Organizational change in Correctional Services – the MCSCS Human Rights Project Charter

In last year’s annual report, we provided a status report on the first year of the three-year Human Rights Project Charter between the three project partners – the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS), the Ministry of Government Services (MGS) and the OHRC. This work resulted from the settlement of a long-standing human rights complaint by Michael McKinnon against MCSCS. Its purpose is to support MCSCS’ human rights organizational change initiatives, and to make sure the change process addresses public interest concerns.

We’ve made excellent progress in the past year

Since July 2012, the project partners have worked intensively on the project. Four subcommittees were established to work in the areas of employment and client services:

  • Accountability of all staff for upholding human rights obligations
  • Recruitment, selection, promotion and retention
  • Learning
  • Complaint management.

These subcommittees have each met for roughly 10 – 12 full days, have identified human rights gaps, barriers and opportunities, and are proposing recommendations and initiatives to address these change objectives.

Because of the project’s special focus on the needs and concerns of Aboriginal employees and clients, an Aboriginal Advisory Subcommittee (AAS) was also established. The AAS has met several times. Its members sit on the other subcommittees and bring to the discussions a focus on the needs and concerns of Aboriginal Peoples. The AAS has provided input into all of the other subcommittees’ recommendations, and is developing a strategic plan for MCSCS’ Aboriginal employees’ and clients’ human rights.

Each subcommittee includes 15 – 20 members with a broad range of roles and experience in the Ministry, including front-line staff and managers. MGS and the OHRC also take part in all subcommittees. All members were trained on human rights before subcommittees met, and were given background information about the project at their initial meeting. Members’ strong commitment to human rights and their diversity of experiences and perspectives have been extremely helpful in identifying the human rights strengths, gaps, barriers and opportunities in Correctional Services, and proposing workable solutions.

In addition, a Client Working Group has been established, and includes representatives from community agencies. Its role is to enhance understanding of Ministry clients’ human rights concerns. 

An External Advisory Group (EAG) has also been set up and includes external expertise in Aboriginal issues, human rights and organizational change. The EAG will provide valuable advice to the Project Sponsors.

The Evaluation Working Group is developing an evaluation plan for the project to assess and measure how well the project meets its objectives, and how effective the subcommittees’ initiatives and recommendations are.

Recurring themes

Members have raised many themes in subcommittee discussions, including:

  • Some parts of the Ministry are much better than others at ensuring human rights.
  • Much work on human rights has been done in the Ministry, but it has not always led to long-term, systemic or broad-based human rights improvements.
  • Aspects of the Ministry’s organizational culture (including an informal “code of silence”) can make it very hard for people to raise and/or respond to human rights issues.
  • Aboriginal employees are often in relatively small numbers in correctional institutions, experience barriers to inclusion, and can be particularly vulnerable to harassment.
  • Some staff have received much human rights training and some have received none. Much of the training has focused on workplace discrimination and harassment, and in particular, complaint processes.
  • Awareness levels of human rights vary within the Ministry. People are more aware of employees’ human rights than they are of the human rights of Ministry clients.
  • “Human rights” has a negative connotation for many in the Ministry, because it is linked closely to complaint processes.
  • While a human rights lens is applied in some areas of the Ministry’s work, it is not systematically applied to all policies, practices and training courses.
  • The demographic makeup of Ministry staff does not fully reflect the diversity of the population of the province or the clients that the Ministry serves, particularly at management levels, despite several strategies in recent years to improve recruitment, selection, promotion and retention.

Next steps

Recommendations made by the subcommittees are being refined, and will be reviewed and approved during the summer of 2013. Implementation of recommended initiatives is scheduled to start in the fall and continue beyond August 2014, the scheduled end date of the project.

More work will be done to identify human rights concerns of MCSCS clients, and to develop initiatives to address the concerns.

Focus areas for the OHRC

MCSCS (Correctional Services) is responsible for its own change process in this project, and for its own compliance with the Code. However, the OHRC will continue to provide expertise and advice to influence the change. As the Ministry begins implementation over the final scheduled year of the project, the OHRC will work with project partners and committees to focus on several areas that make it as likely as possible that the project will spur significant, lasting change:

  • Making human rights organizational change in MCSCS sustainable over the long term, and making sure that long-term resources and expertise are in place to support the change
  • Strengthening accountability for human rights performance:
    o At an individual level, so that all managers and employees know what is expected of them with respect to human rights of employees and clients, and are consistently held accountable for meeting those expectations
    o At an organizational level, so that the Ministry implements policies, practices and procedures that consistently support human rights of employees and clients; has clear measures of success for human rights organizational change; regularly and effectively evaluates its human rights performance; and acts to correct weaknesses
  • Building a strong partnership with bargaining agents to promote and maintain an organization where respect for the human rights of employees and Ministry clients flourishes
  • Removing barriers to the human rights of Aboriginal employees and clients, and implementing strategies to make sure those rights are respected
  • Implementing effective strategies to:combat poisoned work and service environments, as well as the organizational culture that allows them to continue
  • Making sure that all Ministry management and employees regularly learn about how to apply human rights in their jobs and their workplace relationships, and that they are consistently supported and expected to put that learning into practice
  • Strengthening focus and action on the human rights of Ministry clients, so that the dignity of Code-identified clients is respected, their accommodation needs are met, and their needs for responsive services are addressed
  • Working with the MGS, one of the project partners, to support and facilitate MCSCS’ efforts to improve human rights performance in systemic areas such as human resources policies and practices (for example, recruitment and selection, preventing workplace discrimination and harassment), data collection, and other steps to address and remedy discriminatory barriers.

We look forward to continuing to work effectively with MCSCS and MGS, and maintaining the project’s momentum towards lasting human rights organizational change.

[If] the respondents … refused to play ball, then [Daniel Hill] would convene a board of inquiry, public hearing of the complaint. And Dan handled that with particular flair. He would go around the community in which the act of discrimination occurred and he would recruit people to come out and watch the hearing so that when we went to a public hearing, the place would be mobbed.

And there’s nothing like the experience for one who discriminates to try to defend their policies in a hearing room filled with members of the very minority group against whom he had discriminated. It was a salutary experience for these guys. And one after the other, they would cave in immediately, before a hearing, immediately after a hearing, and sometimes right in the middle of a hearing.

Alan Borovoy, former General Counsel, Canadian Civil Liberties Association
Early days at the OHRC