BACKGROUNDER
In the Dark: An Investigation of Death in Custody Information Sharing
and Disclosure Practices in Federal Corrections

Overview

  • When an inmate dies in custody or sustains serious bodily injury, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) is obligated to “forthwith” investigate the matter.
  • Despite this statutory requirement, there is no legal obligation requiring CSC to openly or proactively share the findings of these investigations publicly or even with designated family members of the deceased.     

Why We Did this Investigation

  • In 2015-16, the Office received a number of complaints from families who experienced significant difficulties and delays, and in some cases outright refusals, in trying to access information from CSC following the death of a family member. 
  • The Service’s response to this issue has been disappointing as it has failed to address repeated concerns raised by the Office. 

What We Did

  • The Office conducted confidential interviews with families of an inmate who died or suffered serious bodily injury in federal custody over the last three years.  Interviews were also conducted with relevant CSC staff.   
  • The Office reviewed relevant law and policy as well as best practices from a number of international correctional organizations. 
  • A comparison of redacted National Board of Investigation reports released by CSC to families through the Access to Information Act versus the original (un-redacted) report was conducted to assess whether CSC consistently and respectfully exercised appropriate discretion in providing families with information.

What We Found

  • CSC does not proactively share information with families of designated next of kin.  Information that may eventually be shared is only done so retroactively once a formal access to information request has been submitted by the next of kin. 
  • Documents provided to families by CSC are often heavily and unnecessarily redacted making it difficult for families to piece together what actually happened. 
  • When information is shared, there is very little consistency in what is provided.  There is no formal training or operational guidance for CSC staff working with families following an in-custody death. 
  • Families are frustrated and discouraged that they encounter obstacles and barriers when attempting to access information on the death of a family member.
  •  The lack of forthcoming information, numerous delays, the behaviour of some CSC staff and the general feeling that CSC is trying to hide something serve only to compound the grief and hurt of many families. 
  • Some families only learned of CSC’s legal responsibilities or of the post-incident investigative process in interviews for this investigation. 

What We Recommend

To improve information sharing and disclosure practices, the report makes ten recommendations, among them:

  • The Service should proactively disclose factually relevant information to families of deceased inmates immediately following a death in custody.
  • CSC should develop and implement a facilitated disclosure process based on best practices in this area.
  • CSC should establish a family liaison in each of the five regions to coordinate with National Headquarters and the institution in providing information to next of kin from the point of notification through to the completion of the investigative process.
  • In the interest of transparency and openness, investigative reports (Mortality reports and NBOIs) in their entirety should be presumptively and routinely shared, in a timely manner, with next of kin. 
  • The Commissioner of Corrections should routinely consider releasing information to families of deceased inmates under public interest disclosure provisions of the Privacy Act.