Recommendations on victim considerations in prisoner transfers
January 25, 2019
The Honourable Ralph Goodale, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
269, Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario KIA OP8
Re: Strengthening Victims' Rights to Information, Participation and Protection in Relation to the Transfer of Federal Offenders
Dear Minister Goodale,
As you know, the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime (OFOVC) promotes awareness of the needs and concerns of victims of crime, identifies and reviews emerging and systemic issues that impact negatively on them, and makes recommendations to make the federal criminal justice system more effective for victims of crime.
I’m writing to you to bring forward a matter that falls under your mandate, in relation to which the OFOVC has been fielding victims’ concerns. From the outset, I want to clarify that, as per the Terms and Conditions guiding my role, my Office cannot review a decision of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) to transfer an offender. That said, victims can contact my Office if they feel that their rights are not being respected in relation to federal criminal justice system policies, laws, and programs for victims of crime, broadly, including when it comes to matters such as offender transfers. It is in that context that my Office has been contacted by victims and their families who feel that their rights to information, participation and protection are not adequately reflected in decisions to transfer federally incarcerated offenders from one institution to another.
While the issue of victims’ rights in the context of offender transfers has recently come to the forefront given one family’s specific and highly publicized concerns, I can assure you that these concerns are longstanding and by no means isolated to one case. Many victims and victim advocates in Canada share the same concerns.
I am pleased to see that you requested a review of offender transfers, recently, and that some policy changes have been made as a result. That said, I am concerned that the changes are too limited in scope. My understanding is that these changes relate specifically to “medium-security offenders serving long-term sentences transferred to a multi-level healing lodge, which has a defined but not directly controlled perimeter”. While this is a welcome first step, the changes do not address victims’ rights to participate in decisions by conveying their views when decisions are made that affect their rights under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, or their right to protection by having their security considered and to have reasonable and necessary measures taken to protect them from retaliation and intimidation.
Victims have consistently told my Office that they:
- Would like to be informed when an assessment is being made for a transfer of an offender.
- Would like advance notification of the transfer of an offender, to enable them to plan for their safety.
- Have concerns for their safety when they are informed that the offender who harmed them has been transferred to an institution (often with a lower security classification) near their home. As such, they would like to be informed in advance, to allow them the opportunity to share these concerns with their Victim Services Officer (VSO) for consideration by the Case Management Team (CMT) and institutional head, prior to the decision being finalized.
- Feel they should have an opportunity to participate in the decision-making process that affects their safety in their daily lives.
To address these concerns, and in order to further strengthen the CSC's response to victims overall, I recommend that the CSC:
- Gather and consider victim information at the outset of the decision-making process or as soon as a voluntary transfer request is made.
- Use the victim flag system referenced in the CSC’s January 28, 2014 Case Management Bulletin, Notification to Victim Services units and consideration of victims’ concerns as part of the decision making, in all voluntary transfers at the time of receipt of the application for transfer. This would enable VSOs to proactively communicate and collect the victims’ input, any updated statements and any concerns they may have. This should be done in advance of the Decision for Assessment.
- Make changes to policy (CD 784) to direct VSOs to contact victims when an offender applies for a voluntary penitentiary transfer. The purpose of this contact would be to provide victims with general information about the transfer process, reiterate that victim statements on file will be considered by CMT and institutional head during the decision-making process, and invite them to submit a statement should they wish to do so.
- Make changes to policy to require all CSC staff to always consider whether any victims live near the institution to which the transfer is being considered, and wherever possible, transfer the offender to another institution.
In a November 7, 2018, press release about the recent review of offender transfers, you stated that there is “a need for more meaningful communication with victims”, with the aim of ensuring that victims “feel more properly treated, and know that their perspective is being properly respected”. Equally, such was echoed in our face to face meeting on December 3, 2018, where you asked what could be done to ensure all victims feel heard and supported.
It is my view that adopting the policy recommendations outlined above would go a long way in reassuring victims that their rights are considered as part of CSC’s decision-making process. Victims’ concerns and perspectives provide CSC with a more fulsome account of information required for decision making, which is an integral part of transparent, effective and fair corrections in Canada. Making the above changes will help increase public confidence in the correctional system and also address all victims’ rights to provide and be provided information, to participate by sharing their views and having them considered and to protection by having their security considered and addressed.
I look forward to your timely response and to working with you to bring about positive change for victims of crime in Canada.
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime
Anne Kelly, Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada
Malcolm Brown, Deputy Minister of Public Safety Canada
Minister Goodale's response:
Friday, March 29, 2019
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime
Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime
P.O. Box 55037
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 1A1
Dear Heidi Illingworth:
Thank you for your correspondence of January 25, 2019, in which you share your recommendations about the role of victims in the transfer of federal offenders.
I understand that your office has interacted with victims on this topic over a number of years, and appreciate that victims would like more input and awareness about where offenders serve their sentences. I appreciated discussing this and other issues with you at our meeting in December, and I understand that you recently had the opportunity to do the same with Anne Kelly, Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC).
As you know, people who register as victims with CSC or the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) can select the types of information they would like to receive, which can range from more detailed information about the programs in which the offender is participating to more basic information like notice id the offender dies. When registering, or at any time thereafter, victims can also submit statements highlighting their concerns and any information they would like considered over the course of the offender’s sentence. As part of that statement, they can pre-emptively alert CSC and the PBC if they do not want the offender transferred to a particular region.
Recently, I asked CSC to explore ways to strengthening communications with victims and their families so that victims are receiving not only the attention and the services that they are entitled to, but also the respect and the acknowledgment of what they have gone through. One element of that communication we hope to improve on is awareness about victim’s statements. If you are open to having a discussion about a communications and outreach strategy, CSC would welcome your input. Feel free to contact Director, Citizen Engagement Directorate to engage further with CSC on this point.
Thank you again for sharing your recommendations, which will inform our ongoing efforts to ensure that victims of crime are supported, informed and respected within the criminal justice system. I look forward to continuing to work with you and your office to that end.
The Honourable Ralph Goodale, P.C., M.P.