(Ottawa) The Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) says Canada needs an independent public inquiry to address serious issues of sexual violence and coercion in federal women’s prisons.
The commission added its voice to the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, which called for such an inquiry a year ago.
Canadian Human Rights Commission Chair Marie-Claude Landry says CHRC is “deeply concerned” about reports of sexual coercion and violence in federal correctional facilities and lack of action to solve the problem.
Mme Landry pointed out that “a prison sentence deprives a person of their right to liberty, but not of their rights to security”. She argued that sexual violence in prison settings is unacceptable and criminal, adding that the Correctional Service of Canada is obligated to protect and support the victims of these crimes.
Her statement surfaced 10 days after a former prison guard at Nova Institution for Women in Truro, Nova Scotia, pleaded guilty to six counts related to the sexual assault of three inmates.
“We cannot expect victims to report incidents of sexual coercion and violence without the appropriate supports and mechanisms in place to protect them from retaliation,” said Ms.me Landry.
Sexual coercion refers to any sexual act without consent. It can range from unwanted kissing to sexual touching and forced sex, according to a definition by Canada’s prison watchdog.
According to the Office of the Correctional Investigator’s latest annual report, there are “significant gaps” in how Corrections investigates and prevents sexually problematic behavior behind bars.
Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger has recommended that the Minister of Public Safety fund a national study on the prevalence of sexual coercion and violence, conducted by independent experts.
In January, Public Safety Canada issued a request for proposals for a contractor to explore precisely this, with the goal of identifying the “nature and extent” of the problem among Indigenous, racialized or otherwise at-risk female prisoners, and suggest ways to intervene and prevent these crimes. This request was closed in February.
The next step is a pilot study, which should be scheduled no later than December, said Alexander Cohen, press secretary to Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino.
A national study is expected to begin in early 2023 and be completed within a year, Cohen said in a statement Wednesday.
Zinger also recommended the government introduce legislation similar to the US Prison Rape Elimination Act, which requires prisons to implement a zero-tolerance policy on sexual assault and collect data. on the incidents that occur.
Despite these recommendations, the latest report stated that the office “has observed no appreciable difference” in the way corrections prevents, tracks, or deals with these incidents, and continues to receive complaints from inmates who have witnessed or been victims of sexual coercion and violence.
“We continue to hear cases where alleged perpetrators are simply moved within and between institutions, which is the preferred method of ‘resolving’ formal complaints of sexually problematic behavior,” the office said.
“The Correctional Service of Canada has zero tolerance for violence in its institutions and we take all allegations of sexual coercion and abuse very seriously,” said spokesperson Esme Bailey.
Victims or witnesses of inappropriate behavior have many ways to report it, including through the offender complaint and grievance system, Ms.me Bailey.
She said allegations of sexual coercion and abuse should be investigated and employees should contact police immediately about any incidents or allegations of misconduct that could constitute a criminal offence.
In its response to the investigator’s report, the Correctional Service of Canada said it was developing a policy on sexual coercion and violence in its institutions in May, which will provide clear direction to staff on how they should respond. .
This dispatch was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta Exchanges and The Canadian Press for the news.