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Chapter 3 - The Role, Authority and Responsibilities of CACs

The Role of CACs

With a keen interest in contributing positively to the correctional process, Citizen Advisory Committeess (CACs) provide a vehicle for the community to represent and express itself in the core work of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC).

The Correctional Service of Canada deems the role played by local community-based advisory committees critical in managing itself with openness and integrity. Correctional facilities and programs are part of the community and cannot exist in a vacuum.

Within the context of their Mission, and as volunteers representing a cross-section of the community, Citizen Advisory Committeess have three main roles:

Advisors - Through open discussion with and between CAC members and the Correctional Service of Canada, CACs provide the vital function of consultation and advice, contributing to the overall development of operational units, their programs and their relationship with the community. As part of this function, CACs should pursue the following activities:

  • regularly visit operational units, meeting regularly with offenders, union representatives and with local CSC management;
  • advising and assisting local, regional and national managers of CSC to help with the overall development of correctional policies and programs;
  • offering ideas for improving activities and operations to the CSC where warranted.

When providing advice to the CSC, it is important for the credibility of the CAC system that we follow a process that ensures we attempt to resolve issues or concerns at the appropriate level first. In short, local CAC members should deal with issues through local managers and liaison first. On the other hand, concerns that need to be addressed by the Commissioner, the Solicitor General or by National Headquarters staff should first be directed to the region's CAC executive who will decide if it should be forwarded to the CAC National Executive for decision and action. By following this process we ensure that all the levels of the organization will have confidence that any presentations to them have been discussed at the appropriate level of our system. The following is a summary of the decision making tree of the CAC system:

Local issues:

These need to be addressed to the Head of the operational unit.

If the committee has serious concern with the results of their presentation to local managers, they may refer the question to the CAC Regional Chairperson who will present the issue for consideration by the CAC Regional Executive.

Regional Issues:

Issues deemed to be of regional significance should be dealt with in accordance to the CAC Regional Executive's procedures.

If the CAC Regional Executive has a serious concern with the results of their presentation to regional CSC managers, they may refer the question to the CAC National Chairperson who will present the issue for consideration by the CAC National Executive.

li National Issues:

If a local committee raises an issue deemed to be of national significance and that needs to be directed to the Commissioner of the CSC or the office of the Solicitor General, it should be referred to the CAC Regional Chairperson and Executive for consideration. Should the CAC Regional Executive consider it appropriate, it will refer it on to the CAC National Executive for consideration and action.

A CAC Regional Executive may, at its discretion, present concerns of a national significance to the CAC National Executive at any time for discussion and possible action. It should refrain, however, from making direct presentation to the Commissioner or the Solicitor General before the CAC National Executive has discussed it.

When providing advice or raising concerns of a national significance, the CAC National Executive should make every attempt to canvass the opinions of local CAC members and their CAC Regional Executive.

Impartial Observers - A major contribution of Citizen Advisory Committeess is in acting as impartial observers of the day-to-day activities and operation of the CSC. This includes evaluating and monitoring the provision of adequate care, supervision and programs for offenders, in accordance with states values and approved regulations and procedures, such as, CSC's Mission and the
Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Corrections and Correctional Release Regulations. CACs also act as impartial observers during institutional crisis such as riots and hostage takings. This openness of the Correctional Service to outside scrutiny demonstrates the integrity and accountability of the Service. Examples of day-to-day observations would be:

  • Evaluating and monitoring the provision of medical care, supervision of segregation units or an evaluation of how programs are offered within institutions.
  • Shadowing a parole officer on his/her work day.
  • Observe an internal disciplinary hearing in an institution.
  • Visit institutional ranges or share a meal with offenders (if security permits).
  • Shadow the Warden during an institutional crisis.

The authority to deploy citizen observer during a crisis is outlined in a Commissioner's Directive (CD 600, paragraph 56). CAC members as observers during and after a critical incident are vital to inmates, the staff, offenders and to the credibility of the institution. Some important steps to follow during an incident are listed in Chapter 7 under the heading Rules to Follow During a Crisis.

Liaison - CACs act as a communication link (liaison) with the community. Via interactions with staff and offenders, CACs can inform their fellow citizens about what is "going on" within the Correctional Service. This type of ongoing communication can be useful in discussing and clarifying public misconceptions about the operations of the Service and profile CACs in the communities they serve. As informed citizens, CAC members have an important role to play in the public dialogue regarding corrections. As part of this role, committees may pursue the following activities:

  • Networking with other community agencies and partners interested in the correctional process.
  • Connect employers with offenders in need of employment.
  • Create a climate in which the government and public can exchange views and ideas in a positive way.
  • Speak publicly at universities, service clubs, town meetings and other public venues in accordance with their roles and mandate.
  • Write articles in local newspapers.
  • Present the local CAC's annual report to the community via a public meeting or a press release.


The Authority and Responsibilities of CACs

Right of Access, Right to Voice and Responsibilities Towards the Public of CAC Members

In recognition of the important responsibilities CAC members assume during their tenure on Citizen Advisory Committeess, they are given the opportunity to participate in the life of their operational unit in ways that are usually not afforded to other citizens. This participation is always complex, multifaceted and determined as much by the personalities and energies of the CAC members themselves and the specific circumstances found in the neighboring communities as by the type of the operational unit being served. For the most part, however, the special nature of the CAC member's participation in their operational unit can best be summarized and defined as the privileged right to access and the right to voice.

The Privileged Right to Access

The Corrections and Correctional Release Regulations (CCRR) provide the legal framework within which CACs do their work. In section 7(5), the CCRR states that:

The institutional head or a person responsible for a parole office shall ensure that the members of the Citizen Advisory Committee that is related to the penitentiary or parole office have reasonable access for the purpose of carrying out the functions of the Committee, to

  1. every part of the penitentiary or parole office;
  2. every staff member of the penitentiary or parole office;
  3. any offender in the penitentiary or under supervision of the parole office; and
  4. any hearing, conducted under this Part or under Part I of the Act, respecting an offender in the penitentiary or under the supervision of the parole office, if the offender consents to the access.

This generous access is given with the understanding that CACs will, above all else, strive to be impartial, objective and to use the information to develop recommendations that will better the work of their facility and CSC in general. The following are the various dimensions of our right to access.

Access to Offenders

As CAC members, we have a right to speak with, ask questions of and otherwise stay in touch with the offenders being housed by the facility to which the committee is attached. Committees have a right, if they choose, to meet with inmates in private and to keep the contents of their communication confidential as long as the content is related to concerns about the facility as a whole and as long as security is not affected. Committees should avoid dealing with issues specific to a given inmate unless the issue points to more general problems with the facility that the committee wants to address.

Access to Facilities

CAC members may visit any part of the operational unit. It is a good idea for members to tour the facility on a regular basis to gain a feel for the environment and to be seen by inmates and staff. CAC members should feel free to take the opportunity for informal chats with staff and inmates during these tours. Visits can take place at any time and members may give little advance notice of their visit. One committee, for example, wanted to see if complaints about food were warranted so they dropped in for lunch with the inmates. It is understood, however, that the managers of the facility can and will limit access to CAC members when security concerns are present and can accompany CAC members during their visit for that reason.

Access to CSC Hearings and Disciplinary Hearings for Offenders

The CAC, after having obtained the consent of the offender concerned, may delegate some of its members to attend hearings and internal disciplinary tribunals (e.g. segregation review boards, program and pay boards, visiting review boards, unit boards, etc.). The purpose would be to evaluate the fairness of such hearings and the role they play in the life of the facility involved. It is good practice for all members to attend such hearings at least once at some point in order to better understand the various facets of the workings of the facility. For the CSC operational unit, the presence of a CAC member at such functions helps ensure that its operations remain transparent and open.

Access to Employees

CAC members have the right to speak to any employee of CSC be they permanent employees, casuals or on contract. They may speak in the presence of the Head of the operational unit or in private. CACs usually have frequent access to the managers of their operational unit since these managers are usually invited to all formal CAC meetings to give reports. It requires a bit more effort to stay in touch with the front line staff. It is a good idea to invite representatives of unions to CAC meetings but it is also a good idea to meet with employees in their work place now and then to get a first hand account of the issues that affect their work lives.

Access to Partners and Affiliated Agencies

In the course of its work, the committee may choose at its discretion to meet with any community organization or group that it feels will help it understand better the issues and concerns felt by the community or some of its members. Groups such as the John Howard Society, various victims rights groups, the local police associations are examples of organizations that have as a central concern the structure and functioning of the Correctional Service of Canada. As such, the committee should try and make time to meet with them to discuss their positions on the various issues related to the Correctional Service of Canada.

Right and Responsibility to Voice

Article 7 (4) of the CCRR mentioned above defines the CACs' responsibility to give voice to their concerns with the following words:

A Citizen Advisory Committee

  1. may advise and institutional head or a person responsible for a parole office on any matter within the institutional head's or person's jurisdiction; and
  2. shall make itself available for discussions and consultations with the public, offenders, staff and service managers.

As the CAC system has evolved, we have sought to define more clearly during a series of national conferences the practices by which we may carry out our responsibility to communicate our observations and concerns and recommendations. The following summarized these discussions.

Right and Responsibility to Voice Within the Operational unit

CAC members have the right to make recommendations on any aspect of CSC operations and must expect a response to these recommendations from the managers of their facility. It is good practice to put recommendations in writing and to record the response to these recommendations carefully in the minutes of CAC meetings. CAC members should remember that their minutes are accessible to the public and the press via the Access to Information Act. If a crisis should occur in a facility, the community and the press will often want to know about the committee's activities and its recommendations as will any review board.

Right to Voice Within the Regional and National Management Structure

CACs have the right to express views and make recommendations on all aspects of operations and policy within the CSC at the regional and national level. Usually, these recommendations are expressed on behalf of individual CACs through their CAC regional and national executives. Committees can, however, make their comments and recommendations directly to regional and national managers as long as they stipulate that it is coming from their individual committee.

li Right and Responsibility of Voice in the Community Including through Press

CACs have the right and responsibility to make their observations, views and recommendations known to the community and to the press. Typically, CACs will communicate to their communities and local press via annual reports but may choose to meet the press or community members to discuss special issues or to discuss serious problems or incidents in the facility.

It is the individual CAC's responsibility to make sure that any facts presented in their communications to the public are accurate. For this reason, CACs usually give a draft of their communication to the Head of Operational Unit before presenting it to the community. The role of the Head of each Operational Unit is to verify that the facts are accurate. Once the facts are verified, the committee is then free to express those opinions and recommendations that it sees fit. (See section on community reports).

Finally, communications to the community should be reviewed and approved by the entire committee. If individual committee members wish to express a dissenting view after the release of an annual report, he/she should make it clear that they are speaking on their own behalf.

What Committees Cannot See or Cannot Do

Access to Files

CAC members may have access to the files of offenders if the offender concerned as provided his/her written consent. As well, CAC members may ask employees of the service to review files to collect information that may have some importance in addressing more systemic issues. Examples of this would be knowing how often the inmate has seen his parole officer or when he was offered various programs. CAC members should not ask for information that relates to how well the inmate is doing in these programs or the details of the various evaluations carried out with him or her since they normally should not become too involved in individual cases.

Commenting on the Performance of Individuals

CACs must refrain from evaluating the performance of individual staff members or commenting on the behaviors of specific inmates. The committee's job is to concern itself with the facility in general and to improve its functioning. It must not concern itself with personnel and disciplinary matters.

Misusing Information

CAC members cannot use information gained from their work in the committee for personal gain. This would include communicating information to contractors wishing to work for CSC or talking to publishers or authors regarding the personal life of well-known inmates. CAC members are required to acknowledge in writing that they understand their obligations and requirements consistent with the Privacy Act and that they understand that breach of privacy is grounds for removal of the member from their position of trust and may attract other legal consequences.


CAC members are given extraordinary access to CSC facilities, staff and offenders. In return, it is their responsibility to ensure that the information they collect is used appropriately and for the betterment of the Correctional Service of Canada.


The Parole CAC and the Institutional CAC

Parole Office CACs versus Institutional CACs

The first CACs were created to serve within prison institutions. It is only a bit later that they were attached to parole offices. Though the mandate for both institutional and parole based CACs is the same, there are inevitably important differences in how each will function. The following are commonalties and differences affecting these committees.

Points in Common:

  • CACs, either affiliated to institutions or to parole offices, contribute, by exercising their roles (advisors, impartial observers and liaising with community), to the quality of the correctional process and to the protection of society.
  • The committees in both parole offices and institutions come together to provide impartial advice to the CSC. Their impartiality is key to their credibility. To guard this impartiality, they must meet with all parties most concerned with the correctional process (including those that may be critical of CSC such as victim groups or police associations) and communicate both successes and challenges for the system.
  • Committees must insure their health as a group. For that reason, a portion of each meeting should be put aside to discuss committee affairs and deal with internal issues. Typically, this portion of the meeting is used to plan special events such as community outreach or inmate fora. Some committees will choose to meet in camera for this activity while others prefer management's presence. This is a choice that is up to the committee.
  • The CACs were created to be advisory. Therefore committees must record what advice they give in their minutes and record the response that management offers to that advice. Committees do not need to give formal advice at each meeting but a committee that does not offer any formal advice throughout the year should be concerned that it may not be fulfilling one of its key responsibilities. Communicating advice informally is certainly part of each committee's practice. If it is never recorded or responded to officially in the minutes, then it is difficult for the community to evaluate the committee's activity.
  • All committees are responsible for communicating with the community. This should be a build in and regular part of the annual plan of activities. The "Annual Report to the Community" is a good example of an activity that accomplishes this goal.
  • Committees cannot be effective unless they have contact with staff, offenders and management. For institutional CACs this contact should happen at almost every meeting. For Parole Office CACs who need to meet with community agencies and groups, it should take place in some form during at least 50% of meetings.
  • Recognizing that protection of society is paramount for both CSC and CACs and that correctional process is a continuum from admission to a penitentiary to warrant expiry date, CACs roles and responsibilities will evolve throughout that continuum. Therefore the safe and timely reintegration of offenders will be at all times the cornerstone of the correctional business.

Distinguishing Points

Parole Office CACsInstitutional CACs
Principle FocusPrinciple Focus

Parole Office CACs principal focus is the re-entry of offenders into the community. This means that they must become familiar and comfortable with the various issues affecting the inmates return to the community.

They need to also concentrate on how the community supports and involves itself in the correctional process: access to programs and services, existence of volunteer network, work opportunities, involvement of other community-based organisations and CSC's openness to community input.

Institutional CACs are primarily interested in the reintegration process inside institutions. Important concerns include the relationship between staff and offenders, program integrity, and staff moral. The use of control measures and the frequency of measures such as segregation would also be important when evaluating how well the system respects Canadian law and the "Charter of Rights and Freedoms".