Guidelines 880 - 4
Diets of Conscience
Number : 880 - 4
In Effect : 2019-06-28
- Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 2
- Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA), sections 4 and 75
- Corrections and Conditional Release Regulations (CCRR), sections 100 and 101
To define a process by which diets based on freedom of conscience can be provided to inmates in the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) institutions
Applies to all staff and contractors involved in the provision of food services support to inmates
- Composition of the Diet of Conscience Request Decision Committee
- Requesting a Diet of Conscience
- Receipt of a Diet of Conscience Request
- Interim Diet
- Inclusion of Information in the Institutional Inmate Handbook
- Recommendation for Approval/Denial
- Providing the Approved Diet
- Diet of Conscience Review Request
- Annex A - Cross-References and Definitions
- Annex B - Inmate Process for Requesting a Diet of Conscience
- Annex C - Considerations for Diets of Conscience
- Institutional Heads will ensure diets of conscience requests, requisitions and reviews are processed in their facility by:
- developing and implementing an institutional Standing Order to deal with submissions for a diet of conscience
- ensuring diet of conscience information is available to inmates in the Inmate Handbook and through staff
- establishing a standing Diet of Conscience Request Decision Committee.
- The institutional Food Services will:
- be responsible for providing meal services to inmates, including those on diets of conscience, to prevent nutrition-related diseases and promote adequate nutritional intake
- provide safe and nutritious food to inmates following approved diets of conscience
- accommodate the diet of conscience on receipt of an approved Diet of Conscience Requisition Form (CSC/SCC 1492)
- cease to provide a diet of conscience only on receipt of written authorization by the Institutional Head or delegate to do so
- enter the diet of conscience in the Food Services Information Management System (FSIMS), and update the information when there is a change to the diet order.
- The Diet of Conscience Request Decision Committee will:
- invite the inmate to present their diet of conscience request in person
- individually assess, on a case-by-case basis, the request according to the eligibility considerations indicated in Annex C
- invite ad hoc members to join the Committee based on the nature of the request and the expertise required
- ensure the inmate is aware of any potential health risks associated with the requested diet, if applicable
- verify the inmate’s claim of their firmly held beliefs, which may include consulting with persons that the inmate identifies as having knowledge of their practices
- ensure that the diet approval process considers the balance of probabilities that the request is sincere and that it is in line with the considerations outlined in Annex C, in the Committee’s best judgement
- consult with the Regional Dietitian regarding the nutritional adequacy of any diet of conscience that falls outside the established diet/menu options
- record the diet of conscience in the Offender Management System.
- The inmate is expected to demonstrate the basis of a request for a diet of conscience by following the instructions outlined in Annex B and provide any other supporting information to show their sincerity regarding their belief as indicated in Annex C.
Composition of the Diet of Conscience Request Decision Committee
- The Diet of Conscience Request Decision Committee should be chaired by the Institutional Head or delegate. The assessment and decision-making process for diets of conscience should be completed by a minimum of three persons including the Institutional Head or delegate, and at least two other persons who have been appointed by the standing committee. Ad hoc members who have knowledge of the inmate’s needs, activities and/or belief system can be added to the Committee. Ad hoc members could include, but are not limited to, Psychologists, health care staff, institutional Chaplains, Elders, correctional staff, programs staff, Parole Officer, work supervisors and ethnocultural services.
- While the Food Services Manager and/or Food Services personnel should not be involved in the decision-making process, the Committee should request diet-related information about the impacts of providing the requested diet in terms of both availability and cost.
Requesting a Diet of Conscience
- The inmate making the request is responsible for demonstrating their moral conviction of conscience and why the regular diet fails to meet their needs and is responsible for:
- presenting an Inmate’s Request (CSC/SCC 1122) for a diet of conscience consistent with personal beliefs and convictions to the Institutional Head or delegate
- providing specific details about which foods they feel morally bound to either avoid or consume, as well as information to substantiate the claim that these beliefs are deeply held and consistently practiced as outlined in Annex B and Annex C.
Receipt of a Diet of Conscience Request
- When a request is received by the Institutional Head or delegate, receipt should be acknowledged within 72 hours. A Diet of Conscience Request Decision Committee meeting and determination is to be completed within 15 working days of the receipt of the request.
- The Institutional Head or delegate may authorize an interim diet for an inmate via email to the Food Services Manager when the diet of conscience request is received. The interim diet is a vegetarian or vegan diet on intake or transfer of an inmate while diet requests are processed. The interim diet will be provided for up to 14 days. Food Services are to be informed if the interim diet needs to be extended.
Inclusion of Information in the Institutional Inmate Handbook
- Information on how to submit a diet of conscience accommodation request will be included in the Institutional Inmate Handbook. Staff and other support persons (e.g. Chaplains, Elders, Nurses, etc.) will be informed about accessing these Guidelines to provide further information (e.g. providing inmates with a paper copy of Annex B).
- Inmate requests for a diet of conscience accommodation will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
- The assessment process will focus on the inmate's ability to demonstrate their firm convictions and provide a link between what they can or cannot eat in the regular institutional meals and their moral beliefs. Those responsible for assessing requests should take into account the eligibility considerations outlined in Annex C and will determine how to meet the needs associated with the inmate’s convictions.
Recommendation for Approval/Denial
- The Diet of Conscience Request Decision Committee will make recommendations for approval or denial to the Institutional Head or delegate using the Inmate’s Request (CSC/SCC 1122) submitted by the inmate. A signed Inmate’s Request (CSC/SCC 1122) should be sent to the inmate providing the decision.
- If the diet of conscience is approved, the Institutional Head or delegate will submit a Diet of Conscience Requisition Form (CSC/SCC 1492) to Food Services and distribute it as per the form distribution list. Questions or concerns should be directed to the Institutional Head or delegate.
Providing the Approved Diet
- The menu and food provided must be comparable in quality, quantity and variety to the regular institutional meal plan. As with all inmate meals, Food Services will provide the approved alternative menu based on Canada’s Food Guides.
Diet of Conscience Review Request
- Exercising one's freedom of conscience and adhering to certain practices is a personal choice. The responsibility for commitment to a diet of conscience rests with the inmate. Once approval has been granted, the inmate is expected to adhere to the diet in order to maintain their right to receive it.
- Any CSC staff can submit a Diet of Conscience Review Request (CSC/SCC 1492-01) to the Institutional Head or delegate if they have concerns about an inmate’s observance of their diet of conscience.
- When a Diet of Conscience Review Request (CSC/SCC 1492-01) is submitted, the Institutional Head or delegate will inform the inmate in writing of the diet review request. Through their assessment and consultation (meeting with the inmate, gathering information from other staff and contractors, etc.), a decision to maintain or suspend the diet of conscience will be recorded on the Diet of Conscience Review Request (CSC/SCC 1492-01) and distributed as per the form distribution list. The Offender Management System will be updated as per the decision rendered.
- In the event of complex circumstances, a meeting of the Diet of Conscience Request Decision Committee may need to be convened for further review and consultation.
- A decision is to be made within three working days of receiving the review request. Staff submitting the diet review request and the inmate will be informed if more time is required to complete the review. The diet is to be maintained unless there is a decision for suspension made through the review process.
- Food Services will not suspend an authorized diet of conscience without the Institutional Head or delegate’s written authorization to do so.
Assistant Commissioner, Corporate Services/
Chief Financial Officer
Original signed by:
Annex A - Cross-references and Definitions
GL 750-1 – Inmate Religious Accommodations
CD 880 – Food Services
GL 880-1 – Food Services Program
GL 880-2 – Nutrition Management Program
GL 880-3 – Religious Diets
Canada’s Food Guide
Canada’s Food Guide – First Nations, Inuit and Métis
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, article 18
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 18
Contractor: a person providing services of a prescribed class to CSC under a contract.
Diet of conscience: a diet that an individual chooses to eat based on their strongly held moral beliefs. For example, many individuals in today’s society are vegetarians because they believe that the consumption of animal meat is morally wrong. However, diets of conscience are not limited to vegetarian diets and need to be assessed for accommodation on an individual basis.
A diet of conscience is not, therefore, a diet based on the whims or preferences of an inmate. The diet of conscience process will also apply to inmates who request a religious-based diet that is not supported by the inmate’s identified faith community. In these cases, the inmate will also be required to demonstrate the sincerity of their firmly held convictions.
Freedom of conscience: in Canada, freedom of conscience is a protected right that helps to ensure that every individual can be free to hold and practice whatever beliefs their conscience dictates, within certain limits. These beliefs are based on the individual’s strongly held moral vision – their idea of what is right and what is wrong. It may not necessarily be based on any particular religious principles. Each person’s right to exercise their own freedom of conscience is limited in part by the idea that the expression of one person’s beliefs cannot impair someone else’s right to hold and express their own beliefs and practices. It is also limited, in the CSC context, by legislation like the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which imposes reasonable limits on this right if the limit is necessary to protect the safety of persons or the security of the penitentiary.
Annex B - Inmate Process for Requesting a Diet of Conscience
- As an inmate, you are responsible for showing your sincerity regarding your belief, history of practice, and depth of conviction for the diet of conscience you are requesting. You must:
- demonstrate the basis of the diet of conscience request by answering the questions outlined at the end of this Annex, on the Inmate’s Request form (CSC/SCC 1122), and provide any other supporting information for the request (attach further written information to the request form). You may request help from a CSC employee (e.g. Parole Officer) in understanding and completing the request
- articulate how the regular diet conflicts with your conscience
- understand a diet of conscience is not a diet of preference, but is a diet to support beliefs and values as outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
- observe eating habits that are consistent with this diet of conscience request (e.g. consuming canteen foods that are consistent with the diet requested)
- communicate with the Institutional Head (or their delegate) if you choose to discontinue the requested diet of conscience (e.g. medical needs)
- understand this request authorizes an interdisciplinary sharing of information and that the interdisciplinary committee (Diet of Conscience Request Decision Committee) will make a recommendation of approval or denial to the Institutional Head
- understand/acknowledge that meals prepared by Food Services will be:
- foods that are accessible in the local community for the diet requested
- nutritionally balanced and varied in keeping with Canada’s Food Guides
- comparable to the regular institutional menus in terms of quality, quantity and nutritional value.
- You understand that any diet of conscience you are receiving could be suspended by the Institutional Head or delegate upon the completion of their review after they have received a Diet of Conscience Review Request (CSC/SCC 1492-01). If the diet is suspended, it is your responsibility to communicate with the Institutional Head or delegate regarding reinstatement of a diet of conscience.
- Your request for a diet of conscience will be reviewed following these Guidelines and you will have an opportunity to present your request in person. You must be able to describe why the requested diet is important to you. Using the Inmate’s Request form (CSC/SCC 1122), please answer the following questions (use additional paper if required):
- Describe your beliefs of conscience with respect to your requested diet. These could include, but are not limited to: your belief that the consumption of a specific food is morally wrong or otherwise forbidden; your belief that the avoidance of consumption of specific foods is integral to your convictions; your belief that observing a specific diet is a necessary part of exercising your beliefs.
- Describe how the needs associated with your beliefs of conscience are not being met by the available menu options.
- Describe any evidence you have to prove the sincerity of your beliefs of conscience and how the needs associated with your beliefs are not being met by the available menu options.
- Sign your request and submit it to the Institutional Head or delegate. When submitting your request, you may ask for a vegetarian or vegan interim diet that will not compromise your beliefs while the request is being processed.
- You will be contacted within the next 15 days and given the opportunity to meet with the Diet of Conscience Request Decision Committee to present your request.
- The Diet of Conscience Request Decision Committee will review your request and make a decision to support or deny it. A decision will be provided to you in writing. All decisions will be entered into the Offender Management System.
Annex C - Considerations for Diets of Conscience
- Those responsible for assessing requests for a diet of conscience should take into account the sincerity of the conscientiously held belief. The conviction should be part of a system of beliefs that is consistent with the reasons for requesting the accommodation. As sincerity and good faith may be difficult to convey in writing, the inmate should be provided an opportunity to do so in person. Some inmates may require assistance to articulate these convictions.
- Inmates are responsible for presenting valid and persuasive evidence of this belief such as (but not limited to):
- History of Practice – The inmate may have based their dietary practice on a given set of beliefs prior to incarceration. If such is the case, this history should be considered an endorsement of their request. The inmate’s family and friends, volunteers, etc. may be a resource to provide additional information. Past conduct, however, should not be used conclusively as proof that an inmate’s belief is not sincere. As beliefs and observances can change over time, the absence of any prior history of the diet of conscience on the inmate’s side does not, on its own, constitute grounds for withholding approval of the request.
- Extensive Time, Effort and Thought Given to the Diet Requirements – The inmate must be able to articulate the process involved in deciding that it is important to follow the requested diet. They should be given the opportunity to explain, in person, the decision-making process to arrive at the diet request and the importance to them following it. This may include research in the library, contact with others following the practice, etc.
- Consistent Refusal to Violate Beliefs – People with strong moral convictions about their diet will not consistently disregard their beliefs when a particularly popular or attractive dish not contained in their regime is served.
- Persuasive Arguments – The desire to receive “special treatment”, to belong to a special group, or to test “the system” are not valid motivations for invoking the exercise of one's freedom of conscience. While these may not be stated openly, they may underlie some requests for diets of conscience. The arguments should demonstrate that the inmate knows why they are requesting a particular diet. For example, the reasons for choosing a type of vegetarian diet over another should be demonstrated. Attention should be paid to both the process of deciding to follow the diet and the actual conviction of the importance/necessity to adhere to it. Overnight “insights” into diet accommodation needs are not adequate for approval. The Diet of Conscience Request Decision Committee may wish to note and consider any “group” or copied requests or trends that may be signs of unit bullying or other undesirable activities. Much of the argument may be verbal, and written/scripted explanations alone are ordinarily inadequate. The Committee should be free to engage in asking questions for clarification or information within professional parameters.
- The preferences and cultural practices of an inmate’s family and friends will not be considered by the Committee in deciding whether to approve a diet of conscience. In addition, the food preferences and food dislikes of an individual inmate will not be considered.
- Finally, the inmate must demonstrate how and why the regular meal plan is a burden on their sincere belief. This is where the inmate must draw the link between their belief and what they can or cannot eat in the regular institutional meal plan.
- A person’s conscience and the expression of their sincerely held belief are understood over time and cannot be judged in a moment. A good principle in responding to diet of conscience requests is that if the request is reasonable, convincing and can be accommodated, then CSC should approve the diet of conscience request unless or until the inmate demonstrates an inability to consistently maintain/follow their diet of conscience accommodation.
- As part of the assessment and approval process, members of the Diet of Conscience Request Decision Committee may consider the following:
- How will the requested diet affect the inmate’s health and well-being?
- How will the requested diet impact the inmate’s personal safety? (Will there be risks? What are the risks?)
- Is the requested diet available in the local community? (If not, what are available options that fall within the request?)
- How will the requested diet impact the operational needs of the institution (e.g. self-preparation in a central food services institution)? If health, safety, or the good order of the institution is unduly compromised, the request may have to be adjusted or denied.
- Some clarification may be needed around: how the inmate heard about the diet; where the diet came from; how long the inmate has been thinking about the diet; what the inmate’s thoughts are on keeping the diet; and the inmate’s thoughts on the nutritional value of the diet. The Committee is encouraged to ask questions to better understand the importance of the request to the inmate.
- If the Committee is inclined to recommend to deny the diet of conscience accommodation, prior to rendering the recommendation, the Committee should give an additional opportunity to the inmate to address any concerns either in writing or in person. If additional information is provided, it should be considered in rendering the recommendation. If the decision is a recommendation to deny, the Committee must clearly articulate both the impact on the institution (e.g. operational impacts, security) and the impact on the inmate (e.g. health, personal safety, security) using the Inmate’s Request (CSC/SCC 1122).
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