COVID-19 update for correctional stakeholders: June 26, 2020

This content is a message to Correctional Service Canada's (CSC’s) stakeholders from the Commissioner of CSC.

June provides many opportunities to celebrate values important to us as individuals, as an organization, and as a country. This month we celebrated National Indigenous History Month, National Indigenous Peoples Day, National Public Service Week, the start of Pride Season and tomorrow, we will observe Multiculturalism Day. As an organization, we are also having important conversations on the issue of systemic racism. Below is an update on various items.

COVID-19 update

Like many organizations, Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) responded to the threat of COVID-19 rapidly and broadly at all of our sites with the goal of protecting everyone. We implemented extensive measures for the health and safety of our staff and offenders in a constantly evolving environment. We worked closely with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and local public health authorities to respond to COVID-19. As we learned more, we strengthened our infection prevention and control practices. Out of our 43 institutions, we have had five outbreaks since the beginning of the pandemic. I am pleased to say that the last outbreak at the Federal Training Centre was declared over last week. While this is a positive step, we continue to monitor the situation closely and diligently apply our measures to prevent any spread of the virus.

Shaping the New Normal: Update

As I mentioned in my last note, a governance structure is in place with different working groups, an advisory group and a steering committee to make recommendations on phasing back in activities. Shaping the New Normal includes significant input and collaboration with our labour partners and includes representatives from the National Indigenous Advisory Committee, National Associations Active in Criminal Justice and our Citizen Advisory Committees.

I want to provide you with a more fulsome update on how we are shaping the new normal and making progress towards easing restrictions related to COVID-19. Our top priority is the health and safety of our employees, offenders and the public. We are carefully making decisions based on public health evidence and risks in each community, and putting in place the required measures to prevent COVID-19 from entering our workplaces.

Managing risk based on local public health advice

CSC developed a national Risk Management Framework, endorsed by PHAC, to guide our new normal. The framework includes five risk levels depending on the risk of COVID-19 transmission. It provides a common language and sets the parameters within which CSC will respond to the COVID-19 transmission risk. The plans developed to shape the new normal will identify correctional activities, risks and mitigation strategies to protect CSC staff and offenders, while respecting the law and delivering on CSC’s legislated mandate. The risk management framework allows for different levels of response depending on the assessed level of risk of COVID-19 by public health.

CSC will adjust restrictions as required based on information and advice from public health authorities. As more evidence-based information becomes available, we will continue to respond and adapt to new information.

We know that different parts of Canada are facing different levels of incidence of COVID-19; therefore, our way forward will be dynamic and asymmetrical. Though we are starting to resume some activities, it may be quite some time before all activities re-start, and even when they do, they may not look like they did before.

Preventing COVID-19 from entering our sites

It is important to know that all actions taken by CSC are focused on safety and preventing the virus from entering or being transmitted within a CSC site. All of our decisions are guided by the best available public health knowledge, practices, and epidemiological considerations. Our easing of restrictions will be gradual, ensuring there are appropriate measures in place to limit health and safety risks to staff and offenders, while supporting public safety efforts. CSC will be monitoring and working closely with public health authorities to determine if there is community transmission of the virus.

A COVID-19 positive test result in a community does not equate to community transmission. Sometimes local cases of COVID-19 may be related to imported cases (e.g. by travel) or a contained outbreak (e.g. at an industrial plant or facility). Community transmission occurs when the transmission of COVID-19 is elevated, spreading between community members and local public health authorities are unable to clearly identify the source and contain the spread. When considering which measures to ease, CSC will begin with those that support our legislated mandate and pose the lowest health and safety risks to staff, offenders and the public.

Vigilant infection protection and control measures, COVID-19 testing capacity and a robust contact tracing program are the essential ingredients required to or to prevent the incidence and spread of the virus. I am pleased to inform you that since mid-March, CSC has trained more than 250 employees to conduct contact tracing. CSC begins contact tracing at the time of symptom onset, while waiting for the test results. We do not wait! We gather information on who the individual has had contact with in the previous 48 hours of symptom onset, with the goal to isolate and contain the virus as quickly as possible.

Gradually re-introducing activities in institutions

Operationally, we are focused on gradual and short-term re-introduction of some activities. Initially, we are resuming institutional correctional programs. This started in some regions this week. CSC developed the re-introduction measures based on the risk management framework. Group sizes are smaller, chairs are being spread out for physical distancing, and everyone is required to wear masks. We will monitor these measures and re-adjust as required.

We are also looking at being able to increase support for inmates by safely re-introducing or increasing access for Social Programs Officers, Elders and Chaplains into the facility where there is no community transmission. Simultaneously, we are reviewing increasing movement within our institutions, including more access to the yard, increased access to the gym, library, and other activities. We will start by focusing on providing access to lawyers, non-governmental organization employees, construction and maintenance companies, and Citizen Advisory Committee members. More information will come on the timing of these activities.

Moving forward, the working groups are looking at infrastructure requirements, workplace adaptations, information technology solutions, increased capacity for virtual work, and new requirements for administrative buildings in collaboration with the Office of the Chief Human Resource Officer and Public Services and Procurement Canada.

Current events and anti-racism

Events at home and abroad have been on our minds in past weeks. They have underscored that racism, discrimination, and violence continue to be a reality for far too many Black people, racialized communities and Indigenous peoples. We need to do better.

There is no place for racism or discrimination in our society, inside or outside of our workplaces. We have worked hard as an organization to develop a culture of respect and acceptance where everyone feels safe and to adopt programs and initiatives that make an impact. But we know there is more to do.

Systemic racism is a complex and long-standing issue, and addressing it requires an ongoing commitment to ensuring that our practices, policies and initiatives address the root causes of inequities and best support Black people, Indigenous peoples and all members of racialized communities.

A first step is listening and learning from those who have lived experience of racism, discrimination or hate. We have an obligation to work harder and show leadership in creating an environment that is conducive to discussion, inclusion and action.

I have had conversations with our leadership team and asked that we engage our employees on this important issue. I would like to thank our national and regional Ethnocultural Advisory Committees, our National Indigenous Advisory Committee, and our stakeholders for your ongoing work on this important issue. We greatly benefit from your diverse perspectives and ideas.

I will continue to keep you updated as more information becomes available. I would also like to wish you all a happy Canada Day, which is next week!

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