Highlights from the report by Québec’s Correctional Ombudsman
Québec City, September 29, 2016 – As Québec’s Correctional Ombudsman, the Québec Ombudsman is tasked to ensure that the rights of detainees in Québec correctional facilities are upheld. This year, with chronic prison overcrowding as a backdrop, its findings mainly concern the transfer of female inmates from Maison Tanguay to Leclerc de Laval correctional facility, prison health services, care to inmates with disabilities, dynamic supervision practices, solitary confinement, the disciplinary process, and detention conditions in Nunavik.
Transfer of female inmates to Leclerc de Laval correctional facility
So that detainees would no longer be exposed to the appalling conditions that existed at Maison Tanguay, the Ministère de la Sécurité publique had the women transferred to Leclerc de Laval correctional facility. The Québec Ombudsman had to intervene concerning various problems stemming from the poorly planned transfer—no access to personal belongings and personal hygiene products; strip searches in premises that provide no privacy for detainees; detainees of different categories housed in the same section; scant sanitation facilities for women serving intermittent sentences; and failure to return personal belongings to detainees at their release. Given the massive transfers in 2016-2017, the Québec Ombudsman has asked the Department to review its strategy with a view to preventing these problems from recurring.
Prison health services
In 2015-2016, some Québec correctional facilities were hard pressed to provide adequate medical coverage to detainees because of the shortage of general practitioners working within the correctional system. The Québec Ombudsman is critical that health services in all correctional facilities are still not the responsibility of the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux, despite a recommendation it made in a special report released in 2011. Even if some progress has been made (the health and social services network now provides health services to nine out of 20 correctional facilities and is slated to do so in another facility in 2017), it remains concerned about the facilities that are not listed for these changes because there is no time frame for them.
The need for adequate medical management of detainees with disabilities
The ability to house disabled detainees varies greatly from one facility to another. Currently, eight facilities cannot take in these detainees because the required infrastructure is lacking. The result is that detainees who are in a wheelchair may be sent to a facility outside their region, far from family and friends, which makes social reintegration more difficult.
The importance of having standards for dynamic supervision
The Department has been slow to produce a provincial instruction on dynamic supervision (number of rounds, head counts and inspections, especially to ensure that all detainees are present and accounted for and that there are no incidents). The upshot is that people’s safety—if not lives—may be jeopardized. Through the investigations it conducted, the Québec Ombudsman discovered that detainees had been assaulted repeatedly by other detainees without the correctional officers becoming aware of it soon enough.
Detainees in isolation
In certain circumstances provided for by law, for instance, to prevent the escalation of disturbances, the director of a correctional facility is empowered to use administrative segregation. Inmates placed in isolation must be informed of the reasons for this decision and be allowed to voice their opinion. Furthermore, this measure must be reviewed at regular intervals. However, the normative framework in effect in Québec correctional facilities has nothing to say about how isolation works. The Québec Ombudsman recommended that the Department modify it so that the rules concerning the administrative segregation of detainees are spelled out. The Department accepted the recommendation and agreed to draft a provincial instruction governing isolation.
The disciplinary process
Last year, the Québec Ombudsman published a report concerning the procedural fairness of the disciplinary process employed with detainees. It is happy to see that the Department has implemented several measures since then. However, it is not pleased that the Department has still not agreed to prohibit correctional service personnel who are in daily contact with the detainees from being on discipline committees. In so doing, Québec is in breach of the basic principles of procedural fairness and of correctional standards that are recognized and enforced.
Detention conditions and the administration of justice in Nunavik
In a special report published in February 2016 on detention conditions and the administration of justice in Nunavik, the Québec Ombudsman made several recommendations aimed at improving these conditions and mitigating the injustice suffered by Inuit who are “in the system.” As soon as the report was released, the Premier of Québec pledged to “ensure that the facilities would be overhauled as soon as possible.” From that moment, the Ministère de la Sécurité publique took the necessary measures to handle the problem of insufficient and unsanitary facilities. It also promised to work proactively with the Ministère de la Justice on implementing an action plan in response to the Québec Ombudsman’s concerns. The Québec Ombudsman is satisfied with the quality and promptness of the response and continues to follow developments.
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Carole-Anne Huot, 418-646-7143/418-925-7994