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50 Years of Human Rights Developments in Federal Corrections

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Celebrating 50 Years of Human Rights: Milestones in Federal Corrections

There are many significant human rights developments in the history of federal corrections concerning both employees of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) and offenders. The Human Rights Division of CSC considers the following milestones to be some of the most notable accomplishments in commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Parole Act and National Parole Board

The Parole Act came into force on February 15, 1959, allowing for the creation of the National Parole Board in the same year. For the first time in Canadian history, parole decisions were determined and administered by an independent, national decision-making body.


Canadian Bill of Rights

The Canadian Bill of Rights, enacted by the Parliament of Canada on August 10, 1960, affirms the dignity and worth of the human person and recognizes and declares fundamental rights and freedoms. Although eclipsed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 1982, the Bill of Rights continues to apply to acts of the federal government.


Aboriginal Elders in Federal Penitentiaries

This year marks the first time an Aboriginal Elder entered a federal penitentiary to conduct a traditional ceremony. Just over twenty years later, two Healing Lodges for Aboriginal offenders were established with an emphasis on traditional spirituality and healing.


Abolition of Corporal Punishment

Corporal punishment such as whipping and strapping was invoked both as a sentence of the courts and as a penalty for institutional offences until 1972


Office of the Correctional Investigator

The Office of the Correctional Investigator was created in 1973. Its primary function is to investigate the complaints of offenders and seek resolution. In 1992, the role of this prison ombudsman was formalized in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.


Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMRs)

The SMRs are the most significant and comprehensive international instrument recognizing the rights of legally-incarcerated persons. In subscribing to the SMRs in 1975, Canada committed itself to ensuring full compliance and domestic implementation.


Abolition of the Death Penalty

On July 26, 1976, Canada passed a law abolishing the death penalty. The last execution in our history occurred in December 1962. All death sentences between these 14 years were commuted.


Independent Chairperson for Adjudicating Disciplinary Matters

The Independent Chairperson (ICP) system was instituted in federal corrections in response to the recommendations of the MacGuigan Report, a Parliamentary inquiry into the Penitentiary Service of Canada. Prior to the introduction of the ICP system, all disciplinary decisions against offenders were made by wardens and CSC employees. This new independent process helps ensure that disciplinary hearings and decisions are fair and equitable.


Women Correctional Officers in Male Institutions

Although women have always worked with female offenders at the Prison for Women, women first began working as correctional officers in federal institutions for male offenders in 1978. The first woman to hold the position of Warden in an all-male facility was appointed in 1980. As of August 1998, there were 13 women institutional heads in federal penitentiaries.


Martineau and the Duty to Act Fairly

Prior to the landmark case of Martineau v. Matsqui Institution Disciplinary Board, Canadian courts were reluctant to interfere with the decisions of correctional authorities. In its decision, the Supreme Court of Canada reversed this "hands off" approach and for the first time in law articulated that correctional authorities have a duty to act fairly when making decisions concerning the rights of offenders.


Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Proclaimed into force on April 17, 1982, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is one of the most significant developments in the protection of human rights and is recognized internationally as a model document. The Charter has had a profound impact in the protection of human rights of both offenders and employees of the CSC.


Corrections and Conditional Release Act

The Corrections and Conditions Release Act was proclaimed into force on November 1, 1992, replacing both the Penitentiary Act and the Parole Act. The CCRA is a progressive and comprehensive code reflecting years of human rights developments.


Regional Facilities for Women Offenders

The establishment of four regional facilities and an Aboriginal Healing Lodge for federally-sentenced women marks a significant change in philosophy for federal corrections in Canada. These new centres are designed to reflect and respond to the needs and realities of federally-sentenced women based on the principles of empowerment, meaningful and responsible choices, respect and dignity, supportive environment and shared responsibility. The new facilities began opening in the fall of 1995.