location: publications / books / Justice Behind the Walls / Sector 3 / Chapter 2 The Disciplinary Process at Matsqui / September 1993: Minor Disciplinary Court -- Due Process Gets a Rough Ride

Before the afternoon session started, I had spoken with Mike Csoka about his experiences to date with the CSC. Mr. Csoka was not a product of the old B.C. Penitentiary mentality. Young, ambitious and well-educated, with a degree in criminology, he represented the new breed of correctional officer, who sees corrections as a challenging career with real prospects of advancement to senior management. The particular challenge he faced -- and met -- that afternoon was to clear a large backlog of minor disciplinary cases. In terms of administrative efficiency, it was a veritable tour de force which only enhanced his reputation as a tough, no-nonsense correctional supervisor who could get the job done. However, the job of conducting hearings on minor disciplinary offences is one bounded not only by the limits of administrative efficiency; it is bounded also by a legal framework designed to ensure that the hearing process is fair and just. Mr. Justice MacGuigan of the Federal Court of Appeal, in the Howard case, observed that "convenience and justice are often not on speaking terms" ( Howard, at 681-82). On that September afternoon, justice, in the form of the rules and procedures of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and CCR Regulations, could not get a word in edgewise. Yet in the rough ride justice took that day, the reins were held by a correctional supervisor whose career had begun at around the same time the Charter of Rights and Freedoms became entrenched in the Canadian Constitution. The important lesson to be taken from these proceedings was that the balance between correctional efficiency and justice is a precarious one. There are well-trained practitioners and advocates of correctional efficiency, but in the absence of equally well-trained practitioners and advocates of the due process of law, a legal framework cannot ensure that justice will be given a fair hearing in the prison.

A review that evening of the legislation and CCR Regulations confirmed my opinion that the sentence of weekend lockup in segregation was an illegal one, beyond the power of a minor court. I also came to the conclusion that a suspended sentence imposed by an Independent Chairperson could not legally be activated by a subsequent conviction in minor court. The next day I conveyed these concerns to Norm Gerl, Co-ordinator of Correctional Operations. Mr. Gerl consulted with Regional Headquarters and also with the CSC’s legal counsel in Ottawa, Charles Haskell. Mr. Haskell confirmed my opinion that minor court had no power to impose punitive lock-up to be served in segregation and that only a conviction for another serious offence before the Independent Chairperson could activate a suspended sentence imposed by the Independent Chairperson. As a result, the prisoners who had been sentenced to weekend lock-up did not have to serve it in the hole, and the three prisoners who had begun to serve their suspended sentences were released from the hole the following Monday.

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Mike Csoka