Correctional Service Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Common menu bar links

Women Offender Programs and Issues

Warning This Web page has been archived on the Web.

The Cross Gender Monitoring Project
3rd and Final Annual Report


The Honourable Louise Arbour, then a Justice with the Ontario Court of Appeal, was commissioned by the Solicitor General of Canada to investigate and report on incidents that occurred at the Prison for Women on April 22, 1994. The Prison for Women was the only federal penitentiary for women sentenced to two years or more in Canada. The Commission of Inquiry investigated, among other actions, the deployment and conduct of an all-male institutional emergency response team (IERT) to the Prison for Women. Videos of cell extractions by this team made national news at the time, and led to considerable public debate and public concern as to these incidents.

In 1996, the Arbour Commission of Inquiry submitted its report to the Solicitor General of Canada in which the Commissioner made a series of recommendations, ranging from preventing the repetition of what occurred at the Prison for Women, to amending a wide range of practices including the grievance system, accountability, selection and training of staff, and the use of segregation, among others. For Commissioner Arbour, the deployment of an all male emergency response team was at the heart of the Inquiry and raised the broader issue of what role, if any, male correctional staff should have in women's prisons.1 She noted that there were already a wide variety of arrangements for male staff working in women's prisons, including working as correctional officers in some provincial facilities, and in the United States where male correctional officers constitute as high as 81% of all staff.2

Cross-gender staffing had been an issue of debate for quite some time. Until 1989, male staff were restricted from supervising women inmates in their living areas within the walls of Kingston Prison for Women. As a consequence of a successful complaint by a male correctional officer to this female-only staffing policy (King v. Canada Correctional Service, unreported, July 5, 1989 [Public Service Commission Appeal Board]), Correctional Service Canada (CSC) altered its policy and allowed male correctional workers to apply for, and staff front-line positions in most institutions housing federal female inmates.

CSC policies were further refined in the wake of a Supreme Court of Canada decision (Conway v. Canada, [1993] 2 S.C.R. 872), in which a male inmate claimed invasion of privacy rights with regard to the CSC policy of allowing female Correctional Officers in men's institutions. The Court upheld the employment of women as front-line workers in male prisons, but at the same time, the Court left the door open for an argument under the equality provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms concerning male front-line workers in female institutions. Special selection processes and training programs were instituted by CSC in 1993, along with policy directives to address the concerns relating to privacy and safety expressed by women inmates and community groups. Around the same time five (5) new regional facilities were built and staffed, and the position of Primary Worker was created, and is exclusive to FSW facilities.

The policy of allowing male correctional staff to supervise female inmates, particularly in their living quarters, was an ongoing concern and a number of concerned parties disagreed with it. The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS), the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), as well as some Federally Sentenced Women (FSW) have expressed grave concerns. The Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women3 also recommended against hiring men as the Primary Workers in the new regional facilities. Concerns centred on the potential for sexual harassment and abuse of women prisoners by male correctional staff, as well as invasion of privacy of women engaged in intimate activities, such as bathing or using the toilet. It was also generally felt that in light of the very high number of women inmates who were sexually abused as girls and as adults, often by males in authority, an opportunity to heal in an all female environment in the living units was important, if not essential, before being required to deal with men in such an intimate situation.

Despite reservations about male Primary Workers in female institutions, CSC implemented an approach which centred on the ability of sound policies, training and adaptations to the physical environment to decrease the potential for abuse and increase the safety and security of inmates. This position was grounded in the following: legal decisions that preclude a 'female-only' approach to staffing institutions which house female inmates; a review of training to ensure that staff are sensitive to women's issues; the view that institutions should reflect the make-up of the community, including the presence of male staff; and, that positive male role models can assist women who have, historically, experienced abuse by males.

The Inquiry's report noted that CSC's decision to allow males to work as front line correctional officers included an intention to screen and select staff based on the following criteria: "a demonstrated sensitivity to and awareness of women's issues; professionalism, and an ability to work in a woman-centred environment."4 In discussing the concerns and merits involved with employing male front line workers, Madame Justice Arbour noted that privacy concerns could be addressed through the design of the new prisons, as well as protocols. Examples of the content of protocols included always pairing male front line workers with female front-line workers when patrolling living units, restricting males from patrolling living units at night altogether; and, requiring male officers to announce their presence before entering a living unit or a cell.5 She further noted that in her view,

"the key to the success of gender integration in the living units of correctional facilities for women lies in staff selection and training, explicit working protocols and adequate monitoring. Based on the material presented to me, I am satisfied with the selection and training process for the new facilities. I am concerned, however, that the same process not be dismantled after the hiring of the first group of staff for the new facilities."6

Madame Justice Arbour went on to state that she viewed it as equally essential that the sexual harassment policy of CSC be extended to apply to inmates.7

The Commissioner recommended the appointment of an independent Monitor to review and report on the implementation of cross gender staffing at CSC's women's facilities. It was further recommended that the Monitor issue public Annual Reports including descriptions of any corrective measures taken by CSC to redress the problem(s) identified. Finally, it was recommended that the Deputy Commissioner for Women report to the Commissioner of Corrections after three (3) years on the desirability of continuing cross gender staffing.

In January 1998, Thérèse Lajeunesse & Associates Ltd. began its work in the independent Cross-Gender Monitoring Project. The first phase consisted of a four month review of the systemic issues involved in cross gender staffing, through a cross section of site visits, and interviews with organizations and individuals interested in these issues. The First Annual Report (1998) made two recommendations; one regarding inadequacies in data collection on complaints and grievances by inmates, and a second recommending the immediate development and implementation of a sexual harassment policy for inmates.

Through our discussions, the Monitoring Team heard clearly that we should ensure our review went beyond male front-line workers to address the broader challenge of looking at systemic protections for Federally Sentenced Women (FSW) with respect to sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and sexual assault by any non-inmate. The Team also concluded that we would also monitor the same complaints emanating about incidents with same sex staff.

In the Second Annual Report for the year 1999, we expanded on the themes identified in the earlier report and reported on the findings of interviews with 258 respondents including 127 with Federally Sentenced Women and 131 with CSC staff members and other community representatives. Based on findings from interviews conducted in 1998-1999, other sources such as CSC documents, and discussions with some of the National Stakeholders we recommended the following interim recommendations:

Recommendation #1: In light of the views of the substantial majority of Federally Sentenced Women favouring the employment of screened and trained male Primary Workers in specific roles, we are recommending that males remain a part of the staff of federal women's facilities, if and only if all of the following are implemented:

  • that recruitment, screening and training policies and procedures remain fully in place, and the amount and content of training policies and procedures ensure appropriate knowledge and attitudes on the part of staff working in FSW's facilities;
  • that effective policies specifying appropriate roles for male Primary Workers are in place and enforced;
  • that the needs of the significant minority of Federally Sentenced Women who feel very strongly that they are not willing or able to deal with males in the living quarters at night are accommodated and respected in policy and practice (see Recommendation #3);
  • As in England, that male Primary Workers not exceed 20% of the Primary Worker staff complement in light of policy requirements, special needs of some Federally Sentenced Women, and ensuring that an unfair burden does not fall on female PWs.

Recommendation #2: Given the overall concern that Federally Sentenced Women should be protected from sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and sexual assault, it is important to screen and train other people who work in the institutions housing Federally Sentenced Women. Accordingly:

  • All staff persons working in a FSW facility, including temporary arrangements such as the maximum security units in male facilities, as well as regional treatment centres and community correctional centres, should complete a screening and training process to ensure appropriate attitudes, knowledge and experiences;
  • In regions where respondents reported that the usual requirements for tendering contracts prevent the interviewing of those applying, it should be ensured that interviews are not only possible but also mandatory. As some programming is being offered in federal institutions for women under this tendering process, it is important that interested persons should be screened for appropriate attitudes, knowledge and experiences, and this must include the opportunity for institutional authorities to interview applicants in person.

Recommendation #3. A significant minority of women, many of whom were positive about having screened and trained male Primary Workers on staff, are not comfortable with having men in their living units, especially at night. Consequently:

  • Male Primary Workers should be restricted from night shifts with the exception of static security where they would be assigned to general duties at night with no inmate contact. However, if there were to be an emergency male PWs could intervene with other female PWs subject to the restrictions noted in the suggested policy content of cross gender staffing guidelines.

Recommendation #4. There has been steady erosion during the last year of women-centred training for staff in federal facilities housing women. Pressures to reduce the costs associated with recruitment and training have been reported.

  • As the effectiveness of the male Primary Worker staffing approach is inextricably linked to the initial screening and training initiatives, measures must be taken to ensure full funding is protected for these initiatives. Additionally, funds must be set aside to cover the costs of proper screening and training of all personnel working in these facilities, as discussed in recommendation #2.

Recommendation #5. When privacy curtains are down, staff should knock and then wait for a reply that the woman is ready for the curtain to be pulled aside. Unless, there is a reason to believe an emergency is occurring, this respect for a woman's privacy and dignity must be paramount.

The focus in Phase 3 has been on obtaining more in-depth information about cross-gender staffing through interviews during site visits and with key national representatives in Ottawa. Essentially the same process was followed as that utilized in Phase 2.

1 Arbour, Louise. (1996) Commission of Inquiry Into Certain Events at the Prison for Women in Kingston. Ottawa: Public Works and Government Services Canada. p. 204.
2 Ibid. p.209.
3 The Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women. (1990) Creating Choices: Report of the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women. Ottawa: Correctional Service Canada.
4 Op cit. p. 214.
5 Ibid. p. 215.
6 Ibid. p. 216
7 Ibid. p. 217