The Grievance System: Through the Eyes of the Arbour
The effectiveness of the grievance system came under particular scrutiny
in the course of the Arbour Commission's inquiry into events at the Prison
for Women in 1994. Madam Justice Arbour noted that "virtually all of the
issues that have arisen in the course of this inquiry were raised in the
first instance by the inmates in complaints, grievances, and in some cases,
in letters addressed to senior Correctional Service officials" ( Arbour
Report at 150). Some of her harshest criticisms concerned the ineffectiveness
of grievance procedures:
Some of these grievances were never answered at all.
Those that were answered were almost always answered late, in some cases
several months after the answers were due. In a number of instances, the
grievances were responded to by an inappropriate person: either someone
not at the appropriate level to respond, or someone who could not be expected
to have access to the relevant facts. There is no system to effectively
prioritize those grievances where the only effective response would be
one received on an urgent basis.
However, by far the most troubling aspect of the responses
to these grievances, which raised important issues of fundamental inmate
rights, was the number of times in which the responses failed to deal
properly with the substance of the issues raised. In some cases, the responses
failed to appreciate the legal significance of the issues raised by the
inmates. In some cases, the responses indicated a failure to properly
ascertain the underlying facts. In many instances, one was left with the
impression that an inmate's version of events was treated as inherently
unreliable. . . ( Arbour Report at 150-51)
Madam Justice Arbour noted that the Correctional Investigator "has pointed
out for years the chronic untimeliness of the response to the complaints
and grievance process in the Correctional Service" and concluded:
As revealed in this case, the process is highly bureaucratic.
Particularly at the appellate level, both Regional and National, responsibility
for the disposition of grievances is often given to people with neither
the knowledge nor the means of acquiring it and, worse, with no real authority
to remedy the problem should they be prepared to acknowledge its existence.
This could be redressed by the current initiative to promote lower level
resolution. However, this strategy will be equally ineffective unless
there is a profound change in the mindset of the entire organization.
At present, it would seem that the admission of error is perceived as
an admission of defeat by the Correctional Service. In that climate, no
internal method of dispute resolution will succeed. (Arbour Report at
As an essential part of a reformed grievance process, Madam Justice
Arbour recommended that the Commissioner of Corrections "personally review
some, if not all, grievances brought to him, as third level grievances,
as the most effective, if not the only method for him to keep abreast
of the conditions of life in institutions under his care and supervision";
she further recommended that "should the Commissioner be unwilling or
unable to participate significantly in the disposition of third level
grievances, such grievances be channelled to a source outside the Correctional
Service for disposition, and that the disposition be binding on the Correctional
Service" (Arbour Report at 257). This recommendation for binding independent
arbitration can be traced to the earlier recommendation of the Correctional
Law Review that binding arbitration, as a necessary part of a fair and
effective grievance process, be incorporated into the CCRA.
That recommendation was not adopted as a result of the CSC's resistance
to it. The CSC was no less resistant to Madam Justice Arbour's recommendations
with respect to the grievance process; they too were rejected.
Page 1 of 1