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Women Correctional Officers in Male Institutions

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As the United Nations has commented, "Women's Rights are Human Rights". Indeed, gender equity is an essential part of most contemporary struggles for human rights. A crucial component of this work is, of course, ensuring that women are no longer excluded from particular employment opportunities.

Since the inception of the Prison for Women in 1934, women have always worked in the penitentiary service. However, women were excluded as correctional officers from working in institutions for male offenders until 1978. The Canadian Penitentiary Service (as Correctional Service of Canada then was) had an exemption from the Public Service Employment Act and exclusively hired men for male institutions and women for female facilities. Prompted by complaints from candidates being denied job opportunities, the Public Service Commission announced its intention to review the justification for the restriction. The Commission's recommendation was that the restriction be removed and positions opened to both women and men, a direction that was supported by recommendations of a Parliamentary Sub-Committee in 1977 and the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

The decision to gradually open the field to women in all-male correctional institutions was met with some internal resistance within the Service. Concerns ranging from sex-based stereotyping to the privacy of offenders were met with by studies to identify and address potential problems. A pilot project to determine the best way to integrate women into positions historically held exclusively by men was initiated in the Prairie Region. For the first time in Canadian history, eight women were hired in 1978 as correctional officers for Saskatoon's Regional Psychiatric Facility. Based on this pilot experience, a decision was made in 1980 to proceed with the hiring of female correctional officers in all medium and minimum-security federal prisons. By 1984, approximately 10% of correctional officers were women. As of 1998, the percentage of women in these roles has increased to 22%.

In terms of management, women first started entering operational positions exclusively held by men in 1960. In that year, the first woman appointed the position of Superintendent at the Prison for Women, Isabel Macneill, essentially fulfilled the same duties as her supervisor, the Warden for Kingston Penitentiary. It was much later that the position officially changed to the higher status of a warden. The person credited as the first female warden in an all-male institution in Canadian history was Mary Dawson. Ms. Dawson began her career in the penitentiary service as a secretary in 1967 and was appointed to the position of Warden in an all-male medium security institution in 1980. As of August 1998, there are 13 women institutional heads in federal penitentiaries.

1978 was also the year that the Canadian Human Rights Commission began operations. The Commission is an independent body that reports to Parliament through the Minister of Justice. Pursuant to its enabling legislation, the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Commission provides an avenue of redress to employees of the federal government or agencies that are federally regulated who allege discrimination on the basis of eleven prohibited grounds including race, national or ethnic origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation or age. The Commission is also responsible for promoting awareness on human rights issues and ensuring that workplace environments are free from discrimination. Moreover, the Commission has the authority to conduct employment equity audits pursuant to the Employment Equity Act and the ability to enforce compliance with employment equity standards