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The Office of the Correctional Investigator plays a very important role in protecting the human rights of offenders. The Office was established in 1973 under the Inquiries Act as a direct result of a commission of inquiry's recommendation for an external grievance body to independently review offender complaints. Inger Hansen, then a lawyer with the Public Service of Canada, was appointed as the first Correctional Investigator on June 1, 1973. In 1992, as part of legislative reforms to the correctional system, the Office was formalized in permanent legislation in Part III of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA).
As outlined in Section 167 of the CCRA, the primary function of the Correctional Investigator is to conduct investigations into the problems of offenders related to the operations and activities of the Correctional Service Canada (CSC) and promote resolution. Inquiries can be initiated through direct complaints by offenders, on request of the Solicitor General or at the Office's own initiative. During the course of their duties, investigators have full discretion to determine when and how the inquiry will be conducted and have unfettered access to the institutions. They can hold hearings, interview offenders, meet with CSC staff and examine documents. The number of complaints has dramatically increased since its first year of operation: in 1973-4, 782 complaints were made whereas 6366 complaints were filed in the 1996-7 term. Areas of systemic offender complaint include conditions of the institution, segregation, transfers, double-bunking, availability of and access to programming and health care.
The Office of the Correctional Investigator also has a central role in reviewing policies and procedures of the CSC associated with the areas of offender complaints and ensuring that systemic issues are identified and appropriately addressed. Investigators also make scheduled and unannounced visits to penitentiaries. It is important to note that the Office complements, but does not replace, the Service's internal offender complaint and grievance procedures or the role of the courts as avenues of redress.
Consistent with the traditional role of an ombudsman, the Office's recommendations are not legally binding on the Service. Instead, the ability of the Office of the Correctional Investigator to effect change comes from its capacity to thoroughly and objectively investigate a wide spectrum of administrative actions and its position as an independent oversight agency. Investigators are neither agents of the CSC nor advocates of every individual complainant; their role is to inquire into complaints, review CSC's activities and take appropriate action. The Office is required to present its findings and recommendations to the CSC and if, in its opinion, the Service does not respond adequately, it can make a report directly to the Solicitor General. As required by legislation, the Investigator must publish an annual report and may also submit special reports throughout the year to the Solicitor General who is in turn required by law to present each report to Parliament.
Since its enactment, the presence of the Correctional
Investigator has been an important part of safeguarding the rights of offenders. Its
report concerning events at the Prison for Women in 1994, for example, was instrumental in
initiating a Commission of Inquiry into the facility. In the final report of the
Commission, Justice Louise Arbour commented: "the Office of the Correctional
Investigator is in a unique
position both to assist the resolution of individual problems,
and to comment publicly on the shortcomings of the system.
Of all the internal and external mechanisms or agencies
designed to make CSC open and accountable,
the Office of the Correctional Investigator is by far
the most efficient and the best equipped to discharge that function."