Ontario ombudsman reports increase in complaints about correctional services

Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube
Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube is seen at the legislature in Toronto on Thursday, April 20, 2017. Colin Perkel / File / The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Ontario’s ombudsman says his office saw an increase in complaints about the province’s correctional services in the last year despite progress in how facilities track inmate segregation and handle other key issues.

In his annual report, Paul Dube says he received 5,010 complaints about correctional facilities in 2017-18 compared with 3,998 in the previous fiscal year.

He says about 800 of those are due to a change in how the office counts complaints from groups of inmates, meaning there were actually about 300 additional complaints year over year. Some 296 of the complaints were about inmate segregation, roughly 20 more than the previous year.

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Dube says there have nonetheless been “systemic improvements” in how segregation is handled following his office’s investigation into the matter, which was released last year and found many inmates were left isolated for long stretches of time without proper review.

“Among the serious, systemic issues we have flagged to the ministry in recent years are the use of force by correctional officers and the use and tracking of segregation placements of inmates,” he says in the report.

“In both cases, the ombudsman launched formal investigations into these issues and the ministry accepted all of the resulting recommendations,” the document says.

Last November, the ministry reported it had implemented four of the recommendations on segregation, including having each placement entered into a database, and partially implemented 12, with another 16 in progress, Dube says in the report.

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Once a correctional services law passed earlier this year takes effect, it will enact several other improvements that were recommended in the ombudsman’s investigation, the report says. Those include a new definition of segregation, a cap on the length of placements and independent reviewers to scrutinize placements, it says.

Similarly, the policing reform law that was passed this winter will also dramatically improve oversight and governance in law enforcement once it kicks in, it says.

Progress has also been made in other areas, such as services for people with developmental disabilities, which received new funding following an investigation by the ombudsman’s office two years ago, the report says.

“What we often discover is that the most entrenched issues are problems that public sector bodies are aware of and often would like to fix,” Dube said in a news conference Wednesday.

“They usually stem from rules that are too rigidly applied, procedures that are overly cumbersome, or just customer service that is just not up to par. Sometimes it is due to lack of resources,” he said.

Dube was asked about the possibility of cuts under the incoming Progressive Conservative government, which has promised to find billions in efficiencies each year, and how that might affect both his office and the ministries under his oversight.

He acknowledged there may be some impact on services but did not elaborate further.

“Sometimes when there are cuts, services are affected…so we’ll see, we’ll see what happens and we’re always there to promote solutions,” he said.

The ombudsman said he does not believe his own office would be the target of cuts.

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“I heard all parties in the election campaign promoting transparency, accountability and fairness and that’s what we’re here to provide,” he said. “Any change of government, whether it’s at the municipal or the provincial level, I think is an opportunity for us to reach to the new players to make sure they understand what our role is and what it isn’t.”