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?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.