COVID-19 update for correctional stakeholders: June 25, 2021

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

It is hard to believe it is already the end of June!  For many of us, the warmer weather and summer marks a time to wind down, relax, recharge and maybe enjoy some of the more lazy days of summer. Whatever your summer plans are, please continue to be safe and stay healthy.

COVID-19 update and vaccines

We currently have no active inmate cases of COVID-19 in our institutions. This is thanks to the dedicated efforts of staff and the cooperation of the inmates in staying the course with our health and safety measures. Vaccines also added a layer of protection.

I am pleased to report that over 76% of inmates now have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and over 50% are fully vaccinated. This number will go up as second dose clinics are currently underway. As we have done throughout the pandemic, we continue to make this data available on our website.

News about residential school children and orange hearts

On May 31, 2021, the tragic discovery of the remains of 215 children at the former Kamloops Residential School was truly heartbreaking. This is a very real reminder that we have much work to do to heal years of hurt and to build relationships based on understanding, acceptance, respect, and trust.

Yesterday, the Cowessess First Nation said it has discovered hundreds of unmarked graves at the site of the former Marieval Residential School, about 140 kilometres east of Regina. This is tragic and difficult for the survivors, but a reminder for all Canadians that the effects of the residential school system continue to this day.

Our hearts are with the families, whose lives were forever changed, Indigenous communities, and our many Indigenous partners, colleagues, staff and offenders affected by these events and the legacy of the residential school system. Our thoughts are with them.

Many efforts have been made across the country to show solidarity for the Indigenous families suffering given the loss of children at former residential schools. One our CORCAN employees at Matsqui Institution, Eva Goldthorp, began making orange paper hearts she designed with two Native feathers to stick in her front window. The extra orange hearts she put outside on her lamppost in B.C. disappeared almost instantly and requests started coming in for more. Eva has now made 750 paper hearts and 648 orange heart stickers.

25 years celebrating National Indigenous History Month

The month of June was declared National Indigenous History Month in 2009. It provides an opportunity for Canadians to honour the heritage, contributions and cultures of First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities across the county. It is important that we continue to highlight the historic contributions of Indigenous peoples, while honouring their roles in the establishment of Canada. National Indigenous History Month celebrates the strength of Indigenous communities and the resilience of Indigenous peoples.

At CSC, Indigenous interventions and the essential guidance from Elders and spiritual helpers are very important. This is vital to the successful reintegration of Indigenous offenders into the community. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, this work has continued through video visitations and the telephone, innovative and adaptive cultural practices, and one-on-one visits wherever possible. These efforts have helped CSC in guiding offenders towards traditional ways of coping, especially at this critical time. The adaptability of Indigenous staff, Elders and spiritual advisors demonstrates the resilience and tenacity of Indigenous cultures – that, in itself, is something to celebrate.

Federal Pathway Announcement

On June 3, the Government of Canada announced the release of the Federal Pathway to Address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex and Asexual (2SLGBTQQIA+) people.  

We continue to work to ensure a culturally responsive approach to Indigenous corrections, in collaboration with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities, which includes providing effective, culturally-informed interventions for Indigenous women offenders that supports their rehabilitation and safe reintegration. We could not do this important work without the commitment and dedication of Elders and the contributions of Indigenous community stakeholders and partners.

We must continue our efforts to ensure a safer future for Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people. I encourage you to read the Federal Pathway and learn more about the actions the Government of Canada is, and will be taking to overcome the tragedy and trauma caused to Indigenous women and girls and their families, and to support the well-being of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

National AccessAbility Week

May 30 to June 5, marked National AccessAbility Week. The theme this year was “Disability Inclusion 2021: Leaving no one behind”. It was a great opportunity to recognize the efforts of individuals, communities, and workplaces that are actively working to remove barriers to accessibility and inclusion. Please visit the National AccessAbility Campaign for more information on contributing to making an accessible Canada for persons with disabilities.

William Head on Stage goes virtual during COVID-19

For decades, William Head on Stage (WHoS), an inmate-run theatre company on Vancouver Island, ran live performances and weekly theatre workshops with volunteers at William Head Institution. Although live theatre performances are currently suspended due to the pandemic, WHoS inmates and volunteers have been hard at work finding ways to maintain connections.

The first public podcast created by inmates in Canada, called Dark Traveller, is a 3-part series that includes the radio play "Northern Lights" along with interviews, original creative writing pieces, and a look behind the scenes.

Released on June 2, 2021, you can access the podcast here: https://anchor.fm/snafuwhos, and it is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Breaker, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket Casts, and RadioPublic.

CSC is very proud of this inmate-run initiative that has given back so much to the inmates and the community for 40 years. CSC, and those in our care and custody, gain so much from the collaboration with community partners. CSC cannot do this work alone. We are grateful for the support provided to inmates from staff and the volunteers from the SNAFU Society of Unexpected Spectacles.

Men’s Mental Health Month

June is recognized as Men’s Mental Health Month. Everybody’s mental health is important, regardless of gender, and talking about it is crucial, but the idea of men’s mental health is a newer concept that echoes alarming statistics. Men have higher rates of addiction (substance use) and antisocial personality disorder than women, while women have higher rates of anxiety and mood disorders. About 4,000 Canadians per year die by suicide, and more than 75 percent of them are men.

The idea of a mental illness equating to weakness seems to be a part of the reason why it has not been easy for men to discuss their mental health. Men’s Mental Health Month creates an opportunity to change the conversation. Visit the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation for more information and inspiring stories.

Activators Community Residential Facility ‘Giving Back’ to Prince George

Activators Society Community Residential Facility (CRF) is giving back to the community of Prince George. Offenders and staff took on three different projects in the city: they built a deck for a local coffee shop to help it stay open during the pandemic; participated in a community garbage clean-up on Earth Day; and partnered with the City of Prince George and local businesses to paint over or repair unwanted graffiti on their properties. Kudos to Activators Society CRF for completing these rewarding projects.

Tragedy in London, Ontario

We were deeply saddened by the terrible act of violence committed in London, Ontario, which cut short the lives of four members of a family, and injured a child now orphaned. Our thoughts continue to be with the Muslim community and with the friends and families of the victims at this difficult time. This act of hatred targeting Muslims is another example of the painful evidence that speaks to the work that we must undertake as a society to make communities safe and inclusive for all.

Audit of Victim Services

CSC provides services to approximately 8,700 victims about the offenders who harmed them. The National Victim Services Program provides victims with the information they need to have an effective voice in the federal correctional system according to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.

In 2020, CSC’s internal audit team audited the program. Overall, the audit was positive and provided helpful insight for the program to continue improving upon its already high quality of service.

Stakeholder roundtable on Structured Intervention Units (SIUs)

On June 17-18, 2021, CSC held a virtual consultation with over 30 individuals and organizations on the Structured Intervention Units (SIUs), which were launched in November 2019. Since their implementation, CSC has been reviewing important external reports and data, including feedback from a number of stakeholders and input through town halls with staff. The roundtable was focused on four themes, which have been raised in recent months by some of our stakeholders, including opportunities for time out of cell, meaningful human contact, managing inmates with mental health issues and inmates refusing to leave an SIU.

It was a productive discussion and there were a lot of good observations and input shared by the group.

Sharing a positive message

I recently received a note from an inmate’s spouse providing positive feedback. I want to share an excerpt: “thanking CSC for vaccinating the inmates so quickly and efficiently […] and for taking measures to protect the inmates as best we could. Also providing video visits, as without these, families would have no face-to-face contact which has definitely made a difference for everyone during this awful time.” 

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