For Immediate Release
Ottawa, October 27, 2020 – Today, the 47th annual report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator was tabled in Parliament. The report includes a ground breaking investigation into sexual coercion and violence in federal prisons. In releasing his report, the Correctional Investigator of Canada, Dr. Ivan Zinger, remarked that sexual victimization exists in the shadows of penitentiaries and is largely ignored or dismissed as an inevitable consequence of the incarceration experience itself.
“My investigation confirms that sexual violence is a pervasive but underreported problem in federal prisons. We know that sexualized violence and abuse thrive in a culture of silence or organizational indifference. I was disturbed to find considerable gaps in the Correctional Service of Canada’s approach to detecting, investigating and preventing sexual coercion and violence behind bars. I am bringing these issues from out of the shadows as I believe it is time for the Correctional Service of Canada to have an open and honest conversation about the scope of this problem and what can be done about it.”
The investigation found that the prevalence and dynamics of sexual victimization in federal correctional facilities are largely unknown. As it stands, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) is not required to publicly report on incidents of sexual abuse involving federal inmates. Surprisingly the investigation found that the agency has never conducted any national research or prevalence studies in this area of corrections. There is no stand-alone policy to guide how staff are expected to respond or prevent sexual victimization. The Office learned that victims do not report their experiences of abuse as there are too many disincentives and risks associated with disclosure. Many are afraid to report, fearing retaliation, retribution or re-victimization by the perpetrator(s), be it other inmates or staff. Further, they face the risk of not being believed, being ridiculed or even punished for reporting coerced sex. Most incidents are not investigated, and rarely or ever reach the courts. Significantly, CSC has not put in place a strategy to protect vulnerable groups or persons who are disproportionately victimized behind bars, including individuals who identify as LGBTQ+, women, those with a history of trauma and abuse, disability or mental health issue.
Finally, there is no coordinated approach to detect, flag, track or manage repeat or chronic perpetrators of sexual violence; in fact, the investigation found that alleged perpetrators were often simply shuffled around the institution or transferred to another facility with little meaningful intervention to prevent future incidents. In short, this issue lacks leadership and a coordinated response.
“I am calling on the Government of Canada to introduce legislative measures that would endorse a zero tolerance and preventive approach to sexual abuse and violence behind bars, including mandatory requirements for the Correctional Service of Canada to publicly report and respond to these incidents. Currently, Canada does not have the equivalent of the United States’ Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) , which was introduced almost 20 years ago. Legislation similar to PREA is required to address what we all know to be a systemic problem here in Canada. I have also asked the Minister of Public Safety to fund a national incidence and prevalence study to be conducted by fully independent experts. Until legislation is in place, I have recommended that CSC develop separate and specific policy direction to protect vulnerable persons and groups known to be at heightened risk of victimization. Sexualized violence is a systemic problem in prison, and is not tolerated in any other part of Canadian society. It is time that we took steps to eradicate it from our prison system.”
Dr. Zinger’s report also includes two other national-level investigations: learning behind bars and an investigation of therapeutic ranges at male maximum-security institutions.
The investigation of learning examined educational and vocational training in federal corrections. It found that Canada is falling further behind the rest of the industrialized world by failing to provide offenders with the skills, training and learning opportunities they need to return to the community and live productive, law-abiding lives. There has been little movement on previous OCI recommendations to promote digital literacy or distance learning behind bars – federal inmates do not have access to monitored email and there is no facility or interest in providing supervised use of the Internet. Prison schools rely primarily on pen and paper, textbooks are outdated and libraries are inadequately resourced. There is virtually no opportunity to pursue post-secondary education behind bars. Apprenticeships are rare, and most prison shops run on obsolete technological platforms. Inmates describe prison work that is mundane and meaningless, jobs that simply provide an escape from being locked up all day.
Dr. Zinger stated, “Over the past ten years, my Office has made literally dozens of recommendations to improve the dismal situation of learning behind bars in Canada. The Correctional Service has typically responded with limited pilot projects at a few institutions. Given this inertia and inaction, I have elected not to make any new recommendations to the Service in this area. Instead, I have called upon the Minister of Public Safety to establish an independent expert working group to guide reforms previously recommended by the Office.”
The 2019-20 Annual Report of the Correctional Investigator also contained findings, summaries and recommendations from other national-level investigations, including access to mental health care in maximum-security institutions, case reviews of Medical Assistance in Dying, major use of force incidents and an assessment of legislative reforms (Bill C-83) introduced in the reporting period.
Dr. Zinger concluded his public remarks by commenting on the lack of CSC’s overall responsiveness to his report’s findings and recommendations. He reminded the Correctional Service that his annual report covers the reporting period, from April 2019 to end of March 2020. He noted that all of the issues and investigations documented in his report arose or were completed before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. While the Service has been understandably preoccupied with managing and preventing the spread of the virus, it seems that progress on all other issues has been stalled, delayed or abandoned.
“I am deeply disappointed by the Service and Government’s responses to my latest Annual Report,” said Dr. Zinger. “I am concerned by the lack of engagement with the matters addressed in my report. The response contains very few clear deliverables or concrete timelines. Most recommendations are met with vague and future commitments to review, reassess, or even, in the case of sexual violence in prisons, redo the work that my Office has already completed. We finished out the reporting period in the middle of a pandemic, and I understand that COVID-19 is the overriding concern and priority in federal corrections right now. However, the response to COVID should not preclude nor excuse the Service from engaging with other issues that also have compelling health, safety and security implications for Canadians.”
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 2019-20 Annual Report is available at www.oci-bec.gc.ca .
For more information, please contact:
Ms. Monette Maillet