These were the staff members who have the first contact with prisoners when they come into the penitentiary system. Their case management manuals provide systematic guidance for preparation of intake assessment interviews, detailed protocols for the completion of criminal profile reports, coverage of the factors to be included in risk/needs assessments and the litany of other critical documents that must be entered in the computerized Offender Management System. The professed aim of the assessment process is to provide the fullest possible information base on which correctional staff and managers may make informed decisions during the course of a prisoner's sentence. Underpinning the assessment process is staff training in the risk management model. There is, however, no parallel training in the human-rights-related model. I suggested to staff at the session that as the front line of the Service's interface with prisoners, their professional mandate embraced more than the protection of the public through informed risk management; it also embraced the protection of human rights to which Canada is committed by international covenant and by its own legislation.
After my presentation, a staff member spoke to me informally about the difficulty he faced in accepting the human rights agenda. It was not that he did not understand it, he said; indeed, he understood it all too well. But enhanced segregation reviews did not change the physical conditions of the segregation unit, and it was difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile the reality of men confined for twenty-three hours a day in a small cage with an elevated sense of human dignity and respect for human rights.
The often enormous distance between professed intentions, even those enshrined in binding legal texts, and the real world of imprisonment is a fact of life no less today than at the end of the eighteenth century when John Howard, in The State of the Prisons, penned his blueprint for radical transformation to ensure that the sentence of imprisonment observed the strictest standards of justice and morality. This inherent duality is found in the pages of the official news magazine of the Correctional Service of Canada, Let's Talk, in the issue commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Ivan Zinger ended his contribution on this cautionary note:
. . . We must not allow celebrating our progress and accomplishments in the human rights field to overshadow the important work and challenges that lie ahead. Our criminal justice system is far from perfect. Canada's incarceration rate continues to rank among the highest in the industrialized world. Many of our penitentiaries are full beyond capacity. The majority of our prison population is drawn from the ranks of the economically and socially disadvantaged; a disproportionate number of minorities, including Aboriginal persons, are locked up in our prisons. HIV infection rates and incidence of AIDS among Canadian offenders continues to far exceed prevalence rates in the general population. As for its employees, the Correctional Service of Canada still has a long way to go in becoming a more inclusive and representative workplace free of practices that undermine a person's sense of dignity. Clearly, there is room for improvement. (Ivan Zinger, " Human Rights for All " [November 1998] 23 (no.4) Let's Talk 4 at 6)
Kim Pate, the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, also contributed an article to this issue of Let's Talk. Ms. Pate, whose unflagging work on behalf of women prisoners was acknowledged by Madam Justice Arbour in her report, provided a much starker reminder of why celebration must be tempered with a constant questioning of the system's willingness and ability to practice internally what it professes internationally.
Since the Arbour Commission Report, chronicled extensive human rights abuses and other reprehensible transgressions of law and policy have again surfaced. Why have women prisoners been stripped, shackled and left chained naked to a metal bed frame, without a mattress, in segregation? Why have minimum security women been sent into the community in shackles on various forms of temporary absences? Why do we continue to use classification tools that disproportionately discriminate on the basis of race, class, gender and sexual orientation? Why have perimeter and razor wire fences, additional alarms and total surveillance cameras been installed in the new regional facilities that were supposed to be modeled on international examples of women-centred minimum security facilities? Why are women with mental health problems and maximum security women imprisoned in all-male prisons? Why are so few federally sentenced Aboriginal women placed in the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge, a facility designed specifically for them? How come these situations persist in a country that is touted around the globe as having one of the most humane and progressive correctional systems in the world? (Kim Pate, " Correcting Corrections for Federally Sentenced Women ," [November 1998] 23 (no.4) Let's Talk 16 at 16)
In October 1999, Michael Ignatieff began a magazine article about Louise Arbour with these words: "Louise Arbour arrived in the Hague with high-minded beliefs about international justice. She's leaving with an education in politics, hypocrisy, and the limits of the West's moral indignation" (Michael Ignatieff, "The Trials of Louise Arbour," Saturday Night, October 1999). He was, of course, referring to the massive human rights abuses in the former Yugoslavia and Madam Justice Arbour's role as Chief Prosecutor for the International War Crimes Tribunal. In commenting on the work of Louise Arbour and her predecessor, Judge Goldstone, in turning "an institution which had no real precedent in international law and precious little actual backing from Western governments" into a real-time law-enforcement agency, Ignatieff suggested that "in the process they both discovered the huge gap that separates what Western states preach about human rights and international law from what they actually practice." As Ignatieff pointed out, the disputes that would come before Madam Justice Arbour "as a robed judge in the Supreme Court of a peaceable kingdom [are] a long way away from ravines where children are murdered." However, the common thread is that it takes vigilance and courage, both individual and collective, to ensure that human rights are protected at those points where they become most vulnerable. Within Canada, that vulnerability is nowhere more evident than inside penitentiaries.
In a May 1997 article about Vaclav Havel, Czech President and former political prisoner, Paul Berman wrote these provocative words:
It is fine and good to speak about human rights, laws, constitutions, non-governmental organizations . . . The world is full of countries that adopt the best of constitutions and proclaim the rights of man from here to the horizon, yet fail to achieve very much democracy. And why is that?
It is because democracy requires a certain kind of citizen. It requires citizens who feel responsible for something more than their own well-feathered little corner; citizens who want to participate in society's affairs, who insist on it; citizens with backbones; citizens who hold their ideas about democracy at the deep level, at the level that religion is held, where beliefs and identity are the same. (Paul Berman, "The Philosopher-King Is Mortal," New York Times Magazine, May 11, 1997 at 32)
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