The Honourable Sylvia Jones
18th Floor, George Drew Building
25 Grosvenor Street
Toronto, ON M7A 1Y6
Dear Solicitor General Jones:
Re: Elimination of Community Advisory Boards
I am writing to express the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s (OHRC) concerns about the lack of oversight in Ontario’s prisons after the government’s recent decision to disband Community Advisory Boards (CABs). This decision moves the corrections system in the wrong direction and will have a detrimental impact on the rights of prisoners. More independent and robust oversight is needed. Not less.
The OHRC has previously said that the CABs established under s. 14.1 of the Ministry of Correctional Services Act play an important role in increasing transparency and accountability in correctional institution operations. Indeed, we have previously encouraged your Ministry to work collaboratively with the CABs to draw on their unique insights to improve conditions of confinement for prisoners and working conditions for front-line staff.
While we have been discouraged by the under-resourcing of CABs, they have offered at least some limited independent oversight for Ontario’s correctional system. CABs had the authority to access, tour and inspect corrections facilities, and were required to present annual reports of their findings to the Solicitor General. These reports were previously posted publicly on the Ministry’s website, although this practice had recently ceased.
Independent oversight is necessary to make sure corrections facilities operate in a safe and respectful way that is consistent with the Human Rights Code and Charter rights of prisoners. As the OHRC’s experience in advocating for the rights of prisoners has revealed, corrections policies and guidelines often fail to accurately reflect the reality of life inside Ontario’s prisons. Effective, robust and independent oversight is needed to ensure that the rights of prisoners are fully protected.
Media reports suggest that the Ministry of the Solicitor General has concluded the CABs were “not providing consistent meaningful local engagement despite the significant administrative investments into their maintenance and management."
To the extent that this is accurate, the solution must be to improve and expand independent corrections oversight, not to eliminate the only dedicated oversight process that currently exists.
The OHRC therefore joins other corrections advocacy groups in calling on the government to rescind its decision and to appoint a full complement of CAB members.
The OHRC also reiterates the recommendation it recently made in its submissions on amendments to Regulation 778: Ontario should take all possible steps to implement a dedicated, independent corrections oversight system.
While the OHRC does important work in protecting the human rights of prisoners, establishing a dedicated independent corrections oversight body is essential for protecting the Code and Charter rights of prisoners, and for assuring the public that Ontario is doing everything it can to operate the corrections system in a fair, humane and effective way.
cc. Hon. Doug Downey, Attorney General