ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
The Correctional Investigator is mandated by Part III of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act as an Ombudsman for federal offenders. The primary function of the Office is to investigate and bring resolution to individual offender complaints. The Office as well, has a responsibility to review and make recommendations on the Correctional Service's policies and procedures associated with the areas of individual complaints to ensure that systemic areas of concern are identified and appropriately addressed.
The notion of righting a wrong is central to the Ombudsman concept. This involves measurably more than simply responding to specific legal, policy or technical elements associated with the area of concern under review or being investigated. It requires the provision of independent, informed and objective opinions on the fairness of the action taken so as to counter balance the relative strength of public institutions against that of individuals. When dealing with the findings and recommendations of an ombudsman's office, public institutions are expected to be fair, open and accountable.
The "function" of the Correctional Investigator, as defined by the Legislation, is purposefully broad:
"to conduct investigations into the problems of offenders related to decisions, recommendations, acts or omissions of the Commissioner (of Corrections) or any person under the control and management of, or performing services for, or on behalf of, the Commissioner, that affect offenders either individually or as a group".
Inquiries can be initiated on the basis of a complaint or at the initiative of the Correctional Investigator with full discretion resting with the Office in deciding whether to conduct an investigation and how that investigation will be carried out.
In the course of an investigation, the Office is afforded significant authority to require the production of information up to, and including, a formal hearing involving examination under oath. This authority is tempered, and the integrity of our function protected, by the strict obligation that we limit the disclosure of information acquired in the course of our duties to that which is necessary to the progress of the investigation and to the establishing of grounds for our conclusions and recommendations. Our disclosure of information, to all parties, is further governed by legal and security considerations and the provisions of the Privacy Act and Access to Information Act.
The provisions above, which limit our disclosure of information, are complemented by other provisions within Part III of the Act which prevent our being summoned in legal proceedings and which underline that our process exists without affecting, or being affected by, appeals or remedies before the Courts or under any other Act. The purpose of these measures is to protect the independence and impartiality of the Office and ensure the integrity of its Ombudsman function.
The Office's observations and findings, subsequent to an investigation, are not limited to a determination that a decision, recommendation, act or omission was contrary to existing law or established policy. In keeping with the purposefully broad nature of our Ombudsman function, the Correctional Investigator can determine that a decision, recommendation, act or omission was: "unreasonable, unjust, oppressive and improperly discriminatory; or based wholly or partly on a mistake of law or fact" or that a discretionary power has been exercised, "for an improper purpose, on irrelevant grounds, on the taking into account of irrelevant considerations, or without reasons having been given".
The Act at Section 178 requires that where in the opinion of the Correctional Investigator a problem exists, the Commissioner of Corrections shall be informed of that opinion and the reasons therefore. The practice of the Office has been to attempt to resolve problems through consultation at the institutional and regional levels in advance of referring matters to the attention of the Commissioner. While we continue to ensure that appropriate levels of management within the Service are approached with respect to complaints and investigations, this provision clearly indicates that the unresolved "problems" of offenders must be referred to the Commissioner in a timely fashion.
The legislation as well provides that the Correctional Investigator, when informing the Commissioner of the existence of a problem, may make any recommendation relevant to the resolution of the problem that the Correctional Investigator considers appropriate. Although these recommendations are not binding, consistent with the Ombudsman function, the authority of the Office lies in it's ability to thoroughly and objectively investigate a wide spectrum of administrative actions and present its findings and recommendations to an equally broad spectrum of decision makers, inclusive of Parliament, which can cause reasonable corrective action to be taken if earlier attempts at resolutions have failed.
A significant step in this resolution process is the provision at Section 180 of the Act which requires the Correctional Investigator to give notice and report to the Minister if, within a reasonable time, no action is taken by the Commissioner that seems to the Correctional Investigator to be adequate and appropriate. Sections 192 and 193 of the legislation continue this process by requiring the Minister to table in both Houses of Parliament, within a prescribed time period, the Annual Report and any Special Report Issues by the Correctional Investigator.
The vast majority of the concerns raised on complaints by inmates are addressed by this Office at the institutional level through discussion and negotiation. In those cases where a resolution is not reached at the institution, the matter is referred to regional or national headquarters, depending upon the area of concern, with a specific recommendation for further review and corrective action. If at this level the Service, in the opinion of the Correctional Investigator fails to address the matter in a reasonable and timely fashion, it will be referred to the Minister and eventually may be detailed within an Annual or Special Report.
In any given year, the Office receives and responds to 5,000-6,000 offender complaints. In addition to responding to individual complaints, the Office meets regularly with inmate committees and other offender organizations and makes regularly scheduled announced visits at each institution during which the investigator will meet with any inmate, or group of inmates, upon request. We had, over the course of this reporting year, in excess of three hundred meetings with various offender organizations, including inmate committees, lifer groups, black inmate associations, native brotherhoods and sisterhoods.
The areas of complaint continue to focus on those long-standing issues which have been detailed in past Annual Reports. A specific breakdown of the areas of complaint, dispositions, institutional visits and interviews are provided in the statistics section of the Report.
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