Prisoners' ombudsman wants Liberal government to keep him on the job

Canada’s prisons watchdog is asking the new Liberal government to keep him on the job. Howard Sapers, who was often critical of the Conservative government's prison policies over his 10 years on the job, was told his term would not be renewed - but the election interrupted the replacement process.

Watchdog was not renewed after delivering critical reports on Conservative policies

Correctional Investigator of Canada Howard Sapers is asking the Liberal government to extend his term. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)

Canada's prisons watchdog is asking the new Liberal government to keep him on the job.

Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers, who was often critical of the Conservatives' prison policies during his decade in office, was told in March he was out a job as soon as the government found a replacement. But the election interrupted the recruitment process.

Now, he hopes he can stay on to give the office continuity, stability and experience as the federal prison system deals with the pressures of overcrowding and underfunding.

He has written Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale asking for a meeting.

"I'm going to discuss with him the potential for re-appointment and the term of that re-appointment," Sapers told CBC News. "This is extremely important and rewarding work. I'm very engaged in the job and I think there's still a lot to do, and perhaps even more to do than before. There's been some significant change to the system and all of the change hasn't really landed yet."

Sapers had served three terms when he was told his time was up. Some thought he was being ousted as retaliation for hard-hitting reports critical of Conservative policies.

But Sapers said former public safety minister Steven Blaney told him he was content with his work and grateful for his advice; and said the termination was about office renewal. He took him at his word.

Contrary to policy directions

"I know that the conclusions of this office often ran contrary to the policy directions of the previous government, but that's the nature of the work," he said.

A process to find a replacement was underway, but no one was hired before the election. Sapers's annual report, submitted in June, has still not been released to the public.

Howard Sapers has drawn attention to problems in Canada's prison system, including overcrowding, lack of treatment for mental illness and the use of segregation. (Shutterstock)

"There's some very discordant things that are happening. Some of the change has been hard to reconcile given the legal and policy mandate of the Correctional Service of Canada, and that's resulted in some problems inside institutions, problems to do with crowding and lack of access to programs and treatment and human and financial resources," he said.

Some of the persistent and high-profile issues in Canada's correctional system that Sapers has flagged include high incarceration rates for aboriginals, women's corrections, mental health issues, deaths in custody, and use of segregation.

Prison overcrowding, which has escalated in recent years, has exacerbated the problems.

Chaotic situation

Sapers said many of the Conservative policies were brought in ad hoc, leading to a "chaotic" situation.

"It's kind of like somebody blew up a big part of the correctional system, and we're still waiting for the all the pieces to land back to earth," he said. "I really hope that some time is taken to see how all of this is landed and then take some steps to begin to reintroduce some order to what has been ad hoc."

The previous prisoners' ombudsman, Ron Stewart, held the job for nearly 27 years.


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