Politics

Correctional Service of Canada 'negligent' on information requests, commissioner says

The office of Canada’s Information Commissioner has found the Correctional Service of Canada negligent for not responding to an access to information request from CBC News for more than three years and taking another nine months to provide the documents in question.

Department did not respond to CBC News access to information request for more than 3 years

A view of a standard cell block at Kingston Penitentiary in Kingston, Ont., in October, 2013. The penitentiary was formally closed in September of that year. (Fred Thornhill/Reuters)

The office of Canada's Information Commissioner has found the Correctional Service of Canada negligent for not responding to an access to information request from CBC News for more than three years and taking another nine months to provide the documents in question.

That's a tad more than the normal requirement to respond to requests within 30 days.

"CSC officials were negligent in their legislated duty to assist you and showed a flagrant disregard for your rights under the Act," wrote Carmen Garrett from the office of the information commissioner.

On May 4, 2012, CBC News asked the correctional service for information relating to the decision to close Kingston Penitentiary, Leclerc Institution and the Ontario Regional Treatment Centre. 

The information commissioner's office stated that the due date for a timely response was June 3, 2012.

"Our investigation determined that CSC failed to process your requests, which remained outstanding for approximately three years," Garrett wrote.

The correctional service's first response came in August 2015, when it asked CBC if it would like to abandon its request.

CBC declined the offer.

On Nov. 30, 2015, Diane Ré​gnier, team leader for CSC's access to information office, telephoned to ask CBC whether it would re-submit its request. Ré​gnier said that by extending the timeframe, the department could include even more information.

CBC agreed, but when the next piece of correspondence was a letter to say the service would need several more months to respond to the "new" request, CBC filed a complaint with the information commissioner's office.

The information commissioner's office determined that "changing file numbers on access to information requests does not buy institutions more time to process requests." Even so, the department did not provide any documents until this month. 

Four years after the original request, the paperwork arrived, full of rather stale details surrounding the controversial decision to cut its 2011-12 operating budget.

In addition to shuttering two penitentiaries and the regional treatment centre, the paperwork details other cuts, such as decisions to:

  • Cut the LifeLine support program for offenders serving life sentences, for annual savings of $2 million.
  • Reducing non-essential dental services, such as cleanings, to save $2 million.
  • Eliminate inmate incentive pay, which would trim $1.7 million from the annual budget.

CSC also increased the workload of parole officers in a move to save almost $5 million per year, outsourced some security jobs, cut management positions and upgraded equipment in order to save on maintenance costs.

The documents also included a "message event proposal" for the April 12, 2012, event where former Public Safety Minister Vic Toews announced the closure of the penitentiaries. It suggested Toews' tone be "serious and action-oriented" and provided a list of answers to questions he would likely get from reporters.

When asked how many jobs would be cut by closing the three facilities, it recommended answering with, "CSC will redeploy the majority of affected staff at these sites to other facilities, some of which will be expanding."

About the Author

Alison Crawford is a senior reporter in CBC's parliamentary bureau, covering justice, public safety, the Supreme Court and Liberal Party of Canada.

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