Ontario? What rules?

………and 25 Grosvenor Street pretends not to know.

September 7, 2018

Minister Michael Tibollo,
Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services,
25 Grosvenor Street, Toronto

Re: It ain’t easy!

Dear Minister Tibollo:

I characterize your unflattering assessment of the previous government’s management of MCCS as partisan, and frankly dishonest. I concede a lack of experience in this portfolio leaves you unaware of the walls Marie-France Lalonde, David Orazietti, and Yasir Naqvi encountered. Surely you can’t believe these Liberal ministers didn’t attempt to push an elephantine bureaucracy towards a more enlightened 21st century purposeful perspective?

My specialty focuses more on provincial jails than policing, and the 2016 appointment of Howard Sapers as the Independent Advisor on Corrections’ Reform to the Ontario Government was welcome and progressive. That Bill 195 which adopted several of his recommendations never received Royal Assent is a setback, and I urge you to review Mr. Sapers’ work as you go forward with your agenda.

Know though that any overt staff sycophantic enthusiasm for whatever you propose will be coupled with a shrouded obstructionist determination to derail change. CBC’s August 23 posting, “Convicted drug dealer faced ‘oppressive’ conditions inside Toronto jail, judge rules” is only one instance of how little concrete has been accomplished to bring Toronto South Detention Centre’s operations up to standard. And, I’ve exampled but one facet in one institution.

MCCS needs an enema. It won’t be easy.

cc Sam Erry, Deputy Minister/Corrections

Michael Tibollo is a rookie Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP who came under strong criticism for wearing a bullet-proof vest on a police ride-along in Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood, a predominantly black community with a history of gang violence.

The CBC posting cites frequent lockdowns and poor treatment in freeing a small-time drug dealer from the Toronto South Detention Centre. Justice Katrina Mulligan noted “unduly harsh custodial conditions” at TSDC in her ruling, described them as “qualitatively oppressive and physically detrimental”, aggravated by “questionable” medical treatment. Judges continue to message Ontario’s ministry in many decisions for what they consider a bad situation.

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Oath of Allegiance

“I, …………………… , do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her heirs and successors according to the law.
So help me God. (Omit this phrase in an affirmation)”

Oath of Office and Secrecy

“I, ………………….. , do swear (or solemnly affirm) that I will faithfully discharge my duties as a civil servant and will observe and comply with the laws of Canada and Ontario, and, except as I may be legally authorized or required, I will not disclose or give to any person any information or document that comes to my knowledge or possession by reason of my being a civil servant.
So help me God. (Omit this phrase in an affirmation)”

These are the oaths sworn by Ontario’s civil servants, including guards and staff at the province’s jails.
So, what do they mean to our jail guards? Not much.

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We have anecdotal evidence in two specific areas, primarily at Toronto South Detention Centre, although conditions should be considered uniform throughout the provinces prison industry.

Nothing has changed in Ontario in spite of the previous government’s commitment to improve MCCS and plans by the new government to do the same. Institutional staff is not paying attention to policy, procedure, or the law in some cases, if it doesn’t meet an anti-inmate agenda, believing guards and middle-management can act with impunity.

Reducing the use of solitary confinement as an objective prompted guards to create segregation cells on population ranges. They simply select the most isolated cell on a range, use it for segregation, allow the subject inmate out for two hours per day as prescribed, but only when other inmates on that range are locked away.

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What’s the problem? Manifold and many, no question, and they won’t be resolved even with a total rethinking of the penal system. A requisite first step though is accountability, now nowhere to be seen. And good luck to anyone at MCCS to get that idea past the guards’ union!

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Rules & the law are ‘simply a suggestion.’

…….political malpractice at work

Back in the 1970s, this writer visited a close friend who was on a multi-year corporate assignment in Montreal. He headquartered in a downtown high-rise and made the most of exploring the city in his spare time.

On this visit and on a pleasant Sunday, we went for a mid-morning drive to see Old Montreal. The streets were quiet, talk was easy and casual, but a distraction all the same. As we coasted down a hill on a side street, my friend realized we were at an intersection with a red stop light against us.

His reflexes kicked in, he applied the brakes, there was a short skid, and we drifted slowly through the intersection when he lifted his foot off the pedal. Thankfully there was no other traffic in any direction….except for a police cruiser parked at the curb across the street facing us. We continued slowly down the hill as he kept checking the rear-view mirror. The police car didn’t move.

A few moments later, he said quietly, “You must remember that in Montreal, red lights are simply a suggestion.”

Correctional Service of Canada operations reminds me of that morning drive, as does Ontario’s Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, and no doubt, similarities can be made with the way other provincial prison industries are run. Suggestions. That’s what policy, procedure and even the law so often seems to be.

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Then too, there’s a television moment from just over twenty years ago that can remind us of how our jails and prisons are managed.

The original “Murphy Brown”, the comic series now revived for today’s audience, ran from 1988 to 1998. For 24 episodes from 1994 to 1997, Garry Marshall appeared in the character role of Stan Lansing, the lovable, loud, cantankerous, mico-managing network president.

In a short scene from one show, ‘Stan’ is pacing around his desk, telephone in hand, and agitated in the midst of an animated conversation with the producer of one of the programs his network is running. They’re arguing back and forth about the quality of the product. Frustrated, and intent on bringing the call to a close, ‘Stan’ slams down the receiver with a final judgment on the subject, “It would be better if it didn’t stink!”

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There are no secrets here. Activists, reformers, progressives, and the Office of the Correctional Investigator in the case of Canada’s federal prison industry, stream observations, recommendations, criticisms, pleas, and initiate court actions to move the clock towards an environment of accountability and positive outcomes.

Results are negligible at best even with a sustained determination to effect change, but worse, the intransigence is defended and supported by the very elected bodies who are charged by the people to work for the betterment of society.

Next: Another look at Ontario’s jails before we tackle what the feds are doing.

Reform? One good reason.

Political malpractice, dubious policy, sanctioned abuse….gotta go!

Toronto’s financial district’s steel, glass and concrete canyon walls tower over congested streets, where hurried pedestrians crowd the sidewalks…..no time to notice, late, keeping up, running away. It’s not a friendly oasis for society’s disadvantaged, for the addicted, the homeless, and the lost. Yet, these corridors of corporate power and wealth attract numbers of hopeful, desperate men and women who don’t fit into the boardroom profile or the trading floor hustle.

Outsiders, sometimes tolerated but not welcome, nuisances, obstructions. But still, a few years ago there was one Bay Street heavy hitter with a different perspective. On his way to the club for lunch one afternoon, and stepping over and around people who made the streets their home, he recognized a missed opportunity. Here was a population of lost consumers and potential contributors to community growth and prosperity. What if progressive and inclusive social programs replaced rejection and exclusion?

What if?

‘What if’ is good for the street. ‘What if’ is good for the cellblock, too. This country spends billions of tax dollars annually supporting provincial and federal prison industries, and though prisons will always be with us, the agencies that operate them misrepresent the word “correction” that is in one form or another always a part of their corporate names. Public safety may be the priority and isolating a few thousand people partly achieves that, but “correction” gets a failing grade.

What if cutting recidivism was a top priority? What if the efficacy of programs and their delivery was under constant review? What if there were no restrictions on the availability of services? What if every inmate was judged as potentially the next commissioner of ‘correctional’ services in Canada? What if, what if, what if?

The last four ‘Justice & the Penal System’ posts pry open a window on Correctional Service of Canada, our federal prison agency, the largest of these operations in the country. That there is so little public interest in prisons and the inmates they house is one of the intended aims of this tax-supported industry. The lack of accountability and scrutiny that results are black marks on Canada’s claim as a human rights champion, and a loss to good order and prosperity in our communities.

Let’s open that window wider.

FORD & buck a beer

…….the second of two brief interruptions to the “Political malpractice” series.

If there’s anything positive to be said about Ontario’s new provincial government, it’s how easily its policies can be targeted by the majority of voters who don’t support a regressive agenda.

Mr. Ford’s “buck a beer” campaign promise is a frivolous and silly sideshow to more serious issues, but it offers an opportunity for a little fun.

We dropped him a note:-

August 7, 2018

Doug Ford,
Queen’s Park,
Toronto

Re: Buck a beer!

Mr. Ford:

This is a good idea! Adding incentives to bring more breweries on board and offering the consumer a greater range of choice may increase alcohol consumption.

That’s good for you and the rest of the conservative infestation at Queen’s Park.

People won’t feel the pain when your “efficiencies” screw them.

Keep it up. It’s good for the opposition.

How could we resist?

TRUDEAU & human rights

…….the first of two brief interjections between entries of the “Political malpractice” series.

So, the Saudi crown prince doesn’t like being told his country is afraid of its citizens, treats them shamefully, and expects the rest of the world to be passively pliant. Saudi Arabia’s response to Canada’s criticism of its human rights record is simply a shot across our bow. Canada is an easy target with little to risk on either side. Our government made the right move, and we said so in a letter to Justin Trudeau, but we needed to remind him too that we live in a glass house.

August 10, 2018

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau,
Prime Minister of Canada,

Re: Saudi Arabia

Dear Prime Minister:

Thanks to you and Chrystia Freeland and the government of Canada for its criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. Thanks too for standing your ground.

Unfortunately, this country is not the human rights paragon in practice that it champions in principle. True, abuses in Canada are not the extremes common elsewhere, but none the less there are violations in every part of this land.

You and your ministers should stand up for the rights of all people, and that includes Canadians. Don’t hide your head in the sand and pretend we’re virtuous and angelic simply because the mandarins around you insist all’s well.

Stand anywhere in this country, move one of your feet and kick over the rock that’s under it. Take a close look.

Dubious policy……

…….through sanctioned abuse, and political malpractice

Okay, so we know it’s the inmates who pay for their phone service…that’s according to the government itself. On top of that, the government gets a kickback from what inmates spend on their phone service.

Now we move to October of 2013. Stephen Harper is still the prime minister. He and his government initiate a move by Correctional Service of Canada to CUT inmates pay by 30%. One source noted CSC’s enthusiasm for the policy. The new directive also took away the pay incentive for CORCAN jobs, what CSC calls its ‘training centre.’ CORCAN is a business run by the prison system using inmate labour to produce products and services which are primarily for prisons and the military. It offers inmates both work and work ethics experience, but there are very few positions available relative to the size of the prison population.

The agency claimed these cuts were to pay for room and board and the inmate phone system. The government added that this would make inmates more accountable and save the system about $4 million on its $2.6 billion annual budget. The government should also have noted that this was the basest kind of b.s. But then, perhaps the obvious didn’t need to be labelled.

So, what challenges inmates faced as things were now entered the realm of farce. An environment already rife with a vibrant underground economy, and ever-evolving inventive contraband pipelines, only spurred a stimulus that CSC cannot fully contain for a problem of its own making.

A group of inmates took the government to court in the fall of 2014 to contest pay policy. Jarrod Shook was one of the lead plaintiffs, and a Google search using his name will bring up a wealth of insight into this and other prison practices. He’s worth a read. In any case, the inmates lost, the court ruling they hadn’t proved the harm in the changes, and that it wasn’t up to the court to rule on the ‘wisdom’ of government decisions.

With the change in government, and Justin Trudeau’s mandate letter to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould calling for a review of the criminal justice system, it was hoped an intelligent assessment of prison conditions would yield enlightened and progressive legislation.

More on the way……..

Sanctioned abuse…….

…….political malpractice……..getting worse

Even as inmate finances in federal institutions were neglected over the years, there was one welcome although conditional relief in the first decade of this century……the cost of telephone calls. Even this wasn’t accomplished though without a duplicitous arrangement between Correctional Service of Canada and a major Canadian corporation. And, since this will bear on a morally repugnant government decision in 2013, we’ll pause to “talk on the telephone.”

We’re referencing life in federal prisons in this series and not conditions in provincial jails. Financial support for provincial inmates comes solely from friends and family. Provincial inmate telephone services are provided predominately by Bell and all calls are made collect. Generally, local calls are $1.00 but tariffs increase with distance. Burdensome to some families, although stays in provincial jails are short-term, and there’s no incentive for the relevant ministries to consider alternatives.

What is common in all telephone service provider contracts with provincial jail AND federal prison agencies is a “kickback”, a percentage of what the telephone companies take in from inmate calls. How much of a cut the government gets is a corporate trade secret and not subject to access to information legislation.

But, back to “talk on the telephone.” Federal inmate calls had been collect for decades. Even as competition and improvements in telecommunications drove costs to consumers lower, and the packaging of services became the norm, prisoners continued to pile up telephone charges to their families and friends, and Correctional Service of Canada and Bell Canada in particular profited.

At the beginning of 1998, the Service introduced the ‘Millennium’ telephone system to enhance security. With that came an increase in charges. In the succeeding years, no measures were taken to bring costs in line with those in the community, and no assessment of the system’s benefit as a security mechanism was undertaken. Naturally, this was contentious with both inmates and the Office of the Correctional Investigator.

A dozen years ago or so, Correctional Service of Canada undertook to rectify an obviously untenable position, and put out a tender to provide inmates with calling cards. Under this arrangement, each inmate received a card registered to their name and to which the institution placed up to five pre-approved telephone numbers. On a monthly specified date, and at the inmate’s request, cards could be loaded with funds from an inmate’s account, and telephone tariffs were competitive with what was available in the community. For an inmate who ran out of funds on a card before it could be reloaded, or an inmate with no money, all calls would be collect, and the charges for those collect calls reverted to the older and more expensive scale.

Bell Canada was awarded the contract for this service, and as long as inmates can keep a positive funding position on their cards, it’s worked well. The one drawback that comes to the Correctional Investigator’s attention now is access to telephones.

But, hold it. There was one snafu, one kerfuffle in this neat contracted process that was closeted.

When the bids to provide this telephone service to inmates were unsealed, and keeping in mind that Bell had been a big player all along, Correctional Service of Canada subsequently asked them to ‘repair’ their offer. Following the request, Bell was then awarded the contract.

Telus screamed foul, and took their argument to the federal government department charged with ethics and best practices. Telus lost. Why? It was ruled that judgments could be made only in circumstances where government money, taxpayer money, was involved. In the matter of telephone services for prison inmates, it was inmate money, citizen’s money, in question. The committee had no authority to intervene. Further, and to its discredit, no comment was made on what lead Telus to bring its case forward in the first place.

This should have come back to bite the government’s butt in a 2013 policy decision. It didn’t.

Read on……..