OTTAWA—Authorities are moving to further tighten the rules on anyone visiting federal prisons to crack down on contraband despite fears the new system can be applied “subjectively.”
A notice quietly posted to a federal government website the afternoon before Canada Day said that despite concerns from inmates’ advocates and visitors, Correctional Services Canada will move forward with the new regime.
Under the new rules, prison officials will have a lower threshold to meet before they order searches of prisoners, contract workers and visitors — basically anyone entering a federal penitentiary.
Currently officials need “reasonable grounds to believe” that someone is trafficking drugs or other contraband in the system before an intrusive search, such as a strip search. With the changes, officials must only suspect that someone is bringing in illicit materials.
“In practical terms, the concept of suspicion is based on possibility rather than probability,” the regulatory notice, part of a raft of rule changes released on June 30, reads. “To meet the test of reasonable grounds to suspect, there must be some indication that an individual possibly possesses contraband or of some illicit activity.”
The new measures would also allow prison officials to designate “secure zones” within penitentiaries with increased security protocols, and permit the prohibition or suspension of an inmate’s visitation privileges if there is a suspicion that criminal activity may take place.
The Conservative government heard from a number of groups concerned about the new rules, including contractors and volunteers who work in prisons, prisoners’ legal groups and the St. Leonard Society, a non-profit group.
The legal groups and St. Leonard Society worried the rules could be subjectively applied and focus too heavily on interdiction rather than assisting inmates suffering from substance abuse issues.
“They expressed that ‘reasonable grounds to suspect’ is too subjective and will not provide CSC staff with clear, factual and objective guidance to make fair and safe decisions,” the department noted. “They also expressed that the amendments focus exclusively on enforcement by providing the CSC with greater authority to search and restrict visits and not enough on harm reduction strategies to assist inmates with substance abuse problems.”
Those concerns were echoed by NDP public safety critic Randall Garrison, who said the government is throwing money at trying to address the symptoms — the use of drugs in prisons — rather than on rehabilitation.
Despite those concerns, Correctional Services Canada is moving ahead with its plans.
The Star requested an interview with Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney for this article. A detailed list of proposed topics and questions was supplied to the minister’s office Friday. That interview request was declined.
In a prepared statement, Blaney spokesman Jeremy Laurin wrote that drug use in prisons is a serious concern for the Conservative government.
“These recent measures introduced by Correctional Services Canada complements our government’s Drug Free Prisons legislation, which was just recently brought into force,” Laurin wrote.
“Our government will continue to work with our prisons to ensure they are safe and drug-free.”