Office of the Correctional Investigator
Letter on Implementation of the Call to Action on Anti-Racism, Equity and Inclusion

Summer 2021 update

Dear Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet,

In response to your January message to Deputy Heads, as the Correctional Investigator of Canada, my Office is fully committed to implementing the Call to Action on Anti-Racism, Equity and Inclusion.  While we are a micro-agency with only 40 employees, our commitment to carrying out the Call to Action is evident through concerted efforts and actions to remove barriers and discriminatory practices faced by employees from historically disadvantaged groups as identified in the Call to Action. These actions are further supported by the culture created through our approach and actions in delivering our mandate to address systemic barriers and discriminatory practices faced by Black, Indigenous and peoples of colour, LGBTQ2+, and people with disabilities.

My office has shown great leadership on these issues as we carry out our mandate. We have been at the forefront of the conversation in denouncing the over-representation of Indigenous persons in federal prisons. We have advocated for the right to housing based on gender identity and expression, rather than biological sex, for gender-diverse and transgender individuals. We have given voice to issues of racism and discrimination through our investigative work on the experiences of Black persons serving federal sentences. We have exposed many of the challenges faced by incarcerated individuals living with disabilities.

As an oversight agency, it is our responsibility to take a critical look at how the federal correctional system treats individuals under their care, particularly those who are most vulnerable. In keeping with that responsibility, and as a matter of credibility, it is also our duty to lead by example.

Planning and Engaging

The COVID-19 pandemic has required us to become flexible and implement, in a short timeframe, measures and practices to support a new virtual work environment while continuing to support workplace wellbeing. This adjustment period, coupled with changes in senior management, has provided my Office with an opportunity to reassess our priorities and identify areas that we wish to focus on over the next months and years. Senior Management recently held a leadership retreat and developed Phase 1 of a strategic planning exercise during which the team identified priorities and committed to short and medium term goals that focus on clarifying roles and responsibilities, reviewing and revising a training plan to better support our employees in their jobs, and developing a workplace wellbeing plan.

This workplace well being plan is being finalized and will incorporate elements of anti-racism, equity and inclusion in all that we do. In the last few years, the Office has taken steps to raise awareness of issues facing racialized groups. For example, in spring of 2021, we organized a presentation by Waheed Khan, (President, Community of Federal Visible Minorities) on The Challenge of Inclusion in a Multicultural Public Service. We also invited an Indigenous Elder to speak to his experience of the Residential School system at our latest All Staff meeting in June, 2021.

Staff meetings occur every few months and  we make concerted efforts to create a safe space where the diversity of voices among our staff are heard and they encouraged to freely share their stories and express their views.

The Office is committed to creating a culture where the workplace is a safe space to express concerns and share ideas without judgment for all employees, and also encourages brainstorming solutions and initiatives, beginning with the Senior Management team. This ensures all voices are heard, and creates an atmosphere of trust and inclusion amongst colleagues, and between employees and management.

Supporting and Sponsoring

As a micro-agency with a relatively low staff turnover rate, we have limited internal career advancement opportunities; however, the Senior Management team has committed to address barriers to retention, career development and advancement for our staff. For example, we have provided employees from historically disadvantaged groups with mentoring/shadowing experiences, acting opportunities, supported education leave and language training, as well as interchange agreements with other organizations to support their career development and advancement.

Appointing and Recruiting

My Senior Management team and I are commitment to not only ensuring representation of the four employment equity groups within our Office but also, to move beyond current requirements to an increased focus on diversity and inclusion in its workforce and workplace. This includes the requirement for deputy heads of federal organizations to designate a senior official or officials to be responsible for the directive’s requirements. Over the last year, with some turnover in our management ranks, we now have a more diverse and inclusive management team, with about equal representation of men and women as well as representation of visible minorities.

Furthermore and despite our small size, over the last year my Office conducted a staffing competition focused on the recruitment of Indigenous Peoples in order to create an eligible pool of candidates for future recruitment.

Committing and Including

Through the strategic planning session held with the Senior Management team and our continuous communication with all staff, I am committed to continuous learning about racism, discrimination, reconciliation, accessibility, equity and inclusion and to provide a safe and positive environment where these conversations are encouraged.

The Office has been aware and sensitive to tragic events in this country and around the world that have had a unique impact on various racial or cultural groups. Further to these events, we have taken the initiative to not only extend messages of support to our employees who have been directly affected by these events, but have also taken the opportunity to educate our staff more broadly on the impacts of racialized violence.

 As stated above, this commitment is demonstrated through initiatives such as invited guest speakers sharing their knowledge about the challenges of multiculturalism in the Public Service and through the personal experiences of Indigenous residential school survivors. We also have in place an Indigenous champion and are expanding this to put in place a broader champion group to lead diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Additionally, employees are invited and encouraged to sign up for various information and training sessions offered by the Canada School of Public Service as well as the Canadian Innovation Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace. Our Corporate Services team has also implemented a monthly Newsletter through which sessions related to anti-racism, equity and inclusion are highlighted as well as important events such as the National Indigenous Peoples Day, Black History Month, Asian Heritage, International LGBTQ2+ Pride Month, etc.  

Combatting and Enabling

As stated above, statements of support were shared with employees from communities who have been targeted or who have suffered tragedies. To take a moment and acknowledge the impact of some disturbing events that occurred, my Office’s management team has organized moments of silence and initiatives to provide staff an opportunity to show their support, such as the demonstrated OCI solidarity with Indigenous Peoples in the aftermath of the Kamloops residential school where staff were invited to share thoughts, poems, or photos of their way of commemorating this horrible event, and supporting action to ensure that Every Child Matters. The Office also issued a statement of support to our Muslim employees in the aftermath of the killing of a Muslim family in London, ON.

In 2020, the Office established a ‘Pathfinder Initiative’ where we had weekly activities and challenges on matters related to mental health as well as inclusion, diversity, and discrimination. In the wake of the death of George Floyd in June 2020, one of the Pathfinder activities was entitled “I can’t breathe”, where the topic of the weekly discussion was racism and discrimination. Staff were invited to share thoughts on or experiences of racism (individual and/or systemic). This created an invaluable opportunity for staff to not only share their experiences, but to learn from one another about what racism and discrimination look like from the voices of people they work with everyday.

To empower employees to speak up about bias and oppression and better equipping managers to address these issues as well as providing resources to address issues of racism, discrimination and other barriers to inclusion, the Office has also engaged the support of the Public Service and Procurement Canada Ombuds. The Ombuds office offers services such as mediation, coaching, and learning sessions that provide my management team and staff with a safe environment and expert advice in addressing difficult issues in the workplace.

Addressing Equity and Discrimination Issues in the Delivery of our Mandate

Years ago the  Office put in place a comprehensive approach and has continuously taken concerted action to address systemic barriers and discriminatory practices faced by Black, Indigenous, and peoples of colour, LGBTQ2+, and individuals with disabilities in federal correctional institutions. This contributes to a culture of respect and understanding of issues facing these communities in the workplace.

As the ombudsman for federally sentenced offenders, the Office of the Correctional Investigator receives and investigates complaints brought forward by all federally incarcerated individuals. The Office works in collaboration with, but independent from, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) to resolve complaints and makes formal recommendations to improve conditions in federal penitentiaries. The Office has a long history of monitoring and publicly reporting on the needs and correctional outcomes of an increasingly diverse and complex federally incarcerated population. The Office’s Annual Report is the main vehicle used to publicly report findings and make informed recommendations to the CSC to improve the situation of vulnerable populations behind bars. The Office has also conducted a number of systemic investigations focusing on specific segments of the incarcerated population, including:

Ensuring the legal and humane treatment of individuals serving federal sentences is central to the mandate of the OCI. Championing anti-racism through our organizational philosophy and daily activities is therefore fundamental to the work we do investigating and challenging policies and practices that serve to perpetuate prejudice or the systemic oppression of specific groups. As evidenced by the examples provided above, the Office has made a significant contribution, over several years, to highlighting gaps in policy as well as the barriers faced by vulnerable populations behind bars.  The Office has also made a number of important recommendations with respect to Black, Indigenous and gender diverse individuals and will continue to monitor and report publicly on the needs and experiences of these populations.       

In the coming years, the Office of the Correctional Investigator will continue to act proactively, taking specific and meaningful action for employees, as well as the public we serve, that showcase our leadership in effectively implementing the Call to Action on Anti-Racism, Equity and Inclusion.

Ivan Zinger
Correctional Investigator of Canada

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