Correctional Investigator Concerned by Rising Use of Force Incidents Involving Inflammatory Agents “Current review and control framework for use of pepper spray behind bars inadequate,” says Correctional Investigator


For Immediate Release

Ottawa, October 31, 2016 – The 43 rd Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator was tabled today in Parliament.  The report documents that security incidents in federal prisons involving inflammatory agents, primarily Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) or pepper spray, has tripled since 2011/12.

“Fully 60% of the 1,833 use of force incidents reviewed by my Office in 2015/16 involved the use of an inflammatory agent,” said Howard Sapers, Correctional Investigator of Canada. “Pepper spray has become the ‘go-to’ tool for inducing inmate compliance and managing security incidents in federal prisons. Reliance on coercive measures has largely displaced other less invasive methods of resolving tension and conflict behind bars,” stated Sapers.

Pepper spray became standard issue for most front-line correctional officers in September 2010. Prior to that time, inflammatory agents were locked up in designated control posts. Access was restricted and controlled. Since officers started wearing a pepper spray canister on their duty belt, the resort to and reliance on these agents has predictably and significantly increased. Interestingly, there has not been an increase in the severity of security incidents or threats that would justify or explain the increased use of force response.

The report notes that there are no national standards for recording the frequency or amount of the chemical or inflammatory agent used during security incidents. An inmate can be sprayed for refusing to comply with staff directions or orders; there is no requirement for there to be an imminent threat or danger. Though policy states that every use of an inflammatory or chemical agent is a reportable or reviewable use of force, most reviews are cursory, limited to and conducted at the institutional level. Most uses of inflammatory agents are considered “spontaneous,” meaning there is no accompanying video-recording of the incident. Regional monitoring and national oversight of how inflammatory agents are stored, weighed, inspected, assigned and controlled is lacking. As Sapers notes, “the overall lack of video-recordings, insufficient records and cursory reviews of these events makes it difficult to evaluate the appropriateness of the interventions employed, or to track and monitor compliance on a national basis.”

More than one-third of all use of force incidents reviewed by the Office involved inmates with a mental health issue identified by the Correctional Service. More than 40% of all use of force incidents that occurred at the five Regional Treatment Centres, which are accredited psychiatric hospitals, included the use of pepper spray. An inflammatory agent was used in 54% of use of force incidents involving an offender engaged in self-injury. “Responses such as these cannot be considered desirable or appropriate from a therapeutic, human rights or even security perspective,” stated Sapers.

The 2015-16 Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator contains 27 recommendations addressing key priorities such as prison health care, deaths in custody, conditions of detention and issues affecting Indigenous and federally sentenced women offenders.

As the ombudsman for federally sentenced offenders, the Office of the Correctional Investigator serves Canadians and contributes to safe, lawful and humane corrections through independent oversight of the Correctional Service of Canada by providing accessible, impartial and timely investigation of individual and systemic concerns.  The report cited in this release is available at: .


For more information, please contact:  
Ivan Zinger, J.D., Ph.D.  
Executive Director and General Counsel  
(613) 990-2690 

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