For Immediate Release
Ottawa, February 10, 2022 – Today, the 48 th Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator was tabled in Parliament. Along with the Office’s latest assessment of the impact of COVID-19 measures on federally sentenced persons, this year’s Annual Report contains a series of investigations in areas of systemic concern including use of force, women’s corrections, restrictive confinement and prison suicide. The cumulative findings of these investigations suggest gaps in the Correctional Service of Canada’s (CSC) compliance with safe and humane standards of custody. In a news conference following tabling of his report, the Correctional Investigator, Dr. Ivan Zinger, drew particular attention to his investigation of the intersection of race and involvement in use of force incidents in federal penitentiaries.
“My investigation of race and involvement in use of force incidents in federal penitentiaries is deeply troubling,” stated Dr. Zinger. “We found that racial background was uniquely associated with the over-representation of Black, Indigenous, and Peoples of Colour (BIPOC) in use of force incidents. Regardless of risk level, security level, age, sentence length or gender, identifying as an Indigenous or Black incarcerated person was associated with a greater likelihood of involvement in a use of force incident.” Dr. Zinger pointed out that, on average, Indigenous and Black individuals experience proportionately more use of force incidents than any other racial group. Based on his findings, the Correctional Investigator concluded that “involvement in a use of force in federal corrections appears vulnerable to the influence of racial bias.”
Dr. Zinger elaborated that his investigation was based on a review of five years of use of force data (2015 to 2020), representing 9,633 documented use of force incidents. Over that period, BIPOC persons accounted for 60% of all uses of force, while representing 44% of the federally incarcerated population. Indigenous persons in particular are more likely than any other group to be involved in a use of force incident, accounting for 39% of all individuals involved in uses of force over the study period, despite representing (on average) 28% of the prison population. By contrast, White individuals are under-involved in uses of force in federal prisons: 42% of White individuals were involved in a use of force while representing 52% of the prison population. The Correctional Investigator called on CSC to develop an action plan to address the relationship between use of force and systemic racism against Indigenous and Black individuals and publicly report on actionable changes to policy and practice that would reduce over-representation of these groups in uses of force.
In his prepared remarks, Dr. Zinger also referenced his Office’s investigation of the state of women’s corrections in Canada 30 years after the release of Creating Choices , the ground-breaking 1990 Report of the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women. His investigation found that many of the progressive principles and ideas of Creating Choices – presumption of minimum-security classification at admission; no perimeter fencing; no maximum-security units; no segregation for incarcerated women – have long since been abandoned in favour of a framework that puts security and control at the forefront of contemporary women’s corrections. The report pointed out that specific correctional practices, for instance random strip searches, re-traumatize incarcerated women, many of whom have histories of physical and/or sexual abuse.
The Office’s investigation concluded that “a security-driven approach pervades nearly every aspect of contemporary women’s corrections, preventing CSC from fully realizing the vision in Creating Choices .” In keeping with the principles of Creating Choices , Dr. Zinger recommended closure of the Secure Units (maximum-security) at the women’s regional facilities. He also called for more access and opportunity for community reintegration, more effective correctional programming and job training that was based on marketable skills rather than gendered roles and expectations. “The way forward in women’s corrections is clear today as it was 30 years ago – empowerment, meaningful and responsible choices, respect and dignity, supportive environment and shared responsibility,” said Dr. Zinger.
The Office’s latest Annual Report contains five other national level reviews or investigations:
- Structured Intervention Units, which replaced solitary confinement in November 2019.
- Use of Medical Isolation in Federal Prisons to Reduce COVID-19 Transmission.
- Suicide in a Maximum-Security Facility.
- Canadian Ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT).
- Reporting Burden for Small and Micro Agencies.
With respect to Structured Intervention Units (SIUs) , the investigation notes serious gaps in data collection, which limits assessment of internal and external compliance with mandated requirements, up to and including out of cell time, “meaningful” human contact and reason for placement. Ironically, SIUs purportedly have more favourable conditions of confinement and better access to services and staff compared to other areas of maximum-security facilities that prisoners actually often refuse to voluntarily leave these units.
Dr. Zinger repeated his call for Canada to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture ( OPCAT ) . Ratification of this important treaty would create a framework for independent national and international inspection of all places of detention in Canada, including a new oversight mechanism for detention facilities under federal authority (penitentiaries, immigration holding centres, Canadian Forces Service Prisons and Detention Barracks and RCMP holding cells). The Correctional Investigator noted that 90 countries have so far ratified, leaving Canada behind many of its like-minded peers.
Finally, on an issue that reaches beyond federal corrections, Dr. Zinger took the opportunity to raise awareness about the mounting reporting burden that small and micro agencies such as his face. He pointed out that his Office has the same mandatory reporting requirements as the Correctional Service of Canada (19,000 employees). Each year, his Office is required to prepare and submit 40 corporate reports, many of which are redundant or duplicative. Dr. Zinger explained that the sheer number of reports and reporting obligations constrains delivery of his core mandate. In his estimation, essential elements of public reporting (transparency, results for Canadians, performance, accountability, stewardship and value for money) can be condensed to a single 12-page report. His alternative and accessible Corporate Report is appended to this year’s Annual Report.
The 2020-21 Annual Report makes 20 recommendations. Recommendations from investigations referenced in this release include:
- CSC should publish forthwith a quarterly record of SIU placement authorizations under section 34 (2) of the CCRA, including the reasons cited for granting authorization. This record should also include the number of instances where individuals were subjected to Restricted Movement under section 37.91 (1) of the CCRA.
- The Prime Minister of Canada should fulfill the Government’s commitment by signing the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and take concrete steps within the next four years to ensure that this important human rights instrument is ratified.
- The President of Treasury Board should recognize the reporting burden of small and micro agencies, and play a leadership role by developing a whole-of-government approach to alleviate this burden. Before full legal and regulatory reforms can be introduced, TBS should consider legal exemptions for eligible small and micro agencies to start reporting differently.
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 2020-21 Annual Report, along with a Backgrounder and summary of the report, are available at www.oci-bec.gc.ca .
For more information, please contact:
Ms. Monette Maillet