Interim Response to the Office of the Correctional Investigator's Report on Information-sharing and Disclosure Practices Following a Death in Custody

The Office of the Correctional Investigator (OCI) is the ombudsman for federally sentenced offenders. As per their mission statement, the OCI serves Canadians and contributes to safe, lawful and humane corrections through independent oversight of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) by providing accessible, impartial and timely investigation of individual and systemic concerns.

The OCI recently shared its investigation into CSC's information-sharing and disclosure practices following a death in custody. The report contains recommendations to improve organizational and institutional policies and practices.

CSC is reviewing the OCI's findings and developing a comprehensive response to outline the actions it will take on its recommendations. This response will address the issues raised in the report as well as the specific recommendations made by the OCI.

While CSC continues this work, it is important to note that we have already made improvements in this area that are leading to immediate and long-term positive results; however, we still have some work to accomplish and we are committed to improving services for Canadians.

Throughout the report, the OCI recommends that information be shared routinely, proactively and in its entirety with families of the deceased. Disclosing information surrounding the death of a family member in this way presents privacy challenges for all parties involved, including family membersFootnote 1; however, CSC proactively offers the next of kin of deceased inmates the opportunity to receive information under section 8(2)(m) of the Privacy ActFootnote 2. Specifically, following a death in custody, a letter is sent to the next of kin expressing condolences and explaining that a Board of Investigation (BOI) is being convened. At that time, the next of kin is also provided with a request form and other information they need should they decide to request the BOI report.

It is also important to note that CSC discloses information to family members on a case-by-case basis, given that the release of any information is dependent on the circumstances surrounding the death (for example, releasing information in some instances may compromise an ongoing investigation). Nonetheless, we will review how the available information is shared with the next of kin. Specifically, we will identify which CSC staff will act as points of contact for family members in these circumstances. These points of contact will share information with the next of kin from notification through to the completion of the investigative process. In cases where a report cannot be immediately shared, families will be provided with any other information that is readily available and can be disclosed.

CSC also agrees that more can be done to facilitate the disclosure process, and ensure that community contacts and services that may be helpful to grieving families are readily available. As such, we will take measures to ensure there is an appropriate level of engagement between family members and CSC staff, service providers and others who are well-equipped to provide assistance and support when sharing information with next of kin. This approach will also ensure that the way in which information is provided to family members is appropriate and considers their expressed preferences, health and well-being. Furthermore, we are developing a guide that will assist families in understanding CSC policy, responsibilities and investigative processes following a death in custody.

Finally, CSC is in agreement with providing training to identified staff to assist them in communicating with families following the death of an inmate. We will ensure this training is routinely provided to staff members involved in communicating with families following the death of an inmate.

CSC takes the issue of deaths in custody very seriously. The loss of life is a tragedy, and we are taking concrete steps to address the areas where changes need to be made. We recognize that the death of a family member is an extremely challenging time, often made more difficult when he or she has been incarcerated away from his or her home community. We want to ensure that we are communicating with the families of offenders following a death in a clear, transparent and empathetic way, and we welcome the OCI’s recommendations to help us improve these practices.

We are also committed to releasing our full response to the OCI's report in a timely and accessible manner, and moving forward together on this important issue.

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