Ont. Ombudsman Reports Increase in Complaints about Correctional Services

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TORONTO — Ontario’s ombudsman says his office saw an increase in complaints about the province’s correctional services in the last year despite progress in how facilities track inmate segregation and handle other key issues.

In his annual report, Paul Dube says he received 5,010 complaints about correctional facilities in 2017-18 compared with 3,998 in the previous fiscal year.

He says about 800 of those are due to a change in how the office counts complaints from groups of inmates, meaning there were actually about 300 additional complaints year over year. Some 296 of the complaints were about inmate segregation, roughly 20 more than the previous year.

Dube says there have nonetheless been “systemic improvements” in how segregation is handled following his office’s investigation into the matter, which was released last year and found many inmates were left isolated for long stretches of time without proper review.

“Among the serious, systemic issues we have flagged to the ministry in recent years are the use of force by correctional officers and the use and tracking of segregation placements of inmates,” Dube wrote in his report.

“In both cases, the ombudsman launched formal investigations into these issues and the ministry accepted all of the resulting recommendations.”

Last November, the ministry reported it had implemented four of the recommendations on segregation, including having each placement entered into a database, and partially implemented 12, with another 16 in progress, Dube’s report says.

Once a correctional services law passed earlier this year takes effect, it will enact several other improvements that were recommended in the ombudsman’s investigation, the document says. Those include a new definition of segregation, a cap on the length of placements and independent reviewers to scrutinize placements.

Similarly, the policing reform law that was passed this winter will also dramatically improve oversight and governance in law enforcement once it kicks in, it says.

Progress has also been made in other areas, such as services for people with developmental disabilities, which received new funding following an investigation by the ombudsman’s office two years ago, the report says.

“What we often discover is that the most entrenched issues are problems that public sector bodies are aware of and often would like to fix,” Dube said in a news conference Wednesday.

“They usually stem from rules that are too rigidly applied, procedures that are overly cumbersome, or just customer service that is just not up to par. Sometimes it is due to lack of resources,” he said.

In a statement, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services said it “works cooperatively” with Dube’s office to resolve issues raised by both “clients of the provincial correctional system” and the public.

“The ministry continues to work to improve Ontario’s correctional system,” said ministry spokesman Andrew Morrison.

Dube was asked about the possibility of cuts under the incoming Progressive Conservative government, which has promised to find billions in efficiencies each year, and how that might affect both his office and the ministries under his oversight.

He acknowledged there may be some impact on services but did not elaborate further.

“We’ll see what happens and we’re always there to promote solutions,” he said.

The ombudsman said he does not believe his own office would be the target of cuts.

“I heard all parties in the election campaign promoting transparency, accountability and fairness and that’s what we’re here to provide,” he said.

“Any change of government, whether it’s at the municipal or the provincial level, I think is an opportunity for us to reach to the new players to make sure they understand what our role is and what it isn’t.”

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press
UofT approves student leave of absence policy that has drawn criticism
Wednesday, June 27, 2018, 7:40 PM

TORONTO — The University of Toronto has decided to implement a policy that could place students with mental health issues on a mandatory leave of absence if the school deems it necessary.

The policy, which drew criticism from student groups and the Ontario Human Rights Commission, was approved by the school’s governing council at a meeting Wednesday evening.

Under the new rules, which will be reviewed every three years, a mandatory leave would be considered if the university’s administration becomes aware of a student who poses a risk of harm to themselves or others and mental illness is believed to be involved.

Those who’ve spoken against it say they’re concerned a medical professional would not be adequately involved in university decisions to place students on leave, and they’re worried about how the school will accommodate students with mental health issues.

According to the university, the policy states that a regulated health professional will be consulted as part of the consideration of a mandated leave of absence.

“The policy emphasizes that the mandated leave of absence is not to be punitive,” Sandy Welsh, the university’s vice provost for students, said in a statement.

“It is to be applied in rare cases, only after accommodative measures have been unsuccessful, or the student has declined those measures.”

The university made several changes to its original version of the policy after consulting with students and reviewing a public letter from the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Outside the meeting where the policy was voted on, about 40 students gathered to protest. Their chants were heard throughout the meeting.

Cristina Jaimungal with the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union said there was a “lack of a concerted effort” by the university to address concerns laid out by disability advocate groups.

One of those groups, Students for Barrier-Free Access, had said it was concerned the policy could deter students from disclosing mental health issues and from seeking support or treatment offered by the university.

The school’s various student unions also released a joint statement earlier this week saying the policy discriminates against those with mental health issues.

Josh Grondin, a U of T Students’ Union representative who spoke against the policy during the meeting, said he’s disappointed the school has decided to move ahead with it.

“I think there was still a chance that we could have had to improve the policy and make sure it was something that all of us could have agreed on,” said Grondin.

The policy was created after recommendations were made by the university’s ombudsperson in the 2014-2015 school year. The university said there have been more than 18 months of consultations.