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The traditional legal maxim that where there is a right there is a remedy has had, until quite recently, little relevance to prisons and prisoners. Today, the recognition of the duty to act fairly, the constitutional entrenchment of rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the establishment of the Office of the Correctional Investigator, the creation of an internal prisoner grievance mechanism, and the enactment of the CCRA, has changed the legal landscape and together have established a constitutional, legal, and administrative infrastructure of rights and remedies.

Yet that infrastructure, impressive when read in judicial pronouncement, legislative text, or administrative policy, is less so when viewed from a prisoner's cell. Although the pace of judicial review has quickened as an avenue for the vindication of rights and the prevention of abuses, litigation still remains an exceptional strategy. That is not to deny that litigation has a part to play nor that some court judgements have provided significant landmarks, but the intermittent, exceptional, and delayed nature of judicial intervention necessarily limits its capacity to achieve compliance with the law and the constitution on a day-by-day, prison-by-prison basis. For this reason, administrative remedies, particularly those provided by the internal grievance mechanism and access to the Office of the Correctional Investigator, assume particular significance in the lives of prisoners. Utilizing these avenues does not require the assistance of a lawyer; sophisticated legal training is not necessary for the initiation of a complaint or grievance or a letter or phone call to the Correctional Investigator. For the overwhelming majority of prisoners, therefore, the responsiveness of the grievance mechanism and the timely intervention of the Correctional Investigator are the measure of their ability to achieve a fair and effective remedy.

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