the subject, writing that “the revised CD 022 will be available by the end of June 2020.”  What we had not done until very recently was to make an access to information request to the correctional investigator’s office for a copy of Dr. Zinger’s December 18, 2019, letter to Ms. Kelly.  The response with a copy of that two-and-a-half-page letter arrived quickly and it underscored our oversight in not asking for it earlier.

Quotes rather than a reprint of Dr. Zinger’s entire letter will avoid wading through details that, while important, do not address the bottom line.

To note a point on familiarity, the OCI acts as an ombudsman for prison inmates.  Its relationship with CSC need not be confrontational, even though the OCI Annual Reports takes CSC to task, and often with a hard edge.  All the same, there must be a distance between the two agencies to allow for critical engagement.  The copy of Dr. Zinger’s December 18, 2019, letter arrived with a Correctional Service of Canada date stamp, acknowledging receipt in the commissioner’s office on December 19.  Further, Dr. Zinger crossed out “Ms. Kelly” on the typed “Dear Ms. Kelly” salutation and wrote “Anne” instead.  Too collegial?

We learn that the CSC policy regarding media relations has been due for revision since January of 2016.  We learn that Dr. Zinger and Ms. Kelly met on November 26, 2019, to “share concerns” about “certain aspects” of CD 022.  We learn that those certain aspects “appear to overstep the law and authority conferred by the Corrections and Conditional Release Ace (CCRA) and Regulations (CCRR).”

What brought this to the forefront was a woman journalist (all names, dates, and identifying information is redacted) who contacted the OCI office regarding a request to interview an inmate, a request that was initially rejected by CSC, and then followed by lengthy delays with a reconsideration of the decision.  We don’t learn if that interview with the inmate took place, but “the legality and unreasonableness” of the section of the policy that led to her contacting the OCI is where the current circumstance began.

Dr. Zinger points out as an example that a CSC policy criterion that includes how a media interview might influence how inmates conduct themselves and demonstrate respect for others cannot reasonably be considered relevant.  Further, section 4 of the CCRA provides that “CSC must facilitate the involvement of members of the public in matters relating to the operations of the Service, and, offenders retain the right of all members of society except those that are, as a consequence of the sentence, lawfully and necessarily removed or restricted.  These authorities govern inmate access to the median, not behavioural expectations.”

“There is a more pressing point to be considered here, namely, access to the media in a free and democratic society.  Media access is a recognized democratic principle, a constitutionally guaranteed right of all citizens, including those deprived of liberty.  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.”

Okay, so these are brief excerpts from this much more detailed letter, but the bottom line is front and centre.
Why are we still waiting?  Why are we waiting for an explanation for why we’re still waiting?

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The House is back in session….

…. AND SO IS THE PURSUIT FOR THE LONG-PROMISED REVISION TO….

Correctional Service of Canada, Commissioner’s Directive (CD) 022 – Media Relations

Three letters posted on January 30th addressed the delay in releasing the new prison policy on inmate contact with the media, a focus of this space many times over the last two years.

First, to the commissioner….

Anne Kelly, Commissioner,
National Headquarters, Correctional Service of Canada,
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0P9

Dear Commissioner Kelly:

I ask you to review your February 24, 2020, letter to Correctional Investigator Dr. Ivan Zinger concerning the revision of Commissioner’s Directive (CD) 022 – Media Relations.

As you recall, Dr. Zinger pointed out that this CD may not follow the Charter and “recognized democratic principles” with respect to offender media contacts, as the OCI 2019-2020 Annual Report detailed.  To quote from your February 24 letter, “We have reviewed the comments that you and your organization provided when CD 022 was distributed for external consultation on February 4, 2020.  I am confident that you will find the revise version reflects the elements you raised in both your letter and during the consultation.  We expect that the revised CD 022 will be available by the end of June 2020.”

Associate Assistant Commissioner Colette Cibula from the CSC Communications & Engagement office wrote me on February 8 of 2022 that the renewal of the directive “is now nearly complete……and are finalizing internal reviews before publishing it.”  On June 27, Ms. Cibula wrote, “CD-022 is in the final stages of approval before being published.”  Lastly, Ms. Cibula wrote again on July 28 to say, “I am happy to commit to you, Mr. Klassen, to share with you the CD directly once it is promulgated.  In short order.”

Three years?  That models a test of patience.  When will we see a compliant media relations directive?

cc         Colette Cibula. Associate Assistant Commissioner, Communications & Engagement

Copied also:-

The Honourable Marco Mendicino, Minister of Public Safety,
MP, Eglinton – Lawrence

The Honourable Marci Ien, Minister of Women & Gender Equality & Youth,
MP, Toronto Centre

The Honourable Senator Salma Ataullahjan, Chair,
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights

The Honourable Senator Kim Pate
The Senate of Canada

Mr. Ron McKinnon, MP, Chair,
Standing Committee on Public Safety & National Security

Ms. Raquel Dancho, MP, Vice-Chair,
Standing Committee on Public Safety & National Security

Ms. Kristina Michaud, MP, Vice-Chair,
Standing Committee on Public Safety & National Security

Ms. Pam Damoff, MP, Parliamentary Secretary,
Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Shawn Tupper, Deputy Minister of Public Safety,
Public Safety Canada

Ms. Tricia Geddes, Associate Deputy Minister of Public Safety,
Public Safety Canada

Dr. Ivan Zinger, Correctional Investigator,
The Office of the Correctional Investigator

Ms. Stacie Ogg, Deputy Director,
The Office of the Correctional Investigator

Catherine Latimer, Executive Director,
The John Howard Society of Canada

Mr. Patrick White,
The Globe and Mail, Toronto

Secondly, a cover letter went with Minister Mendicino’s copy:-

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

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

Dear Minister Mendicino:

I am a Liberal Party supporter, albeit an unhappy Liberal Party supporter.  One leading irritation is my government’s minister’s readiness to sidestep accountability.

You or one of your senior staff would do well to remind CSC Commissioner Kelly that her prolonged delay in publishing the revised CD 022 while touting the importance of accountability and transparency within her Agency is a cloud over your ministry.  This alone is my fourth prompt that the delay is untenable.

Minister, this begs the question that if doing the right thing here seems so easily dismissed, one might ask just how widespread this practice is?

Copied to:-

cc         MPs Marci Ien/Ron McKinnon/Raquel Dancho/Kristina Michaud/Pam Damoff
Senators Salma Ataullahjan/Kim Pate
Public Safety Canada Shawn Tupper/Tricia Geddes

Thirdly was a cover letter added to the Correctional Investigator’s copy:-

January 30, 2023

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

Re:      Correctional Service of Canada,
Commissioner’s Directive (CD) 022 – Media Relations

Dear Dr. Zinger:

No doubt your resources are stretched, and your patience constantly tested.

The delay in seeing the publication of the revised CD 022 must be among the many items on your follow-up list.

Is Commissioner Kelly unaware that refusing to release this update, three years after initiating the process, makes a lie of the Agency’s commitment to accountability and transparency?

I assume you message her often to that point.

cc         Stacie Ogg, Deputy Director

To finish this with some whipped cream topped by a maraschino cherry, an access to information request asking for a copy of the new directive went to Correctional Service of Canada in Ottawa.

You’ve read it here before…..this isn’t going away.